FanFic - Max/Liz
"Christmas Envy"
Part 1
by Danilise
Disclaimer: Roswell, the characters, and situations are owned by the WB. No infringement intended.
Summary: It seems to Maria as if Max and Liz are flaunting their perfect marriage. And even Isabel and Alex have a special surprise to share. Why can't Michael at least act like he cares about her?
Category: Max/Liz
Rating: PG
Authors Note: This story is part of an evolving storyline that currently includes (in order): "Decisions," "Looking In," "Christmas Envy," "From Another Place," "Husbands and Fathers," "Claudia and Nicole," and "Stars." More stories may be forthcoming.
“Why is this so difficult?” Exasperated, Liz Evans thumped the cookbook on the kitchen counter. “I’m used to following what are essentially recipes in the lab all the time. This can’t be so completely different. And don’t you laugh at me, Max Evans.” Liz flung a tea towel at her husband, who was trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile. “Keep it up, and you get to make dinner for the starving hordes tonight.”

Watching them from the kitchen doorway, Maria DeLuca couldn’t escape the feeling that she was missing something in her life. Liz and Max glowed with unmistakable happiness, their love for each other as evident now as it had been in high school. Certainly Maria didn’t begrudge them any happiness. God knew they had had to go through enough to find it. But sometimes – especially when she spent enough time with them – Maria’s envy took over, leaving her feeling restless and irritable. And then she felt terrible because Liz and Max were her friends. Liz had been her best friend forever. The last thing Maria would ever want to do would be hurt Liz’s feelings. That was why Maria was determined that this visit was going to be different.

Maria was visiting Liz and Max to spend Christmas with them in Boston. The rest of the gang – Michael, Isabel, and Alex – were flying up from New Mexico later that afternoon. Which was good, because Maria wasn’t ready to see Michael yet.

Thinking of Michael was dangerous, so Maria focused instead on Max, who was patiently feeding mashed peas to his and Liz’s six-month-old daughter, Claudia. Michael and Max had been best friends all of their lives, but Maria couldn’t imagine two men more different. Max was quiet and occasionally shy. Like Liz, he was a thinker and a planner, someone who liked to be in control of a situation. Michael was the opposite. He was impulsive and abrupt. He could be rude. He could be loud. He let things get out of control.

Michael was passionate about things, which was why he sometimes let things get out of control, but which was also why he was such a great painter. He poured all his emotions into what he painted. Max was passionate too, but in a different way. Where Max was passionate – passionately in love with Liz, passionately protective of her and their daughter, passionately loyal to his family and friends – Michael seemed to freeze up. In Maria’s estimation, Michael was afraid to let people in, to give anything of himself to anyone. Sure, he was loyal to his friends, especially Max and Isabel. And heaven knew he could be outrageously passionate under other circumstances. But that was it. In the end, Maria concluded silently, the main difference between Michael and Max was simple. Where Max was not afraid of commitment, Michael was clearly allergic to it. Maria grimaced at the familiar bitter path her thoughts had taken, and propelled herself away from the doorway and into the room. She cleared her throat loudly and assumed her bubbly-wacky-Maria voice. “Hello? Guest in the room here. You two need to stop bickering like an old married couple now. I’m too young and innocent for this.”

Liz and Max exchanged an amused look. Interpreting that look, Maria grimaced again. “Okay. I admit it. That was a little ironic. So? Arrest me.” She paused then said nonchalantly, “So. When are we going to the airport?”

* * * *

Michael, Isabel, and Alex were on a 2:30 pm flight from Albuquerque. Maria wavered until the last minute about whether she should go with Liz and Max to meet their plane, but in the end she went.

Isabel walked into the waiting area first. As always, Maria was struck by how drop-dead gorgeous Max’s sister was. She was tall, blonde, and fashionably dressed as usual, with not a hair out of place or her clothing mussed. Also as usual, every male head in her vicinity swiveled to follow her progress toward them. The whole scene reminded Maria rather forcefully of why she used to envy Isabel Evans in high school. Thankfully for her sanity’s sake, that feeling had disappeared when she had become friends with the real Isabel. Maria smiled as she watched the real Isabel bear-hug her brother, smile and whisper into her sister-in-law’s ear, and coo sweet-nothings to her niece. The real Isabel was kind and compassionate and a great friend. Envy just didn’t fit into the picture anymore.

Maria blinked as she realized that Isabel and Liz had been trying to tell her something for the past couple of minutes. “Sorry. I spaced on you guys. What were you saying?”

Grinning, Liz couldn’t resist teasing her: “That wouldn’t have anything to do with a spacey young man we’re expecting any minute now, would it?”

Maria half-glared at her and turned back to Isabel. “Iz, ignore her. She and Max have been play-bickering all day, so she’s obviously in a mood.” Maria watched Liz’s gaze wander to Max, who was waiting for Michael and Alex to come through the doors, and quietly envied her best friend all over again. What must it be like to feel so secure in your relationship, to know that your love is absolutely returned? Maria wondered. Ordering herself to snap out of it, she prompted Isabel, “Tell me again what you were saying?”

Alex Whitman walked up behind Isabel and answered for her. “I’m sure she was trying to tell you that we’re engaged. Hi, Maria.” He leaned over to kiss Liz on the cheek. “Hi, Liz. I’ve always thought of you as my sister, and now you’re really going to be my sister.”

“Oh my god!” Liz cried, throwing her arms around both Alex and Isabel. “Congratulations!”

Then again, Maria thought wryly, maybe envy did fit into the picture these days. Why was she the only one of her friends involved with a commitment-phobe?

Speaking of whom … Maria looked around the waiting area for the last of their gang to arrive. Michael Guerin and Max were standing off to the side, deep in conversation. She smiled at the incongruous picture they made. Both Max and Michael were tall, although Michael was a little taller. Max looked like the serious medical school student and father he was, gently holding his baby daughter while he listened intently to his best friend. Michael, with his spiky dark hair, his moody dark eyes, and his rebelliously dark expression, looked every inch an artist on the edge. Maria felt her heart melt as she catalogued Michael’s attractions. A commitment-phobe he might be, but he was a darned attractive commitment-phobe.

Actually, she chided herself, a commitment-phobe was not a good thing. Which was exactly why she was feeling envious of Liz and Isabel all over again these days. Which was exactly why, at that moment, Maria decided that she was going to take the bull by the horns. She marched up to Michael and said, “Hey. You could’ve called me sometime in the past week, you know. You know it bothers me when you don’t call.”

Recognizing an opening salvo, Max grinned and excused himself, heading off to join Liz, Isabel, and Alex. Because he was staring hard at Maria, Michael didn’t even register his best friend’s leaving. Squinting at her in typical Michael-fashion, he remarked, “You know, you could try ‘hello’ next time.”

“Don’t change the subject. Why are you always like this?”

“Like what?”

“Like this. You’re always like this. You’ve been like this – hot and cold – since high school.”

“Hot and cold? What are you talking about?”

“I swear I should just dump you and find myself a normal human boyfriend—“

“Maria! Shut up! This is a public place, and you’re just shooting off your mouth as usual. What is with you anyway? I just got off the damn plane—“

“Don’t tell me to shut up. There is nothing wrong with what I said. You’re just paranoid. I’ve told you this a thousand times. You are completely and bizarrely paranoid. It’s not like people automatically assume that I’m talking about alie—“

“Shut up!” Michael glared at Maria. “You know, before you interrupted us, I was talking with Max. It was a conversation I wanted to finish.”

Maria folded her arms over her chest. “I asked you a question before,” she reminded him stubbornly. Seeing his expression, she relented, “Look. I’m sorry I interrupted your conversation. But you should have called me. You can be so insensitive sometimes.”

“Just stop, Maria,” Michael muttered as he stalked off to join the others. “I really don’t want to have this conversation right now.”

The trip back to Liz and Max’s apartment was uneventful. Michael and Maria weren’t speaking to each other, but no one seemed to notice. Their friends had been standing on the sidelines, watching the saga that was Michael and Maria’s passionate together/non-togetherness for too long. They knew the signs. Michael and Maria had either been at each other’s throats or flirting in each other’s faces since their first kiss; stony silence was simply the middle of their emotional spectrum.

* * * *

Christmas dinner came together despite Liz’s fears. Maria looked around the table, struck by her profound sense of well-being. She basked in the warmth and goodwill of the season, but most of all in the pleasure of being together with the people who meant the most to her in the world. For once in her life Maria sat back, content to listen as the conversation dipped and rose over the snowy-white embroidered tablecloth, weaving between the sparkling glasses, the stuffed turkey, the plump vegetables. Even silence sat companionably on the six friends sitting around the table. They had known each other too long, been through too many life-and-death situations together, to need to fill space with idle chitchat.

After dinner, they settled in the living room for coffee and dessert. Michael clicked on the television to catch the football game, and within minutes, all three men were absorbed. Shaking her head at the mystery of men – regardless of species – and their sports obsessions, Liz suggested that she, Isabel, and Maria go into the kitchen to finish their coffee. Still smarting from her airport altercation, Maria agreed quickly and got up, almost knocking over her coffee cup in the process. Michael twitched a mocking eyebrow in her direction. Maria glowered and turned her back on him. Immediately her eyes fell on Liz and Max, and her heart squeezed with familiar envy. It was a typical, so-sweet-it-was-almost-sappy, Liz-and-Max moment. Maria watched Liz bend to kiss Claudia who was curled up on Max’s chest. Liz was asking Max if he was okay with the baby there, tenderly stroking his hair off his forehead. When he nodded, she teased him, “You’re going to fall asleep, aren’t you?” and he nodded again sheepishly. Maria looked away when Liz dropped a kiss on Max’s forehead. Carefully schooling the envy out of her expression, Maria trailed Liz and Isabel out of the living room.

* * * *

“So how is he really?” Isabel asked, her voice full of sisterly concern, once the girls had reseated themselves in the kitchen.

“Max?” Liz glanced back in the direction of the living room. “He’s fine. Good actually. Just tired. You knew that I took the year off from graduate school when Claudia was born, but Max is still clocking 18-hour days at the hospital. He was lucky to get Christmas off at all.” She smiled. “At least, Claudia doesn’t wake him at night anymore. She’s a perfect baby. She’s been sleeping through the night since she was three months old.”

Sighing, Maria fought down the now too-familiar feeling of envy. Liz was so proud of her little family. It was great to see her best friend so happy. Maria just needed to get over it and be happy for her, as any other good friend would be. And she was happy for Liz – truly, deeply happy for her. How could she not be? But it would be nice, a little voice inside her said, if she could move forward with her own life, find some of that happiness herself.

Isabel nudged her. “What was the sigh all about? You’ve been pretty quiet all night, DeLuca. What’s up?”

Maria pasted a big smile on her face. “Nothing. I’m just so happy for Liz and Max and for you and Alex. Speaking of which, you still haven’t caught us up on how everything happened. C’mon. Tell us everything!”

“Absolutely,” Liz agreed.

As Isabel described Alex’s romantic proposal, Maria couldn’t help being reminded of her favorite dream, the one where Michael forgot his commitment-phobia, dropped down on one paint-stained knee, and pledged his undying love as he slipped a diamond solitaire ring on to the fourth finger of her left hand. She shook her head and tried to concentrate on what Isabel was saying. There was a reason that it was just a dream, she told herself sternly. It was never going to come true. It was the one thing she really wanted to come true, and it wasn’t going to. Involuntarily, Maria sighed again.

With the uncanny ability that all good friends have to know the hidden secrets that preoccupy their best friends, Liz reached over and rubbed Maria’s arm sympathetically. Knowing she couldn’t fool Liz but trying anyway, Maria forced her lips into a facsimile of a smile.

“Hey,” Alex called from the living room, interrupting the moment. “This football game is already getting old. Aren’t we supposed to open presents at some point?” A pause. “Uh, Liz, we’d better do that soon because your entire family is asleep.”

Liz got up to put her coffee cup in the dishwasher. She glanced apologetically at Isabel and Maria. “I should probably put Claudia in her crib and wake Max up before he gets to be unwakeable. Should we open presents now?”

Isabel and Maria both nodded and followed Liz back into the living room.

* * * *

A little later, all six friends were seated around the Christmas tree. Max and Liz were tangled up together on the sofa, as close together as two people could get. Isabel was sitting on the arm of Alex’s chair, facing him, her feet tucked under his thigh. Michael sat on the floor, his back resting against the wall, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles in front of him. Maria sat stiffly alone in the room’s last armchair. How did this happen? she wondered grumpily. The evening was turning into a couple-fest, and her supposed partner was being impossible as usual.

But as the presents were unwrapped and oohed-and-aahed over, Maria began to relax. So what if her love life was a mess as usual. She had her health. She had her friends. The sense of warmth and pleasure that she had felt during dinner returned, and she began to enjoy herself.

Finally, all the gifts had been shared except for three small packages that had been partially tucked under the quilted tree skirt.

Alex went first. He handed Isabel a small, elegantly wrapped package. She half-frowned at him, but couldn’t hide the pleased excitement shining in her eyes. “Alex, you shouldn’t have gotten me anything else. The engagement ring was enough.”

“Just open it,” he said lightly.

As enthusiastic as a little girl, Isabel tore the paper off to uncover a white box. Inside the white box was an enameled black on gold replica of the pendant Isabel had found in Atherton’s house so long ago. Maria knew how Isabel had felt about that pendant. It had been her most treasured possession through the last two years of high school. It had made her feel safe in Roswell and connected to her true home all at once.

Isabel’s “ice princess” persona was completely gone, Maria thought as she watched Isabel blush at Alex’s thoughtfulness, at how well he understood her. Maria exchanged a pleased look with Liz. They both agreed that Isabel and Alex were exactly what each other needed.

“My turn next.” Max extricated himself from Liz’s arms to retrieve a small package wrapped in ruled notebook paper, paper that was faintly yellow with age, from under the tree. Maria sat back in her armchair, preparing herself to watch yet another Liz-and-Max moment.

Max sat back down on the sofa beside Liz and placed the package in her lap. She picked it up thoughtfully, turning it over in her hands. Puzzled, she looked up at Max. He smiled the slow smile he reserved just for her. “Don’t rip the wrapping paper,” he cautioned. “It’s part of the present.”

Liz carefully untaped the two sheets of notebook paper and laid them on the coffee table in front of her, ignoring the package itself for the moment. “There’s writing on this,” she murmured, clearly trying to figure out why the paper seemed familiar. “Oh, wait a second. I know what this is. This is the poem I wrote for Poetry Week in fifth grade.” She read a couple of lines on the other piece of paper. “And this is the poem you wrote, Max.” She looked up at her husband. “Where did you get these?”

“I asked your mom to find yours. I’d always kept mine.” He ran a finger over the words of Liz’s poem. “We both chose to write about stars.” They smiled at each other in complete understanding. Max leaned in to kiss Liz gently. She closed her eyes. Then Liz seemed to remember the package itself. She laughed and broke off their kiss, her eyes impishly scolding Max for getting carried away in front of guests. Maria grinned as Liz bent her head over the package and her hair swung forward like two dark wings to cover her heated cheeks.

Liz snapped open the lid of the velvet box that had been wrapped in the two poems. Maria leaned forward to see. Inside the box was a pair of diamond earrings. Max’s eyes were bright with mischief as he recited the sweetly corny line he’d obviously thought up ahead of time. “They’re symbols of the stars I found in your eyes.”

Groaning, Isabel threw a pillow at them. “Enough sappiness, guys. We can only take so much.”

Everyone laughed. As she joined in the laughter, Maria tried to ignore the feeling of envy mixed up with expectation that was threatening to strangle her. It would just be like Michael to wait until the end to humiliate her. Michael was not like Max or Alex. He didn’t have a romantic bone in his body. She shouldn’t expect anything special.

“Okay, I guess that’s my cue,” Michael said, getting up to rescue the last present from under the tree. Not looking her in the eye, Michael handed Maria the unwrapped wooden box. Its lid was intricately carved in the shape of a flower.

Maria stared at the box. “Did you make this?”

He grunted affirmatively.

“It’s nice. What is it?”

“It’s a box.”

“I can see that. It’s a box. A beautiful box. Thank you.” Maria tried not to sound disappointed.

Oblivious, almost looking nervous, Michael nodded. “It’s a puzzle box.”

“A puzzle box,” Maria repeated. “What is a puzzle box?”

“Press the center of the carved flower,” Michael explained.

When Maria pressed the flower, a drawer in the side of the box sprang open. Nestled inside the tiny drawer on a bed of cotton was a wide platinum band set with five small diamonds in an off-center v-shape. Maria looked up at Michael blankly.

“You were mad at me.”

“No, I wasn’t. I just told you that I wasn’t ready to have that conversation at the airport.”

“You didn’t call me last week. You don’t even call me, and you want to marry me?”

Michael grinned. “It seems to be a trend. Marriage, I mean.” He touched Maria’s cheek. “I said once that I wouldn’t run anymore. But I can only stop running if you promise to stay beside me, Maria.”

“Are you saying—?”

“Yeah, I think I am.” Michael and Maria smiled at each other, understanding exactly what the other was thinking.

“Oh god,” Isabel groaned. “It was bad enough with Max and Liz being sappy all the time. Not you guys too.”

But she was smiling when she said it.

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