When Love Isn't Enough (ML / Adult) (Complete)

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Deejonaise
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When Love Isn't Enough (ML / Adult) (Complete)

Postby Deejonaise » Wed Oct 29, 2003 11:16 am

Winner - Round 5

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Round 3 Winner

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When Liz comforts Max after he's been shot.

Disclaimer: You know I don't own it so why even go through the litany? :roll:

Category: Max and Liz

Rating: Adult

Summary: This is a challenge story based on a challenge by talena. It is posted as follows:

What happens when the one you're destined to marry is in love with someone else?

- AU M/L
- Takes place in a reality that is exactly like our time now, except, in this reality, the rules to marriage are that of the early American traditions. Daughters are married at ages between 15-17 through prearranged marriages or simply from falling in love.
- Max and Liz have always done everything since the moment of their birth, growing up as neighbors and best friends so it's no surprise when at the tender age of 14, Liz begins to have strange feelings towards her best friend, however there's a problem, for as long as they could remember, Max has been in love with none other than the town's richest and most spoilt girl, Tessa Harding. (The Evans and Parkers both own two separate corporations and have a none to shabby life themselves, and have been looking to merge their companies)
- Max and Liz have the perfect friendship, except when he ditches her at Tess's beck and call.
- On the night of Liz's 16th birthday, the whole gang, (Max, Isabel (Max's sister), Liz, Michael (Liz's older brother), Alex, and Tess go out to a movie or something, but return home early to attend a party to which they assume is for Liz's birthday.
- At the party, sparks must fly between Max and Liz, but they ignore it as Max spends as much time with Tess as possible as Liz watches, longing.
- A rumor spreads through the party about the announcement of an engagement. Tess is sure her father had convinced the Evans' for an arrangement between her and Max, but much to her surprise and everyone elses', the two who are getting married are none other than Max and Liz.
- Max now struggles to remain true to Liz as they marry while Liz struggles to save a loveless marriage between her and the one she loves most. Isabel is her confidant through this time and this is where she learns that Liz's love for Max is deeper than anyone had imagined possible. Max, on the other hand, believes that he and Liz will never love one another as something more than platonic.
- Tess is an neverending temptation to Max and he is caught so many times by Liz, struggling to remain true to her. Maria and Kyle are newly arrived to Roswell, and Liz finds herself attracted to Kyle's personality and fast becomes his friend in her loneliness.
- Finally the day comes when Liz finds that she's pregnant, and this is when she catches Max in a compromising position with Tess, and she finally decides that her love was never enough to save the marriage. She decides to let Max go and not tell him about the child. She, instead turns to Kyle for comfort.
- Meanwhile, Max is beginning to notice the little things about Liz. Could his feelings be changing? Or could it already be too late?

I dunno the answer to that one, you tell me. I request that the person who takes this challenge knows how angst goes because I expect this to be a rather angsty piece. NC-17 is fine too. PS: Max never sleeps with Tess, just heaving making out I guess. ::shudder::


Still with me, lol? Well let's get cracking then.


Prologue

“No, friggin’ way!”

“Way!”

Elizabeth Parker paused for a moment to consider the sincere expression on her best friend’s face. “Naw, you’re bluffing!”

Max Evans answered the challenge with a casual shrug. “Care to bet?”

“You can NOT knock down this wall, idiot,” Liz retorted mockingly, “You don’t have the strength, Max! It‘s not physically possible.”

“Put your money where your mouth is, Parker!”

Thinking she had the conclusion worked out in her mind it never even entered Liz‘s head that she was being fooled. “You’re friggin on!” Liz declared smugly, digging down into the pocket of her denims to pull free a crumpled twenty. It was an entire week’s worth of allowance from her parents but she was pretty confident she’d double her money. She tossed the twenty onto the table. “Do it!”

With a mischievous smirk, Max slid himself from the booth and stepped around the back of it. And then, with one last laughing look at Liz, he proceeded to literally knock his fist down the wall. She could do little more than stare at him with her mouth hanging wide open, realizing belatedly that he had tricked her. After he was finished he fell back into the booth laughing. “There I did it!” But when he reached for the twenty, Liz snatched it up. “Hey!”

“You tricked me!” she accused hotly, mutinously folding her arms over her meager breasts, “That’s not fair.”

“I said I’d ‘knock’ down the wall and I did,” Max retorted, “Now stop being a sore loser and fork over my money!” He laughed again. Liz tossed the twenty at him so that it bounced off his forehead. Max was unaffected. He merely straightened out the twenty and folded it into his pocket. “Honestly, Parker, you can be so gullible!”

Liz continued to glare at him, tight-lipped. “You tricked me,” she muttered again.

At that precise moment Michael Parker slid into the booth loaded down with their orders of cheeseburgers, fries and cokes. He took one look at his fourteen year old sister’s expression and knew exactly what had happened. “Max take your money again?” he inquired with a casual laugh, “God, Liz, when are you gonna learn?” He shook his head over her general naiveté.

“He said he could knock down a wall, Mike,” Liz whined petulantly, “Who can knock down a wall?”

He and Max exchanged an amused glance. He had to admit that it had been pretty funny. Michael continued to shake his head as he passed her a cheeseburger basket. “How much did you give him this time?” Michael asked.

“Twenty dollars.”

Michael choked on his fry. “Tw-Twenty dollars,” he sputtered. Usually when Max took his sister for a ride it was only for a few bucks. However, swindling her for twenty was just crossing the line. He leveled Max with a warning look. “Give it back.”

Max snorted a laugh and placed the twenty back onto the table without fuss. “I wasn’t going to keep it, squirt,” he told Liz with a smile.

“Geez, Liz, twenty dollars?” Michael scolded as she started to pocket the money again, “What would Dad say if he knew that’s how you spent his hard earned money.”

Liz snatched back her hand, feeling her cheeks burn. Although her gullible bet with Max hadn’t embarrassed her all that much Liz felt utterly humiliated by her brother’s public scolding. No, it wasn’t the fact that he was doing it publicly so much as the fact he was doing it in front of Max Evans. Could he make her look like any more of a kid? And if that weren’t enough he had to make Max give back the money like she was some baby who couldn’t take care of herself.

She shoved the twenty back at Max. “You keep it,” she told him firmly, “A bet’s a bet.”

Max was obviously shocked by her gesture as was Michael, but before her brother could launch into a tirade over her stupidity Max was already saying, “Lizzie, come on…it was just a stupid joke. I wasn’t gonna keep your money.”

“I know that,” Liz offered lamely, “It’s…it’s just I made a mistake and I’ll live with the consequences, okay?”

Max shook his head firmly. “I’m not taking your money, squirt,” he stated stubbornly.

“I’m not taking it either,” Liz retorted just as stubbornly. Their eyes locked in a silent battle that began as a clashing of wills but melted, unexpectedly, into something more.

For Liz it had always been that way, a falling into his eyes, a loss of awareness whenever he was near to her. Max Evans consumed her world, was the actual center of her existence. All her life she had been aware of him, but only recently did his nearness cause an ache in her chest. Only recently did she yearn for him to see past her braces and pigtails and girlish veneer to the person she truly was inside. Only recently did she discover the awful-wonderful truth of her feelings: she loved him. She was completely, mindlessly, flat on her ass in love with Maxwell Evans! Unfortunately, Max had never seen her as anything other than his best friend’s kid sister and, besides that, he had a girlfriend. Even if he were aware of her feelings for him Liz seriously doubted he would give a damn.

However, for Max, the odd sense that fell over him as he stared into Liz Parker’s fathomless brown eyes was both unwelcome and alarming. That had been happening a lot lately, where he would look at her and forget what he was thinking. It was weird. This curious yearning had begun to unfurl in his belly, an unprecedented ache he‘d never experienced. It was as if he’d been doused with cold water and was seeing the real Liz Parker for the first time ever. And what he saw glowing in the depths of her dark eyes when she looked at him scared Max shitless.

It was that encompassing emotion that compelled Max to look away now and laugh off her insistence as a joke. “Okay, have it your way, squirt,” he conceded, scooping up the twenty and pressing it into the breast pocket of his shirt, “but don’t come crying to me later this week because you’re broke.”

Afterwards he and Michael fell into easy conversation with each other and the laughing atmosphere gradually reasserted itself. However, the strange ache in Max’s heart remained.
Last edited by Deejonaise on Wed Oct 29, 2003 11:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Deejonaise » Wed Oct 29, 2003 11:29 am

Chapter One

“Lizzie, you need to haul ass!” Michael called upstairs to his tardy sister.

His sister was running late. But then what was new? Liz was always late. Even when Michael deliberately gave her the wrong time she still ended up running late and holding up the entire group. If Michael lived a hundred years he’d never figure out how she managed it. And tonight, of all nights, he couldn’t afford to have her lag behind. His parents fully expected him to have her out of the house by 8:30 p.m. so that they could plan her big surprise bash and already it was 8:20. Michael felt himself begin to simmer with irritation. “Lizzie!” he shouted again, “Hurry up!”

“I’m coming,” Liz called back frantically, tripping over the legs of her jeans as she tried to wriggle them up her hips. She hit the floor with an audible thump and groaned from the impact. As she pushed herself upright she mentally cursed her brother. If it weren’t for his infernal bellowing she would have been dressed by now. But as it was, the more he yelled, the more nervous she became, the more she fumbled, the longer she took and it was a vicious cycle.

Liz ground her teeth in annoyance as she pulled on her denims. She didn’t understand why he was rushing her to begin with. Michael, of all people, should understand exactly why she would want to take her sweet time getting ready tonight. He should already realize that this night was monumentally important to her. Today was the day that she officially passed the rite of womanhood, when she made the transition from child to adult. It seemed Liz had been waiting for this day since the beginning of time. But her excitement over her sixteenth birthday had nothing to do with her desire to be treated as an adult or the fact she‘d reached the legal, marriageable age. No, her anxious anticipation of the day had originated with the fierce hope that by the time she reached sixteen Max Evans would finally open his eyes and see her as a woman.

Of course, from a logical standpoint, Liz knew that the notion was ridiculous. Max Evans was practically a member of the Parker household. He’d been having dinner with their family and vice versa since Liz’s earliest memory. If her appearance hadn’t bowled Max over in the last thirteen years Liz seriously doubted that reaching the much-anticipated age of sixteen would change his opinion of her. She knew this and still she had the wild hope that he would notice her in spite of logic.

And maybe her hope wasn‘t so illogical after all, Liz reasoned to herself as she pulled on her boots. For instance, there would be marked changes in her appearance that Max was bound to notice. She looked like a completely different girl now. Finally, she was free of her hated braces, having had them removed earlier that morning during her final orthodontist visit. All that remained of her “metal mouth” now was an even set of beautiful, white teeth. Experimentally, Liz flashed herself a smile in the mirror before her. Max definitely couldn‘t call her “tinsel teeth” anymore.

And that was only one of the changes in her appearance. For the first time in her life, Liz had been allowed to wear make-up. After years of begging her mother for the privilege Nancy Parker had finally relented. And so, in anticipation for her daughter’s birthday outing with her friends, Nancy had made up Liz’s face. When her mother was done Liz was left speechless by the effect.

Though the fact she was wearing cosmetics wasn’t made glaringly obvious the make-up still heightened Liz’s already pretty features, enhancing her beauty to an exquisite degree. Her mother had used only the barest hint of mascara to plume Liz’s thick lashes and coax them into a curl. Her eyelids had been brushed with a tan colored eye shadow, which complimented her creamy, gold complexion excellently. Her cheekbones had been accented with the lightest shade of pink, lending her cheeks a rosy appearance. Her lips had been colored with a glossy, berry pink as well, the perfect shade to accentuate the color in her cheeks.

And for the final part of her make over, Nancy Parker had unbound her daughter’s long, dark hair. It fell across Liz’s shoulders and back in and inky, brown river. When Liz had gazed at her reflection afterward she could hardly believe how beautiful she looked.

Even two hours later, Liz still couldn’t believe it. She hopped up from her bed and drifted over to the full-length mirror across her room. Was that really her, she marveled, studying her reflection closely. Was she really that girl standing there dressed in a pink belly top and hip hugger jeans? Was she really that beautiful? It couldn’t be. Liz Parker was plain, boring, a geek extraordinaire, definitely not the type of girl who would attract someone as alluring as Max Evans. Liz felt like she was caught inside some surreal dream.

Now Liz was by no means modest. There were things she believed about herself that no one could dispute. She was smart and loyal and funny and extremely honest. Liz also prided herself on being able to hold a substantial conversation with Michael and Max who, at eighteen, felt they needed to discuss the more intellectual side of life. Long after Isabel and Tess would grow bored with their endless political conversation and views on the impending war with Afghanistan Liz would still be there, debating with them right til the end.

Liz knew she had excellent qualities, but she had never, never believed herself beautiful. She hadn’t even bothered to entertain the notion and simply accepted that she was probably destined always to be the sidekick, the good friend, the confidante, even that really smart chick but definitely no one’s girlfriend. That possibility probably wouldn’t have hurt so acutely had Liz not been in love with Max Evans to the point of distraction. The idea that her dreamguy might never see her as anything more than a good friend had crushed her. But looking at her reflection now Liz wondered if she might not change his mind about her after all.

Elizabeth!” Michael bellowed again.

Liz heaved a disgruntled sigh, realizing she could put her grand entrance off no longer. Pointedly ignoring the butterflies of nervousness that had suddenly taken flight in her stomach, Liz scooped up her jacket and purse and then proceeded downstairs. She stood outside the folding doors of the den for several seconds, gathering her courage to face Max Evans as her newly transformed self. However, when she finally glided into the room her smile collapsed when the first thing she saw was Max Evans and Tessa Harding curled up together in one of her father’s big leather chairs.

She could barely make out their faces because their heads were pressed so close together, but there was no mistaking Tessa Harding’s trademark blonde curls or that insipid giggle of hers. Liz felt the urge to snarl in outrage and launch herself in attack. Sometimes she seriously had to remind herself that Max wasn’t hers at all.

The butterflies in her belly became like leaden rock as Liz couldn’t quite hide her disappointment over seeing them. It was her birthday, after all, she thought caustically, did she really have to be subjected to Tess Harding’s inane giggling the entire night? Liz already knew the answer to that. Of course, she did. Tess was Max’s girlfriend after all and had been so for the last four years. It was no secret that they were joined at the hip so Liz shouldn’t have been at all surprised that Max would invite Tess along on her birthday outing. She shouldn’t have been surprised and yet she was…and incredibly hurt.

Schooling her features into an indifferent mask Liz breezed more fully into the room, commenting acerbically as she did, “Can you two keep your hands off each other for even five minutes? God, Max, no wonder you keep getting mono!” Tess jumped at her sudden entrance, but Max only regarded Liz with a lazy smile, preparing himself to retort to her sarcastic remark but he never made it. His smile froze on his face, half-formed, when he was hit with the full onslaught of her appearance. His jaw fell slack.

“Wow,” he breathed, awestruck, “You clean up real nice, Parker.”

“Yeah, well even the bride of Frankenstein has to doll herself up every now and then,” Liz joked self-deprecatingly. Every one laughed at her little quip except for Max. He continued to look at Liz as if he‘d never seen her before.

“No, Liz, I’m serious,” he insisted solemnly, “You look really good tonight. Happy birthday.”

“Thank you,” Liz managed to push past the thick lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. Just the way he was looking at her now made her toes curl.

She tried not to grow uncomfortable under his unwavering stare, although a blush rose to her cheeks that she couldn’t quite hide. The situation was made even more awkward because Tess sat witnessing Max’s unprecedented reaction firsthand and, from the look of growing irritation on her pretty face, she wasn’t at all happy with Max’s response. Suspecting that the situation would quickly get out of hand if she didn‘t intervene Liz tried to laugh off Max’s avid attention. “Can you please stop staring at me, Max…,” she stammered nervously, “You’re making me feel like the latest exhibit at the Roswell zoo.”

Finally, Max became aware of what he was doing. He gave himself a mental shake, his usual mocking expression restored. “Sorry, I’ve just never seen you look half human before, squirt,” he joked shakily, “Now we all know what was taking you so long to get ready. That transformation from alien to human has got to be a mutha.” Everyone laughed at his joke, dispelling any lingering tension in the room.

Liz was still rolling her eyes over that comment when Isabel stepped forward to enfold her in a brief hug. “Ignore my idiot brother,” she said dismissively, “You look totally gorgeous, Lizzie. Happy birthday.” And then she leaned close and whispered so that only Liz could hear, “And I think Max definitely noticed.”

The reassurance thrilled Liz and she found herself grinning, even in spite of the fact Max and Tess had fallen back into their usual routine of nauseating fondling. At least now Max knew she was alive. That was the first step in her plan. She‘d work on seducing him away from Tess later. “Thanks, Isabel,” Liz replied with a sigh, smiling happily.

In typical fashion, however, Michael broke up the tender moment. “Are you finally ready now?” he demanded impatiently of Liz as he looped his arm around Isabel’s waist and pulled her against him. “We’ve only been waiting for you for a hundred years!”

Liz didn’t answer right away because she was struck by what an odd couple Michael and Isabel made. Hauteur and grunge didn’t seem to suit one another at all and yet they were unbelievably together. The two had been dating only for the last three months. Liz knew that the development had created a thread of awkwardness between Max and Michael though Max had yet to officially comment on the relationship. Knowing Michael’s reputation with women Liz highly doubted that Max was thrilled with having his sister date Michael. But Max hadn’t said anything so far so Liz supposed it was hardly her place to judge.

Shaking free her wandering thoughts, Liz regarded her brother with an exasperated glare. “Yes, I’m ready!”

“Are you sure?” Michael prodded, “You don’t need to run upstairs and put on another coat of spackle, do you?” He fell into fits of laughter over his own joke. Liz rolled her eyes and landed a firm punch to his shoulder. “Ow!” Michael exclaimed, rubbing at the sore spot, “that hurt, butt munch!”

“Better a butt munch than a dick head!” Liz retorted pointedly.

“Alright, children, children!” Max intoned in his best Jeff Parker impersonation as he came between the two of them, “Into your respective corners, please!” He gave Michael a playful shove. “Now can you two stop fooling around…the movie starts in twenty minutes!” For anyone else that would have been plenty of time to make it.

For Max Evans twenty minutes was bordering on late. Max was the type of person who liked to get to be in his seat twenty minutes prior to start time so that he could have his popcorn and coke all before the movie started. And he liked watching the previews. That was a big deal. His friends well knew that if Max missed the previews the movie was pretty much ruined for him. He’d be a pain in the ass for the rest of the night.

“Okay, okay, let’s get a move on!” Isabel announced, rounding them all together, “before Max pops a vein right here and now.”

As they shuffled out of the den together Liz caught sight of a dark-haired boy slumped in the far corner of the room. “Who are you?” she asked him boldly when he joined them, a bewildered frown creasing her forehead.

“This is my cousin Alex,” Tess explained casually, her attention divided between introducing her cousin and kissing her boyfriend, “He’s going to be staying with my family for a while. Alex, this is Liz Parker, the birthday girl herself.”

Liz looked up at Alex, noting the sullen expression on his face. His expression clearly mirrored what Liz felt inside most days. He felt like an outsider, too. Liz felt an instant kinship with him. “Nice to meet you, Alex,” she said brightly. “How are you liking Roswell so far?” she asked as they walked through the house. Michael, Isabel, Max and Tess had gone off before them and split into their respective couples.

Alex answered with a noncommittal shrug. “It’s okay…I guess,” he mumbled, “I just don’t like feeling like the fifth wheel, you know.” He nodded rather pointedly towards the two couples before them. “All this lovey dovey stuff gives me hives!”

Liz threw back her head and laughed, giving him a sympathetic nudge with her shoulder. “Now you know how I feel all the time,” she stressed jokingly. That was all it took. The sullen expression on Alex’s face gave way to a reluctant grin. Having broken the ice between them, Liz thrust out her hand. “I’m Liz Parker,” she said jovially, officially introducing herself though it had been done already. Besides it really didn’t count when Tess did it. She’d hardly been aware of their presence to begin with.

Alex gripped her hand and pumped it enthusiastically. “Alex Whitman,” he replied just as jovially, “Humble relation to Tessa ‘I’m much too good for you’ Harding.”

Liz snickered a giggle, belatedly clapping her hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. “Oh my god,” she exclaimed, “I thought I was the only one who felt that way about her. Everybody always treats her like she‘s the sweetest thing since hard candy.”

“Not everyone,” Alex quipped, “I‘ve seen the real Tess more times than I can count and it‘s not a pretty sight…not pretty at all,” he stressed towards the end. Liz burst into laughter once again, looping her arm through his and thinking that she was going to like Alex Whitman immensely.

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Postby Deejonaise » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:21 pm

Chapter Two

They were making out. And not quiet groping either. No, it was those loud, slobbery, slushy kisses complete with gurgling groans of pleasure. Liz wanted to groan herself. She would have never insisted on sitting next to Max at the movies had she known she’d be subjected to such a disgusting display. But she should have known. When had Max ever passed up the opportunity to play tongue hockey with Tess Harding? Why should her birthday be any different?

Liz caught herself in mid-thought. She really wasn’t entitled to any bitterness. Max was just doing what he was supposed to do, making out with his girlfriend. It wasn’t his fault that every time he did he dug out the heart of his longtime secret admirer. It wasn’t his fault that he was in love. And he was. Liz knew this because Max, himself, had told her so. Max had told her many things.

It was a little known fact that Liz Parker, perhaps, knew Max Evans better than anyone in the world. They’re friendship had begun the fall of her fourteenth year while she was helping him to get a passing grade in his English class. Math and science Max could understand, but explicating William Shakespeare sent him into a tailspin. As a result, Liz began casually tutoring him and gradually their relationship transcended from boy and best friend’s kid sister to boy and best friend.

The stronger their friendship grew, the more Max would open up to Liz until he finally admitted his feelings to her one night while they were studying. Liz recalled their conversation then, her mind falling back in reverie.

“I’m in love with Tess.” The moment he made his confession the world before Liz became blurry. They made a zinging arrow straight to her heart, filling it with pain. Liz blinked rapidly in an effort to hold her tears back. When that didn’t work she just continued to stare at her Biology notes. But she didn‘t see them, didn‘t “see” anything beyond Max Evans telling her that he was in love with someone else.

Max nudged her arm. “Liz, did you hear me?”

Of course she’d heard him! The words alone had cut out her still beating heart. Yes, she heard him and the revelation was crushing her, suffocating her moment by moment. “Yeah…yeah, I heard you,” she replied in feigned nonchalance, her eyes still cast down. To Max she simply seemed absorbed in her notes, but in reality Liz was using them to hide her tears. “It’s already common knowledge that you’ve got a mega jones for Tessa Harding, Max. This isn’t a newsflash for me.”

Max flopped onto her bed, closing his math book completely as he did. “I’m not talking about just infatuation, Liz,” he sighed despondently, “I’m talking about real, it hurts in your stomach, love.”

“Hmm…doesn’t sound all that pleasant,” Liz remarked gruffly. She imagined that she must seem like the most callous person on the planet to Max right then, but at the moment she was desperately trying to get her emotions under control.

Unexpectedly, Max snatched her notebook from her lap and tossed it aside. “Liz, come on,” he pleaded, “I’m pouring my heart out here, okay.”

With a shuddering sigh, Liz forced herself to look at him while somehow managing to keep her face impassive. “So you’re in love with Tessa Harding,” she declared quizzically, “Then why are you laying across my bed in absolute misery right now instead of being with her?”

“We’re supposed to study tonight, remember?” Max evaded weakly.

Liz punched him in the shoulder. “You wanted to talk…so talk!”

“Her father hates me,” Max stated in a rush, looking almost relieved to have unburdened himself, “He doesn’t think I’m good enough and he wants me to stay away from her.”

“Again, Max, this is nothing new,” Liz replied, “Edward Harding has hated you for as long as you and Tess have been dating. Why does it suddenly bother you now?”

Max’s features became even more despondent as he rolled over onto his side to regard Liz fully. “Before we were just fooling around with each other and it didn’t matter so much,” Max answered openly, “Now I don’t think I can imagine my life without her and it kills me that her father won’t accept us, especially because I know how much his acceptance means to Tess. She doesn’t like upsetting him and…and I think she might break up with me.”

His admission left Liz stunned and her heart aching with renewed pain. Not only because it was obvious that Max was really in love with Tess, but because she sympathized with his anguish. She knew exactly what it was like to love someone with all your soul and fear that you might never have them. Liz hated seeing Max in that kind of agony.

She reached out to touch him, gently brushing his bangs away from his forehead. Just that fleeting touch made her heart quicken but Max hardly seemed affected at all. Liz let her hand fall away and asked, “Have you told Tess how you really feel…you know, that you’re falling in love with her?” Max shook his head miserably. “Then do it,” Liz advised softly, “I’ll bet you that it changes everything.”
.

And it did. After Max confessed his love for Tess and from that point onward the two couldn’t be separated with a crowbar. It turned out that was what Tess had been waiting for all along. And she had Liz to thank for it. Even thinking about it now made Liz want to grind her teeth. If she had just been selfish, if she hadn’t gotten caught up in trying to comfort Max, he and Tess might have broken up. But no, she’d had to be noble and selfless and where the hell had it gotten her? Sitting next to Max Evans on her sixteenth birthday while he hoovered out Tess Harding’s tonsils.

Liz gripped the armrests tightly, trying valiantly to concentrate on the movie screen but feeling like she might become physically ill if she stayed there one more minute. The longer she sat, the more she itched to toss her tub of popcorn in their faces. Before she could stop herself Liz was already surging to her feet with the full intention of walking out of there. She hadn’t even taken two steps before Max’s hand had snaked out and clamped around her wrist. Just the immediate touch of his fingers against her skin caused Liz’s heart to drop into the pit of her belly. She deliberately lifted her eyes from his long, tapered fingers to his stunning face.

“What?” she asked impatiently.

“Where are you going?” he whispered back.

“I’m going to get a coke!” Liz said, trying to pull free from his grasp but he held her firm. Behind them people had already begun grumbling over the interruption. “Max, let me go!” Liz hissed in a whisper, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment.

“Wait,” Max insisted, releasing her wrist to dig into the pocket of his jeans. Seconds later he pressed a ten-dollar bill into her palm. “Can you get me a cherry coke?” She started to tell him exactly where he could shove his ten dollars when he added with a dazzling smile, “Please?”

With a disgusted grunt Liz turned away and started sliding through the isle. “Hey, Liz!” Liz’s groan of exasperation coincided with those of the people behind them, who were now cursing and throwing up their hands in general annoyance. Liz turned back to face Max, enunciating through clenched teeth, “What do you want?”

“Can you get Tess a coke, too?”

Liz fairly stomped her way to the concession stand. Honestly, sometimes she didn’t know why she even bothered with Max Evans! He was arrogant and rude and completely self-absorbed. He treated her like complete crap! He… Liz trailed off in her mental thoughts, abruptly reigning in her fury. Again she had to remind herself that she had no right to be upset with Max. He had done nothing wrong. He was behaving as any friend would because they were just friends. But, oh god, was it hard to remember that sometimes.

She was so steamed with anger and frustration that it took her a moment to realize the concession line was moving. Liz shuffled forward just as Alex Whitman came to join her in line. She appraised him with a lackluster, sideways glance. “You thirsty, too,” she inquired blandly.

Alex shrugged. “I thought you might need some help carrying back the drinks that’s all.”

His unmitigated kindness made Liz feel instantly regretful of her sullen attitude. “I’m sorry, Alex,” she sighed wearily, “I guess this day’s not turning out the way I’d hoped.”

“It’s gotta be a real bummer, huh?” Alex commented as they stepped forward in line together.

Liz cast him a curious glance. “What’s a bummer?”

“Watching your crush make out with his girlfriend on your birthday,” Alex replied succinctly.

Jerking around to face him in speechless astonishment, Liz stammered, “Wh-What did you say to me?”

“You like Max,” Alex stated simply and when she started to protest he added quickly, “Don’t bother to deny it, Liz. It’s written all over your face when you look at him.”

Liz hung her head in miserable shame, mortified that a perfect stranger who had only known her for an hour had guessed her feelings. If it was one thing Liz prided herself on more than anything it was her ability to keep her feelings hidden. Hadn’t she managed to keep them a secret from Max for the last two years? He practically hung out with her everyday and he was completely clueless. So why had it taken Alex Whitman only an hour to figure out what only three people in the world knew, that she loved Max Evans?

In those seconds, Liz hoped devoutly that the floor would open and swallow her whole. “Oh my god,” she moaned in horror, “Am I that obvious?”

“Not really,” Alex reassured her, “I’m just a really observant guy.”

“Well, you can’t tell him!” Liz snapped out in sudden fierceness. Just thinking that he might turned her knees to jelly. If Max were to find out how she truly felt about him then her humiliation would be complete. “I don’t ever want him to know how I feel!”

Alex threw up his hands in mock surrender, trying to lighten the situation. “He won’t hear it from me,” he vowed jokingly. However, his laughing demeanor dissipated when he recognized that Liz was on the verge of tears. He patted her shoulder. “Look, Liz, don’t freak out, okay. I’m not going to tell anyone.”

Liz dabbed at her watering eyes, but her attempts to regain her composure were ineffectual. She was a nervous wreck now. “I know that,” she sniffled.

“Then why are you crying?”

Averting her gaze, Liz began rapidly blinking back her tears. “I’m just so humiliated that you figured it out,” she scoffed hoarsely, “And I’m so pathetic I couldn’t even deny it.”

Throwing caution to the wind, Alex reached around Liz and hugged her against his side. “Hey, don’t sweat it,” he teased her with an engaging grin, “I humiliate myself on a daily basis so you’re in good company.”

Liz snorted a teary giggle, amazed that this stranger had actually gotten her to forget her misery, at least momentarily. By the time Liz returned to her seat her good humor was restored and she was actually smiling. She was even able to maintain that smile despite the fact Max and Tess were still wrapped in one another’s arms.

She passed them their cokes before settling back into her seat to watch the movie. “So what did I miss?” she asked Max in a stage whisper, reaching across him to grab a handful of popcorn.

Max shifted in his seat and leaned into Liz, his mouth dangerously close to her ear when he replied, “Just Joaquin Phoenix in an aluminum foil hat,” he snickered, “Now that was worth the price we paid for admission.” He laughed at his own joke and poked her in the ribs.

Liz rolled her eyes at him before returning her attention back to the screen. “You’re such a dork!” she accused without heat. When he got cutesy like that, poking and tickling her, Liz couldn’t resist him.

“Aww, you know you love it when I annoy you,” he said with a knowing grin. “Hey, thanks for the cokes, by the way.” He started to say more when a thought suddenly occurred to him and he frowned. “I gave you ten bucks…where‘s my change?”

“What change, Max?” Liz replied blankly.

But he didn’t appear irritated with her like she expected. Instead he smiled at her, brushed his knuckles across her cheek and whispered, “Just forget about it. Happy birthday, squirt.” At that moment, with Max staring deep into her eyes, Liz thought that it definitely was.

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Postby Deejonaise » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:24 pm

Chapter Three

“Surprise!”

Liz fell back into her brother’s waiting arms when the crowd chorused their loud cry the moment she stepped through the folding doors of the den. She spun around on Michael immediately. “You idiot!” she accused, smacking him against the shoulder, “You knew about this the entire time, didn’t you? That’s why you were rushing me earlier!”

Michael only shrugged in sheepish innocence and then dropped the façade completely, pulling his sister into a tight embrace. “Happy birthday, sis.”

“Yes, happy birthday, honey,” her parents murmured together, joining into the embrace. As the family shared their private moment the crowd surrounding them fanned out. Isabel, Alex, Max and Tess dispersed themselves as well while the Parkers offered Liz their private happy wishes.

“I can’t believe you guys did all this,” Liz sniffled, blinking back her tears of joyful surprise, “Dad, you specifically told me you weren’t throwing a party!”

“I specifically lied,” her father returned irreverently, kissing her cheek gently. “Happy sixteenth birthday, pumpkin,” he said again.

Liz glanced around at the dense crowd surrounding her, finding only a few familiar faces. “Who are all these people, Daddy?”

“Some business associates of mine and Philip Evans’,” her father answered vaguely, “I wanted a chance to show off my beautiful daughter in style.” Liz felt herself blush at her father’s indulgent praise.

“Were you surprised?” her mother asked, framing Liz’s face in her hands and peppering her face with motherly kisses, “Your father and I were so afraid your brother wouldn’t be able to keep it secret.”

Liz appraised Michael with a laughing, sideways glance. “Yeah, I’m kinda surprised Mr. Loose Lips didn’t cave before now.”

“Hey,” Michael cried in mock affront, “I can keep a secret!”

“Never, son,” Jeff Parker chuckled, clapping his son on the back, “Never in your life.”

“I kept this secret, didn’t I?” Michael grumbled under his breath.

“Yes, you did,” his mother crooned, humoring him. She kissed his cheek. “We’re very proud of you, too, sweetie.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Michael muttered, but it was quite obvious to any onlooker that he was a Mama’s boy, “I’m gonna go join Isabel and the gang.” His sister and parents watched him able over to the opposite corner of the room before resuming their conversation.

“So, sweetheart, is your birthday everything you imagined it would be,” Nancy Parker asked her daughter brightly. She tucked several errant strands of hair behind Liz’s ear.

At her mother’s soft question Liz’s gaze wandered over to where Max stood with Alex, Isabel and Tess chatting and laughing. An unconscious, enamored smile ghosted her lips as she watched him laugh, fascinated by the animated gesticulations he made as he spoke. “Well, it’s definitely shaping up…” Liz murmured absently in answer to her mother’s question. She was so preoccupied watching Max that she missed the meaningful glance her parents passed over her head.

“Well, the night has just begun,” her father said, placing his hand in the small of her back and ushering her more fully into the den. That’s when Liz saw it. A mountain of ornately wrapped presents right in the center of the dining room table.

Liz clamped her hands over her mouth in stunned disbelief. “Oh my god,” she uttered, “It’ll take until next year to open all these presents!”

“That’s doubtful,” her father teased lovingly, “but it might take most of the night if you don’t start soon.” His assessment wasn’t that far off the mark. Liz spent the better part of two hours ripping at wrapping paper and smiling while profusely thanking the gift givers. Finally, she had opened every box on the table save for one. It was a small, plain white box topped with only a simple red bow.

While all her other presents had been professionally wrapped this one was so unadorned, so plain that Liz thought she knew immediately who’d given it to her. She tossed a wry glance over her shoulder at Max, who stood off to her right. “You couldn’t splurge a little for wrapping paper?” she teased him.

Max replied with a bewildered shrug. “That’s not from me,” he denied fervently.

“But you’re the only one who didn’t give me a present,” Liz concluded.

“I’m serious,” Max insisted, “It’s not from me, squirt.” His very vehemence made Liz narrow her eyes in displeasure. He would be the only one not to give her a present. She rolled her eyes at him before turning away.

Michael nudged him in the shoulder and snickered. “I’d say you’re in the dog house now, bud. Should have taken the credit when you had a chance.”

“Actually, honey,” Nancy Parker piped up, trying to alleviate the tension, “that present is from me and your father.”

“This little box?” Liz uttered in disbelief. After receiving a DVD, a cd player, a game cube, a slew of designer clothes and a fourteen karat gold locket her parents’ plain, little box was something of a disappointment. She shook the box experimentally causing a muffled shuffling inside. “I think it might be broken,” she remarked glumly.

“Oh, Lizzie, just open it for Pete’s sake!” her mother cried.

With a huffing sigh Liz ripped off the top of the box and set it aside. Casting one last sour glance at her parents, Liz looked down into the box and frowned. Laid against the soft cotton lining was a single key. “You gave me a key?” she groused.

“Look at it,” her father urged gently.

Trying to humor her parents as much as possible, Liz lifted the key from the box and surveyed it closely. “It’s really n--,” She never finished her sentence. In fact, her entire body froze as she read the logo imprinted into the key. Lexus. Liz’s jaw dropped to her lap. “A Lexus?” she trilled, spinning around in her chair to regard her parents with wide eyes, “Did you get me a Lexus?”

“It’s in the garage,” her father said with an indulgent smile.

“Oh my god!” Liz exclaimed, leaping from her chair, “Oh my god!” She started to run from the room completely, her destination the garage, when she belatedly realized she hadn’t even hugged her parents or thanked them. She doubled back, did a quick show of gratitude, and then went flying from the room once more, squealing the entire way.

It didn’t hit Liz fully that her parents had actually bought her a car until she saw the silver, four door sedan with her own eyes. She drifted into the garage, running her hands over the sleek metal. She stooped down to press her cheek against the logo on the bumper, sighing with happy contentment. “I can’t believe this is actually mine,” she murmured in wonder. When she glanced up again, her family and friends were filling the doorway that led to the garage. She hastily righted herself. “Oh my god…” she said again, at a complete loss for words.

Michael and Max began to circle the vehicle with appreciative glances. Max emitted a low whistle of appreciation. “This ride is totally sweet,” she uttered with a touch of envy, “Congrats, squirt.”

Michael swiveled around to face his parents. “Can I expect a Lexus on my next birthday, too?” he asked wryly.

“Michael, haven’t we already given you a Miata and a Corvette?” he father asked tartly, “Both of which you’ve totaled.”

“You’re living in the past, Dad,” Michael grumbled good-naturedly.

“So can I drive it?” Liz demanded in interruption, almost jumping up and down she was so excited, “Please, please, please!”

“Once,” her father conceded and Liz’s squeal of delight almost drowned out the rest of his sentence, “But only around the block and only if you take a licensed driver with you.” Some of Liz’s giddiness deflated but not completely. And, of course, her father had to tack on his lecture, “Until you get your license there will be no driving this car, Elizabeth. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Father,” Liz moaned expansively, “Now may I go?” She could see from the expression on her father’s face that he was about to launch into another argument, but she beat him to the punch. She grabbed hold of Max, who was closest to her, and yanked him against her side. “If you’re worried about a licensed driver,” she began, cutting off her father before he began, “Max will go with me.” She favored Max with a sweet, smile while clutching at his arm with almost bruising force. “Won’t you, Max?”

“Do I have a choice?” Max uttered, wincing under the pressure she applied. She tweaked his arm painfully. “I…I mean, I’d be happy to accompany you, Liz,” he quickly amended, wrenching his arm from her grasp.

“We’ll be back in no time,” Liz assured her parents as she climbed behind the wheel. The moment Max slid into the passenger’s seat and slammed the door Liz rounded on him in irritation. “This is the least you could do after not getting me a birthday present,” she informed him stiffly. She slid the key into the ignition and revved the engine to life. “Now sit back, shut up and let me enjoy my new car.”

As she carefully pulled them out of her parents garage Max couldn’t help but smirk over how slowly she was moving. “I think a turtle just lapped us, squirt,” he teased irreverently.

“Will you shut up?” Liz charged, “I’m taking my time. There’s no way I’m getting a scratch on this car.”

Max watched her as she bit her lip in concentration, oddly touched by the expression of bubbling joy on her face. She looked so beautiful tonight, Max noted impartially, almost angelic, definitely glowing. He felt captivated just looking at her. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so excited about anything,” he remarked with a smile.

“It’s a car, Max!” Liz exclaimed, finally pulling them onto the street and transitioning the car into drive, “And not just any car! It’s a Lexus and it‘s mine! Oh, my friends at school are gonna freak!”

“So I guess that means you like it,” Max observed, settling back in his seat as they began to cruise.

“I have my very own car…I can‘t believe it,” Liz murmured in wonder, “Now I don’t have to bum anymore rides off you and Michael.”

“I liked having you bum rides off me,” Max told her softly. Liz looked over at him and found herself caught up in his regretful stare. If she didn’t know him better she’d think he was actually being sincere. After a moment, she laughed and turned her attention back to the road. “You’re so full of it, Evans!”

Max only shrugged. “If you say so…,” he conceded indifferently, “But I will tell you that you were wrong about me earlier.”

“Wrong about what, Max?” Liz asked with a long-suffering sigh.

“I did get you a birthday present,” he revealed smugly, “Would you like me to give it to you?” He started to reach inside his jacket.

“No!” Liz yelled in horror. Over the years she had grown quite familiar with Max’s little “presents” as he called them. Snails in her shoes, worms in a box, glue disguised as conditioner. He had pulled every dirty prank on her imaginable and Liz could only guess what he had up his sleeve now. “Whatever it is I don’t want it,” she said, staving him off, “I won’t take the chance of it ruining my leather.”

“It’s not even like that,” Max denied.

“Fine,” Liz said, not wanting to bicker with him, “If you really insist on giving it to me wait until we get back to the house.”

A few seconds later they were once again pulling into Liz’s parents drive, having gone up the street and circled back. The moment Liz emerged from the car Isabel descended on her with a squealing “How was it?” Liz squealed in return and the two girls did a little bouncing dance together on the walk, squealing all the while.

Michael, Max and Alex looked on with amused grins. “That’s girl speak for ‘it was great’,” Michael joked. And then he stepped forward to pull the two apart, dragging Liz towards the house. “Come on, Mom and Dad are ready to cut the cake.”

“Liz, wait!” Max called out from behind just as they entered the house, “You forgot about your present!”

“Oh, Max!” Liz moaned in exasperation, “Can’t this wait? My folks want me.”

Max managed a hurt look. “I’m trying to give you a token of my affection here,” he told her with a pout.

“Oh, alright,” she conceded. “Tell Mom and Dad I’ll be there in a minute,” she told Michael, waving him off with Alex and Isabel. When she and Max stood alone together in the foyer she demanded impatiently, “Okay, so what do you want to give me?”

“Just this,” Max answered, pulling free a flat, black velvet box from inside his jacket. He handed it to Liz. “Happy birthday, Parker.”

Liz studied the box suspiciously, turning it over in her hands. “Is this supposed to be some kind of trick,” she asked skeptically, “Am I gonna open this and snakes come popping out? Is there something alive in here? What?”

Max snorted an impatient laugh. “Will you just open it already?”

She did, carefully lifting the lid with a shuddering sigh of trepidation. But what she found inside wasn’t the lizard or disgusting thing she’d expected, but a shining, silver charm bracelet laid on a bed of white silk. Liz sucked in an audible breath, tears of gratitude and love springing to her eyes.

“Well,” Max whispered with bated breath, “what do you think?”

“Oh, Max,” Liz croaked past the lump of emotion in her throat, “It’s so beautiful.” She traced her fingers lightly over the delicate metal.

“And you thought I was an unsentimental clod,” Max remarked, taking the case from her hand and removing the bracelet all in one fluid motion. He took hold of her wrist and slipped the bracelet around it, fastening the clasp as he said softly, “When I saw this in the store it reminded me of you…you know, all delicate and shiny, but easily overlooked.” He swallowed, pausing for a moment to stare into her eyes. “It has exactly sixteen charms attached,” he explained achingly, “for your sixteenth birthday.” He lifted her hand so he could catch a glimpse of the bracelet in the light. “It looks beautiful on you,” he murmured.

“Yes, it does,” Liz whispered in agreement, her eyes gradually sliding from the bracelet on her wrist to Max’s inscrutable eyes. “Thank you.” And before either one of them knew what she planned Liz was leaning up on her tiptoes and brushing a fleeting kiss across his lips. The contact was brief, light, yet undeniably intense. Liz backed away, her eyes still locked with Max’s in wordless exchange. And in that moment something burst between them. Something hot and electric, something they couldn’t deny.

As if by mutual, silent consent they started to drift together once more.

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Postby Deejonaise » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:28 pm

Chapter Four

“Max!”

The sound of Tess calling his name caused Max to whirl away from Liz in a flurry of confusion and guilt. He couldn’t look at Liz immediately and instead focused his gaze on his approaching girlfriend while his brain was overwhelmed with the absolute horror of what he‘d almost done. He had almost kissed Liz! No, he would have kissed Liz if Tess hadn’t come bounding around the corner at the last minute. And that wasn’t even the shameful part about it. The shameful part was that he had wanted to, he had wanted to kiss Liz, had wanted to slide his tongue into her mouth and feel her slide hers into his. He had cared about nothing else at that second.

But now the encompassing haze of rapture had faded and Max felt terrible. Terrible that he’d almost trashed a twelve-year friendship by doing something gigantically stupid and terrible that he would have betrayed his girlfriend’s trust in the process. Yes, Tess…his girlfriend, Max reminded himself acidly. He could hardly understand the inexplicable and unwanted attraction he’d felt for Liz right then, especially because he loved Tess. He really did love her.

All this was playing over in Max’s head as Tess approached. She slid her arm about his waist and asked with casual innocence, “So what’s up guys?” Liz and Max cast each other furtive looks, wanting to speak but unable to make their lips move. Tess seemed unaware of their strange behavior. In fact, she grabbed hold of Liz’s wrist and exclaimed, “Ooh, I see Max gave you the bracelet.”

“Yes,” Liz murmured, finally finding her voice again, “Yes, he did.”

“Don’t you think it’s darling,” Tess gushed on, “Max was afraid you wouldn’t like it but I told him not to worry. This is probably the first piece of jewelry you‘ve ever owned…how could you not be grateful?”

“Tess,” Max grunted in warning.

Tess batted her big, blue eyes up at him. “What?” she asked in pretended ignorance, “I‘m just saying that Liz would appreciate something she‘s never had before…you know, being such a tomboy and all.”

Liz decided to ignore Tess’ pointed barb, for Max‘s sake. “Well, I do appreciate it,” she stated acidly, regaining her composure finally, “And thank you again, Max, for giving it to me.”

“You’re welcome,” Max murmured in return. Their eyes melded into another electric stare, transmitting a wealth of feeling between them without uttering a single word.

“Liz, you should probably get going,” Tess suggested, breaking the unspoken moment between them, “I think your dad’s looking for you so that they can cut the cake.”

“Yeah…uh…” Liz stammered, backing away, “I guess I’d…uh…better go…” She held Max’s eyes for another few seconds before finally spinning on her heel and disappearing around the corner.

The moment Liz was out of earshot Max rounded on Tess in irritation. “Why do you always do that?” he demanded in annoyance.

“Do what?”

“Treat Liz like she’s something you stepped in,” Max clarified, his brow knitted in a frown of disapproval.

Tess dropped the innocent routine. “Well, how do you expect me to act, huh?” she charged bitterly, “That girl is always hanging all over you, always in your face! Don’t think for a moment I was fooled by her act when she dragged you along for her test drive! She could have easily taken Michael. He was right there, too!”

“Maybe so,” Max conceded mildly, “but she wanted me and that’s okay, Tess, because Liz and I are just friends. That‘s it. It‘s not like you to be jealous.”

“I’m not jealous, I just don’t trust her! It might be only friendship for you,” Tess insisted tartly, “but that’s definitely not it for Liz. I saw the way she was all up against you when I came around the corner.”

Max remembered, too. He remembered how Liz’s body seemed to fit to every contour of his perfectly. He remembered how warm and soft and right she felt in his arms. Max shook the memory from his head, his gaze skittering away in guilty discomfort. “We were just hugging,” he explained lamely.

“Oh yeah,” Tess queried skeptically, “Then why are you blushing right now?”

Wanting nothing more than to put the uncomfortable instance behind him, Max pulled Tess into his arms, fitting her body against his. “I know you didn’t come out here just to grill me, did you?” he charged softly.

“I came out here because I missed my boyfriend,” Tess admitted with a pout, “And I‘d had enough with avoiding you…not that you noticed.” She picked at the buttons on his shirt. “I hate fighting with you,” she confessed sweetly.

“Really?” Max chided, lowering his head for a kiss, “Then why don‘t we spend this time making up instead?”

******

Isabel snagged hold of Liz the moment she entered the den and dragged her over to a darkened corner, pinning her there. “You and my brother have been MIA exactly eleven minutes and thirty six seconds,” she stated, “You’re not leaving this spot until you tell me exactly what happened!”

Liz rolled her eyes at Isabel’s melodramatic flair but couldn’t keep herself from smiling in response to her enthusiasm. “You’re insane, you know that?” she teased laughingly, deliberately avoiding Isabel’s inquisition.

“You’re stalling, Parker,” Isabel accused, poking Liz in the belly with her index finger, “Now spill. First what happened in the car and then what happened in the foyer. I want it all, bubba.”

There wasn’t really any point in fighting. Isabel was going to badger her silly until she spilled anyway, not that Liz was very interested in keeping it all a secret. Nothing had happened really and, yet, everything had happened. Max Evans had almost kissed her! Liz could hardly believe that it had happened. And not because she had grabbed him and forced him to, but because he had wanted to! Liz felt almost numb with the shock of it. How long had she been waiting for this moment? How long had she been waiting for him to finally see her?

Of course, Liz knew she couldn’t blow this out of proportion. After all, it had just been an almost kiss and judging from the horrified expression on Max’s face afterwards he had been completely knocked off his kilter. For a second there, when Tess came bounding around the corner, Liz thought for sure that he would faint on the spot. And then she’d watched the guilt slash across his features and Liz realized that their near kiss hadn’t meant nearly as much to him as it had to her.

Yet somehow the knowledge hadn’t diminished Liz’s happiness one iota. The point was that the kiss had almost been and that never would have happened if Max felt nothing for her at all. He did care. That much was obvious when he mentioned missing her bum rides from him. But caring about her and being in love with her were two entirely different matters. Liz didn’t expect Max to just fall into her arms. She had seen the way he’d looked at Tess tonight, had lingered long enough to listen when Max pulled Tess into his arms and kissed her breathless.

It had hurt and though Liz had witnessed much more passionate displays between the two of them that moment had hurt more than all the others. Because, only moments before, Max had almost kissed her. Maybe it was irrational but Liz had wanted it to mean something to him. She had wanted that aching moment of intimacy between them to affect him just as strongly as it had her. She had wanted his lips to tingle in anticipation of her kiss just as hers tingled in anticipation of his. But Max obviously hadn’t felt any of those things. If anything he probably wanted to forget that the whole thing had happened at all…not that Liz would let him.

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you,” Liz relented, staving off Isabel, “Just back up and give me some room.”

Isabel did as requested, her face gleaming with happy excitement. Normally, she wouldn‘t get this worked up over what her brother did and didn‘t do with a girl. Normally, the thought alone was enough to make her want to gag. However, Liz Parker had been her friend since grade school and Isabel had always been more than aware of Liz‘s strong feelings for Max. She had seen firsthand how it crushed Liz when Max and Tess began dating and afterwards she began an active campaign to get her brother to see the truth. Namely that he belonged with Liz Parker.

“First tell me what happened in the car,” she exclaimed, “Tess was absolutely fuming when you took Max along for your joy ride. I thought she was gonna throw a tantrum then and there. She stomped off and I haven‘t seen her since.”

“She found us a few minutes ago,” Liz replied with a roll of her eyes.

“Was she steamed?” Isabel smirked. She did like the image of an irritated Tess. The more her brother saw of the “real” Tess the sooner the love blinders he was wearing would fall away.

“I guess she was annoyed, but her mood was definitely over nothing,” Liz replied dryly, “because absolutely nothing happened.”

Isabel’s mouth fell open in disbelief. “Nothing happened?”

“Well, at least not then…” Liz admitted casually.

“Oh my god!” Isabel cried, grabbing hold of Liz’s forearms and giving her a shake, “Stop playing coy, Liz Parker, and tell me what happened!”

Liz untangled herself from Isabel’s grip with a laughing scowl. “Geez, Izzy, can you rein it in or what?”

Isabel took a second to recompose herself. “Sorry,” she said more calmly, “You’ve only been waiting for my brother to notice you for forever…I’m excited, okay! Now will you please tell me what happened.”

“Okay,” Liz said, leading Isabel out onto the terrace so that they could talk in private. Only after Liz had sufficiently secured the Venetian doors did she finally divulge what she had been dying to scream since Isabel first cornered her. “Max and I almost kissed!” Her admission actually shocked Isabel quiet. She only stood there, ineffectually working her jaw while her eyes bugged out of her head. “Well, aren’t you going to say anything?” Liz joked when she continued to sputter.

“I’m just totally speechless,” Isabel sighed, falling back into one of the deck chairs. “How did it happen?”

“Well, he gave me my birthday present,” Liz began, “which I’m sure you knew about,” she added when Isabel glanced away guiltily, “and one thing led to another…”

“And you kissed,” Isabel concluded dreamily.

“Almost kissed,” Liz corrected and then she decided to drop her reasonable façade altogether, “Oh, Isabel, it was so…so… I don’t know what to say about it.”

“You’ve waited a really long time,” Isabel surmised quietly.

Liz sighed expansively and leaned back against the doors. “I can’t believe I’m getting this excited when nothing really happened, Isabel.”

“Everything happened,” Isabel whispered.

“Yeah…everything did,” Liz murmured in agreement.

For so long it had seemed her feelings for Max were one sided, not returned at all. However, tonight Liz had seen a small glimmer of attraction in Max’s eyes, a hungry desire that he had been unable to hide. The look had been fleeting, so quick Liz might have imagined it a hallucination if she hadn’t witnessed firsthand how devastated he seemed afterwards.

Liz knew he didn’t want to have feelings for her. She supposed she could understand that. But that didn’t change the fact that he had felt something and maybe, just maybe it was the beginning of something more.

“Don’t push him too hard, Liz,” Isabel warned, correctly reading the expression on Liz’s face and appointing herself, right then, as the voice of reason, “He’ll come around, okay…just don’t push him into it, alright?” Isabel knew her brother pretty well and the moment the pressure was put on him to do one thing he would almost assuredly go and do the opposite thing.

Liz started to reply to Isabel’s gentle warning when the Venetian doors suddenly jutted open behind her and Michael poked his head in through the opening. “Where the hell have you been?” he demanded shortly, raking Liz with an irritated glance, “Mom and Dad have been looking for you for the last fifteen minutes. Cake, remember? No one can start without you!”

“Okay, okay,” Liz grumbled, shooting her brother a disgruntled look.

“Come on!” Michael pressed when Liz still didn’t move. He pushed his way onto the terrace completely and grabbed her arm. “I’ll just take you personally,” he said, already dragging her through the doors, “Dad’s got some big announcement to make and he’ll kill me if you’re not there to hear it.”

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Postby Deejonaise » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:35 pm

Chapter Five

Jeff Parker clinked his fork against the top of his empty wine glass three times. “Excuse me, excuse me,” he intoned formally, “May I have everyone’s attention, please?” The crowd before him gradually died down in their conversation and directed their gazes towards their host as requested. Once Jeff was sufficiently satisfied that all eyes were on him he announced, “As many of you know today is my baby girl’s sixteenth birthday.” A light smattering of applause followed his statement. Jeff directed an indulgent smile at Liz and waited for quiet before continuing.

“This is a milestone occasion for many reasons,” he declared proudly, “Not only because my daughter has become a woman this evening, but because of what her reaching that milestone will mean for her family.”

Listening to her father’s speech Liz felt her happy smile give way to a slight frown of confusion. She couldn’t imagine how her birthday could have anything to do with her family’s well-being. She exchanged a curious glance with Michael who shrugged in return while her father lifted his glass in toast.

“I would like to take this opportunity to formally announce my newest business merger between Parker Industries and Evans Textiles!” A round of thunderous applause followed his announcement while the younger Parkers and Evans’ interspersed thumbs up signs among themselves along with their clapping.

“…and the impending nuptials of my daughter, Elizabeth Parker to the heir of the Evans Textiles empire, Maxwell Evans!”

Liz paused in mid-clap while the applause around her continued to rumble. Had she just heard her father correctly? Had Jeff Parker just announced her wedding to Max? Liz slid her stunned gaze over to where Max stood with Tess just on the edge of the den. His features were completely colorless. Across the distance Liz could make out Tess’ lips as she cried the word “no.” And then she screamed it, so loud that the noise ground down into a deafening silence. Every pair of eyes trained on Edward Harding’s only daughter as tears of anguish streamed down her flawless cheeks…and then she ran from the room.

Max leveled a look of pure hatred at his father. “You fucking bastard,” he whispered fiercely before skipping from the den to run after Tess. Liz watched him leave, her heart thumping in some strange pitty-pat rhythm. She couldn’t decide whether she should be happy or infuriated by the news. Liz opted for the latter.

“Please, everyone,” Jeff Parker announced, trying to smooth over the tense scene as quickly as he could, “the party is long from over. Enjoy your drinks and cake.”

As the party gradually resumed it’s former buoyancy Liz marched over to her father on stiff legs, her entire body shaking with rage and humiliation. “How could you do that to me?” she demanded in a furious whisper when she reached his side.

Both her parents regarded her irate features in surprise. “Liz, you act as if you’re not happy about this, dear,” her mother remarked in astonishment.

“Of course, I’m not happy!” Liz cried in outrage, “You just announced my engagement to the entire room without even talking to me about it first. I had to find out in a room full of strangers that I’m to be married! Why would that make me happy, Mother!”

“You will watch how you speak to your mother,” her father warned in a hiss, grabbing hold of her arm with bruising force and giving her a slight shake, “We did what we believed was best for you, Elizabeth, what is well within our rights to do!” Liz tried to yank from his grasp, her lips twisted in a disgusted sneer, but her father held her firm. Jeff Parker didn’t like being defied, especially by his sixteen-year-old daughter in plain view of his business associates and guests.

Nancy Parker, however, tried valiantly to play the peacemaker. “Liz, we thought you would be happy about this,” Nancy Parker recounted softly, “Marriages have taken place by arrangement in our society for decades, dear. You’re no different.”

“I understand that,” Liz intoned tightly, her fists clenched at her sides, “But couldn’t you have at least discussed this with me first? Max is in love with someone else and you know it…he doesn’t want to marry me! Why would you blindside him this way? Why would you blindside me?”

“We meant it to be a surprise for you, Elizabeth,” her father explained with mounting impatience, “Your mother and I are no fools. It has been quite obvious to us how you feel about Max. Now we’ve arranged for you to have your fondest desire. Can’t you at least be grateful?”

Liz shook her head in mortified horror, slowly backing away from her parents in disgusted contempt. “You have no idea the damage you just caused,” she whispered, spinning around on her heel and walking out of there.

Only when she had exited the den completely did Liz fall back against the wall, not bothering to stifle her sobs any longer. To her family her behavior might seem extremely odd and ungrateful considering her strong feelings for Max Evans, but to Liz it seemed as if her whole world had come crashing down around her ears. Instead of bringing them together, this arranged marriage between her and Max would only serve to drive the apart. How could Max ever learn to love her if he felt forced into being with her?

The answer was he couldn’t and he wouldn’t. Max would always see their marriage as an obstacle between him and Tess. If anything it would make him all the more determined to be with her. From Liz’s standpoint all her parents had done was insure that Max Evans would never love her and even worse. He would eventually grow to resent her. It seemed that her wildest dream had turned into her greatest nightmare.

But maybe there was a way she could salvage this, Liz considered. Maybe if she talked to Max they could both go to their parents and straighten out this entire mess. Liz brushed away the tears clinging to her cheeks, her mouth set in a grim line of determination. She couldn’t help but be struck by the complete irony of the situation. Here she had waited her entire life to have Max Evans notice her and now her parents had arranged for a marriage alliance between them and she was trying to find a way to get out of it.

Liz might have laughed over it all had she not been so furious and heartbroken. Furious that her parents would do something so highhanded and not bother to discuss it with her. And heartbroken because she had seen firsthand just how Max Evans felt about marrying her. The idea had been completely horrifying to him. He had looked just as devastated as Tess, perhaps even more.

The moment had been a forceful reminder for Liz. She was Max’s friend, perhaps even his best friend, but nothing more. He didn’t see her as anything beyond that and it was beginning to look like he never would. With that despondent thought reverberating over and over in her head Liz went to seek out Max and Tess and see if she could undo some of the damage their parents had done.

She found them on the terrace together a few minutes later. However, the sound of Tess’ angry, tearful voice kept her from immediately announcing her presence. Instead, Liz hid herself in the shadows and listened to their emotionally charged conversation.

“…she did this,” Tess sniffled, “She set it up. I don’t believe for a moment that she isn’t responsible.”

“Tess, you’re wrong,” Max told her gently, “Liz isn’t like that. She was just as surprised as we were tonight.” Liz heard a rustling sound, like clothes rubbing against one another and she imagined that Max was pulling Tess into his arms. “None of us wanted this tonight, baby,” he whispered, “And I’ll fix it…I swear I will.”

“But how can you?” Tess cried plaintively, “Your father will never allow you to break the betrothal contract and if you try…he might just disown you.”

“Let him,” Max replied fiercely, “I’m not going to let anyone keep us apart.”

“Max, my father will never consent to us being together if you’re disowned. He can barely tolerate you now.” She heard Tess emit another muffled cry. “What are we going to do?”

Liz made her presence known then and said as she stepped out from the shadows, “I don’t think it will have to come down to Max being disowned.”

Tess whipped around to face her, her blues eyes venomous with hatred and malice. “You conniving little bitch!” she spat out, “I bet you’re real proud of yourself right about now!”

“Tess, don’t,” Max warned, grabbing hold of her arm when she looked like she might launch herself at Liz at any given moment. The last thing he wanted was to have his best friend and best girl at each other’s throats. After the harrowing night he’d just endured Max didn’t know if he’d have the strength to choose sides or referee for that matter.

“No, Max, it’s okay,” Liz said mildly, somehow managing to remain calm despite the rage boiling within her. Tessa Harding was absolutely clueless. She thought just because she was the type of person willing to stoop to manipulation to get what she wanted that others were willing to do the same. But Liz Parker was nothing like her. What mattered most to Liz was Max’s happiness. That was what always mattered most to her. And evidently, for reasons unfathomable to Liz, Tess Harding made Max happy. Liz would do whatever was necessary to make sure he stayed that way. “Contrary to what you may believe, Tess, I didn’t set this up,” Liz told her quietly, “I was shocked when my father announced what he did tonight. Believe me if I had known I would have tried to stop it or at the very least warned Max.”

Tess regarded her in open mistrust. “Warned Max? Yeah right, Liz!” she snorted spitefully, “You’ve been after Max since the ninth grade and everyone knows it. This moment is a dream come true for you!”

Liz rolled her eyes heavenward in a silent prayer for patience. “Tess,” she began again, “Max is my friend. I could never hurt and humiliate him that way. We’re all the victims here, okay.”

“No, the only victims are me and Max,” Tess contradicted tightly, “My world just came to an end in there.” She pointed back towards the den with a trembling finger. “Can you say the same?”

Tess did have a point, Liz reasoned. While it was unfortunate that the betrothal had to be announced the way it had and without discussing it with either Max or Liz first, Liz would be lying if she said the situation was completely unpleasant for her. In fact, if she examined herself just a little, she might even find that she was happy. The thought made her feel guilty and she lowered her eyes, afraid her thoughts would be visible there.

“I’m sorry, Tess,” she murmured softly, “I really am.” She did mean it, too. No one, not even Tess Harding, deserved to have their world destroyed in such a public way.

“I don’t believe a word you say,” Tess retorted angrily. She turned away, burying her face in Max’s chest. “I think you should leave now. Max, please, make her leave. I can‘t stand to look at her anymore. Your wife…god!” She started crying again, harsh, breaking sobs into Max’s soft t-shirt.

Watching them seemed together made Liz feel sick and her lingering sympathy for Tess dissipated completely. It was on the very edge of Liz’s tongue to tell Tess Harding to go to hell. After all, this was her friggin house! If anyone was going to be ordering anyone to leave it should be Liz. Her emotions chased their way across her face so that when she opened her mouth to voice her rancor Max realized what she was about to do and shook his head in silent pleading.

And that’s what stopped Liz. Not any general compassion for Tess Harding, she could have cheerfully ripped out every strand of her blond hair at the moment, but the expression of abject sorrow and misery on Max’s face. It was tearing him up to see his girlfriend in so much pain and it was tearing Liz up to see him that way.

He held Tess fast now, stroking his hands up and down her back in soothing circles. Liz felt her heart ache with envy just watching them. “Maybe you could leave us alone, Liz,” Max suggested quietly, his eyes pleading with her not to refuse, “I’ll find you later and we’ll talk about this.”

Liz didn’t want to leave. She wanted him to hold her and comfort her just the way he was comforting Tess. But that was an unlikely possibility so she nodded, swallowed past the ever-growing lump in her throat and left them together alone on the terrace. She wandered through the house aimlessly and by the time she drifted out the front door and onto the porch her tears were streaking her face.

Why couldn’t she ever win, Liz wondered painfully, why did she always have to be the one left behind? Couldn’t Max see that she was hurting, too? Couldn’t he see that she needed a friend as well? But he was too preoccupied with Tess. Tess always needed him and, as a result, he never saw that Liz needed him, too.

Her head pounding, Liz headed straight towards her new car with every intention of driving to who knows where and never coming back. She had only just revved the ignition to life when Michael materialized out of nowhere and slid into the passenger seat. “You’re not supposed to be driving the car without a licensed driver with you, Liz,” he admonished as he closed the door.

“I don’t give a fuck.” Her tear-stained face belied her terse reply, however.

“The party starting to break up,” Michael said softly, a little worried. He had never seen his sister so devastated before, not even when Max had taken up with Tess. Michael knew from that fact alone that Liz must be in terrible pain now. “Come on back inside,” he urged, “Mom and Dad are worried about you.”

Liz scrubbed the back of her hand across her damp cheeks. “Don’t give a fuck about that either.”

“You’re mad,” Michael deduced.

“I’m furious,” Liz corrected, “I’m never speaking to Dad again.” And then she swiveled around unexpectedly to face Michael. “Did you know about this?” she demanded, “Did you know what he had planned tonight?”

Michael regarded her with an affronted look. “Don’t you think if I’d known I would have told you…told Max?” he retorted, “I think what Mom and Dad did tonight is completely wrong, okay. But to their credit…they really thought they were making you happy, Lizzie.”

“Making me happy,” Liz scoffed under her breath, “That’s a laugh.”

“Everyone knows how you feel about Max,” her brother told her, “He’s the only one who doesn’t have a clue.”

“That’s because he’s already in love,” Liz replied bitterly, “Did Mom and Dad think Max was just going to passively accept the betrothal contract? He’s in love with someone else for crying out loud!”

“Dad and Mr. Evans don’t happen to believe that what Tess and Max have is real,” Michael revealed with a sigh, “They think that you and Max would be better together.”

The admission provided Liz very little comfort. In fact, it made her even more furious. “Well, I just saw Max and Tess out on the terrace a few minutes ago,” Liz snorted acridly, “and they looked real enough to me! Dad has just effectively ruined my life, Michael!” And she believed it. At that moment, Liz truly believed it.

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Postby Deejonaise » Wed Oct 29, 2003 4:34 pm

Chapter Six

“…I don’t want to marry Liz! God, Dad, are you trying to ruin my life? I don‘t love her like that, alright!” Max’s impassioned cry floated to Liz through the closed doors of her father’s study. Liz pressed her ear against the door in order to hear the conversation more clearly. She didn’t have to worry about being discovered by some hapless guests, however. The party had long since broken up and the guests had gone home, including Tess, Isabel and Alex and their parents. Only Max remained behind with his father to hash out what had happened earlier. “I’m in love with Tess, dammit! She’s the one I’m supposed to marry! Why can’t you accept that?”

“I’ve tolerated just about all the defiance I can stand, Maxwell,” Liz heard his father declare imperiously, “You can either honor your betrothal contract to Elizabeth or I will disinherit you! Is that what you want? How will you manage to pay for college without my support?”

“Are you blackmailing me?” Max rasped.

“Now, Phil…Max,” Liz heard her father sooth, “It shouldn’t come to this. You and Liz are friends after all. Max, I don’t understand why you would find this arrangement so unacceptable.”

“I don’t love Liz!” Max said again with renewed heat, “I could never love her…not the way I love Tess!”

That hurt. So much that Liz actually swayed against the wall. She laid a hand over her shattered heart. Max certainly didn’t leave any of her delusions in tact. So much for the wild hope that she could make him fall in love with her. Liz was quite aware of his feelings for her now. She started to turn away, blinded by her own tears when Max abruptly exited the study, nearly knocking her over in his haste to leave.

However, the second he saw the frozen look of anguish on her face he stopped. “You heard, didn’t you?” he sighed regretfully.

Liz sniffled and looked away, desperately trying to maintain her composure but realizing she was dangerously close to crying right there in front of him. Still, she feigned nonchalance by offering him an indifferent shrug. “You love Tess,” she said thickly, “that’s no great mystery.”

“Yeah,” Max agreed, “but I didn’t mean to make it sound like you meant absolutely nothing to me.” Liz nodded, but her expression gave her away. She looked utterly devastated. Max sighed again. “Come on,” he said, taking hold of her elbow and leading her towards the staircase.

“Where are we going?” she asked him dully as he pulled her up the stairs.

“Your room,” he clarified, tossing a solemn look over his shoulder at her, “We definitely need to talk.”

They crept down the darkened hallway together in silence and then slipped into Liz’s bedroom. Max shut and locked the door behind them. When he turned back to face her she was sitting on her bed, her hands folded in her lap tightly. Max leaned back against the door to regard her. “I think I might have sent you some mixed signals earlier,” he said after a long pause of silence.

“Mixed signals?” Liz croaked in question.

“Yeah…you know,” Max hedged, ducking his head a little, “downstairs…when I…uh…gave you the bracelet and we…uh…”

“…almost kissed?” Liz finished softly.

“Yeah.”

“And you think it was a mistake?” Liz surmised painfully.

It almost couldn’t get any worse, Liz thought. First she had to sit through half a movie listening while he and Tess slurped each other’s tongues out, then she had to endure the humiliation of having her father publicly announce a betrothal she knew nothing about, then she had to listen to Max vehemently deny any feelings for her whatsoever. Liz’s self-esteem would have been washed completely down the drain were it not for that near kiss. That brief instance between them was all Liz had to hold onto…and now Max was taking that away from her as well.

“I wouldn’t call it a mistake really,” Max wavered.

“But you wished it hadn’t happened.”

Max shook his head. “I’m not saying that either,” he contradicted, “I’m just asking you not to make more of it than it really was, okay?”

“Okay,” Liz replied woodenly.

The hollow, dejected tone of her voice tore at him and he went to kneel before her and gathered up her hands in his own. “God, Liz, you don’t understand,” he went on in a rush, “All our lives you’ve been ‘squirt.’ Mike’s annoying, bratty little sister, a pain in the ass. Later you became my friend, my best friend, but you were still just ‘squirt’ to me. And then, this evening, when you came into the den and I looked at you it was like seeing you for the first time and couldn’t help but wonder where my ‘squirt’ had gone. It kinda hurt, you know, to see you all grown up…like I was losing you or something.”

“Max--,”

“Lemme finish,” he insisted quietly, “I do love you, Liz. I love you like I’ve never loved anyone in my life. But I’m in love with Tess. She’s the only one I want, the only one I want to be with. Do you understand what I‘m telling you?”

“I think so,” Liz murmured.

Max pressed a kiss to her hands. “When I tried to kiss you I wasn’t thinking clearly,” he told her quietly, “I guess I was trying to hold onto to the girl I’ve always known. I never meant to lead you on in any way, Liz.”

But honestly, Max didn’t know what he had meant. He had zoned out as he had so many times when staring into her eyes. There was just something about looking into those big browns that made Max forget where he was, who he was. It was like Liz could see past the façade he presented to the world straight into his soul. He’d never felt the need to be pretentious with her. She had always made him feel like he was enough just the way he was and when Max looked into her eyes he felt safe. He felt like he’d come home. But it never once occurred to him to wonder why he didn’t feel that same thing when looking into Tess’ eyes, the very woman he claimed to love.

“So are we cool now?” Max asked Liz in a whisper.

Liz felt frozen inside, but strangely alive as well. She couldn’t understand Max at all. He said that he was in love with Tess and he acted the part, but then he would turn around and say the most incredibly sweet things to Liz and she would find it impossible to hate him. Max did love her, in his own way, he did and Liz knew it. She had a loyal friend in him and always had and she knew that as well. He might have teased her mercilessly, taken her money and made her the butt of his practical jokes, but he had also been the one to sit with her at lunch when no one else would, the one who would lend her his jacket to cover her head when it rained, and the one she could call in the wee hours of the morning when she had a nightmare and couldn‘t go back to sleep. He had always been there for her, Liz recognized with a bittersweet smile, and he would always be. Now she had to be there for him.

Liz exhaled a shuddering sigh. “We’re cool.” She couldn’t suppress her smile at Max’s expansive sigh of relief. However, her smile wavered a bit when she recalled their predicament. “We still haven’t figured a way out of this mess,” she reminded him.

“It’s a done deal, Liz,” Max remarked glumly. He pushed himself upright and plopped down next to her on the bed.

“No, maybe I can talk to my dad,” Liz rushed out, “He’s got to realize that this entire thing is completely ridiculous--,”

“Liz,” Max interrupted softly, pressing his fingers against Liz’s lips to silence her, “It’s a done deal. Our fathers have already signed the contract.”

“What does that mean?” Liz whispered.

“It means that, as of this moment, we are bonded in legal matrimony,” Max clarified.

“Are you saying we’re married already?” Liz burst out.

Max scratched his head in thoughtful silence. “Yup, pretty much.”

“But that’s impossible!” Liz cried, “There’s been no ceremony, no marriage license, no nothing!”

“You don’t need that for a betrothal contract, Liz,” Max told her and then proceeded to spend the next half hour explaining to her how the arrangement worked.

In their society corporations were generally merged through marriage. The method was a way of increasing capital, expanding the company, but most importantly keeping the shares within the family’s control. It was an arrangement that had been relied upon for years, decades and centuries even. Max had never known it to be any other way. However, usually betrothal arrangements were discussed with the respective parties long before being put into effect and usually the contractual signing, which would signify a legal and binding marriage bond, would take place the day of the wedding ceremony.

Unfortunately, Liz’s father had desired for her betrothal to be a birthday surprise and so he had kept it secret. Now Max had learned that the arrangement had been instated for the last two weeks, which meant that he and Liz had been legally married and hadn’t even known it. That fact alone was enough to make him steaming mad. And once he’d finished explaining the entire process to Liz the knowledge didn’t exactly thrill her either. In fact, she seemed quite stunned.

“So we’re married?” Liz gaped in astonishment.

“Yup.”

“Really, really married?”

“Yup.”

“‘Til death do us part’ married?”

Max had to laugh at her insistence. “Seriously, Liz, we are. I am your husband and you are my wife,” he told her and just saying the words aloud caused an odd fluttering in his belly. Max shook off the feeling quickly, not wanting to analyze it very closely. “All we need now is the ceremony to make it official, which our parents are already planning with the greatest haste.”

The bitter edge that clipped his words didn’t escape Liz’s notice. She covered his fisted hand over with her own. “I’m sorry this is happening to you,” she whispered sincerely. They weren’t just words either. Liz hated seeing him miserable. Right at that second, his happiness was the only thing that mattered to her. “Maybe you and Tess could run away together,” Liz suggested softly.

But Max dismissed her suggestion with a firm shake of his head. “Tess already asked me and I said ‘no,’” he told her, “I could never do that to you.”

“Do what to me?” Liz asked blankly.

Max favored her with a bewildered look. “Liz, you have to know that if I leave, if I don’t fulfill my obligation to the betrothal contract you’ll be humiliated,” he explained to her gently, “Even if your father was able to undo the damage done to your reputation it’s almost a certainty that no man would have you afterwards anyway.”

“And what makes you think I’m concerned with a man having me?” Liz asked with mocking bravado, “I happen to like being alone, thank you very much.”

“No one likes being alone, squirt,” Max countered seriously, “You’re still young right now…you won’t feel that way always.”

“And what if I told you I already found someone to sweep me off my feet,” Liz challenged teasingly, “then what would you say?”

She had expected him to laugh at her teasing but instead Max’s reaction was instantaneous and deadly serious. He swiveled around to face her and demanded fiercely, “Who is he?” His honey eyes held her in an intense, compelling stare. In that moment, Liz felt tempted to tell him the truth…just to see what his reaction would be. But she didn’t.

Instead she laughed off his question by giving him a playful shove in the shoulder. “Maxwell, please!” she cried with a chuckling roll of her eyes, “Have I ever struck you as the type to fall madly in love?”

Max regarded her in skeptical appraisal, still not completely certain that she hadn’t been serious about being in love. For some reason the thought had been like a kick to his gut. Max supposed he didn’t like the idea of anyone being with his “squirt.” “Well, I guess not,” Max finally grumbled after a moment.

Liz dropped her eyes, unable to hold his penetrating stare any longer. She picked at a loose thread on her jeans. “So you see,” she murmured softly, “there’s really no need for you to stick around forsaking your own happiness on the possibility that I might fall in love.” She peeked up at him through her lashes. “I want you to be happy, Max.”

“Well, I’m not going to pursue happiness at your expense,” Max replied fervently, looping his arm around her shoulder and pulling her against him. He kissed her forehead gently and said, “We’ll figure something out.”

Yet, in those stunning seconds as she was huddled so protectively in Max Evans’ arms Liz wasn’t sure that she wanted to.

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Postby Deejonaise » Thu Oct 30, 2003 11:14 am

Chapter Seven

“You’re happy, just admit it,” Isabel charged with a smile.

Liz paused in perusing her reflection in the full length mirror before her and favored Isabel with a sour glare. “Unlike those who shall remain nameless,” she replied tartly with a pointed look at Isabel, “I do not take pleasure in the misery of others.” Her only response for the mild rebuke was an indifferent roll of Isabel’s eyes. Liz huffed. “Considering the fact that Max is your brother I’d think you’d have more sympathy!” she cried in exasperation.

“Considering the fact you’ve loved Max your whole life I’d think you’d be ecstatic,” Isabel countered boldly, smoothing out the imperceptible wrinkles in her dress. “Come on, Liz! You’re standing here in your wedding gown on your wedding day! Don’t pretend like this isn’t the happiest days of your life.”

Liz turned back to her reflection, overwhelmed yet again by the image of herself standing there in yards and yards of white silk and lace. Isabel was right. This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. After years of secretly pining for him Liz was about to publicly join her hand with Max Evans’ in holy matrimony. For Liz it was a dream come true. She just felt immensely horrible admitting to it. After all, her dreams were being fulfilled at Max’s misery and pain.

It had not taken their parents long at all to take care of the wedding details. Less than a week actually. In that time Liz had barely seen Max, having been bustled from one event to another in preparation of her big day, and when she did see him he was sullen and withdrawn. At their rehearsal dinner just the night before Max had spent the evening watching Tess, who “coincidentally” ended up dining with her father at the very same restaurant, and Liz had spent the evening watching Max watch Tess. For once she wished he would look at her with that same hungry longing in his eyes, but he hadn’t. He had sat there miserable instead, barely saying a word or touching his food.

It was almost ordained that the evening would end in disaster. Near the end of their dinner, Edward Harding had practically dragged Tess over to their table to wish the happy couple well. Tess had looked positively ill during the entire episode and Max had gone chalk white. Just when Liz had thought that things couldn’t get any worse Edward Harding had said, “You’ve set the precedence, Jeff. Maybe it’s time I find a husband for my Tessa, as well.”

And then all hell broke loose. Max had surged to his feet and before Liz could fully comprehend what was happening Max, Edward Harding and Philip Evans were all locked in a heated verbal dispute right there in the middle of the restaurant. The agony was finally ended when Tess ran out in humiliated tears and Max ran out after her. Only Liz remained stoic, determined not to reveal the extent of her own humiliation or pain.

Now Liz forced the thoughts from her mind. All that was over and done now. Today she and Max would be formally presented to society as Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell Evans and there would be no turning back. The realization made Liz’s stomach churn, half with excitement, half with trepidation.

Isabel came to stand beside her, placing her hands onto Liz’s shoulders. “Stop looking as if you’re about to face a firing squad,” she admonished quietly, “This is what you always dreamed about, remember?”

Yes, Liz did remember. All the girlish fantasies she’d harbored about Max one day falling madly in love with her then falling to his knees to ask for her hand in marriage had all culminated to this particular moment. But Liz had not reached the milestone quite the way she expected. She hadn’t foreseen that Max would be strong-armed into marrying her, neither had she foreseen that he would dread the prospect so greatly.

Liz tuned away from her reflection to face Isabel, her skirts making a whispering swish as she did. “I didn’t want it to be like this,” she confessed softly, “Max is completely miserable right now.”

“He’ll get over it,” Isabel replied dismissively. She gripped Liz’s shoulders firmly, looking straight into Liz’s eyes when she declared, “My brother belongs with you.”

Shrugging her away with a disbelieving grunt, Liz crept over to the window overlooking the street below. The guests had already begun arriving to the church in droves. Liz’s stomach did another sickening dip at the sight of the cars lining up along the street in front of the church. Pressing her forehead against the cool pane of glass, Liz asked with a forlorn sigh, “What makes you so sure, Isabel? What makes you so sure that Max and I belong together?” Liz had heard the argument several times in the last week and not just from Isabel but from her parents, Max’s parents and even her own brother. Everyone who knew and loved them seemed to believe they would make the perfect couple…everyone but Max.

“Liz, it’s gonna work out,” Isabel assured her gently.

Before she could say more Liz’s mother came sailing through the door with Liz’s veil floating from her fingers. She stopped short when she saw her daughter, a vision in her pristine white wedding gown. The delicate material clung to Liz’s willowy form before belling out at her waist into several delicious layers of silk and lace decorated with tiny seed pearls and rhinestones. Nancy felt her eyes well with emotion at the sight of her baby girl. “You look exquisite,” she exclaimed in a shuddering sigh.

Liz ducked her head, self-consciously, a blush staining her delicate cheekbones. “You’re my mother,” she teased wryly, “You’re supposed to say that.”

“But it’s definitely true, my darling,” her mother vowed, drifting forward to take Liz into her loving embrace. They shared a brief mother-daughter moment before Nancy pulled back, brushing at her cheeks with gloved fingers. “I have your veil,” she said to Liz, “It’s all pressed and perfect so why don’t we put it on you.” Liz dutifully lowered her head so that her mother could pin the delicate hairpiece into her thick tresses. When she was done Nancy swept the veil back from Liz’s face and pressed a kiss to her daughter’s cheek. “This is going to be the happiness day of your life,” she predicted with a tremulous smile.

Liz managed a smile in return though it was admittedly half-hearted. “It certainly doesn’t feel like it,” she murmured in a choked tone.

Nancy framed Liz’s face gently, holding Liz still when she would have looked away. “Honey, I know things look grim right now--,”

“Grim?” Liz scoffed, “You think things look grim? The last thing Max wants is to marry me, Mother! I’d be completely surprised if he actually shows up at the church today!”

“First of all,” Nancy responded calmly, “You and Max are already married. Whether he decides to show up today or not isn’t going to change that fact. Secondly, Max is your friend, he would never humiliate you by not making an appearance. He’ll be here.”

“Out of loyalty, Mother,” Liz pointed out acidly as she brusquely shrugged out of her mother’s embrace, “You’re using Max’s loyalty against him and it’s making him miserable!”

“We happen to believe it will all work out for the best in the end.” Nancy, Liz and Isabel swiveled around to find Diane Evans filling the doorway, her arms loaded down with the bridal and bridesmaid bouquets. She deposited her burden on a nearby table and closed the door behind her before moving to give Liz a brief hug, which the bride returned stiffly. “Liz, I really do believe that you can make my son happy,” Diane told her solemnly.

“And what if I can’t?” Liz exploded softly, “Max doesn’t want to marry me! He’s told you over and over that he doesn’t. He’s in love with someone else and yet no one in this room will even acknowledge it!”

“I know my son thinks he’s in love with Tessa Harding,” Diane replied with a faint smile, “But the truth is Max has no clue about what real love is…not yet.”

“What?” Liz snorted, “Do you think I can teach him?”

“We all do, Elizabeth,” her mother answered quietly.

Liz opened her mouth to give them the tantrum of the century when a gentle knock sounded at the dressing room door. “What is this…Grand Central Station!” Liz ground out in irritation, “That’s it! I want you out!” She started ushering her mother, friend, and future mother-in-law towards the door despite their strident protests. “Just get out, all of you! I can’t think with you all yammering at me.” Liz yanked open the door to find her wedding coordinator, Kathleen Topolsky, standing there, her face wreathed in a smile. Before Ms. Topolsky could utter one word Liz shoved her hapless family out into the hallway, straight into the unsuspecting wedding coordinator and slammed the door.

However, hearing the reverberating crash the wood made against the frame did nothing to ease Liz’s frustration. Liz began pacing the length of the small room like a caged tigress. It was her wedding day and she couldn’t even be happy. All she felt was an encompassing sense of dread. How could she do this? How could she subject Max to a marriage she knew would make him supremely unhappy? How could she separate him from the woman he loved most? But the even bigger question was; how could she let him go now that she was so close to having the one thing she could never have before?

At that moment another tentative knock sounded at the dressing room door and that was all that was needed to break Liz’s fragile hold on control. As the door creaked open Liz grabbed up the nearest thing, a crystal vase, and hurled it at the door with a frustrated cry.

“Hey! What are you doing!” Max protested as the glass shattered only inches from his head. He shielded himself from the spray of glass before straightening to regard Liz in dumbfounded surprise. “I guess I’m not the only one in a bad mood today,” he quipped lightly.

Liz was instantly horrified by what she’d done, veering quickly from anger to mortification. “Oh my god, Max!” she cried, rushing over to his side and checking for any inadvertent injuries she may have caused, “I didn’t realize it was you. I thought you were my mother!”

Max slid his incredulous gaze down to the shattered vase and then back to her ashen features. “And that makes it better,” he cried, gaping, “that you meant to hit your mother and not me?”

Liz belatedly caught his meaning and sputtered out a giggle, clapping her hand over her mouth as she fell into full-fledged laughter. “Oh my god,” she uttered, falling back a step, “You must think I’m a total diva!”

He started to reply in teasing agreement, but the words suddenly stuck in his throat as he was finally hit with the full visual assault of Liz in her wedding dress. The sight of her struck him completely breathless. He could describe her as angelic, ethereal, breathtaking lovely and none of those adjectives would adequately describe just how divine Liz Parker looked at that very moment. “Oh my god…” Max whispered reverently. He reached forward and took hold of Liz’s gloved fingers, slowly twirling her around. “You look absolutely stunning.” At that second, Max sincerely believed that such exquisite elegance shouldn’t be wasted on him.

The soft way he breathed the completely made Liz’s knees shake with emotion. He was looking at her now so enthralled, so enraptured…like she was all that he could see. Liz wished she could freeze frame that moment, lock time so that she would never lose the feeling expanding in her chest now, the one that Max Evans evoked whenever he stared into her eyes.

Liz swallowed convulsively, giving him an appraising once over as well. “You look really beautiful yourself.” She had meant the words to come out as a teasing quip, but instead her tone had been low and husky.

Max glanced down at his black tuxedo complete with a silver and charcoal colored vest, cummerbund and bowtie. Somehow the effect just didn’t compare to Liz Parker in dazzling white silk and he said so. Liz blushed and pulled away from his grasp, feeling acutely aware of his penetrating eyes following her every movement. “Stop it,” she murmured with an embarrassed smile, “you’re making me blush.”

“That’s nothing new,” Max retorted with a shrug, “I’m always making you blush for one reason or another.”

“Yeah, but that’s usually because you’ve made me mad,” Liz reminded him dryly, “How did you get in here anyway? My mother’s been guarding this room like Fort Knox.”

“I’ve been hanging out in the hallway for the last twenty minutes now waiting for a chance to talk to you,” Max confessed baldly, “When you kicked out your mom and my mom I figured that was my chance.”

“And you see you almost got killed for it,” Liz replied with a deliberate nod towards the shattered vase. She folded herself down into a nearby chair, pulling up an empty one along side her as she did. Liz patted the seat. “Come sit down and tell me what was so important that you braved the women’s dressing room to see me.”

Max dropped down beside her with an emphatic shake of his head. “Nuh-uh,” he protested, “First you tell me why you’re in here flinging glass.”

Liz lowered her eyes in renewed embarrassment. “Can’t we just forget I did that, please?” she implored meekly.

“Squirt, this is me,” Max said, his expression deadpan, “Have I ever passed up the opportunity to torture and annoy you?” Liz didn’t say anything in response, but instead feigned absorbed interest in her newly manicured nails. Max, however, was not deterred. “Could it have something to do with my mother and your mother giving you the ‘you were meant to be together’ speech,” he guessed astutely.

Liz gave up all pretense with a miserable sigh. “How did you know?”

Max croaked a dry chuckle. “Oh, it may have something to do with the fact I got the same speech, the long version, right before our rehearsal dinner last night,” he told her, “Which is actually the reason why I wanted to see you.”

Her eyes widened with understanding. “So that’s why you were such a butt munch last night,” she concluded with a smile.

“Yeah…” Max agreed, shooting her a look, “that’s why. I just wanted to apologize to you for causing such a scene and embarrassing you to death. In fact, I want to apologize for this entire week. Tess has been totally unfair to you and I‘ve been moody as hell, too. You didn‘t deserve that or to be publicly humiliated either.”

Liz patted his shoulder. “Don’t sweat it,” she replied, lifting her shoulders in an indifferent shrug, “You’re not the first person who’s embarrassed me in my life and I’m sure you won’t be the last.” Liz frowned in afterthought. “Come to think of it maybe you will be,” she amended with a wry grin, “since most of the humiliating situations I find myself in are usually your making.”

Nudging her playfully, Max teased, “Anyone ever tell you that you shouldn’t hold grudges, Parker?”

Though he was teasing her, Liz became abruptly serious, her smile collapsing into a solemn stare. “I won’t hold a grudge if you don’t,” she offered softly.

Max’s smile faltered as well, giving way to a bewildered frown. “What are you talking about?” he asked, “You haven’t done anything wrong, squirt.”

“I know you don’t want to marry me, Max--,”

“And you don’t want to marry me either,” Max interrupted before she could go further. He took hold of her hand and sandwiched it between his own. “Listen, Liz, you have nothing to feel guilty about. You didn’t want this marriage anymore than I did. Our parents are to blame, okay.”

“But--,”

“But nothing,” Max said firmly, “It’s done already. We’re married. It’s not what I would have wanted for myself, but it’s not hell either.” He tweaked her nose playfully. “I like you, squirt. I always have…being married will be a snap. It’ll be the same as it’s always been only we’ll be living together. Let’s just look at it all as an adventure.”

“Yeah…an adventure,” Liz echoed dully.

“Liz, come on,” Max urged, crushing her shoulders in a reassuring bear hug, “This marriage is just in name only, right? What could possibly go wrong?”

Oh, Max, Liz thought with wry sadness, if you only knew the half of it.

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Postby Deejonaise » Thu Oct 30, 2003 11:16 am

Chapter Eight

“Max?”

Max rolled over on the bed and glanced up from the television screen at Liz’s soft whisper. And then he nearly choked on his Skittles. His eyes slowly widening in shock, Max dropped his candy on the floor and sat upright. Immediately, his blood began to hum, his every nerve ending made alive as he beheld her, bathed in the soft light coming from the bathroom. Liz was wearing her hair loose and long and was adorned in nothing more than a flimsy, wine colored silk negligee that stopped mid-thigh. Max swallowed hard, digesting his candy and that was before she slid the thin straps off her creamy shoulders and let the negligee slip from her naked body into a silken pool at her feet. “Oh my god…” Max whispered, his mouth falling wide open.

Liz fought the reflexive urge to cover herself. “Are…Are you ready for bed,” she stammered.

For the life of her she couldn’t remember how she’d gotten to this point. Admittedly, she hadn’t consciously made up her mind to seduce Max. They hadn’t even discussed it at all. During the ceremony and reception they had hardly been out of one another’s company once and, though they’d discussed a whole number of things from the house her parents had purchased for them to Max’s class schedule this semester, sex had never come up. However, it had been the subject first and foremost on Liz’s mind throughout their entire conversation. But even so she hadn’t made a conscious decision to seduce Max until only a few minutes before. Truly it had been just a spur of the moment thing. She had been in the bathroom, watching him through the crack in the door while he moodily flipped through the television channels and had thought, “why not?”

The idea wasn’t so crazy, after all. They were married and they were on their honeymoon. In fact, their parents, with the express but unspoken desire that Max and Liz consummate their marriage immediately, had purchased the hotel suite where they were staying for the night. They expected it. Liz knew that until they did so their marriage wouldn’t be considered legal, by the courts or by their parents. And if their parents weren’t pleased…that just would not be a good thing. It could be said that their future livelihood was riding on what took place in that room.

Max’s father had been the most direct of them all. He had given Max two options only: make a real marriage or make it own your own. From Liz’s standpoint Max didn’t have much choice but to follow his father’s edict. He was a freshman in college, a full-time student with no viable means of income other than his father‘s generosity. If Philip Evans cut him off then that would leave Max with absolutely nothing. Max was just stubborn enough to let that happen, but Liz couldn’t watch as he gave up on his dreams to be a doctor just so he could stick it to his dad.

And so with the idea half formed in her mind Liz decided that she would take the first step. She would be the one who extended the invitation to make their marriage a real one. It wasn’t such a sacrifice really. Liz had fantasized for quite a long time about what it would be like to make love to Max Evans. Of course the circumstances weren’t exactly ideal and considering the fact Max was in love with another woman Liz had serious doubts that they ever would be. Which was why her decision to seduce Max tonight was less about desire and more about keeping him in his father’s good graces. She realized that, in order to keep Philip Evans happy and satisfied, she and Max would have to consummate their marriage.

At the moment Liz only had some hazy idea how she would go about making that happen. She had hoped, considering that she had limited experience in the area of making love, that she could simply walk into the room naked and Max would take over from there. However, judging from the dubious expression on Max’s face, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with that prospect or her, for that matter.

“What are you doing?” he gasped, belatedly jerking his head away. But it was too late. He had already gotten an eyeful and the image of her naked body was seared into his mind. “Liz, god…” he uttered, “put some clothes on.”

Liz took a tentative step forward. Though she was freezing and more than a little embarrassed she refused to back down. Now that she had come this far she might as well go the distance. “Max…can you look at me, please,” she implored softly.

“Not until you put some clothes on.” He muttered a curse under his breath and closed his eyes, trying to blank out the intoxicating image of her naked breasts, the soft swell of her hips, the dark curly thatch of hair between her legs. Stop it, stop it, Max told himself firmly. This is Squirt you’re thinking about this way, he reminded himself forcefully, she’s like your kid sister, for crying out loud! Max couldn’t let himself think of his kid sister that way.

Emboldened by the fact that her nakedness was obviously affecting him, if the blush staining his cheeks was any indication, Liz crept closer until she had reached the edge of the bed. “It’s our honeymoon, Max,” she whispered. And then, when he still wouldn’t look at her, Liz crawled onto the bed beside him, positioning her naked body only inches from his stiffened frame. Liz licked her lips. “They expect us to do this, Max.”

“Liz, please…” His voice sounded strained, his words garbled. He still didn’t look at her although his face was flaming. Did she really not realize how inappropriate this was, he wondered painfully. Did she really not understand that it was wrong for her to be there with him this way, all pink and naked and pleading? He was finding it increasingly difficult not to sneak another peek. Unable to stand it any longer, Max snatched up the comforter and wrapped it around Liz’s nude frame. “Why are you doing this?” he asked her in bewildered disappointment, “Are you playing games with me?”

“No, I’m not trying to play games,” Liz gasped in affront, taken aback by his sudden flash of anger, “I…I just thought that maybe if we…if we did this your father would lighten up on you a little.”

Max sighed heavily as Liz’s motivations became clearer to him. “You think if we have sex that it’s somehow going to convince my father that we have a real marriage and he‘ll lay off me?” he inquired softly. Liz gave a small nod. “Liz,” Max began gently, “our going to bed with each other is not going to make this marriage real.”

Liz felt her heart crumble into dust at his words but she managed to hold her tears at bay despite the awful pain spreading through her chest. “But what about tomorrow,” she asked him in a tear clogged voice, “The sheets….they’ll know we haven’t done anything and then your father will be so angry, Max. Who knows how he‘ll react.”

Max could understand her worry. Sheet baring was an age-old custom among their families. In times of old, the day after a wedding, the bridal sheets of the young couple were put on display as testimony to the fact that the bride was no longer a virgin. The exhibition of those bloodied sheets were supposed to serve as a testament of virility for the groom and purity for the pride. It was an archaic and humiliating custom that was hardly ever followed in modern society and had all but died off completely. But considering how adamant Max had been about not marrying Liz, he wouldn’t be at all surprised if his father demanded they display their sheets just to prove they had actually had sex. Considering the fact Philip Evans been the one to institute their marriage in the first place he’d also be well within his rights to do so, Max realized in disgust.

Liz’s true motivations became clear to him then. And with Max’s sympathetic understanding of her anxiety also came a crushing sense of love and admiration. He couldn’t believe that after sacrificing so much for him Liz would be willing to sacrifice more, to actually offer him her virginity just so his father would be satisfied. Max felt his angry bewilderment slowly drain away. “Liz,” he whispered gently, cradling her face between his hands, “your virginity is the most precious gift you can offer someone. You deserve to have your first time happen with someone you love.”

His words broke Liz’s fragile hold on her emotions and her tears slipped down her cheeks, spilling over his hands. How could she possibly explain to him that her first time would be with someone she loved? He didn’t want to hear that. Right now he believed that her gesture had been born of a noble cause, motivated only by friendship. He had no way of knowing that Liz had offered him her body out of love as well. And that was why she cried. Because even after offering her body to him so selflessly Max Evans still couldn’t see what was right in front of his eyes, that she was in love with him.

Liz shook off his hands and averted her face in humiliated anguish. “God, I feel like an idiot,” she muttered, licking at the tears gathering at the corners of her mouth.

“Squirt, I don’t want you to feel bad,” Max whispered, but Liz hardly heard him for the sound of her own tears.

“You must think I’m a total slut,” she sniffled as she clutched the thick comforter more securely about her body.

Max gently took hold of her chin and forced her gaze to his. “I think you’re the most selfless, courageous, loyal person I’ve ever known, Liz Parker,” he declared solemnly, “And I will always be grateful that you’re my friend.”

Again Liz was assailed with the forceful reminder that Max thought of her as a friend and nothing more, but the sweetness of his words did lessen the sting some. Liz chewed at her lip self-consciously. “I just don’t like the idea of your father punishing you for what does and doesn’t happen between us. It doesn’t seem fair.”

“My father isn’t a fair man, Liz. He wants what he wants and damn everyone who doesn’t like it,” Max said firmly, “That’s the reason we’re always at each other’s throats…cuz I won’t let him play God with my life. I’m not going to let him or anyone else tell me how I should and shouldn’t feel.”

Liz trembled slightly at the conviction she heard in his words. The prospect for a happy future with him seemed bleaker and bleaker by the minute. “But Max, this is the way it’s always been,” Liz protested weakly, “We’ve always known that when the time came for us to marry that our parents would choose our mates.”

“Yeah…I know that,” Max muttered in agreement, “Which is the very reason I went to my father and told him exactly how I felt about Tess. I even pitched the idea at him from a business angle. I mean, who wouldn’t want a business merger with Edward Harding? He’s in the Forbes Top 100, for crying out loud. The man’s a modern day Midas.”

“Maybe your dad tried, but it just didn’t work out,” Liz suggested hopefully.

“No,” Max denied flatly, “He didn’t even consider it.”

“Max, maybe--,”

“Liz, no, don’t you see?” Max interrupted, “It’s always been you…from the time we were in grade school…my parents have always wanted us to be together.”

Max wasn’t exaggerating. From before Max even began noticing girls with interest his parents had always made a big production of remarking over what a nice girl Liz was. Through the years their prodding had become more strident. She was sweet and smart and funny and Max had such a wonderful time with her. The arguments went on and on. His parents continued to negate the fact that Max didn’t want to feel that way about Liz. She was his ace, his bud, his pal. She knew absolutely everything about him, the good, the bad and the ugly. He couldn’t possibly love her like that. There would be no mystery between them, no intrigue and without that how could a relationship work? His parents obviously hadn’t been of like mind, however, as evidenced by their highhandedness.

Shaking himself from his reverie, Max added, “My father finally got what he’s wanted for the last fourteen years, Liz. He never cared about my feelings at all.”

“No, your father hasn’t gotten everything he wanted, Max,” Liz countered quietly, “He wants us to have a real marriage… If we don’t…” Liz trailed off, her earlier boldness replaced with a sudden painful shyness, “…do what we have to… your father’s going to be livid. Max, he’s already threatened to cut off your tuition if you defy him.”

“Liz, I’m not going to sleep with you just to appease my father,” Max insisted gently, “You deserve better and so do I.”

“But what are we gonna do?” Liz protested.

Max favored her with a crooked grin full of mischief. “Don’t worry…I came prepared.” He reached into the pocket of his tuxedo trousers and pulled out a small switchblade.

Liz jumped when he flashed the sharp knife-edge. “What are you doing with that?” she asked shakily.

“My dad wants virginal blood,” Max said as he made a small knick on the inside of his palm, “then I’ll give him virginal blood.” He dripped a few drops onto the bed sheets and then used the handkerchief in his breast pocket to smear it around. “Voila!” he announced, satisfied, “We’ve had sex!” He wriggled his eyebrows at her. “Was it as good for you as it was for me?” he teased.

Liz laughed, but her laughter sounded hollow to her ears. “You’ve thought of everything,” she said woodenly, disappointed that he hadn’t even considered sleeping with her. “I guess now we don’t have to worry,” she sighed.

Max’s teasing smile faltered some. “You don’t know what it means to me that you were willing to…you know,” he told her solemnly, “I just want you to know, Liz, that I could have never used you that way.”

“Because you love Tess,” Liz surmised in a suffocated little voice, ducking her head.

Max cocked his head, angling himself so he could peer up into her face. “Because I love you,” he said sweetly. She lifted her head then, a soft timid smile curving the corners of her mouth. “You’re the best friend I’ve got, squirt,” Max went on candidly, “I don’t ever want to do anything to fuck that up.”

Liz was filled with an awesome dose of reality at his words. Not the realization that he wasn’t in love with her, but the understanding that she’d let her disappointment over that fact blind her to what she did have. True friendship. Liz could be sure that no matter what happened Max would always take care of her, he would always be in her corner. She supposed she couldn’t ask for anything more than that.

She grinned at him, wiping away the last vestiges of her tears. “Okay, now that we’ve officially consummated our marriage I think I’ll take a long hot shower and ease my poor, tired muscles,” she joked as she slid from the bed, the comforter still draped around her.

“That’s a good idea,” Max agreed, playing along, “And maybe this time when you come out the bathroom you could be fully dressed this time, huh? My eyes can’t take that kind of torture again!” Liz threw a pillow at him for his trouble.

Only when she disappeared into the bathroom did Max’s jovial façade crumble. He fell back against the pillows trembling, his breathing coming in rapid, shallow pants. It had taken all his willpower not to touch her right then, to lay her down against the bed and take what she had so generously offered. He had wanted to. Hell, he still wanted to. His cock was positively aching with hardness.

God, what the hell was wrong with him? Liz had made a gesture, a kind, albeit rash gesture, because she wanted to help smooth things over with his father and here he was actually considering it. And not because he gave a damn what Philip Evans thought either, but because he wanted her. He wanted to pull down that comforter and lose himself in her naked beauty, to kiss and caress her breasts, to discern for himself if she tasted as sweet as she looked. Just thinking about it caused his arousal to throb painfully. The realization made Max feel sick.

What the fuck was wrong with him, he wondered again. God, this was Liz, Liz, for god’s sake! He shouldn’t be thinking about her that way, shouldn’t be wanting to touch and taste her, to lay with her as a lover, as a husband. It wasn’t fair to Liz, who had been sold into this bargain just as he had. And it wasn’t fair to Tess, who loved him and trusted him to remain faithful to her despite this farce of a marriage. And Max wanted to be faithful to her, he really, really did. He owed it to her after the hell she’d endured because of him. And yet he couldn’t get the image of Liz’s nude body out of his mind or the sweet, breathy sound of her voice when she asked, “Are you ready for bed?” God!

Max lurched upright, his stomach churning with guilt and desire. This was crazy! His feelings for Liz were just mixed up because of the wedding and the reception. Anyone would have been affected after watching Liz glide down the isle towards them in ethereal white, her skin bathed in an angelic glow. He had just been caught up in the emotion of the ceremony, Max told himself fiercely. It wasn’t because he really wanted Liz or anything. It wasn’t.

Determined to prove to himself that he felt nothing for Liz other than friendship, Max snatched up his cell phone from the nightstand beside the bed and punched in Tess’ phone number. It seemed to ring endlessly before she finally picked up.

“It took you long enough to call,” she clipped into his ear.

Max frowned at the critical edge in her tone. It wasn’t exactly the greeting he was hoping for. “I’m sorry, it’s been a little hectic for me today,” he retorted sarcastically, “I got married this morning, remember?”

“Yeah, I was there,” Tess bit out, “You spent most of the ceremony and reception ignoring me so I can see why that might have escaped your notice.”

“If I had paid any attention to you that would have only made things worse, considering Liz is my wife now,” Max pointed out tersely, “It wouldn’t have looked good for us to be seen together, alright.”

“Why does it matter?” Tess whined, “Everyone knows that your marriage is totally bogus anyway!”

“Aren’t you the one who told me not to provoke my father,” Max charged angrily, “How do you think he would have reacted if I had been glued to your side during my own wedding reception.”

“We could have gone somewhere discreet,” Tess argued, “But you didn’t even try. Maybe you really wanted to be with her…”

Max sighed. This wasn’t how he envisioned their conversation going. He was hoping that talking to Tess would distract him from the curious ache Liz had caused. Instead they had fallen into a routine that had become the norm since his betrothal to Liz had been announced. It seemed that every time he and Tess spoke Max felt compelled to reassure her of his love. It annoyed him somewhat because he felt, at least by this point, he should have proven himself and his love to her.

“This could have been avoided!” he snapped before he could stop himself, “If you had gone with me to your father like I asked maybe we could have convinced him to talk to my dad and undo everything.”

“My father would have never agreed,” Tess contested tiredly, “Besides it would have only made your dad angrier in the end.”

“Who gives a damn what my father thinks!” Max exploded.

“I do! Exactly how are we supposed to live if you’re disowned and I get disowned right along with you? You can’t live on love, Max,” Tess snapped, “God! I’m trying to make the best out of this the same as you! Do you have any idea how hard this is for me?”

Max felt a shaft of guilt course through his body. He hadn‘t called her to make her feel bad. He had wanted to hear her voice, to tell her he loved her and reaffirm what was real in his life. Unfortunately, his decision wasn‘t panning out the way he‘d hoped. “Tess, I didn’t call you to fight, okay.”

“Well, why did you call me?” Tess cried out in angry hurt, “Shouldn’t you be spending the night making your new marriage official?”

Her unfair reaction was the last thing Max needed after the stressful day, actually week he’d endured and in that moment he simply snapped. “You know what?” he queried acidly, “I think I might just do that!” He punched the end call button, not waiting for her response. But in the end Max only felt worse, instead of better. He stared down at the cell phone in his hand, suddenly feeling the insane urge to cry.

Liz was creeping from the bathroom, dressed in the sensible pajamas she had taken in earlier, when Max’s cell phone rang. She shrank back inside and closed the door to a small crack as he clicked it on.

“What now?” he asked wearily. A long pause went by before he spoke again and this time his words had lost their weary edge and were tinged with remorse. “I’m sorry for what I said, too….baby, you know I don’t like this either…I’m trying to do what’s best for everyone involved, okay…of course I still love you…you’re the only woman I’ll ever love,” he ended with a large sigh.

He never noticed when Liz closed the door to the bathroom completely so that she could weep out her misery in lonely solitude.

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Postby Deejonaise » Thu Oct 30, 2003 11:19 am

Chapter Nine

“Sorry, I’m late!” Max skidded into the living room just as Liz picked up the phone to dial Alex’s cell number. “I…just…got caught up,” he explained lamely. But he wasn’t fooling anyone and he knew it. Liz already knew why he was late without asking. He had been with Tess…again. Liz tried not to let the realization hurt her, but it was really hard, especially when Max had taken to breaking his promises to her just so he could be at Tess’ beck and call.

They had been married for two weeks, two weeks if you didn’t count the time before the ceremony, and to Liz it seemed that they weren‘t married at all. In all that time Max had barely spent his nights at the three bedroom home her parents had purchased for them as a wedding gift. It seemed he gave every spare moment he had to Tess. Liz couldn’t blame him really. Tess was his girlfriend so, of course, he would want to be with her. Why would he ever stop to consider that every time he went to her he was chinking away at Liz’s battered heart? Despite being married she and Max slept in separate bedrooms and continued to carry on separate lives. Their relationship couldn’t be more platonic. No wonder it never crossed Max’s mind that Liz might be bothered by his excessive absences.

“We can still go,” he insisted when Liz made no move to hang up the phone. He hoisted his book bag into a more secure position on his shoulder. “Just let me grab my Chem book and we’ll jet.”

“No, Max,” Liz protested, trying to keep her tone as neutral as possible, “I’ll just call Alex and ask him to take me. It’s not a big deal.” But as she started to do just that Max plucked the phone from her fingers and replaced it in the cradle.

“I said I was taking you to the DMV for your driver‘s test,” Max said stubbornly, “and I’m taking you, alright!”

“You were supposed to be here an hour ago,” Liz pointed out with a sour glare.

He had the grace to appear sheepish. Again he tried with the lame excuse, “I was just caught up.”

“You were with Tess,” Liz stated knowingly and Max’s face turned at least three shades of red right before her eyes. Liz heaved an inward sigh and fingered her suddenly throbbing temples. “Look, Max, it’s okay. It’s not like we’re married or anything.” The moment she said the words the two exchanged a wry glance. Liz bit out an ironic chuckle. “You know what I mean,” she amended quickly, “Our relationship isn’t the real thing, alright. I completely understand if you want to spend every moment you can with Tess.” She might understand, Liz thought morosely, but that didn’t stop it from hurting like hell.

Max, too, was in his own private hell. How could he possibly explain to Liz that his sudden need to be near Tess was motivated mostly by guilt and not desire? Every time he looked at Tess the image of a butt-bare naked Liz was in the back of his mind. He dreamed about her, thought about her during class, hell, he stared at her when she wasn’t looking. She was on his mind 24/7 it seemed and, considering the fact he had a girlfriend, that wasn’t a good thing at all. As a result, the more Max found himself thinking about Liz the more he sought out Tess, hoping that if he lavished her with attention it would help to assuage his guilty conscience. His efforts had been futile so far and instead of feeling better Max actually felt worse. Because even with all the time he spent with Tess he still couldn’t stop thinking about Liz.

It was frustrating and maddening, especially because Max didn’t want to feel that way about Liz. He didn’t want to wake up wanting her. He didn’t want to yearn a taste of her in the morning over breakfast. He didn’t want to think about how beautiful her hair was when the sunlight shone down on it. But he did. And living with her, seeing her on such an intimate level everyday only seemed to increase his desires rather than alleviate them. And so he did the only thing he could do. He spent as little time at the house as possible. Of course, now it seemed his plan was backfiring because now Liz thought he didn’t want to have anything to do with her.

Feeling completely undone and wondering how this entire mess had come about in the first place, Max expelled a heavy sigh, his entire demeanor weary. “Liz, I didn’t mean to flake out on you, alright,” he said softly, “I wasn’t trying to ditch you for Tess…I just lost track of time. If you’ll let me I’d still like to take you to the DMV.”

They took her car, making the trip in moody silence. Liz sat in the passenger’s seat, lamenting over why guys like Max always seemed to prefer girls like Tess over girls like her. No, that wasn’t it. For Liz the consideration of that age old question was much more personal. She wondered what exactly was it about Tess Harding that made Max run to her on winged feet every time. Liz might have teased him about his lovesick attitude if it didn’t absolutely tear her to pieces to see him that way over another girl. She was beginning to think she’d never get anyone to love her, least of all Max Evans.

When they reached the DMV Max rolled in front of the building to let Liz out at the entrance. “I’ll just park the car and meet you inside,” he told her. Max watched her walk away, feeling a little dejected when she barely acknowledged him. He stamped on the gas, mentally rolling his eyes. What was he, a lovesick puppy or something? This mooning over Liz absolutely had to stop! He was just being totally ridiculous. If Liz knew he was having those kinds of feelings about her she would probably freak out. She already had to endure an arranged marriage with someone she didn’t love Max didn’t want to increase her discomfort with the knowledge that he was secretly panting after her. He groaned inwardly at the thought.

After Max had parked the car he trotted into the DMV, feeling lower than he had since his strange feelings for Liz had begun. His guilty feelings didn’t spring from the fact he felt an attraction towards her. Max could freely admit to himself now that he always had. Liz was funny and smart and silly and easy to be with. What guy wouldn’t be attracted to a girl like that? But she was his friend and out of respect for their friendship he had never acted on his feelings towards her. Besides that, Max seriously doubted that, even if he had made his feelings known, they would have been reciprocated. He was Liz’s childhood tormentor, the guy who pushed her in the dirt and pulled her pigtails. Of course, she wouldn’t see him in a romantic sense after that. In the end, Max supposed it didn’t matter. A few months after his realization about Liz he met Tess and everything in his life seemed to fall into place.

His feelings for Liz never completely diminished but they became easier to control and, after years of being exclusively with Tess, he hardly even thought about them any more. But all that had changed after he and Liz were married, really since Liz’s sixteenth birthday. Ever since she’d walked into the den that day looking like a brunette goddess Max had been slowly losing the battle to keep his attraction at bay.

And now they lived together! Lived together for crying out loud. He saw her everywhere he went, smelled her perfume and shampoo in the morning after his shower. He even caught glimpses of her creamy, gold skin in those halter tops she insisted on wearing to bed. God, it was driving him friggin mad! Add into the mix his feelings for Tess and Max felt terribly confused…and scared.

Inside the DMV it was packed. Max hadn’t taken two steps before he bumped into Liz at the very end of the long, winding line. She tossed him an aggravated look. “You don’t have to stick around,” she told him, “I’m just going to be here for the rest of my life!” she finished plaintively, “Just call Michael and ask him to come and pick you up, okay.”

Max shook his head. “No, I’m sticking around.”

Liz made a face at his insistence. “Max, I’m sure you have better things to do than haunt the DMV waiting around for me, okay.”

“I’m staying,” Max insisted stubbornly.

“Fine,” Liz conceded with a disgusted sigh, “You can sit over there with all the other prisoners.” She pointed him over to a small seating area where a number of people were already waiting. Some of them were actually asleep. With a distasteful grimace directed at Liz, Max trudged over and found himself a seat between a drooling fat man and a harried mother of two. Left with little choice he pulled his chemistry book out from his book bag and tried to study.

After ten minutes of reading the same formula over and over Max slammed his book closed in frustration. He felt twisted in knots, unable to concentrate on anything because his thoughts were so jumbled. What made the situation completely unbearable was the fact that he had genuine feelings for Tess. He did love her.

Most times when people met her they saw a stuck up, snotty rich girl and Max thought that same thing, too, the first time he met her. In fact, he pretty much hated her on sight. But then he’d been partnered up with Tess in Biology and Max learned a rather startling fact. Tessa Harding was lonely. She was beautiful, rich, the envy of every girl who attended West Roswell and she was completely alone. To the outsider it may have seemed that Tess preferred it that way, but Max quickly learned that Tess didn’t like being alone. She wanted friends and a normal life like everyone else. It didn’t help matters that her father was away on business 325 days out of the year. She barely even saw him. Max had felt sorry for her.

Which was exactly the reason he invited her along to the Crashdown one evening after school to meet his friends. He never imagined that they’d end up hitting it off. He never imagined he’d end up captivated by her biting wit and effortless charm. It seemed almost like he fell in love with her overnight although it was two years before he admitted it. Two years and then he and Tess were an official couple. They hadn’t been separated since. Together they had hit all the relationship milestones, the good and the bad. Tess was the first and only girl Max had ever fallen in love with. She was the first and only girl he’d ever slept with. She was also the first girl and only girl he’d gotten pregnant.

Nobody knew that about them, not even Liz. It had happened in the beginning of their senior year and Tess had absolutely freaked. That entire week she had been in an emotional upheaval, veering from tears to anger. She was absolutely terrified of becoming a teenage mother, of disappointing her father and spoiling his good girl image of her. Simply stated, she hadn’t wanted the baby. That fact had agonized Max because, though he was barely seventeen and still living at home with his parents, he had.

At the time he’d naively believed that a baby would be a guaranteed ticket to marriage, but Tess hadn’t wanted that. She had said that getting married because she was pregnant would be a humiliation she would never live down. She had been too afraid that her father would cut her out of his life when he found out and so she’d insisted on an abortion.

She and Max had argued bitterly over it and, in fact, had almost broken up as a result. But in the end all the arguments had been mute. Tess miscarried. Afterwards she fell into a depression so deep Max feared she might do something drastic. She didn’t eat or sleep for days. She thought God was punishing her because she’d been considering an abortion.

Her recovery was long and slow and painful and when by the time it was over Tess wasn’t the same. She was clingy and fearful, always needing reassurance that he loved her. After his betrothal to Liz had been announced Max had thought for sure she would fall apart and the only way he’d kept her calm was by reassuring her, over and over, that he would not leave her. Max hated seeing her that way and after the way she’d broken down following the miscarriage Max didn’t want to take the chance of that happening again. He would do everything in his power to make her happy no matter the cost. Tess had already been through enough, she didn’t need a boyfriend who was lusting after his best friend.

That’s it, Max thought, yanking up his chemistry book once more. There was a quick and easy solution to his problem about Liz. He would just ignore his feelings. Hadn’t he been doing so for the last four years? He would just have to keep doing so. After all, he owed Tess no less than that.

The hours dragged by as Max studied over his chemistry notes and his speech for his communication class. He was just about to go in search of a drink machine when Liz came shuffling up to him, her expression morose and defeated. Max stood up to greet her. “Did you get it?” he asked excitedly, “Let me see your license!” He figured her sullen expression had to do with the picture she’d taken. He could understand her disappointment. His own photo looked like a mug shot.

“I failed,” Liz sniffled miserably.

Max gaped at her. “You what?”

The comical expression on his face was the last straw. Liz broke out in loud, noisy sobs, her shoulders heaving. “I…I couldn’t p-parallel p-park,” she hiccupped hysterically, “I…I r-ran o-over…the c-cones!”

“Oh, Liz,” Max said, torn between sympathy and laughter. He pulled her into his arm and stroked her hair. “It’s not that bad, squirt,” he soothed softly, barely aware of the curious stares they were drawing.

“I…I pr-practiced f-for weeks!” Liz sobbed into his chest plaintively, “And I…I st-still failed!”

“Liz, it’s gonna be okay,” Max crooned.

“I’m a terrible driver!” Liz wailed.

Max framed her head in her face in his hands, lifting her head so that he could see her eyes. “You’re not a terrible driver. I’ll teach you, okay,” he said softly, “We’ll go to the old Roswell mall and I’ll teach you how to parallel park.”

Liz sniffled again. “You will?” she asked hopefully.

“It will be a breeze,” Max promised.

When they made it out to the old mall the parking lot was pretty deserted and the sun was already starting to go down. Max jerked the car into park and exited the car. “How are we going to do this without cones?” Liz asked as she walked around to the driver’s side.

“I’m going to stand outside the car and you’re going to use me as the point of judgment,” Max told her.

“But what if I hit you,” Liz considered fearfully.

“You won’t hit me,” Max said with laughing exasperation, “Now get in the car so you can practice. All you have to do is cut the wheel all the way in the opposite direction and slowly back in.”

Liz did as she was told, still not completely convinced that his suggestion was a good one. However, she was surprised a few minutes later, when she successfully backed herself into the space. She did so three more times all without hitting Max once and each time she was closer to the white line than before. Finally, on the fourth try Max decided to fool around with her a little. As Liz was slowly backing up the car Max slapped his hand against the trunk loudly and then doubled over with a mock, “Ow!”

Thinking she had hit him, Liz slammed on the brakes and hurled herself from the car with a frantic cry of fear. The moment she did Max jumped up with a maniacal laugh. “Hah! Gotcha!” he crowed.

Liz’s eyes immediately filled with tears. In those seconds when she thought she’d hurt him she had been utterly devastated. Her world had literally stopped. She gave him a disgusted shove. “You stupid fuck!”

“Oh, squirt, admit it!” Max laughed hysterically, wiping at the tears of mirth in his eyes, “I had you going for a minute.”

“I seriously thought I’d hurt you!” Liz cried and then she turned to stomp away, determined not to let him see how much his practical joke had scared her.

Max ran after her. “Hey, wait, Liz!” he called after her, catching hold around her waist, “I was just playing with you, alright. It’s was just a joke.”

“It wasn’t funny!” Liz cried before breaking down into renewed sobs. Suddenly, she felt like she was drowning in the stress of the past two weeks. Everything from their impromptu marriage to failing her driver’s test came crashing down on her. She started sobbing as if she would never stop.

“Whoa, whoa,” Max whispered, turning her around in his arms and holding her tight, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to upset you.” But Liz kept right on crying as if her heart were breaking. Now that the dam of grief and confusion had been broken Liz couldn’t stop the flow. “God, Liz, please don’t cry,” Max pleaded helplessly. And then, because he could think of nothing else to do, he dipped his head and gently pressed his lips to hers.

He really just meant to comfort her. That’s all he’d intended. But the moment their mouths fused together it became something more. Max pulled back slightly only to kiss her again and again in soft, fleeting forays until her sobs finally died down. And then, before he could completely comprehend what was going on, he was kissing her for real, dragging his mouth back and forth across hers with tender insistence, parting her lips for the intrusion of his tongue. But it was the touch of her tongue that snapped him back to reality. He tore away from her, his breathing quick and panicked.

“I didn’t mean to do that,” he burst out lamely.

Liz fingered her tingling lips, her eyes soft and luminous as she stared up at him. “Then why did you?” she asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Max muttered, averting his eyes. But he did know. He had known for a long time now. He was falling for Liz, his best friend, his pal…and it was scaring the hell out of him.


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