Love By Any Other Name (AU,M/L,MATURE) (Complete)

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max and liz believer
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Postby max and liz believer » Sun May 30, 2004 12:47 am

Gosh! You guys! I thought that I had lost all of my readers since it’s been ages since my last update. You don’t know how happy it makes me that you are still here! *hugs*

MilesToGo99, roswelluver, Tanya, LTL, BehrLuver04, Michelle, Anna, I am a dreamer, liz_maria, Scottie, Emma, Melysa, Itzstacie, frenchkiss70, Sali103, Danielle, Alien614, mareli, Lelle, Emz, cherie, AznGurl87, Nora, Stef – Thank you all soooo much for the feedback!!

Okay, this is the situation. I have one week left of school and then it’s one week of revision when I will study like there’s no tomorrow :wink:. But hopefully I’ll be able to write something during the finals weeks. After that I have four weeks break, when I’m going home to Sweden, and I intend to work then, but I will definitely update then. So there’s hope :roll:

Thank you again so much!

Elizabeth, thank you for editing. You’re the best b-reader one could ask for!

*HUGS*

Jo




Chapter 31


Nothing could have prepared her for the sight of the shell of a human being standing before her. Even in the almost complete darkness coating the room she could see the sickly grayish pallor of his skin and the haunted look in his eyes. She could see how the skin stretched over his cheekbones and the absence of fat underneath. If he hadn’t been standing up, his hand grasping the side of the desk behind him convulsively, she would’ve thought he was dead.
“My God… Max,” she breathed. Tears were seeking themselves out of her eyes, escaping the suffocating guilt being lowered over her chest.
His eyes were moving over her, but there was something disconcerting in his eyes, making her very uncomfortable. It made her want to take a step back. Suddenly the dark person in front of her seemed haunted and frightening. Threatening.

But she didn’t move. She willed her trembling legs to remain rooted to the floor, neither moving forward or backwards.
“What are you doing here?”
The first thing that struck her about that question wasn’t the coldness of how it was delivered, but his voice. It was when she heard his voice that she knew that she wasn’t talking to the same Max Evans that had frantically been searching after his little niece in a shopping mall. It wasn’t the Max Evans who had so gently hold Michelle and kissed her on the forehead. It wasn’t the same Max Evans who had hold on to Liz so tightly, afraid that if he didn’t he would drown in his own guilt. The Max Evans standing before her had already drowned.

“I…I…” Fear was coursing through her body. She was standing in front of a stranger and she didn’t know at all how he would react. She’d had a feeling that Max was in a bad place from the sporadic conversations with Isabel, but she had never been able to foresee this.
“You don’t belong here.”
Liz blinked, making tears cascade down her cheeks. “Max, please…”
“Leave, Liz.” He turned his back towards her, and she had to strain to hear his next words. “I don’t want you here.”
“I want to be here,” she whispered.
She could see his back tensing and there was a moment of shivering silence before he answered. “No, you don’t. You don’t want to be here, Liz.”
Liz forced her fear back and took a step forward. “Isabel is worried about you, Max. I…I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine. I’m doing perfectly fine. You can report that back to Isabel.”
“Don’t do this,” Liz pleaded, taking another step further into the room.
“Don’t come any closer.” His whispered plea put an abrupt halt to her progress. The change in his voice made hope flare to life inside of her. Maybe he was still in there. Maybe it wasn’t too late.

“Why?” she asked softly.
She could see his hands moving over the desk, but his back was shielding his actions from her.
“I can’t do this,” Max said. “Leave me alone. I don’t want your sympathy or your pity.”
“I’m not-“
”I don’t want to see you ever again,” Max snapped.
Liz shrunk back, the sound of her heart thundering in her ears. Every part of her mind wanted to run away from there, to protect herself. But she wouldn’t let herself do that.
“Stop shutting me out,” she said, trying to remain calm, even though she could feel a frightening tightening in her chest.
“I just want to be left alone!” Max yelled. He spun around on his heels and pinned Liz with his eyes, which were very different from the listless eyes she had seen earlier. These were filled with rage. She stumbled backwards when he advanced on her, like a lion hunting down its prey. “Why can’t you leave me alone?!”
He grabbed her harshly by the upper arms and pushed her up against the wall. She could feel his hot breath in her face, her body being immobilized by him pinning her arms against the wall.
“Max, you’re scaring me,” she sobbed, feeling the haltering beat of her heart as fear of what he might do numbed her.
“I want you to disappear from my life, you hear me?” his voice was low and menacing, his eyes driving into hers. “I don’t need your help or your support. I don’t need anyone.”
She tried to shake the dizziness away. “Let me go, Max.”
“Do you hear me? I want you to leave. And tell Isabel that I don’t appreciate her sending spies.”
Nausea was building up in her throat and she found herself gasping for oxygen. “What has happened to you, Max? You don’t mean what you’re saying.”
The emotion passed so quickly in his eyes, that she would’ve missed it if he hadn’t been so close. Fear.

“Just leave,” he said and she could feel his grip on her arms lessening. But when he wasn’t there to hold up her body any longer, her legs gave away under her. She caught a glimpse of the intense fear in his eyes, before her eyes drifted closed.
“Liz!” She felt his grip on her arms again, but it was different this time. Gentler. She grabbed onto consciousness with all her might, while experiencing the strong protests of her heart.
“P…p…pills,” she gasped.
She knew exactly where they were. Maria knew exactly where in her purse they were. The same place they had always been. Even Kevin knew. But Max didn’t. Max didn’t even know what was happening.
His hand against her cheek and his frightening voice, bordering on panic, floating around her, she could feel herself being lowered to the floor.
“P…pur...se:”
She could feel the prickling pain in her right arm and she knew that she would pass out any second. Then she felt someone opening her mouth and something being placed on her tongue. Reflectively she swallowed, feeling the dryness scrape against her throat, her saliva not being enough to wash it down smoothly. She danced between silence and the sound of Max’s voice for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality it was just a couple of minutes, before she opened her eyes and looked up into Max’s brown eyes.

“Liz,” he whispered. She could feel his fingers pressing at the back of her head and she noticed how tears were glistering on his cheeks. She took a deep breath, her body still shaking.
“Are you okay?” he choked. She nodded slowly, still returning to reality.
“Your pulse is still too fast. It’s beating irregularly.”
That’s when she felt his fingers being pressed against the side of her throat, feeling her pulse.
“Do you need some water?”
His eyes were moving quickly over her, the words tumbling out of him with a speed that matched the intensity of worry his whole demeanor was emitting.
She nodded again and without leaving her, he reached behind him and soon thereafter a glass was pressed gently against her lips. He added some pressure to the back of her head to help her tilt her head upwards. The water flowed soothingly down her throat, helping to calm her body. When he removed the glass, she tried to push herself up in sitting position. Max moved backwards, his arms helping her.
“Are you okay?” Max asked again.
“I’m…I’m getting there,” Liz whispered, her voice very weak.

“My God, Liz, I’m so sorry;” Max said. “I… God…” She could see all the emotions flickering over his face and all she could think about was that she wasn’t strong enough to stop him from thinking everything he was obviously thinking right then. She didn’t have the strength to stop him from blaming himself.
“I don’t know why I yelled at you like that. I’ve never done anything like that before. I don’t know why I-“
”Max,” Liz whispered, shaking her head in an attempt to make him stop.
“This is exactly why you can’t be around me, Liz. Everything I touch is destroyed.” He paused, the silence speaking volumes of whose lives he considered having destroyed.
“It wasn’t your fault, Max,” Liz said gently, her statement holding double connotations.
“I almost…” He choked on the word, an expression of utter disgust flickering over his features, “You could’ve died, Liz.”
“It’s okay, Max-“
”No, it’s not,” Max interrupted softly. “Your life is better without me in it complicating it.”
“I want you in my life, Max.”
Max opened his mouth to protest, but it was left hanging open when her words sunk in.
“No, Liz. You don’t want anything to do with-“
”I know what I want,” Liz whispered.

“Don’t listen to her, Max.”

Liz frowned as Max‘s head whirled around. She looked over his shoulder to see if there was someone there. There wasn’t.

“She’s the one that started all of this. If she hadn’t arrived you and I would still be doing okay and you wouldn’t be reduced to this pitiable human.”

“Stop it!”
Shivers ran down Liz’s spine as Max shouted into the darkness. She lifted her hand to his chin and forced him to look at her. She inhaled sharply as she once again was met by the haunted look in his eyes.
“Max? Who are you talking to?”
He blinked and there was a second of confusion before his gaze cleared and he shook his head. “No one.”

“Do you want to kill her too?”

Liz saw him tense and even though he didn’t say anything, the way his head angled slightly over his shoulder made Liz frown with worry.

“She is going to die, you know that don’t you? If you stay with her, something is going to happen.”

Liz watched with a ball of dread growing every bigger how Max started to close himself off. Her grip tightened on his chin and she once again forced him to meet her eyes.
“Don’t listen to her,” Liz demanded. “Max? Do you hear me? Don’t listen to a word she’s saying.”
But she could see that she wasn’t successful in breaking through the thick shield forming around him. Without a second thought, her hand reached behind his neck and she pulled him towards her, crashing her lips against his. His lips were cold and he felt numb and stiff against her. But she slowly moved her lips over his, coaxing him to respond to her. Silently in her mind, she begged him to stop thinking and just feeling. To let go. She didn’t know what Tess was telling him right then, but she had a feeling that Tess was still present, because Max’s resistance was high. He pulled away from her, shaking his head, but before he got a word out, Liz melted her lips with his again. Her heart skipped a beat when she could feel him respond to her and he leaned into her. His hands traveled into her hair, softly angling her head to gain greater access.

The kiss was different from anything Liz had ever experienced. The few kisses Max and she had shared had all contained a twinge of desperation. There was no desperation in the way Max was kissing her now. He was slowly nibbling on her bottom lip, as if he was tasting her; familiarizing himself with the texture of her lips. It was slow and tender, and for the first time she got a taste of how it felt to have Max Evans’ undivided attention.

It was overwhelming.

She could feel his attention and focus on her in her whole body. Then his tongue brushed against hers and her whole world seemed to implode. Her hands moved around his back, bringing him closer to her. She couldn’t get enough of him. It wasn’t until they broke apart due to lack of air that she realized that he was crying. Licking her swollen lips, she could taste the saltiness of his sorrow.
“You okay?” she whispered, cupping his cheek with her small hand. He nodded, encircling her hand with his own before capturing her lips with his again.

She wasn’t really aware of how she got from the floor to the bed. She was lost in the sensations Max’s touches were creating. His hands and fingers skimmed over her body, affecting her in a way that no one had ever done. Only one person had touched her like this before, and Kevin had never awoken the same feelings with the mere brush of a finger over her skin. Somewhere at the back of her head she knew that they shouldn’t be doing this. She knew that this wouldn’t help the situation and Max was in no condition to make this kind of commitment yet. But she couldn’t stop herself. She had longed for his touch for so long. She had fantasized about him loving her, about him touching her in the way he was now, for months. He slowly pushed the bra straps of her shoulders, placing feathery kisses along her collarbone.
“Max, we shouldn’t-“
But his lips on hers silenced her and all thoughts of reason flew out her mind as Max’s hand cupped her breast, skin to skin. He moaned in her throat, his warm body pressing against her side. Her own fingers started to work on getting his shirt out of the way, the need to feel his skin under her fingers so strong it was almost suffocating. Their lips broke contact just long enough for her to get his shirt over his head. Her hands moved over his chest, exploring blindly as Max suckled on her throat.
“God…” Max murmured. “God… Tess…”

Liz stopped cold. Before Max understood what was happening Liz had scrambled out of his arms, pressing her half open shirt to her chest to shield her partial nudity. Max looked at her confused. “Liz, what..? Are you okay? Is it your heart?”
“You…” She took a deep breath, her heart hurting from the fact that he had called her Tess, even though it seemed as if he wasn’t aware of the mistake he had made. It didn’t hurt any less that she knew that they had moved too quickly and she should’ve anticipated something like this to happen. “We can’t do this, Max.”
She watched as the haze of passion lifted from his eyes and the fear returned to those amber eyes. There was realization in his eyes, before he asked grimly, “What did I say?”
Liz pulled away, reaching behind her back to clasp her bra back into place, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. “Nothing.”
“Liz, what happened?” Max asked again, pleading with her to answer.
“We made a mistake,” Liz whispered, biting back the hurt. “I… I should go.”
Max reached out with his hand and stopped her in the movement of getting off the bed. “Liz, I’m sorry if I… I guess I moved too fast. I just… I have-“
Liz placed a finger against his lips to prevent him from saying anything more. “Let’s take that another day, okay? I should go…”
Max nodded. His somber expression stopped Liz and she turned to him concerned. “Are you okay?”
His cheeks definitely had more color now than before, but he still looked like he was about to drop dead any second.
“What did I do, Liz?” Max whispered, his eyes begging her for an answer.
Liz looked at him in silence for a long time. “You have to heal, Max-“
In just the fraction of a second, Max’s face turned into stone. “You’re leaving,” he stated woodenly.
“No,” Liz said calmly. “I think I have to go home now, but I’m coming back.”
She couldn’t really interpret his facial expression, but he nodded his answer and his hand reached out, taking hers and giving it a grateful light squeeze.

The wisest decision might have been to stay with him and talk through what had happened. But she couldn’t do it. She was too confused and it felt like she was about to start crying at any second if she didn’t get out of there. She leaned forward and softly brushed her lips over his before buttoning up her shirt while simultaneously rising from the bed. She bent down to pick up the pills that had fallen out of the bottle when Max had hurried to get pills out, and put them back in her purse.

She had only been there for no more than twenty minutes and yet so much had happened. She realized that much was still the same and even more than that would never be the same. It was with a heavy heart that she left Max to his dark, lonely existence.


TBC...

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Postby max and liz believer » Wed Jun 02, 2004 8:47 pm

Hi!

Okay, I've got three things to say. First of all, thank you SO MUCH for the feedback, you guys!!!! It means so much!

And secondly, don't lose faith in our dreamer couple. I know that it looks pretty dark right now, but Max isn't really sane anymore. Don't confuse his feelings for Tess with his mental instability. He is not thinking straight. And before he is, we can't really judge if he will see Tess as his great love and Liz only as a second, or not. Just believe in the amazing love between Max and Liz, even though it seems hard.

Aaand - Thank you so much everyone who has nominated me or my stories in the Fanfic Nominations. I'm blown away every time I see a nomination which includes any of my stories. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!!!


I'm actually updating again. It must be that the revision period is starting (and I'm trying to avoid studying). The things you do to avoid studying. Yesterday I watched two movies - one was Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles 2 :wink: hehe and after those two movies I watched strange (obscene) conversations on Big Brother Uncut. Yep, very productive studying...

Enough about me, here's...


Chapter 32


Maria quickly stepped out of the way when Liz stormed past her.
“Hi Liz,” she said casually, her eyes following her best friend’s agitated entrance into her apartment. “What’s up?”
“I need to talk to you,” Liz said quickly, her hands trembling as she sifted her fingers through her hair.
“What happened?” Maria asked, concern starting to seep forward at the bad vibes she was getting from Liz.
“I just…” Liz sighed and sank down on the couch, only to stand up again five seconds later. “I…”
“It’s about Max, isn’t it?”
Liz stilled in her movements and nodded.
“You went to him,” Maria stated.
Liz nodded again.
“Liz,” Maria sighed.
Liz exhaled loudly and sank down in one of the chairs. “I know. I just couldn’t stay away any longer. I knew that I shouldn’t go there, that I would only complicate things and that he needs to deal with the things from his past before… I knew that I would only make things worse. And I did.”

The way her voice cracked with guilt and resignation made Maria sit down next to Liz and grab her hand in concern. Liz turned to look at her, tears building up in her eyes. “I can’t stay away, Maria. I can’t stay away. I want to help so much. If you had seen him, Maria… He’s in so much pain and I cannot just stand by and not do anything. When Isabel told me that the therapy wasn’t helping I couldn’t sit around and wait for a miracle to happen anymore. I needed to go to him. He’s…” Liz sniffled gratefully as Maria handed her a Kleenex. “He’s so lost. So lost. And I don’t know if he can… if he’s ever gonna live again.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Maria whispered. Liz’s behavior was scaring her. Liz was the eternal optimist. She always found a way to look at everything in a positive light. To see her so broken down and resigned sent chills down Maria’s spine.
“It was like I was his enemy,” Liz whispered. “He scared me. But I couldn’t leave, because I knew that it wasn’t really him. The Max I’ve gotten glimpses of could never do that.”
“What did he do?” Maria asked fearfully.
“It’s not important,” Liz answered, turning her head away. “What’s important is that I just left. I just left him there. He needed someone to talk to, someone that would listen to him and I just left.”

Maria’s somber voice prompted Liz to look at her. “Liz, listen to me. You have to take care of yourself as well. You can’t sacrifice yourself for his happiness. I believe you when you say that Max is lost. I’ve heard Michael talk about him and as you might have noticed Michael isn’t very…uhm… talkative, but lately he’s just been talking and talking. All about Max. He’s worried about him. I believe that something is really wrong with him. Which is why I think that you should stay away, Liz. You just got out of a relationship and not to mention, you were just in the hospital.”
Liz lowered her eyes guiltily at this, thinking back to the episode she’d had earlier at Max’s place. She used to be able to tell Maria everything, but that she didn’t want Maria to know what had happened. She didn’t want to give Maria any more reasons to convince her to stay away from Max.
“You are not the one to heal him, Liz. He has to heal himself.”
The conversation was interrupted by Liz’s cell phone going off. When Liz didn’t answer, Maria frowned and gave her a pointed look. “Why aren’t you answering?”
Liz just shook her head. She really didn’t feel like answering.
“It might be important,” Maria said.
Liz’s eyes closed at this. It might be Max.
Her hand closed around the cell phone and after a couple of seconds of hesitation, she answered.
“Liz, oh my God. Why didn’t you answer?”
Liz’s back straightened and she pressed the cell phone closer to her ear. “Isabel? What’s wrong?”
“What happened when you were here?” Liz didn’t miss the hint of accusation in Isabel’s voice. “He won’t open his door. He locked himself in there and I don’t…” Isabel’s sobs broke through and Liz was barely able to make out her last words. “I don’t know if he’s alive or not.”

“Oh my-“ Liz whispered.
“What did you say to him, Liz?”
“I’m-“
“He won’t even answer when I’m knocking on the door. Alex is considering breaking down the door.”
“You think he’s…hurt himself?”
“He’s always answered me before, even if he locked the door. God, Liz. Why did you have to come here? He was doing just fine without you.”
Liz’s heart sank and her head fell back against the chair.
“He wasn’t fine, Isabel,” but her voice was shaking even as she was voicing it. Isabel was fueling Liz’s self-blame and it was working like a charm.
Liz jerked as Maria’s cell phone went off. Liz tried to concentrate on the accusations Isabel was firing in her direction over the phone, but Maria’s ever increasing voice level was a major distraction.
“Just stay away, Liz. Okay? Just leave my brother alone!”
And with that Isabel hung up, leaving Liz feeling hollow and cold. Isabel was right of course. Max didn’t need another complication to his life. And Liz probably didn’t need someone with so much emotional baggage as Max in her life either. She needed to start fresh, not with someone that couldn’t separate the past from the present. But even as her mind was working furiously to bombard her with all the arguments for her to stay away, her soul was pulling in the other direction, making her feel like she was being ripped into two.

“Michael isn’t coming home.” Maria’s voice pulled Liz away from her dark thoughts.
“What?” she asked, a little dazed.
“Michael. He called me. Apparently he just got off the phone with Alex, who was asking Michael to get his butt over at Alex’s place, because they needed to break down Max’s door- Liz, what the hell happened when you were there?”
But Liz was already on her feet. She had a really bad feeling about this. Really bad. Maria quickly rose as Liz short of run towards the front door.
“Where’re you going?”
“To Max.”

<center>------------------------------------------------</center>

“Do you remember our first anniversary?”
Max nodded slowly and watched with amazement as Tess went through a transformation in front of him. The tangled curls straightened out and the hair turned more golden. Fresher. Suddenly it was as if the sun was shining on her, spilling down her light blue dress which was accentuating her blue sparkling eyes. She smiled at him. That smile that he had missed. Then he felt her touch his hand and he was pulled upwards from the bed. Although, it wasn’t a bed anymore, because when he looked behind him, he saw the car that he sold two months after their first anniversary. He looked back at her, his hand reaching out to tentatively touch her hair to see if it was as soft as he remembered it to be.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispered.
Her smile got brighter and he became aware of the texture of the ground changing beneath his shoes. Turning from wooden floor into grass in a couple of diffused seconds.

She pulled him with her, just like she had done that day and he could feel how his heart was struggling to come alive again. But it felt frighteningly cold and he was afraid that he wouldn’t feel her again. He reached out with his hand to pull her closer. To feel her skin beneath his fingers and feel the warmth of her lips against his, but she fled away from his hand, pulling harder on the one that she was holding in hers.
“Come on,” she coaxed softly. Her voice was so warm, like music to his ears. He could see the end of the cliff ahead of them and when he looked up he could see all the stars shining. He knew what would happen. He knew that they would be sitting at the front of the cliff and talk and laugh. He knew that they would make love under the stars. For some reason that thought stopped him cold. Something felt wrong with that. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something about the whole thing was wrong.

“Come on, Max,” Tess laughed, pulling harder to drag him out of his hesitation.
He fell down next to her, feeling a fleeting feeling of happiness pass through him. But it was like the feeling didn’t belong to him anymore. That it was merely a…memory. His back straightened and he looked around him. He looked at the trees and the leaves moving in the warm summer breeze and he could see it changing. Moving in and out of another environment. Something behind this one. He squinted with his eyes and could see a bed moving through the trees, but when he blinked it disappeared. Apprehension grabbed him. What was going on?
“Max?”
He looked down into his wife’s blue eyes and took a deep breath when her eyes didn’t look like they usually do. They were slightly red and the sparkling warm blue had turned cold. Ice cold.
“Max, are you okay?”
Her hand against his cheek made him fall backwards and he scrambled to get his legs untangled and to stand up. Tess looked at him with a frown. “Max? What’s wrong?”
“What’s going on, Tess?” Max whispered, looking around him frantically. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing’s happening,” Tess answered calmly. “Just relax. It’s just the two of us here.” Before Max’s eyes her dress shifted from blue into white. “Just like it’s suppose to be.”
“What…?” he stuttered. He felt like he had been hit with a sledgehammer in his stomach and he crouched forward, reflexively hugging his stomach to try and stop himself from throwing up.

“You’re not here,” he whispered, closing his eyes so tight his forehead started to hurt.
“Don’t be silly,” he heard Tess laugh lightly. “Come over here. I have something for you.”
His fingers pressed into the soft of his palm, his nails being buried so deep in that the skin broke and blood started to seep out.
“You are not real. Get out of my head! You are not real!!”
“Max!”
Her voice was colder and he had to fight to not give in to her. To not give her what she wanted, just because he wanted her to be as warm as she had been just a minute ago.
“You do remember what you told me that day, don’t you?”
“No no no no! Get out of my head! Get out of MY HEAD!!”
His hands wrapped around his head and his bloodied hands dug into his skull, trying to somehow force her out.
“You told me that you would never love anyone else. You told me that I was the one. You told me that I was going to be the one until you died. You told me that I was all you ever wanted. Does it ring a bell, huh, Max?”
“I’m not listening to you,” Max murmured. “You are not real.” In his mind he was trying to visualize what the room at Isabel’s place looked like. He needed to get back. But he had no idea how to.

“Help me, please somebody help me,” he whimpered. He wasn’t sure if anyone was hearing him. When he felt hands on his face he shrank away, yelling to Tess to get away. But it wasn’t Tess. Surprisingly, it didn’t take him long to recognize Liz’s warm touch.
“Liz,” he sobbed, relief racking his body. He didn’t dare to open his eyes, out of fear that he would only be imagining Liz and instead see Tess standing there.
“Shhh, I’m here. It’s okay. I’m here. Open your eyes, Max.”
“Is she there? Is she still there?”
There was a moment of silence before her voice drifted to him, making his legs fold under his weight. “No. No, Max. She’s not here.”
He fell into her arms, and with his eyes still closed he breathed in the smell of her shampoo and felt the texture of her hair as he buried his face in crook of her neck.
“You’re okay now, Max. I’ve got you.”
He sobbed in her hair, barely being aware of her hand moving up and down his back soothingly. All he was aware of was her scent and the realness of her body holding him steady, grounding him and bringing him further away from the hell in his mind.
He could hear other voices around him, but he automatically blocked them out. The only voice clear in his mind was Liz.
“I’m staying here with him. It’s okay.” Pause. “Yeah, I’m okay.” Her voice lowered and softer as she spoke against his ear. “We’re okay.”


TBC...


P.S. Elizabeth, thank you!! :D :D

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Postby max and liz believer » Thu Oct 14, 2004 9:45 pm

Hello everyone!!

I'm so sorry for the long wait, but believe it or not I have a new chapter for you. It's been forever and I'm gonna try and write something more in the nearest future (before final exams start). Thank you so much everyone for your patience and support!

Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for editing!! :D :D (and don't worry about you being disorganized :wink:, it happens to me on a daily basis...)

rigel, Applejacks, Crystal (Jason's Lover), stargrl678, WomanofMystery and Mariel311 - Welcome to this fic!! I hope you are still here :wink: and that you will continue to enjoy this story!

Nicole, so glad to see you here again :)


Okay, let's skip to the update now, shall we?


Chapter 33

“Daddy?”
Barely conscious, Max turned his head towards the sound of the child voice.
“Mhmm…”
“Daddy?” The voice got clearer. Closer.
“I’m right here,” Max mumbled, sleep weighing down on him.
“I can’t see you, daddy. Where are you?”
His eyes sprung open as fear hit him and he looked in the direction of the doorway. The empty doorway.
“Josh? Joshua?”
The sound of his heart was hammering in his ears as his eyes searched the darkness for the silhouette of his son.
“Max?”
He practically jumped when he heard her voice behind him and it sent him flying back to reality.
“Max? Are you okay?”
Her hand tentatively moved up his back to come to rest on his shoulder.
He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. But his eyes were still fixed on the doorway and his body was still trembling.
“Max?”
“I’m fine,” he croaked, wincing at the lack of life in his voice.

A couple of seconds passed before she whispered, “Was it a bad dream? Was it Tess?”
He swallowed deeply, trying to drown the sadness that came with the realization that his son would never stand in the doorway ever again, asking for him. Never ever again. His four-year-old son would never have a bad dream again. His son would never dream again. He didn’t know he was crying before her arms encircled him from the back, her soothing voice whispering close to his ear, but his mind wouldn’t let him rest.
“Why did they have to die? Why? Why did they have to die? They hadn’t done anything wrong. They were not bad people.” His crying voice echoed off the walls, not the least humbled by the surrounding darkness. “Josh wanted to go to Disneyland. He was supposed to meet Mick-Mickey Mouse.”
“Shhh,” Liz whispered.
“Why didn’t I stop them? Why didn’t I stop her from leaving earlier? Why didn’t I go with them? I could’ve… I could’ve..:”
“Max, it’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. There was nothing you could’ve done-“
”Yes, there was!” He pulled away from her abruptly, sitting up in the bed. He looked down at her and his trail of thought was momentarily halted when he saw the tears shining on her cheeks.

“Yes, there was,” he repeated quietly. “There were so many things I could have done differently. But I didn’t… I didn’t.”
She crawled closer to him, closing the distance he had created between them.
“You blaming yourself won’t bring them back, Max,” she said slowly.
He stared at her, his whole body going cold. It was true. He knew it was true, but still to hear it so honestly and straightforward hurt. The pain was close and so real.
“I know,” he whispered, but he could see the truth reflected in her eyes. He didn’t know. His mind might know it was true, but his heart didn’t. In his heart he was responsible for their death. He should have done something to prevent it. There were a lot of things that he could have done to prevent it and it was his fault that he hadn’t done them. He shivered, his feelings mixed, as she put her hand against his cheek. He looked up, but the intensity of her gaze made him drop his eyes again.
“Sweetie,” she whispered, “There was nothing you could have done. You hear me? Max, look at me.”
With his eyes still fixed on the bed, he murmured, almost inaudibly, “Do you know what I wanted to do after the accident?”
She shook her head, but he went on even though he couldn’t see her response. He was in his own mind, where nothing existed but painful memories. “I tried to find him. I wanted to kill him. I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to die.”
His voice was shaking, but so detached that it made a shill run down Liz’s spine. She knew who he was talking about, even though he had never talked about that person before. The drunk driver. The person who indirectly killed his family.

“The police wouldn’t let me anywhere near him. The hatred was consuming. I couldn’t think of anything else but how much I wanted him to suffer. I wanted to stand over him and look into his eyes when he realized what he had done.” He looked up and met her eyes and she swallowed. Hard. His look was firm, determined and cold, but if she looked closer she could see the fear. Fear for himself and what he was thinking.
“I wanted him dead, Liz. I wanted to be the one to take his life as he had taken Tess and Josh’s lives.”
“It’s okay,” Liz whispered, not knowing what to say.
Max shook his head slowly, “It’s not okay. It’s never gonna be okay ever again. Because they are gone.”
“Max, you…” she swallowed again, not sure what to say and what to not say. “You have to realize that…that they wouldn’t want you to continue living your life holding onto old memories and never moving forward.”
Max thoughts shifted to all his encounters with his wife and how determined she had been about him continuing to love her, even though she had left him. As if Liz could see what road his thoughts had started to travel down on, she took his hand, raised it to her lips and placed a soft kiss on the knuckles.
“The Tess who has been visiting you, Max, is just in your mind. Do you really think that your Tess would ever behave like that? Would she want you to never live again? Would she want you to blame yourself and feel hatred every day? Is that the girl you married?”
Heavy tears rolling down his moist cheeks, he slowly shook his head.
“I… I don’t think that the therapist you are seeing right now is helping you, Max. Just like the first therapist couldn’t help you.”
”You haven’t talked to him. You wouldn’t kn-“
“I have a feeling,” Liz whispered, even though it was more than a feeling. It was the slow degradation of the person sitting in tears in front of her, with the end of the world weighing down on his shoulders, telling her that the therapist was doing something wrong. “If you let me help you, Max, I promise that I will stick around. I would probably stick around anyway.”

Max sighed sadly, his eyes dropping to her hand, which was resting on top of his. “I’m so scared, Liz. I’m so scared to let you…in, because… because…”
“Because of my heart,” Liz said softly.
Max’s eyes snapped up to meet hers and he started to shake his head fervently in denial, “No, no, that’s not what I meant-“
“But that’s what you thought,” Liz said, a small comforting smile on her lips that never truly reached her eyes. It was the smile of a person who knows that her destiny will always be doomed because of one thing. Her heart. “I’m sure Isabel has told you so as well. There is always the chance of me dying, and that chance is bigger because of my heart condition.”
”But you said that your heart was fine now,” Max protested, her words planting insecurity in his heart that he hadn’t allowed himself to consider before.
“It is,” Liz smiled, “Because I got another one.” She had to avert her eyes from him at this, because her thoughts automatically traveled to whom she had received the heart from, a subject they had not truly address yet. She didn’t want to address it now either, because it was more important that Max got better before adding her and her problems to the equation. But she could see in his eyes that he had been thinking the same thing. They just could not get past the weird fact that Liz was alive because Tess was dead.
“I’m tired,” Max said softly, and with that Liz could feel him pulling away and closing up. But she didn’t want to do anything about it. It was in the middle of the night and Max looked like death warmed over. He needed to sleep – for months.
“Okay,” Liz nodded. “Do you want me to leave?”
His hand took a hold of her hand, the sudden pressure almost painful. “No, please don’t.”
Relief spread through her body and she nodded. “I won’t. I’ll stay right here. I’m not going anywhere.”
She curled up next to him, her body spooning around him, while his body naturally came to rest close to hers.
“Sweet dreams,” she whispered in his ears. He took a hold of the hand she had put on his side and pulled it around his waist, bringing her even closer.
“I think I will,” he murmured so softly that it got lost in the silence of the house.

<center>-----------------------------------------</center>

Liz woke up a couple of hours later by the sound of arguing voices. She slowly started to move, careful not to wake Max. His grip on her had weakened during the night, as unconsciousness had claimed him, but every time she moved it would tighten, which it did now as she tried to free her hand from his. He mumbled restlessly in his sleep when her warm body moved away from his. She pressed a soft kiss on the side of his neck and he settled down some. It was with regret that she left his side.


“He needs to be put in a mental institution!”
“What the hell are you talking about, Michael?! He’s your friend! How can you abandon him like that?! No, this is a family matter and it should be resolved in the family-“
”Listen to yourself! How well has this family matter been resolved this far? How have we helped if Max has turned into a nutcase? He should have gotten help earlier and I regret not pushing harder when he stopped seeing the first therapist. For some stupid reason I thought that he would know best what to do. But he doesn’t, okay Isabel? He doesn’t know at all what to do. He needs our hel- Where are you going?”
“I refuse to listen to you accusing me of not taking care of my brother. What do you think I’ve done the last two years?! I haven’t had one peaceful night for two years, Michael!”
”This isn’t about you, Isabel!”
”That’s not what she said-“
”Stay out of this, Alex.”
“No, this ends right here. You have to see beyond your own egos and see what would be best for Max.”
“That’s what we are doing!” Isabel and Michael cried out in unison.
“What’s going on?”
Michel, Isabel and Alex turned their heads towards the stairs, where they saw Liz.
“Great,” Isabel mumbled. “Another person who thinks she has a say in this..:”
”Shut up, Is,” Michael said.

Isabel took a deep breath, about to say something and then stopped herself, her inhalation collapsing in a swallowed sigh behind tightly closed lips.
“Why does everyone think they are entitled to give their opinion on this? Max is my responsibility-“
”For Christ’s sake,” Michael cried out.
“Here we go again,” Alex said.
Liz stepped up to Alex, figuring that he was probably the only person she would be able to get any information from. Without her even having to open her mouth, Alex answered her unspoken question, “Michael wants to put Max in a mental institution, because he feels that Max is too far gone to be treated by a therapist since his meetings with the therapist haven’t been successful. Isabel wants to go on treating him at home and she feels that he is doing okay, that he is getting better.”
Liz nodded, her eyes fixed on the angry posture of Michael and Isabel’s defensive posture.
“Well, at least put him on some medication,” Michael said.
“Medication?! He doesn’t need medication, Michael! He is fine! Okay? He. Is. Fine.”
Michael’s whole body was shaking with repressed anger, and it was visible to Liz that he was seconds away from exploding. She inhaled deeply when he turned his attention on her.
“What do you think, Liz?”
“She doesn’t have a say in this,” Isabel interrupted, but Michael just ignored her.
”Max seems to trust you and you’ve been in his room during the night, what do you think? Do you think he is healthy? Do you think that his behavior is normal?”
“I don’t think he’s healthy,” Liz answered.
”Hah!” Michael said triumphantly in the general direction of where Isabel was standing.
“But,” Liz hurried to say, “I don’t think that he should be locked up in an institution or that he needs any medication.”

”What?!” Michael cried out, baffled.
Isabel’s eyebrows rose with sudden awakened interest.
“I think we should take him to another therapist. He could evaluate the situation and we should take it from there. Personally, I don’t think he needs to be put in a mental institution. He is finally starting to realize what is going on with him and that is a big step towards recovery, which tells me that there is still hope.”
“Why should we change therapist? That is just ridiculous. This therapist knows Max now and has all the facts. If we change the therapist, Max has to go through the process of talking about all those horrible things all over again.”
Isabel looked at her husband for support but she could quickly see that he wasn’t to support her in this. He had been standing behind her for too long and now it was starting to go against his own beliefs.
“I think she’s right,” Alex whispered.
“Yeah, the therapist Max has right now sucks,” Michael agreed.
Isabel took a deep breath, trying to control her feelings. “What the hell is wrong with everyone?! I thought you wanted what was best for Max!”
“Please, Isabel,” Liz said calmly, “Can’t we just try this and if the new therapist isn’t good we can go back to the old one?”
Isabel stepped away, shaking her head, resignation making her head heavy. “Fine, just do whatever you like.”
“Isabel…” Alex reached out with his hand towards her, but she slapped it away.
“No, Alex, if you want to be on their side, then be on their side. But don’t expect me to support you.”
With that Isabel walked away, slamming the door to her bedroom close behind her.
“I’m sorry,” Liz said, “I didn’t mean to-“
”That’s okay, Liz,” Michael said, sinking down on one of the stools behind him, his hands tiredly rubbing over his face.
“Yeah, she’s just throwing one of her tantrums,” Alex said with a reassuring smile, “She’ll get over it.”
For some reason, Liz wasn’t so sure about that. It felt like she would be fighting Isabel on this thing for a long time. A very long time.


TBC...

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Postby max and liz believer » Mon Jan 31, 2005 7:04 am

I can certainly understand if you have to re-read some chapters or even the whole story to get back into it. I don't know how many times I've had to re-read this story (and it's my story :roll:) just because I couldn't remember what I wrote :wink:

However, I have some chapters now that my lovely beta-reader was very quick at editing so there won't be that far between the updates in the nearest future. I will also try to write some more chapters before I start school again and maybe even finish this story.

Thank you so much for your support and your sweet words! I couldn't have done this without you!

Much love,

Jo


Chapter 34


Alex slowly pressed down the handle and winced as the door screeched slightly when he pushed it inwards. The room, which he stepped into as slowly and quietly as he could, was dark, but by the light that was shining in from the hallway, the streak of light reaching the end of the bed and brushing up against the covers, he could see the contours of her figure in the bed.
“Isabel? Honey?”
“Go away,” came the mumbled reply.
“Don’t be like this, Is. You know that Liz is only trying to hel-“
“I don’t want to hear about Liz. I don’t want to hear how nice she is and how caring she is! Leave me alone, Alex!!”
“Now you’re just being ridiculous, Is. Just listen to yourself.” Carefully, Alex stepped further into the room and got closer to the bed. As the shadow of his long lean body fell over her bundled up body, she pulled the comforter even further up to her ears, turning her back fully against him.
“I don’t want to hear it, Alex. Just leave.”
There was a twinge of sadness in her voice, of resignation, that could’ve stopped anyone else but Alex from pushing any further. But Alex knew his wife by now. At the beginning of their marriage, he had stopped by now; afraid that he would hurt her if he pushed any further. But he knew by now, after three years of marriage, that this was the point at when he needed to dig deeper because it was now that Isabel was open enough for anyone to talk some reason into her.

He slowly sat down on the edge of the bed and heard her tired sigh follow.
“Everyone is so grateful for what you’ve done, Isabel. But you have to realize that you can’t take care of Max on your own, you need help.”
When she didn’t respond, he knew that he had hit the right nerve and he leaned over her, brushing a strand of her blonde hair away from her forehead. Stubbornly, she slightly pulled away from his touch, but he knew her too well to take her movement seriously. She was just doing it to preserve her pride.
“Liz cares just as much as you about Max. She’s just trying to help as well. She’s doing what she thinks is the right thing to do. She’s only human, Isabel. Just like you. You can’t possibly know what to do in a situation like this, Is; no one can.”
“She hasn’t been by his side for two years,” Isabel whispered, pain in her voice. “She hasn’t seen him. She hasn’t seen how badly he has felt, how he has struggled. She doesn’t know how much I’ve struggled to help him.”
“No, she hasn’t,” Alex said softly, lying down next to her and snaking his arm around her waist. Quietly, he placed a kiss at the back of her head. “You’re so strong, Is. I get more impressed with you everyday. I don’t know anyone that is stronger than you, sweetie.”
Her sobs broke through the darkness and his arm tightened protectively around her waist.
“But you can’t handle this on your own. No person is that strong. You wouldn’t let Max handle this on his own, would you? That’s why he could always count on you to be there. But maybe you have to leave some of the responsibility to someone else.”
“Another therapist?” she asked, broken.
“If that’s what it takes, yes,” Alex answered. “Both you and I know that Max is not feeling good and you know that it’s not Liz’s fault. He was not feeling well even before Liz stepped into his world; he was just better at hiding it back then. You knew it, I knew it, even Michael knew it. Max still needs you, Is. He needs your support and he needs you to be there by his side as his sister, not as his caretaker. He’s probably going to get worse before he gets better and maybe this is it. Maybe his breakdown is a good thing, if he gets your support now and not your fear and worry, Is. Let him go, for him.”

Silence lowered itself over the bed after Alex’s words and for a while he feared that he had not only crossed the line, but destroyed the line altogether.
“When did you become so wise?” Isabel whispered and he felt himself relax.
A relieved smile spread itself over his lips and he kissed her cheek as he crawled closer to her. Her body turned in his arms and her tearstained face turned to him, with red-brimmed eyes looking into his.
He gave her an encouraging smile while the pads of his fingers removed the moisture from her cheeks.
“Why me?”
He frowned in his smile and laughed softly. “What?”
“Why me? Why did you choose me?”
“Because you’re you. Because you entranced me from the moment I saw you.”
She smiled through the new tears and slightly shook her head, as if she couldn’t believe herself that he had chosen her out of all the girls he could’ve fallen for. She buried her face in his chest.
“I love you, Alex. I love you so much.”
”I love you too. You’re my very own ice queen.”
She smacked him lightly in the chest and her voice came out muffled in Alex’s shirt. “Don’t push your luck, mister.”
Alex grinned in her hair. “Me? Never.”

<center>----------------------------------------------------------------</center>

Liz knocked softly on the wooden door. “Max?”
Her tentative voice drifted through the wood, into the room on the other side. It drifted through the air towards the bed and brushed up against his cheek to reach his ear. He stirred slightly, the dream world blending with reality; the dream world which was refusing to let go off its hold on him. But it was something about that voice that called him. Like a bright beacon shining in the darkness. It was something about that voice that made him want to wake up. And continue to stay awake.

“Max?”
He forced himself through the heavy mists of unconsciousness and took a hold of the slippery threads hanging from the elusive consciousness, pulling himself upwards just as Liz slowly opened the door and the light from the outside sneaked into the room.
“Max? Are you awake?”
Her voice was soft and quiet, barely stirring the silence.
“I’m awake,” he mumbled and his arm automatically reached out in the air towards her.
Liz took his hand, ignoring the chills of pleasure running up her arm that the contact of his skin against hers brought, and sat down on the edge of the bed. She swallowed deeply as her eyes met his. His eyes were dark and partly glazed over, as if he was struggling to stay with her. He looked so lost that Liz’s grasp on his hand automatically tightened.
“How are you feeling?”
He attempted a smile, but it quickly turned into the shadow of a grimace. “Better.”
Her own smile felt strained on her lips as she gave his hand a squeeze. “I’m glad.”
Her eyes were drawn to their entwined hands and as her thoughts started to travel with her sudden nervousness, her other hand began to unconsciously stroke the back of his hand.
“I need to talk to you about something, Max.”
He nodded, somewhat wearily. “Sure.”
“You have the final word, Max. We are not forcing you. But…” She cleared her throat and met his eyes. “I don’t think that the therapist you have now is helping you. You don’t seem to be feeling any better.”
He nodded again. She searched his eyes, trying to figure out what was going on behind those once so emotional deep eyes of his. When he didn’t respond in any other way than with his tired nod, she put her other hand on top of his and enveloped his hand in the warmth between her two palms.
“Max?”

“Sure,” he repeated again and a chill went through her. The strongest feeling that she couldn’t reach him slammed into her.
“Maybe someone else can help you, Max.”
She knew that it would take a lot from him to change therapist. He would have to tell his story all over again to another therapist, but Liz couldn’t see any other choice. Judging from how Max’s eyes were absently skittering around the room, without stopping at one point more than a second, the therapist he had now wasn’t helping him. He might even be making it worse for Max.
The heavy cold thick blanket of silence lowered itself on them again and Liz could feel the tears burning her eyes. But she wouldn’t cry. She needed to be strong for both of them. Then he looked straight at her, straight into her heart, and the air got caught in her throat.
“I just need you,” he whispered.
His whisper shook like an electrical current into her heart but still her first rational thought concerned insecurity. Was the statement directed at her or the former wife that was haunting his mind?
“I can’t help you alone,” she answered softly.
“I just need you,” he repeated. “Please Liz…” A tear of relief escaped the strict control she had held on her tears as her name rolled off his lips.
“I want her out of my head and she’s only gone when you’re here.”
She could see him now. She could see the Max she had met at the shopping mall that day when he had lost Michelle. She could see the desperation in his eyes but also the hope…and love.
She swallowed hard and on instinct she let go off his hand and instead brought her arms around him, pulling him towards her.
“I’ll be with you the entire time,” she whispered in his ear.
“You will?”
Her response stuck in her throat at the mixture of abandonment and hope characterizing his voice and she merely nodded her reply. She pulled back a little and placed a kiss on the side of his neck. She could feel his hands forming fists around her shirt and she sighed against his shoulder. She would do anything to be here for him, if only Isabel would let her.

<center>----------------------------------------------------------</center>

One week later

“Oh it’s you,” Isabel mumbled as Liz opened the door for her.
Liz mustered up the last bit of patience in her body and forced herself to smile. “Hi Isabel.”
Isabel just gave her a short nod and brushed past Liz into the house. Liz rolled her eyes. “Why don’t you come in, Isabel?”
“Where’s Max?” Isabel asked putting the bags that were hanging from her hands on the counter by the sink.
Liz closed the door behind Isabel and slowly walked towards Isabel. “He’s actually at the therapist.”
Isabel spun around, a frown settling on her smooth forehead. She brushed a blonde tendril of hair out of her eye and captured Liz with her cold eyes. “You found a new one?”
Liz nodded cautiously. She could see how Isabel’s body tensed and she had learnt from the short period of time that she had known Isabel that the motion was usually followed by barely restrained anger.
“Why haven’t you told me?”
“We just found one. I was just about to call you, but then I realized that you would probably come over anyway,” she couldn’t help the acid that sneaked into her voice as she gave Max’s sister a sarcastic smile, “and right I was.”
Isabel’s brown eyes grew darker. “Don’t try to be smart with me, Elizabeth. He’s my brother and I should know what’s happening with him. Just because he for some reason wants you here, doesn’t mean that I enjoy having you here. Got it?”
Liz sighed, deciding it was no use arguing with Isabel. The situation with Isabel was tiresome and she never seemed to come to terms with the fact that Liz was going to stay. Liz had decided a long time ago that she would shut up and let Isabel throw her tantrums and order everyone around, if it meant less worries for Max. Max didn’t need to think about that Liz and his sister weren’t getting along, not on top of everything else.

“Of course, Isabel,” Liz answered, loosely holding up her hands in front of her in a sign of resignation.
Isabel’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t say anything. She turned around towards the bags and started unpacking.
“I shopped some groceries for Max,” she said, placing the products on the counter.
Liz had to bit her lip to stop herself from crying out in frustration and she was glad that Isabel was standing with her back towards her. There didn’t seem to be an end to how far Isabel would go to show Liz that she wasn’t a part of Max’s life and never would be.
“You don’t have to do that, Isabel. I shopped yesterday.”
“I know,” Isabel said, her voice still cold and her back still turned towards Liz. “But I don’t think you know what he likes yet. I’m just helping you out a little, Liz.”
Liz’s fist tightened at the side of her body and she took a deep breath and she had to struggle to get the next sentence out. “Thank you, Isabel.”
“That’s nothing, Liz. You obviously need a little help.”
Liz shut her eyes and pressed them tightly shut for a couple of seconds before she without another word walked out of the kitchen.
“I’ll just put the pasta in the other cabinet, Liz! I think you’ve put the pasta in the wrong cabinet before!”

Liz hurried up the stairs and quickly closed the door behind her as she reached the bedroom.
“Gaaaaaaah!!” she screamed at the empty room. She picked up the phone.
“She’s driving me insane. She’s driving me insane.” Her mumbles were repeated until Maria answered on the other side of the phone.
“Thank God!” Liz exclaimed.
“Liz? What’s wrong?” Maria’s concern-radar instantly shot through the roof.
“A sane person,” Liz said with relief.
“Yes, yes, I’m a sane person,” Maria said confused, “It’s not what people usually call me, but I personally think so-“
“I don’t know what to do about her. She’s- she’s-“
”Ahh…Isabel?” Maria guessed.
“She’s starting to get on my nerves, Ria,” Liz said, her frustration barely restrained any longer.
“I’m actually surprised she hadn’t gotten on your nerves already,” Maria said. “I’ve been annoyed with her just through what you’ve told me about her.”
“I don’t know what to do anymore, Maria. I don’t know what to do. The last thing Max needs right now is for me to be fighting with his sister. He needs both of our support.”
“Yes, he does, but Liz, listen to me; you can’t go on like this. Don’t you think that Max can feel the tension? He’s no child. Even though he seems closed off most of the time, I can assure you that he notices what’s going on.”
Liz sank down on the bed and tiredly rubbed her face. “I know, Maria. I’ve seen it. If both Isabel and I are in the room, he walks out. He can’t deal with it and that’s what I don’t want. I don’t want him to have to feel that he can’t stand being in the same room as Isabel and I. I don’t want that.”

“Of course you don’t,” Maria said. “You have to talk to Isabel, Liz. Isn’t Max with that therapist right now?”
“Uh-huh”, Liz nodded even though Maria couldn’t see her.
“Then take this opportunity to talk to Isabel. You need to do it. Isabel needs to understand what she is doing to Max.”
“But she must know that Max can feel the tension,” Liz murmured.
“Would she really keep doing this if she knew?” Maria pointed out.
“I think she’s just trying to confirm her position here. She doesn’t want me here, Ria.”
“She just has to realize that you are not leaving, Lizzie. And you have to tell her that. Give her an ultimatum or whatever, just get her to listen to you.”
”Okay,” Liz took a deep breath. “Okay… You’re right. I have to talk to her. Max needs us more now than ever and we can’t keep doing this.”
”Exactly. It can’t be good for your hea-“
”Don’t say it, Ria,” Liz said with a warning tone. “This is not about me anymore, this is about Max.”
She could hear Maria’s silent protest on the other end. Of course Maria was worried about what all this tension was doing to Liz’s heart, but Liz just couldn’t start thinking about that as well. She had to focus on getting Max well now.
“You’re right,” Maria said, swallowing her words of concern for her best friend. “Just promise to take care of yourself as well, Lizzie. I can’t lose you.”
“I will, I promise,” Liz smiled. “Thank you, sweetie. Love you.”
“I love you too, Liz,” Maria said warmly and then added with a teasing voice, “Oh, and tell Isabel I said hi.”
Liz’s smile grew. “I probably won’t. Bye.”
“Bye-bye, babe.”


TBC...

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Postby max and liz believer » Wed Feb 02, 2005 7:33 am

Hello everyone!

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you everyone so much for the feedback! I'm so happy to see you all again!!

Kay, Ana, Sandra, Scottie, Frenchkiss70, Eve, roswelluver, sunrise102, purpleant, Emz80m, rigel, mezz, Eliz, Sali103

- Thank you so much for the feedback and for letting me know that you're reading!

A big wave to all you lurkers (I've already talked to one of you :wink:)

A big hug to Elizabeth for editing!!

Here's the next part, because I just can't keep you waiting any longer now that I've had you waiting ages for an update...


Chapter 35


“Isabel, we need to talk.”
Isabel slammed the door to one of the cabinet close and turned around towards Liz. With cold disinterest she raised one eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Liz said, suddenly feeling slightly nervous about having this conversation.
“Okay,” Isabel said, her voice lacking any emotion at all. “But it has to be quick. I have to pick up Michelle from kindergarten.”
Liz nodded. “Sure.”
She cleared her throat and sank down on one of the stools at the kitchen counter, her eyes wearily following Isabel’s movements as she continued to repack most of the things that Liz had arranged in the cabinets during the one week she had lived at Max’s place.
“It’s about us,” Liz said, not really sure how to begin.
“Us?” Isabel frowned in her direction, before continuing in her cabinets.
“Yeah, can you sit down for a sec and listen to me?”
Isabel stopped and looked over at her. She looked at the petite woman, with her delicate features and her shiny dark hair. She noticed how Liz was turning her ring restlessly around her finger and she hesitated a brief moment just to let Liz know that she didn’t really want to talk to her, before she sighed deeply and sat down opposite Liz; leaving one stool between them.
“Thank you,” Liz said softly.

“What is it, Liz?” Isabel asked, her voice suspicious. She really wasn’t up to this. She was so tired of having the same discussions with this woman over and over again, and she suspected that this was going to be yet another one of those discussions. About how she didn’t have to come over everyday because Liz would call her if she needed her help. Maybe she was a little too much, she didn’t completely lack the ability to reflect over her own actions, but she just couldn’t get herself to leave over the responsibility that had been hers ever since the accident.
“I don’t know how to say this… So I’m just gonna say it, okay?”
Isabel nodded and braced herself for what she knew would come.
“I need you to take a step back, Isabel.”
“Liz,” Isabel sighed tiredly. “We’ve been through this already.”
”I’m serious, Isabel. You’re…Honestly, Isabel, you’re driving me insane. I’ve tried to stay out of your way and let you do whatever you wanted, but my patience is wearing out. I’ve never allowed anyone to boss me around and I won’t start now. Max invited me here; he wanted me to be here. I understand that you feel that you have a responsibility to take care of Max and I’m not asking you to not be there for him anymore. I’m just asking you to at least accept that I’m going be here for awhile and that you take a step back. I think that Max would appreciate your help much more if you didn’t try to…push me around.”
Isabel stared at her, but even though Isabel’s stare could turn anything to ice Liz stubbornly held her gaze. Isabel wouldn’t succeed in scaring her away.
“What makes you think that you know what Max thinks and what he wants? How long have you’ve known him again? That’s right – not even two months! I’ve known him for all his life! I babysat him when he was little. I was there when he learned to ride a bike. I was there when he went on his first date. I was there when he got married and when… I was there to see how he was before the accident. You don’t even know how Max was before! How can you possibly help him become him again?”

“He will never become the same person as he was again,” Liz said quietly. Was that what Isabel was trying to do? Was she hoping that Max would be just as he was before the accident?
“What Max has been through has put scars in his mind and he has experienced things that have changed him forever,” Liz continued.
“Don’t even talk about what Max has been through! You don’t even know the start of it! You came around when he was doing better and suddenly…” tears of anger and frustration started to run down her cheeks “…suddenly he started getting worse. I can’t help but thinking that it was all your fault. Whatever balance he had found, he lost, because you came into the picture.”
“Do you really think that he was okay if just the appearance of a new person in his life would make such a big change to his whole existence?” Liz asked, surprised.
“Something changed when he met you!” Isabel yelled; the streak of accusation in her tone very evident.
It was getting too personal at this point and Liz snapped. “Maybe because he wanted to start living again!”
Isabel looked at the small woman that she deep down knew had stolen Max’s heart a long time ago and was pretty sure that she had never seen her that angry before. Liz’s cheeks were flustered and her hands were clenching and unclenching.
Isabel swallowed and looked at Liz. For once, really looked at her. “Do you really think so?”
Liz had to stop for a minute, the sound of her beating heart echoing in her ears and the shallow breathing quickly floating over her lips. She wasn’t expecting this total transformation that Isabel suddenly went through.

“Yes,” Liz whispered.
“I knew that something wasn’t right. I knew all along, but I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, because on the outside he seemed fine. No one else was talking about it, so I didn’t want to make a fuss about something that might just have been in my mind. But he wasn’t the same. I didn’t recognize him. I tried talking to him, but he just wouldn’t listen. Alex knew that I was worried and he tried talking to me, but most of the time I shut him out.”
Liz couldn’t help but stare as the former ice queen in front of her started to melt and the waterfall of words spilled out of her mouth.
“I’ve been horrible, Liz, but I was trying to protect him. I didn’t want you to be one of those who would just leave him when it got too difficult. He really cares about you and I don’t think he could handle you leaving him.”
Liz looked at her, stunned. “Then why did you tell me to leave him alone a month ago?”
”I didn’t want to see how much you meant to him. It was easier if I could take care of him on my own. You didn’t know him-“
”I know him quite well by now,” Liz said softly.
An insecure smile settled on Isabel’s lips. “I just realized how similar you are to Max before the accident. You are just as stubborn and just as big hearted. A part of me hates to admit it, but if there’s anyone that can take care of Max, it’s you.”
Tears spilled over Liz’s eyes as she could nothing but stare at Isabel. Where had this woman come from?
“I did a complete U-turn, didn’t I?” Isabel asked, her voice warmer than Liz had ever heard it being addressed to her.
Liz nodded dumbfounded. “I can’t say that I expected this. I was preparing to fight with you for a long time, and even after that I would have to be forced to drag you out of here.”
Isabel raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow. ”Would you really try and drag me out of here?”
“If that’s what it would take to give Max some piece of mind.”
Isabel actually laughed and Liz could only shake her head in amazement. “I never thought I would say this to you, Liz. But I like you. You passed the Isabel test and that’s not an easy test to pass. Just ask Alex.”
This cracked Liz up as well and through tears they laughed for a good ten minutes, all their common worries and anxieties about Max turning into laughter. Finally, they could meet in their common love and care for Max and support each other.

<center>-----------------------------------------------------</center>

Liz rose as she heard the key in the door and walked quickly towards the front door.
Her heart skipped a beat or two when she saw Max. He glanced at her quickly before averting his eyes and turned his focus on closing the door. But that quick glance was all it took for her to read what hell he had been through the last hour.
“Hey,” she said softly with a small smile.
“Hey,” he answered, still not looking at her. He turned his back towards her and slowly removed his jacket.
“You okay?”
It took a couple of seconds before he answered, but then his soft reply reached her ears. “Yeah.”
“Do you want something to eat?” Liz asked. She didn’t want to invade his privacy too much. She knew that she never wanted to be asked a lot of questions when she had returned from a visit with the cardio therapist, but she felt as if she needed to pull him back to some kind of normalcy.
“No, I think I’m just gonna go and get some sleep,” he said, his whole body slumping in defeat. She looked at him closely, trying to decide how bad it was. His gaze was still fixed on the floor and he stuffed his hands into his pockets looking even more lost.
“Okay,” she said and then pulled him into a hug. At first he was stiff in her arms, but then his arms enveloped her and his arms took a tight hold on her. He held her so tightly that she could barely breathe, but she let him. A couple of seconds later he pulled away and still not meeting her eyes he nodded towards the stairs.
“I’m gonna…” His voice was thicker, cracking with emotion and she read in his body language that he was struggling to stay on top of the emotions that were trying to break him down.
“Okay,” she said again and gave his hand a final squeeze before letting him go.

She listened to the sound of his feet moving up the stairs and the soft clicking sound as he closed the door to his bedroom. She stood rooted to the same place for another minute before she took a deep breath and moved into the TV-room and turned on the TV. She knew that she probably wouldn’t be able to watch anything, but she needed the noise to accompany her thoughts.

<center>-------------------------------------------------------</center>

His room still oozed silence as she moved past the closed door and it was with a heavy heart that she walked to the bathroom. She was still debating whether or not she should check on him or leave him alone when she heard a door open. Her hand froze in the movement of going back and forth over her teeth with the toothbrush and her eyes fell on the doorway that was reflected in the mirror.

His hair was standing in all possible directions and he was tiredly rubbing his face as he stepped into the bathroom, unaware of everything around him. The toothbrush rested on her bottom lip as she looked at him. He was still rubbing his eyes, now yawning, and thus hadn’t spotted her yet, which presented her with the opportunity to uninterrupted let her eyes wander down his naked chest. He was only wearing black pajamas pants and his feet were bare as they were shuffled across the black tiled floor. Her eyes came to rest on his chest and it was with mixed feelings her eyes traveled across every muscle. He had lost weight, a lot of weight. She had known it before, but this was the first time she had seen him without his shirt. She had only felt the gradual difference under her hands before when she had held him through one of his ever constant returning nightmare. On the other hand, she had only seen him once before everything started to go really bad and that had been that night when Max’s car had broke down and it had been raining. His shirt had gotten rather drenched and the sight of how the shirt had plastered against his chest would forever remain in her memory. She had to admit though, as she was standing there watching him out of the corner of her eye, that he was still beautiful.

Max yawned again and slowly opened his eyes, and he gave a start at the sight of her. “Oh, Liz.”
Liz quickly resumed brushing her teeth as if that had been what she had been doing the whole time. “Hey.”
Max gave her a half-smile. “I didn’t know you were in here.”
Obviously not, Liz thought smiling to herself.
“That’s okay,” Liz answered around a mouthful of toothpaste. Frowning at her own unattractiveness she leaned forward over the sink and spit out the toothpaste.
“I was just getting… just getting a glass of water,” Max said, avoiding to look straight at her.
“Okay,” Liz said softly and moved away to allow him to fill the glass.
His rather nervous behavior confused her some, until she looked down at herself and noticed her quite unclad state. She was only wearing a T-shirt and panties. The T-shirt was big enough to reach below her panties, but it wasn’t much bigger than that.
Suddenly being very self-conscious she took another step away from the sink, giving Max more space.

Max turned off the tap and straightened up. His eyes were firmly posed at her feet.
“How are you feeling?” Liz asked, trying her best to keep the tremor out of her voice.
At her question, his eyes slowly started to travel up her body to reach her eyes. However, they were moving very slowly and Liz felt her cheeks heat under his gaze. Was Max Evans giving her a once over? Even though her whole body was being attacked by small shivers, she couldn’t help but thinking about what this meant. The Max that she had lived with for about a month would never had allowed himself to do that.
“Better,” Max answered and with that tore Liz out of her reveries.
Liz cleared her throat and picked up her own glass of water to rinse her mouth from the toothpaste.
“Have you been able to get any sleep?”
She could feel his eyes following her every movement as she took the water in her mouth, rinsed and spit it out in the sink. As soon as she straightened up again and looked at him, he averted his eyes.
Looking down at his fingers, Max answered. “Not really. I’ve just been doing some thinking.”
Liz nodded. “Okay.”

He looked up at her and her breath froze on her lips at the intensity of his eyes. “How are you feeling?”
She swallowed and felt the strangest urge to cry. It wasn’t the question itself; it was the fact that he was directing his attention on her. He hadn’t done so before and Liz had suspected that he hadn’t been able to because of the emotions that he was fighting with inside that were strong enough to drown him if he left them unattended for just a second.
She managed to muster up a smile and she wasn’t sure how she managed to get any sound out of her throat, but she did. “I’m fine, Max.”
“What about the…” He nodded towards her chest and her smile grew reassuring.
“Don’t worry, Max. I’m fine. The heart’s fine too.”
She couldn’t help but rejoice inside that he had asked her. She hadn’t realized how much she had missed that question until he had voiced it. She had been so sick and tired of that question when she had been living with Kevin and she hadn’t thought she would ever miss it. But to hear it pass Max’s lips with the concern and care shining in his amber eyes did things to her. She was filled with the deepest sense of hope. The first feeling in a long time that everything might be okay.
Liz met his eyes and easily read his silent questions. “I’m going to my cardio therapist tomorrow and he’s going to check out my heart.”
She could see him relax and she couldn’t help but be slightly confused by his reactions. The session he’d had with his therapist today must’ve been important to have caused this changed in Max.

“Do you like him?” Liz asked, without realizing that she had asked him a question that had followed her silent trail of thoughts.
“Who?”
“Oh, sorry. The therapist.”
Max’s eyes fell to the floor again and his discomfort at the subject vibrated in the air around them.
“He’s good.”
He turned around and for a split second Liz thought that he was just going to walk out on her, until he put the lid down on the toilet and sat down.
“I’ll have to tell him everything again,” Max murmured.
Liz’s heart cried out at the anguished look in his eyes that he was trying to hide from her and she walked up to him and sat down on her knees in front of him.
She searched out his eyes and asked him the question that the existence of her hope was partly depending on. “Do you think he’ll be able to help you?”
Max looked at her for a long time. Liz didn’t realize she had stopped breathing during those long seconds until he answered her question. “Yes. Yes, Liz, I really think so.”
She tried to contain the exploding happiness inside of her. She didn’t want to put any extra pressure or expectations on him. When she really wanted to scream of happiness and dance all around the room, she contained it to a big smile.
“That’s really good.”
His eyes were drawn to her lips and she knew that it was probably only because of her smile, but she couldn’t help the flutter of desire inside of her.
“Thank you, Liz,” he whispered.
“What for?”
“For being here with me. I don’t think I’ve ever thanked you for putting up with me.”
Her smile warmed an additional five degrees. “Max, I want to be here.”
His responding smile was tentative as if he didn’t quite believe her.

Their eyes were suddenly locked and she could feel him burrowing into her heart, into her soul. There was something in his eyes that she had never seen before and she only knew two things about it. That it made her feel like the rarest person on the face of the earth and that she hoped that it would never disappear.
Then his head turned to something behind him and coldness washed over her with such intensity that she got lost in the rhythm of her steady breathing. By the tension that suddenly stiffened his body she knew why he had turned away.
“She’s here, isn’t she?”
He nodded, without looking at her.
They had gotten too close, so Max’s conscience had brought forward Tess. Maybe she should take a step back. Maybe that would make her disappear.
“Do you want me to leave?”
His head turned around so suddenly that she jumped. His hands took a hold of her right hand and held it tightly.
“Please don’t leave,” he whispered brokenly.
“Okay,” Liz agreed, her whole body shaking from the fear that was now such an evident presence in the room. “Do you want me to stay with you tonight?”
She couldn’t have been more right on. She could visibly see him relax and consequently she inhaled a deep breath of relief.
“Could you?”
She smiled and squeezed his hands with her free left hand. “You don’t even have to ask.”


TBC...

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Postby max and liz believer » Sat Feb 05, 2005 6:00 pm

Hi everyone!

Me again :roll: I just thought I would go ahead and update again...

Kay, Sandra, Alien614, Emma (:) So I got you to reveal yourself, huh? :wink:), frenchkiss70, Eliz, LTL, rigel, purpleant, Eve, Emz80m, g7silvers, Ana, I am a dreamer, Scottie and Crystal

You guys are just awesome!! Thank you so much for all the great reviews!!

Scottie wrote:Can I be really shallow and say that my favorite part of this chapter had to be the mental image of naked chested Max in black silk pajama bottoms and sleepy hair?


Hehe :wink:... You are more than welcome to say that. I'm glad that you guys appreciate my attempts to lighten an otherwise pretty heavy fic :roll:

And Elizabeth - you rule! I just read through your edits for all the chapters and I love it that you point out things that might not fit in the story. I really need a second opinion! Thank you :D :D


Sooo, without further ado...


Chapter 36

Six weeks later

She heard the front door close and his warm voice filled the house. “Liz? Liz?”
She frowned at the urgency she could hear in his voice and quickly removed the laptop from her lap and rose from the armchair.
“I’m here,” she announced, her voice carrying her message to him before she had reached the hallway. The sight that greeted her froze her to the spot. Max was standing there, a big smile on his lips and bouquet of flowers in his hand.
“Hey beautiful,” he said softly.
Liz couldn’t get her mouth to react. She knew that she was looking rather stupid with her mouth hanging open in complete bewilderment, but she couldn’t help it. “Max?”
Max kicked off his shoes and stepped up to her, handing her the bouquet.
“For you my lady,” he said.
Liz looked back and forth between the beautiful white roses and Max’s proud face.
“Thank you.”
“And I know that you are not allowed to eat too many of these,” Max continued as he produced a box of chocolate from behind his back, “but I think that even you should sin sometimes.”

“Max…” Liz sighed. She was now looking behind him towards the door, prepared to see a cameraman come in and announced that she was on “Candid Camera”.
“Aaand…” Max started as he shrugged out of his jacket, “I’m going to cook tonight.”
Liz frowned, the beginning of laughter playing on her lips. “Who are you?”
Max smiled at her, bent forward and gave her a soft, albeit lingering, kiss on her cheek. “I am your personal chef for the evening, mademoiselle.”
Her eyes automatically fell on the floor as the blush rose on her cheeks. Max moved into the kitchen and started looking through the refrigerator to see what he had to work with.
“Is this all we have?” he murmured to himself, his head buried in the refrigerator.
“I was going to go shopping for groceries today,” Liz said, breathing in the smell of the roses.
Max scratched behind his ear, a motion that brought the butterflies in Liz’s stomach back to life with warm intensity. “Oh, well then. I’ll go shopping.”
Liz started shaking her head. “You don’t have to do-“
“You,” Max interrupted and stepped up to her, and took the flowers and chocolate from her. He put the flowers on the counter behind her, stepping dangerously close to her as he reached over to the counter, and quickly proceeded to take the chocolate in one hand while taking her small hand with his other.

His gaze captured hers and she looked up at him with an anticipation she never thought she had felt before. “You, my angel, are going to sit down here-“ He guided her into the living room, to the armchair she had just been occupying and gestured for her to sit down, “eat the chocolate and relax.” He put the chocolate box on her lap and smiled at her.
“Are you okay?” Liz asked suspiciously. What if something had gone so terribly wrong at the therapy session today that he was now in complete denial about the whole thing?
The intensity of his smile lessened but grew softer instead and he fell to his knees in front of her, lifted both of her hands to his mouth and slowly grazed the back of both hands with his lips in a soft kiss.
“I want to talk to you about something,” he said.
Liz took a deep breath and automatically braced herself. It just had to be too good to be true.
“Okay,” she said.
“After dinner,” Max said.
Liz looked at him in surprise. “Are you sure?”
Max nodded. “Let’s eat first.”
Liz followed him with her eyes as he rose up on his feet. “If that’s what you want…”
He smiled at her again. He had been smiling more in the last five minutes than what he had in all the weeks they had known each other. “That’s what I want.”

<center>--------------------------------------------------------</center>

The musty fragrances from the food filled up the air. The spicy touches excited her senses while the softness of orange and lemon made her stomach growl in anticipation. The view wasn’t too bad either. Max had put on a black apron that he with blushing cheeks had explained that Isabel had given him. The white text across the apron spelled very simply: “Best in Test” and from where Liz was sitting she had to agree. He had turned from a caterpillar into a butterfly in the matter of only a day. Granted, she had to admit that he had seemed more easygoing the last couple of days and there were more smiles, but nothing like today. Looking at him now, he totally blew her away. Just when she thought she had figured him out, he does something like this.
“What does my lady wish to drink?”

Liz blinked and was happy that he hadn’t turned around, because he would’ve, without a doubt, caught her staring.
“Uhm…”
He turned around, his eyes traveling over her face and she couldn’t help but smile. There was happiness bursting inside of her and it wanted out – in one form or the other.
Max lifted a suggestive eyebrow. “Water? Juice? Milk perhaps?”
It was at times like these that she wished that she could drink alcohol, just because of the social thing it brought. She could share a glass of wine with him. But mixing alcohol with the strong immune system depressants she was on wasn’t such a good idea.
“I think I’ll have some juice,” she answered.
Max put down the spatula and wiped his hands on the apron and started to walk towards the refrigerator. “Juice it is.”
“Could I at least set the table?” Liz asked, her ears not really paying any attention to what her mouth was saying, because Max had just bent forward, his head buried inside the refrigerator and she had a great view of his-
”Orange or apple?”
Liz frowned. “Huh?”
Max straightened up and the spell was broken. Ah well, partly anyway. Max looked at her and repeated his question. “Orange or apple?”
“Uhm… apple,” Liz decided quickly. She didn’t really care. At this stage she would probably drink anything he told her to drink.
“Allrighteo, apple it shall be.”
He took the juice cartoon from the refrigerator and turned around, closing the refrigerator door behind him with his foot. Liz smiled to herself just because of the lightness about that movement. He had seemed more carefree the last couple of days but she could never have hoped for it to turn into this. She could feel her heart fluttering inside of her. She had known for a long time that her feelings for him were extremely strong, something even stronger than she had ever felt about anyone before. To see him this happy made the feelings that she usually hid come closer to the surface. She tried to push them away, as she always did, but it was difficult at that moment because of the magnitude of the feelings.

She observed him as he filled a wineglass with the apple juice.
“So have you been able to write anything today?” Max asked as he turned around.
He reached out the glass for her and she took it, her fingertips brushing against his and a tingle went through her hand. She self-consciously licked her lips, her eyes downcast and nodded in answer to his question.
“Yes, I’ve got a lot done today actually.”
That’s just another thing that made Max stand out in comparison with Kevin. Kevin always thought that her writing was ridiculous and he always tried to get her to search for a “real” job instead. Kevin had never read a single word she had written. Granted, Max hadn’t done so either, but the difference was that she wanted Max to read it when she was finished. She had never been encouraged to share it with Kevin; he had always said that she couldn’t survive on a hobby. Max had never uttered those words. He had never claimed that she was ridiculous because she was trying to write a book. He had always supported her with it and thinking about it now made a smile spread over her face.
“What?”
She blinked and looked up in Max’s amused face.
“Oh, nothing,” she smiled.
Max’s just nodded and turned his attention back to the stove.
“What are you making really?”
“It’s a secret,” Max answered and even though he had his back turned towards her she could see the playful smile on his lips.
“Oh, okay,” Liz said, softly gliding her finger along the edge of the wineglass.
“It is finished soon,” Max promised.


That evening Liz realized that Max was an excellent cook. He blended the spicy ingredients with the sweet in a smoothness that was greatly appreciated by her greedy taste buds. She learnt that Max had wanted to be a chef when he was little, but as he had grown older he had come to realize that he would rather teach people about cooking. The teaching part had stuck, but the food element had disappeared and he had ended up teaching children in English, mathematics, geography, etc. This was the first time he had cooked since the accident. The first time he had made a proper meal in two years. He told her that his cooking had been too entwined with his life with Joshua and Tess. Too many memories.

They had talked about everything that night, but not that much about Tess or Josh. Liz had carefully avoided the subject because she didn’t want him to feel that he had to repeat everything that he spent a lot of time talking about in his therapy sessions. If he wanted to tell her, she would be there for him. But if he didn’t tell her, she wouldn’t force him. She was right now keeping her fingers crossed that he would open up to her. That this whole night was the beginning of a real life; of the life that she had been avoiding to dream about since she had been told the truth about what had happened to Max’s soft soul.

When both of the hands on the clock in the kitchen started to approach twelve, they cleared the table and left the dishes in the sink for tomorrow – at Max’s request. He told her to go into the living room, while he went to get something. For some reason she was nervous as she waited for him to come back. Her fingers were moving restlessly along the seam of her shirt and she repeatedly straightened her shirt and uncrossed and crossed her legs. By the time he came down the stairs she was almost crawling out of her skin. She had a feeling this was supposed to be something significant. Max wanted her to know something that he had kept hidden. She knew it in the core of her being. Max walked into the living room with a black rectangular object in his right hand. Liz frowned when trying to figure out what it was in the dim light of the wall lamp. Without a word, he put it in her lap and she found herself looking at a videotape.
“What’s this?” she wondered, looking up at Max’s apprehensive face.
“The reason why I haven’t been able live,” Max answered.
Liz felt her heart speeding up with a strong mixture of anticipation and fear. She looked down at the videotape in her lap and she could almost feel its importance burning into her thighs. She looked up at his serious face and asked worriedly, “Are you sure?”
Max nodded. “Never been so sure about anything in my life.”
Liz held his gaze for some long seconds before nodding. “Okay, I’ll watch it.”
She had a suspicion about what it might be and if it was what she thought it was then she wasn’t so sure she wanted to watch it. But when Max turned around and started to walk towards the stairs, an inexplicable feeling settled at the pit of her stomach.
“You’re not staying?”
He stopped, but he didn’t turn around, and she felt the air grow heavier around her as the stability of his mood started to waver.
“I want you to watch it alone,” he whispered.
Liz observed the tenseness in his shoulder and swallowed hard. “Okay.”
He stood still for another couple of seconds before he continued towards the stairs and Liz’s gaze turned anew to the videotape that was burning her skin.

She must’ve been sitting there for at least five minutes before she stood up and walked up to the VCR and pushed the tape inside. Time stood still and she could already feel tears burning the retinas of her eyes. Her hands were shaking as she pressed the power button on the TV and her whole body was trembling as her finger pressed the play-button on the VCR and voices of the past that wouldn’t let itself be forgotten filled the room.

A blonde girl was standing by the stove, her protruding stomach pressed up against the oven door. She turned towards the camera and smiled, shaking her head.
“Max, what are you doing?”
“Nothing,” came the voice from behind the camera and Liz’s heart jolted. She had never heard that lightness in his voice before. Even though he had been more carefree tonight than she had ever seen him, his voice still held that small twinge of worry, of fear and sadness. But this voice didn’t. This was the voice of a man that hadn’t suffered. This was the voice of a man that was content and happy. Deliriously happy.
The girl, who Liz assumed was Tess, laughed at his innocent answer and reached for a capsicum.
“How about I take the camera and you cook? We both know you’re better at it than me.”
“Nah-uh,” Max answered. “You are definitely more photogen- I mean cameragenic than me.”
“Coward,” Tess murmured but Liz could see the smile she was trying to hide.
Max then started to zoom in, getting closer to Tess’ stomach.
“Hello there baby, this is daddy.”
Liz’s heart constricted with sadness as Max’s cooing soft voice accompanied the blue that now covered the whole picture. The blue that was Tess’ shirt but up close didn’t look like anything else but a blue wall.
“Sweetie, I’m trying to cook here,” Tess’ voice echoed in the camera.
The camera moved up to Tess’ face, still zoomed in and all that could be seen was fifty percent of Tess’ mouth, her eyes and her nose.
“This better?” Max teased and Liz swallowed.
“Read my lips,” Tess said and Max automatically filmed her lips as she slowly and very clearly articulated every word, “Stop bugging me.”
Max laughed and the first tears ran down Liz’s cheeks. The scene changed into another and it didn’t take Liz many seconds to realize that they were now in the hospital. Joshua’s birth.

Liz had to struggle not to shut the TV off the next three hours that she watched the life of Max’s family unfold itself. Her feelings were all over the place without really being able to tell one feeling apart from the next. She had never cried so much in her whole life. She cried for Max’s loss. She cried for the long life that had been stolen from the little boy that was bouncing around on the TV-screen. She cried for the beautiful woman that on several occasions tried to rip the camera away from Max as Max’s laughter filled the air. She cried for the family that had been tarnished and had disappeared. She cried for the painful death of Max’s ability to laugh with such happiness. But she also felt the deepest sadness about her own role in Max’s life. The reasons why he had chosen to let her see the tape were many and it was the ones that said that Max wanted to show her that she could never take Tess’ place that stuck. Max could’ve showed her to let her in; to make her see why he had such troubles to let go, but Liz’s fearful mind wouldn’t let herself accept that. She was scared that he was on some level telling her to leave. That he would never be able to love anyone else but Tess; that the special place in his damaged heart was reserved for Tess and would always be.

The screen turned black, but the joyful screaming of Joshua as he imitated an airplane with his arms stretched out and running around the living room remained in her mind.

Two days.

The white numbers in the bottom right corner of the clip dated it to be two days before the accident. Two days before the accident the blond boy with his big brown eyes were running around like any other two-year-old and had his whole life in front of him. Then he was just dead. He had seized to exist. It had become as quiet as it was now, with the black screen staring in her face. It was then that she realized with deeper understanding and intensity than before what Max had gone through. The transition from life to death had been just as sudden as when the camera had been shut off and the screen had gone black. She reached for the remote control and shut off the TV.


TBC...

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Postby max and liz believer » Wed Feb 09, 2005 11:06 am

I just can't stay away... :roll: Your feedback is addictive I guess and I also feel that you should get something in return for faithfully coming back to this story even though I abandoned you for so long.

I'm leaving for Australia next Thursday (the 17th) and then it will probably become difficult for me to update again since at first I'll be dealing with jetlag and even before I will be able to get that under control, I'll be starting school again and my schedule is even worse this time than the previous year. That's why I'm gonna try and write as much as I can the days I have left in Sweden so that I can stack up on some chapters and maybe even get closer to the end of this story :roll:

Right, that was that...

Carol So happy to see you again! :D Thank you!!
Tanya Your feedback really warms my heart. Thank you soo much for those overwhelming words. At times I'm wondering if you're really talking about me...
Eliz Thank you for the great feedback!! :D
LTL I love your viewpoint on Max's actions in the previous chapter. Very insightful :D
Smac Well, you pretty much put the whole dilemma into words. Thank you so much for your analysis :D
sox :oops: Thank you so much for your sweet words!
DreamerHeart Thank you!! :D
purpleant Thank you!! :D
Snoopie13 Hi! So glad to see you here again! :D Thank you!!
Emz80m Thank you!! :D
frenchkiss70 Your feedback is always so interesting. It usually makes me reflect over what I'm trying to say with this story. Thank you for telling me what's on your mind! :D
Sandra Thank you so much for the lengthy feedback!! :D
Eve I've always appreciated your viewpoint about my stories. Thank you for taking the time to write it down for me to read :D
rigel Thank you!! :D
roswelluver Thank you!! :D
g7silvers Thank you!! :D
sunrise102 Don't worry, you'll be seeing Max's point of view as well. Later... :wink: Thank you for your very interesting comments!
Elizabeth :oops: You're making me blush. Let's be honest. You're doing A LOT for me by editing as well, don't try to deny it!
Crystal Thank you so much for the feedback!! :D :D
cherie It's wonderful to have you back as well, cherie. And you are a very wise girl. You know what's going on in this story :D
Emma Well, sweetie. Your art was amazing and thank you so much for the incredible words you keep showering me with.
mareli Mareli, hi! Glad to see you back! :D Thank you for the fb!! :D :D

Everyone I was expecting the previous chapter to stir some things up but it was still very interesting to see you readers form two different groups. One group was of the opinion that Max showing Liz the videotape was bordering on cruelty and that it would only make Liz feel even more like second best. The other group thought that it was a great thing of Max to do; to share his life with Liz in the only way he could. These are rather different viewpoints and it's really interesting to see (the psychologist in me is enjoying this :roll:) how differently different persons interpret the same situation.

I hope that the purpose of Max showing Liz the videotape will become evident in the following chapter. He did have a purpose with doing so.

So, I guess I should just let you read it then... :D

Take care, everyone!!

Hugs,

Jo


Chapter 37


He wasn’t in his room when she went to look for him. It was almost four in the morning and she thought that he would be asleep by now. It was with growing apprehension that she walked down the corridor in the search for him. Her mouth went dry and her feet moved slower as she saw the soft light stream out from the door that had been left ajar further down the hallway. She knew, even though she hadn’t walked this far down this hallway on more than two occasions, which room it was. It was the room that, according to Michelle, had been locked for the last two years.

Joshua’s room.

Liz took a deep breath and willed her feet, which suddenly felt like they were filled with lead, to move. She came up to the door and froze. Should she go in or should she just go back to her room and let it be? Was he waiting for her to come in, was he expecting her to come in or did he want to be left alone? She hesitated for a second or two before gently pushing the door open.

Her breath got caught in her throat as the room gradually revealed itself to her. The walls were white, but Disney characters had been painted on top of the white, making the room look like she had stepped straight into a fantasy world. But what caught her eyes were the toys covering the floor. It was not difficult, even from where she was standing, to see the layer of dust coating the trucks, the dinosaurs, the cars and the puzzles. Max hadn’t moved or touched anything in here in two years. He had just locked the room and left it as it had been. Liz brushed a warm tear away from her cheek and her eyes traveled over to the small bed, where Max was laying curled up. His body was angled so that his feet were hanging over the edge of the wooden bed and his upper body was taking up most of the surface of the bed.

He was asleep.

Her breathing was trembling as she moved across the floor, being very careful not to move any of the toys. As she came closer to him, she saw that he was hugging something in his arms. She fell to her knees next to the bed and slowly reached out and brushed a strand of his dark hair away from his forehead.
“Max?” she whispered.
“Liz,” he sighed without opening his eyes and something warmed inside of her. It was the way he said her name and the fact that he had said it when he was still asleep that told her that she had become a more important part of his life than she had dared to hope.
“Max,” she repeated, moving her hand with a featherlike touch down his cheek, feeling the tickle of the five o’clock shadow against her fingertips.
“I wanted you to see,” he mumbled, moving slightly beneath her touch.
Her heart ache and she had to force herself to not pull her hand away. She didn’t know why she was reacting so strongly to his request, but to watch that movie had affected her in ways that she probably wouldn’t be able to figure out in a long time. Nausea was rising in her throat and suddenly all she wanted to do was to get out of there. She couldn’t be around him any longer. She couldn’t stand to watch how broken he was now when she had just seen how happy he used to be.

Max chose this moment to open his eyes and he was instantly bombarded with the conflicting emotions clearly visible in her tearstained eyes. Without letting go off her eyes he rose up in sitting position and the stuffed cow that he had hugged in his arms fell to the side. He slowly brought his hand to her cheek.
“Do you want to leave?” he asked.
Liz’s heart skipped a beat and she stared at him. She hadn’t really expected him to be that brutally honest. Despite the fact that she had just been wishing to get out of there, the mere simplicity of his question and the raw concern in his eyes got her heart to react differently. Mutely, she shook her head in negative and watched him relax.
“I saw myself in another light yesterday,” Max said.
Liz straightened up at the shift in topic of conversation.
“Or the day before yesterday,” he smiled, remembering that it was well past midnight.
“What happened?” Liz asked.
Max cleared his throat and removed his hand from her cheek. Liz felt the loss of his touch immediately.
“When the…the accident happened,” Max started and turned his gaze downwards to his hands, “all I could think about was all the good times that I’d had with Tess and Josh and I got stuck in that line of thinking. What I’ve been playing over and over again in my mind the last two years is what you just saw in that videotape. All the happy moments. But nothing real is really revealed in front of the camera and it was the real details that I chose to forget.”
Liz was holding her breath. This was the breakthrough. This was why he had been so different last night. This was why he had started to come to life in front of her very eyes.

“And I couldn’t let go. I didn’t want to see that I would never experience any new happy moments with Tess and Josh again, and if I couldn’t be happy with Tess and Joshua then I couldn’t be happy at all.”
Liz nodded. It all made sense. Why he wouldn’t allow himself to smile more often. Why he wouldn’t allow himself to enjoy good things that happened to him. Why he would always get guilty when he kissed her…
“What changed?” she asked tentatively.
Max swallowed. “I was telling Dr. Logan about this one time when Tess and I had been cooking out in the kitchen. I think that is the first clip on the tape.”
Liz nodded. He had been filming Tess’ stomach and she had been trying to get him to shut off the camera.
“I think it was particularly stuck in my mind because I had filmed it and I watched that tape a lot the first months after their… their death. But when Dr. Logan asked me what happened afterwards I first couldn’t remember what had happened after I turned off the camera. We talked about what I could remember for awhile and then the rest came to me.”
He took a deep breath and looked up, looking straight into her eyes. “During dinner, we started to talk about the baby and that lead us into talking about childhood memories. I was very quiet and shy as a boy and I got bullied for it.”
Wordlessly, Liz reached out and took his hand in sympathy. An act that made him halt in his telling and he swallowed down the tears of relief that flowed to the surface with sudden strength.
“I told her about this, because we didn’t know each other when we were smaller. She wasn’t very…supportive. At first she was joking around about it, but when I told her that it wasn’t funny she got very defensive and told me that I should get over it because it was in the past and I shouldn’t obsess about something that happened ages ago.”
Liz had to admit that she was surprised to hear those words come out of Max’s mouth. All she’d ever heard about Tess was good things. It was as if she had been this pure fairy that couldn’t do anything wrong. It was not only Max that had kept up with that charade but also Isabel. Judging from what they had told her, Tess was perfect.

“This made me realized that this had happened on several occasions and somehow Dr. Logan pulled it out of me.” He tried to smile at the slight humor of it, but there wasn’t much humor in that smile. “Every single moment. I was rather surprised actually that the memories were there. They had been there the whole time, but I just didn’t want to see them. It was much easier to just think of Tess as the love of my life who I didn’t know how I could ever live without. I couldn’t think about everything that was wrong in our relationship because then I wouldn’t do her memory justice. She needed to be remembered for all the happy times she brought me and I never realized that when I focused on that it hurt me in the process and I couldn’t go on with my life.”
“Wow,” Liz breathed. “You must’ve had one aha-experience there.”
Max smiled weakly. “It really hurts to change how I’ve viewed her the last years, but then I just think of you.”
“Me?” Liz asked surprised.
“Yes, you,” Max answered honestly. “I’m not so sure anymore if Tess and I would’ve made it for long. We were too different. It might’ve been the difference that brought us together at the beginning, but it might just be the difference that would’ve separated us.”
“Max, you don’t have to do this just to make me feel better or anything,” Liz protested. She didn’t want him to taint his memory of Tess just so that she wouldn’t feel that she was worth any less than Tess.
“I’m not doing this for you, Liz,” Max answered truthfully. “I’m doing this for me. I need to see the truth and you help me see it. I never wanted to compare you to her, but I did. I did it over and over again, and I guess I’m gonna do it again now. But that’s the only way I can deal with this. I think that we always compare people to each other. We compare friends to each other to try to weigh how much they mean to us. I don’t need to compare you to Tess any longer to realize what you are to me, because my heart tells me just how much you mean to me. But I need to compare you to her to explain to you why I feel like I can start living again.”

Liz was hanging on to his every word, barely breathing.
“You’ve been here for me since the day I met you, Liz. You saw me when everyone else had stopped seeing me.” He grasped her hands in his and looked down at how her small hands almost completely vanished in his large ones. He felt the softness of her skin against his palm and he took a deep breath, drawing the strength from her silent support, before looking up at her again.
“I loved Tess. I loved her so much that it hurt. And she loved me. We worked well together and even though everyone at the beginning said that we were wrong for each other, we proved to them over and over again that we were meant to be. Maybe we tried too hard. Maybe we tried so hard that we were too stubborn to see that we didn’t fit very well together. She was a remarkable person and we were best friends, but I think that she would’ve made a better friend than a lover.”
Max’s hands tightened around hers and he could feel the tremors shaking her body. “Tess and I were good together, but she didn’t heal me. You heal me, Liz. You haven’t given up on me once and you’ve remained by my side. There were times when I was really upset or sad and when Tess would see my tears she would just walk away. She couldn’t be there for me when I needed her the most. She lived in another world where everything had to be happy and life was easy. It became such a common occurrence that I hid my feelings from her, that I never realized that I had been hiding them. That’s probably why it was so easy to forget that part of our relationship when she died.”
“Do you miss her?” Liz whispered, her voice barely strong enough to speak.
Max nodded. “I miss her. I miss her so much. She wasn’t a bad person and I still love her. I’ll always love her, but I know now that we would never have lasted. She wasn’t the one I was supposed to be with. I didn’t feel what I feel with you with her. The feelings were there, but with you…” He took a deep breath and it was as if just talking about it made the intensity of what he was feeling even more prominent and he looked down at the entwined hands.
“I knew you from the second I met you. I knew what had been missing this whole time. You.”

Liz nodded. This almost sounded too good to be true and it was with a certain uncertainty that she forced him to meet her eyes again.
“Max, I need to know if this is just something you force yourself to say to make it easier for you to move on or if you really feel like this.”
Max held her eyes and then stated slowly, “I’ve never been more serious or honest in my whole life. You are listening to my heart, Liz. You helped me find my heart again and I don’t want to miss out on you just to continue living in a memory that isn’t even really true. I love you, Liz, more than you’ll ever know. More than I ever thought I could love anyone.”
The first tears silently rolled down her cheeks and she nodded. “I love you too, Max. So much. I was so afraid that you wouldn’t see me. I was so afraid that I would have to compete with Tess.”
“Tess will always be a part of me. I will always love her and she will always be a part of my memory. But I won’t compare you anymore. You mean something else to me than what she did. I would never compare you to Isabel, because you mean different things to me. It’s the same thing with Tess and you.”
Liz sniffled and nodded. Max smiled softly, slight concern lingering in his eyes, and slowly brushed away her tears with the pads of her fingers. But new tears kept falling over his fingers and he tried to swallow back the feelings that threatened to overwhelm him.
“Tess complemented me. You make me whole,” Max whispered.

Liz nodded, angling her head slightly upwards and blinking with her eyes as if trying to stop the flood of tears from streaming down her cheeks.
“Joshua?” she whispered brokenly. What about Joshua? It worried her that he hadn’t mentioned Josh and come to think of it, he didn’t mentioned Josh very often. Not at all actually.
“I’m still…” Max’s voice cracked and Liz looked at him. When she saw his resolve break and the tears form in his eyes, she pulled her hand away from his and brushed her own tears away, before bringing her arms around him and pulling him towards her.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to talk about him,” Liz mumbled. It was different with a child. You love a child in another way. Unconditionally.
“Let’s go to bed,” she whispered, tightening her arms around him.
He nodded against her shoulder and she squeezed him tightly one more time before loosening her grip and standing up. He looked up at her, his eyes red and miserable.
“Thank you,” he murmured.
Her smile broke through her sniffles. “You don’t have to thank me.”
”Yes, I do,” he insisted and stood up. “Thank you for being in that shopping mall that day.”
Her smile grew bigger and without another word she took his hand in hers.


TBC...

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max and liz believer
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Postby max and liz believer » Sat Feb 19, 2005 11:33 pm

Hey y'all!

I'm back "Down Under", going from snow and winter in Sweden to sunshine and summer. But I welcome the change. Coldness doesn't really agree with me...

I only have one finished chapter left to post - which I'm gonna post today - so after that I guess I have to continue writing or something :roll:


Thank you

Crystal, sox, frenchkiss70, Eve, Sandra (thank you for the extra bump!), Carol, Courtney (Hi! Welcome to this fic!! I'm so happy that you decided to join us :D) , Eliz, cherie, Emz80m, g7silvers, sunrise102, Tanya, roswells_hope_lily, roswelluver, purpleant, rigel, LTL, Ana, snoopie13, Stef (Hi! I've missed you here!!) and Alien614.

Thank you so much for the insightful feedback and the warming words!!!


Chapter 38

One month later

“Uncle Maaaaaax!!!”
Liz’s smile brightened as Michelle jumped out of her hug and ran into the house.
“Believe me; she’s getting wilder every day.”
Liz laughed softly and hugged Isabel. “It’s nice to see you again, Isabel. How was Hawaii?”
A dreamy smile sprung up on Isabel’s face. “Like a second honeymoon. The word marriage might be tainted these days with all the divorces, but I’m telling you; marriage is so worth it just because of the honeymoon.”
Liz laughed. “Okay, I take it that the trip was good then?”
”Wonderful,” Isabel smiled. “Didn’t wake up until noon and then spent the rest of the day on the beach. Michelle loved it there. That girl loves the ocean.”
“Who does this rascal belong to?”
Liz read the surprise on Isabel’s face when Liz heard the male voice behind her. Isabel did obviously also notice the change in Max.
Liz turned around and watched Max carrying a giggling Michelle upside down, her long blonde curls billowing around Max’s knees.
“For the next few hours, she’s not mine,” Isabel answered, her voice still bearing the slight tone of awe.
“Aha,” Max smiled and spun Michelle around to put her feet on the ground.
“All my bwood is in my head,” Michelle explained, excitement written all over her face.
“Then you should probably stay like that for a while so that the blood goes back down again,” Isabel said before being pulled into Max’s bear hug.
“Hey sis,” he said in her ear and gave her kiss on the cheek.
“Hi,” Isabel smiled and she looked at Liz with bewilderment. Had Liz done this? What had happened during the three weeks they’ve been gone? She had been afraid that she would return to a crying Max that wouldn’t let her into his room. She was actually expecting it. But the Max standing in front of her with amusement playing in his eyes was as far away from the person that had replaced her brother since the accident as he could ever be.
“I guess you had nice weather,” Max said, referring to the brown golden tone of Isabel’s skin.

“It was great,” Isabel said, still dazed.
“Are you okay?” Max asked, concern spreading into his eyes.
Isabel nodded mutely and stuttered. “I’m…I’m just fine. I’m great.”
“Okay,” Max said, starting to get a little confused himself.
Liz watched the whole interaction with joy spreading in her chest. It was no mystery to her what was going on and she was watching Isabel rediscover her long lost brother with the deepest sense of rightness overwhelming her. She sat down on her heels before Michelle and ruffled the little girl’s hair.
“How about you come and help me make cookies in the kitchen, Michelle.”
Michelle’s face shone up as if the sun had been let into a dark room. “YAY! Mom? Can I? Can I make cwookies? Can I? Pwease? Purty pwease?”
Isabel laughed and nodded. “Sure hun, go and help Liz.”
Michelle clapped her hands together and started jumping up and down.”Yay!!”
Liz laughed as she was being dragged into the kitchen by Michelle, leaving Max and Isabel alone to talk.
“So how have you been?” Isabel asked.
“Fine,” Max answered, self-consciously scratching himself behind his ear.
“I’ve missed you,” Isabel said softly.
Max met her clear eyes and smiled. “I’ve missed you too, Is.”
”I’ve missed the old Max.”
Max dropped his eyes at this and became extremely occupied with straightening out the edge of the carpet with his foot.
“Who should I thank?”
Max looked up at his sister and frowned in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Who should I thank for bringing you back? Liz?”
His face brightened by itself, even though he tried to hide it. What he was feeling for Liz was so strong and real that it almost felt too personal to share with anyone else.

“What did she do to you?” Isabel asked with awe, an amazed smile controlling her lips.
“I guess… I guess she found me,” Max smiled. “She wouldn’t stop looking and she found me. She helped me find myself. Of course, the therapist has helped me a lot as well, but Liz has been here when I’ve come back from the therapy sessions and she has done nothing short of supporting me the whole time.”
A tear rolled unrestricted down Isabel’s cheek, but she didn’t even notice. With every breath she took she could see more of what Liz had done for her brother, in his face, in the way he moved, in his gestures. They were all coming back. Everything that before had been so typical her brother, but that had died with Tess and Joshua. All the small movements and smiles were back.
“Oh my God,” Isabel whispered.
Max smiled brightened until it didn’t only lighten his lips but also shone out from his eyes. “I know.”
Isabel swallowed as the realization of what damage she almost had done slammed into her. She had tried so hard to get Liz to stay away from Max. If she had actually succeeded Max would’ve been going under by now.
Max saw the self-blame and guilt infest itself in her eyes and he slowly shook his head. “No, Is. Don’t blame yourself. You did what you thought was right.”
Isabel brushed another tear away from her cheek, her hand trembling. “I almost ruined you, Max. I shouldn’t have butted in-“
”Is, you only did what you thought was right. You tried to look out for me. You did everything a good sister and friend is supposed to do. You tried to protect me from everything bad and you thought that it meant Liz.”
“But Max, I almost took her away. If she hadn’t been so damn stubborn I would’ve succeeded.”
“It’s because she’s so damn stubborn that I love her so much,” Max smiled.
“Oh Max,” Isabel sniffled. “You really do love her, don’t you?”

Max nodded, trying to control the urge to look into the direction of the kitchen, where Liz was. Just talking about her made him want to be with her. To touch her in some way and remind himself that she was with him.
Isabel looked at him, perplexed. “I’ve never seen you like this before. Not even with Tess.”
His eyes dropped at this. “I’ve never felt like this before.”
Isabel didn’t even care that Tess had been her friend and that she was perhaps expected to defend what Tess and Max had had together. She was just so relieved that Max was back and so grateful about the fact that Liz was in his life.
“Have you told her?”
Max looked up and nodded. “She knows.”
That was it for Isabel. Her resolve broke and she nodded in response to his answer, automatically hiding her crying behind her hand.
“Don’t cry,” Max whispered and pulled her into his arms. He was afraid that it might’ve hurt her that he felt more about Liz than he had for her best friend. She proved the opposite was true when she stuttered out her explanation through the sniffles, “I’m so happy for you, Max. I’m just so happy.”
He felt the warmth of tears trying to get through in his own eyes at this and he hugged her harder.
“So when is the big day?” Isabel sobbed, with slight teasing in her voice as she pulled out of his arms.
Max frowned, wiping his now tearstained eyes. “What big day?”
“You are going to marry her, aren’t you?” Isabel said, giving him a stern pointed look.
Max’s heart stopped. He hadn’t even thought about marriage. He didn’t want anything else than marrying Liz and spending his whole life with her, but for some reason the thought of marrying her was very firmly mixed with the fear of losing her.
“I haven’t really…”
Isabel read the emotions in his eyes and afraid that she would upset him, she squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Okay, just let me know if you need any help.”
Max rolled his eyes at this, remembering how Isabel had “helped” him and Tess getting married. He loved his sister, but he had learnt the hard way that she should only be a guest at weddings, not the wedding planner. The nickname “The Christmas Nazi” that Michael had given Isabel a long time ago because of the frightening orders coming out of her mouth during Christmas should’ve given him a clue about what she was like when planning a wedding.

“What?” Isabel asked, wiping her tears.
Max bit his bottom lip to stop himself from laughing. “Nothing. Thank you, Isabel, I’ll let you know if I need anything.” Maybe he should elope with Liz to Las Vegas and get married there instead or something.
“Okay then,” Isabel smiled and couldn’t stop herself from giving him another hug. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Is,” Max whispered.

<center>--------------------------------------------------------------</center>

Max closed the door to the room Michelle had in his house and started to walk down the hallway. His pace lost some of its speed outside Joshua’s room. He hadn’t been in there since the day Liz had watched the videotape. He was still trying to deal with the grief of losing his son, but it was so much more difficult than dealing with Tess. Dr. Logan had told him that it was because he had focused so much on Tess, because in comparison the sorrow of losing Tess had not been as deep as losing Josh, that he was having more difficulties dealing with the absence of Josh. He had pushed that grief far back to the deep black recesses of his mind, where the memories wouldn’t hurt him and he could go on pretending that he was doing okay. It was extremely difficult to dig forward those memories because he hadn’t allowed himself to touch them at all before. The memories of Tess had been turned over again and again in his mind, but not the ones of Josh. Joshua was a raw wound that every memory he had to call forward was a grain of salt burning in the open wound. It was painful and he needed a lot more time to process it. But he was seeing the world through different eyes now. It suddenly didn’t seem as impossible anymore to go on with his life. Liz was here now and she didn’t push him, but she didn’t let him give up pushing himself either.

His fingers brushed against the doorknob before he continued down the hallway and down the stairs to the bottom floor. It was awfully quiet in the house. Only the toys, pieces of papers and pens spread all over the place confirmed that there had actually been a lot of activity there earlier. He came down the stairs and the sight that greeted him stopped him and his legs grew weak. A mixture of emotions washed over him and he had to lean against the wall to stop himself from falling. He took a couple of deep breaths to will his heart to slow down and then he forced his heavy feet to move into the living room. There was nothing really strange about the scene displayed in front of him, but for some reason it touched that raw wound in his heart.

Liz was lying on the couch, asleep. Michelle was sleeping next to her, curled up like a little ball in front of Liz’s stomach, her thumb in her mouth and the other hand entangled into Liz’s dark hair. Liz’s knees were brought up towards the small body, encircling Michelle with her body and her hand was positioned over Michelle’s waist, firmly preventing the little girl from falling off the couch. As he moved closer, memories of a past that he had tried to push away, flashed through his mind. All of them were of Josh. His breath hitched in his throat as he was overwhelmed with the deepest feelings of grief that he had ever let himself feel. He missed Josh, so much. He stumbled down on the floor next to the couch and was barely aware of the tears covering his face. The pain was in his heart and it felt as if he was going to disintegrate. As if the grief was going to pull him apart. He wanted it to go away. He wanted it all to get better again. He wanted Josh to return. His trembling hand brushed through Michelle’s hair and his breathing became worse. He leaned forward and grazed the baby soft skin of Michelle’s cheek with his lips. Slowly, his hand drifted through her blonde tresses. He tried to calm himself down, but he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what he wanted anymore. It felt like his heart was going to implode. He could feel the loneliness in his whole body like small needles piercing his body from the inside, all the way out in his fingers.

“Max?”
Max jumped at the sleepy question and he turned his eyes away from Michelle and looked up, meeting Liz’s warm concerned brown eyes. He could see the alarm in her eyes when she saw his destroyed appearance, but he couldn’t do anything else but look at her. If he would let go off her he would fall.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered, feeling immobilized with Michelle bundled up so close. Panic started to overtake the worry now. Max was only looking at her, tears running down his cheeks. She couldn’t even see any separate tearstains on his cheeks, because he had been crying so much that the majority of his cheeks were wet. His eyes were red and his lips were trembling with barely restrained crying. He was trying not to wake up Michelle and that made her want to take him away from there even more. The strong unhidden raw emotions in his eyes scared her. What had happened?
“What’s wrong?” she asked again, her voice louder now. She couldn’t help herself.
Michelle stirred beside her, but Liz barely noticed. Michelle’s movements didn’t stop Max from looking at Liz either, but it brought him back. It brought him back from wherever he had been. He took a deep breath, but then his breathing escalated and became shallow.
“Max,” Liz whispered. He was hyperventilating. “Max, calm down.”
She could feel something dropping on her arm, but she didn’t have to look down to know that it was her own tears.
He kept staring at her, his breathing getting worse and Liz could feel her heart aching at the intensity of her own worry. She quickly, but as carefully as she could, untangled Michelle’s hand from her hair and moved away from Michelle. She jumped off the couch, her legs protesting at the sudden weight after being arranged in a horizontal position for awhile. She ran into the kitchen and pulled a paper bag out from one of the cabinets. Her feet were warm against the cold floor as she ran up to him, falling to her knees next to him and bringing the paper bag to his mouth. He took it, taking a hold of her eyes again, and breathed into the bag.
“Slowly, Max. Try to breathe slowly.”
After about thirty seconds his breathing calmed down.
“Okay, that’s good, that’s good,” Liz sobbed, the relief engulfing her.

Max removed the bag and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Max, don’t,” Liz sniffled.
“I’m sorry for making you cry,” Max wept. “I never meant to make you cry.”
“Stop apologizing, doofus,” Liz said quietly, using the sleeve of her shirt to remove the tears from his cheeks. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I want that,” Max whispered.
Liz tried really hard to figure out what he meant before she asked. “What, Max?”
“I want you to carry my child,” Max sobbed, new tears flowing down his cheeks. “I want our child to fall asleep in your arms, like Michelle did tonight.”
“Baby,” Liz murmured and moved up into his lap. She brushed his hair away from his face and looked him deeply into his eyes. “I want nothing else than to give you a child, Max. But are you ready? I don’t think I will be able to deal with you comparing our child to Joshua. You can’t replace Joshua with another child, Max. I don’t want you to do that. If you feel that you might do that, then I won’t give you a child.”
“I don’t know,” Max sobbed miserably. “I don’t know what I want. I just want the pain to go away.”
“Then you need to listen to the pain, Max, and go through it so that you can give peace to the memory of your child. You need to accept the loss of Joshua before you can love another child because of that child and not because you need a child to help you deal with your grief.”
“I know,” Max whispered. “I know.”
Liz nodded and smiled softly at him. “I love you, Max. Don’t you ever forget that! Whenever you’re ready, I’m here, okay?”
“God I love you,” Max sobbed and brought his lips to hers. She could taste the saltiness of their tears mixing on their lips and she let herself sink into that kiss. She let him feel everything she was feeling through that kiss. It was the first time they’ve kissed in about two and half months. The last time their lips had met had been when she had been trying to contact Max and was trying to force Tess to disappear from his consciousness. She had to admit that she had missed it. She had missed feeling him this close. She had missed the taste of him and to be able to feel his heart beat against hers as he pulled her closer. They did have a strange relationship, because they were living together and lately Max had been talking about their future together, but they hadn’t kissed. Liz didn’t want to push him to cross a border that he wasn’t ready to cross yet, so she had waited for him to make a move. But he never did. Her confidence had faltered on more than one occasion. She had wondered a lot of times if he really wanted them to be together when he didn’t move their relationship to what normally constitutes a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship.

But he certainly was now. His hands were moving underneath her shirt, his palms contacting with her bare skin and she felt goose bumps break out all over her body. She moved even closer to him, needing to be a part of him just as much as she needed him to be a part of her.
“Liz…” he mumbled.
“Uh-hum,” she mumbled in response, thinking that she could never get tired of the taste of him. She didn’t know how she had survived this long without him kissing her. At that moment she was amazed at the willpower she must possess to have forced herself to keep her hands off him all this time. She had even slept in his bed this whole time, with his arms around her waist and his lips resting against the bare skin of her neck, but she hadn’t asked for more.
“Michelle,” Max murmured, before slowly running his tongue over her bottom lip.
Her whole body trembled with the sudden warmth invading her senses and she had to really concentrate to figure out what he had just said.
“What?”
It was with a reluctant moan that Max pulled away from her. “Michelle.”
Liz stared at him, dazed, and blinked slowly. Then she turned to look at what Max was looking at. Ah, Michelle.
“We should get her in bed,” Liz said.
“Good idea,” Max said, his breathing shallow.
For the first time, Max wished that Michelle wasn’t spending the night. He took a couple of deep breaths to will his body to calm down and then he stood up on wobbly legs and moved to carefully lift up Michelle. She mumbled something incomprehensible and moved her arms around Max’s neck. Max held her strongly around the waist and with one hand supporting her head he bent forward towards Liz that was now standing up as well.
“I love you,” he whispered and softly grazed her lips. The kiss lingered, since they were both trying to make it longer than it should’ve been.
“Love you too,” Liz smiled.


TBC...

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Postby max and liz believer » Tue Mar 15, 2005 4:54 am

Heya there!

Since I'm supposed to be reading neurology right now, I have to be short so I can't thank you individually. I'll just write all your names down and just know that each and everyone of you and your feedback means incredibly much to me.


LTL, purpleant, Eve, Kay, Emz80m, Sandra, sox, WildSphinx, 83 AlienAngel, g7silvers, cherie, Tanya, I am a dreamer, Alien614, frenchkiss70, Scottie, Nora and mareli

Elizabeth, darling, thank you so much for the absolutely fantastic quick edit!! :D

Ana, this one is for you. Happy birthday in advance, sweetie!! :D


Hugs,

Jo


Chapter 39


“Are you ready?”
Liz listened outside the door, but when she didn’t get a reply she softly knocked on the door. “Max?”
Still no reply. Liz hesitated a second before pushing the door, which had been slightly ajar, completely open. Merely an empty room greeted her and she frowned before turning towards the hallway. She walked towards the b¬athroom in the search of Max. The bathroom door was closed and she raised her hand to knock on it. Before her hand had the chance to contact with the closed door, it opened inwards and she found herself staring into a chest; the water droplets covering the skin making it shine in warm bronze.
Her mouth went dry and she knew that she was supposed to say something, but suddenly neither her mouth nor her head were working.
“Liz.”
She swallowed deeply, her hand frozen in the air in a typical just-about-to-knock-on-the-door position and looked up.
“Max,” she croaked and tried to discreetly clear her throat. If possible it was even more dangerous to look at his face. His hair was wet, making water droplets hug each strand of hair in his bangs tightly. His eyes were dark, bordering on pitch black, in the modest lightning of the hallway. The silence was deafening, but she didn’t notice, as her eyes took on their own will and traveled over his face. They came to rest on his lips. Those full, coral colored lips which were glistening with moisture from the shower. Unconsciously, she licked her lips, her heart taking the chance when unattended to speed up with anticipation.
“You okay?”

As in a daze, she raised her gaze and looked into his eyes.
“Fine-I’m fine. I’m just fine,” she said.
There was amusement in his eyes, but she could see something else there as well. Something that made her force herself to take a step back, because of the intensity of it. She could hear the deep breath he took and she dropped her eyes, feeling the heat rising on her cheeks.
“I think…,” Max said slowly with exaggerated puzzlement, “that I might be running late.”
“Uh-huh,” Liz nodded, her eyes locked on the floor. She couldn’t possibly look at him ever again. She had been staring at him! Could she have been any more obvious?
“Maybe I should get dressed then,” Max mused.
“Sure. Yes. Definitely. You should…do that,” Liz said.
At his soft laughter, she looked up – and had to swallow deeply again. She was certain that her heart stopped beating when Max leaned closer. Her eyes automatically drifted closed, not being able to look at him, afraid and excited about what could happen all mixed up in one delightful feeling. His lips brushed her cheek and she was certain that she could feel the temperature in her body increasing by ten degrees. Then his soft voice whispered in her ear, barely drowning out the beating of her heart that was throbbing in her head.
“You are kinda standing in the way.”
It took a couple of seconds, his freshly shorn cheek brushing against hers, before she got her mind back into operating position. He slowly pulled back and all she could do was smile when embarrassment decorated with raw desire made her hands tremble and her cheeks turn red.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” she stuttered, wincing at her own obviousness.
She could feel his eyes on her and all she could think about was that she wouldn’t survive if he didn’t touch her again. But if he touched her, she would want to have more. She wouldn’t be able to stop.

“Sweetie,” Max said softly, the intimate timbre of his voice making shivers chase each other down her spine. “You have yet to move.”
She smiled at this, the color on her cheeks turning an even darker crimson. Her hand went up to her face, trying to shield her embarrassment from him.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” she mumbled, her eyes stubbornly fixed on the floor. “This is so embarrassing.”
A tremor shook her body when his finger contacted the bottom of her chin. Soft pressure was added and he angled her head up to meet his eyes. Those eyes that she had fallen in love with at the first look.
“It’s my fault,” he said quietly.
It was as if he had put a spell on her. She was transfixed by the motions of his face features, mesmerized by every single emotion in his eyes.
“Now, would you care to tell me what that folder on my bed is?”
The start of a smile tickled the corners of her mouth as she self-consciously hid her eyes behind her eye-lashes.
“It’s my book. I’ve finished it.”
Silence was his answer and as the seconds slowly ticked by she realized how nervous she was. How much she wanted him to accept her writing and read what she had written. Not being able to look at him, she hurried to continue, to stop the silence from scaring her courage away.
“I wanted you to read it before I try to get it published. I was planning on mailing it to several publishers after you’ve read it, but if you don’t want to read it… I mean, if you don’t feel that you have the tim-“
“I would be honored.”
Her words cut short she looked up at him, seeing his words being confirmed by his eyes.
“You would read it?”
She never thought that it would mean that much to her, but to not hear him tell her that her writing was ridiculous had hope lighten her heart and shine out through her eyes.
“Try stopping me.”

The brightest smile blossomed on her lips and she barely stopped herself from throwing her arms around him. He was half-naked after all. Only a towel separating-
“I’ll do it first thing when we get home,” Max promised.
Liz nodded, feeling that familiar warmth in her cheeks again, thanking whatever force was at work that Max could not see into her mind and see what she had just been thinking about. She took a step back and he smiled at her.
“Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” Liz said softly and watched him walk down the corridor, her eyes traveling further and further down…
“Liz, stop it!” she ordered herself in a low voice.
“Did you say anything?”
She quickly looked up at him, his hand on the doorknob to his bedroom and quickly shook her head from side to side.
“Nah-uh.”
Max looked at her somewhat oddly, before shrugging it off.
“Okay then. I’ll be out in a sec.”
“Sure thing,” Liz said.
Max disappeared into his bedroom. The second the door closed, Liz made a beeline for the sink in the bathroom and splashed cold water in her face. She looked up at her reflection, the water running down her cheeks.
“Elizabeth Parker. Get a grip!”

<center>-----------------------------------------------------------</center>

“What took you so long?”
Max glanced at Liz, before unconsciously scratching behind his ear. He knew that he should probably say something before Maria started to jump to her own conclusions. Catching the wink Maria sent Liz’s way, Max was very certain that she was the kind of person that would easily make her own interpretations of a situation and then not let anyone else tell her anything else.
“Max had a meeting at school and it took longer than we had thought that it would,” Max heard Liz answer next to him.
“Right. Sure. Meeting at school. So that’s what they call it nowadays.”
“Maria!” Liz exclaimed and Max didn’t even have to look at Liz to see the red color of embarrassment on her cheeks.
Maria turned to Max as if she hadn’t said anything inappropriate at all. “So how are you, Max?”
He hesitated before answering. He could see the honest concern lurking in Maria’s eyes even though she was being very skilled at putting up a playful exterior, and he felt that he owed her more than the standard “I’m fine” reply. Still, he had difficulty getting it past his lips. He hadn’t really talked to anyone except his sister and Liz about his current state of mind. Liz was probably the one who knew more about him than anyone else at this point. She had been there with him when he had woken up screaming in anguish in the middle of the night. She had been there to comfort him when tears had burned his cheeks as the nightmare wouldn’t loosen its grip on him. She had seen parts of his mind that he never intended for anyone to see. That was something he wouldn’t share with just anyone, and probably not Michael’s girlfriend.
“I’m getting there,” he answered quietly.
Her shining face lost some of its electricity and her former dazzling smile dimmed. There was now concern but also warmth in her eyes and it truly became clear to Max why Maria was Liz’s best friend. Max had been fooled by Maria’s energy and her good-humored nature, and it had been something of a mystery to him why Maria and Liz would go well together. They were like day and night.

But the honesty in Maria’s face at that point, the same honesty that he saw in Liz, explained it to him. During all those years that Liz had been sick, she had needed Maria’s energy to fuel her, but she had also needed a friend that would listen and take her seriously. Liz needed someone that she could trust and confide in without being made a fool of. Max could see it so perfectly now.

But there were a lot of things that had become easier to decipher lately.

When thinking about it, he had always thought that it sounded corny when someone in some movie had said that their life was different now and they saw things through new eyes. Now he understood what they meant though. It was as if a filter had been taken away from his eyes. The net that usually filtered out what he couldn’t deal with was slowly, albeit steadily, disintegrating and he was forced to look at the world again. The weirdest thing was that he hadn’t experienced the change as sudden. He had been sitting with the therapist, talking about that day in the kitchen with Tess, and the memories he hadn’t let through that filter in his mind started to slip through and that was it. It was as if those memories worked like acid, corroding the net and making everything clear. He had walked around in something of a daze the consecutive days following that experience. It had been the clearest daze he had ever been in; he had been dazzled by everything going around him. Everything that was living that he hadn’t paid attention to before. The world was moving around him. Birds were making music, children were laughing, the sun was shining and the wind was remarkably refreshing against his face.

He had seen Liz that day. Really seen her. Seen the amazing woman who had stolen his heart without him being the slightest aware of it. He had known that she had been there for him for a long time, but he couldn’t deal with thinking about her and what her presence in his life meant. Thoughts that concerned anything that was touching on the future in anyway was sure to be followed by rough feelings of shame and guilt, and that probably would have drowned him at that point.

But that day he couldn’t look away.

She had been standing in the bathroom, brushing her teeth and he thought that he had never seen anything that beautiful. He almost laughed at his thoughts when thinking back on that incident. Almost. He had been thinking that she had looked like an angle. He could’ve sworn that he could see a white glow surround her.

He looked at her now. She was in a deep conversation with Maria, her melodious laughter enriching their discussion. He was amazed by her ability to adapt even though he had been putting her through so much. In retrospect, he couldn’t understand why she was still around after everything he had said about Tess. She must have always felt like she was second best every time he compared her to Tess. Liz turned and gave him a private smile before returning her attention to Maria, who was really talking for both of them. Max could only hope for a miracle that he would be able to prove to her that she would never be second best.

“…ax. You there? Hey Max!”
He physically tore his eyes away from Liz, realizing just the second before turning his head that Liz was now looking at him instead, amusement twinkling in her eyes.
“Huh?”
“God Liz. He’s down deep, girl.”
In confusion he looked back and forth between the girls, but something told him that the self-conscious smile forming on Liz’s lips meant that Maria had not insinuated anything about his mental condition. Before he had time to reply, an arm is draped around his shoulder and with relief he turns to see Michael standing at his side.
“Hey man. The women giving you grief?”
Michael’s hair was standing in all directions in organized disarray, as it typically did, but there was something different about his friend. Max’s eyes narrowed and he tried to figure it out as the conversation continued around him. He couldn’t pinpoint the change until Michael turned to him and said quietly, so that only Max would hear: “Glad to have you back, man.”

Maturity. Somewhere along the line Michael had grown up. He was still bickering with everyone, especially Maria, but there was a newfound sensitivity about it now. Michael was not joking to hide his insecurities about his place in the world any longer, but was now joking because he was happy. Max gave a startled jump as he felt a soft hand against his bare arm.
“You okay?”
He nodded, his eyes still trained on Michael as he kept having some “conversation” with Maria about the grossness of borrowing bowling shoes.
“They’ve all changed,” Max said quietly.
Liz didn’t say anything next to him. She only took his hand in hers and waited. He shook himself out of it and looked down at her with a tentative smile.
“Are you ready to kick their asses?”
He intentionally winked at her and his heart skipped a beat when her face shone up.
“I never said I was any good at bowling,” Liz warned.
“Faith, Liz. Faith.”
She rolled her eyes and he laughed. Her palm felt warm around his hand and he felt something tingle deep in his soul. She tugged on his hand and he followed, contentment overflowing his senses. This was exactly how it should be.


TBC...

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Postby max and liz believer » Thu Apr 21, 2005 4:03 am

Hi there!

Thanks to my wonderful b-reader, I'm doing an update-marathon today. I'm updating "Broken Wings", "Solar Eclipse" and this one. So if you are reading any of those other stories I'm just letting you know that they have been updated as well :roll:

As for this story, as I mentioned in an earlier A/N this chapter is really looong, but you are more than worth a long chapter by now.

Thank you sooo much my faithful and supportive readers!!


frenchkiss70
Eve
Emz80m
Crystal
mareli
Bixie
LTL
roswells_hope_lily
sunrise102
Alien614
Smac
su-lyn
Scottie
Ana
g7silvers
Tanya
rigel
cherie


And a big hug to all you lurkers out there!

Oh, and btw, the little story about a refrigerator half-way through the chapter is based on a real event :roll: The person getting "shut out" was actually me, and the person doing it was my dear flatmate :wink: That's just a small example of why I can hardly find the peace to write fanfiction around here :roll: :wink:


Hugs,

Jo


Chapter 40


She couldn’t stop looking at him. He was beautiful. His emotions had been so raw, so visible to her, as he had, almost apprehensively, reached out and touched her. She knew that it was wrong. Her mind was constantly reminding her that they had moved too quickly, but it couldn’t dim the smile of her heart nor lessen the shine in her eyes.

His naked skin was warm underneath her body and the gentle steady movement of his chest ignited a sense of security inside of her. It was a feeling that had been foreign to her a few hours earlier. She had felt many new, strong, passionate, intense, draining emotions tonight and at times she hadn’t been sure if she was deliriously happy about it or just wanted it to disappear.

Her index finger gently traced the curves of his well-defined chest, feeling the desire spreading through her fingers at the softness of his skin. He had been so open to her; frighteningly vulnerable. Her leg moved by its own force to cover his and her heart started to beat faster as she brought her body closer to his; fitting every corner of his body with hers.

“Can’t sleep?”
His voice made her jump and her eyes moved up to his face. “I didn’t know you were awake.”
He opened his eyes and looked at her. It was the first look in his eyes that made her heart leap with fear, but it was quickly replaced by a newfound warmness and the corners of his mouth slowly moved upwards.
“I’m afraid to go to sleep,” he answered softly.
“Why?” she asked, alarm threading through her mind, afraid that he was worried about possible nightmares.
His smile dimmed and a look of admiration and awe softened his features. Her intake of breath whispered through the calmness of the room when his hand came into contact with her back and ever so slowly moved upwards, following the curvature of her spine. His hand was barely touching her, but she had to struggle to remain in control to stop herself from kissing him. Her breathing quickened as his hand moved over the curve of her shoulder and as his hand stopped for a second her eyes drifted close. He was looking at her; she could feel the intensity of his eyes like a heat lamp on her face. The heat was caressing her skin, running over her nose, brushing against her eyelashes, kissing her lips, stroking her cheeks, and the ghost of an impatient sigh softly drifted over her lips.

She shivered with relief and anticipation when he brushed his fingers over her collarbone to travel from there up her throat. He gently pressed his thumb against the skin of her cheek while the rest of his hand encircled the side of her neck, tempting her to open her eyes.
“I’m afraid that you will go away if I do,” he answered.
The guilt that hit her was so unexpected that she didn’t have time to shield him from the expression in her eyes. She could practically feel how the air changed around them. There was a moment of silence and she could hear her heart beating in her ear, feel his heart beating under her fingertips resting on his chest.
“What are you thinking about?”
His request was barely a whisper, drowning in the cracking texture of fear soaking his voice. She didn’t want to tell him, but there was something in her heart that let the words spread over her lips before she could stop them.
“Were you thinking about her?”
She had expected to be met by silence, but still it felt as if it would suffocate her as it draped itself over them and she looked up to meet his eyes. Her breath hitched in her throat as she saw the expression on his face.

“You healed me tonight. I never thought that I would be able to be happy again. I never thought that I would be able to love again or have someone loving me, but you’ve proven to me over and over again that I was wrong. You’re amazing, Elizabeth Parker. You were what kept me alive until I found the will to live again. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Warm tears slowly ran down her cheeks and she nodded slowly, trying to show him that she knew what he meant.
“There was no room for anyone else but you in my heart tonight, Liz.”
She sniffled, nodding, and the only word she could get over her lips was: “Okay.”
He smiled at her, brushing her tears away with the pad of his thumb. “Okay?”
She laughed softly, her smile shining through the veil of tears. “Okay.”
“Are you happy?”
The insecurity of his question painfully squeezed her heart and she felt like pulling him inside her soul and protect him from the harsh reality. She slowly moved her upper body over his chest and gently captured his lips with hers. His hand moved from her cheek into her thick hair pulling her closer. His lips were warm and inviting and her eyes drifted close as he responded to her kiss.
“Is that a ‘yes’?” he whispered against her lips.
She smiled and started kissing down his throat. His satisfied sigh disappeared in her hair as he kissed the crown of her head.


Ten hours earlier

Lately it felt as though it always came down to her. Liz. It came down to her smile, her shining warm eyes, her sparkling laughter, the way her head would turn slightly towards his voice when he said something behind her. But he didn’t really say much. He let the world speak around him, and he watched and listened. He felt his eyes being drawn to her on more than one occasion but he lacked the complete control not to let his eyes breathe in her soft essence. He wasn’t completely unaware of the others around him. He could feel their eyes on him, observing his every move, partly afraid that he would break down again while partly anticipating what would happen next.

“Uncle Maaaax!!!”
It took a while, but he finally forced himself to look away from her and looked down at the small angle standing in front of him. Michelle’s hair was standing in all different directions and if he wasn’t mistaking she had dirt on her cheek.
Max smiled and ruffled her hair. “Hello princess.”
A line of annoyance came to taint her smooth forehead and her hands moved down to her hips, and for a moment there Max had to reassure himself that he was talking to his niece and not Isabel herself.
“Uncle Max! You mess up my hair!”
Max resisted the temptation of telling her that her hair was already very messed up and that he might’ve actually put it more back into order by ruffling it.
“Oh, sorry darling. I remember now that you girls need to have perfect hair.”
“And don’t you foget it!”
Max laughed softly. “What’s up, beautiful?”
Michelle’s eyes grew big and round as she was reminded of what she wanted to show Max. Excited, with certain bounce in her small body, she grabbed his hand and pulled him towards one of the bowling lanes.
“Sit!” she commanded, pointing at one of the blue plastic chairs.
Max remained serious until the little girl turned her back towards him and his face cracked into a smile and he softly laughed under his breath. God, he loved that girl.

Small nets, about ten centimeters high, had been placed on each sides of the lane, to prevent the bowling ball from rolling down into the gutter. An arrangement that was usually made for kids. Michelle bent down to lift one of the bowling balls up and Max automatically started to rise as she started to struggle, afraid that she would drop it on her toes, but a hand pushed him down. He looked up to find Liz standing there, giving him a pointed look.
Max felt the immediate need to defend himself. “I was just going to stand up to get a better view.”
Liz smiled at him. “Of course you were.” She sat down next to him and Max had to fight the urge to continue looking at her as her natural scent enveloped him and her thigh brushed against his.
“Look at me! Look at me!” Michelle called from the bowling lane.
“I’m looking,” Max answered, trying to keep his concentration on what his niece was doing.
As Michelle proceeded to position herself in front of the lane, bend her legs and with both her hands on the ball swing it back between her legs and then forward to let it hit the lane with a dull thud, Max felt Liz take his hand in his. He felt his heart speeding up, but his eyes remained trained on the bowling ball that Michelle had let loose on the lane. It was rolling from one side to the next, bouncing off one net only to go in a sixty degrees angle to meet up with the net on the other side of the lane. It finally ended in the middle of the lane, perfectly timed to hit the pins in the center. How the ball was able to make all the ten pins fall with the minor speed it was going at remained a mystery for everyone who was observing. The ball itself only made three pins fall, the rest kind of fell over each other due to something of a domino effect.

“Yay!! Yay!! Look at me!” Michelle exclaimed, jumping with her arms up over her head.
“Honey, that was excellent!” Isabel burst out from the left, making Max turn his head towards his sister, surprise spreading over his face. He hadn’t noticed her arrival.
“Did you see did you see did you see?!”
Max laughed and caught the excited little body as she flung herself at him.
“That was absolutely beautiful, spunk,” Max whispered in her ear.
Michelle’s face lightened up even more and she turned to Liz.
”Did you see me?”
Liz bent forward and gave Michelle a peck on the cheek. “You’re a natural.”
Michelle’s smile got, if possible, even wider and before Max knew what was happening she had hopped off his lap and was on her way over to her parents.


Present time

She was asleep. She was lying on her stomach with her elbows tucked under her body. Worried that she was feeling cold, he pulled the sheet further up her body, regretfully covering her fair skin. He still remembered with sharp clarity how afraid he had been that she would be having problems with her heart, because his thoughts had often wandered to that subject lately as their relationship had progressed and they’ve gotten closer. Could her heart manage making love? He had been blushing when he had asked her earlier that evening, but she hadn’t laughed at him, just told him calmly that he had to be a mighty good lover to put her heart in danger during lovemaking, which had made him laugh.

He was still worried about her and would probably always worry about her. It had always been part of his nature and it had probably gotten worse after Tess and Joshua’s death. His eyes closed at that thought and he rolled onto his back, trying to force the dark thoughts from entering his mind. He tried to concentrate on the soft sound of Liz’s breaths, but the memories were strong and the darkness was acidic, spreading through his mind with the dangerous intent on making him regret what they had just done. Wanting to make him feel like he was betraying Tess, or at least the memory of her.


Nine hours earlier

“… so he moved the whole refrigerator to block the front door.”
Liz was laughing so hard that she could hardly walk through the front door. “What?!”
“Well, she would be able to open the door if there was only a chair in front of it and the refrigerator was the closest object.”
Liz tried to dry her tears at the same time as she removed her jacket. “Didn’t he think about locking the door?”
Max looked at her incredulously. “What’s the fun in that?”
Liz managed to roll her eyes before starting to giggle again. “What happened next?”
Max took her jacket and hung it up and walked in front of her into the kitchen, switching on the lights as he continued talking. “So Jo comes up to the door and tries to open it. She manages to open about two inches, before the door won’t give anymore. At this point she realizes that someone is messing with her and it’s not difficult to figure out who it is. So she asks him to open the door to which he only grins at her through the crack. Then this other guy that lived with us opens the refrigerator door and puts some milk into the shelf in the door, as if nothing is different. Mind you, these sorts of things happened on a regular basis.”
“I’m starting to realize that.”
“Jo sees the white door as it opens up in front of the little opening she managed to get when trying to open the door and realizes that it is the refrigerator, which makes her start laughing and so he just shakes his head and moves the refrigerator back.”
Liz looked at Max in disbelief. “And you lived with this guy?”
“Well, yeah.”

“Oh my God.” Liz frantically tried to picture Max, calm quiet Max, with a guy that went to the extent of moving a refrigerator to stop someone from entering an apartment and hanging their curtains in the tree outside the building.
“We got along really well, actually,” Max said, easily seeing what Liz was trying to picture. “I think we kinda complimented each other. He needed a calm person around that got him to calm down and I needed to have someone that forced me to take risks and do things I normally wouldn’t even think of doing.”
Liz nodded, taking out two wineglasses from the cabinet. “Do you still keep in touch?”
A shadow passed over Max’s face and he turned his back towards her, opening the refrigerator door to retrieve a wine bottle and juice. “We kept in contact for a long time, but after…” He cleared his throat and placed the wine and juice on the counter. “I couldn’t talk to anyone anymore. All of my previous friends disappeared. It wasn’t really their fault. Some I probably lost forever, but some really tried to get in contact with me, I just wouldn’t let them.”
“You should call him someday,” Liz suggested after some hesitation. She wasn’t sure if it was her place to make suggestions like that, but Max only nodded.
“Yeah, I should. Someday.”
She gave him an encouraging smile. “So… Do we have any cheese?”
Max seemed relieved for the change of topic and nodded. “Yep, bought some today.”


Present time

“Max?”
He broke out of his train of thought and looked down to meet her big doe eyes looking straight into his soul.
“Mmm?”
“Are you okay?”
His nod was contemplative and her eyes narrowed, knowing instinctively that something was not right.
“Are you regretting it?”
“Regretting what?” His voice was inquisitive, but she was certain he knew what she meant.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“Uh-uh, that can’t be good,” Max said, trying to lighten the suddenly very heavy mood.
Liz made a poor attempt at rolling her eyes, but the act was quickly erased when she soon thereafter moved away from his body. She felt the cold hit her immediately at the loss of contact with his body, but she knew that the true depth of the coldness came from the fear of not being wanted.
“Maybe this wasn’t right.”

The lack of an instant response made the coldness close even tighter around her heart and it was not the words, but the lack of conviction in his answer that awoke the feeling that the walls were closing in on her.
“Don’t say that. You know that’s not true.”
“Do I?” Liz asked, fighting to prevent any emotion from showing through.
“Liz, please don’t-“
She moved even further away from him, putting only coldness and sheets between them. “Don’t lie to me, Max. If you think that this wasn’t right, then tell me. Just tell me what’s in your heart.”
”I don’t want to hurt you.”
”You can’t prevent that from happening. You’re hurting me right now by not being honest.”
“I…I…”
Liz looked at him with apprehension when he sat up and turned to sit on the edge of the bed, with his back turned towards her.
“I can’t do this. I can’t…”
“Max, we made love tonight. It’s a major step and maybe we took it too soon. Please talk to me.”
“I can’t do this. Don’t make me do this.”

Liz watched him reach for his boxers and her heart sank as seconds of silence ticked by when he pulled on his boxers and stood up. Without being able to meet her eyes he threaded his fingers through his hair, his hand shaking.
“Can we talk about this later?”
She was fighting with herself to not cry or scream at him in frustration. “Why?”
“It was not a mistake. It was not a mistake.” He was looking straight into her eyes now, his voice firm and unyielding. “Don’t ever think it was a mistake, Liz. I just can’t talk about this right now, but it was not a mistake.”
Liz wasn’t sure how she should feel about that. Should she be relieved, happy, sad, disappointed? All she felt was guilt mixed with confusion. She should have stopped this from happening. She should’ve known this was going to be the consequence of it all. But she didn’t. She didn’t stop it. For once, she followed her heart to see where it brought her.


Eight hours earlier

They had just naturally aligned themselves in that position. It wasn’t planned or intentional; they had just curled up together. Liz was acutely aware of his arm around her waist; of the warmth radiating from his palm against the naked skin of her stomach. It hadn’t taken long before his hand around her waist had crept underneath her shirt to feel the texture of her skin as if it would bring him more comfort and security than just holding her did. She could feel his hipbone against her bottom and their feet were entangled in the most intimate way possible. His breathing was steady and rhythmic against her ear but she knew that he was still awake. She wondered if he was concentrating as little on the TV as she was. She wondered if he was as aware of the feeling of her body pressed up against his as she was of him. Was he also thinking about them and where they should go from there? Were they still only friends, with a twist, or was there something else there?

No sooner had the thought flown through her mind before she felt his lips against the side her neck. Her breathing quickened, but since she wasn’t sure how to respond she didn’t move a muscle, waiting to see what he would do next. His lips slowly left her neck again and just as she thought that it had just been a small innocent kiss, he placed another kiss further up and continued to slowly kiss up her neck.
“Max?” she whispered.
“Mhmm,” he answered, slightly halting in his gentle assault of her skin.
“What are you doing?”
“I just… I couldn’t not kiss you any longer. I needed to.”
She smiled into the empty room and a shiver of anticipation trailed down her spine when his hand under her shirt moved further north, towards the edge of her bra. Somewhere at the back of her mind something was trying to get her attention, warning her that this might escalate beyond their control. But she didn’t want to listen to her mind right now. She had been waiting for him to touch her for too long. Waiting for him to touch her in any other way than just to receive comfort from bad dreams.

He slowly pushed her hair away and kissed the skin behind her ear, eliciting a mixture of a tickling sensation and sensuality. She wanted to give him space to do what he wanted at his own pace. She didn’t want to stress him or unconsciously force him to do something he wasn’t ready for yet, but it was really difficult not to turn around and kiss him right then. Instead, she moved her hand under her own shirt to touch his hand. Their fingers entwined and she slowly moved their linked hands upwards over her lace-covered breast. The sound of his breathing got stronger and faster in her ear, which made her even warmer. She was heating up from the inside and she felt as if she would catch fire if she couldn’t touch him.

His hand gently squeezed her breast and Liz couldn’t stand it any longer. She turned in his arms and captured his lips with hers. Her kiss was heated and demanding, being the result of weeks of built up waiting and wantonness.
“God Liz,” Max murmured, before running his tongue over her bottom lip, tasting all of her. She rolled on top of him, straddling his waist, with his hands buried in her hair as it fell down around him like a curtain, all the while making love to his mouth.
His hands moved quickly from her hair, his movements picking up more impatience with the exponential increase of his desire, and moved underneath her sweater bringing it upwards as he moved his hands upwards. Liz automatically lifted her arms above her head to facilitate the removal of her sweater.

The sight of more exposed skin made him halt in his movements and he just stared at her for a couple of seconds, his mouth going dry, before he cradled the back of her neck in his hand and brought her mouth back to his. Her hands crept underneath his shirt and the heat of his skin radiated into the surface of her palms.
“Too many clothes,” she murmured, pushing his shirt upwards. Max reluctantly let go of her lips to get the shirt over his head, but went back to adoring her mouth as soon as possible. The shirt fell forgotten to the floor.
“Wait, wait,” Max murmured, struggling to get what he needed to say through the mist of desire clouding his mind.
“What…what’s wrong?” Liz looked at him, worry penetrating the dazed look in her eyes.
“Uhm… This is probably a very stupid question…”
As his voice trailed off into silence, she reassuringly pressed her hand over his heart. “What is it, Max?”
“Do you… does us… does this…”
His cheeks took on a deeper crimson quality than just the consequence of the induced prior desire and the color of embarrassment sneaked up to the tips of his ears.
“Does us making love hurt your heart? I mean, can your heart handle this?”
She wanted to smile at him and kiss him senseless for the adorable expression on his face at that moment, but she knew the rawness of the worry behind the question and she knew exactly the way to tackle it.
Looking at him with a completely straight face, she calmly stated, “Sweetie, you have to be a mighty darn good lover to put my heart in any medical danger.”
The worry drained off his face like water and his soft laughter was decorated with relief.
“I love you,” he said simply.
The happiness shone through her eyes and it was that expression on her face that told his heart the same truth, even though she didn’t say it out loud. Her response was filled with pure joy. “I know.” And she let her soul sink into his.


Present time

She could still taste his skin on her lips. She could still feel the heat that had been simmering between their moving bodies. She could remember with clear intensity what it felt like to be embraced by him, body and soul, to be in the center of his focus. To have him fall apart in her arms, crying out her name in ecstasy.

She could still remember what it felt like to have Max Evans loving her. Caressing every millimeter of her body; kissing, adoring, admiring, loving it. She could still remember the waves of love that repeatedly floated through her during their lovemaking. She loved him so much that it almost hurt. She didn’t know where to go or how to dampen it. It was overwhelming. Everything he made her feel was filling up her heart to the brink of its destruction.

And now it had crossed the border and the pieces of her heart were floating around in her circulation, piercing through every organ of her body as she watched him walk away from her. However, it wasn’t that much due to the fact that he was walking away from her. It was that he couldn’t share his fears with her. She didn’t want to push him. She didn’t want to suffocate him and force him to tell her everything. She didn’t want to expect too much of him. She was so afraid of scaring him away because she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to live without him now that she had finally got him.

But it hurt nevertheless.

With fresh tears running down her cheeks, she turned on her side and pulled the sheet up to her ears, covering her quickly cooling naked body. When was it supposed to get easier?


TBC...


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