|"THE LITTLEST CZECHOSLOVAKIAN"|
Disclaimer: Roswell, its characters and situations, are owned by the WB. No
Summary: Max tries to comfort his daughter.
Authors Note: This story is the part of an evolving future storyline that currently includes (in order): "Decisions," "Looking In," "Christmas Envy," "From Another Place," "Husbands and Fathers," "Claudia and Nicole," "Stars," "Going Home," "The Ethics Lesson," "Redefining Terms," "Beginnings," "First Date," "A Quality Heart," "In Every Ending," "Birth," "Rose Petals," "The Littlest Czechoslovakian," "Joshua and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," "Guysí Night Out," and "Girlsí Night In." More stories may be forthcoming.
|THE LITTLEST CZECHOSLOVAKIAN|
Liz went straight to the Crashdown after picking up Joshua at his preschool. She felt like she was barely holding herself together, but she didnít want to fall apart in front of Josh; it would just upset him even more.
When she got to the cafť, she headed straight to the back, searching for Maria who she knew was doing inventories all week. "Maria!" she called. "Are you back here?"
"Yeah, babe." Maria poked her head up from behind some boxes. Her blond curls were slipping out from underneath her shiny hair-band, and her face was smudged with dirt. She looked like she was in the middle of intense counting, and Liz suddenly had second thoughts about dumping her problems on her best friend.
But Maria was Maria, and as soon as she saw Lizís face, she didnít hesitate. She climbed out from behind the boxes and hurried towards her. Grabbing both her hands, Maria looked her up and down, as if she were checking for signs of external damage. When she found none, she asked, "Whatís wrong? You look terrible, girl." And Liz knew the instant a possible explanation occurred to Maria, because she looked around worriedly then saw Josh nearby, peeking in one of the open boxes on the floor, and looked relieved.
Not wanting Maria to worry along those lines since they werenít at all close to the truth, Liz said quickly, "No, Josh is fine. And Max is fine. And as far as I know, everyone in the family is fine. But--" Her conscience pricked again as she glanced around the messy backroom. "Maria ... look, Iím sorry I worried you. Itís really not that big a deal. Maybe we can talk tonight. You look busy."
Maria clamped her hands on her hips. "Oh no, Liz. You came here because you needed to talk. And Iím your woman. You know I am. Who else have you poured out your problems to all these years? Even when you lived out-of-state, I was the one, babe. Iíve even kept old phone bills to prove it in anticipation of this day. Michael thought I was insane, complained that I was filling up the garage with useless crud, but I told him you never know--"
Laughing, Liz held up a hand to ward off the DeLucan barrage of words. "Maria. Okay, okay. I never doubted you were my woman for an instant. Never."
"Fine." Maria nodded, looking pleased. "So. It looks like you need to talk. Why donít we grab two coffees and our old booth and then talk?"
"Youíre not too busy out there?"
Maria raised her eyebrows. "Liz. Itís the middle of the day in September. All the kids are at school, and all their parents at work. Only women of leisure like yourself and women who run places like this like myself would actually be here on a day like today."
"Maria, I am NOT a woman of leisure!"
Maria looked skeptical.
"Iím not! Iím writing and editing. Just because I donít have an office and donít have regular hours doesnít mean that I donít work."
Maria looked even more skeptical.
Liz started to get upset.
Seeing the expression on her face, Maria hugged her. "I was just teasing you, Liz. Geez, youíre touchy today. Címon. Letís go sit down." Maria led the way into the dining room of the Crashdown. Once they were seated in their booth with two cups of coffee steaming in front of them, Maria said, "So tell me. What is bothering you so much?"
Liz sighed and rubbed an agitated hand across her forehead as the memory of the dayís events came flooding back. "Something happened when I picked up Josh from school today...."
"What happened?" Maria prompted.
"Yeah, what happened?" echoed Isabel, who had just walked in.
Glancing up in surprise, Liz thought that her sister-in-law looked impossibly beautiful in her red business suit and high-heeled shoes. Liz knew that Alex always liked it when Izzy wore red. Immediately on the heels of that random thought, Liz thought of the time and wondered what Isabel was doing away from her law office or the courthouse in the middle of a weekday.
Isabel plunked her briefcase on the floor beside the booth and slid on to the seat beside Maria. "Well?"
Unable to meet their identically expectant stares, Liz dropped her eyes to the table, and traced a finger over the heart-shaped M.G.+M.D. that either Michael or Maria had carved into the tabletop at some point in their tumultuous courtship. It would have been better to talk the whole situation out with just Maria first, she knew. With Isabel also listening, things were infinitely more complicated.
Liz pushed her dismay away and smiled at her sister-in-law, realizing belatedly that she hadnít even greeted her yet. "Iz, hi. What are you doing here in the middle of the day?"
Isabel gave her one of her "Princess Isabel" looks. "My judge declared a mistrial, and I didnít have any files that I absolutely needed to be working on, so I thought Iíd find my two favorite sister-in-laws in the whole world."
Maria shook her head. "Iz. Weíre your ONLY two sister-in-laws in the world, and I only sort-of count as your sister-in-law."
Isabel shot Maria another imperious look. "Quit trying to sidetrack me, both of you. What happened to Josh, Liz?"
Liz sighed resignedly. "Itís not a big deal, Isabel."
"I donít believe you." It occurred to Liz that Isabel sounded like she was preparing to launch into a cross-examination of a hostile witness.
Isabel looked from Liz to Maria then back to Liz. Then she glanced at Josh, who was lying on his stomach on the floor, drawing a map of the Radish Constellation on the back of a paper place mat with some crayons Maria had given him. "What happened to Josh?" she repeated.
Deciding that it would be better just to get it over with, Liz began to tell her story. "Josh was so excited this morning about his first day at school. I think his day went well. His teacher told me that he made friends with a couple of kids despite his shyness. And that he played a lot with one boy in particular, a boy named Dennis."
"And this made you upset?" Maria asked in confusion.
Liz shook her head, feeling angry and sad and upset all over again about what had happened next. "After I finished talking with Joshís teacher, I went outside to look for him in the school yard. I found him being yelled at by a woman--"
Both Maria and Isabel were speechless with shock. Then they both spoke at once.
"Someone was YELLING at him?" sputtered Maria, indignation palpable in her voice.
"Who was this person?" demanded Isabel.
Liz sighed for what felt like the umpteenth time, feeling tired and overwrought. "Wait, thereís more. I ran over to them; I couldnít believe anyone would yell at my shy, quiet baby. But what she was yelling at him was even more unbelievable." As she dropped her voice so no one else in the cafť would hear, she could feel her eyes stinging again. But she was determined not to fall apart in front of Josh. "She called him a Ďpakií and a Ďdarkie,í and told him that he shouldnít get anywhere near her precious Dennis because he would contaminate him."
"Ohmygod," Maria whispered.
Isabel just sat in furious silence.
"She so did not say that!" Maria exclaimed after a minute.
"Yes, she did." Liz nodded emphatically, hardly able to believe it herself. "Itís incredible, isnít it? I mean, how ignorant people can be." She couldnít stop staring at her baby, who was still lying on his stomach on the floor, completely absorbed in his drawing Ö her baby, who was so much like his father, a gentle, innocent soul completely incapable of ever intentionally hurting anyone.
"She couldnít have said that," Maria said, the outrage in her voice growing. "Itís just too ironic."
Liz smiled wryly at the only thing remotely funny in the situation. "I know. Ironic is a good word for it."
"So, what did you do?" Isabel asked. Her dark Czechoslovakian eyes were flashing, a sign that Isabel was barely controlling her temper.
"I told her off, of course."
"Oooh, good." Maria looked like she was going to leap out of the booth straight into a happy dance. "She deserved it. How did she take it?"
Liz shrugged. "She left in a huff. I donít know if itíll do any good, though. But at least I made my point."
"Which was what exactly?" Isabel asked.
"What did you tell her?" Maria clarified for Isabel, who looked as if she had graduated from stunned silence to gritting her teeth to hold back her anger. "Aside from beating them up -- which I am only too happy to do if you want -- what do you say to someone who has just told you that she wonít allow her little boy to play with your little boy because your little boy is a darkie?"
Liz shuddered again at the ugly racial slur, hardly able to believe that someone had uttered such a thing in the first place, let alone at her baby. She took a deep breath. "I told her about the perils of ignorance, about the innocence of children, about not judging books by their covers." She smiled a little sheepishly. "I quoted at length from Martin Luther King, Jr.ís ĎI Have A Dreamí speech." She dropped her gaze to the heart-shaped initials again, so she wouldnít have to look at her two best friends when she told them her parting shot. "And I ended by telling her that she was lucky I wasnít going to let her repugnant words scar my little boy for life, because she had no idea who she was really dealing with."
Liz peeked up at Maria and Isabel in the silence that followed. Maria was grinning at her, that mad pixie grin that told her she approved and that reassured her that the world was spinning as it should. Isabel looked proud. And Liz felt better for the first time since sheíd picked up Josh at school.
With exquisite timing, Josh chose that moment to wander over to the booth to show them his finished drawing. He climbed up on to the seat beside Liz, squeezing himself under her elbow, so that he could curl up in the shelter of her arms. He smiled up at her, his slow, sweet smile that reminded her so much of Max, and shyly pushed the place mat across the table until it was directly in front of her.
Stroking his dark hair off his forehead, Liz studied the picture, and told him that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. And he beamed up at her happily.
Looking at her son, Liz couldnít get over the fact that he had been the victim of such terrible, senseless prejudice. He looked angelic, with Maxís sparkling dark eyes, his shy smile, his dark hair already beginning to spring back into its natural cowlicks despite her smoothing it back. He was even reasonably tidy considering he was a very active four-year old, with his favorite navy blue shirt tucked neatly into his pair of denim overalls that had started the day clean. She smiled suddenly as she realized that his face was nut brown, his naturally olive-toned skin tanned because of a summer spent playing in the New Mexico sunshine.
She pulled him closer. "My little brown boy. Youíre perfect, you know that?"
Josh looked up at her with big, serious eyes, not understanding the wistful note in her voice. He shook his head. "Iím not perfect, Mommy. But Iím unique."
From the mouths of babes, Liz thought as she smiled and pulled him even closer, even though he was beginning to wriggle and make noises about feeling like he was getting squished. Joshís childish innocence verged on wisdom, she reflected. And Liz knew beyond a doubt that he was going to be fine. Because children are resilient. And the littlest Czechoslovakian was still a child with a lot of growing up to do.
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