The Christmas Angel (AU,M/L,ADULT) (Complete)

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WR
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The Christmas Angel (AU,M/L,ADULT) (Complete)

Post by WR » Mon Dec 20, 2004 2:58 pm

Winner - Round 8

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The Christmas Angel

Disclaimer : I, in no way, am associated with the actors, writers, producers, etc. of 'Roswell'. The rights to the show are not mine. Would I treat 'Roswell' the way TPTB did?
Category : M&L
Rating : ADULT (eventually)
Summary : This is in response to a challenge as laid down by 'Faith Evans' at roswellfanfic.com a few Christmases ago. What's Christmas without repeats?


Angels by Robbie Williams

I sit and wait,
Does an Angel contemplate my fate
And do they know,
The placed where we go,
When we're gray and old,
'cos I've been told,
That salvation lets their wings unfold
So when I'm lying in my bed,
Thoughts running through my head,
And I feel that love is dead,
I'm loving angels instead,

And through it all she offers me protection,
A lot of love and affection,
Whether I'm right or wrong,
And down the waterfall,
Wherever it may take me,
I know that life won't break me,
When I come to call she won't forsake me,
I'm loving angels instead

When I'm feeling weak,
And my pain walks down a one way street,
I look above,
And I know I'll always be blessed with love,
And as the feeling grows,
She breathes flesh to my bones,
And love is dead,
I'm loving angels instead,

And through it all she offers me protection,
A lot of love and affection,
Whether I'm right or wrong,
And down the waterfall,
Wherever it may take me,
I know that life won't break me,
When I come to call she won't forsake me,
I'm loving angels instead

***

Part 1 - "Ghosts"


Elsepeth hurried through the billowing clouds of mist that lay along the heavenly paths towards the Great Meeting Chamber, where, as an angel in training, she would receive her final task. The successful completion of this task would result in the ringing of the great bell, and Elsepeth would join the ranks of Guardian Angels. More than anything, this diminutive young girl with the lustrous flowing locks of dark hair wanted to gain her Angel Wings, and go on to become known as one of the greatest Guiardian Angels of all time. But young Elsepeth had a problem. For all her enthusiasm and hard work, she was what is euphamistically known as... a 'klutz'. This would not be Elsepeth's first attempt at passing her final test. Unfortuneately for her, she had tried before... and had failed... miserably. Twice.

Elsepeth first attempt had been the simple task of delivering a little rain to the parched lands surrounding a small farm in Western Australia, struck by a terrible drought. A prayer had been received from the occupants of the farm, begging for water to help not the owners, but the animals that were dying of thirst. Elsepeth's teacher and mentor, Alex, had agreed that it was a simple task that the girl was more than capable of and so this duty had been entrusted to her. But upon arrival in the proverbial dust bowl, Elsepeth felt sorry for the people of the blighted region and decided that she wanted to do more for this unselfish family. She used her blessings to open the rain valves more than she was authorized to open them. Overthinking her task, she had decided that the answer, and her real test, was to fill the reservoirs with water and to ensure that the ground received a thorough soaking so that it would be moist enough to support the growing of crops through the coming year. Everyone would be happy, and God would receive his due thanks and praise. The light rain became a torrential downpour. The hard, sunbaked ground could not soak up the deluge, and unable to close the valve, she flooded the region, turning the once fertile land into a barren waste as the flood tore the topsoil away. She thereby forced the inhabitants to give up farming altogether and move away to the city, where they had turned away from their god. She had failed.

As well as her good heart, Elsepeth had a steely determination. Nothing was more important to her than becoming a Guardian Angel, so she had put herself through the training process a second time. She worked doubly hard to ensure that she would be granted her second chance, throwing her heart and soul into her lessons. For the final task of her second year, Elsepeth had been given an opportunity to use her abilities to prevent a charming old homeless woman from using a derelict building as her shelter for the night. The building was unsafe and she would surely die if she slept there. But while watching over her subject, Elsepeth had overheard the old woman telling a passerby that she used to live in that house, way back when she was married and happy, and was taking a last look before her old home was demolished. Elsepeth decided that she would grant this old woman's wish and had used her blessing to protect her as she entered the dangerous building and walked from room to room, remeniscing. But the ladies presence had attracted a small cat. And its owner, a young child who could not read the danger signs that the house was condemned, had followed that cat into the old building.

The cat had managed to get itself stuck under the rotting floorboards, which caused the girl to burst into tears. Feeling sorry for her, Elsepeth decided to free the young girl's pet. As Elsepeth used her abilities to lift the floorboards so that the cat could jump free, she accidentally lifted one whole side of the house, causing an internal wall to fall down. This in turn tore the floor apat, collapsing into the basement. Elsepeth herself had fallen through a hole, and was half buried by falling debris. Because of where she came from, she was unhurt, and she managed to provide a soft landing for the old woman, who had been surprised to have landed on something other than wood and concrete. The whole ordeal had surprisd Elsepeth and she was unfortuneate to disable her cloak of invisibility. The old woman saw her and demanded to know who Elsepeth was, and from where she had suddenly materialized. Far from freeing it, Elsepeth had scared the cat so much that it had bolted into a dark corner beneath the stone chimney breast that was about to topple over. The little girl was even heading towards the cat to try and rescue it herself. It would have been a disaster, especially as the noise had attracted a number of bystanders, had Alex not call the Angel Rescue Service. It had been the first time in over a century that they had been required. There were a few memories that had to be 'altered' that day, a task that was not often employed and only then in extreme circumstances with the permission of Gabriel himself. Elsepeth had become the first Angel in Training ever to have failed a second time.

Against the advice of Alex, and many other senior Angels who were displeased with the young trainee, Elsepeth enrolled on the Guardian Angel course for a third time. Nothing would prevent her in her desire to become a fully fledged Guardian Angel. But, in spite of her clumsy ways, she was a popular trainee. She always had a smile on her face and her sunny, cheerful disposition was infectious. She never showed the signs of the setbacks she received, or if she did, she never let anyone see. Everyone knew of her burning desire to become an Angel, and so, feeling sorry for the young girl, the powers that be gave their permission for her to try again. Elsepeth worked harder and longer than her peers, all of whom she helped with their own studies, as and when she could. However, for them, it all seemed to come so easy, but Elsepeth, who had been through this twice before, seemed unable to grasp many of the simplest concepts. It seemed that overthinking often overcomplicated things for her. She reached the final test through hard work and dedication alone.

***

"Just close your eyes, count to ten, and go, Max," Max Evans told himself. The tall dark haired young man looked older than his twenty-four years. His features looked drawn and gaunt, while his eyes, which lacked emotion of any kind, were cold and lifeless. He stood by the busy intersection on Fifth Avenue and watched the heavy traffic rushing by. The air was filled with exhaust fumes and the constant beeping of the car horns. Max took a deep breath, and closed his eyes tightly.
"One, two, three," he counted as the traffic continued to roar past.
"Four, five, six," he continued as the honking sounds increased.
"Seven, eight, nine," the traffic sounded louder, heavier.
"Ten."
With his eyes squeezed tightly shut, Max Evans stepped out into the oncoming traffic. Contrary to what he expected, there was no squealing of brakes, no blaring horns and no abusive calls. Neither was there the painful impact that would finally take away his pain. Nothing happened. After he had taken half a dozen strides, Max opened one eye to see what was happening. The pedestrian crossing lights had turned green. Max had the right of way and so the traffic had stopped to allow the thick stream of pedestrians to cross.
"Looks like I won't be joining you today," he sighed, looking upwards.
He dug his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders against the chill December air. He continued walking through the large crowds of pedestrians along Fifth Avenue, towards Herald Square. With a rueful backward glance at the traffic that had now begun again, Max continued along the busy street.

"Ho, ho, ho," a large man clad in a red Santa Clause suit bellowed, while swinging a large hand bell up and down. To the sound of his constant bell ringing, he stood in front of a large pot behind which a sign advertised that any donations were going to the needy. People were dropping in loose change as they hurried past and were rewarded with the jolly looking old man calling "Merry Christmas!" to them.
Max walked past the man, looking across the road as though something important had caught his attention. The Santa Clause was not fooled. He had seen this very action performed too many times now, not just as Santa, but as a homeless man down on his luck. If the passer-by pretended that he didn't see you, he would not need to feel guilty for ignoring you.
"What?" he shouted at the young businessman. "You can't even spare a dime?"
He was surprised when the young man turned to face him.
"Excuse me?" Max asked, glaring in sudden anger. He startede walking toward him. "Listen, pal. I pay my taxes, okay? And those taxes help fund homes and refuges for the homeless of this city. And I donate large sums of money to local charities. I give more than my fair share."
"Ooooo," the man raised his hands in mock genuflection. "Well good for you. All taxes and tax deductible, eh? That's real big of you. But what about on your personal level? How much of your own money do 'you' give? Who are you anyway? Ebenezer Scrooge Jr.?"
"I ought to get the cops to take to in, harassing people like this."
"And you don't harass people? I bet every big deal you make is made by harassing people. Well, I'll tell you what, Mr. Scrooge. I won't mind betting that like your namesake, you get visited by a ghost of your own. Perhaps you might get lucky and see the real meaning of Christmas. Maybe you will even get a life!"
"A Christmas Ghost," sneered Max as he turned away from the old man. "Don't make me laugh, old man. What difference would one more make?"
If there was any particular time of year that Max had to admit to not liking, it would now. Max Evans hated Christmas.

Quickly putting the demented old man out of his mind, Max continued up the street. He was in Herald Square now, with the famous stores that attracted so many shoppers, and tourists to their city. He glanced enviously at Macy's. Even in daylight, the Christmas decorations, both the ones installed by the city, and the ones put up in the store windows and doorways were very impressive. Many of the pedestrians were walking along, looking this way and that, making gentle 'oooh-ing' and 'aaah-ing' sounds at what they saw. There had even been a few fender-benders in the traffic as drivers had their eyes on the decorations rather than the traffic lights. But Max Evans scarcely noticed. It was not the decorations he felt envy for, but the fact that theirs was a household name, while his was not. He lowered his lifeless eyes back to the sidewalk, swerving to avoid the people in his way, while he cursed the imbeciles who stopped suddenly in front of him, to take a closer look at the cursed decorations.
"I hate Christmas," he spat at no one in perticular.
At last, he reached his destination.
"The car, tomorrow, I think," he said to no one in particular. "Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll crash."
Finally, he walked up the broad steps in front of a grand old building, and walked to the front door of 'ML Evans', one of New York's finest shopping experiences.

"Good morning, Mr. Evans," the uniformed doorman saluted before opening the door to Max.
"Morning," Max grunted as he walked through the door, hardly even noticing the man, let alone thanking him. He walked into the large interior of ML Evans, but hardly noticed a thing. ML Evans was a store on a similar scale to Macy's, perhaps larger, grander, but not quite as famous.
"Good morning, Mr. Evans," the sales clerks all curtsied, or bowed as he walked through to the executive elevators at the back of the store. Max would have preferred to use the staff entrance at the back of the building, but his great grandfather had started the tradition of entering through the front entrance just after he had moved the store to it's current location back in the thirties. Max continued walking through the store, with his eyes fixed firmly on the tiled floor. As always, he ignored each and every one of the employees. He finally reached the elevator, and was soon safely inside, heading to the penthouse offices where he would spend another day wrapped up in the business affairs of his company. Max Evans was the current owner of ML Evans, the role he had inherited on his twenty-first birthday. He often felt stifled by the decades of tradition, and longed to break free of them, but the memory of his parents prevented him.

"Good Morning, Mr. Evans," the young woman met him as he emerged from the elevator. Max knew that the doorman would have called ahead to warn the staff that he was on his way up. As she did every morning, his secretary was waiting for him with his desk diary. She would brief him on his day's events as he walked through to his office.
"Good morning, Miss Sanchez," he replied; though he did not look at her. Max had learned long ago that it didn't pay to ignore his secretary. It didn't make her go away. She woyld wait patiently all day if she had to, until she discharged her duties. It was easier to work with her and she was, after all, very efficient. His father had struck gold the day he had hired her.
"Mr. Evans?" There was a hint of trepidation in her voice. "The girls have asked if they can decorate the offices. You know, make it look festive."
Max looked at her and then at the office, noticing how everyone watched expectantly.
"Only in their time, and only if it stays out of my way. And I will fire the first one who tries to put anything in my office, or on my door. Now, what do I have on for today?"
"Yes Mr. Evans. I'll tell them. We'll keep it simple and discreet. Like last year. And the year before that." She started looking at the open page in the diary. "You have that tour with the Swedish delegation this morning, and this afternoon, you have the meeting for departmental heads. And we need to let The Grand Hotel know the numbers for the staff dinner dance on Christmas Eve. Will you be bringing a date, sir?"
"Firstly," Max sighed. "I am not a sir. Sirs are people from England who get hit on the head with a sword. Secondly, you know very well that I don't attend those things. So no. I will not be bringing a date."
"Just checking sir... ah, Mr. Evans."
"Do I have much on for tomorrow?"
"Let's see," Miss Sanchez flipped to the next page of the desk diary. "No, only your lunch with the Chairman of the Bank. Oh, you will be giving the Mayor's wife the full VIP tour in the morning. And in the afternoon, you have to visit the induction room to greet the new employees. Oh, and we open Santa's Grotto tomorrow, too. Perhaps you would like to..."
"No," Max flatly refused. "Get Valenti to do it. He is the General Manager after all."
"Yes, Mr. Evans, of course," Miss Sanchez paused. "It's just that your father liked to..."
"No!" Max shook his head. "Why must I do everything that reminds me of them, and... that night?"

***

The Great Meeting Chamber was not really a chamber at all, but a large cloud that floated high above the others, giving a terrific view of all the heavens. From the chairs of the great table, carved from pure white marble, one could see Valhalla, Elysium, and even the Happy Hunting Grounds. Any Heaven that was ever believed to exist by mortal man, far below, existed here, and was visible from the Chamber. Every faith, every belief and every mythology was represented in Heaven, and each faith had their own brand of Angels, that were tested in their own ways, at their own times.

As it was approaching the time that the mortals below called Christmas, the senior Angels that represented the Christian world were meeting to allocate the final tasks of their Trainee Angels. One by one, the trainees were named, and the tasks allocated and crossed of the great list of prayers received. Alex was the only nervous teacher there. His nervousness was not so much for his students but because he was quick at mental math. Alex knew that that there were one hundred students currently waiting for their final task, but he could only count ninety-nine prayers on the great list. He had this dreadful feeling that Elsepeth would not be allowed her chance to gain her wings after all. No one else seemed to have noticed the mismatch.

At last, the final task had been allocated. The ChairAngel, Francis, nodded with satisfaction as the last task had been removed from the list. When he glanced down at the list, his face fell.
"Oh my," Francis exclaimed. "We have another name on the list, but we have no task to allocate."
"What?" demanded Richard, a senior Angel, as pandemonium broke out around him. "How can that be? Gabriel himself checks those lists. Surely he would have ensured that the numbers tallied?"
"Who is the last trainee?" asked Joan, their most experienced teacher.
"Elsepeth," Alex offered, not needing to see the list. "The last trainee is Elsepeth."
"He's right," Richard confirmed. "It's Elsepeth."
"Well, that explains it," Brigid offered. "Gabriel has decided that she isn't fit to be an angel."
"That most becoming of you, Brigid," Alex complained. "You know how hard the poor girl has been trying."
"I agree," Brigid smirked. "She's been very trying. Very trying indeed."
"Nevertheless, she has completed the course, and deserves her chance," Alex defended his unfortunate student. "You know how much this means to her. You know how badly she wants to be an Angel. She deserves to be allowed her chance."
"Perhaps we should put it to the vote," Joan mediated. "And if we agree she should have the chance, perhaps we might find some task ourselves."
""But what's the point? No matter how simple the task, she will find some way to fail. Face it, she is not Guardian Angel material."
"But she completed the course." Alex objected.
"I agree with Joan," Richard decided. "We will vote on it."

"That will not be necessary," a newcomer interrupted.
Every angel at the table rose, and bowed as Gabriel himself approached the meeting. "The reason that there was no prayer left on the list, was because we will not be using a prayer for Elsepeth's final task."
"But what shall she do?" objected Alex. "If not the answering of a prayer, what shall she do?"
"I shall send Elsepeth to Earth, as a mortal girl, to help someone find themselves."
"What?" Alex's objection was the loudest. Everyone was shocked. This was not the sort of task entrusted to a trainee.
"But that is usually granted to only the most experienced of Angels. This is an impossible task. Her power is not enough to help her with this sort of task."
"She will not be required to use her power to perform this, for that would be of little use in this case. But fear not, Alex, she will have you watching over her, for you shall accompany her. You will not be visible to the mortals. Though you may assist her in whatever way you see fit, you must not do anything for her task unless she requests it, and you know the limitations that you must work to. No raising the dead and no providing proof. You know. Standard religion stuff. She will have no need for her power, because she shall be tested on how she is able to use her greatest strength, for that will suit her much better for this test.
"And what is her greatest strength?" Alex asked, looking confused.
"Why, Alex?" Gabriel smiled. "You of all people should know that, having worked with the charming girl for three years. Elsepeth's greatest strength is not in her power, or her determination to succeed. It's not even her burning desire to pass the final task and hear that bell ring for her. She has worked so hard at becoming a Guardian Angel, that she has forgotten why. We could remind her, but she must discover this for herself. You see, Elsepeth's greatest strength is her enormous heart."

***

"That was very clever of Gabriel, wasn't it?" Joan asked Richard as the two of them walked back to the common room after the meeting had drawn to a close.
"In what way?" he asked."
"Well, surely you remember what happened last Christmas?"
Richard nodded with frown on his face. Elsepeth's enthusiasm for Christmas was almost as notorious as her clumsiness. And when the two of them mixed, it was a recipe for disaster. Seldom a Christmas Day went by that did not involve Elsepeth and a mountain of broken crockery, and a number of guests with food or drink, or both... spilled over them. To make matters worse, Elsepeth invariably attempted to make amends for her clumsiness, and always ended up inflicting more pain of some kind upon the unfortunate victim.
"I mean," Joan continued, "it's His two thousand and first birthday. You don't turn two thousand and one every day, you know. His Father wants to throw a big party, you know, and invite the other deities and demigods. Can you imagine the chaos Elsepeth would cause? I mean, what if she did something stupid, like trip over Thor's hammer? Or drop one of Zeus' thunderbolts?"
"So you think Gabriel gave her this task to get rid of her? That makes sense, I guess."
"To get rid of her, yes, and to punish her too. I'm told He was really furious that the Angel Rescue Service had to be called. Rumor has it He lost his temper over the memory thing. Apparently, she's not to return until she has succeeded. That's the last we will have seen of her for a while."
"Is her task really that difficult?"
"Didn't you hear? Oh yes, it's difficult, all right. It's impossible. The one she is being set to has relatives up here. His mother has already requested that someone save him. At the time, our best Salvation Angel was put on the job, because these were pretty special people. The angel didn't even come close. He's as hopelessly lost as you can be. It's a shame Alex was made to go with her, though. I was hoping to hear him and his friends play their harps again."

***

In a narrow alley beside a large underground car-parking complex, a doorway appeared out of nothing. The doorway opened, allowing a bright white light to illuminate the alley that had not seen the light of the sun in a number of decades. If anyone had been there to witness this doorway, they would have seen a young strangely dressed girl step through. Because of her clothing, it would have been difficult to put an age to her, but she appeared to be twenty-one. She wore a long, plain colored, woolen dress under a pale brown raincoat, and carried a long, pale green umbrella in one hand and a large, battered suitcase full of similar dresses in the other. Her dark hair was pinned up in a bun. She looked more like an extra from an English Victorian drama than a New York City girl. What the onlooker would not have seen was the young ageless looking man who stepped out beside her.
"Gabriel choose your wardrobe?" Alex asked looking Elsepeth up and down with disapproval. Alex was wearing baggy blue jeans and a bright green bomber jacket open to his waist. His black t-shirt had the legend 'Foo Fighters' printed across his chest. He wore a blue baseball cap with 'NY' stitched to it, with with its peak pointing backwards.
"Yes," she beamed. "He was ever so helpful. He even arranged somewhere for us to live."
"Uh-huh," Alex smirked.

Alex led Elsepeth along the alleyway, towards the road.
"Now be careful, Elsepeth," Alex warned her. "Life down here is not like it is up there. For a start, not everyone is as nice. The place is full of people who do not believe, and they tend to lock people who claim to be angels in a special hospital, so it might be best not to mention this to anyone."
"Okay," Elsepeth smiled. "What else?"
"Well, I know that you are pretty much immortal down here, and they have nothing that can actually harm you, but you mustn't draw attention to yourself. You have to watch out for the traffic."
"What's traffic?" Elsepeth asked, as she stepped out of the shadows of the alley and into a shaft of sunlight that had found its way through the towering buildings. "Ooops." Momentarily blinded by the bright winter sunshine, she tripped over a torn cardboard box, and stumbled out into the street. There was a sudden squeal of locked tyres, the blaring of a high pitched horn, and low, sleek, black automobile slammed into Elsepeth, throwing her back into the alley and into a pile of cardboard boxes."
"Elsepeth, meet traffic," Alex commented dryly.
The driver of the black car, a tall dark haired young man, leapt from the vehicle and rushed to Elsepeth's side. His face was white, filled with a sick dread.
"Oh, god!" he cried with fear in his voice, "Lady, are you all right. Oh please be all right." He was at her side in an instant, pulling the tangled cardboard from her.
"Yeah," she smiled gently. "Yeah, I'm okay. No harm done."
Max stepped back from the young girl who started to rise, and emitted a silent sigh of relief.
"You stupid woman!" he barked, all traces of concern vanishing instantly. "You idiot! Why don't you watch where you going? You could have been killed!"
"Well, maybe you should take more care with your traffic," she replied. "I mean, maybe drive it more slowly."
"Yeah, twist it back on me. I suppose next you'll claim you actually are hurt to try and sue me or something. Well, it will be a long fight, 'casue I have some mighty fine lawyers."
"Believe me," she sneered, something that was definitely uncharacteristic. "I want nothing from you!"
She picked up her suitcase and her umbrella, and walked out of the alleyway. She didn't see the dark haired young man climb back into his car and look into the mirror. She would not have seen how the color was still drained from his face, or how his hands shook violently as he reached for his ignition key. She would not have known that rather than start his engine, the young man had collapsed into a shaking fit of hysterical crying.

***

"Isn't this exciting, Alex?" Elsepeth beamed as she stared out of the subway train's windows at the New York City buildings that glided by. The rest of the passengers, lost in their newspapers, ignored yet another strangely clothed 'loony' who talked to herself in their midst, especially one who kept tripping up other passengers with the umbrella of hers. Three people had already received bruised shins from her suitcase when she boarded the train. "And we still have two weeks till Christmas. Maybe when the job's done, they'll let me stay and watch all the celebrations for His birthday."
"Um, you might want to wait till we're alone before you talk to me, Elsepeth," Alex laughed. "They can't see me, remember?"
"So?"
"So, I think your fellow commuters might think that you are a few stanzas short of a hymn."
"Oh, right," she sparkled. "I see." Elsepeth mimed a zipping action across her lips.
Alex shook his head with a laugh. "You seem to have recovered from your altercation back there," he pointed out.
"With Mr. Arrogance?" she laughed. "Well, I wasn't hurt, after all. I think he came off the worse. But I am sorry I lost my temper a bit. He was just so mean. You were right about people not being nice. Anyway, I have an important job to do, and I won't let petty people like him side-track me."
"Come on," he chuckled as the train drew to a stop. "Washington Heights, this is our stop."

The neighborhood was not what they had expected. The roads, at least the parts not hidden by abandoned cars, were filthy. The buildings were old and in much need of repair. Dotted along the side of the roads were garbage cans with fires burning in them. Men of all origins with nothing better to do stood around the fires, sometimes adding another stick of wood, trying to remain warm in the biting December wind.
"A slum!" Alex accused. "Gabriel has sent us to a slum."
"He said this was a nice district," Elsepeth defended the absent Angel.
"Gabriel needs to get out more," Alex observed dryly. "This was probably a nice neighborhood at the same time that your clothes were in fashion."
"Yeah," Elsepeth observed after looking at some of the clothes that the other women were wearing. "I guess they do seem a little..."
"Antique?"
"Yeah."
"Elsepeth, as soon as you have some money, you are going to change your wardrobe. Now, where are you staying?"
"Oh, here we are, look," Liz pointed up the grimy staircase. "Flat 7C"
"Top floor, huh?" Alex observed looking up the tall tenement building. "I hope the air's cleaner up there.
"Hey, my man, looky, looky," a young man in outlandish clothing drawled as he emerged from the building with two friends. They had the smell of alcohol about them "Hey baby, was happening?"
"Oh, hi," Elsepeth smiled. "I'm just moving in."
The three men moved closer.
"Hey, we can have ourselves a house warming party. I bet you like to par-tay."
"Uhm, no," she smiled. She seemed to have no fear for the situation in which she found herself. "Sorry. I'm not really sure what a par-tay is."
"Well, you can learn," one of them leered.
"Well, I'm afraid I don't have time. I have this important job to do, see, and when I have done it, I'll be going..."
"Now don't go gettin all unfriendly on us," another placed his hand on her shoulder. "Why don't we just take you upstairs and we can show you how we can be real neighborly."
Elsepeth turned to face the man who placed his hand on her shoulder. Her umbrella caught the other man's foot, tripping him over on the icy pavement where he fell down the staircase to the basement entrance, crying out in pain as he bounced.
"Oh, I am so sorry," she exclaimed, turning to see how badly the man had hurt himself. Her umbrella whipped around and stabbed into the first mans groin, causing him to collapse with a scream of agony. The third man ran away, very quickly.
"Leave them, Elsepeth," Alex ordered, as Elsepeth was about to tend to the hurt men. "Just get up into your room."
Safely locked behind the door to her flat, only after Alex had magically locked it, the two of them looked at the disgusting condition their new home was in. The walls were damp, and the floorboards were bare and filled with holes. Old paint was peeling in large strips from the damp walls. There was absolutely no furniture, just upturned crates. It would be impossible to live here.
"It's a little bit..." Elsepeth started.
"I'll find you a new room," Alex said through teeth clenched in anger. "In a better place. You stay here and wait for me."

***

The room that Alex had found for her was in an Area called East Village, on Avenue D.
"It's a much better area then the last one," Alex informed her. "Though it's still an area of some poverty. I believe that you will be safe here, at least."
"Thank you, Alex," Elsepeth smiled, closing the door behind her.
"I wasn't able to do anything about your clothes, though," he continued. "There's a blond living right next door to you. Perhaps, one you've made friends with her, you could go clothes shopping with her."
"I'd like that, Alex," Elsepeth smiled. "Making friends and shopping."
"One other thing, Elsepeth," Alex said in a slow cautious manner. "Your name. It's a little like your clothing, kind of old fashioned. Maybe you should think of something different. You know, to use down here."
"I like my name, Alex," Elsepeth pouted. "Gabriel gave it to me when I arrived in Heaven. I don't want to change it. Why should I?"
"Well, I just think that you should," Alex insisted. "You need to make a good impression, and until you get new clothes, it's going to be hard enough as it is. Old clothes, we can explain."
"I'll think about it."
"Okay, so who is the target. Who's soul do we have to save?"
"I don't know," Elsepeth answered. "Gabriel said that I would know him when I bump into him."
"Elsepeth," Alex sighed. "No offence, but you have already bumped into half of New York. It could be anybody."

***

There was an insistent knocking at the door. After a look of confusion at Alex, Elsepeth went to the door, and opened it. The blonde whirlwind did not wait to be invited in. She swept past an amazed Elsepeth.
"Hi," she announced the instant the door was open. "My name's Maria. Maria DeLuca. I live right next door to you, and saw you moving in earlier, but I thought I'd give you a chance to, you know, like settle in before I introduced myself. People... well, not just any people, my dumb ass of a boyfriend really, he says I have a habit of coming on too strong. He says that I don't give people a chance to get to know me before I give them the chance to decide if they really want to be my friend. He says that I'm like, this bull in a china shop. But I say what the hell? I mean, one of us could be struck dead by lightening tomorrow and we would never have been friends, you know? So go for it, I always say. So now your settled... is this all your stuff? I thought I would come and say hi. Hi."
Elsepeth started to laugh, not at this crazy girl, Maria, but at Alex who was walking behind the chattering girl using his hand as a puppet, making chattering motions.
"Too strong?" Maria asked, looking at Elsepeth, clearly upset that she was laughing.
"No, no," Elsepeth smiled warmly. "Don't mind me. I'm, ah... not used to people being so..."
"Talkative?"
"Uhm, no. Sorry."
"No," Maria frowned. She collapsed into one of the two armchairs. She looked miserable. "It's me who should be sorry. Michael's right about me."
"Michael?
"Michael, my boyfriend. He says that when I first meet people, I come on too strong, that I talk too much."
"Well..."
"Look, I'm sorry, I don't even know your name."
"Elsepeth," she answered, glaring at Alex who started to pout.
"Elizabeth?" Maria checked. "Cool name. So, Liz? Your clothes. Do you dress like that for a reason? You and me, we so have to hit the mall."
"Oh, yeah," Liz looked down at her clothing, and sat in the other armchair. "That's going to have to wait. I don't start work till tomorrow, so I won't have any money for a while."
"Tell you what. It's Thursday tomorrow, right? With the rush towards Christmas, it will be late night shopping. How about we go to the mall after work, and use my plastic. You can pay me back when your checks start rolling in."
"Maria, you don't know me from Adam. Why would you do this for me?"
"It's what friends are for."
"But we only just met?"
"And were friends, aren't we? There's something about you. I trust you, Liz. I feel like I have known you, like forever. I know you won't cheat me. Maybe we can get you a few home comforts for in here, too."

There was another knock on the door.
"Maria, are you in there?" a young man's voice called out.
"Michael? Is that you?" Maria called. She turned to Liz. "My boyfriend, do you mind?"
Liz shook her head.
"Come on in, Michael," Maria called again. "Come on in and meet our new neighbor and my new friend.
The young man who entered was tall, with his short, light brown hair, combed upwards in a spiky hair style. He looked a little frightening until he stood next to Maria. He only gave a cursory look at Liz.
"How come you're so late?"
"The 'Grinch' had us working late. He says that productivity has dropped and that just because it's Christmas is no reason to shirk our responsibilities. It won't surprise me to hear that he's cancelled the Dinner Dance on Christmas Eve. He threatens it every year, just cause he can't decide which of his hundreds of bimbos he should take as his date."
"No, he would never do that," Maria shook her head. "His father started that tradition. I know he's a lot of things, but he worshipped the ground his parents walked on. He won't cancel that because it's like a memorial to his dad. Besides, I already have my dress, and let me tell you, it's a killer."
"What's this?" Liz asked.
"Oh,my bad. Where are my manners?" demanded Maria. "Liz, this is Michael. Michael Guerin. He's my boyfriend. Sorta."
"What do you mean, sorta?" he demanded with a smile.
"And Michael, this is Liz. She just moved in today."
"I never even knew the room was empty. Hi Liz, pleased to meet you."
Liz rose to meet Michael who was approaching her. They shook hands.
"I'd offer you some refreshments, but I haven't had a chance to..."

"Oh, well, hey, Liz," Maria started to bounce in her chair. "Why don't you come next door with us? You can have dinner with Michael and I. You don't mind, do you, Michael?"
"No, not at all," Michael confirmed with a pained smile.
"No," Liz shook her head. "I couldn't. Besides, you two wanted to be alone. You've been at work all day, Michael."
"Oh, come on Liz," Maria laughed, standing up and pulling Liz with her to her flat next door, with Michael leading the way.
"Well," Liz smiled, hunching her shoulders at Alex as she passed him.

Maria's flat was different to Liz's in that it contained the little personal touches that made a room home. Like painted walls, carpets on the floor, and ornaments on tables and wall units.
"I'll help you get yours up together," Maria winked, noticing Liz looking around the room.
"Oh, no, really," Liz smiled. "I don't plan on being here long."
"I said that," Maria frowned. "Four years ago when I finished college. Look at me. I'm still here, trying make it big on Broadway."
"Are you an actress?" Liz asked.
"Please!" Maria looked offended. "I'm a singer and dancer."
"My mistake," laughed Liz.

"So what is it you do, Michael?" Liz asked as they were eating their meal. She glanced over at Alex, who was sitting in front of Maria's television set watching a show where some young men where playing strange musical instruments and singing a song about crashing into each other. He was moving his body to the strange beat.
"Uhm, shall I turn the T.V. off so we can talk?" Maria quickly butted in.
Alex spun round and violently shook his head.
"No," Liz smiled. "This is okay, I like it."
"Hmm, well," Maria shrugged. "If you're sure."
"Well," Michael glared at Maria for her interruption. "I'm just a simple security guard at ML Evans." He looked ashamed.
"Why do you say it like that?" Liz asked. "I think it's a grand job."
"The trouble is," Maria moaned, "that until we can earn some real money, we can't afford to get married. And there's no chance of Michael finding more work, on account of his criminal record."
"Thanks Maria," Michael groaned with sarcasm, looking even more ashamed. "Tell her all my secrets."
"Well it serves you right, Michael. I mean, what were you thinking?"
"Look, he didn't tell me what was in it, okay? And do we have to go through this every time? I said I was sorry. And I really am."

While they were having their heated discussion, Liz looked to Alex, who, sensing Liz wanted him, turned away from the television set. Her eyes asked him if he knew what they were talking about. With a regretful glance over his shoulder, he walked over to the table.
"Uh, let's see..." he looked distant. "Michael Guerin, twenty four. Uhh, oh yes. Oh my. It seems that when he was at college, he was caught in possession of a large amount of marijuana, an illegal drug. Uh, he went to jail for a few months, and was kicked out of college."
"Oh," Liz looked mournful. "I can see why Maria is cross with him."
"No, no, Liz," Alex shook his head. "He was innocent. Someone he thought was a friend asked him to look after a package. It seems this 'friend' knew about the raid and passed on the incriminating evidence. Michael here was framed."
"Oh, how awful," she whispered. "Poor Michael."
"Yeah, and he would have been on the scrap heap but for a man named Philip Evans. He was in charge of ML Evans back then, and gave Michael a break. He hired him as a security guard, initially. He had promised that he would help him move into the field he wanted to work in, but unfortunately, Mr. Evans died before he could do anything about it. Maria wants to give up her dream of making it on Broadway, so she can find a paying job, and earn the money so they can marry, but Michael said that one broken dream between them was enough."
"Oh, that's sweet," Liz wiped away a tear. "But what about Michael? What will become of him?"
"I don't think that he is your concern Liz. I mean, I suspect that he will always be just a security guard, but they have each other. They are happy. Sort of. Just concentrate on what you have to do Liz."

The argument drew to a close, and Liz turned her attention back to her hosts.
"Sorry about that," Maria gave her an awkward grin. "You'll get used to it. We always fight. It's part of our charm."
"Oh, that's okay," she gave a gentle smile.
"So, Liz?" Michael asked, keen to turn the attention away from himself. "What about you? What do you do for a living?"
"Oh," she grinned with excitement. "I find out tomorrow."
"I don;t understand," Michael looked puzzled.
"I only just arrived here today. I have to go to this agency tomorrow, to see about a job."
On the whole, the rest of dinner didn't go too badly. Liz only managed to break one plate and two glasses and only hurt Michael once. After dinner, Maria was quite insistent that Liz need not help with the washing of the dishes.

***

Max Evans carefully checked that the locks of all the windows and doors were securely fastened, before he finally went up to his bedroom. The old brownstone house on Park Lane was way to big for him, but he refused to move. It had been hios home for too many years. No matter how many old ghosts remained in this house, it held too many happy memories to just abandon it. Max Evans needed all the reminders that he was once happy that he could get. His few remaining friends had suggested that he might rent it out, and move into a modern apartment in one of the new complexes that had recently been built, but Max always refused. After his shower, he climbed naked into his bed, and folded his arms behind his head. It had been an eventful day, one in which he had almost taken the life of that strange young woman. He had never felt so relieved that she was unhurt, and he felt bad that he had been so rude to her, once he had know that she was okay. And her eyes! Why did he still see her eyes, even though he had glanced at them only once? Max Evans groaned, twisted over, punched his pillow, and pulled the blankets over his head.

***
Last edited by WR on Fri Dec 24, 2004 4:43 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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WR
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Post by WR » Tue Dec 21, 2004 5:18 pm

Part 2 - "Christmases Past"

"Good morning, Mr. Evans," Miss Sanchez greeted her boss when he stepped out from the lift and into the office foyer.
"Good morning, Miss Sanchez," he replied, glancing around the office at the decorations that had appeared overnight. He seldom looked at people. He couldn't stand the looks of pity he saw staring back at him. If they mistook his lack of eye contact for arrogance, which he knew that many did, then so be it. "You have my diary ready I see."
"Yes, Mr. Evans. Shall I remind you of your appointments today?" Miss Sanchez asked, looking down at the diary opened on today's date.
"Please," he sighed, as though he wished he were elsewhere.
"Okay, at 10:30, Mrs. Troy, the Mayor's wife will be here for her VIP tour of the store. I expect that she will want luncheon, so we have a buffet laid on in the board room at 12:30."
"Two hours?" Max exclaimed. "I have to keep her entertained for two hours? You know as well as I that the wretched woman is only trying to match make again. Why do you do this to me?" He seemed quite angry now.
"Because you know that if we don't accept these high profile tours, we will lose our status among New York's elite.
"Elite," Max snorted. "What else is on for today?"
"At two o'clock," Miss Sanchez paused, "you have the opening of Santa's Grotto."
"Damit!" Max's anger was sudden. "I told you to give it to Valenti. Did you do this to me deliberately?"
"I'm sorry si... Mr. Evans," Miss Sanchez blanched. "Kyle Valenti can't do it, because he has that final meeting with the Traffic Department about the Parade for our centenary celebrations."
"Is this a conspiracy?" Max demanded through his narrowed eyes.
"No, Mr. Evans," Miss Sanchez shook her head in defense. "He sent you a memo. I... I thought you read it."
"Hmmm," growled Max. "Is there anything else I should be aware of?"
"Mrs. Collins wonders if you might visit the new inductees at one o'clock, just as they return from lunch."
"Ah, that means I only need to stay with Mrs. Troy for half an hour during lunch? Well done. Yes, I can manage that. Is that it?"
"Well, uhm..."
"What is it?" he sighed, knowing that this, he would not like.
"The thing is, the Troy party? She's requested an addition."
"An addition?" Max asked nervously. "Who? Oh no! Not...?"
"Yes, Mr. Evans," she nodded with a sympathetic frown. "Her daughter, Pamela."

***

"Hello?" Liz called out as she entered the offices of the Office Angels Employment Bureau. "Is anybody here?"
"Pretty neat place," Alex smiled looking around the bright, modern office. There were four desks, made from glass and chrome metal, upon which stood modern computers. There were two stylish chairs by each desk, one for the office worker and for the customer.
An officious looking man in a very tight looking three-piece suit and starched white collar emerged from the back room. A pair of 'Pinz Nez' glasses perched on the end of his nose. His old fashioned appearance seemed peculiar in the presence of all the modern furniture. He looked at Liz, and broke into a smile.
"Good morning, madam. My name is Mr. Empliado. Can I help you?"
"Yes," Liz smiled at the man. "I believe that you are expecting me? I was told that you could find employment for me?"
"Of course," he smiled. He indicated a chair by the nearest desk. "Please sit down."
"Thank you," Liz continued to smile as she pulled the chair out.
She started to seat herself, but her umbrella caught the leg of the chair, pushing it further from her. As she tried to seat herself, she missed the chair and fell to the floor, landing on her backside. Behind her, Alex roared with laughter, earning a disapproving glare from Liz as she re-seated herself.
"Now then," after nodding at Alex, who was hovering by the door,Mr. Empliado sat himself in front of the computer, and tapped at the keyboard. "Your name is...?"
"Liz. I mean Elsepeth."
"Elsepeth..." he drawled. "Let's see... ah yes, here we are. The position of general clerk at ML Evans."
"ML Evans? The department store?" she asked. "Great! It's where Michael works," she turned to Alex.
"Ah. So you know it?"
"Well, no. Not really," she shook her head. "But I know someone who works there. I met him and his girlfriend last night.
"That will be useful," he smiled. "It's always useful to have contacts among the mortals."
"Do you know who it is that I'm to find?" Liz asked. "Who must I save?"
"You mean you weren't told?" he looked shocked. "That is most odd. Why, that hasn't happened since... since..." The man's eyes raised in shock. "No, my child. I'm afraid that I can't help you. All I can tell you is that it's been my experiance that the one who requires this miracle will be made known to you when the time is right. All I can do is to wish you good luck and to thank you for using Office Angels."

***

"So what's next on the agenda?" Alex asked as Liz left the Bureau. "A bit of sightseeing, perhaps? I hear the view from the Empire State Building is a bit special. Not as good as from heaven, of course, but in mortal terms, I mean."
"You can go, Alex," Liz smiled, as she marched along the street, using her umbrella as a walking stick. "I have to report to a Mrs. Collins at ML Evans by ten."
"Okay, so I guess we need to find out where this place is then. You'll have to ask someone, I suppose."
"No need," Liz replied. "Mr. Empliado said that it was down there, and over a bit. That I couldn't miss it." She raised her umbrella and pointed down the street. Just as she did so, the tip caught a passing man in the ear.
"Ouch!" he cried, quickly holding his hand up to his ear. "Watch it lady. Have you got a license for that thing."
"Oh," gasped Liz. "I am so sorry." She lowered her umbrella. "Are you okay?"
Liz stepped nearer, but her umbrella caught the man's shin, stabbing it on the way down. He yelped at the additional pain. He hopped back from her, and into the path of a cruising yellow cab, just missing it. He leapt back to the sidewalk, and into another passer bye. The taxi blared its horn and the passerby swore at him.
Sorry!" exclaimed Liz in horror. "Sorry. Here, let me..."
"No thank you, lady," the man growled. "You've done enough. Any more help from you and you might end up killing me."
He snatched the umbrella from her startled hands. The man turned up the street and threw the device into a trashcan as he walked passed. "Now New York will be safe," he called back to her.

"You should let him get a good way ahead of you before you continue," Alex advised. "He is going the same direction as us, and I wouldn't want you to end up hurting him again."
Liz glared at him, but nodded and crossed to the trashcan where he had dumped her umbrella.
"No, Liz," he held her shoulder. "He's right, leave it. In your hands, that thing is a lethal weapon."
"But..."
"No, Liz. Leave it."
Liz looked at Alex with a plea in her eyes, but when she saw that he would not relent, her shoulders dropped, and she moved away. She cast a last look backwards as though the item was precious to her.
"Gabriel gave it to me," she complained.
"It's just a fashion accessory, Liz," Alex scolded, sounding once again like her teacher. "Have you learned nothing from me? Possessions have no meaning. The only thing that has meaning is your soul. It is that you should look after."

***

Max stood by the huge plate window in his office, and looked out at the surrounding buildings that towered over his department store. His eyes caught the lever that would allow him to open the window. Normally, it would be used to allow the window cleaners access to the gantry that would enable them to clean all the exterior glass. Max stepped up next to the lever. He closed his eyes, and firmly grasped the cold, smooth handle.
"Count to ten, twist, push and step," he urged, taking a deep breath. "A short flight and it's all over."
"One, two, three, four, five..." the cadence counted in his mind.
"Six, seven, eight, nine..." this was it.
"Te..."
"Mr. Evans," Miss Sanchez called out as she knocked on his door.
Max released the breath he was holding, and stepped down from the ledge. So close, he sighed.
"Yes?" he responded to the call.
"George, on the door just called. Mrs Troy and her daughter have just arrived. I know they're a little early, but they've been taken to the VIP suite and are awaiting you."
"Thank you, Miss Sanchez," he sighed. "Tell them I will be there shortly."
"Of course, Mr. Evans."
"Not today," Max said quietly as he looked back up at the sky through the window. "Not today."

"Max," a young man called out as Max headed for the lift down to the VIP suite. "Max, wait up!"
"Kyle," Max acknowledged. "What can I do for you?"
Kyle Valenti was the only person employed in the store that called Max by his Christian name. They had practically grown up together, attending the same High School and College. They had even fought over the same girl on any number of occasions. When they left college, Kyle had gone on a round the world trip. He had returned when he heard of the accident to offer his old friend whatever help he could. His father was the General Manager, and as a close friend of Max's father's, he had resigned in grief. It seemed only natural to offer the post to Kyle.
"I wanted to see you before I went to the meeting," Kyle said as he approached Max. He was limping slightly.
"Oh," Max arched his eyebrows. "What's up with you? Sporting injury? Or did someone's husband catch you?"
"Nah," Kyle laughed. "Some dumb broad out in the street attacked me with her umbrella."
"Why? What did you do to her?" Max asked. "She didn't appreciate you trying to pick her up?"
Kyle was quite the ladies man. He was constantly seen around New York with a string of young ladies on his arm. Max had to have a clause added to his contract preventing him from flirting with the female customers in the store, so afraid was Max that Kyle might somehow besmirch their reputation. He was, however, an excellent manager.
"No!" Kyle looked hurt. "Not at all. I was on my way here, when she just attacked me. Well, she didn't really attack. She was just this clumsy dame, you know?"
"Right," Max nodded. There was no laughter in him over the humorous situation. "What did you want to see me about."
"Just a few points I need to clarify... about the fireworks, and the parade."
"I wish I had never let you talk me into this, Kyle," Max sighed.
"You know that your family would have wanted it, Max."

***

Liz arrived at the Employees' entrance, as directed by Mr. Empliado and went in to the reception foyer.
"Nice set up," Alex smiled looking at the tall ceilings of the old building. "My guess is that the person you seek works here."
"I kind of figured that," Liz mumbled under her breath as she approached the desk with the large "Visitors" sign. A lone security guard was leaning over an open folder in which he was writing some notes.
"Excuse me," she began. "I've just come from Office Angels. They told me to come here."
"Is that right?" the man asked, still not looking up. "Do you have the papers?"
"Uhm, yeah..." she thrust the folder Mr. Empliado had given her towards the guard, knocking a vase of flowers off of the top of ledge in front of the desk.
The vase fell, spilling its contents over the folder. The guard looked up, his face a mask of fury.
"You clumsy..." he began, but then his face registered shock. "Liz! What are you doing here?"
"Oh, hi Michael," Liz smiled at seeing the boyfriend of her new friend Maria. "I'm so sorry about that."
"Ahh, forget it, Liz," Michael shook his head as he started to mop up the mess. "It happens all the time."

"Oh, right," she replied leaning over the desk trying to help mop up the water with some tissues Alex had magicked into her pocket. She was only managing to make things worse as she knocked over a pot with some pens in, and spread the water to an electrical joystick used to control the cameras. The shower of sparks that leapt from it suggested Michael would have to call maintenance. Michael grabbed her hands and gently lifted her away from the afflicted area before it became a disaster zone.
"Well like I said, I was told to come here. I work here now," she smiled.
Michael stared long and hard at her, and looked as though he might say something. He bit back the comment, and took a deep breath.
"You can leave your things over there," he indicated a long coat rack that was full of hats, coats and scarves. "Take the elevator over there up to the second floor, and follow the arrows to the Induction room. They won't have started yet, so you're okay. You need..." he handed a small green badge to Liz, "... this."
Liz looked at the badge, which simply read 'Visitor.' She showed the badge to Alex and gave a wink.

"Why don't you take a look around the store," Liz spoke without moving her lips. "I'll be okay here. I'll call you if I need you."
"Okay," Alex grinned. "I want to check out the musical instruments, so if you're sure?"
"Yeah, knock yourself out."
"I can see that spending time with Maria will be a mistake," Alex rolled his eyes.
Liz walked over to the coat rack, and looped her coat up and over the only free peg. She missed. She took a step nearer, and tried again. Her coat caught the peg this time, just as her foot became entangled in the shoulder strap of a bag left standing against the wall. She tripped over, her full weight pulling on the coat. The whole rack came away from the wall with a crash, depositing the coats on the floor.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Liz begged as she started to pick up the coats. "I'll just..."
"No!" exclaimed Michael, his voice on the edge of panic. "You know what? You better get going. You don't want to be late on your first day, right?"
"Oh, okay then Michael," she looked doubtful. If you're sure."
"I'm sure!" he replied, a little too quickly.
"I hope Maria knows what she is letting herself in for," he shook his head in doubt.

***

"And that, of course, brings us to the cosmetics department, ladies," Max informed the two women who appeared to be hanging on his every word. After collecting Mrs. Troy and her daughter, Pamela, from the VIP suite, he had taken them on an extensive tour of the department store. "
Each one of these ladies," Max indicated the attractive women behind the counters wearing white overalls, "has been on a training course with the company whose products they represent. They are fully cognizant with the best ways to enhance one's natural looks rather than simply slap it on, as so many ladies tend to do, not that either of you need to worry about that." Max grimaced at the thick layer of Pamela's blue eye shadow.
"Thank you, Max," Pamela simpered as she pressed herself next to Max.
The blonde haired young woman had been doing that since he had collected them. At the slightest opportunity, she would press closely to Max, allowing her ample breasts to rest against his arm, or press into his back. Although he tried his best to ignore this, he could tell that she was not all 'natural'. When in the lingerie section, Pamela constantly held the smallest of items of intimate apparel to herself, asking Max if he thought it would suit her.

"I suppose these ladies will be the most busy when you close at noon on Christmas Eve," Mrs. Troy pointed out.
"Excuse me?" Max took the opportunity as an excuse to step away from Pamela.
"Well, I thought that with your dinner dance, these ladies might be very busy doing the make up of their colleagues."
"No," Max gave a silent groan. He could see where this was leading. "Everyone finishes as soon as they have secured their department. If these ladies are kind enough to do make up for people, and I'm sure that they are, they will be doing it off the premises. The security guards are invited too, so they won't want to hang around waiting for people to have their faces made up."
"Will your date be allowed to take advantage of you owning the store?" Mrs. Troy continued. "I daresay she will have the pick of your ball gown section, as well as the best of your make-up artists.
"No, ma'am," Max shook his head. "I won't be taking a date."
"I would be only too glad to cancel my previous engagement and accompany you, Max," Pamela found her excuse to press herself close to Max again, closer than she had before. "It wouldn't do for the owner of such a prestigious store arriving at such an important event 'stag'. Especially as this is your centenary year."
"That's very kind of you, Pamela," Max gave a fake smile that did not reach the frigid interior of his soul. "But you see, I am unable to attend the dinner dance, hence my reason for not taking a date. I have a prior engagement," he continued quickly to ward off whatever reply Pamela was about to come out with. "Now if you will follow me, we will finish our tour in the Christmas Department."

***

"We pride ourselves on the personal treatment of our customers," Mrs. Collins informed the group of nine women and three men that stood in a small group to one side of the main cash registers in the Christmas department. She was explaining the ML Evans' customer care philosophy to them. "A philosophy started by Martin Evans when he founded the store way back in 1900. Of course, then, it was just known as M. Evans, and it was just a little store in Brooklyn. But that same ideal was passed on from father to son, through five generations and two relocations, to our current owner, Maxwell Evans. That same philosophy still applies today the same as it did then.
"Excuse me," someone asked from the back. "What does the 'L' stand for, and when was it added?"
"And if the store was founded in 1900," called another, "how come you're only just celebrating your centenary? Shouldn't you have done that last year?"
"I can answer both questions at the same time," Mrs. Collins smiled. "Martin Evans founded M Evans in 1900, but the following year, on Christmas Eve, in fact, he married his soul mate, Lysette, and made her a full partner. That was when the 'L' was added. So technically, this Christmas is the one-hundredth anniversary of ML Evans."
Mrs. Collins paused in case there were more questions. Satisfied that she could continue, she drew their attention to the man being served at the till.
"We always try to make the customer feel like a friend and not just a customer," she continued. "If they feel like they know us, and can trust us, then they will return again and again. Watch how Ms. DeFleur serves this elderly gentleman."

He had a basket that was filled with tree ornaments. He placed them next to the cash register.
"Good Morning, sir," Ms. DeFleur smiled at him. Will that be all? Would you like some assistance looking at the rest of our decorations?"
"No, thank you young lady," the man smiled. "We only live in a small apartment. Only have room for a small tree."
"Well, it's not how big the tree is, or how many ornaments it contains, it's the love and care with which we dress it. That's what my mom always says."
"Your mom sounds like a wise woman," he smiled.
"Thank you. Will that be card, or cash?" she asked, handing over a bag that an assistant had packed with great care.
"Oh, cash, please," he replied, placing the bag on the floor and producing a wallet. "I'm afraid I don't trust those card things. I'm only buying these because Hilda, that's my wife... We've been married for forty-five years. Oh yes, she told me we had to throw away our old ornaments because they were broke. That was a lot of memories we threw away, but she was right."
"Wow, forty-five years, huh?" she smiled. "That will be thirty five dollars and forty eight cents Mr. Uh?"
"Walter. You can call me Walter," he smiled handing over forty dollars.
"Thank you, Walter. You can call me Julie," she replied handing him his change. "I hope we see you again, Walter and have a Merry Christmas."
"Thank you, Julie," he placed his change in his wallet. "You too. Bye"
The old man turned, and made his way past the people in line patiently waiting their turn.

Liz noticed that Walter had forgotten his bag of ornaments.
"Walter!" she cried out.
But the old man did not appear to hear her, because he continued into the crowd. Liz hurried over to the bag and snatched it up. Holding the contents to her chest, like it was in infant, she worked her way through the crowds, but she had lost sight of him. No, there he was, by the edge of the cosmetics department. The aisle was clear here, so she broke into a run. Walter had just reached the door. Once he was through that door, Liz knew that she would have no chance of finding him on the busy streets outside. He might disappear in any direction. Did he really just look back and smile at her? She ran faster.
"And right over this way, we have the..." Liz heard the man's voice before she saw him. She crashed right into his broad, firm chest, bowling them both over amid the shattering sound of the thin glass baubles breaking.
"Are you okay, madam," he asked, as both he and Liz lifted their heads from the floor.
"You!" both Liz and Max, exclaimed at the same time.
"I hope those are paid for," Max hissed at her, pointing at the broken ornaments now strewn on the floor. Those eyes, he thought. For the first time in a long time, Max held another woman's gaze.
Around them, security guards were making sure that the crowds did not simply stop and watch, but kept moving. Behind her, Liz heard someone call for a cleaner.
"Oh, Maxie!" Pamela squealed kneeling down next to Max and fussing about him. "Are you okay?"
"Of course they're paid for!" Liz snapped, giving a blonde a look up and down. What was it about this man that brought out the worst in her. She was behaving most un-angel like "One of our customers just left them behind, I was trying to return them to him."
"Wait," Max tried to climb to his knees unaided, but Pamela was doing her best to press herself to Max, trying to help him up perhaps. "'Our' customer? You mean you 'work' here?" Max absently started to feel his jacket pockets, checking to see that he still had all his possessions. His pen was missing.
"I started today. Not that it's any of your business."
"Well, I think it is my business, seeing as I own the store," he barked, extracting himself from Pamela's grip and glancing around for his pen.
"You...? You're the Grinch? I mean... Max Evans?"
"Who is this dreadful woman, Max?" Pamela demanded.
"You have the advantage over me, I'm afraid," Max snarled, ignoring the other young woman who again was pressed against him. "What's your name?"
"Elizabeth. Liz."
"And your last name?" Max inquired. He spotted his pen, by this Elizabeth's feet.
"Excuse me?" Liz asked, sounding surprised. Of course. Maria used DeLuca, Michael used Guerin and even Max had Evans as his last name. She needed a last name. Trying to think of one, she glanced downwards, and saw a gold pen. She bent down to pick it up, banging her head against Max's who was also bending over to get it. Max leapt back with pain, while Liz picked the pen up.
"Parker," she read off of the pen, as she held it up to him. "Liz Parker."
She had badly misjudged the distance between her and Max, who was leaning forwards to take the pen and she stabbed him in his eye. With another squeal of pain, Max fled from the walking cyclone, hotly pursued by Pamela calling after him.

***

"I can't believe it," laughed Alex, tears rolling down his cheeks. "You met the guy you're supposed to save, and not only do you bang your head against his, you stab him in the eye with his pen? Oh, I bet Gabriel is killing himself with laughter up there."
"It was an accident, Alex," Liz stamped her foot. "And stop laughing at me. I only have thirty minutes for lunch." She took another bite of her sandwich.
"But you don't need to eat," Alex pointed out. "You don't need to rest. You're immortal, Liz."
"Just because I don't need to, Alex, doesn't mean I don't have to. I like the taste of some of this food. And sleeping is fun. You should try it."
"Overrated," Alex shrugged. "So why do you think this Max is the one?"
"Well, because that old man, Walter, he knew I was trying to catch him. He looked at me Alex. He smiled," she informed him. "Plus, think about it. Two days in a row, our paths cross."
"Not so much cross as crash," Alex smirked. "Okay, I'll buy it. So now what?"
"So now, I just need to help him to find himself."
"And then?"
"And then," she smiled. "I get my Angel wings!"

***

A nervous Liz Parker sat outside the door to Max Evan's office. She had been summoned to his office shortly after he had paid the new employees a visit in the induction suite, and given them that speech about happy families. It was a speech that seemed somehow odd, coming from him. From the sudden hush of the other employees busy at their tasks, she knew that their boss, Max, was approaching. She could see that his face was like thunder as he stormed passed her and into his office. Liz rose to follow him.
"No, my dear," a hand pressed her back into her seat. It was his secretary, Miss Sanchez. "Best to wait when he's in a mood like this."
"What's the problem now?" she asked, looking intently at Max's closed door.
"Pamela, that's the young lady he was showing around earlier today, she wants to go the Christmas dinner dance as Mr. Evans' date. Mr. Evans does not attend them anymore."
"Oh," she whispered, her mind whirling in her head. "Well, I guess his girlfriend must be a little upset with him then?"
"No," she chuckled. "Pamela is not Mr. Evans' girlfriend no matter how much she would like to be. Give him a few moments to calm down, and then knock."
"Okay," Liz nodded. She turned and faced the clock.

"Come in," a voice called from inside the office when Liz knocked on the door.
"You wanted to see me, Max?"
"It's Mr. Evans," he glowered. "Yes, I wanted to talk to you about... earlier today, and... yesterday."
"Oh, sure," she smiled, stepping into his room. "What did you want to say, Max?"
"It's Mr. Evans," he reminded her. "I have an appointment in a moment, perhaps we might walk as we talk."
"Sure. I can do that," she smiled.
"The thing is," he said as he led her back through the offices and towards the elevator, "Miss Sanchez, uh... my secretary, she says that maybe I was a little harsh on you this morning. I mean, how were you supposed to know who I was."
"Oh, I see. This is about an apology?" Liz spun around to face Max. As she did so, she knocked an pile of envelopes to the floor, which made one of the secretaries who was returning her desk with a cup of coffee trip over. The contents of her hot drink flew straight into Max's side. Max raised his eyes heavenwards, and shook his head. A couple of the secretaries ran to him with tissues, while the one who tripped fled to the ladies washroom in a storm of tears.
"Have you always been this clumsy?" Max demanded through gritted teeth as he attempted to mop the coffee from his suit.
"I'm not clumsy, Max," Liz defended. "I mean, that was a silly place to pile all those envelopes."
"It's... Mr.... Evans!" Max snarled.

With a shake of his head, Max hurried off towards the elevator, followed by Liz who was almost running to keep up. The journey down to the ground floor was made in silence.
"So what about this apology?" Liz requested.
"Of course," Max shrugged. "I realize that your first day in such a large store can be a bit... daunting. I would hate to think that you failed because of an earlier mishap. So the apology? Whenever you're ready, and we can forget about the whole thing. Then you can get back to work."
"I'm ready now, Max. You can apologize now if you like. Where are we going, anyway?"
"I'm sorry?" Max demanded, his face showing disbelief.
"Hmm, not much of one, but it's a start, I suppose," Liz shrugged.
Again, Max stormed off.
"Is that it?" she called after him? "You run me down with your car, you knock me over in the store and break all those decorations in the process, and all you can say is 'sorry'?"
She followed Max into Santa's Grotto. She looked around at the symbolism that was involved, and shook her head.
"Look at it Alex," she complained. "It's a complete mockery."
"What does it matter, Liz?" Alex sighed as he looked around. "If it gets the message of His birth across to just one person, does it really matter how it was packaged? Besides, you wouldn't want to upset him, would you?" Alex pointed to a large old man clad in a red suit lined with fur. He had snow-white hair, a snow-white beard, and piercing blue eyes that sparkled with joy and merriment. He was shaking hands with a miserable looking Max Evans.
"Nicholas?" she called with a squeal of delight. "Nicholas? Is that really you?"
The large man in red turned to Liz and smiled. He opened his arms out wide and gave of a jolly 'Ho, ho, ho'.
"Elsepeth!" he continued. "I heard you were down here! That's why I came here, personally. How are you? Do you have a kiss for old St. Nick?"
With an excited squeal, Liz hurried along the pathway towards the two men, intent on embracing the man she knew as Nicholas. Her foot caught the bottom edge of a wooden ornamental fence, which fell over, knocking down three cutout trees, and a number of assorted woodland animals, as Liz tumbled head over heels into a decorated Christmas tree. She rose from the wreckage clutching a white and gold Angel that had once stood at the top of the tree.
"You two know each other, I see," Max observed, shaking his head at the trail of devastation Liz left behind her.
"Oh yes," Nicholas boomed. "I have known Elsepeth for a few years now."
"Elsepeth?" he asked.
"I'm called Liz now," Liz informed Nicholas.
"Are you really?" he laughed. "You will always be Elsepeth, my little angel."
"Angel?" demanded Max with a snort. "Maybe you don't know her after all."
Max shook his head and pulled out a cell phone. "Maintenance?" he snapped. "Get someone down to Santa's Grotto. We need some repair work done. Yes, already. Yes, I am fully aware that we haven't even opened it yet. Just do it!" He slapped his phone shut, and stormed off.
"Have you brought me something nice this year?" she asked with a coy smile.
"Oh yes. I have something very special for you this year," he winked. "But you have to wait for Christmas Eve. You know the rules." In Heaven, presents were exchanged on Christmas Eve to allow the heavenly hosts to celebrate The birthday the following day. "Now, I think you had better go after him," St. Nicholas nodded at the departing young man. "Don't you?"
Liz nodded, and followed the direction that Max had left.

***

She found him in the cafeteria, sitting alone in a corner table.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" she asked sitting down before she received an answer. "Can I get you a cup of coffee?"
"Thank you, no," he sneered and indicated his wet leg. "I've already had some. Don't you have work to do?"
"It can wait."
"Marvelous," Max groaned dryly. "I hope you feel the same way about your paycheck."
"Why are you such a grouch?"
"Maybe it's because I'm not used to people leaping out in front of my car, or crashing into me, banging my head, and stabbing me eye, or arranging for coffee to be thrown over me. And maybe I don't like people destroying the exhibits that my workers have been paid so well to make.
"Maybe," she shrugged. "But that's not it. I can tell."
Max stared at her, her eyes once more drawing his. He shook his head.
"Liz Parker, you are the weakest link. Good bye."
"So how come they call you the Grinch?"
Max stared at her with his mouth open. "I am not a Grinch. The Grinch stole Christmas. Just because I don't celebrate it doesn't mean that I'm not trying to stop anyone else from celebrating it."
"You're not exactly helping them, though, are you? The thing about the Grinch is that he discovered that Christmas wasn't anything to do with trees or tinsel or presents. It was all about what we feel. Just like the Grinch, Max, you don't know how to feel. I bet you don't know what it is to have a really good Christmas. Maybe you should try it."
"Hey," he defended. "I've had good Christmases. Lots of them. Some great ones, actually."
"Yeah? What was the best Christmas you have ever had?" Liz demanded.

***

Christmas Eve, eight years ago...

As soon as his alarm clock rang, Max Evans threw back the covers and leapt from his bed. He crossed to his bedroom window and threw open the curtains.
"Great," he smiled broadly. "How typical is that?"
It had snowed overnight, and a think blanket of soft white snow covered Central Park, across the road. Normally, Max would be excited at the prospect of having fun in that snow with all of his friends, but not today. Today was special. Very special. Tearing himself from the wonderful sight only with a great reluctance, Max headed for his shower room. Half an hour later, fully washed, with damp hair and wearing a smart suit, Max hurried down the stairs to the dining room.
Morning, Mom," he greeted his mother who was sitting at the table with her breakfast with a kiss on her cheek. "Hey, Dad," he nodded to his father.
"Hey, sport," his father winked from behind the sports section of the newspaper at him. "See the Rangers lost to the Senators last night."
"Good morning, dear," his mother smiled, gathering him in an affectionate embrace. "How are you this morning."
"I'm good, thanks," he smiled, eagerly anticipating the next bit. He knew that they were teasing him by pretending that they had forgotten what day this was. And he knew that they knew that he knew. It was still fun, non-the-less.

"Oh, Happy Birthday, dear!" his mother weakened at last, and gave her son a huge hug, along with a kiss on his cheek.
His father started to laugh at his wife and his son. His eyes sparkled.
"So... seventeen, huh?" he smiled. "Well, I guess I better give you this. Happy Birthday, son."
He slid a small rectangular box across the table towards Max. It was wrapped in black paper with a gold ribbon and bow.
"A watch?" Max smiled to himself, as he gathered up the package. "Some jewelry, perhaps?" he wondered, as his mother handed him a pile of birthday cards. With great patience, he placed the wrapped box back on the table, and started to open his cards. There was one from his parents, and one from Katherine, their Filipino housemaid. All of his school friends had sent him cards too, as did a large number of girls who all hoped he might ask them out soon. Relatives, acquaintances, and even business associates of his father's all sent their birthday wishes. At last, the cards were out of the way, and Max again turned his attention to the small box. With steady hands belying his impatience, he unwrapped the box, and opened it to reveal a set of car keys. Max looked up in astonishment to his father, who nodded, and his mother, who gave a loving smile.
"Is this what I think it is?" Max asked with a shaking voice.
He didn't wait for an answer. Instead, Max bounded across the room, towards the staircase that led to the basement garage. He took the steps three at a time and quickly burst into the large room.
"Whoa!" Max exclaimed with a slow exhalation of his breath. "Awesome!"
Next to his father's large, silver BMW was small black Mercedes sports car. It was wrapped in a large gold bow, and a gold ribbon. Max carefully peeled these off, and using the new keys, unlocked the car and climbed into the seat.
"Now, you realize that this is also a Christmas present too, Max?" his father spoke from beside him.
"Yeah, sure, Dad," Max smiled at his father. "Thanks." He climbed from his seat and hugged his father. "You guys are the best."
"Go say goodbye to your mother. You don't want to be late for work, do you?"

Max had been working at the store during the holidays since his sixteenth birthday. Starting at the bottom, in the packing department, Max had worked in almost every department within the store, including a stint as a security guard. He especially liked Christmas, not just because of the traditional exchange of presents, or the fact that his birthday was approaching, but because there was such a buzz throughout the store. There was also the annual dinner dance, held on Christmas Eve. A tradition started by Max's Grandfather, Philip Evans Sr., it became the traditional way for the Evans family to thank their staff for their hard work and efforts throughout the year towards making the store the success it was. Though the event was by no means compulsory, very few people ever missed the event. Open to all employees, including the causal labor like Max, and their partners, the Evans usually hired a huge suite at one of the top Hotels, who invariably laid on a sumptuous feast to rival everyone's Christmas meal the next day. The store always closed early on Christmas Eve, locking its doors at twelve noon, to allow everyone time to get themselves ready.

"Good morning, Phillip. Good morning, Max," everyone greeted them as they walked through the front doors of the store. Max nodded politely to everyone, and said good morning back. Unlike his father, he couldn't remember everyone's name, so he only added the name to those he knew. "Happy Birthday, Max."
"Enjoy your day in the electrical department," his father chuckled when they arrived at the elevators. "And don't make Bill Haskins mad by playing computer games all day."
"No, sir," Max laughed at being caught out. "It was a slow day."
Max laughed as his father stepped into the elevator, to rise to the top floor and his offices. One day, it would be he who stepped into the elevator and ran ML Evans. He only hoped that he would not let his family down, and run it as good as both his father, his grandfather, his great grandfather and his great great grandfather had run it. Max had a lot of history to follow. With a rueful shake of his head, he turned to the stairs to climb to the first floor and the electrical kingdom of Mr. Bill Haskins.

***

"Thank you, sir," Max smiled at the customer as he returned the man's credit card and the receipt. "I will have your new television taken down to the loading bay. You can bring your car around and collect, though may I remind you that we close at noon."
"Eager to get away to your parties, son?" the man asked with a wink.
"Yes, sir," Max laughed. "No point in being young if you can't enjoy the parties."
"No, I guess not," he chuckled. "Well, I'm finished anyway. Might as well go collect it now."
"Right them. Thank you for shopping with us, and on behalf of all at ML Evans, I would like to wish you and your family a very merry Christmas."
"Thank you son, you too."
When the man had gone, Max looked up at the clock. The day had been fun, but he was glad that it was almost over. He looked up to see that it was still only eleven o'clock. With a wry grin, he returned to his task of opening the mountain of birthday cards that the members of staff had sent to him. He diligently read each and every greeting, sometimes wondering who the heck these people were, and hoping that he would one day remember all of their names.

"Guess who?" a soft and gentle voice asked from behind Max as a soft, warm pair of hands covered his eyes.
"Angela?" Max laughed.
"Nope," the voice bubbled.
"Alison, then," he smiled.
"No," she sounded a little hurt now.
"Then it must be my dream girl, Ilse," he smiled at the blond girl that stepped in front of him. Like Max, Ilsa Scwartz was a high school student, though she did not attend the exclusive school that Max attended. They had been dating for a few months now.
"You knew it was me all along," she accused. She hit his arm in a playful manner. "Jerk."
"Hey, you should be careful," Max warned. "You should be treating the owner's son with more respect than that. You might get fired. Not something you want on Christmas Eve."
"Oh yeah," her blue eyes sparkled. "Well I happen to be immune to that particular threat." She leaned down and gave Max a gentle kiss on his lips. He tried to return the kiss, but she danced away from him.
"Mm-hmm," Max laughed. "Why do you think that?"
"Well, if you would like to accompany me, I have a birthday card that might show you why I think that."
The clock on the wall showed that it was past twelve. Max went to the cupboard with the master switches, and one by one turned off the power to the electrical units that were switched on to allow the customers to see, or hear, what each unit was capable of.
"See you tonight, Mr. Haskins!" called as he hurried away with Ilsa.

She led Max into the stockroom, and past the elevators.
"Where are we going?" he inquired.
"Just through here," she smiled, as they emerged into the deserted furnishings department. Max had never worked there, and since he started seeing Ilsa, they wouldn't put him in the same department as her. Neither of them would have done much work.
Max continued to follow as they walked past the dining room furniture, past wall cabinets and bureaus and past the sofas and chairs. In the corner of the bedroom furniture, next to the huge four poster bed, Ilsa stopped.
"Sit," she smiled at Max, indicating the huge wooden bed.
Max sat with his eyebrows raised. Ilsa opened the drawer of a large unit, and pulled out a card and a small box. She handed the card to Max first. It had a picture of a cute cartoon rabbit holding a large red heart. "To Someone Special," was emblazoned across the top.
"To my darling, Max," he read aloud. "I will always love you, though your world will soon take you from me. Always yours, Ilsa." He looked up at her, and saw the tears glisten in her eyes. "Thank you. It's lovely. But I..."
"And there's this," Ilsa whispered. "I expect it's not a patch on anything else you received. But it's all I could afford."
"You don't have to compete with anyone, Ilsa," he said in a gentle voice. "I'm not dating you because you are rich, or anything. I'm dating you cause I like you."
"Well that's good, because you know that I'm sure as hell not rich."

Max opened the small box to find a gold necklace from which hung a small gold silhouette of an Angel blowing a trumpet. It was exquisite, and probably far more than Ilsa could afford.
"Thank you," he released his breath. He knew better than to tell her off. "This is lovely."
"It's an 'Aufpassen', she told him with a proud smile.
"What's an 'Aufpassen'?" he laughed.
"It's a German tradition. It means to take care. It will look after you, take care of you when I'm not around. It will keep you safe."
"I will always wear it," he smiled, linking the chain behind his neck.
He reached over to her, and pulled her tightly to him. They hugged fiercely for a few moments.
"My friends think I'm putting out for you," she sighed "They say it's the only way rich guys like you are even interested in poor girls like me."
"Well, I hope you told them how wrong they are."
"I don't care what they think, Max," Ilsa sat next to Max. "I know in my heart that you aren't seeing me for that, because you've never even tried it on," she wrapped her arms around his neck. "You have always been the perfect gentleman."

Ilsa pulled Max's face to hers, and started to kiss him on the lips. Soon their mouths were open, and their tongues were dancing with a youthful exuberance. She reached for Max's hand and after finding it, pulled it towards her. She gently placed his hand over her breast. Reverently, Max started to gently caress her. He could feel the firmness of her nipple stiffen beneath his palm, even through the layers of her white blouse and her white lacy brassier. He felt her hand pulling at the buttons of her shirt, and while they continued to kiss, he slipped his hand beneath her shirt, and over her bra. As she whimpered her encouragement, Max pushed his hand beneath the supporting wire and onto the bare flesh of her breast. She cried out in pleasure as his hand ran across her firm nipple.

"Max," she sighed, as she allowed herself to fall backwards onto the bed.
Still kissing her, he pushed her bra up over her breasts, and alternated between one firm nipple and the other, causing her to cease her whimpering, and start moaning. She lifted her legs up and onto the bed, leaving them parted, with her knees slightly raised.
"Yes," she sighed when he looked into her eyes, asking for her permission.
Max's hand slid from her exposed breast and down her smooth, taut stomach. He continued over her hip and onto her thigh, over the top of her blue skirt. When he reached her hemline, just by her knee, he slipped his hand beneath her skirt, and along her hose covered legs. At the top of her thigh, he met the lace band that indicated she was wearing thigh-highs. He growled his approval as she parted her legs more in encouragement. Her bare skin was hot, burning him almost. He could feel the heat radiating from the juncture of her legs as his hand crept closer to her. She was almost pushing herself at him.
"Come on, Max," his father called from some way away. "It's time we got home."
Their faces scarlet with embarrassment, Max helped Ilsa straighten herself up. She gave Max a final kiss.
"Later, Max," she whispered in his ear. "I still have the my last present to give you."
It had been a terrific evening, the most memorable birthday and Christmas Eve he had ever had in his whole life. That night, at the party, Max and Ilsa had sneaked way during the dancing, to the room that Max had booked at Ilsa's insistence. That night, Max had become a man.

***

"So what happened?" Liz asked in a voice filled with more ice that she would have liked to admit. "To Ilsa I mean. Is she still around?"
"No," Max shook his head. Perhaps he looked more sad than usual, but it was impossible to tell with that cold, harsh expression of his. "We kept on dating the next year until I went away to Harvard in the fall. She stopped answering my letters, and her parents must have changed their phone number. When I came to work at the Christmas break, she wasn't here. I called round at her house, but they had moved away. I never found out where to. I guess she fell out of love with me."
"What about the necklace?" Liz asked in a gentle manner. "Do you still have it?"
Max reached beneath his tie and through the buttons of his shirt. He pulled out a small golden silhouette of an angel.
"I don't even know why I'm telling you this," he snapped, replacing the necklace. "You may leave now."

***

"I don't get it, Alex," Liz complained as she returned home from her first day at work. "It sounded like he had an amazing childhood. He was a nice young man. I think he was in love with Ilsa, though I don't think she loved him back."
"Oh, she was in love with him, all right," Alex nodded.
"So why did she dump him?"
"Because she thought that dumping him like that was better than letting him find out the truth," he shrugged.
"Oh?" Liz frowned. "And what was the truth?"
"The truth was that she was dying of an incurable cancer. She knew that he would probably do everything he could to try to save her, a futile task. She also knew that she wanted him to remember her as she was, not as she was becoming. And it must have worked too, if he claims that was the best Christmas of his life."
"Does he know? Or even suspect?" Liz demanded. "Did he really love her, or was he just using her, like her friends said?"
"I don't know, Liz. I can't read anything about Max. It's like I have been forbidden to find out. I think that is part of your task. I think you need to find out what makes Max Evans tick, yourself."
"Okay. I think I have it all figured out anyway."
"Oh, yes?" Alex asked. "Care to enlighten me?"
"Sure," she smiled with a youthful confidence. "I just need to make Maxwell Evans attend the Dinner Dance and accept Christmas into his heart again. Just like Mr. Dickens' book."
"Charles wrote fiction, Liz. It wasn't real. It wasn't a true story."
"But the principle is the same, right? This is why Gabriel sent me down to this man."
"If you say so, Liz," Alex sighed. "If you say so. Besides, he would have to take a date. How will you manage that?"
"Simple," she replied. Her voice turned colder. "He can take that blonde bimbo he was with earlier."
Alex raised his eyebrows.

***

What was it about that girl, Max wondered as he stared out into the darkness of the park across the road? Ever since he had run into her with his car, he had felt a strange attraction to her. Attraction? Come off it Max. You have better looking girls throwing themselves at you on a daily basis. Just look at Pamela Troy. Smart, attractive, well stacked, and well connected. She's a blonde too. A real looker. She would be the kind of girl that would turn the heads, not one who would poke the eyes of the turning heads out. Not like the frumpy klutz he kept on running into to. And what was with the history lesson. After just ten minutes with her, he was telling her things that he had never told anyone before. To make matters worse, she had been allocated a job in the offices. She would not be fitted out for the blue skirts and white shirts of the girls in the store, she would be allowed to wear her dreadful dresses.
"Get a grip, Max!" he ordered himself, as he placed a Counting Crows CD into his stereo system. "Get a grip."

***

"You are my lucky charm," Maria enthused when she called on Liz that evening. "My Angel of Luck."
"I'm no angel," Liz smiled coyly.
She looked up as she heard the sudden ring of a bell. Maria showed no sign of hearing it. Someone else is now, though, she sighed. One of her colleagues had passed their test and gained their wings. Liz smiled inwardly knowing that she too was on her way.
"Sure you are," Maria enthused. "You just don't know it yet. I won on a lottery ticket today. I have never won before. This is so cool. So are you ready?"
"Ready?" Liz asked with a puzzled look. "Ready for what?"
"Makeover!" Maria exclaimed. "We are going to make you look good, girl. You'll be fighting off the guys at the ML Evans dinner dance."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot," Liz laughed. "But Maria, it's too late for the dance. They told us today that the only way we could make this year's dance was as the date of another employee."
"So we'll make some guy dump his girl and ask you instead," Maria suggested with a smile."
"I would never want anyone to do that, Maria," Liz shook her head.
"Look, don't worry, Liz," Maria confided. "No guy without a girl will admit it, okay? They all say they have a date in the hope that by the time the big day arrives, they will have found one. And then, if they don't have one, they'll claim she's sick, or something. Trust me, there will be a dozen or so empty chairs on the big day. Michael says that even Big Boss' secretary put his name and a date's down, just in case he changes his mind at the last minute. Hey, I just thought. Maybe we can persuade the Grinch to ask you as his date!"
"I don't think so," Liz laughed. "He likes his girls big and blonde. I'm just the opposite. Besides, we didn't exactly start off on the right foot, did we?"
"Yeah, I heard," Maria sounded sympathetic. "Michael warned me that you might be a little down. But at least he didn't fire you."
"What's his problem, anyway, Maria? I mean, I know he used to be happy, he told me as much himself. So why is he so miserable?"

"He actually told you something about himself?" Maria's jaw dropped in shock. "He never talks to women normally. Unless he has to, that is. Other things, yeah. Talk? Nun uh. Well it's no big secret, though no one really talks about it anymore. I mean, they used to, not so long ago. One time, everyone used to talk..."
"About what?" Liz tried to focus Maria on her news. "Maria? What happened."
`"Hmmmm, why the big interest?" Maria looked at Liz from the corner of her eyes. "Sounds like he made a bigger impact on you than you care to mention."
"Maria! Please, this is important."
"Okay! Okay!" Maria shrugged. "Though I better warn you kiddo, he hasn't dated a girl in like... three years. He has these... one night stands. But a serious relationship?"
"Maria!" Liz moaned in exasperation.
"Okay, it was like, three years ago. And it was Christmas too. You see, Max's birthday in on Christmas Eve."
"Yeah, I knew that."
"Really? He even told you that?" Maria smiled. "Anyway, oh yeah, it was his twenty first birthday. Of course, there was the dinner dance that night, as usual, and everyone was buzzing, because Max was a pretty popular guy. Everyone had bought a card for him, and the plan was that they would present the cards after his father made a big speech. It was going to be so funny, all these people going up to him and snowing him under with cards. Believe it or not, they had actually rehearsed it."
"But that never happened?" Liz asked.
"Nope. It got cancelled. See, Max's parents wanted a small private celebration before they shared Max's big day with the rest of the company, so they planned this surprise party at a different hotel. But the thing is, the hotel caught fire, and someone had locked all the fire exits shut. Max Evans lost his whole family, and nearly all of his friends in that fire."
"Oh, that's terrible!" Liz held her hand to her mouth with a sad frown. "I can see that it would make him unhappy, or sad. But time is a healer, and surely he knew that they went to a better place. He should also be thankful that his life was spared that day. It's not like he caused the fire." Liz paused, a terrible though rising in her mind. "Is it?"
"No, he never caused it," Maria looked annoyed that her new friend could even think such a thing. "And no, he didn't escape. The reason that Max is such a grouch is that he never turned up for his party. The police were looking for him to give him the bad news. I heard they found him at home with some girl... in bed. Liz, Max feels guilty because he chose to have a quickie at home rather than meeting his parents like he was asked. He thinks that he should have died with his parents."

***

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WR
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Post by WR » Wed Dec 22, 2004 4:55 pm

Well, I am glad I am reaching people who have not yet read this story. (Scottie???) One of the conditions of the challenge was that Liz was a klutz. Oh, and another was it had to be NC17. Up to this story, I had never written anything like it before, so be gentle. :wink:

Thank you for your feedback, BTW. :)

Part 3 - "Christmas Present"


"Earth to Liz," Maria called trying to attract Liz's attention while manicurist worked on their nails. "Earth to Liz!"
"Hmmm?" Liz's eyes finally met Maria's. She looked as though she was enjoying the pampering her nails were receiving. "Oh, I'm sorry. Were you saying something?"
"She never stops saying something," Alex groaned.
"I said, I think I know who might be free to take you to the dance," Maria laughed. "One of Michael's colleagues, you know, another security guard, he recently split from his girlfriend. I know that he planned on bringing her with him, and now he's not. So all we need to do is introduce you, and presto. It will be so cool having you there."
"Thanks Maria, but I'm not sure..."
"At least meet him. Okay, he's not much to look at, and yeah, he's a little on the large size, but I'm sure his heart's in the right place. Except he seems to have trouble keeping a girlfriend, so... But hey, at least we'll be there together.
"She means he's fat, balding, has rather questionable personal hygiene habits and an unwholesome attitude towards the ladies," Alex smirked while he looked over Liz's shoulder at what the woman was doing to her nails. Liz ignored him.
"I think maybe I should go with someone else, if I go at all, that is," Liz smiled politely at Maria. "But I really just want to make sure that Max goes to the dance."
"Max? Since when do you call him Max? I mean, no one calls him Max, not even his secretary. Boy, you must have fallen big time for his non existent charm."
"He does so have charm," Liz defended him. "He just has a hard time showing it, that's all."
"You know, maybe we 'should' try and swing it for you to be his date. I mean, if he's already told you all that stuff, he must like you, right?"
"Max Evans?" Liz shook her head. "This?" She pointed to herself. "No way, Maria," Liz shook her head. "Max would never fall for someone like me. He would want someone like... Helen, or... Venus maybe."
"Are these people who started work with you today? Listen to me Liz. I bet after your makeover, you will be every bit as beautiful as they are. Who knows? Maybe you can be the one who melts the Grinch's heart. Beauty and the Beast."
"Yeah," Liz bubbled, caught up in Maria's enthusiasm. Whoa, Liz, she chided herself. What's this all about? Don't get involved here. Just save him, hear the bell, and go home.

"Okay, let me see," Maria urged when they had left the nail manicurist.
Inside the shop, the technician that had seen to Liz' nails was trying to wipe up the spilled varnish from the table, the floor and her white protective coat where it had spilled. Liz had knocked it over while reaching for the nail file to have a better look at it.
Liz stopped and held out her hands out, palms down, so that Maria could inspect her nails. She had asked Alex to make them as long as Maria's so that she could have the same things done. They had been painted a rich, dark pink.
"Yeah, they look really good," Maria enthused. "That color really suites your complexion. For the dance, we can put these little, tiny gemstones on them. They will look so neat."
"And all this will help, how?" asked Alex with a laugh.
"So what now?" Liz asked, ignoring her mentor. She stretched the sides of her dress out from her hips. "How about some new clothes?"
"Nuh-uh," Maria shook her head, and pointed in the direction of the hair salon. "We have our hair done next. Then we buy you some make up which you will learn how to put on when we are at home. After that we will find some clothes for you. You'll need some work clothes too, seeing as the office girls aren't issued with a uniform. But I know just what to get you."
"Oh, okay," Liz looked a little dubious. "Just one thing, though, Maria. I don't want my hair cut short. It has to be kept long."
"Well, a wash and a blow-dry will do it the world of good. Something to bring out the natural sheen, and maybe add a few waves. I mean, if you are serious about getting Maxwell Evans to notice you, you will need all the ammo you can get. Maybe we should visit Victoria's Secret too."
"What's that?" Liz asked.
"Oh, they sell underwear," Maria smiled. "Lingerie, you know. The hot stuff. Like you have never seen before."
"What do I need 'hot stuff' for?" Liz asked.
"What?" Maria demanded. "How naïve can you be. Do you want Max to notice you or not?"
"This would be your cue to leave, Alex," Liz whispered.
"Aw, but..." he started to complain.
"Now, Alex!"
"Okay," he sulked, and vanished.
"Maria, I don't want you spending all of your money on me," Liz scolded. "Besides, him being attracted to me isn't important. I just want for him to attend the party."
"Well, from what you've told me, it seems that Max Evans likes you, Liz," Maria turned serious. "And you seem to like him."
"I do not," she protested.
"Yeah, right," Maria smirked. "Anyway, from what I know of you, you aren't attracted to him because of his money. I suspect that you like him for himself. Right?"
"Maria, what are you talking about?"
"Are you attracted to Maxwell Evans' money, or to Maxwell Evans?"
"To his soul, of course," Liz shook her head at the idea of money attracting her. What need did Angels have of money?
"See," Maria smiled. "Lets show a man who knows what a million dollars looks like, what a million dollars 'should' look like.

***

Max Evans gave an exasperated sigh, and rolled over in his bed yet again. He was on his stomach this time. He groaned in frustration at his inability to drift off. Every time he felt the tendrils of sleep creeping over him, he would see the flames and hear the screams of his friends and his family as they burned to death in that terrible inferno. He would sit upright, shivering with the chill of his naked body, damp from his sweat in the night air. Like every night before this, Max would be sleeping very little. He climbed from his bed and after pulling on his robe, he crossed to the window to gaze at the darkness of the park across the road. He contemplated taking a walk in that park, wondering if maybe a mugger might hit him over the back of his head too hard, and end his living nightmare. But then he would not see that Liz tomorrow. Max jerked his head upright. Where had that thought come from? Not since that day, three years ago, had he ever looked forward to seeing a woman.
"But she is so plain!" he called to the darkness. "And she's dark, not blonde. She's not what I want, at all!"
Max returned to his bed, and lay back on top of the covers.
"So why can't you stop think about her?" he asked himself.
"I am not always thinking about her," he answered. "I hardly even noticed her!"
"Really? So how is it you even noticed that tiny scar above her eye?"
Her eyes, he thought. There was something about her eyes.
"But it's not just her eyes," he whispered to the darkness. "There is just something about her. Something... soothing."
He felt himself drifting off to sleep again. As before, the images of flames appeared in his mind, and he could hear the screams. But this time, they faded. The fire died down as though they were extinguished and the screams were silenced, fading away to mere whimpers. The sounds were replaced by a gentle 'shushing' sound, like the sound a mother makes when coaxing her baby to sleep. A pair of deep brown eyes gazing at him replaced the images. The eyes were filled with warmth, compassion, and... love. They were the eyes of an Angel, he decided. His own private Guardian Angel. For the first time in three years, Max fell into a deep and restful sleep.

***

Screams. Liz sat upright in her bed, and listened carefully. She had heard someone screaming. Someone was being hurt. She heard a soft, low moan. Somebody needed help. She leapt from her bed and rushed towards her door. She suddenly realized the short, paper thin night dress that Maria had made her buy might not be suitable to wear outside of her room, so she hurried back to get her matching robe. The screams had started again. They came from next door. It was Maria! Maria was being attacked. Liz again rushed for her door, and was soon outside of Maria's apartment.
"Maria!" she cried out, banging her hand against the door. "Maria! Are you okay? Maria!"
The screaming stopped. Where was Alex when she needed him? He could easily open the door for her, but he had gone to visit a club tonight to see some mortal rock band play. Behind her, the other residents were peering through their doorways, wondering what the commotion was.
"Maria! Maria! Open up!"
She could hear muffled sounds now. Someone was arguing. She heard movement.
"Maria! Are you all right?"
The door started to open, and a very red faced Maria peered through a narrow gap from behind it.
"Liz?" she asked with a groan. "What is it? Do you know what time it is?"
"Maria?" Liz gasped. "I heard screaming, and groaning. I thought you were being attacked. I thought someone was hurting you. Are you all right? Who was attacking you?"
"Who is it?" a man's voice hissed from behind Maria.
"Michael?" demanded Liz with surprise. "What's going on?" Liz pushed past Maria, and into her flat. "What are you doing to... oh."
Liz stopped, and turned a deep crimson. She spun away from Michael who was standing by Maria's bed in just a pair of boxer shorts that he had just pulled on.
"Oh my!" Liz exclaimed as she turned away from him. Then she saw that behind her door, Maria was naked. "Oh my, oh my!" She cried, and fled the room, back to the safety of her own. She leapt onto her bed, and buried her face in her pillow.

She jumped with shock when she felt a hand shaking her shoulder.
"Maria!" she gasped, seeing that it was her friend and neighbor. "How did you get in?"
"Your door didn't shut properly," she shrugged. "Liz, are you okay? You seemed pretty upset just now when you ran out."
"I'm sorry, Maria," Liz blushed. "I heard noises. I heard you screaming. I though someone was hurting you."
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that," Maria shifted awkwardly. "I'm not normally that noisy when we make love. I guess things kinda got a little out of hand tonight."
"Oh... I-i-is that what you were doing?" Liz stammered. "I didn't realize. I'm sorry. I never guessed."
Liz's embarrassment raised a suspicion at the back of Maria's mind.
"I'm going to ask you a question, Liz. I don't want you getting uptight on me, because we're girlfriends now, and girlfriends are supposed to talk about stuff like this, okay?"
"Okay," Liz looked worried.
"Have you ever been with a man before?"
"What do you mean?"
"Have you had a boyfriend before? Liz, are you a virgin?"
"Of course I'm a virgin!" Liz was indignant. "Why wouldn't you think that?"
"Oh, I don't know," Maria shrugged. "I mean, how many virgins can there be in New York? It's a good job Jesus didn't choose New York to be born. Jeez, it'd be hard enough to find a virgin here, but three wise men too? Kidding." Maria reached over and stroked Liz's hair, which was spilling in a lively wave over her shoulders. "So beautiful, yet so innocent. You know, I bet you are every bit as beautiful as those girls you mentioned earlier are. Helen and... Venus? Liz, listen. If things go well with Max? Or anyone else, for that matter? Make him wear a condom, okay? I'll even give you one so you can be prepared."

***

It was some time before Liz, still in a dazed-like state, realized that the ringing she was hearing was not the constant successes of her classmates, but her alarm clock. She did not sleep well last night. Strange dreams of half-naked men and women, well, one specific man, and one specific woman haunted what little sleep she got. Both had dark hair. When she wasn't asleep, she kept replaying in her mind, the conversations she had with Maria. She kept thinking about her task, and Max Evans. Perhaps getting him to go to the dance was not enough. She knew that Gabriel would never expect her to muddle around down here like this, that he would send her hints and clues. Perhaps Maria had been sent to provide Liz with the help and clues that she needed to perform her miracle. Perhaps Liz was supposed to get Max to not only attend his dinner dance, but to take her with him.
"Get real, Liz," she snapped. "He wants that blonde, that Pamela Troy."
"Morning Liz," Alex enthused.
"What's so good about it?" she snapped.
"My. Aren't we in a good mood," he chuckled. "I would suggest that you got up on the wrong side of bed, except that you haven't got up yet."
"Well, if you would just leave the room, I would get up."
"Leave the room? Liz, I've seen you in your night clothes before."
"Not these ones, you haven't," she blushed. "Can you wait outside please? I want to shower and dress."
"Mortals!" Alex rolled his eyes as he walked through the door.
"And no peeking!" Liz called after him.

***

It was a whole hour later when Liz emerged from her room. Her hair was loose, spilling in waves coming down over her shoulders of the full-length overcoat that she was wearing.
"About time," Alex had groaned.
"Be quiet, Alex," Liz snapped.
"Why are you in such a bad mood?" Alex asked.
"I didn't get much sleep last night," she complained.
"But you don't need to sleep," Alex looked puzzled.
"Well, since Gabriel gave me the body of a mortal, I guess I do."
"I'll have a word with him," offered Alex.
"It's not just that, Alex," Liz groaned. The sound of a great bell rang out. "It's that too. They're all succeeding already, Alex, and I'm not even close."
"It's not a race, Liz," Alex placed his hand on her arm for sympathy. "Your wings will be the same as everyone else's."
"I know," she sighed, "It's just...
"Hey, Liz," Michael greeted her as he stepped out through his door. "Um, who are you talking to?"
His face was red from his embarrassment from last night's events. Liz too was blushing. Alex looked from one awkward looking person to the next.
"Just what is going on here, Liz?" Alex asked with a look of confusion. "What happened that that made you two blush so much?"
"Never mind," Liz turned away from Michael, and started to walk down the hallway.
"Yeah," Michael grumbled. "No problem. Hey!" he called after her. "I like your hair, by the way."
"I'm glad somebody noticed!" Liz glared at Alex.
"Maria told him to say that," he defended.

***

Max walked along Park Avenue, watching the cars crawl by, scarcely noticing the constant noise of the New York City traffic. He had his hands jammed into his pockets against the icy wind that was blowing across the city. Above him, the clouds had a silver-gray sheen to them that made them look like they were laden with snow. The air had that tang to it, though it was difficult to tell if it was the tang you got just before it snowed, or if it was just the exhaust fumes. Looking back at the ground, he continued towards Herald Square.
"Ho, ho, ho," the Santa Claus called out. "Merry Christmas."
There were more of them now. Every hundred paces produced another Santa Claus ringing a large hand bell to encourage the passing citizens to drop their loose change into their pot. Max kept his hands in his pockets, and continued on his way. If he had had some change in his pockets, he would have given it. Not that he had changed his opinion about Christmas, it was simply because Max was feeling much better than he had felt in a long time. It was all because of the best night's sleep that he had experienced in ages last night. With his eyes on the ground, Max didn't see the man with the sandwich board, and walked straight into him.
"Watch where you're going, buddy!" he cursed.
Max never heard him. Instead, his eyes were drawn to the warning printed on the man's board. 'REPENT 'ERE YOU DISCOVER THE FIERY PITS OF HELL!' Max groaned as the images of the flames killing his family and friends returned, bringing tears to his eyes, and despair to his heart. He hurried to the next intersection.

Max stood by the intersection, and waited for the green crossing light to turn red. That would be his cue to close his eyes and start the count. At last, it turned red.
"One, two, three," Max closed his eyes and started to count.
"Four, five, six," the traffic seemed louder this morning, heavier.
"Seven, eight, nine," this was it.
"Hey, Max," Kyle slapped him on the shoulder. "Looks like it might snow, huh? First white Christmas we'll have had in, what? Eight years?"
"Hey, Kyle," Max tried to hide his disappointment. "How'd the meeting go yesterday?"
"Good, good," he smiled. "We can do pretty much everything we planned. The only thing they don't want us to do is to launch any fireworks from the parade floats."
"Well, that's no biggy, right?" Max asked. "So everything else is going okay? All the arrangements have been made?"
The lights turned green, and the together, the two young men crossed the road, forcing their way through the busy Manhattan sidewalks.
"The only thing missing, Max, is a Guest of Honor,"
"I told you, Kyle," Max looked angered. "You can do anything you want, just don't expect me to do anything."
"Yeah, I know," Kyle complained. "But it is the centenary of your company. The least you could do is turn up for the dinner dance. You know everyone would love to see you there."
"We've talked about this before," Max sighed. "They would have a better time if I wasn't there, believe me. Besides, it really doesn't matter, does it? Miss Sanchez had to give the final figures to the hotel two days ago."
"You know as well as I do that Louisa always books two places for you, just in case you change your mind."
"Does she?" Max growled. "I will have to have words with Miss Sanchez."
"Sure, Max," Kyle glared. "If you shout at her, she might just quit. If she does, you know damn well that most of your office will quit too. Heck, I might even quit!"
The two men turned up the staircase to the front doors of the store.
"Good morning, George," Kyle greeted the doorman who held the door open for them.
"Good morning, Mr. Evans, Mr. Valenti," the doorman saluted.
It was another day at ML Evans.

***

"Good morning, Mr. Evans," Miss Sanchez was, as always, waiting for Max by the elevator. She looked inside, expecting to see someone else.
"He went to see Gloria," Max shrugged. He knew that the doorman would have informed his secretary that he had entered the building with Kyle. Max had long suspected that Miss Sanchez had a crush on Kyle, although she had turned him down for every request for a date. Gloria was Kyle's current blue-eyed girl, at least until he met his next one.
"Would you like to know your schedule?" she asked, ignoring his comment.
"Sure," Max answered, for once looking around the office at the people, rather than just looking. "Is Li... is there anything important happening today?" That wasn't what he was going to ask. His eyes dropped to the floor.
"Well, not until after lunch," she replied looking at his open diary. "The CEO at Macy's has invited you and the other owner's and CEO's over for drinks at 2 o'clock. You know, the same as last year."
"Another chance to listen to him talking how Macy's has been franchised and now has branches all over the states now, and make another inquiry if I want to sell up."
"I'll..." she hesitated, "find a member of staff to accompany you."
For these events with Macy's, and with the other social gatherings amongst the retailers of Manhattan, it was expected that you bring a date, if only to show what good taste you had. Since he had taken over and had been the one invited, Max had always taken a member of staff. Within the halls of ML Evans, it was considered a punishment, only because being with Mr. Evans was no joke. Miss Sanchez always asked for volunteers first, and then resorted to blackmail second. The one benefit that was gained from being the hapless victim was that Miss Sanchez authorized the loan of a cocktail dress from their ladies-wear departments.
"And then right after that, you have that meeting with 'Baskin Robbins' about putting a branch inside our store."
Miss Sanchez closed the diary, and turned away towards her desk leaving Max to give a final look around the office.

***

She was late. Liz had spent far too long talking with Michael, and found herself late for work. Alex refusing to make the elevator move any faster didn't help matters either. To save time, she removed her overcoat in the elevator. This was not good, turning up late on her first full day. She could just hear what Max would say. What a Grinch! But then she felt bad, which made her stop, and drop her arms still trapped in her coat sleeves. The sudden ring of a great bell made her look up, and the elevator doors opening surprised her. As she ran down the corridor, her arms at last came free from her coat, and she quickly whipped it around so that she could bundle the coat in front of her, ready to hang on the coat rack. That was why she did not see Max. She again charged into him, but he seemed prepared this time. Instead of collapsing into a heap, he stood firm, and caught her arms, now free of the coat the she had dropped, holding her up. She looked up gratefully, their eyes meeting. Liz felt a tingle run all the way through her body, causing it to react in ways she had never felt before. She was not sure that she didn't like them, but they did frighten her. It was some time before she realized that she was holding her breath.

***

Max caught and held onto the delicate girl's arms. A surge of energy ran through his whole body, a body that betrayed him by showing signs of arousal. He looked deeply into her eyes. They were eyes that seemed to draw him in. They were also eyes that seemed very familiar, though he could not place them. He suddenly realized whom it was that he was holding.
"Liz?" he asked in a hoarse voice. What had happened to her? "Liz Parker? Is that you?"
Liz, staring back into his eyes slowly nodded. She looked so different. Her dark hair was long and loose and fell freely over her shoulders. She wore a silky white blouse through which he could see the dainty lace of her brassiere. She wore a short black skirt and sheer black pantyhose and had on a pair of high-heeled pumps. This exquisite creature before him was so different to the young woman he had met only yesterday, although there was one constant. Her eyes. Max felt the first stirrings of desire that he had felt in a long, long time.
"Are you okay?" he asked. His voice was tender, and caring.
Liz simply nodded, her eyes still gazing at Max.
Max scratched around for something else to say, something that would keep this girl close to him.
"You look nice," he said. Nice? Nice? She looked beautiful. What kind of a moron would say simply, nice? This kind of moron, thought Max. "Excuse me," he growled at himself, and turned towards his office.
What is it about her, he demanded of himself in the safety of his office. Why does she fascinate you so much? Okay, she is attractive. No, Max, scratch that, she's beautiful. She... she's a... an angel. Yeah, and she would be stupid enough to get involved with a... a Grinch like you. And how do you know she isn't after your money? Yeah, that's it. Look at the facts Max. Yesterday she's this dull little mouse. She bumps into you, literally. Perhaps she saw that you were somehow attracted to her. Maybe someone hypnotized you. And today, she's this... this vixen. And she bumps into you again. Yeah, that's it. She thinks she's on to a winner. Max walked over to his permanently drawn blinds and peered through a gap he made in the slats. She watched as Liz's supervisor was giving her some work to do. Yeah she's a gold digger, Max, and you should stay away from her. But his words lacked conviction.

***

"Do you have any idea how to work this thing, Alex?" Liz asked as she stared at the computer in front of her. She raised the mouse. "I mean, what does this do?"
"That's the mouse, Liz. You use it to control your cursor."
"What's a cursor? Alex, can't you just magic this all done for me?"
"I could, Liz," Alex laughed. "But maybe you should learn how to use it in any case."
Another chime of the great bell rang out. Both Alex and Liz looked up.
"Cause I hope that I'm not here for much longer," she sighed. "I just need to get him to ask me... I mean, someone to the dance."
"Well, in the meantime, this is your cursor. Now to fire up a program, you..."
"What's a program?"
Alex stared at Liz before sighing. "Okay, Liz. We'd better start at the beginning. This might take a while."

"Hell-ooo, beautiful," a man presented himself next to Liz. She looked up from Alex's instruction and saw the man she had stabbed in the ear the morning before. She silently groaned.
"He doesn't recognize you," Alex chuckled.
"I haven't seen you around here before," he smiled, pulling up a chair to sit next to her. He was looking her up and down, his eyes lingering at the hem of her short skirt - which she self-consciously tugged - and then at her breasts. "The name's Valenti. Kyle Valenti. General Manager. And you are?"
"New," replied Liz, accepting the hand that was outstretched and shook it. "I started yesterday. My name's Liz. Liz Parker."
"I was going to say, I would definitely have noticed you before."
"That's supposed to be a compliment," Alex urged.
"Oh, thank you," Liz smiled.
"Being a new employee, you won't have been invited to the dinner dance, will you?"
"No, I'm afraid not," she shook her head.
"Well, we'll have to see what we can do. I think I can get you in. Perhaps we can have a few dances by way of a reward."
"I think he's flirting with you," smirked Alex.
"Oh," was all that Liz could say.
"Do you have a boyfriend?" Kyle asked, noticing the absence of engagement or wedding rings.
"Oh, um... no, no I don't," Liz couldn't believe that she looked over at Max's office, which was blocked by the partition screen anyway.
"Well, Liz. This is your lucky day. I happen to have a free evening, and a permanent reservation at Bertalucci's, the ritziest Italian 'ristorante' in Manhattan. It would be an honor to escort someone as enchanting as you to dinner. Perhaps we could take in a show afterwards. And then, because the night will still be young, we can go to dance the night away in one of New York's finest clubs."
Behind the partition, Max's hands shook violently while he poured himself a cup of coffee from the coffee maker by his secretary's desk.

Max hurried back to his office, and shut the door quietly behind him. There was more coffee in the saucer than there was in the cup. He had only gone there because Miss Sanchez was not at her desk, probably finding someone stupid enough to act as his consort for that afternoon. Why did he have to overhear that? And why did the fact that Kyle was scoring on yet another conquest bother him so much this time? He looked longingly at the window behind his desk. Why should the fact that Kyle was taking her out bother him? Surely that was good, because it meant that she was no longer interested in him, if she ever was, in the first place. Max stepped up onto the ledge. Why bother counting? Why not just open it and jump? He looked around at the closed blinds. No, he knew that if he touched that handle, someone would interrupt him. He stepped down from the ledge. Just as his feet touched the floor, there was a knock at the door.
"Come in," he called at once. "I found someone, Mr. Evans. She'll be ready by one forty-five. The limo will pick you up by the front door."
"It's only over the road, Miss Sanchez," Max objected.
"No," she shook away his objection. "They're holding it at the Clairmont Hotel this year. And anyway, it's getting cold out there. I think it might snow tonight."

***

"Where is she?" Max demanded of the security guard standing outside in the cold temperature with him. Neither was wearing a coat.
"I believe it's customary for the woman to make the man wait, Mr. Evans," the guard said. "She'll want to make a big entrance." No matter how important her date thinks he is, he muttered under his breath.
He was holding a long narrow box, which held a diamond necklace. He would look after it until Max placed it on the neck of the young lady unfortunate enough to be selected by Miss Sanchez. She would be allowed to wear it while accompanying Mr. Evans. Scant reward for such an ordeal.
"It's Michael Guerin, isn't it?" Max asked after studying Michael for a moment.
"Yes," Michael looked shocked. "That's right. Guerin. I'm... ah, Michael Guerin."
"Yes, I though so. You were one of the..."
"Yes sir, I..."
"I don't know if I ever had the chance to say it then, but... thanks."
"Don't mention it, Mr. Evans," Michael shrugged. "Anyone would have done the same."
"So how is it you know so much about women."
"Oh, well, my girlfriend, sir. Maria. She knows every rule there is. I think she even made some of them."
"Any idea who the unlucky lady is?" Max asked Michael.
"No, Mr. Evans," Michael laughed at Mr. Evans acknowledging that he knew what the staff thought. "Sorry."
"She's just coming, Mr. Evans," the doorman announced, hanging up the phone in the small telephone box by the main entrance.
The front door opened, and both Max and Michael's mouths dropped open. Liz Parker emerged through the front door, looking absolutely stunning. Her hair was piled up on her head in an intricate style that allowed loose tendrils to curl down the side of her exquisitely made up face. She wore a short white dress that was very tight and showed her body off to perfection. Across her shoulders, she wore a white imitation fur stole. She wore white high-heeled shoes that made her wobble slightly as she walked. When she first stumbled, Max rushed to her side, and gave her his arm. She accepted it with a smile.
"Liz, you look... you look..."
"Nice?" she teased, her dark eyes sparkling with amusement.
"No," Max shook his head ruefully. "Lovely. No, more than that. Liz, you look beautiful."
"Thank you Max," she smiled, closing Michael's mouth with a press of her finger, as she passed.
Michael shook his head, and held the box up to Max, who opened it and took out the necklace. It was a thing of beauty, but when he fastened it around the elegant, slender neck of Liz, it became even more than that. It became a priceless work of art.
"You can't keep it, I'm afraid," he whispered.
"That's okay, Max," she smiled. "It's just a possession. It's not important."
Max looked at her, feeling slightly startled. Max escorted her to the limo, and helped her into the seat. He could not help noticing as she swung her legs into the car, that Liz was wearing stockings. He swallowed hard. Max shut the door, and moved around to the other side of the vehicle.
"Mr. Evans!" Michael called out. "Liz. She's my neighbor, my friend. Treat her right."
Max just nodded, and climbed into the limo next to Liz.

"Um," Liz started to rummage in her small white evening bag. She produced a small pink foil square. "Will you wear the condom now?"
"Excuse me?" Max was shocked. Had he heard her right? Did she seek to seduce him in the limo? Had he been right about her? "Um, Liz, I'm sorry. I don't usually do this sort of thing. Dating, I mean. And when I do, I don't tend to move that fast, okay? If this was a date, I would say why don't we take it slowly, and see where it leads? But this isn't a date, Liz. Please don't think..."
"Oh..." Liz looked worried. "It's just that my friend, Maria, she advised me to make sure you wear a condom if things started to happen."
Max looked at Liz, and realized that she was not this experienced tart he had suddenly thought, that she was instead rather naïve and innocent. And sweet.
"I promise, Liz, " he put his hand on hers, "that 'IF' the right time ever arrives, I'll wear one."
"Okay," she blushed. "Well, remember, I have one here, all right?"
Max started to laugh.
"That's the first time he's laughed since the accident," Alex smiled at Liz. "Nice work Parker. Maybe Gabriel knew what he was doing after all."
On a moment of sheer impulse, Liz leaned over to Max, and gave him a light kiss on his cheek. "Thank you," she smiled.
Max stopped laughing, though he didn't stop smiling, and looked at Liz. She was disappointed to see that the laughter had not reached his eyes. The tone of the great bell ringing was not for her.

Max scarcely paid attention to the bragging and postulating of the other big-wigs who were deeply involved in their complicated game of one-upmanship. Instead, Max's eyes were glued to an enchanting young brown hair woman who had literally turned his world upside down. It seemed that the walls of ice that he had so carefully constructed to surround his broken heart and keep out the pain was not impervious to this engaging, mysterious young woman. She slipped through like a hot knife through butter.
"Look at her," Max heard one of the younger men say. "She's gorgeous. Who's the lucky guy that brought her?"
Lucky, thought Max? In what way lucky? Lucky to have lost everyone he cared for in one night of total misery? Lucky that the only women who seemed to want him now were really just after his money? Or lucky that he had been enchanted by a beautiful young and innocent woman who was destined for someone else?
"I thought I saw her come in with Evans," someone else commented.
"All right," the first man smirked. "So she's fair game then. I'll just go and lay some of the ol' MacMillan charm on her. Five will get you ten that she's in my bed tonight."
"Go anywhere near her, and I'll break your arms," Max growled in a threatening posture.
"Just kidding," the man called MacMillan backed off with a look of shock. "Just having a bit of a laugh."
Max walked over to where Liz was finishing a conversation with some other young ladies.
"Are you having a good time, Liz?" Max asked.
"Yeah, sure," she smiled. "But how come you were over there, and I was over here?"
"I had to talk business with those guys first," he nodded at the large group of men.
"Have you finished now?"
"Yeah," he smiled at her. On an unbearable compulsion, Max lifted his hand and rested it against Liz's cheek. She closed her eyes, and leaned against it. "Do you realize you haven't broken anything for a while?"
"Excuse me?"
"He means that you haven't tripped or hurt anyone, or knocked anything over since you've been here," Alex laughed in her ear. "He's saying you haven't been the klutz you normally are."
"Stop that," Liz hissed. She glared at Alex, a look that told him to back off. Max immediately withdrew his hand.
"Sorry," he mumbled, and his eyes dropped to the ground. "I have a business meeting now. You can stay here... if you want, or..."
"Would you mind if I came with you?" Liz asked, realizing that Max had either seen the look meant for Alex, or had heard her. Possibly both.
"I would like that," he nodded, but there was a distance in his voice. It was like he didn't really mean it.
Another bell tone sounded. So close, thought Liz.

***

"Is this where you live?" Liz asked looking out from the darkened window of the limo.
"Yeah," Max shrugged.
They had attended the meeting where Liz was the center of attention, but where the distance between her and Max seemed to increase.
The limo will take you home," he added. "It's a shame the day was over so quickly. I would invite you out to dinner so that you could wear the necklace longer," he patted his pocket where the necklace was safely tucked. "But..."
"Yeah," Liz nodded. "Sorry, but I'm busy tonight."
"Right." Yeah, thought Max. With Kyle. "Good night, Liz," he spoke out loud. "Have a great weekend. Don't worry about the dress, you can keep it. Have fun tonight."
"I will, Max," Liz nodded. "And thank you. I had a great time." She kissed Max on the cheek again. "If you need someone to help you again, I would be happy to do it."
The limo pulled away, and Max watched it go until it turned right and vanished. Max raised his hand to the spot that was burning, the spot that Liz had kissed.
"No, Liz," he sighed. "Thank you. And make sure Kyle wears that condom."

***

"Don't you ever do that again!" Liz snapped at Alex when they were safe within the confines of their small apartment. She was extremely angry. An anger that had been seething within her since she had left Max. She hadn't spoken to Alex since then.
"What?" Alex asked. "I was just trying to help. To let you know what he was thinking."
"I don't need that kind of help, Alex. Max is so open; I can read him like a book. He heard me. He saw me glare at you. He thought it was for him. And now he thinks I don't like him."
"Oh, come on. How can he think that?" he asked. "You've been nothing but sweetness and light to him."
"Well something is bothering him. And you pulling those little stunts of yours don't help me. Now go away, I want to get changed."
"What are you doing tonight, anyway?" Alex asked. "Did you accept a date with that Kyle guy? You know he's only after one thing, right? Liz, if you want to get those wings, you need to stay focused here, and seeing someone else will not get you closer to Max. Trust me on this, these mortal men are funny that way. Territorial."
"No, I am not seeing that Kyle guy," she shook her head. "I am seeing Maria. We have more shopping to do. Now that I know what Max likes, it will be easier. Later, she's teaching me how to put on make up. Now amscray!"
"You are definitely spending to much time with Maria."

***

"No way!" Maria squealed. "You went on a date with Max Evans?"
"No, it wasn't a date. Not really," Liz tried to correct her. "He had to go to this function. They asked for a volunteer to go with him. Apparently, no one wanted to go, so I... I stepped up."
"So how did it go?" Maria asked.
"Oh, it was great. They did my hair, and my make up, and they let me wear this gorgeous white dress. Oh, and you were right. Max loves stockings."
"All guys do," Maria smirked. "Wait, you mean he saw them? You didn't...?"
"No, no, he saw them when he helped me into the car. I couldn't help it. Oh, and that condom? I asked him if he would wear one, but he laughed, and said that he would if the time was ever right."
"Oh my god," Maria shook her head. "Tell me you didn't... Liz, didn't your mother ever give you the talk?"
"What talk?"
"Add something else to our 'to do' list," Maria observed in exasperation. "But see? I was so right about the two of you. I would have loved to see you together. I mean, I have seen Mr. Evans before, and I have seen you. I just know that you two are supposed to be together. I mean, you have this whole 'soul mates' mystique about you."

***

"Why do you do this to yourself?" Max asked his reflection in the mirror. In the background, a Simon and Garfunkel song was playing. "The first time you let a little chink in your armor and looks what happens. It hurts as bad now as it did then."

"I've built walls, a fortress deep and mighty,
Which nothing can penetrate, I have no need of friendship,
Friendship causes pain, It's laughter and it's loving I disdain."

How could that be, he wondered? How could the fact that this strange girl who he was so attracted to but did not return those feeling hurt him so much? He had seen countless young women seduced by Kyle. Some of them where stunningly beautiful and had held off Kyle's charms hoping that Max might ask them out on a date. They always gave in to Kyle's seduction, but he was never bothered by this before.

"Don't talk of love, I've heard the word before,
It lies sleeping in my memory, I won't disturb the slumber,
Of feelings that have died. If I never loved I never would have cried,"

But cry he did. Max slowly collapsed to the floor as the tears flooded from Max's eyes.
"I am a rock, I am an Island,"

"Ilsa," he sobbed. "Liz."

"And a rock feels no pain,"

He had to get away. He needed to talk to someone, someone who would listen, and for that, there was only one place that he could go.

"And an Island never cries."

***

In the early days, after Max's grandfather moved ML Evans to its current location in Manhattan, he decided that he needed a quiet retreat to take his family for quiet weekends and holidays. Unlike most people with money in New York, who usually bought a house in The Hamptons, Max's grandfather went further afield. He bought a house in the quiet village of Kirkville near the Hunter Mountain ski resort, a few short hours from the hustle and bustle of the city. The house had six bedrooms, including the ones built in the attic with gabled windows, but it was just what the Evan's family needed. And it was in front of this house that Max's black Mercedes sports car pulled up in front of, late that evening. He climbed from the car, pulled his overnight bag from the passenger seat, and turned to look at the grand old house. He sniffed the cold air.
"Snow," he nodded, making a mental note to move the car into the garage.
The empty house was warm, though only because he had called Clive, the man he paid to maintain the property, before he left New York. He would have visited earlier and fired up the furnace. After a small meal from the lightly stocked refrigerator, Max took his bag up the stairs to his room. Tomorrow, he would visit the reason for his journey. Perhaps he might find some solution to his current heartache, though he doubted it. They hadn't come up with a solution for his last one.

The day dawned bright and clear. As Max had guessed, there was a thick blanket of snow on the ground. He climbed from the bed where he had a fitful and troubled sleep, and crossed to the large bay window to look at the site that once filled him with wonder. Now it was just another view. He had a pair snow boots in the basement, so he wasn't worried. Of course, he might need to dig his car from the garage, but a little hard work never hurt anyone. It would help take his mind off of things. After his breakfast, Max pulled on the snow boots, and pulled his leather jacket over his thick sweater. He wrapped a scarf around his neck, and stepped out in the cold air.

A snow plough had already passed along the road, so he stepped through the drifts that covered his path to the flat smooth carpet that marked the road. Beneath his feet, the snow crunched with that sound that told him the snow was ideal for snowballs, and making snowmen. In fact, he could hear the excited cries of children as they played their games in the snow. As he walked along the road, he saw evidence that the kids had been this way, with snowmen and half-demolished forts littering the front lawns. The houses started to thin out, until he arrived at the very outskirts of the village. He moved away from the road, heading towards a small house that stood back. His feet again crunched through the snow as he made his way towards the front door. In the shelter of the porch, he stamped his feet to remove the snow. He stepped through the doorway, and pulled his boots off, followed by his scarf, which he hung up on a hat rack standing just inside the door.
"Is that you, Max?" a woman voice called out from the kitchen. "I had an idea I would be seeing you today."

"Clive tell you I was coming up?" he called back as he made his way to the kitchen. There he found an elderly woman, by the kitchen table, reading a newspaper. She was sitting in a wheelchair. Max leaned over and kissed her check.
"Of course he did," she shrugged. "But I just had this feeling that you'd be up this weekend. Somehow, I just knew that you would be needing some help."
"You were always the wise one, Aunt Claudette," Max smiled, as he poured himself a coffee from the coffee-pot on an old-fashioned stove.
Unable to attend his party, his mother's aunt was the only member of Max's family still alive. When things got too much, he would visit her, and listen to her advice. Although he never followed it, he always listened.
"So what is bothering you so much that you have dropped in to ignore me again, Max?" she smiled.
He told her. He told her all about the dark haired young mystery woman, how he felt attracted towards her, but how she was attracted to another. He explained why that bothered him, yet at the same time, how relieved he felt. He poured his heart out.
"Well, Max," his aunt sighed. "If I have said this once, I have said it a hundred times. But I'll say it again Max, and this can be my Christmas present to you. Max, follow your heart."

***

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WR
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Post by WR » Thu Dec 23, 2004 5:50 pm

Part 4 - "Humbug"


"You must have known Max a long time?" Liz asked Michael as they rode the subway to work together on the Monday morning.
"Yeah," Michael nodded, his eyes going momentarily dark. "I started in October... before the fire. Mr. Evans used to work there in the holidays, when he came up from Harvard where he was doing his business degree. His father, Philip, hired me himself." Michael paused, and looked carefully at the dark haired girl that stood beside him. "Liz, I know Maria has been talking about maybe setting you and Mr. Evans up, but I think I should warn you. I mean, you are kind of innocent, yeah? I mean that in a nice way. And Mr. Evans, well, he's a player Liz. And I think that you might end up getting hurt."
"A player?" Liz frowned. "What does that mean, Michael?"
"It means... that he uses women. You know, gets what he wants from them and then casts them aside."
"Oh, no, Michael. I think you're wrong there," Liz shook her head. "I don't think Max is like that."
"Yeah, you certainly are naïve," Michael grinned. "I take it Maria told you where he was when they found him?"
"Yeah," she nodded, pulling a strange face. Her voice went cold. "She told me."
"There are some things that only two security guards know. The two who were called in to help find Mr. Evans. Maria doesn't know the whole story."
"There's more?" There was an edge to Liz's voice.
"Oh yes," Michael nodded with a frown. "When the police went looking for him, they found him With another in woman."
"Maria told me that."
"The police said that a bed was involved."
"Oh," she responded after a long pause. Liz's voice was strangled. "She didn't tell me that part."
"After the police told him about the fire, he was in no fit state to drive himself home. The police took him. We met the police there, to let them in. We found another woman waiting for him in his bed. Naked."
"Did you?" she asked icily.
"Yeah. It was his Public Relations Manageress, Elaine Carson. I guess they had arranged for some private relations to be managed," Michael commented dryly. So you see, Liz. A player."
"Yeah," Liz nodded. "But I have to do this Michael."
"Well, Liz?" he pleaded. "Please be careful. If I let Mr. Evans do anything to you, my life won't be worth living. Maria would skin me alive."
"So what happened to this... Elaine?"
"She left a few months later," Michael shrugged. "I think she tried her best to get back into Mr. Evans' life, but I guess she didn't have the stamina for it. He never replaced her; he just dumped the extra work on other people. Max doen't date, Liz. I guess he just picks a woman, uses her for the night, and tosses her aside. Women throw themselves at him all the time. He could take his pick whenever he wants. And take it from me. There's no way a young man his age will go without... you know. Not when he has it offered to him on a plate like that." He turned towards his office.
"So this puts a new slant on things, right?" asked Alex.
"How's that?" Liz asked. She was still frowning from her conversation with Michael.
"Well, you were thinking that Maria was Gabriel's way of telling you that you were supposed to go to the dance as Max's date," Alex reminded her. "So maybe Michael was Gabriel's way of telling you that you were wrong, that you were not to get involved with this... guy yourself."
"Yeah," she nodded with a sad frown. "Maybe you're right."
"I'm sorry, Liz," Alex sighed. "Just try to remember what you are doing this for. Put some distance between you. You have plenty of time. Start again, and this time, don't get so... involved."

***

There was only one thing for it, Max decided to himself as he approached the elevator. As usual, he had ignored the staff who greeted him. He did, however, feel better that morning, more in control. After his visit with Aunt Claudette, Max had gone to the family crypt where his family was now entombed. Talking with them again, if only in spirit, had helped him to remember why he had taken these steps to protect himself. If he kept everyone at bay, he would never again be hurt like he had been that night three years ago. But he knew that he could not keep that girl out of his mind. So he accepted the fact that she had some kind of hold over him, even though she wanted nothing from him, it seemed. Instead, he would accept whatever friendship she was offering. Perhaps that would enable him to build up some form of resistance towards her. It might even help him to cope with other young women that he might find himself becoming attracted to.
"Good morning, Mr. Evans," Miss Sanchez greeted him by the elevator.
She was surprised to see him today, because Max was scheduled to work at his the other offices. To help fill the void in his life, Max accepted more and more responsibility by purchasing a small company that developed real estate, and started to increase its size. He would alternate the weeks that he dedicated to the companies, but he did concentrate on both no matter where he was. It filled his time perfectly, especially as Max had plans to redevelop some properties in a more run down area of New York.
"Good morning, Miss Sanchez," he sighed. "What wonderful events have you got lined up for me today?"
"Nothing," Miss Sanchez announced, as she followed Max towards his office. "I thought you were expected at the other office this week, so I don't know if you have anything scheduled with them."
"I'll call Mrs. Green, and check," Max informed her. "But I have nothing to do for the store this week?"
"This being the last week before Christmas, everyone's rather busy. The only engagement you have scheduled for this week is the reception we're holding on Friday evening. Now I know you don't like attending these things, but this one is important. It's the centenary celebration for ML Evans. All the city's dignitaries are coming, even the Senator. It will be seen as an insult if you aren't there to meet them all."
"The Mayor will be there, won't he?" Max groaned.
"Yes, Mr. Evans," she nodded.
"And his family, no doubt," Max sighed. "Was Pamela invited?"
"Yes, I'm afraid she was. You know, I could call her and ask her to go as your date."
"No!" Max barked in a panic stricken voice. "No! No, I'll ask Li... Ms. Parker if she could accompany me. I can do without an evening of that self-infatuated woman showing me what cosmetic surgery to her breasts feel like."
"Would you like me to ask her?" Miss Sanchez asked. "Ms. Parker, I mean."
"No," Max shook his head. "I should maybe ask her myself."
"As you wish," he secretary shrugged with a sly smile. "And don't forget that we have the parade on Saturday morning. You have to lead it, I'm afraid. We have an open topped car for you to sit in. All you have to do is wave to the crowds... and smile."

***

"So what did you get up to all weekend, Alex?" Liz asked when they were alone in the elevator. "I didn't see you at all."
"Did you miss me?" he grinned.
"Well, actually..." Liz gave a slow shake of her head. "Maria kind of kept me busy. Sorry."
"That's okay," Alex sighed. "I hung around some studios where they record their songs onto little silver disks. It was so neat. I wish Gabriel gave me a body. I'd love to play the guitar. It makes such a great sound. Much better than a harp."
"They sure make a noise," Liz chuckled.
"Maybe when we get back, I could make one," Alex enthused. "Maybe whats-his-name, you know. That Greek God, Hefe-something-or-other can help me. I could form a rock band up there."
"Yeah," Liz chuckled. "I can see you now, all glammed up and making such an awful din that the other Angels will make you play in some out of the way place where no one will hear you. Antarctica, perhaps."
"Awful din?" Alex demanded. "Awful din? Are you saying that I can't play a musical instrument?"
"If the cap fits," Liz started to laugh as the elevator doors open.

***

Coffee, Max decided, looking up at the clock and seeing that it was just after nine. He could really use another cup of coffee. Grabbing the empty cup on his desk, he rose, and crossed towards his door.
"Who are you kidding, Evans?" he sighed. "You just want to see if Liz has arrived yet."
He opened his door and as he stepped out from his office, the elevator doors at the end of the corridor opened. Liz stepped out, her whole face was alight with her laughter, though she was alone. Their eyes met and her laughter vanished. Her eyes, normally so warm, so vibrant, turned as frosty as the weather that morning. There was more ice in her face than there was in the whole of the State. She averted her gaze, and hurried towards her desk.
"She knows," he sighed. Max filled his coffee cup, and returned leaden footed to his office. "She knows of my attraction towards her, and she's afraid that I might spoil her relationship with Kyle."
Max placed his coffee on his desk, and stepped up onto the ledge behind his desk. Down below, the busy street was packed with cars and people. There were only eight days to Christmas, and the festive rush was already in full swing. Follow my heart, Max thought, and turned the handle to the window. His aunt always was wise. Perhaps she knew what would end his suffering. Following his heart up to heaven. The icy blast of air was somehow soothing as he opened the window. From below, the sounds of the traffic reached his ears. He glanced back at the door, and started to step out onto the gantry.

***

"I don't like this, Alex," she sighed as a tear escaped her eye. "Doing that was so hard."
"It's for the best, Liz." Alex sympathized. "Trust me."
Another bell tone rang out. Both Liz and Alex glanced upwards and Liz sighed.
"I mean, you were getting a little close, weren't you?" Alex warned. "I was afraid of this when Gabriel first gave you this task. You were getting too involved. You have to stay detached."
"But maybe I'm supposed to get close to him, you know?"
"Liz?" Alex demanded. "Think about it. Think about what it is you were trying to do. Maria had you convinced that you had to be Max's date at this dance."
"Yeah, I mean, it seems so... right. Like nothing has ever felt so right before."
"And what happens when the bell rings, Liz?" Alex asked. "When the bell rings for you, and its time to go home? What's Max going to think when yet another person he cares for leaves him? He's going to be in the same mess that he's in now, right? Somehow, I don't think that's what Gabriel had in mind."
Another bell chimed.
"I hadn't thought of that, Alex." she mourned. "But I can't just sit around and do nothing. I have to do something."
"What else can you do?"
"I'll go tell him that he has to attend the dance. That he has to take..." tears were rimming her eyes, "...to take that... that... blonde girl... that Pamela who was here last week."
"What makes you think he'll listen?"
"I have no idea if he will listen or not, but I'm not going to sit here while everyone else is winning their wings. I don't want to stay down here forever!"

***

"Max?" the call came from his door.
Max, with one foot out in the gantry, exhaled, his breath steaming in the frosty air. It was 'her' voice. He stepped back into the office, and pulled the window closed behind him.
"Come in," he sighed, sitting down behind his desk.
"I need to talk with you," she burst into his room. The door flew back, and caught one of the legs of Max's hat stand. The hat stand toppled over towards Max's desk. One of the pegs on the rack caught the saucer of Max's coffee cup. The cup was knocked over, and spilled it's contents over the desk and over Max sitting behind it. He stared at the offending liquid.
"Coffee?" he offered her in a strained, sarcastic voice.
"Sorry," Liz whimpered, as she twisted her face and bit her lip.
"What is it about you?" he asked, trying his best to mop up the excess coffee from his pants. "I mean, one minute you're like this bull in a china shop, when another, you're perfectly normal."
"Sorry," she shrugged. "Um, I really don't know. I mean, things like this always happen to me."
"I bet you had an interesting childhood."
"Yeah," she nodded blankly. Liz tried to remember her childhood, but she couldn't. In fact, her earliest memory was... when she started her Angel training. "It was... interesting."
At least she is talking to me, he thought.
"Listen," they both said together.
"You're the boss," she laughed. Max liked the sparkle in her eyes. "You go first."
"I was brought up to let ladies go first, Liz," he waved his hand. "So you go first, please."
"Oh, okay," she whispered slowly. "Um, look Max. I don't know if you realize how much your staff loves you. Even though you don't appear to love them back. They love you. And this dinner dance, it's important to them, Max. You know, being one hundred years and that. Will you please reconsider, and attend this year's event?"
"No," he shook his head. "I couldn't sit there and look at the empty places knowing that my mother and father should be there with me. I would be miserable, and spoil the event for everyone."
"You know, Max. I think your parents loved you. No, I know they loved you. A lot. And if I loved someone that much, I wouldn't want them to behave like this if I wasn't around anymore. I wouldn't want them to mope about like it was the end of the world. Max, I am sure that your parents would want you to attend the dance in their honor."
Follow your heart, thought Max.
"I'll tell you what, Liz," he sighed, rising from his chair. "I will go to the dance..."
Liz broke into a huge smile. In her mind, she heard the great bell ringing for her. Her wings were as good as hers.
"If you come with me as my date."
"Oh..." Liz was shocked. She had not considered this response. Earlier that morning, she would have been overjoyed at the thought. But since Michael had told her about Max, she knew that he was just thinking of using her. Not to mention the danger that Alex had pointed out, that Max might fall in love with her, and be forced to lose someone else from his life. This was not what Gabriel had in mind, she was sure. "I'm sorry, Max. I can't"
"Well..." No, thought Max. Not now that you are Kyle's latest conquest. Of course she would be attending the dance with him. "Neither can I."
"Look, Max," Liz forged ahead. "You won't have to go alone. I saw the way that other woman, that... Pamela looked at you. She liked you, she did." Why did it hurt her so much to say that? "She'd go with you. I'm sure that if..."
"What?" Max roared in anger. His eyes blazed with fury as he marched towards Liz. "So now you're match making too? You've got yourself fixed up, so you gotta pair me up with some bimbo you know nothing about? Who do you think you are? I thought you were different, Liz. I thought I could trust you. But you're not! You're no different than those other... meddling imbeciles! And a clumsy one at that!"
Liz backed away towards the door, afraid of Max and his outburst. She really was afraid that he might hit her, but he showed no sign that he would lose that much control. At last, he spun away from her and walked towards the window. For a moment, she thought he might try to walk through it, but he stopped. She could see that he was still shaking with fury.
"If that will be all, Mr. Evans," she whispered hoarsely. "I'll get back to my work."

The door closed behind her and Max collapsed into his chair. What had he done? Any chance of a friendship had been destroyed with that outburst. Even her stubborn refusal to call him Mr. Evans, a detail that had gone some way to charm him, had been destroyed. Now he was just 'Mr. Evans' to her. How could he face her now? He had to get away from her, he needed to try and forget about this girl who had done so much to destroy the walls he had built around his heart. Max scribbled a note to Miss Sanchez, one that said that he would be working from home for the next few days, that she should forward all his calls there. He crept from his office, trying to avoid Liz, even using the stairs in his efforts to make sure that he did not see her. Maybe she would quit. Maybe by the time he returned to the office, she would be gone. Once out on the street, the thought of walking home in the snow did not appeal to him. Instead, he haled a cab as it cruised past the employee's entrance that he was using to escape unnoticed. He had blown it.

***

"Maybe it's for the best," Alex consoled her as she sat curled up on her bed. She had not stopped crying since she had fled from Mr. Evans' office after his outburst. "I mean, I told Gabriel that you weren't ready for this kind of task. It's hard for even the most experience of Angels, you know? And this guy is a tough case."
"But I have failed, Alex," she sobbed. "Again. Mr. Evans was right. I'm just too clumsy to be an angel."
"Well, maybe we can get Gabriel to give you another chance," he held her shoulders sympathetically. "Something easier."
"It still doesn't change the fact that I blew it. I made him so angry, Alex. One minute, he seemed almost... pleased, the next, he was this bellowing monster."
"Well, what can you expect?" he shrugged. "Liz, I think he is a lost case. I mean, you have given it your best shot. I can pop back and get Gabriel to open the door for you. Maybe we should just go home."
"I can't, Alex," she sobbed. "I can't go back there a failure. The humiliation of a third failure will be too much to bear, and I know that they won't give me another shot. Oh, Alex. I want my wings. More than anything."
"But you seem to have lost your way. I mean, we agreed. You would step back and let the situation die down. Then you would try again. Only you rushed it, and made things worse."
"Then I'll wait, Alex," she wiped her eyes. "I'll stay away from the office for a few days. From everyone. I'll stay in my room until maybe Max calms down."
"And what then? Liz, I'm not sure that you'll succeed even then. I don't think that even Gabriel could get through to this cold hearted... Grinch."
"I have to try, Alex. I won't give up!"

***

"Liz?" Maria called from the door. "Come on Liz, I know you're in there because I hear you moving around and I hear you crying. Please let me in."
It had been like this since Monday evening when Maria had called round for a chat. Liz had managed to ignore Maria's incessant calling and knocking on the door, only because Alex had produced a sound proof cocoon for her.
"How does 'Spike' put up with her?" he asked after Maria had spent a whole two hours non stop talking through the door, telling Liz, who could not hear anyway, all about the things going on in her life.
"'Spike', as you call him, loves her, and puts up with it because he wants to be with her," Liz told him quietly. Her mood had been deteriorating daily. She never looked up when she heard the bell ring out, even though there were longer gaps between them now. By Liz's calculations, there were only four more trainees left. She was one of them. Finally, on Wednesday morning, after Maria's morning stint at trying to coax Liz from her self imposed isolation, Liz had finally given up on her task.
"It's for the best, Liz," Alex smiled with encouragement. "You know how difficult he was. And if they won't give you another chance, maybe we can find something for you to do... you know, around the Training School."
Liz nodded blankly.
"Shall I go see Gabriel?"
"Yeah," she cried. "I've had enough, Alex. I'm fed up, I'm lonely and I want to go home. Please take me home."

***

Alex had been gone for hours now, and Maria was already home from her day's rehearsals at the small show she had managed to find a chorus line part in. Maria seemed to know that Liz was upset and was trying to contact her. Without Alex to create the sound barrier for her, she had to endure Maria's constant calling.
"Liz, we know that Max did something. He hasn't turned up at the office either. Liz, we need to sort this out. What did he do?"
Liz finally gave in to Maria's calling. She went to the door, slid back the security chain, and turned the key. She slunk back to her bad, and collapsed. Maria was at her side in an instant.
"Liz, what did he do?" Maria demanded. "Did he hurt you? Do you want me to get Michael? Maybe we should call the police."
"No!" Liz shrieked, quickly rising into Maria's arms. "No, no. He didn't do anything. It's not his fault."
"Come on, Liz," Maria soothed. "What happened?"
"I failed Maria," Liz complained. "We fought, Max and I. I did something to make him really angry."
"Wait, wait, wait, wait," Maria held her hands up in the air. "If this is going to be a girl's talk, we need the right props."
"Props?" Liz looked confused.
"Yeah, hang on." Maria leapt from the bed and rushed out of the room, She returned moments later with a paper bag and a large bottle of wine. Maria crossed Liz' room to her dressing table next to her wardrobe. From her bag she pulled a half dozen saucers, onto which she placed large candles, which she lit. Then she opened the wine bottle, and poured out two generous glasses of wine.

"Here you go, babe," Maria handed Liz a glass. "So what exactly did you do to make Max angry?"
"I went to see him, to tell him to go to the dance," Liz started. The wine was making her feel... warm. "He said he would go, but only if I went as his date."
"Well, isn't that a good thing?" Maria enthused. "I mean, it's what you wanted, right?"
"I did," Liz took another large sip of wine. "But then when I have to go away, it would be like with the others. Like his family was leaving him again. I don't want to hurt him, Maria."
"I don't understand," Maria frowned. "What do you mean 'go away'?"
"Well, I don't plan to stay here long, Maria," Liz looked at Maria with a sad look. "I told you that, remember? I have to be somewhere else."
"Ohh-kayyy... so how did he take your refusal?" Maria asked with narrowed eyes. She didn't understand why Liz would still want to leave, even if she had found the man of her dreams.
"He said he wouldn't go," she drank some more wine, and Maria refilled her glass. "To the dance. That he couldn't."
"And this made him angry?"
"Nuh-uh," Liz shook her head, gulping down more wine. "No, I told him that the blond he was with last week would go with him. You know, the Mayor's daughter. I think she liked him."
"No!" Maria was shocked. "Liz, tell me you didn't try to set him up with Pamela Troy."
"I did," Liz slurred again. She gave a little hiccup. "She liked him. She was all over him. You should have seen her." She sounded disgusted now. "She was pushing up against him. Pressing her..." Liz cupped her breasts. "The... the..."
"Liz, Liz, focus," Maria shook Liz's shoulders. "Liz, that Pamela has been after Max for the past two year nows. Do you know how rich he is? Anyone who marries Max will be set for life. And Pamela likes the idea of a life of leisure, finding new ways to spend Max's money. She has bribed dozens of people to try to get close to him. She's not exactly the nicest of people, either. Liz, if you did that, then no wonder Max blew up at you."
"So what do I do now?" she cried. Her words came out in one slur.
"First, Liz," Maria chuckled "I take away this wine. I guess you're just not used to it." She lifted the glass from Liz's hand, and went to the small kitchen to pour it away. "I think we can fix this Liz," she smiled at her as she came back.
"I hope so, Maria," Liz sighed. "Cause I think I love him."
"Uh-huh," Maria smirked. "Like tell me something I don't know. It was so obvious that you had a crush on Mr. Evans."
"Not just a crush," Liz giggled. "I'm in love with him. I want to do with him what you and Michael did."
"You want Mr. Evans to make love to you?" Maria laughed. She arched her eyebrows. "Maybe one condom won't be enough."
"Alex will be so mad at me," Liz confessed. "But I don't care."
"Alex?" Maria demanded. "Who's Alex? Liz, I thought you said you didn't have a boyfriend?"
"No, not a boyfriend," Liz yawned. "He's my teacher."
"You get some sleep," Maria shook her head. "You're not making much sense right now. We'll talk about it in the morning."
Maria took the bottle of wine and left Liz lying on her bed. The sudden draught caused by the door shutting caused the candle flames to dance violently. Dimly, Liz knew that she had to blow out the candles. She rose from her bed, and stepped towards her dresser. The room started to spin and everything started to grow much darker. Liz toppled over, reaching out her hands for something to stop her fall. Instead, she pushed the dresser as she sprawled across the floor. The candles fell over. Some of them extinguished themselves, but one remained alight. It's flame danced against Liz's curtains, and leapt up to the ceiling. The flames caught the wardrobe and soon, the whole wall was ablaze.

***

Maxwell Evans sat in the darkness of his Park Avenue home, stared out across the road and into the still expanse of Central Park. Even with the near daylight conditions that illuminated the park, caused by the snow reflecting the available light, it still looked a desolate and lonely place. Max knew why. After his argument with Liz two days ago, nothing seemed to go right for Max. He was angry when other people were around him, talking incessantly about inane little things that he didn't really need to know, and he was angry when people left him alone, clearly avoiding him. So now he was at home, doing nothing in a big and empty, lonely house, feeling sorry for himself.
"It's no good!" he shouted, banging his fists on the arms of the chair. "I have to see her. I have to apologize."
He hurried through the dark house to his study, where he switched on his desk lamp, and then his computer. Waiting for the friendly symbols to appear, Max connected to his corporation's database, and brought up the Employees file, safely hidden behind a complex series of passwords and firewalls. He typed in the name 'Liz Parker' into the search engine. 'No match found.' He typed in 'Elizabeth Parker', and again received the 'No match found' message.
"No, she has to be there," he yelled at the computer, as though that act might reveal her personal details. Then he remembered Michael Guerin. He had said that she was his neighbor.

Armed with Guerin's address, Max was in his Mercedes sports car heading for East Village, Avenue D. It took him a while to work his way through the busy streets, but he soon found himself in the correct area. The driving was more difficult here as the roads were not as clear of snow as in the more affluent neighborhoods. All he needed to do now was to find the right building. And there it was. Max pulled the car over to the side of the road, and climbed from the seat into the cold night air. He stood below the ten-story building and looked up at the rows of windows. Michael only lived on the 7th floor, but Max still hoped that these buildings had elevators. That was when he saw it. The orange flickering by a window on the... one two three four five six seventh floor. He had seen that orange flickering in his dreams too many times not to know its significance. Someone's apartment was on fire, and Max knew, without a shadow of doubt, that it was Liz's apartment that was burning.

"FIRE!" Max screamed as her ran up the staircase taking the steps two, sometimes three at a time. "FIRE!"
Whether anyone heard him or not, Max did not know. All he knew as he charged up the staircase was that he would do everything within his power to save the people in this building, but first he would make sure that Liz was safe. He could not bear the thought of losing her, even though she was not his to loose. He continued shouting his warning as he ran along the corridor on the seventh floor. That was when he realized that he did not know which of these doors belonged to Liz. Max continued to run, but now he was yelling Liz's name. Some doors were opening now, eyes peeking through the safe gap afforded by the security chain.
"Liz!" Max cried, his voice edged with panic. "Liz!"
A few doors away, Michael Guerin emerged, yawning from his disturbed sleep.
"Mr. Evans!" Michael gasped he recognized his boss running towards him as the devil himself was after him. "What's up? What's the matter?"
"Fire! Call the Fire Department. Get everyone out!" he ordered. He paused in front of the door next to Michael's. "Is this Liz's room?"
Michael nodded, and Max threw himself at the door, breaking it clean from its hinges. Max tumbled into the room, and leapt to his feet in an instant.
"Liz!" he called, shielding his face from the heat of the fire. He moved towards the flames, disappearing into the smoke and from Michael's view, now standing at the damaged door.
"Mr. Evans!" he called before he turned and ran back into his own room.
Max emerged from the smoke, and pushed past a young woman who now stood by the door, wearing a pink robe. She looked terrified. Max carried an inert Liz in his arms.
"Oh my God," she cried. "Liz!"
Michael barged past, holding a fire extinguisher. Several other men were coming down the corridor, each carrying an extinguisher too.
"Thank god!" Max swore beneath his breath.
Liz would be okay now, he knew, once he got her to a hospital. The others would easily control the fire, stopping it's spread until the fire department arrived. Max hurried towards the stairs, hotly pursued by the woman in pink. He raced down the staircase, leaning against the wall to make sure he did not fall, dropping his precious cargo. As he charged through the doorway, and past the crowds that were accumulating at the entrance to the building, he saw flashing lights reflected from the surrounding walls and snow, indicating that the ambulance and the fire departments were arriving.
"Here! Here!" the woman in pink was jumping up and down, attracting the paramedic's attention.
"Thank you," Max mumbled to the woman. Whoever it was, she was just as concerned for Liz as he was.
"This is Liz Parker," he shouted as the two paramedics took Liz from him and placed her on their stretcher. "I found her unconscious in the burning room. Right near the fire." His voice was near to tears.
"No sign of burns," the first medic commented as they began a quick triage on the unconscious girl. "Pulse seems normal, maybe a little quick. Vital signs are good."
"No lesions," the other added. "No contusions or lacerations."
"Um..." the woman in pink interrupted. "She had some alcohol. I don't think she was used to it."
"Okay. But we should still take her in, and get her checked out properly."
"Yes," Max shouted desperately. "Please. Get her checked. Make sure she is okay."
"Okay," the medics nodded. They lifted Liz up into the ambulance.
Max climbed in before the woman in pink could react. She looked annoyed, as though she wanted to accompany Liz. Before the doors were closed, he threw his car keys to her.
"The black Mercedes," he called to her, pointing towards his sports car. "Follow us."

***

"I'm sorry," Max nodded at the woman in the pink robe as they sat in the small waiting room. "I don't even know your name."
"Maria," she gave a weak smile.
"I'm..."
"Mr. Evans," continued Maria. "Yeah, I know. My boyfriend works for you."
"Maria?" Max whispered slowly. "Your boyfriend is Michael Guerin, security?"
"That's him," Maria rolled her eyes. "Look, is Liz going to be all right?"
"I think so," Max sounded as relieved as he looked. "The paramedics were confident, but I haven't seen a doctor yet, so I don't..."
Just as Max was speaking, a doctor in a long white coat and a stethoscope draped across the back of his neck entered the room.
"Hello, I'm Doctor Pierce," he greeted them, shaking their hands. "Are you here with Elizabeth Parker?"
"Yes," Max and Maria answered simultaneously.
"And are you friends or family?"
"We're friends," Max answered.
"But she has no family in New York, so we're the closest she's got," Maria added.
"Okay, well, there appears to be nothing wrong with Miss Parker," he informed them. "No external damage, and nothing internal. I mean, she's not even suffering from smoke inhalation."
"Thank God," Max heaved a huge sigh of relief.
"I'll say," the doctor nodded. "She has been extremely lucky. The preliminary reports from the building are that the apartment is gutted. How she escaped injury baffles me. Anyway, as she has nowhere to go for the night, we can keep her in or..."
"Well, it will be a squeeze," Maria offered, "but she could sleep on our sofa."
"No," Max shook his head. "She's coming home with me." He turned to the Doctor. "Can we take her home now?"
"Well, she hasn't regained consciousness yet, she's asleep. My guess is that she passed out from the alcohol she consumed. So when she wakes..."
"We'll take her now," Max stated in a tone that suggested he would accept no less. "I'll sign whatever indemnity you want, but I want to get her out of this place."
This was where they had brought his family and his friends who had died in the fire. It held all too many bad memories. Max wanted to get Liz as far from here as he could.

"Can I just say, this is so uncomfortable," Maria complained from the tight confines of the back seat of Max's Mercedes.
"What can I say," Max shrugged. "It's a two seater. Would you rather I put Liz in the back?"
"No, no, this is good," she sighed. She peered from her constricted position through the windscreen. "Why are you doing this, Mr. Evans?"
"What?" he asked, keeping a close eye on the traffic, and the driving conditions.
"This. Liz," she nodded at the comatose young woman. "I mean, you've known her, what? A week? Why are you taking responsibility for her like this?"
Max was silent for a while. "I'm not sure," he sighed at last. "She's just..."
"Wonderful? Beautiful?" Maria continued.
"Special," Max completed, nodding his agreement at Maria's descriptions.
"Well, you'd better behave," she warned him. "You had better treat her..."
"Like a lady," Max nodded. "Don't worry, Maria. I'll look after her just fine."

***

When Liz woke up that following morning, it took her a few moments to realize that she was not waking up in her own bed. The brief panic that she felt at that was nothing when she realized that she was in that strange bed, naked. She looked around the room to try and work out what happened. Her head was hurting, reminding her that last night, she had been talking with Maria. Was she at Maria's? How did she get there? No, the room was much too big, and the furnishings were way too expensive for Maria. She could see no evidence of her clothing, so Liz pulled a sheet from the bed and wrapped it around her. She left the safety of the room, to try to find out where she was. Liz stepped out of the room and into a large corridor with a number of doorways. To her left, a huge staircase twisted down to a large room below, while to her right, a narrower staircase led straight up to another couple of doors. As she walked past one of the doors in the corridor, she heard someone moving the other side of it.
"Hello," she called, knocking on the door. Hearing no answer, Liz cautiously opened the doorway to reveal a large, bright bathroom. She stepped inside. On a large shelf were a number of bottles containing colored liquids. She was reaching towards one, when a loud 'click' to her side startled her. She spun to see Max stepping naked from a shower cubicle. He stopped, with surprise etched on his face, and stared at Liz. In a state of shock of her own, Liz stared back, though she could not help herself looking at the first completely male body she had ever seen. The sheet dropped from her shaking fingers, pooling at her feet at the floor. She stood naked before Max.
"Mr. Evans?" she mumbled. "Um... what are you doing here?" Liz was a bright crimson.
"I, uh..." he replied, "live here." His color matched Liz'.
"Oh," she nodded, and then glanced down at her own nakedness. "Oh my," she squealed and bolted back to the room she had woken up in.

***

"So who undressed me?" Liz asked after she listened to Max's explanation of why Liz found herself in Max's house. They were sharing a breakfast together in their kitchen, after Max had slid one of his robes through the doorway to her.
"That would be Maria," Max stared hard at the croissant he was eating. "She wouldn't let me do it, not that I wanted to... I mean, I did... want to, I mean... it's just... um. I'm not explaining this very well, am I?"
"No," Liz laughed, a little red faced. "But I think I understand."
"Right," he nodded. "Anyway, Maria sat up with you until about 5 this morning. She went back to the apartment to see if you had any clothes left. She, uh... just called. I'm sorry, Liz. The fire destroyed everything."
"Even the white dress you gave me?" she sounded upset.
Max nodded.
"That was my favorit," she whispered.
"I'm uh... sorry, Liz," he sighed. "But you can always get more clothes. The important thing is that you're okay."
"Yeah," she agreed. "But I suppose I'll need to find a new place to live."
"Liz?" Max glanced at her. "You could, uh... you could stay, you know, here... with me. I mean, there's plenty of room. Until you find something, I mean."
"Oh, Mr. Evans," she shook her head, looking down at the table. "I... I don't think that's such a good idea. I mean..." She needed to talk to Alex. Where was he?
"Oh," Max looked crushed. "Perhaps you would prefer to move in with Kyle?"
"Why would you think that, Mr. Evans?" Liz looked confused.
"Well, with him being your lo... boyfriend now."
"Excuse me?" she looked quite shocked. "I'm sorry, Mr. Evans. I really don't know where you got that idea from, but I barely even know Mr. Valenti."
"But... that day we went to that... you know, in the limo... you said you had something else to do that evening. I heard Kyle ask you out."
"Oh, well... if you heard that, surely you heard me tell him that I wasn't interested."
"No, no, I didn't hear that," Max remembered that he had hurried away.

"So how do you feel?" Max asked. "I really should go into work today. There's a number of calls I need to make. Do you feel up to going in today? You can stay here, if you'd rather."
"Um," Liz tried to make it look as though she were making up her mind. She had been given a second chance with Max, and she was not going to give it up. "I think I should come in. I kind of stayed away the last couple of days. Oh, but didn't you say all my clothes were burned?"
"Well, you still have your clothes from last night. If we go in early enough, you can go to the ladies-wear department and get yourself a change of clothing. Perhaps after work, Maria will take you shopping."
"Oh, you know, Mr. Evans," she looked away again. "She paid for all my clothes last time. I couldn't ask her to..."
"Here," Max handed her a gold credit card. "I think you might find that this will help. Take it, and get whatever you need."
"No, Mr. Evans," she pushed the card away. "I couldn't. I just... couldn't"
"Please, Liz," he begged. "Let me do this small thing for you. Call it... uh... call it an early Christmas present."

***

"So all in all," Alex sighed, "it's been rather hectic since I left you."
"Yeah," Liz nodded, looking around the office to make sure that no one was looking at her. "You could say that."
"And Max asked you to move in with him? Liz, are you sure that was a good idea? You know. Based on what we discussed about leaving him."
"I don't know, Alex," she sighed. "I guess that depends on what Gabriel said. Alex? I'm not so sure I want to give up anymore."
"That's just as well," Alex replied. "Gabriel said that you couldn't. But he did give me some more specific details about your task. I'm allowed to tell you, but only if you want to know."
"Oh," Liz frowned. "And you think me moving in with Max might affect this? I think you'd better tell me."
"Okay," he whispered. "Liz, you have to stop him committing suicide."
"Is there any danger of that?" she asked, her eyes filled with concern. "I mean, he seems like that is the farthest thing from his mind right now."
"No. In the week that we have been down here, he has made several attempts already," Alex told her. "And this is why I think it's not wise to move in with him. See, if he falls in love with you, and you leave him... Liz, I think he will become suicidal again."
"That's not fair, Alex," tears rimmed Liz's eyes. "How can I stop Mr. Evans from committing suicide without getting close to him? And if I get close to him, it makes it worse."
"Maybe you were on the right track with the Pamela woman. Maybe you need to set him up with someone."
"No!" Liz barked in anger. Several of her co-workers looked up from their work. "No," she hissed. "I will not do that again. I think... no, I 'know' that would make it worse."
"Well, then you are stuck," Alex snapped. "You can't let him fall in love with you."
"Did Gabriel say that?" she demanded.
"No, but..."
"Alex, I thought you were here to help me," she said with an urgent edge to her voice.
"I am, you know that."
"Alex, I want you to stay out of Mr. Evan's house. I want you to stay away from the two of us when we're together. Okay?"

***

Max sat at his desk, trying hard to concentrate on his current task. He had asked for the current plans and drawings for his latest venture in Washington Heights to be sent by courier to him. He wasn't pleased with them, they seemed to lack... character. Max sighed, and glanced up at the door. Perhaps if he went for a coffee, he might stop by Liz's desk and say hello to her. Bad idea, Max, he scolded himself. She hasn't forgiven you for that outburst the other day yet. He turned back to the lifeless drawing in front of him. The tap tap tapping at his window distracted him. He looked around at his window, and saw a red balloon, filled with helium, bumping against the window, trapped by the ledge above. A small card was tied to the string. Max smiled, and crossed to the window. He stepped up onto the ledge, opened the window, and pulled the balloon's string. Freed from the ledge, the balloon flew away on the wind.
"Mr. Evans!" Liz shrieked from the door.
Startled, Max lost his footing, and slipped forwards towards the window ledge.
"No," she screamed, hurrying over to the window.
Max caught himself and pulled himself upright.
"Mr. Evans," Liz called gently. "Please. Please, just step back into the window."
Max turned and faced the frightened you woman, and realized what she was thinking. How many times had he done this with suicide in mind, and not actually been caught doing it? The first time he climbed to the window without suicide in his thoughts, and someone catches him.
"I'll tell you what, Liz," Max said slowly. "I'll climb down from the window, 'If' you agree to be my date for the Company dinner dance."
"Yes," she nodded quickly. "Yes. Now please, come down from there."
Max took a moment to think about it and then stepped back down onto the floor. Liz rushed up into his arms, pulling him into a fierce hug.
"I was so scared, Mr. Evans." she whispered into his chest.
Max placed his hand against her cheek, and leaned back from her.
"Thank you," he whispered. "For caring." He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Now maybe you should get back to work."
"Yeah," she nodded, holding her hand to the spot where he had kissed her. She turned and in a state of numbness, started to leave the office.
"Oh, and Liz?" he called to her.
She stopped by the door and turned to face him.
"It's Max, okay?"

***

"Hey, Liz," Kyle called as he entered the office. "It's good to see you. I heard what happened. Are you okay?"
"Oh, hello Mr. Valenti," Liz looked up from the cabinets where she was replacing some files. "Yes, thank you. I'm fine."
"Good, good," he nodded. "And call me Kyle. You know, I heard you lost everything. Your clothes even. If there's anything I can do, you just let me know. I could take you to the exclusive boutiques down the road, and kind of... dress you in style."
"Thank you, Mr. Valenti," Liz replaced another file. "But that won't be necessary. I'm going shopping with a friend tonight."
"That would be Kyle. And do you need some money? I could..."
"That's been taken care of," she closed drawer she had open. "Thank you."
"Oh, right," he shrugged. "Um, say Liz. You didn't really give me an answer the other day. Would you like to accompany me to the dinner dance?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Valenti," Liz closed the cabinet. "I've agreed to go with someone else."
She walked away, back towards her desk, while Kyle watched her graceful departure, looking longingly at her legs and her backside. She had blown him away most effectively.
"Humbug," he laughed, and turned towards his office.

***

User avatar
WR
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Post by WR » Fri Dec 24, 2004 4:41 pm

Part 5 - "Christmas Yet to Come"


"It's only me, Maria," Liz called out when she knocked on the door to her friend's apartment, that Thursday night after work.
"Liz!" Maria squealed when she opened the door. "How are you? How do you like living with Max?" Maria opened the door wider to Liz. "Come on in, babe. I just gotta get a few things." They were going shopping to replace Liz's destroyed clothing. "Then we can go."
Liz followed Maria into her apartment. On the coffee table in front of the sofa was a drawing of a large building complex.
"What's this?" Liz asked, looking down at the artwork.
"Oh, that's Michael's," Maria called from the mirror where she was pulling a brush through her hair. "It's what he really wants to do. Well, wanted to do. He draws them from time to time to... you know, keep his hand in. But enough about that. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, Maria," Liz looked over, the drawing forgotten. "Thank you."
"Not even a hang over?" Maria complained.
"I would have warned you," Alex glared a Liz.
"My head hurt for a bit," Liz admitted, casting an annoyed look at her mentor. "Max said that it was probably a hangover, but it disappeared when I saw him naked."
"You saw him naked?" Maria's mouth gaped. "Liz, did he...?"
"No," she shook her head. "No, I woke up, and didn't know where I was. So I wrapped a sheet around me, cause I was... um..."
"Oh yeah," Maria nodded. "I undressed you. Your clothes kind of smelled of the smoke. Max put them in his washing machine."
"Yeah, so anyway, I wrapped the sheet around me, and tried to find out where I was."
"He lives in a massive house, doesn't he?" Maria winked.
"Maria!" Liz scolded with a laugh. "Yeah, he has an amazing house. But I never knew it was his. Not till I heard someone behind one of the many doors. I called, but no one answered. I went in, and that's when I saw him."
"Max?"
"Yeah, and he was just getting out of the shower. I was so embarrassed. Especially because he saw me naked too."
"Wait, wait!" Maria interrupted. "I thought you said you wrapped a sheet around yourself."
"Oh, yeah," Liz blushed. "I was so... shocked, I kind of... dropped the sheet."
"Well, you have nothing to worry about, Liz. I mean, you are so beautiful."
"Thank you," she blushed.
"You never told me about this," Alex accused. He sounded angry. Hurt.
"So?" Maria grinned. "What's he like?"
"Maria!" Liz gasped in outrage.
"You are hopeless!" She started to laugh at the dark haired girl's discomfort. "Come on, Chica. Let's head for the subway."
"Oh, no need, Maria," Liz smiled. "Max arranged the limo for us. Oh, and he gave me this." She showed Maria the gold credit card. "He says you can buy an outfit too, if you want. For being so nice to me."
"Wow," Maria raised her eyebrows. "This guy is so... cool. This one's a keeper, Liz."
"Oh, and Max asked me to the dance again today," Liz suddenly announced, stepping up close to her friend. Her dark eyes sparkled.
"I hope you said yes this time," Maria squinted.
"Yeah, I did."
"Hmmm. I think we may need to stop at a drug store, and buy you a large box of condoms."
"First chance we get, Liz," Alex growled at her, "we are going to have a little talk."

***

Liz was nearly asleep when the limo finally pulled to a halt outside Max's brownstone house on Park Avenue. She could not decide if it was shopping, or Maria that was so tiring. Perhaps it was the combination of them both. But she was such a great friend.
"We're home, Miss Parker," the middle aged driver called from the front seat through the opened window that separated them. He climbed out of the car, and opened the door for her.
"Oh, thank you Jeremy," she smiled when she climbed out of her seat. She reached back in for her bags.
"No, I'll get them," he informed her.
"Oh," she still seemed startled that he was so helpful. "Thank you."
"It's no problem, Miss. You go on up and get the door, I'll bring your bags. But be careful, the path is likely to be icy."
"I will, Jeremy, thanks."
Max was at the door before Liz got there. He met her half way along the path and asked her to hold onto him as he helped her safely indoors.
"Thanks Max," she sparkled. "For everything."
"It's a pleasure, Liz," he smiled.
Jeremy, the driver, was right behind her carrying a dozen bags in his hands. Max nodded to him as he took the bags from him, and turned towards the dining room.
"Thank you again, Jeremy. You've been a great help." She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. Jeremy blushed, and looked down at his feet.
"Oh, you're welcome, Miss Parker," he smiled. "It's been a pleasure. Mr. Evans is a lucky man."
"Good night," she beamed at him.
Jeremy walked down the path shaking his head. Not a nosy man by nature, he couldn't help eavesdropping on the chattering girls - well... girl, Liz didn't really do that much talking. He wondered what it was that Mr. Evans had done to deserve having an angel like Elizabeth Parker falling in love with him.

***

"Where do you think you're going?" Liz demanded as Alex tried to slip past her and into Max's house.
"I heard you and Maria talking about Max," Alex spoke to her like she was a small child. "I saw the clothes and... other 'stuff' that you bought. There is no way I am leaving you alone in this house with that... that 'Lothario.'"
"If you ever come into this house while I'm here, without me calling you," Liz hissed, "I'll send you back up to heaven and finish this task alone."
"You wouldn't!" Alex gasped.
"Try me," Liz's voice had a dangerous edge.
"When did you become so bossy?" Alex sulked. "Being around mortals has not been a very good experience."
"I don't know," smiled Liz. "It has its moments."

***

"You have a lovely house, Max," Liz told him when she joined him in the dining room. "I don't know if I told you that yet."
"Thank you, Liz," he inclined his head in acceptance of the compliment. "It's much too big for me. I only keep it because... because..."
He looked so sad, Liz thought. He really didn't want to talk about his reasons.
"What's through there?" Liz asked, indicating the door to one side of the large fireplace, neatly changing the subject.
"That's the drawing room," Max shrugged.
"Oh," Liz bubbled suddenly. "Do you..."
"I had... a girlfriend once," Max interrupted. "When I told her that we had a drawing room, she asked me if I was artistic." He started to chuckle. "She thought people did drawing or something in there. I had to explain that the word was derived from 'withdrawing' room, you know, where the gentlemen withdrew to discuss politics or business and smoke their cigars after their lavish dinners."
"Oh," Liz frowned. "I was about to ask that. If you drew, I mean."
"Yeah," Max smiled, looking down at the floor. "I thought you were. I was trying to spare you..."
"The embarrassment," Liz nodded. "Thank you."

"Did you have a good time?" Max asked "Shopping. With Maria, I mean."
"Yeah," Liz smiled. "It was great. We had a really good time. Oh, and Maria says thank you."
"Good," Max grinned. "I'm glad. That you had a good time, I mean."
"Yeah. Maria loves shopping. We both bought great dresses for the dance. Maria already had one, but I think your generosity prompted her to get what she really wanted, rather than just what she could afford."
"Liz, about the dance," Max looked nervous. "I've been feeling guilty all night about the fact that I pretty much blackmailed you into accepting the date. You know, when you caught me, I really had no intention of jumping. It might have looked that way, but honestly, it wasn't."
"That's okay, Max," Liz shrugged.
"No," Max continued. "No, what I'm trying to say is that I feel bad about tricking you like that. Liz, if you don't want to, you don't have to attend the dance with me as my date."
"Max, I'd like to go... with you... as your date," Liz smiled nervously. "That is, if you still want me to."
"I'd like that, Liz," he nodded. "Really, I'd like that a lot."
"Well," she beamed. "That's settled then."
"In that case," Max twitched uncomfortably. "Tomorrow afternoon, I have to attend this reception I'm giving in celebration of our centenary. There will be lots of important people there. Liz? Would you do me the honor of attending...as my... date?"
"Of course, Max," she placed her hand on his arm. "I would love to attend the party with you."
"It's not really a party, but..."
They stood gazing at each other for a few moments. The silence between them seemed to grow awkward.

"Um..." Max finally broke the stillness. "Liz, would you like a drink?"
"Oh... no... thank you Max," Liz shook her head with a wry smile. "My first brush with alcohol didn't really work out too well, so I don't think..."
"No, sorry," Max took her hand. "I meant coffee, tea or... hot chocolate."
"Oh..." Liz checked herself. "Sure. Could I have a hot chocolate?"
"Of course you can," he smiled.
Liz followed him into the kitchen. "Do you have any marshmallows?"
"What?" He sounded startled. Max turned around and faced Liz. "What did you say?"
"Marshmallows," she repeated. "I love marshmallows in my hot chocolate."
"Someone else I knew loved it like that too," Max shook his head, his eyes again falling to the floor.
"Your girlfriend?" Liz asked, laying her hand on Max's arm in sympathy.
"The kitchen's this way," Max continued.

***

After Max had made the hot chocolate, he led Liz through to the living room. A Counting Crows CD was playing on the Hi-Fi.
"Do you have anything more... happy?" Liz asked. "This music sounds kind of... depressing."
"Sure," Max indicated the comfortable seats while he crossed to the rack that held a huge bank of CD cases. "What do you want? I have almost everything."
"You choose, Max," she waved, as she studied some pictures on a bureau.
Max chose a disc that contained soothing instrumental tracks. When the soft music started to play, Max turned towards the sofa, and sat down with his chocolate. Liz returned from the bureau and sat next to him. They both started to sip their hot drinks.
"So, Liz," he looked up. "You seem to know a lot about me already. What about you? What kind of childhood did you have?"
"Oh..." Liz frowned. She went quiet for a moment. "You know, Max. I don't remember any of it. At all." She looked about the room feeling awkward.
Max berated himself. It was so apparent from her response that her childhood was one that she was trying her best to forget. He made a mental note to not bring up her past again.

They sat in silence, gazing at the hot embers of the fire while they finished their drinks.
"I'm glad you're safe, Liz," he admitted as he placed his mug on a table next to the sofa. "I was so scared when I saw the fire... in your window. You see... I... I lost..."
"I know, Max," Liz clasped Max's hands, which he was wringing in front of him. "Michael and Maria told me about it."
"They're good friends to you, aren't they?" he looked into her eyes.
"Yeah, but I only met them that same day I met... you."
"Oh," Max looked away, "Yeah. I'm sorry about that."
"No, you were right," she admitted. "That was me being clumsy. I'm always getting into trouble with it. Like the time I... oh, never mind."
We all have secrets we would rather keep, Max quietly nodded to himself.
"But thank you, Max," she smiled. "For being so nice to me."
Max lifted his hand and held the side of her chin.
"It is such a pleasure," he smiled. "And so easy, too."
Liz leaned into his caress, and twisted her body so that she was now pressing up against him. His other hand slipped over her shoulder, and they cuddled together. Their heads started to slowly drift towards each other, until their foreheads touched.
"It's been so long," he whispered, an almost inaudible sigh.
Their lips touched, the gentlest of caresses, but one whose heat seared through to their very bones. Max caught Liz' lower lip between his, gently clasping it as he allowed her warm, soft flesh to slip back from him. She leaned forward, and he repeated the motion, more firmly this time, and teased his tongue over it. Her tongue darted out to meet his. The passion rose and their kiss intensified. As a strange feeling of incredible warmth flooded through Liz' nerve endings, she suddenly realized that she should not be doing this. She broke away from their kiss.

"Oh, god," Max moaned, moving away from her. "Sorry. Sorry. I am so sorry, Liz. I didn't mean for that to happen. I don't know what came over me, I... I..."
"No, Max," she gave a gentle smile, again placing a hand on his. "It wasn't your fault. I wanted this too." She looked deeply into his eyes. "I... I'm attracted to you, Max. You know? But I'm afraid.
"You are? You're attracted... to me?" Max sounded surprised. "Liz, is it me that frightens you?"
"No," she shook her head. "I'm afraid of falling for you and finding that it works out really well. I'm afraid of feeling everything that I know I would feel. Because I know it's not meant to be. And somewhere down the line, we're gonna get hurt. I can live with that, Max. I just couldn't bear to hurt you."
"I understand," his sigh was so defeated. "I know that feeling... of being afraid. Um... I think I'll turn in now. Goodnight, Liz."
"Oh, yeah... Me too. Goodnight."
Hand in hand, Max and Liz climbed the stairs. They paused outside of Liz's bedroom. Neither seemed to want to let the other go.
"Goodnight, Liz," Max was nearly in tears. "Sweet dreams."
"You too, Max," she gave a feint smile, but she did not meet his gaze.

***

Liz couldn't sleep. Her body still felt as though fire coursed through her veins. She had experienced pleasure she had not thought possible, just from Max's touch. She wanted more, so much more, but she was so afraid. Maria had explained the act of love to her, and as amazing as she made it all sound, the idea of actually doing it frightened her. But she wanted to try it. With Max. Her whole body felt strange, burning inside her. Perhaps if she took a shower, that might help her to calm these foreign feelings within her. As she stood beneath the hot jets of the shower, she realized her error. As she massaged the soap into her tingling skin, it served only to intensify the feelings. Using the long sponge didn't help either, it merely reminded her of Max's larger, more rough hands. Without realizing it, she found that she was concentrating the areas of her body that seemed to burn the most. The delicious sensations did not diminish as she caressed her own breasts. Her hands lowered, towards the juncture of her legs. The feelings she experienced as her fingers struck a hard, little button nearly caused her to explode. Cold water. That was what she needed. She turned the dial so that water from the shower turned cold. This did not seem to help. It was as though the heat from her body was heating the water before it hit her. Through sheer concentration, Liz managed to control herself, and stepped from the shower. As she wrapped the large bath towel around her, she noticed that she had left the door open. Liz was sure that she had shut it behind her.

***

When Max woke up that morning, he could not help feeling bad. He had done something that in the cold light of day had made him feel ashamed. He had not done anything like that since... since... he could not remember. Last night with Liz, the whole situation had affected him. He had not wanted to make love to a woman so badly for so long now, he had forgotten how uncomfortable such feelings could be. His erect manhood had become so intolerable, his desire for Liz so unbearable that he had gone to the bathroom to take a cold shower to alleviate the unendurable feelings. He had found Liz there. She was in the shower, doing to herself what he was desperately trying to avoid doing. He knew that he should have crept away and given her some privacy, but his legs seemed to have locked. He could not move. Max watched as the enchanting temptress caressed herself like some... goddess. Aphrodite herself would have been jealous of that beautiful young nymph. He could not help himself. As he watched her, longingly, he had to touch himself. It was only when he reached his crises point that he came to his senses. He had fled to the safety of his bedroom to complete his task. This was what made him feel bad. It was as if he had somehow tarnished their sweet and innocent friendship, not only by watching her pleasure herself, but also by his own act of self-gratification. As the first tendrils of dawn crept through the darkness, Max went to shower. Rather than risk seeing Liz again, he chose to climb upstairs to the guest bathroom in the attic.

***

At breakfast, they were both shy and embarrassed around one another. They ate in silence, broken only by the occasional piece of small talk, where neither of them mentioned the previous evening. Max wondered, again and again, if he should offer to put her up in a hotel, but he did not want to lose this wonderful girl, no matter how uncomfortable it made him. She looked so cute in his robe, with the sleeves rolled up, and the robe itself wrapped almost twice around her.
"Um..." Liz broke the spell of silence. "This... reception this afternoon. I didn't know about it when I went shopping last night, Max. And that white dress you gave me was destroyed in the fire. I only bought one dress to wear to the dance Max. Is it okay to wear the dress to this reception too?"
"I hope you bought more than just one dress, Liz," Max looked disappointed. "I hope you bought clothes to wear day to day."
"Yeah," she nodded. "I did, it's just that I bought mainly skirts and tops, for work. Maria made me buy some jeans, but I only bought one elegant dress."
"Well, the reception doesn't start until five o'clock, Liz. We don't need to come home to get ready until, say... three. So perhaps at lunchtime, you could get yourself something, a dress, either in-store, or from one of the boutiques along Fifth Avenue. I'd offer to help, but I'm afraid I don't know much about this sort of thing."
"Oh," she nodded. "Maybe one of the other girls could help me."
"Yeah," Max gave a shy smile. By the end of the day, everyone would know that Max was buying Liz clothes. They would all assume that the two of them were lovers. "Um, you know, we'd better finish getting dressed."

***

Liz was waiting for Max in the kitchen when he arrived, dressed in his business suit. She sucked in her breath and marveled at how handsome Max looked. So... hot. It started to affect her, as a fresh rise of desire swelled within her. Max stopped momentarily at the sight of Liz when he entered the kitchen. She looked so innocent in her blue skirt and white top. So virginal, so... gorgeous. Max shook his head and cleared his throat.
"Um, Liz?" he asked a business-like voice. "Could we forget about what happened last night? You know, what I did... the kiss... it was so out of character for me." He stepped towards her.
"Oh, yeah," Liz nodded. Yes, perhaps this was for the best. "Absolutely. You know, I have never done anything like that either."
Liz stepped up next to Max. Their eyes were locked on to each other's. As one, their arms opened, and they swept each other into an embrace. Their kiss seemed to pick up from where they left off the previous night. Unfinished business. As their tongues entwined, they stumbled backwards against the kitchen cabinets. Trapped against the counter, she could yield no further. Not that she wanted to. As his hands interlaced through her hair, Liz pushed Max's jacket from him. He dropped his arms to allow the jacket to fall to the floor. Rather than return to her lustrous locks, his hands fumbled with the buttons of her top. Liz started to pull Max's shirt from his trousers. Their lips locked together, they were both whimpering, Max giving out urgent growls while Liz mewed excitedly. Their kiss was taking them to new heights of passion.

With her buttons finally unfastened, Max pushed her top over her shoulders, baring her upper half to him. He left a trail of hot kisses down her neck, and over her collarbone. Max's hands, after briefly holding her waist, slid slowly and sensuously up her sides and over the warm swell of her breasts, covered by the delicate laciness of her bra. His fingers discovered the catch, conveniently located at the front. While Liz was nibbling at his ear, Max unclipped her bra, and spread the cups, revealing her warm, soft breasts. Liz dragged her nails down Max's back. His hands swept over her hardened nipples. She cried out in ecstasy as he gently pinched them between his fingers and his thumbs. While Max's face continued its journey down, Liz began her own voyage of discovery. Liz's hands encountered the front of Max's boxer shorts. Max's lips parted to allow her firm nipple to enter his mouth. His tongue teased at her, causing Liz to cry out Max's name. Max's hand inched up her thigh. She parted her legs, granting him permission to continue. After passing the bare gap of flesh above her stocking tops, he pressed his finger against the soft heat of her core. Liz cried with the sensational feelings. Her hand negotiated the waistband, and found Max's hardened manhood. He gave a loud groan, and accidentally bit Liz' nipple. She screamed her pleasure. The doorbell rang.
"No," Liz gasped, pressing herself down onto his fingers. "Please leave it."
Max continued to suckle at her breast, bringing his hand to cup her femininity. The doorbell rang again. And again. It rang for a third time... three times in rapid succession. Max groaned in frustration, and with the greatest of reluctance, stepped away from the passion filled young woman.
"I'm sorry," he sighed in despair. He crossed to a small intercom, and pressed a button. "Yes?" he called into it.
"Limo, sir," Jeremy's voice called.
Max closed his eyes and shook his head in regret.
"Can you give us ten minutes?" he called back, and then released the button. He turned to Liz. "We better straighten ourselves up."

***

"Just what in the heck do you think you were doing in there, Liz?" Alex demanded in anger, having made a point out of sitting between his young student and Max. He was bothered by the intense stare Max was giving him, though really, it was Liz upon whom his eyes were fixed.
Unable to answer him, Liz was forced to endure his tirade. She would be unable to respond, as well as being unwilling to cut him down with her withering glares. Liz would not want to risk Max thinking she had any regrets over what happened. Which, of course, she did. Regret what happened, that is. Yeah, right, she snarled at herself.
"Like I need to ask," Alex snarled with reproach. "It's a good job that limo turned up, and I was able to make him ring that bell. The dolt was just going to sit and wait. I mean, Liz? If you end up having sex with him, who knows how you will screw up your life? Let alone his!"
Liz turned to look out the window, faking interest in the tall high rise buildings. She did this to hide the tears that welled in her eyes. Alex was right. She had gotten too close, become far too intimate with Max. She would have to be more careful with him. Especially at the party, this afternoon, and... afterwards.

***

Max could not help but stare at Liz. This dark haired young beauty had captivated him, there was no other word for it. She held him in the palm of her gentle hand, lock, stock and barrel. She brought out such a range of emotion in him, emotions he had thought were buried too deep to ever resurface again. On one hand, he was so embarrassed by his behavior. On the other, he remembered how her skin felt beneath his touch. How right it seemed, how... natural. He also remembered that she was not unresponsive, that she seemed as eager as he did. Now, he was not sure how to react around her. Did she really want a relationship with him, or had she just been swept up in the moment? He would cool it, he decided, take it easy and be more careful around her. Especially when she would be with him this afternoon, when they would be in the company of all those important dignitaries at the centenary reception.

***

"Besides, Liz," Alex growled. "We have no idea of any... repercussions."
Alex had been telling Liz off for most of the morning, and although she argued back, she was getting rather bored with it all. Eager to escape Alex's criticism, she rose from her desk, collected two cups of coffee, and headed for Max's office. She entered without knocking. Max looked up, a little startled, looking a little miserable. But then his face lit up. There was even a tiny light deep in his eyes. A small step, she smiled to herself. At once, the feeling from that morning, which had not altogether died down, started to rise again. She tried to fight them.
"Thank you," he smiled, accepting the coffee. From the bulge in his pants, Liz knew that Max was wrestling with feelings of his own.
"Why did you look so sad?" she asked. "When I first came in. What was making you unhappy?"
"Um," Max hesitated. Then he shrugged. "My other company, we develop real estate."
"Yeah, I heard that," she admitted.
"Our latest project," he continued, "is a housing development over in Washington Heights. The people I contracted just don't seem to be able to capture the heart of what I want to put into this development. These drawings have no soul."
"Did you know that Michael Guerin - you know, Maria's boyfriend? He works for you. Did you know that he studied that kind of drawing?" Liz looked at the drawing that made Max unhappy. "He got kicked out of college though, some guys he knew framed him for something he didn't do. All his dreams where shattered, Max. Anyway, he did a drawing, just like that one."
"Oh," Max shrugged, staring intently at Liz. "The man has hidden talents."
They were alone in the room, he realized. He could still taste her tiny bud like nipples. He could feel the damp heat from her core on his fingers. He wanted her, so badly. Max struggled to contain his feelings.
Liz was watching Max carefully. Her own feelings mirrored his. She wanted his lips on her once more; she wanted to feel his fingers against her. The tiny light in his eyes had grown. No longer flat, or lifeless, she could see the joy of life once again burning in them, if only a little dimly. Max stepped towards her. Desire coursed through her, so violently, it made her sway slightly. She knew what he wanted and she wanted it too... so badly, it hurt. They drew nearer, their touch seconds away. There was a knock at the door, and they only just managed to leap apart before Kyle walked in.
"Will that be all, Max?" she asked, trying her best to feign innocence.
"Yes," Max groaned. "Thank you, Liz."
Max did not like the leering look that Kyle gave Liz on her way out.
"Did you want something, Kyle?" he asked.

***

Liz closed the door, and stood there for a moment, trying to regain her composure. She placed her hand flat against the glass.
"Dang it, Liz!" Alex exploded "I warned you about that this morning. I've been warning you for days. You cannot get involved!"
Liz's head dropped as she listened to him drone on. But then an idea came to mind. Her head snapped upright.
"Can't you see what I'm doing, Alex?" she demanded. "Do you really think that I am not in control here?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't you remember what Michael told me?" she explained. "That morning? He said that Max was a player, right? That he used women."
"Yeah, so?" Alex looked confused.
"So," she continued, "I'm just trying to light Max's fire."
"Oh, you're doing that all right," he sneered.
"See, then once he has his fire lit, and he sees that I'm not prepared to give him what he wants... well, he might... he might move on to the next woman, someone who will... you know. Sure, he might be using me, but then, aren't I using him too? To get my wings?"
"So all this is an act?" he asked, his eyes narrowed with suspicion. "'Cause that's the first time you have mentioned your wings in a long time."
"An act," she nodded. Yeah, right, Liz sighed to herself.
"Yeah, right," Alex sneered in anger.

***

"First name terms?" Kyle asked when Liz had left the office. "I haven't heard you use someone's first name, or anyone call you 'Max', other than me, since I've been here."
"We bumped into each other the other day," Max nodded. "She didn't know I was the boss, and started to call me Max. She just never stopped. And I didn't know her last name until... recently. Um, Kyle? Did you want something?"
"Oh yeah," Kyle looked away from the door and back to Max. "But dammit if I can remember. I was in my office, and felt this overwhelming need to see you. I just can't remember what for."
"Oh, right."
"Well, as I'm here, I might as well make the most of it. Are you all set for this afternoon? Did Louisa arrange someone to attend the reception with you?"
Max just nodded, scarcely able to trust himself to speak.
"Good, good," Kyle nodded. "Do you know who?"
"The girl who just left," Max croaked.
"Liz?" Kyle was surprised. "You're taking Liz? You lucky dog you. Boy she's hot. I would love to have her for dinner. And breakfast. Especially breakfast."
Max groaned.

***

"Hey, girl," Maria's voice spoke down the phone, "how ya doing?"
"Oh," Liz was surprised to be called on the phone. "Um, I'm good. You?"
"Actually, Liz?" Maria sounded down. "I'm not doing too good, and I was kinda hoping that you might meet me for lunch."
"Yeah," Liz confirmed. "Sure I will, Maria. And you can help me out."
"Of course I will," Maria answered. "What do you need?"
"Well, Max has asked me to go to the big centenary reception with him this afternoon."
"That is so cool," Maria bubbled. "I knew you two were right for each other. So what's the problem? You need more condoms?"
"No, no, Maria," Liz giggled. "We haven't used any yet. No, I need to buy another dress. Can you help me?"
"Of course I can, babe. Anywhere special?"
"Well, Max says I can get something from the store, or I can visit the boutiques on Fifth Avenue."
"Fifth Avenue Liz," Maria exclaimed with excitement. "Definitely Fifth Avenue. And we will find you a dress so damned hot that there is no way you'll not need those condoms. See you in a moment."

***

"So why are you so down, Maria," Liz asked her friend when they met with a hug outside the main entrance. Maria had done so much for her; perhaps she could give a little back. She was glad that she had managed to lose Alex.
"It's that stupid show I had a spot in," Maria sulked. "They had a budget cut, so they reduced the size of the chorus line. And guess who that was?"
"So what are you going to do?" Liz asked.
"Things are going to be tight, since I got cut," Maria admitted. "Unless I find something else soon, we may have to move to a cheaper area."
"Why don't you try for one of the big shows?" Liz asked. "I know you can make it."
"Yeah," Maria nodded. "If I could just get an audition, I know I have the talent to make it. But no one will give me an audition until I get noticed, and without big boobs, no one notices me. I'd get implants, you know... a boob job... except we can't afford it."
"Oh, no, Maria," Liz shook her head. "I mean, God created you that size for a reason. Besides," her eyes sparkled. "Michael likes you the way your are."

"So how do you like living with Max," Maria asked quickly changing the subject.
"I am not living 'with' him, Maria," Liz defended with a blush. "Just staying in his house."
"Something's happened," Maria squealed. "I knew it, I can see it in your eyes. So spill, babe. What happened?"
"Nothing, Maria," Liz sighed. "I mean, not yet. We came close, but things kept getting in the way."
"Mm hmm," Maria smiled. "Did you want to? You know, make love with him?"
"Yes," Liz nodded, shame faced.
"And what does Alex think about all this?"
"Alex?" Liz was startled.
"Yeah, your teacher."
"How do you know about Alex?"
"You told me when you were drunk the other night. What does he teach, anyway?"
"Oh... Alex is mad at me, really mad. He thinks I'm getting too close."
"It sounds like Alex is jealous, if you ask me," Maria observed. "Like he wants you himself."
"No," Liz shook her head. "No, Alex is like my brother, you know?"

***

Max was sitting at his desk pouring over the plans for his new apartment block when he had a visitor. Like with most people, Max did not look up. It was not because of his desire to avoid people eyes; it was because he was not aware that he was no longer alone. His visitor was Alex.
"Well, Mr. High and Mighty Evans," Alex sneered as he walked around Max and stood behind him. "Now look what you have done. She could be one of the best, you know? Every year, I see the new recruits come in, and seldom does one like Liz come through. They'll even hear about her on the mortal realm one day, if you would only keep your filthy paws off of her."
Max lifted his head to the door, and sighed as he remembered Liz walking out of it when Kyle arrived to interrupt them. How he would have liked to take her in his arms, slowly undressed her, laid her over his desk and introduced her to the delights of lovemaking. He tried to shake the lust filled thoughts from his mind.
"Gabriel says that her strength is her heart," Alex continued. "But he's wrong. That's her weakness. See, she fell for your charm. How she saw it beats me, 'cause we both know you don't have any. And now, even though she denies it, she's fallen in love with you."
Max had crossed a threshold. He would no longer fight his feelings. Just whom was he trying to kid, anyway? He had fallen head over heels in love with her.
"But I'm watching you," Alex leaned down to hiss in Max's ear. "See, I care for her. Not the perverted lust you feel. You just want her body. Do you know how sick that makes me feel? I can't stand the thought of someone like you even looking at someone as innocent... as perfect as Liz, let alone anything else. I love her, Mr. Maxwell Evans, and I will do any and everything in my power to protect her. If you hurt her, I will be there with Peter when you come knocking at the Pearly Gates."
Fate had given him something precious, Max decided. In the same way that it had taken everything from him, now it had given something back. Sure, if he lost her, it would hurt, probably worse than before. But if he didn't try to seize what had been offered, if he failed to at least try to keep her, he would never forgive himself.

***

Michael was walking slowly through the store. This time of year, when they were so busy, it was important to provide a visible deterrent for the shoplifters, backing up the surveillance cameras with regular patrols. He decided that he would move to the ground floor, and swing through the cosmetics department. That was when he saw Maria. He was quite surprised because he thought she was at rehearsals. He started to creep up behind her to surprise her. She stopped by one of the counters, and picked up some items, lipstick, mascara and eyeliner. He wondered why she needed these, as she had bought new makeup the other night with Liz. Instead of paying for them, Maria headed for the employee's exit. Michael was annoyed that she was using 'inside' knowledge to shoplift from 'his' store. Philip Evans took a chance giving him this job, a chance no one else would take. He did not want to betray that trust he had been shown. But this was Maria, the love of his life.
"You've let me down, Maria," he accused, catching her by the stairs. "And for what, a few sticks of make-up?"
"Michael!" Maria was surprised, and confused. "Um... it is the best."
"It doesn't make it any better," he snapped. "I'm prepared to forget about this, Maria. I'll square it with the others, if you were stupid enough to get caught on camera. I'll make some excuse. Now give me the make-up, I'll put it back."
"Why would you want to do that, Michael?" Liz asked from behind him. She was holding a bottle of perfume, and some cosmetic brushes. "I asked Maria to get me what I needed for the reception I'm attending with Max tonight. We have permission to take all this."

"Oh," Michael looked sheepish. "Look, I'm sorry, Maria. I thought... I thought..."
"I know damn well what you thought Michael Guerin," Maria growled. "And when we get home, you and I are going to have a little... talk."
Michael winced, and seeking a respite, turned to Liz.
"Is Max treating you like a lady?" he asked.
"Oh yes, Michael," Liz winked at Maria. "Almost every inch of me."
Maria and Liz burst into a fit of giggles causing Michael to shake his head. Liz took the make up from Maria, and walked towards the elevator.
"See you later, Maria," she called "Max and I have to go home to get ready now."
"Home?" Maria called back. "Two nights, and already it's home?"
"Yeah," Liz looked embarrassed as she stepped into the elevator. "It feels like home, like it's where I belong."
"Don't forget that con..." Maria started to call, as the doors closed, "...dom."
"Has Mr. Evans corrupted her, Maria?" Michael asked in a quiet voice.
"From what I can work out," Maria giggled, "it's Liz who has corrupted Max."
"I'm worried about her, Maria," Michael continued. "You don't know what Mr. Evans is like."
"Michael, she's a big girl now, and somehow, I don't think that any harm could possibly come to her. Max, on the other hand, is in serious danger of losing his soul to her."

***

The phone was ringing when Max and Liz arrived home to change for the reception.
"I'll get it," Max told Liz. "You can use the shower upstairs. There's another one up there."
Liz nodded, and climbed the staircase to her room. Standing in the hallway, Max watched her go while the phone continued to ring. His eyes were drawn to her calves, but he could not help them roving upwards to her taught thighs, the lace tops of her stockings, and the quick glimpses of her white panties. He looked away, breaking out into a cold sweat.
"Hello," he gasped into the phone.
"Max? It's Maria."
"Hi, Maria," he responded. "Do you want Liz? She's just gone upstairs."
"No," she giggled. "I thought I should warn you, maybe you should make Liz put on her coat over her dress, so you don't see it until you're in a public place."
"Why is that?" Max mumbled.
"Because as soon as you see her, you're gonna want to keep her to yourself, away from everyone else's peeping eyes, if you know what I mean."
Max gulped.
Maria laughed down the phone. "I really phoned to thank you, Max. For buying me that dress."
"Thank you, Maria," he smiled; though she would not see it. "For your kindness to Liz."
"Oh, and uh, thanks for letting me drive your car. It was so cool, even if I was wearing slippers."

***

Max went up to his bedroom, crossed to his large wardrobes and pulled out his dark tuxedo from the back. After carefully pulling off the protective covering, he hung it over a hook on the wall. He crossed to a large chest of drawers and took out a white shirt, a bow tie, and a matching cummerbund. He stripped off his clothes, hung up his suit, and tossed the rest into the laundry basket. Max then pulled on his robe, and went out to the bathroom to have his shower. He paused outside the door to make sure that Liz was not inside. He had told her that she could use the one upstairs, but she might not have realized that he had meant the attic. The bathroom was empty, so Max went inside. He turned on the water to the temperature her liked and after hanging his robe on the back of the door, he stepped into the cubicle. As the hot water pounded against his skin, he could not help thinking about Liz. While his hands rubbed the soap lather onto his skin, it was Liz, in his imagination that was doing it. All too soon, his arousal was apparent.

***

He said upstairs, Liz thought to herself as she emerged from her bedroom wearing her thin robe and carrying her bag with her toiletries inside. He must have meant this one, because when he called, he was downstairs, and this bathroom was upstairs. She marched into the bathroom, her robe already half removed. But there was Max. Standing with his back to her, Liz gazed longingly at his muscular torso while he applied soap to himself. She realized that he must have meant upstairs from here. She had just made up her mind to slip away quietly when Max turned sideways. Liz saw clearly what she had only felt that morning. Max's erection. Her mouth went dry, and the blood started to pound in her ears. Placing the bag on the sink unit, she allowed her robe to slip from her body, and completely naked, Liz climbed into the shower with Max.

***

It was like a dream for Max. Wishing that Liz were here in the shower with him, he felt her soft warm hand massage the soap into his back. He gave of a soft groan. The hands started to slide to his shoulders when he felt her hot, sensuous body press against him, and start to slide up and down. He released a throaty growl, but then froze. He was not dreaming. He quickly turned around to see Liz, naked and wet, smiling passionately at him.
"Liz, I..."
"Shhhhh," she held a finger to his mouth. "It's okay."
Without looking from his eyes, Liz started to soap Max's chest. Recovering from his shock, Max took control. Taking Liz's hands, he turned her around, facing the glass wall of the shower cubicle. He applied soap to her back with long flowing sweeps of his hands from her elegant neck to the tight contours of her backside. Liz started to whimper.
"Oh, Max," she sighed as his hands worked their way around to her front, pressing against her firm, flat stomach.
He pressed his face beside her, nibbling at her ear and neck. She twisted her face toward him, and their tongues entwined. Drawing small circles, his hands moved upwards, slowly. By the time his thumbs were stroking the soft underside of her breasts she was pushing her self back against his body. They both squealed when the crease of her buttocks trapped Max's erection between them. His hands rose ever higher, squeezing her breasts and finally teasing her nipples, drawing them out, hard and firm.
"Yes," she hissed, "oh, yes!"
Oh, God," Max groaned as Liz started sliding herself up and down Max's erection, "ohhhhh." His breathing was sawing in and out more rapidly now.
While one hand continued to caress Liz' breast, another hand snaked in a downward path. His fingers glided over her stomach, and through the sparse curls of her hair to find the wet slick valley between her legs. Finding the small, hard nubbin, he lazily drew a small tight circle around her.
"Max!" she cried in delirium.
"Oh God, Liz!" Max yelled as her hand slipped behind her and she held his throbbing maleness.
Instinctively, she slid her hand up and down its length, lubricated by the soap. This caused him to quicken the circles he drew upon her. Within seconds they cried out in ecstasy together. Max had to hold Liz tightly, so worried was he that she would sink to the cubicle floor. His own eruptions sprayed harmlessly against the wall, washed away by the jets of water. Breathing heavily, Max held them beneath the water, while they calmed themselves down.
"Oh!" Liz squealed all to soon. What had she done? She leapt from the shower, grabbed her bag, and fled wet and naked to her room.

***

Maria had been so right, Max mused as he watched Liz walk down the staircase in a slow and sultry manor. When had she learned to project herself with such sensuousness? Her midnight blue dress was a strapless affair, with a tight bodice pulling her small breasts together to show some cleavage. The hemline was gathered at the front of her waist, revealing her silk stocking clad legs with every step she took. Her dress hugged her in all the right places. Her hair cascaded in waves down her shoulders and her face was made up with such delicateness that Max had to look closely to confirm that she was wearing any. As her hand reached out to hold the handrail, Max could see that her nails were painted blue to match her dress. Maria's influence, he guessed, and found himself wondering if beneath her black high heeled shoes, her toenails were the same color. He hoped that he would find out. Yes, Maria had been so right. Max wanted to keep Liz to himself, and not allow anyone else to see this vision of loveliness.
"Are you okay, Max?" she asked, her eyes sparkling.
"Um..." Max started to breathe again. "Yeah, I'm... Liz, you are so beautiful." He crossed to the steps to greet her. She smelled like... heaven. "So beautiful."
"Thank you, Max," she smiled. "You look rather... dashing yourself."
Dashing, Liz though? He looks positively... edible!
Max lifted Liz' hand to his mouth, and kissed the back of it.
"We can stay here, Liz," he smiled with hope burning in his eyes.
"Yeah," she laughed. "We could Max, but you know what? I know how important this reception is, so as we made the effort to get ready, we should go."
"Yeah," Max sounded a little disappointed. "You're right."
Besides, she considered, we will have this evening when we come home together, right?

***

Liz loved the attention she was receiving. Not only because almost all of the other guys could hardly keep their eyes off of her, but also because Max was so very attentive to her. It was almost as if they were joined at the hip, and Liz was enjoying every second of it. Quite often, officious looking men would want to talk business with Max, and gave her the look that suggested she should gracefully depart. But Max would hold Liz closer to him, indicating that she was staying at his side, to hear any proposal put forward. The only thing that Liz felt uncomfortable with, though that was too strong a word, because it was starting to feel... nice, was the thong Maria had insisted she wore. In her already 'heightened' state, it had ridden up, and was now pulling against the hard spot that Max had so expertly caressed earlier, reminding her of the delicious feelings he had invoked within her. More than once, she had wondered if there might be a quiet corner nearby, so that she could drag Max to it. Instead, she had pulled him to her, and gave him a deep passionate kiss when no one was watching them.

"So you're here as the date of Mr. Evans?" Pamela Troy asked with an edge of frost as cold as the weather outside.
She had managed to catch Liz on her own when she had retired to the powder room to repair her make up after her make-out with Max.
"Um," Liz looked up from re-applying her lipstick and smiled. "Yeah. I guess."
"So where did he hire you from?" she sneered. "Geeks R Us?"
"He didn't hire me," Liz defended. "Max asked me himself."
"Max? Max?" she squealed. "He's Mr. Evans to you!"
"Oh," Liz smiled. "No, see, Max told me himself. He told me to call him Max."
"Just who are you?" Pamela demanded, staring hard at Liz. "Wait a second. I know you. You're that klutz who ran into us." She took half a step back, expecting some accident to befall her.
"You remembered that?" Liz smiled. "Well, yeah. And now we're friends."
"So... what? Are you putting out for him?" Pamela accused. "You trying to sleep your way to his fortune? Gold digger!"
"Um, you know?" Liz commented. "As it happens, I haven't slept with Max. We've been kind of too busy to sleep. But yeah, I did move in with him."
Anger flared in Pamela's eyes.
"People like you should stick to your own kind," Pamela tried to sound superior. "Max will soon realize that bimbos like you aren't good enough for people like him. He needs someone to help him maintain a high profile in society. He'll soon see that he needs me. You should just stick to you own class. You and Max? It's not natural."
"The only things not natural around here," Liz smirked loftily, "are in your bra cups."

***

"Do you just want to step in here a moment, Liz?" Max asked, holding the door to the living room open when they had arrived home.
The reception had been a success. Due to Max's reluctance to let the evening end, it had gone on longer that had been anticipated. Max had reopened many lines of communications that night. The ride home in the limo had been a muted affair. Although they had sat side by side, they had both fought against the urgent feelings that had been sweeping through them. They held one another's hand, and were pressed up against each other, which served to add fuel to the fires of desire that coursed through them. Max had to exert every ounce of his will power to stop himself from leaping on the gorgeous dark haired temptress beside him, and ravishing her in the car. When they had arrived home, Max had escorted his 'date' into the house where behind the sanctuary of his front door, they stared longingly into one another's eyes.
"Okay," Liz giggled, and stepped into the room.
Max crossed to the Hi-Fi and turned on the CD player. The same soft music from the previous night started to play, and Max stepped up to Liz.
"I... I've wanted to do this all night," his nervousness was obvious. "Would you... would you dance with me?"
"Oh, Max," she smiled. "Yes."

Max placed a hand on her hip, and took her hand in his. Liz placed her other hand on Max's shoulder. They swayed from side to side in a slow circle around the room as their eyes locked onto the other's.
"Thank you, Liz," he gave a shy, tenuous smile. "For tonight. I mean... you were excellent. Everyone adored you." Especially me.
"Thank you for asking me, Max," she returned his smile. "I had a great time."
"You know," he continued, "my parents would have loved you. My grandparents too. Heck, my whole family would have loved you. Um, Liz? Tomorrow morning, we have that parade?"
While still looking into Max's eyes, Liz nodded.
"I have to ride in this car. Open topped. At the head of the parade."
"The guest of honor, right?" she twinkled.
"Liz, would you honor my family... would you honor me... by sitting in the car with me? Let me show you off... a little? I would like nothing more than to have you sitting by my side."
"Of course I will," her smile was like a beacon.
"Maybe tomorrow night... we can... sort of... go out to dinner?" Max sounded so hopeful.
"Oh, Max," Liz looked disappointed. "I'm sorry, I can't."
Max's face fell.
"I promised Maria I would visit her. She's lost her job in that play she was in, and is feeling down. I told her I'd cheer her up. She said we could have a girl's night in."
Oh," Max mumbled. "Okay. Well, have a nice time, won't you? I'll get Jeremy to take you in the limo. I'll give you a set of keys. So you can come and go as you please. You know, you can stay out late if you want, and not worry about... keeping me up." Like I'll be asleep, he sighed.
They continued to dance, Max released Liz's hand, and pulled her tightly to him, completely enveloping her in his arms. The dance slowed, they were just barely moving.
"Um, Liz?" Max spoke with a tender caution. "When we first met, you know, the car... right from then, even when we collided in the store... I have known that there was something special about you. But I tried to resist. You see... I had built these walls to protect me. I've been hurt, Liz. I never wanted to feel that kind of pain again, so I learned how to turn off my feelings. But then you came along. Somehow, you got through my walls and... into my heart. You've taught me how to feel, Liz. How to... love... again. Liz... I... I think..." he took a deep breath. "Liz, I've fallen in love with you. I love you, Liz Parker."
There was no reply, Max's heart sank. Idiot, he admonished himself. Like she wanted to know that. You've made her feel awkward now.
"I'm sorry, Liz. I... I shouldn't have said that."
He leaned back to try to show her that his apology was sincere, and saw the reason for Liz' silence. She was asleep.

***

Max swept the sleeping Liz up into his arms, and with a loving smile, he carried this woman who had stolen, no been given freely, his heart. He carried her upstairs to her bedroom, and laid her out on the bed. Promising himself that he would behave like the perfect gentleman, Max removed Liz' shoes, and laid them neatly beside her bed. Sliding his hand beneath her back, he gently lifted her up, and released the zip that had pulled her dress together. As the bodice was released, her small breasts spilled out, revealing her taught nipples. Max licked his lips, but looked away. He so desperately wanted to touch her. It was a severe test of his willpower when he removed her dress completely and saw that she was wearing a dainty thong. He released her stockings, and could not help stroking her legs as he rolled them down her thighs, and off of her. He unclipped the garter, and stood back from her, casting his appraising eyes over her sleeping body. She is so beautiful, he sighed. Heaven has lost an Angel, and I'm not giving her back. He pulled back the covers of the bed, and laid her inside. Once she was fully covered, he slipped his hands inside, and gently removed her pants. He folded her clothing up onto the chair, and kissed Liz on the cheek.
"Goodnight," he whispered as he switched off the light. "I love you."

***

Max sat in his kitchen over a cup of coffee and replayed in his mind, the events of that morning. The parade had been every bit the success that the organizers had hoped. Dressed in a warm, maroon jacket, Max sat on the back of the open topped car and waved to the cheering crowds as they drove past them. At his side, Liz looked resplendent in her short, red skirt, thick red leggings, and black high-heeled boots. She wore a white ski-jacket and a white cap from beneath which her long dark hair flowed in the gentle cold breeze. Like Max, she waved to the crowds, but at her feet lay a huge box of specially produced candy through which the logo 'ML Evans' ran. Liz would take a handful of these candies and throw them to the spectators that lined the streets. Half way through the parade, Kyle had asked that Liz be placed on the main float, where she would be seen better. Max had left the decision to her, and was thrilled beyond belief when Liz told Max that her place was at his side. Before the parade had started, Max had presented Liz with a bouquet of twenty-four red roses. The card read simply "affectionately yours, Max."
"Thank you, Liz," Max beamed at Liz when they reached the end of the parade. To a huge cheer from the crowd, Max kissed Liz, for the first time in public.

The chiming of the doorbell brought Max's thoughts back to the present. He opened the front door to a deliveryman from 'ML Evans.' He had two boxes stacked on the floor beside him.
"Oh," the driver seemed surprised. "Hello Mr. Evans. Uh... we have a delivery for a 'Liz Parker.' She gave us this address."
"Um..." Max blushed thinking that Liz' reputation would now be ruined. "Uh, yeah, she's... staying... here."
"Would you mind signing for it, please?"
"Sure," Max took the pad and signed the bottom. "What is it?"
"Oh, great!" Liz squealed, running up behind Max. Beneath her white coat, she had worn a white top with a red Bolero jacket. She looked quite Christmasy. "Bring it in here, guys."
Max looked puzzled, but lifted one of the boxes. The deliveryman brought the other and followed Max, and Liz to the living room.
"Where dya want dis?" a second man called from the door. Max turned to see the newcomer carrying a large Christmas tree.
"Can you put if down over there, please?" Liz bubbled.
"Merry Christmas, Miss," the two deliverymen called as they turned to leave. "Merry Christmas," they winked at Max.
"Yeah, Merry Christmas, guys. And thanks."
"Uh... Liz?" Max raised his eyebrows.
Liz opened the first box, and pulled out a large red hat with a white fur trim, and a white bobble on the top.
"Ho, ho, ho," Liz laughed as she pulled the hat on her head. "C'mon, Max. Let's decorate the tree."
"I don't normally do this, Liz," Max mumbled. "It was always a tradition... you know, the whole family. After the... I never..."
"Max," Liz smiled warmly as she stepped up to Max and gave him a hug. "It's time to make new memories, new traditions."
"Will you be a part of these new traditions?" Max asked.
Liz looked away, and went to the boxes. "When we've finished," she smiled, "you can tell Santa what you want in your stocking this Christmas."
You, thought Max. I want you.

***

"Rise and shine, Liz!" Max called from her bedroom door. It was only seven o'clock in the morning, but Max had planned a full day for them. "Up and at 'em."
"Morning, Max," Liz smiled, emerging fully dressed from her bedroom. She looked divine in tight white jeans, and a thick, fluffy pink sweater. "What's up?"
Max was surprised to see her so awake, she had not got in till early that morning.
"Um... good morning Liz," he smiled back. "Did you sleep well? Did you have a nice time last night?"
"Yeah," Liz nodded. "It was great. We had fun."
"And how is Maria? Is she okay?"
"Yeah. She's just a little down. She's worried that they'll have to move. So, Max? What are we doing? Why are we up so early?"
"It's a surprise," Max grinned.
They went downstairs and put on their coats and their boots. Jeremy was outside with the limo.
"Good morning, Mr. Evans," he nodded, "Miss Parker."
"Hi, Jeremy," she beamed at him. "I thought I told you to call me Liz?"
The limo took them across Manhattan to a small jetty. Max led Liz from the limo to a sleek helicopter. Liz bubbled with excitement as they took off, and flew over the city.
"Max! Max!" she exclaimed. "Look, is that our home?"
"Yeah," Max laughed looking through the window towards the brownstone house Liz was pointing at. Our home. He liked the sound of that.
The city disappeared behind them and white snow covered fields flew by.
"We're approaching Hunter Mountain, Mr. Evans," the pilot called back to Max. The two passengers sat back and waited to land.

Clive, Max's maintenance man, was waiting for them when they climbed out from the helicopter.
"Pleased to meet you Miss Parker," he shook her hand after Max introduced her. He had a huge smile on his face. "It's nice to see Max take an interest in someone after all these years. You'll make that house seem less empty."
"House?" Liz looked at Max. "What house?"
While Clive drove them the short distance to Kirkville, he listened to Max tell Liz all about the family house. He noticed how close they sat, how they held hands, yet how shy they appeared around one another. He recognized all the signs of a new relationship.
"Is this it?" Liz whispered in awe. "Wow. This is so beautiful." She looked around for Alex, expecting to have to tell him that this house was out of bounds for him too. He was no where to be seen. In fact, Liz had not seen Alex since their argument the other day. "What are we doing here?"
"Oh," Max looked a little unsure. "I thought you might like to see it, that's all. I thought we could spend the day up here, but we can go back, if you like."
"No, Max," Liz grabbed his arm. "No, this is lovely. Please let's stay here."

After Max showed her around the house, they went back outside into the bright sunshine and cold air to play in the snow. Max started to roll a large snow ball, which made Liz look at him quizzically.
"You make one too," he urged with a grin.
She copied Max by making a small snowball, laying it in the snow, and rolling it end over end. It soon reached half the size of Max's.
"Okay," he came over and lifted her snowball. "Now make another one. Half this size."
He carried Liz' snowball over to his, and stood it on top. He packed loose snow around the join, and then used his hands to fashion a pair of arms on the side of the uppermost ball.
"Is this good enough?" Liz called.
"Excellent," he smiled, and went over to take the smaller snowball from her. He placed this on top of the snowman, and the began to fashion it's face.
"It looks like Mr. Valenti," she laughed.
Max started to chuckle. "Yeah, it does, kinda. Wait till I tell him."

"Max," Liz called.
Max turned to face Liz and was hit in the chest by a snowball. Max laughed, and made one of his own, throwing it at Liz but missing. She darted behind the snowman, and hid.
"Mr. Valenti will look after me," she teased. "He will protect me from the big bullying Max."
Max ran towards the snowman, and around it's side. Liz shrieked loudly, and turned to run. Max tried to grab her, but slipped over, falling on his stomach. Liz started to howl with laughter, and threw another snowball at him. Max made a snowball, and walked menacingly towards Liz. She was backing away, her bright eyes sparkling with merriment. She slipped in the snow, and fell flat on her back, her arms outstretched.
"No," Max commanded, preventing Liz from rising. "Don't move."
"It's cold down here, Max," she complained with a smile.
"Liz, move your arms up and down, like this," he started to flap his arms like wings. "Good, good. Now your legs. In and out, like this."
He reached down and offered Liz his hand. He pulled her up, and showed her the shape she had left in the snow.
"See?" he kissed her on the cheek "You're an angel."
"No," she smiled, but tears rimmed her eyes. Not yet, she thought.

**

They spent the rest of the afternoon sledding down a nearby hill, which was packed with kids of all ages, some older than Max and Liz. As dusk began to bring that peculiar hush over the hills and valleys, they climbed hand in hand up the hill one last time, pulling Max's sled behind them.
"Are you hungry, Liz?" Max asked.
"Yeah," she smiled. "Starving."
"Well, let's go eat," he grinned, and led Liz down the road.
"Isn't your house that way?" Liz asked pointing over her shoulder in the other direction.
"Yeah," he nodded. "But there's someone I want you to meet."
He took Liz off the road, and along the recently shoveled path towards the small house.
"It's only me," he called out as they removed their coats and boots in the hallway.
"No it isn't only you," Max's Aunt responded as she pushed her wheelchair out into the hallway. "You have this lovely young woman with you."
"Liz," Max smiled. "This is my Aunt Claudette. Aunt Claudette, this is Liz. Liz Parker. She works for me."
"And lives with you too, I'm told," she winked.
"Um... yeah," Max squirmed.
"My apartment caught fire," Liz interrupted. "Max let me stay at his place."
"Well, Max was always very kind," Claudette laughed. "I suppose you're hungry. Kids always are."
"We're hardly children, Aunt Claudette," Max complained.
"Really?" she asked. "And just what have you been up to today then?"

***

"She's so lovely," Claudette beamed when Liz was taking a look around the house. "She's exactly what you need in your life, Max. I love her to bits."
"Don't ask her about her past," Max urged. "I think she had a traumatic experience when she was young, because she won't talk about it."
"So she's just like you, then," Claudette observed.
Max had never considered that.
"Ah, Liz," Claudette smiled when Liz returned. "Max was just going to make some hot chocolate, weren't you, Max?"
"Oh, um... yeah," Max rose from his seat.
"Oh, do you have..."
"Marshmallows?" Max laughed. "Yeah, she has."
Max went through to the kitchen.
"Thank you," Claudette said to Liz when Max was gone.
"Excuse me?" Liz asked.
"Come," Max's aunt indicated the chair Max had been sitting in. "Come and sit by me."
"Thank you," Liz smiled, sitting down.
"You've brought out a side of Max that I though I'd never see again," Claudette admitted. "Thank you."
"Oh, well," Liz squirmed with embarrassment. "It was nothing. Really. I mean, he's really nice when you ignore the front he puts up."
"Will you be around for long, do you think?" she asked. "Or are you just using him?"
"Um..." Liz turned bright red. "You know, I don't care about his money. I would still like him if he was poor."
Last edited by WR on Fri Dec 24, 2004 4:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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WR
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Post by WR » Fri Dec 24, 2004 4:46 pm

"Somehow, I believe you," Claudette sat back in her wheelchair. "And I think that you may have saved each other."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. I just sense that Max isn't the only one being saved here."

***

It was getting late when they finally left Aunt Claudette's house.
"Max, you look after this little treasure now," were her final words as they parted.
Max and Liz, again holding hands, as they had done all evening, walked along the dark road for home. The road was wet where the temperature had risen slightly during the day. A fresh blanket of snow was falling, and in the stillness of the night air, the couple could almost hear the flakes fall.
"She's lovely, Max," Liz informed him, breaking the silence between them. "Your aunt, I mean."
"Thank you," Max squeezed her had. "She liked you, too. Um, Liz? It's a bit late to head back to New York now. Would you mind staying here tonight? We have toothpaste and stuff here, and we can go home and change for work first thing in the morning. Do you mind?"
"Of course not," Liz sparkled brightly. "I love it here. Only, I didn't bring a night dress."
"The house is really warm, Liz," Max told her. "And Clive will have aired some beds for us. You could... um... sleep naked."
"Hmm," she smirked at Max. "That's getting to become a habit."
"Um..." Max mumbled in embarrassment.
"I'm teasing Max. That's no problem, honestly."

Just as they reached the house, a car drove by, perhaps a little too quickly. Its tires ran through the puddle that they were just walking past.
"Argh!" they squealed as cold water splashed against their legs, soaking their jeans through.
"Come on," Max pulled Liz. "Quick."
Clive had left a fire burning in the fireplace in the living room. Leaving their coats and their boots in the hallway, Max led Liz to the fire.
"Take your wet jeans off," he urged as he unbuttoned his flies.
"Um, Max?" Liz looked dubious.
"Oh, yeah," Max realized that he was taking a lot for granted. He pointed to the sofa. "Sit there Liz, and pull the blanket over you."
Liz did as she was told, sitting in the sofa in front of the fire. From beneath the blanket, she gave Max her jeans. Standing in his boxers, Max hung both pairs of jeans over a hanger near the fire.
"We should wash them really, but as we need them for tomorrow..."
"Come and sit down, Max," Liz pulled the far edge of the blanket over.
Max sat next to her and Liz covered him, pulling him closer to her. He could feel the heat emanating from her bare legs. They started to talk about unimportant issues. They talked about the dinner dance the next day, about how pleased his staff would be to see him and about how much Liz had changed Max's life.
"You've changed mine too," Liz admitted.
"For the better?" Max asked.
Liz looked away.

At some point during their little talk, their hands had found each other beneath the blanket. Liz had slowly leaned over, and was now pressed against Max whose arm was wrapped around her shoulder. His thumb was tracing circles through her sweater, reminding her of the pleasure he gave her in the shower. In the hallway, the large grandfather clock chimed twelve.
"Where has the time gone?" Liz asked.
"Are you tired?" Max asked. "Do you want to go to bed now?"
"No," she shook her head. "I want to sit here with you."
She leaned up and kissed him. Softly, at first, but then again with more passion. Max responded by leaning in to her, the hand over her shoulder rising up to run his fingers through her hair. Liz pushed the blanket away, and half rose to twist Max so he was sitting flat against the sofa. He gulped when he saw that she was again wearing a thong. How had she kept herself warm all day? She straddled his thighs, and pressed herself against him as she kissed him passionately. He could feel her soft mounds pressing against him. Max slid his hands beneath her sweater and caressed her back, surprised to find that she was not wearing a bra. His erection grew uncomfortably in his boxer shorts, barely inches away from the soft delights of her feminine place.

Liz could feel her desire for Max rising. She wanted to continue what they had done in the shower. She wanted to feel Max's lips and tongue on her nipples. She wanted his hands on her skin, to caress her breasts, her stomach, her... core. Her breathing grew labored as they kissed each other. She broke from the kiss, and started to attack Max's neck, and the lobe of his ear.
"You are so beautiful, Liz," Max gasped. "I love you."
The words were like a powerful aphrodisiac to Liz. Her passion grew more intense. She knew that tonight, there would be no interruptions, no running away. She would take this moment through to its natural conclusion. She wanted Max inside her. She leaned back slightly and looked into his eyes. Passion and lust burned brightly there, but also love. He truly did love her.
"You want this too, don't you?" she asked
Max could only nod as a tear formed in his eye. Liz caressed his cheek with the back of her hand, and leaned forward to take the tear with the tip of her tongue. She crossed her arms and grabbed her sweater, pulling it over and off of her. While Max gazed longingly at Liz's pert breasts, she pulled his sweater off, and started to unfasten his buttons. As she peeled his shirt off, his hand caressed her sides, sending fiery streak of desire straight to her most sensitive parts. His hands pulled her to him, naked flesh against naked flesh.

They rolled off of the sofa, and onto the floor. Liz was on her back, with Max lying on his side with an arm supporting her head. His hand started from her hip, and lightly traced a path up her side, onto her rib cage and over her breast. She cried out when he caught her nipple and lightly pinched her.
"Yes, Max," she urged, thrusting her breast upward towards him. She wanted to feel his mouth on her again. Max moved his head down, and kissed her collarbone. Leaving a trail of hot wet kisses, he kissed his way up the rise of her breast, and onto her nipple. When he sucked the hard button into his mouth and grazed his teeth lightly over her firm flesh, Liz though she would explode. She moved her hand from Max's hip down to his thigh. Slowly, drawing the circles that Max had driven her crazy with, her hand moved towards the heat of Max's erection. When her small hand wrapped around him, they both gasped. Max, out of pleasure, Liz out of surprise. It felt larger than it had in the shower. Remembering how much he had liked it, she started to rub him up and down.

While he devoured Liz's nipples with his mouth, his hand traced a slow and intricate path down Liz's smooth abdomen, and teasing the delicate curls of her mound. Bypassing the hard button that gave her so much pleasure before, Max let his fingers slide along the wet folds of Liz's womanly blossom. Gathering the nectar, he slid upwards and drew a small circle around the nubbin that Liz was writhing her hips to try and press against Max's fingers. As his circles became tighter, and his ministrations on her nipple became more urgent, Liz exploded in a series of small orgasms, as she tried to push both parts of her body against Max's touch at once.
"Now," she cried. "Oh please, make love to me now!"
Liz was pulling at Max's shoulder, trying to twist him over and on top of her. He willingly obliged, and covered her body with his. Instantly, Liz wrapped her legs around his back, while he carefully placed himself at her soft and wet entrance. She was trying to pull him in. Slowly, Max filled her. Her eyes widened with pleasure, while Max groaned in ecstasy as they molded into one. She squealed slightly when she felt a barrier rip, but she refused to let Max stop. She pulled herself against him.
"Oh, Max!" she cried.
"Oh, Liz," he answered. "You mean so much to me,"
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Liz eyes were opened wide as Max started the rhythmic rocking motion that set off a series of wonderful sensations within her. The sensations seemed to blur into one amazing cacophony of feelings. Feelings that Liz had never before experienced.
"Max!" she cried as another orgasm hit her.
He continued to make love to her, as each crescendo crashed over her, he quickened his pace. He started to cry out himself now, as his own climax neared. They came together in one huge orgasm that was neither Max's nor Liz'. It was 'their' orgasm, and they shared its intensity and its feelings.
"My Liz," Max cried. Tears poured from his eyes, down his cheeks and spilled into Liz's hair. "I love you, so much."
"Happy Birthday, Max," she breathed passionately in his ear, still recovering from her monumental climax.

***

It was the chill of the early morning air that woke them up. They had made love two more times last night, and had fallen asleep in front of the fire, their bodies seemingly fused together. Naked, and unashamed, they showered together, repeating their mind-blowing shower from the other morning, but going further while Max made love to Liz against the wall.
During breakfast, Max called Clive, who was there to collect them barely twenty minutes later. Their jeans, although stained by the dirty water, were dry, so they were able to get dressed while waiting for him.
"Why don't you stay, Max?" Clive suggested. He had noticed that the young couple's relationship had changed. They were less unsure about themselves. "You could get Jeremy to bring out clothes for you. Celebrate Christmas with Claudette and her friends."
"I'd love to," Max smiled broadly. "But we have the dinner dance to attend."
"You mean, you are actually going this year?" He nodded in approval at Liz.
After the quick helicopter ride, Max and Liz were in a taxi trying to make their way home through the heavy morning traffic, so they could change for work.
"I'm sorry, Mister," the driver called over his shoulder. "It's dis traffic. Looks like dah whole of New York wants to go Christmas shopping."
"We could probably walk faster, Liz," Max suggested. "It's only through there, maybe a mile away."
"Okay," Liz agreed.
The lesser-used paths and roads that they walked along were more icy than the main roads. Beneath their feet, the new layer of snow crunched as they walked home together. On a quiet road at the edge of Central Park, a young girl was having trouble keeping on her feet as she tried to cross to the park with her sled. Liz let go of Max's hand and tried to go to her assistance. She was having less luck than the girl, and after nearly falling over, Max roared with laughter. Liz made a snowball and threw it at him. It was when Max bent over to retaliate with a snowball of his own that he saw it. A taxi was sliding out of control along the road, straight for Liz, and the little girl.
"Liiiiz!" Max screamed as he rushed over towards them. With in credible balance, he rushed across the road. He pushed both Liz and the girl out of the way; they fell in a heap on the snow piled at the side of the road. The taxi crashed into Max.
"Max!" Liz cried in horror as Max's body flipped into the air, bounced off of the roof of the cab, and landed on his back in the road. "Max!" she screamed making her way over. The little girl was nowhere to be seen.
"Max, no!" she cried. "Don't die Max! Don't die."
There was the sound of a loud bell ringing. A bell that Liz knew rang for her. She had succeeded.
"Noooooooooo!" Liz' scream was a new definition of agony

***

Behind her, a doorway opened. In the distance, she could hear the siren of an ambulance. In the heavy traffic, it would take ages to get here.
"It's time, Liz," Alex said gently from beside her.
"No, Alex," she cried. "He can't die. He can't!"
"Liz, your task is complete. You've succeeded. He's no longer your concern."
"It's not fair!" she shouted with tears streaming down her face. "It's not fair!"
"Liz, we have to go."
"No, we can't leave Max like this. Please. Let me stay until he... until he..."
"We have to go now, Liz. It's the rules."
Liz showed no sign of leaving Max's side. She had his head cradled in her thighs; she was leaning over him, calling to him. Alex waved to someone from the door, and two more angels appeared. They lifted Liz away from Max, even though she tried to resist, kicking and screaming. Once she was pulled through the doorway and she was again in heaven, she knew that all was lost. She gave up. She slumped in defeat.
"You did it, Elsepeth," Alex smiled. "Look."
He pointed to her wings now sprouting from her back.
"Rah rah," she sniffed.

***

"You have done well, Elsepeth," Gabriel congratulated as he arrived to greet her. "Congratulations."
"Thank you," Liz mumbled, looking at the ground.
"Why so sad, Elsepeth?" Gabriel asked "I thought you wanted to become an angel. More than anything."
"But why did he have to die? On top of everything, why did he have to lose his life too?"
"How else could you have stopped him from committing suicide, Elsepeth? That would have required that you remain by his side for the rest of his life. And you know that suicides do not make it to the Kingdom of Heaven."
"Will Max be allowed to become an angel?" she looked up, her eyes filled with hope. "Can we be together in heaven?"
"I'm sorry, my dear," Gabriel shook his head. "I'm afraid that Max doesn't qualify. There are certain... entrance requirements. And Max is lucky that he will be allowed to even enter heaven now."
"So I'll never see him again?" The souls of the dead lived in a different part of heaven to the angels.
"It would seem so," Gabriel nodded.
"But it's so unfair!" she cried out. "Send me back!" Elsepeth demanded.
"I beg your pardon?" Gabriel looked carefully at Liz.
"How can I live here, in this so-called paradise, and forever be unhappy, mourning the loss of Max? There isn't even anything here to remind me of my time with him. Nothing. Down there, he has friends, family. People who will remember him. It will seem like I am nearer to him. And then, when it's my turn, I can rejoin him in heaven. He'll wait for me, I know he will."
"Why in Heaven's name would you want to do such a thing?"
"Because I love him," she whispered with tears streaming from her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Elsepeth," Gabriel said gently. "I didn't hear you."
"Because I love him!" Elsepeth shouted loud enough that all the heavens heard her. "I'm in love with Max Evans!"
She heard the loud shrill of the whistle, and she felt her wings disappear. She had worked so hard to gain them, she never thought that she would be so relieved to get rid of them.
"Nicholas is here, he's about to start his rounds," Gabriel sighed. "You may catch a ride back with him."
"Thank you," Elsepeth mumbled.
"I'll send Alex along presently," he continued. "You know, to remove from your memory all that you know, about heaven. You'll remember everything that happened on Earth, you just won't remember that you were once an angel."
Liz nodded
"Well, goodbye, Elsepeth," Gabriel said in a quiet, sad voice. "I hope you find what you are looking for. I shall miss you."
"Thank you, Gabriel," she hugged him. "Thank you."

***

"Hello, Elsepeth," a cheerful St Nicholas greeted her. "Or are you Liz still?"
"Yeah," she sighed with weariness. "Just Liz. I take it that you heard what happened."
"I did, my child," he sighed. "I did. Well, climb up, and we'll get started."
Liz climbed up onto the sleigh, and wiped away the tears that were forming in her eyes.
"Will it take long?" Liz asked. "It's just, I'd like to get to whatever hospital they took Max to."
"It won't do you any good, my dear," he smiled at her.
"But that's up to me, isn't it?"
"Yeah," he sighed. "It is."
"Are you disappointed in me, Nicholas?" Liz asked after a long moment of silence.
"For following your heart?" he sounded surprised. "Of course I'm not." He looked carefully at Liz and shook his head. "You know, Gabriel and the others sometimes lose sight of the little things. They get so caught up in the grand design, you know, His master plan, that they overlook little things. Take your Max, for instance."
"Max?"
"Yes. I expect that you heard the rumors about him. Being with that other woman when his parents died, and how yet another was at home. Would you believe that Max was being tested?"
"Tested?" Liz demanded. "Tested for what? How?"
"Well, when he was a young lad, Max wasn't that confident around girls. He could have had his pick, the prettiest girls around, because of who he was. Then he met Ilsa. Ilsa Schwartz. He fell in love with her. What Max didn't know was that she was his soul mate. Oh, the usual obstacles were there, she came from a poor family, so he had to get over parental approval, and all that, which they did. She was a sweet, lovely girl. Then the test began. They gave Ilsa cancer, and 'persuaded' her parents to move away. Max remained true to her. When he was at Harvard, he lived on the breadline while he spent all his money trying to find her."
"But she died," Liz interrupted, "didn't she?"
"Not then, she didn't," Nicholas continued. "No, he found her, eventually. She was back in New York, in hospital. That's where he was, that Christmas Eve. He chose not to go to his own party, because he found his Ilsa, and wanted to be with her. That was his test."
"But that's a horrible test!" Liz accused. "If he had chosen to go to the party, he would have..."
"Precisely."
"But he passed," Liz mused. "He passed the test and lost everybody. What kind of reward is that?"
"Well, there was a hitch, that night. If heaven was a computer, we would say there was a rounding error."
"A rounding error?"
"Yeah, with all the people at the party, and it being Christmas Eve and all, things got a little confused. The Angels rounded up too many people."
"You mean...?"
"Precisely, Ilsa wasn't supposed to die. But she did, and by the time they realized, it was too late."
"Oh, poor Max!" Liz sobbed. Her cheeks were soaked with tears. "What about the other woman? The one waiting at home?"
"Nothing to do with Max," Nicholas shrugged. "She hoped to seduce him, and maybe get him to marry her. She was counting on falling pregnant by him. She managed to get a hold of Max's keys somehow. That's why they had to call the security guards."
"So since... so Max has never been with another girl, except Ilsa?"
"That's right. Like I said, he stayed true to her."
"Until now," she sobbed. "What happened to Ilsa?"
"Well, she realized at once that Max was all alone, his family and friends being up here with her. So she demanded that she be allowed to become his guardian angel."
"Did she make it?"
"No," Nicholas shook her head. "See, she entered Angel training, and did really well. But she was too eager. Too... focused on becoming an angel. She lost sight of her goal. She became so fixated on becoming an angel that she forgot 'why' she wanted that. She was in danger of losing herself to the heavenly host. You know, angels who are just angels for no other reason than to sing his glory. Anyway, she failed her final task."
"So what happened to her?"
"She started training 3 years ago, Liz," Nicholas winked.
"I started three years ago," she reminded him. "I don't remember anyone like that. Everyone passed that year, except for me. I... I..." Liz went quiet. "Nicholas," she said in a breathless voice. "Was I... was I..." She couldn't say it. It made her head spin just thinking it.
"Her name was Ilsa," Nicholas nodded. "When she arrived in heaven, she was rechristened. Did you know that happened? Well, they gave her a new name. And one the was closely linked to her old one. Did you know that Ilsa is the German form of Elizabeth? Which, of course, Liz is a short name for. And Elsepeth..."
Liz was dumbstruck.
"Gabriel gave you a chance to save a soul. What he didn't tell you was that the soul he gave you the chance to save, was your own."
"But Alex said..."
"Alex was too fond of you, Liz," Nicholas smiled. "He didn't understand what they were doing. He was so afraid of losing you that he got in your way. He kept planting doubts in your mind when you were on the right track all along. And of course, your clumsiness sometimes got in the way, too."
"What do you mean?" Liz asked. "It was my clumsiness that brought Max and I together."
"Do you remember your first day?" Nicholas asked. "When you went to those old buildings, and those men were hassling you?"
"Yeah, I..."
"Max was supposed to rescue you. His housing project is where those buildings were. He was on his way to take a look when he nearly ran you over. He didn't go, because he was so upset. He was supposed to get there at the same time as you, see that you were in trouble, rescue you, and take you home then. So after that plan failed, Gabriel encouraged Alex to take you somewhere else. Of course, Alex thinks he thought of it. He chose that apartment next door to Maria. From there, Gabriel just manipulated things his way so that you eventually ended up at Max's. Better late than never. This was your test, Liz. You had to choose between your wings, and Max."
"Except, like Max, I have neither," she sobbed.
Nicholas brought the sleigh down in the park across the road from Max's brownstone house.
"This has helped a little, Nicholas." She reached up and kissed his cheek.
"Thank you, it was a lovely present. I don't suppose I'll see you again."
"I'll look in on you from time to time," he smiled. "And I still have your real present. You still get that. And I'll see you get it Christmas Eve... today, for old times sake."
She nodded her thanks.
"Liz, forget the hospital. There's nothing you can do there. Remember why you came back. His friends, his family. You will have to be strong, like Max was when he lost Ilsa that first time."
"Yeah," she nodded. "You're right."
"Do you know what you will do?"
"I think I'll go to the dance, and let everyone know that Max died, saving me and a little girl. That they should enjoy Christmas, because in the end, he was his old self again, and it's what he would have wanted."
"Very good, Liz," Nicholas nodded with approval. He shook the reins; his reindeer started to move. "And remember Liz. Gabriel will sort out everyone's memory over this. The hospital staff will remember that you were at Max's side till they could do no more, and you were sent away. That is how you will remember it too, when Alex sorts out your memory. Live your life; it's what he would have wanted. Merry Christmas, Elizabeth Parker."

***

Somehow, taking her shower did not seem the same to Liz. The jets of water did nothing to her numb skin. Even being in Max's house seemed strange. But Nicholas had been right. She had to live her life to ensure that her sacrifice had not been in vain. She would attend the dinner dance, and she would be strong for everyone. Afterwards, she would go to Kirkville - Liz was sure that Jeremy would drive her - so that she could tell Aunt Claudette and Clive in person. Only then would she allow herself the luxury of breaking down.
"So no more tears," she promised herself, "until I am through this."
Wrapped in the thin robe, Liz went down to the telephone. She dialed Maria's number, and composed herself.
"Maria? It's Liz," she identified herself when Maria answered the phone.
"Hey, Liz," Maria enthused. "Michael tells me you and Max played hooky today. Did you have fun?"
"Um, Maria? Do you think that you and Michael could come over as soon as you're ready?"
"Sure, Liz. What's up? You sound a little... down."
"Um... no, no, it's... I thought it would be nice if we all went together." Liz did not want to arrive at the party alone.
"In the limo?" Maria squealed. "Oh Liz, your Max is just way too... he's the best, Liz."
"Can you come over?" her voice was breaking. "Like as soon as possible?"
"Okay, babe. We'll be there pronto."

***

Liz sat on the edge of her bed, still dressed in her robe, and stared at the dress that Maria had assured her would make Max uncontrollable. She did not have the heart to wear it now, now that it would not be Max who would be driven to distraction. Perhaps she should wear something more... conservative, something that would not draw the single men to her, expecting that she might be searching for comfort in the arms of another. But she knew that Max would want her to dress as she had originally planned, that he would not want her to put her life on hold, the way he had done. He would want her to enjoy herself, as Nicholas had said, to live her life. But not in a dress like that, she decided.

The front door opened. Liz looked towards her bedroom door, and wondered who it might be. It was too early to be Maria and Michael, besides, did Michael even have a key? They did let themselves in, before... Perhaps it was the chauffeur, Jeremy. It might even be Max's Aunt Claudette; perhaps Clive had driven her over after hearing the news. Ensuring that the belt to her robe was securely fastened, Liz crept cautiously towards the staircase. From the top of the stairs, Liz could see the Ghost. Max was standing in the hallway below.
"Are you not ready, yet?" he smiled up at her. "Good job I sent you home early. Maybe I should have sent you away earlier still."
"Max?" she asked hesitantly. "Max?" She hurried down the stairs. How could this be? Tears flooded from her eyes. Max was here. "Max!"
She threw herself into Max's arms, and after making sure that he was real, she showered kisses over his face. Max had not been taken from her after all.
"Whoa," he laughed. "If this is how you're going to greet me anytime we're apart, we'll have to do this more often."
"But I thought... I thought," her mind was spinning. She was so sure that he had been dead. "I thought I'd never see you again."
"Um, Liz," Max held her tightly. "It was only a mild concussion. I said I'd be back as soon as the doctor saw me. But thanks for staying with me. It meant a lot."
'I'm afraid that Max doesn't qualify,' Gabriel had said. 'There are certain... entrance requirements.'
Chief amongst them, you had to be dead. Max wasn't dead. He was alive and well and in her arms.
"Thank you, Nicholas!" she cried out.
"Liz, are you okay?" Max asked, tenderly wiping away the tears that were soaking her cheeks.
"I have never been happier, my love!" she leapt up, forcing Max to catch her in his arms. "Take me to the shower, Max," she giggled. "It has been too long since you last made love to me."
"Your wish is my command," Max laughed with a lusty gleam in his eye.
"Max?" she asked, tentatively.
"Yeah?"
"I love you."

***

Max looked at his watch when he heard the doorbell ring. It was way to early for the limo, and Liz wasn't even ready yet. He found Michael Guerin and his girlfriend, Maria, at the door.
"Oh," Max was surprised to see them. "Come on in."
"Thanks, Max," Maria brushed past him. "Is Liz okay?"
"Yeah," Max frowned, nodding to Michael as he entered the hallway. "Why? Is there something wrong?"
"She sounded so upset when she called and asked us to come by. I thought you two had a fight or something."
"Oh," Max nodded. "Well, I got knocked over by a taxi earlier. I guess it scared her. I was unconscious, and they took us to hospital. I sent Liz home once they knew I was okay. I had to wait for a doctor. I guess she needed someone to talk to."
"Oh, Max," Maria laid a hand on his arm. "Are up okay?"
"I'm fine. Can I take your coats?"
Michael handed Max his coat, followed by Maria. Max gave a low whistle.
"You look lovely, Maria," Max complimented.
"See?" Maria looked archly at Michael. "How hard was that?"
"What?" he raised his hands in defense. "I said you looked okay."
"Yeah, you said 'okay'," Maria complained. "That's almost as bad as saying..."
"Nice?" interrupted Max.
"Yeah. Nice." Maria turned to Max. "Is Liz ready? Could I go up and see her?"
"Sure, Maria. First door on the right. Michael? Would you like a brandy or something?"
Michael looked shocked. He had never heard Max use his first name before. "Um... yeah. Sure. Do you have any whisky?"
"Sure," Max smiled. "Come on through to the living room."

***

Max's jaw fell. He started to shake, rather uncontrollably when Liz walked into the living room. Completely unaware of him, he did not see that Michael was having similar problems. Liz's short dress was nothing more that a thin layer of lilac silk, embossed with golden patterns, that had somehow been wrapped around her to look like a dress. From a layered hemline that looked almost like a wrap-over skirt, two strips of the thin lilac gauze swept up over her breasts to be fastened behind her neck. The dress was completely back-less, as far as the small of her back. She wore dark purple high heeled shoes, and Max just knew that beneath the dress that came down to about six inches above her knee, that she would be wearing stockings. He groaned as in his mind, he imagined what lingerie she was... or wasn't... wearing. Her make up was exquisite, finished off with contrasting purple fingernails. Over her back and through her arms, she had draped a purple shawl, the same color as her nails and shoes. Her long hair flowed loosely, just how Max liked it. She had a dark purple flowed tucked behind her ear.
"Liz," Max was by her side in an instant, holding her tightly. "You are so... so... Liz, you look so..."
"Okay?" asked Maria.
"Nice?" teased Liz.
"But there's something missing," Max frowned.
"What?" demanded Maria.
"This," Max smiled, and pulled out a long thin box, holding it in front of Liz.
Max opened the box to reveal the gold and diamond necklace that Liz had worn on their first date.
"Merry Christmas, Liz," Max smiled.
"Oh, Max," Liz inhaled sharply in wonder. "It's beautiful. Thank you."
"No, Liz," Max looked into her eyes as he fastened it around her neck. As it is, it's merely nice. Around your neck, then it becomes beautiful. But you are more beautiful still."

***

Holding Liz's hand, Max looked at the other young couple in front of him.
"I was going to do this at the dance," Max said. "But I guess this is as good a time as any." He slipped his hand into his pocket, and produced a small envelope. He handed it to Maria. "It's the card of a top Agent, Maria. Call him after Christmas, he's expecting to hear from you. He's agreed to represent you, and trust me, he will get you more auditions that you can handle. For all the big shows. The rest is up to you."
"Thank you, Max," Maria looked stunned. "I don't know what to say."
"It's nothing, Maria," Max smiled. "Thank you for taking such good care of Liz for me. There's something else. Any time you are 'between jobs', you can work in the store. In the cosmetics department, teaching people how to do make up. You are obviously very good at it."
"Thank you," she blushed.
"And you, Michael Guerin," Max turned to the other man.
Michael stood up. "Yeah?"
"You're fired."
"What?" Both Maria and Liz mirrored his shock.
Max handed a larger envelope from his jacket to Michael, who numbly accepted it. "Starting on seventh of January, I want you at the offices of Evans Developments. I want you to head up my new Graphics department. Liz tells me that you can draw with soul. That's what I want."
Michael was dumbstruck.
"No," Max shook his head. "Don't thank me. I haven't done you any favors because you will have to work hard. I realize that you're not qualified, so you're going to have to put yourself through night school. To borrow a phrase from the military, I expect my managers to be all that they can be."
"I, I," Michael stammered. "I don't know what to say, Mr. Evans."
"Well, 'I accept' will do for starters," Max smirked. "And you can stop calling me Mr.Evans and call me Max."
"Yes, Mr. Ev... Max. I accept."

***

The dinner dance was in full flow. There were very few people who did not turn up, once the rumor that Mr. Evans would be attending, and that it was the new girl, Elizabeth Parker who had persuaded him to go. During the speeches, after the meal, Max had told his employees to open the envelope that was sitting before them; the one marked "Not to be opened until instructed." Inside each envelope was a check equal to one month's salary for each employee.
"It's a bonus," Max had told his staff. "To thank you for you efforts in making ML Evans the store that it is today. But it doesn't end there. From now on, this will be an annual event. If the store does well, so will you. I'll have the accounts team iron out the details, but from now on, we will have a profit sharing scheme."
There was mass applause for Max.
"So you see," he continued, "you're not just working for me, you're working for yourself too. I know I haven't been a lot of fun to be around, but I want you all to know that I have appreciated your efforts keep me going. None more so than my secretary, Ms. Sanchez. Louisa, where are you? Come on up here."
To another round of applause, Louisa Sanchez came over to Max, who presented her with a bouquet of flowers. There was an envelope in the bouquet, which Louisa opened up. It was an all expenses paid holiday for two to Cancun.
"Thank you, Louisa," Max whispered. "Find someone nice to take. Maybe then Kyle will see you for the treasure you are."
Louisa, blushing furiously, returned to her seat.
"One hundred years ago today," Max continued, "this store became ML Evans, having previously just been called M Evans. Well, right now, it's just M Evans again. Me, Max. But I can change that, just like a little over a week ago, someone changed me, a wonderful... enchanting young... angel. I want to start of the next one hundred years the right way. I want to put the 'L' back into the store."
Max pulled a small square box from his pocket, flipped it open, and knelt beside Liz on one knee.
"Liz, will you honor me by agreeing to become my wife? Liz? Will you marry me?"
Liz's eyes grew wide, tears rimming her lids. She broke into a huge smile, and threw herself into Max's arms.
"Yes!" she cried out, "Yes!"
There was another thunderous applause as Max slid the diamond ring onto Liz' finger. This was turning into the best Christmas dinner dance ever.

***

Liz sat at her place at the head of the table, and watched Max as he danced with some of the members of his staff. He was laughing, but he was looking only at her. She smiled back, and waved.
"So, you were right all along," Alex laughed as he sat next to her.
"Alex!" she exclaimed. "Alex, did you hear? He's my soul mate!"
Yeah," he nodded. "I heard. And I'm sorry, Liz. I really thought... I thought..."
"Don't worry, Alex," Liz urged. "It's all turned out better than I could have hoped."
"So you don't regret losing your wings?"
"I have my wings, Alex," Liz smiled. "Max. He's my wings. And I am his."
"I think you might be right. Everyone upstairs is happy that this was all resolved okay. I think they'll celebrate even more, tomorrow."
"Have you come to erase my memory, Alex?"
"Yeah, I'm sorry, Liz."
"No, no, you know what? That's okay. I want it this way, Alex, so that I can concentrate on Max. Except that I wish I would be allowed to remember you."
"Oh, don't worry, Liz. I know that there will always be this little part of you that will remember me. Perhaps you could call your son Alex?"
"My son?" Liz clasped her hands to her stomach. "When will he be born?"
"I would guess about mid September."
"But that would mean..."
"Yeah," Alex laughed, "You really should have listened to Maria and used those condoms."
"Oh my!" Liz exclaimed.
"Yeah. It happened this morning, if you're interested. It was the time in the shower."
Liz blushed as she nodded. "Yeah, maybe we'll name him Alex."
"Or you could name your daughter Alexis."
"When will she be born?"
"The same time," Alex roared with laughter.
"Twins?" Liz was shocked.
"Yes," Alex chuckled, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes. "You have been a busy girl."
"Oh my!"
"And I thought you should know, Liz. I'm leaving teaching,"
"Oh, Alex," Liz mourned. "What will you do?"
"I'm going to take over from what you wanted to do," Alex smiled benevolently, as he started to pass his hand over Liz's head.
"You mean you're..." Whatever she was going to ask, she had forgotten. Alex had erased all her memories of heaven. He vanished from her sight.
"Is something wrong, darling?" Max asked, sitting beside her and pulling her into an embrace.
"No, no, um," she looked puzzled. "Max, I know this sounds funny, and please don't get mad at me but..."
"Yeah?"
"Max, I think I'm pregnant... with twins."
"You are?" The look of pure joy in Max's face was incredible. "Oh, Liz, really? Are you sure? I mean, isn't it kind of soon to know?"
"Yeah, I agree Max, but it's so strange. I just... know."
"Aw, Liz, this is awesome news. Thank you. Wow, next year, Christmas will be so cool. We can pretend St Nicholas will be visiting the kids, and..." His face dropped.
"Max, what's that matter?"
"Liz, we will be okay, won't we?" he looked so worried. "I mean, you hear about things like this. How couples split up because they can't cope. It would have been nice to get to know you first. I hope we don't fall out. Will we be able to cope with all this."
"Yeah, Max," she smiled. "We'll do just fine."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I happen to believe that we are being looked after by the best Guardian Angel in the business."


The End


MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!
Wayne

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