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Summary: Max and Kyle have it out. Max POV for events in Wondrous Strange.
Authors Note: As this is the second part of a three-part story you may want to read the other two parts, as well. You can find them on my website, http://members.nbci.com/redthemighty/library/fiction_red.html Feedback makes me feel all groovy inside.
"One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime."
- Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson
"What?" Shaken from his thoughts, Max sat up so suddenly he nearly sent his chair flying. Recovering himself he closed the book he was flipping through and looked up at his boss sheepishly. "Sorry, I was just, uh, really into this book."
Brody peered at him closely before looking down at the volume on the table. His frown turned thoughtful as he glanced at it. "The Majestic Documents? Yeah, really good stuff there." He paused and Max watched as Brody's gaze drifted past him to a point on the back wall. Obviously distracted the man's eyes finally wandered back to him. "Look Max, I need to get home early tonight so I think we'll close up shop now."
"Umm, if you don't mind I'd like to stay and finish going through this book. I'll lock up."
The wiry man fidgeted for a moment before replying, "Shouldn't you get home to your family? Maybe help your mum with dinner? I know you're as dedicated to this as I am Max, but there's no cause to go neglecting your family."
Max went still and stared coolly at the man. Why was Brody so concerned with Max's home life? He'd been due to work for another hour, why did Brody want him to leave now? A lifetime of paranoia was threatening to break the surface but Max stepped on it hurriedly. He knew Brody; in fact, he knew more about Brody then Brody did. He smiled grimly. Brody was just one more human caught up in the mystifying chaos that was his life. The truth was he felt a kinship with the odd little man. Ever since his meeting in New York with the 'man' who wore Brody's body he couldn't help but feel that they shared some weird kind of alliance. They both wore bodies that had lived lives they couldn't remember. Their pasts were an incoherent swirl of stars and flashes that treaded dangerously close to looking like really bad sci-fi B-movies.
"Well, they're all out tonight. My parents are going to dinner with friends and my sister has a, uh, charity thing, or something. So I was just gonna hang out and order a pizza and watch TV anyway. I'd just like to finish this book and then I'll close everything up. It's no problem at all. Really."
Brody finally relaxed a little and smiled at Max. "Okay, but no parties."
"No. No parties. I promise." Max laughed.
"Good, then I'll take off. Lock the doors after me." He grabbed his coat and headed towards the exit. "Oh, and Max, I'll be taking some time off around Christmas. It's not really tourist season so I'm playing the benevolent employer and giving you the week off."
"That'll be great. Thanks Brody."
"Yeah, well, you're welcome. Come see me out."
When he finally couldn't take any more, Max slammed the book shut and rested his forehead on the desk. Conspiracies, cover-ups, and the "truth" about extraterrestrials on Earth. Ugh. Time to call it a night. His eyes were burning, his neck was killing him and he was starving. He stood up and raising his arms above his head he tried to stretch out the kinks. He sighed and glanced at the clock, wondering how it had come to be so late.
He didn't even know what he was looking for any more. He knew, more or less, who he was, he knew he had enemies, he knew they were on Earth and he knew details of the events that lead to the crash in '47. What more was there to find here? Something told him to keep looking, though. Some hidden memory, maybe? Drifting along through his head. Maybe it was just that he had looked for so long he was afraid he would miss something vital if he stopped for even a moment. Damn it! This was so frustrating. It was like trying to grab the faintest whisper of a dream as it faded in the morning light. Really, he didn't need anymore intrigue in his life. What he had was enough. Thank you fate.
He slid the book back into place on the shelf and grabbed his jacket. He made a quick walkthrough of the museum, shutting off the lights and checking that everything was locked up for the night. As the building went dark he was suddenly overwhelmed by the desire to talk to somebody about all this. A quick mental check of those he could talk to turned out to be a depressing inventory. His sister, he shuddered at the thought, would be 'unavailable' until after the holidays, Michael had been short-tempered lately, even for him, and would likely just tell him to get over whatever was bothering him, and Tess he still didn't wholly trust, not with this part of himself. Alex was busy with his band, Maria was working, and he'd probably try to rip Kyle's intestines out if he saw him.
Liz. Now, that thought hurt. She was the one he really wanted to talk to. She would listen to him, her mind calm and logical. She would ask him questions, ask him what he thought was best and then by making her own suggestions and simply by talking to him, help him to reach a decision or to make sense of what was going on in his head. She always seemed to understand. And she never just told him what he wanted to hear. She was lost to him now, though, wasn't she? She had driven him away, made it perfectly clear she wanted nothing to do with him and then to top it off she and Kyle hadhad His mind shied away from the thought. The image of them in his head made him physically ill. He felt his throat tighten and his eyes begin to sting. He shook his head and shrugged into his jacket, checking the door one last time he started towards his jeep. **Best not to think about it. Push it all back down inside, swallow the pain and keep moving. If you don't think about it, Max, you won't notice half your soul is missing.** Had he always been this good at lying to himself? Or had he just recently picked up this skill, he wondered.
He took a deep breath and looked up, as he often did. The stars weren't the comfort the usually were, though. The night was cold and the sky was almost brittle with the chill. The bright light of the moon made the stars feel even more distant and frosted everything in it's pale, cold light. Digging in his pocket for his keys he noticed the lights in the Crashdown. He walked down the sidewalk a bit so that he could get a better view of what was going on in the cafi. He watched Maria gesture wildly and then fling herself across the counter. Barking a laugh he wondered what new drama in her life had prompted that. His eyes wandered to the real object of his shadowed vigil. She was standing behind the counter filling the salt and pepper shakers. Liz looked tired. She also looked distracted and maybe even a little sad. No, she looked more then a little sad, she looked like he felt. His chest constricted painfully. His feet had minds of their own and had him halfway across the stree! t before he even realized what he was doing. He stood staring in the door, unable to move forward and unable to turn away. Peripherally he was aware of Maria bouncing off to the back but his eyes were locked on Liz as she made another pass of the cafi. Maybe they could just talk for a little while. They had agreed to try and be friends, maybe His heart started pounding wildly when she walked towards the door. Again he noticed how distracted she seemed; she didn't even notice him standing outside like some sort of stalker. Something in her expression snapped him out of his paralysis and he rapped on the glass just as her hand reached out to the lock. He heard her shriek and saw her stumble back. **Good job, Max. Make her feel comfortable by sneaking around in the middle of the night and scaring the hell out of her. That'll get her to talk to you for sure. Idiot.**
She hesitated just a moment before opening the door a crack.
"Hey Max. Is everything okay?"
Great, now he'd made her worry. He was achieving new personal records in being a jackass tonight. He hurried to reassure her. "Oh yeah, fine. I was just getting off work and saw you closing up and, uh, I just thought I'd come over and say hi." And new records in lameness, he thought bitterly.
It didn't help that she wouldn't look up at him. His confidence faltered and his mouth went dry. Why in the hell was this so hard? Standing this close to her he knew exactly what he wanted. And what he wanted was to take her small form into his arms. To sit down someplace and to hear her voice whisper reassuring words into his ear while he pressed her close and let her warm scent surround him. Unfortunately she was as distant from him as the stars this evening. But, god, how he needed her. He needed somebody to trust, and though he never wanted to burden her with his life, she was the only one with whom he had ever really tried to share those burdens and for a while she shouldered them willingly. He had to try.
"Umm, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to hang out tonight, or something."
She finally looked up at him, but after a quick scan of his face she dropped her eyes again. "Well, uh, yeah, I'd love to but, see"
His heart skipped a beat and he took a step forward when she was suddenly pulled back into the cafi. He calmed when he saw the arm that had grabbed her belonged to Maria. She pushed Liz further behind her and placed a hand on Max's chest.
"Sorry ET, humans only tonight. Better luck next time." She gave him a firm shove away from the door and shut it. He listened to the lock being thrown and stood dumbly in front of the now dark cafi for a long minute.
That didn't go well. Not at all. He supposed it could have gone worse. Neither of them had kicked him in the crotch. He turned and walked slowly back to his jeep. Now, what? The prospect of returning to an empty house held little charm for him. He thought about going over to Michael's but that was even more unappealing. He leaned on the cold hood of his jeep and stared off down the street. Maybe he should just take off for tonight. It was a good night for a drive. He could go east to the Mescalero Sands or head west to the Indian ruins. Damn! More decisions. Flip a coin. Good thought. Heads west, tails east. He flipped the coin high into the air and almost lost it in the glare of headlights from an approaching car. He fumbled for a second but recovered the coin quickly and slapped it down on the back of his hand. Tails. East it was. Sand, sand, and more sand.
Max straightened from his slouch and was startled to notice the car that had been approaching a second earlier had pulled up in front of him. He recognized that car. He felt his stomach muscles clinch in angry response and his cold cheeks flushed with rage. Habitual control took over and he stood rigidly while he watched Kyle roll down his window.
"Hey Max. How's it going?"
When he realized he wasn't going to get any more then that he looked past Max to his jeep. "You having car trouble?"
"No. As a matter of fact I was just leaving."
"Getting off work late, huh?"
"What do you want, Kyle?" Max snapped back in annoyance. He really wasn't in the mood for a friendly little chat with Kyle Valenti tonight.
"Hey man, you've just been kinda upset recently"
"Gee, I wonder why that is, Kyle." Max was getting more irritated by the moment. If he didn't get away from Kyle soon he was going to lose his temper.
"I'm not happy at the state that exists between us, it is not exactly a positive place for either of us, Max."
"What, not enough Karma points for today? Need to clear your conscience?"
"Yes actually I do, but not in the way you think. C'mon Max, let's go grab something to eat and clear things up, you know, try to make things right."
"I don't know if that can happen, Kyle."
"Well you're not gonna find out moping around outside the Crashdown. Plus, it's freezing out there, man. C'mon. Meet me at Angie's Pizza. Just give me an hour."
Max stared at him for a long moment, so long in fact Kyle started to get nervous. He was about to speak again when Max suddenly turned around and jumped into his jeep.
The restaurant was mostly empty. A few tables were taken up by other teens out for the night on their winter break but for the most part it was quiet. Kyle spotted some friends and went over to greet them. Max groaned inwardly at the thought of having to sit down with them. He was in no mood to be social tonight, especially not with a table full of jocks. That could only be ugly. He was relieved when Kyle ended his conversation, pounding two of the guys on the shoulders and then pointing Max to a booth in the back.
They slid into the booth and gave the bored looking waitress their orders. They stared at each other silently while they waited for her to return with their drinks, Max glaring at Kyle sullenly and Kyle looking at Max with thinly disguised curiosity. Max was the first to break the silence after the waitress deposited their drinks.
"Did you sleep with Liz?" His words came out in a cold hiss.
"Do you think I did?"
"Don't give me any of your crap, Kyle. I just want to know."
"What good would that answer do you, Max? Do you still love Liz?"
"What do you want, Kyle? Huh? Why am I here if you're going to play games?" His voice was quiet but his tone was full of rage.
Kyle knew he was treading a dangerous path, but there were things he had to say to Max. He was totally with the Buddha on that whole idea that there was no need for self-punishment, but if he wanted to truly be on the Eightfold path he felt it was important he clear things up with Max. This would hurt. Hopefully not physically but right now he couldn't tell with Max.
"It was a simple question, Max. Do you still love Liz?"
"Mine was a simple question, too, Kyle. How about you answer my question first?"
"I can't answer your question until you answer mine. C'mon Max, we could do this all night. You agreed to give me an hour. Work with me here."
"It isn't that simple."
"You keep making it complicated. Close your eyes, Max. No qualifications, no doubts, no guilt, just feel. Yes or no?"
"Yes." He whispered after a moment.
Kyle let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "It was so weird, Max. One day Liz and I are going out. Doing all the things that couples do, holding hands, kissing her at her door at the end of the night, talking, and laughing. It was fun. And the next day you are her entire world. I would swear that she had never looked twice at you before in her life but there you were all the sudden. I like to think I was a pretty good guy to her but when she finally saw you, Max, I don't know if this sounds cheesy or not but she became completely herself, wholly awake. Still Liz but more so. It was absolutely amazing. It totally freaked me out at first. And then I became angry at the unfairness of it all. Why couldn't I have that Liz? Why didn't she come alive for me? Took me a little too long to realize that if I hurt you I'd be hurting Liz. I did come around finally. Fortunately. I was never in love with her, Max. But, I do care about her. I always have. How could I not? There isn'! t a kinder, more generous, and most importantly, more forgiving person on this planet."
"What's your point, Kyle." Max was starting to have trouble breathing. This was too hard, he didn't know what Kyle wanted, but he was afraid of where this conversation was headed.
"My point is, Max, knowing what we both know about Liz, I think you can come up with the answer to your own question."
"You didn't sleep with her?"
"Man, I really wish I could give you my answer but I can't. That is a question that only Liz has the real answer to."
"You were there, I'm sure you remember."
"What I remember and what you remember is based solely on what Liz wanted."
"Why did she lie to me, then?"
"I can't answer that, Max. You really need to talk to Liz."
"I've tried. She won't give me anything."
"I think you are asking the wrong questions."
"What questions should I be asking?"
"How should I know?"
They broke off when the waitress appeared with their pizza. Max glared at Kyle while he worked his way through his first piece.
"For a guy trying to give out advice you're not a lot of help."
Kyle choked on his bite of pizza and when he had cleared his throat, he started laughing. "I don't mean to be difficult. It's just, how would I know what you should ask Liz? I mean, other then the things that are painfully obvious to anybody that comes within a hundred miles of you two and the handful of things Liz has told me, I don't know too much about what's going on between you. I can see you are both hurting and I kind of know the source of that pain. Or rather, a couple of the sources of that pain. But, I don't know enough to tell you what to do other then to keep trying."
"I have tried, but she's got it in her head that I need to follow my 'destiny.' A destiny conveyed to us through a recording that is more then fifty years old. Nothing I have said has convinced her that as far as I am concerned I will make my own destiny and I want her to be part of that."
"I" Max took a deep breath before continuing. "I remember the first time I saw her. I was getting off the bus for my first day of school. I was 8 years old and nervous as hell. All of the sudden I saw her. Everything in the world turned to black and white and she was the only thing in color. I mean that literally. There were a hundreds of kids and parents out there that day but she stood out like a bonfire in the night. I couldfeel her. Not the way I can feel Isabelle and Michael. Deeper somehow but also more distant. The closer Liz and I got the stronger and closer it became. Now that we're separated it has become distant again. It feels like I have lost half myself. I can't even begin to describe how much this hurts."
"You don't need to, man, I can see it. Would it help if I told you that she feels the same way?'
"Why did she lie to me, Kyle?"
"I still don't have the answer to that question, Max, but I know you have all the information you need to answer it yourself. I don't know but maybe, I can help you out with one part of your problem. Mind if I tell you a little story? It's really short, I promise."
"Oh sure, why the hell not?"
"The Buddha was born a prince. He lived a life of privilege and wealth in the royal city. At his birth a sage prophesied to his father 'If he remains at home, the child will become a great King. If he leaves, he will become a great teacher.' Now his father wanted an heir and so made sure that his son was kept in the city and sheltered from the world. When he finally had a child of his own who could be his heir the Buddha left the city. He met an aging man, a sick man, a corpse, and a calm monk. The Buddha was so horrified by the suffering in the world that he became a monk too and wandered around for nearly six years. He almost succeeded in starving himself to death when at last he realized that that wouldn't do any good. His own suffering and death wouldn't ease the suffering that existed in the world."
Max laughed for the first time, "I'm not Buddha."
"No. But, what I am saying is that the Buddha's true destiny was not the one that everyone at the time thought it was. If he had stayed in the city and become the king, the destiny he was born to, then only a few people might know about him. But instead he followed his own heart and became a great teacher who still brings enlightenment to this world. I guess I am just saying that you need to walk your own path. If you are sincere and unafraid then Liz will see that too."
"I have obligations to my people, Kyle."
"Yes but you can't be an effective leader if your heart and mind are in conflict, that will only confuse them. You need to seek some sort of stillness and an understanding of yourself. Yourself as yourself, not as a king, not as Max, not as brother or son or friend, but as yourself only. Then when you can find that peace in yourself you will be a better leader to your people, I think."
"That was some football camp."
"You have no idea. Thank you, Max, for saving my life. I owe you one.
"You're welcome, but I didn't save your life so that you would be obligated to me."
"I know, but you did it anyway and gave me another chance. You helped me find my path. Like I said earlier, I don't like the state that exists between us, and I want this to be resolved so that we can both move on. Are you still angry with me?"
"No, not really. I think you did what you did because Liz needed you to. I don't know why but as you said, that's something only Liz can answer."
"Good. So you'll talk to Liz? She can't stand lying to you. Keep asking her questions and she'll crack eventually."
Max winced at his words. He knew Kyle meant it as a joke but he didn't want to 'interrogate' or bully Liz he just wanted her to trust him with what was wrong. He wanted her to volunteer that information. But, the way things were, he didn't think that would happen before he went insane.
Kyle spoke up again when Max remained silent. "Nobody on this or any other planet could doubt what you and Liz are to each other. You two are the only ones that do. I wish you could see the pair of you through my eyes. It is unreal, Max, and I mean that. When you two are together it is like this great completion. You are both so much larger then anything else when you are together. I can't even begin to imagine how rare that is. Don't give up, Max. I believe you're stronger as a team then you are alone and if things are going to get as bad as everybody keeps suggesting we are all going to need that strength. Did I mention in Liz's list of virtues that she is also one of the most stubborn women on the planet?"
"That I knew. It's just that"
"Whoa, whoa. There you go making things all complicated again. Do you trust Liz?"
"Then you have to trust that she can take care of herself and make her own decisions. You aren't going to make her do something she doesn't want to do or doesn't think is right. Let me refer you back to her stubbornness. And if that isn't enough then let me make a plea on behalf of all your friends. You are driving us crazy. Resolve this with Liz and we will all feel that things are back in balance. And if we can feel the comfort of that then we can prepare for what's to come."
"You're trying to make me feel guilty aren't you?" Max raised his eyebrow at Kyle.
"No way. I'm just telling you to knock it off. We all know you and Liz belong together. It's just one of those things. A force of nature. You can't fight it. Talk to her. Soon."
Max sighed and traced a pattern in the condensation from his drink on the scarred wood of the table. He finally looked up at Kyle and let a genuine smile cross his face. "Well I don't know what is going to happen next but I'd have to say this bonding session was more productive then the last one we had."
Kyle laughed loudly. "Oh man. I almost forgot about that. That was fun. You're okay, Evans."
"You're not too bad yourself, Valenti. Of course if you ever do sleep with Liz, I'll probably have to wrap your intestines around your neck but I promise I'll feel really bad about it."
"Thanks man. It's almost like we're brothers, eh?"
"I need to go and, uh, "
"Right, I got you."
The two young men paid their tab and left the restaurant in silence. Once outside they both shoved their hands in their pockets and tried to bring their jackets closer around them to ward off the bitter cold. They stood awkwardly for a moment, neither of them exactly sure how to end the evening on the right note. They finally settled on an abrupt goodbye and headed to their cars. Before Kyle had gone too far, however, he felt a hand on his arm.
"Spit it out, Max, it's freaking cold."
"I'd say we're even, Kyle."
Kyle grinned widely and pounded Max on the shoulder as he had done to the jock earlier that evening. "Night Evans."
The metal rungs of the ladder that led to Liz's balcony were so cold his hands were burning. Where in the hell had he left his gloves? He just knew he was leaving chunks of flesh frozen to the metal. Why was he complaining about his hands? He was just nervous. That's what it was. He got to the top and climbed over the short wall. He walked towards her window and looked in. A small night lamp was on by her bed but otherwise her room was dark and empty. He was about to turn away when he heard laughter coming from somewhere deeper in the building. He recognized Liz's voice and then an outburst from Alex. Unfortunately he couldn't make out the words. He considered sneaking into her room but he figured that wasn't going to earn him any points with her.
He paced the roof a few times before finally stopping and looking back up at the sky. The moon had dropped lower into the sky in the time he and Kyle had talked and the stars burned sharp and profound. Orion was bright as it always was in the winter and directly above his head was the faint cluster of the Pleiades. He stared up at that constellation and then followed it back down to Taurus and Orion and over to Gemini and back again straight up. He stared at these stars until he started to feel his neck freeze into place and then he stared at them some more.
His reverie was broken by the sound of the back door opening. He walked over to the wall and saw Alex and then Maria leaving for the night. He took a deep breath. Liz would be up soon. He could feel his heart start to pound anxiously and his hands started to shake with something more then the cold. He was being ridiculous. He'd talked to Liz a thousand times and hopefully this time would be one of the better times. **There you go, Max, thinking positive. Heart and mind in balance. Kyle would be proud.** Her bedroom door opened and all thought flew from his brain. He sat down on the wall and waited to see what she would do next. He was a little surprised to see her grab her journal and head for her window, after all it was damn cold out. She opened the window and stopped for a minute, going back to grab a blanket before climbing out. Max tensed and waited for her to see him. She stopped suddenly just as she stood up and stared at him.
He thought that maybe he heard a smile in her voice. Max looked up at the stars once more and thought that maybe he'd found the start of his path. He suspected it might be a little rocky but he didn't think he'd be alone.
|Part 1 | Index | Part 3|
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