FanFic - Other
"Returning to Normal "
Part 1
by charliej
Disclaimer: Donít own any of the Roswell characters or situations. Nor do I own the songs used herein, which include "Riverwide" by Sheryl Crow and a whole bunch of stuff from Bushís "The Science of Things." I do, however, own Sonya and Jake (youíll just have to read it).
Summary: Liz, now in college, reflects on the last couple of years.
Category: Other
Rating: R
Authors Note: Any of you who know me know Iím a huge Kevin Smith fan, so the mention of him and his flicks should not come as a surprise. This fic is not meant as an advertisement for Spin Cycle laundromats, Caffettoís coffeehouse, or Perkins restaurants. Iím using them to give a local feel to my story. In the interest of full disclosure, I do work at a Perkins, a chain of 24-hour restaurants (akin to Dennyís but better food). And I will also mention, should you find yourself in Minneapolis, the raspberry mochas at Caffettoís are to die for. Also, those of you who have read the wonderful Roswell Elementary series will notice a few (very) subtle shout-outs here and there.
Have you ever been listening to a CD that youíve owned for a really long time when a song youíve never heard comes on? You know, you buy the CD for that one good song but you never really listen to the rest of the album. And then one day youíre cleaning your room or doing laundry and you just let the CD play and all of a sudden this song starts. And as you stand there listening to the lyrics for the first time, you realize that itís describing your whole life. As if it was written about you. And you canít figure out how you never heard this song before. Has that ever happened to you?

Because that happened to me today. And before I knew what was going on, I was standing in the middle of my room with tears streaming down my face. And I just donít get it. How does a song, written by some stranger years ago, hit so close to home? How have I owned this CD for like five years and never once heard this song?

And now Iím just playing it over and over again, laying on my bed and crying about how true it is. Isnít that weird?

I know Iím not over him. I mean, when Iím being really, brutally honest with myself, I know that. Not that I like admitting to the fact. But itís been a long time since I cried over him.

At least a month.

I spent a year in the mouth of a whale With a flame and a book of signs. You'll never know how hard I've failed Trying to make up for lost time.

That was the part that hooked me. The very first verse. Because I may as well have been living in the mouth of a whale until Max Evans came and freed me. He showed me there was this whole big universe out there that I hadnít known existed. And Iím not just talking about the alien thing. Iím talking about love. Real, true, honest, your-happiness-is-more-important-to-me-than-mine love. That was how he loved me.

And I wish I could say that I loved him back that way. But my love for him was more of an I-canít-breathe-when-youíre-not-near-me kind of love. And whenever I thought of him leavingÖ

Tell my ma I loved the man Even though I turned and ran. Lovely and fine I could have been Laying down in the palm of his hand.

So I took control of the situation. I left him instead. I was going to lie. I thought if I told him I didnít love him anymore, that he would be hurt, but heíd get over it. But Iíve never really been able to lie to Max. How can you lie to someone whoís seen your soul? So I told him the truth, that I was scared. I knew that if the time ever came for him to goÖ home, I wouldnít be able to let him go. Iíd ask him to stay and he would. Because he loved me that much.

But I wouldnít have been able to live with myself if heíd done that. So I broke up with him. Maria, in the midst of one of her "Michael Guerin is an insensitive space-bastard," phases, called it pre-empting the pain. Alex called it fucking stupid. Michael called it predictable. Isabel called it overly melodramatic.

I called it the hardest thing Iíve ever done in my life. But I knew it was the right thing. It was the only way I could ever have let him go. And I owed him that much, didnít I? After everything heís done for me, isnít letting him be free to leave if he gets the chance the very smallest thing I can do?

Unfortunately, telling myself that twenty thousand times a day hasnít eased the pain any.

I dream we're happy in my sleep Floating down and down and down.

I think about Max a lot. More than I even confess to Alex, who -- due to his overwhelmingly bad luck with roommates and the fact that I have a single room -- more or less lives with me. And certainly more than I confess to Maria, who would no doubt send me packages of "love remedies" non-stop until I said I didnít even know who Max Evans was. I think about how our lives might have been if things had been normal. If heíd been just a boy, just my lab partner. I imagine us at the prom and in college together. Sometimes I see a wedding and a house and kids. The All-American Dream for All-American Liz Parker and the All-American love of her life, Max Evans.

But it always fades because I know that if heíd been normal, things would have been different. For one thing, Iíd be dead. But putting that aside, Max wouldnít be Max if it werenít for his secret. Because part of the wonder between us was that he always felt like he could open up to me in a way he never had with anyone else -- even Isabel. And that made me feelÖ Special seems hopelessly inadequate. Like the brightest star in the galaxy. Maybe the brightest star in the universe.

But I guess it just goes back to that old expression: If things were different, they wouldnít be the same.

Once I believed in things unseen I was blinded by the dark. Out of the multitude to me He came and broke my heart.

Thatís the only line in the song that doesnít fit. Because I was the one who did the breaking of hearts. Though ripping of hearts into little tiny shreds might be a more accurate description.

I remember that night so clearly. It was March, senior year. Weíd been dating steadily for a little over two years. I was closing the Crashdown and Max was waiting with me, like he did almost every night. He was talking about the piece of the ship that he and Michael had found the week before.

I think the day they brought that piece of whatever-it-was back from the desert was the day I knew I had to leave him. It just made everything too real. I mean, in the back of my mind, Iíd always known that he could have to leave. That someday, they could find a way home. But to actually hold it. To actually touch a piece of the ship that had brought them to Earth. The ship that had brought Max into my life. Just like the ship that could take him away.

I started thinking about it non-stop. About him coming to tell me they were leaving. About our final night together. About our last kiss, our last embrace. The last time I would be able to feel him against me. I couldnít think about anything else. But I would always get to the part where I had to actually let go of him and I could never get any further.

That was how I knew. And it was horrible. To know -- I mean to know from the very deepest part of myself -- that when this person, who loved me with everything that he was, who had risked everything for me, when he asked me to let him go, I wouldnít be able to.

I destroyed him that night. I knew that I would, but to actually see it in his eyes. To feel his heart breaking. It was more than Iíd prepared for. I almost broke, told him I didnít know what I was talking about. That I couldnít live without him. But then I thought of him leaving me and I couldnít do it. Somehow that imagined pain was worse.

I must have one hell of an imagination.

He begged me to reconsider. To at least think about it for a while. Heíd give me space, whatever I needed. But what I needed right then was for him to leave. What I didnít tell him was that I needed him to leave because I didnít think I could hold out much longer. I knew that if he touched me, even once, it would be all over.

"Please leave, Max."

"Liz -- "

"Just go!" I could lie and say I didnít mean to yell at him. But I meant it. I was so angry withÖ everything. Angry that whatever force controls the universe would give me something so wonderful -- so pure and beautiful -- and then make me give it up. I was angry at myself for not being strong enough. I was angry at Michael for finding that fucking piece of metal.

But most of all, I was angry at Max for saving my life. Because right then, I wished heíd just let me die that day. At least if I had, I would have gone into the ground ignorant of what it felt like to tear away the soul of the kindest, gentlest being Iíd ever known.

You should have seen his eyes. It was like he was broken. Not just his heart, but the whole of him. I just stood there, watching him leave. He turned back once and I can only imagine what my face must have looked like because this defeat washed over him and he walked out.

Iím not sure how long I stood there waiting for it to hit. But when it did, it was brutal. I remember collapsing onto the floor and crying until I couldnít breathe. Muscles I didnít even know existed ached from the sobs that were racking my body.

And the tide rushes by where we stand, And the earth underneath turns to sand, And we're waiting for someone to see, Don't bail on me.

It took him a month to give up trying to convince me I was wrong. And let me assure you, that was the hardest month of my life. After that, all I had to get through was the constant feel of his eyes on me. I started counting the days until graduation. There was still summer, but with school out, at least I wouldnít have to see him every day. I did, of course -- still see him everyday. But I didnít have to see him and I tried to convince myself that that made a difference.

The last time I spoke to Max was the night before my parents drove me and Alex up here for school. He was waiting in my room when I came back from saying goodbye to Maria. I suppose I should have been surprised that he was there. But I wasnít. I think Iíd always known that Iíd have to face him one more time. That I wouldnít be able to quietly slip away.

"Do you still love me?"

I wanted to scream at him, "No, I donít love you. I never loved you. Go away." I thought if I was convincing enough, he would leave. But I couldnít make my mouth work. I tried to say it, but nothing came out. Itís a very strange experience to know your lips are moving and sound should be coming out and itís not.

I remember not being able to look away from his eyes. I remember him walking to me, taking my face in his hands. I remember the feel of his lips on mine, the warmth of his body against me.

I knew what was happening. I knew he was undressing me and that I was undressing him. I mean, it wasnít like it was our first time. I knew it was wrong. But I was too caught up in him to stop.

In the morning you wait for the sun, And secretly hope it won't come, But time washes everyone clean, Honey now, don't bail on me.

He was still sleeping when I woke up. He had this look of utter contentment on his face. It killed me to know I was about to shatter it. I got out of bed and slipped into my robe. I thought about waking him, but I wasnít ready yet. I needed just a few minutes to collect myself, to steel myself against what I was about to do.

I watched him sleep. I wanted to remember him just like that. I wanted to remember the peace and warmth and love of him. I wanted to go back to bed and wrap myself up in him and never leave, but I knew I couldnít.

I think he must have felt me watching him because he opened his eyes and looked at me, a sleepy smile on his face.

"Hi."

"You should go before my parents get up." I could tell that wasnít what he was expecting.

"Liz?" I sighed, trying not to look at him, but knowing that he would never buy it if I didnít. So I looked him straight in the eye and destroyed him again.

"This doesnít change anything, Max. It was just goodbye. Iím gonna go downstairs. Please just go. Itís easier that way."

I was at the door, my back to him, by the time he finally spoke. I could hear the tears in his voice.

"But you said -- "

"I didnít say it. I just didnít deny it. Have a good life, Max."

********

Someone is shaking me gently. I move my body away, hoping whoever it is will leave, but the hand returns to my shoulder.

"Liz, are you okay?" Itís Alex. I mumble something incoherent, trying to return to the dream Iíd been having of Max. We were in the Jeep, watching the stars over the desert. His arms were wrapped around me and we were just enjoying the warmth of each other. I like this dream. I want to go back to it but Alex wonít go away.

"You were supposed to pick me up forty-five minutes ago. I got worried when you didnít show. Are you okay?" he repeats, concern coloring his voice. I sigh, knowing the dream is lost for good now and that Iím going to have to return to the real world.

I open my eyes reluctantly and twist around to look at him. Heís frowning down at me slightly. "Iím okay. I justÖ fell asleep." I hate with a deep and abiding passion the look that Alex gets on his face whenever Iím lying. Probably because he always knows that Iím lying. He never says anything, just gives me that look. What is it with all these men that I canít lie to?

I decide to postpone the inevitable fessing up that Iím going to have to do by getting up. The bed is covered with almost every piece of clothing I own. I grimace, realizing that Iíve just slept on the dirty clothes that I was sorting into laundry loads. Alex is still looking at me, but Iím trying to ignore him. It isnít working terribly well.

Suddenly, I realize the song is still playing. I turn it off self consciously, hoping Alex is too busy being worried and slightly angry with me to have noticed the lyrics. I look at the bed. Should I clear a place to sit? Why bother? I just slept on them for however long, sitting on them isnít going to make much difference. How long was I asleep anyway?

I stretch luxuriously. In case youíve never tried it, sleeping on hard-packed clothes is not terribly comfortable. Especially if your jeans are on top of the pile. "What time is it?"

"Five-fifteen. Liz -- "

Another sigh. I canít put it off any longer. He sits down next to me. "So, what got you started thinking about Max this time?"

I smile in spite of myself. As much as I occasionally detest the fact that Alex knows me so well, I mostly love him for it. But I guess when you practically live with someone for the better part of three semesters in a room the size of a broom closet, youíre bound to either know each other really well or hate each other.

"That song that was playing when you came in."

"Ah." He thinks a minute. " ĎMusic can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowableí."

I look at him quizzically. "Thoreau?"

"Leonard Bernstein."

I nod, sighing again. "I miss him so much, Alex."

"I know, sweetie." He wraps his arm around my shoulders, pulling my head onto his chest. I feel the tears starting again.

"I just keep wondering when itís going to get easier." Alex kisses my head gently, wrapping his other arm around me and squeezing.

After a few minutes, he says, "I know something that will help, though." I pull away, looking up at him curiously, hoping that itís true. That he might know some way to ease the pain other than just being with me the same way that he has been every time Iíve needed him.

"Laundry," he replies, a completely serious expression on his face.

"Laundry, huh?" Incredulity is dripping off every syllable.

He stands and turns to pull me up. "Absolutely. The smell of clean clothes has been clinically proven to be very therapeutic for broken hearts."

I smile genuinely, despite the tears. I canít remember a time since Iíve known him that he couldnít get me to smile whenever he wanted. I often wonder how I would have made it through the last year and a half without him.

"No, Iím serious. The intoxicating scent of fabric softener wafting up from fresh-out-of-the-dryer jeans and t-shirts is ten times better than any of Mariaís aromatherapy oils." Heís stuffing my haphazardly sorted clothes into bags. "Itís a comfort scent. Like macaroni and cheese. Or new computer equipment."

Iím actually laughing now. "New computer equipment has a scent?"

"Oh, definitely. Very unique. Like a new car. It kind of lingers there for a while after you take it out of the box. But once itís gone, you can never get it back."

"And this is comforting to you?"

"Tremendously. It reassures me that Iíll be able to get a job when I get out of college."

********

"You should call him."

Weíre at the Spin Cycle laundromat in Uptown. Itís our bi-weekly ritual. Every other Sunday night, we each pack two weeks of dirty clothes into the car we share and drive to Minneapolis. Three to four hours of washing, drying, folding, and talking is followed by a late dinner at Perkins, where Sonya -- the drummer in Alexís band -- is a waitress. Then coffee and chess at Caffettoís until they kick us out.

The Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis has been like our second home almost since we moved here. We live on campus, but we spend most of our time here. The indy movie theater -- did I mention that Iíve developed a passion for independent film since I started college? -- is off Lake Street and Alexís band, United Front, practices and plays most of their gigs here.

I look up from the pile of his t-shirts that Iím folding. I hate folding pants and Alex canít fold a shirt neatly to save his life, so it works out nicely. "Huh?"

"You should call him."

"Him who?"

"Max."

"Thatís not funny, Alex." I return my attention to the shirts, having ended the conversation.

"I wasnít joking." Alex apparently doesnít agree with me on the whole conversation being over thing. "I mean, come on. How long has it been since youíve seen him?"

"I saw him this summer." He gives me a dirty look but I just raise my eyebrow at him.

"You know what I meant."

Fourteen months, one week, and five days. "I donít know. Over a year."

"You should call him."

"What are you, a broken record?"

"I mean it, Liz. Donít you think enough time has passed?" I look over at Alex again.

"Enough time for what? I still love him. I still broke his heart. Time isnít going to change either of those things."

"I donít know. Time could change the first one, if youíd let it." I start to protest, but he raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. "But putting that aside for now --" these last two words are accompanied by a rather pointed look -- "Maybe Maxís heart has healed a little."

"Even if itÖ Even if he has, he still wouldnít be able to forgive me."

"How do you know that unless you -- "

"Because I canít forgive myself." My voice is harsh. Alex looks away from me after a moment, sighing resignedly. We both go back to folding clothes. After a few minutes, I look up at him again. Heís moving the last load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. I bite my lip, a nervous habit Iíve never gotten rid of.

"How is he?" He stuffs the last of the clothes into the dryer and closes the door. Digging some quarters out of his pocket, he starts the big machine. When he finally turns to look at me, his eyes are a little sad.

"Why donít you call and ask him yourself."

I give him one of my patented Liz Parker, donít-mess-with-me looks. He doesnít relent, just stares back at me. I soften my face. "Please."

He walks over to me and hops up on the washing machine next to where Iím standing. His voice is quiet when he speaks again. "He likes school. Isabel said he wants to be an architect." I nod and look away again, willing the tears in my eyes not to fall. He reaches for my hand.

"LizzieÖ"

I take a few deep breaths, trying to control my emotions for once. I would say I donít know how I turned into this wreck of a person, but Iíd be lying. I know exactly how it happened.

"So how is Ms. Isabel these days? Still charming the pants off every boy at UC-San Francisco?" My voice is remarkably steady and I find that Iím actually able to meet Alexís gaze.

He looks at me for a minute before continuing. I can tell heís trying to decide if he should let me off the hook or not. But then he smiles and I know Iíve succeeded in my attempt at a subject change. He only smiles that way when heís thinking about Isabel.

"Sheís good. I think sheís finally decided on education for a major."

My mouth drops open and I stare at him, completely dumbfounded. "Sheís going to be a teacher?" You can imagine the sarcasm in my voice, right? I mean, Isabel Evans a teacher?

"Yep."

"Heaven help the children." He hits my arm playfully and hops down to start loading the clothes into baskets. I sneak a look at him out of the corner of my eye, wondering as always if heís being honest with me when it comes to Isabel.

Alex and I have known each other for half our lives. We go to school together, live together, and share a car. We share a huge secret. He knows me better, I think, than even Maria. Maybe even better than I know myself. And I know him just as intimately. I know that he hates dried fruit, that he canít stand people who talk in movie theaters after the trailers are over and that he hasnít quite gotten over the outfits his mother used to dress him in for the first day of school. I know that he is the single most selfless, genuine person Iíve ever met. I know every quirk and trick of his personality.

But that never keeps me from questioning his integrity on the issue of Isabel Evans.

He tells me theyíre friends, very close friends. Most of the time, I believe him. But when he gets that smile on his face -- the one he has now -- I canít help but wonder.

Alex pursued Isabel in his quiet but persistent way through the end of sophomore year and all through junior year. He was there for her through everything: Nasedoís reign of terror; Michaelís four month "vacation," during which none of us heard from him; that really close call with the FBI. Maria and I used to tease him about it, call him her little puppy dog. I never liked the way she treated him; I always felt that she was using him. I never understood what he saw in her. Yes, she was gorgeous. But Alex is way too smart, and has far too many women in his life, to be lead around by hisÖ "power source" for that long.

It was when Michael was -- shall we politely call it missing? -- that Alex finally explained it to me. Max and I had just returned from another fruitless "Where the hell is Michael?" expedition. Weíd covered over a thousand miles in under forty-eight hours and I was exhausted. We talked to more people in those two days than I have met in the entire rest of my twenty years combined. When we got back to his house, all I wanted to do was rinse the road dust off myself and collapse. So when Isabel pounced on us immediately upon walking in the doorÖ Well, letís just say it wasnít one of my finer moments.

She started right in on me about how I shouldnít have been the one looking for him, that I shouldnít even be involved in this, that none of this would ever have happened if it werenít for me. I took as much as I could -- which Iíll grant you probably wasnít very much -- and then I blew. I mean, I really lost it. Every hurtful, scornful thing she had ever done -- to me, to my relationship with Max, to Alex -- exploded all at once. I donít even remember half of what I said. But I know that it took Max, Maria, and Alex to get me away from her.

I stormed out of the house, the rage literally boiling out of me, angry tears streaming down my face. Max came after me, but I pushed him away. I didnít want anyone around me; I just wanted to seethe.

Isabel came to apologize two days later, but I wasnít having any. I was still way too angry with her. I told her she was welcome to try back in a couple of days. She huffed at me and left.

I was closing the Crashdown later that night when Alex came to see me. I told him if he was there to try and make peace between me and the Ice Princess, he could turn right back around.

He smiled ruefully, shaking his head. "Only you two can do that. I just came toÖ to try and explain her a little bit. To maybe help you see her the way I see her." I was going to tell him to leave, but something in his tone made me reconsider. Over the course of the next two hours, he showed me the Isabel Evans that he knew. The loving daughter, caring sister, and good friend that he knew her to be. He told me about the nights they spent stargazing, sometimes talking for hours, sometimes not saying a word.

Max had always told me, and intellectually I always knew, that Isabel did everything she did out of fear -- fear of having her secret exposed, fear of losing her family, fear of losing control of the life she had so carefully put together. But it wasnít until that night with Alex that I really understood. It didnít make me like her any more, but it made me hate her a whole lot less.

The next day, I went to see her. I apologized for the things Iíd said and for throwing her apology back in her face. She apologized for jumping on me the way she had. While I was talking to her, I tried to find the things that Alex had talked about the night before. Once, I thought I saw a glimmer. I guess that was enough.

So yes, Isabel Evans has a soft side. But after several years of experimentation, Iíve discovered that it is only evident when sheís in the presence of one Alex Whitman. I guess thatís why I was so surprised when they broke up.

They only dated for about six months. He asked her to the Senior Winter Formal. When she said yes, he asked again, to make sure she understood that this would be an actual date and not a friend thing. You should have seen his face. They were at the Crashdown and I thought he was going to literally explode with happiness. I probably would have been happier for him if Isabel hadnít been sitting there.

I remember that dance vividly. I think it was one of the few times -- if not the only time -- that the six of us were all happy at once. Maria had somehow cajoled Michael into attending a school function with her and Isabel and I actually managed to be civil to one another the entire evening. Max and I danced the whole night; we never left each otherís sides for a moment. Michael and Maria slipped away for a while -- I donít think I need to tell you what they were doing.

But Isabel and AlexÖ They even took my breath away. The only other time Iíd seen Alex in a suit was for Grandma Claudiaís funeral. This was entirely different. He was so handsome. And IsabelÖ Well, Isabel always looks perfect, but that night she looked amazing. The layer of ice she usually wore had completely melted. She was radiant. And she smiled the whole night. She even smiled at me once.

I asked Max to make sure she was feeling okay.

I barely saw Alex for the next three weeks. They were completely wrapped up in each other. After he emerged from his Isabel-cocoon, he walked around for days with this dreamy grin on his face. When I finally couldnít stand it anymore, I broke down and pointed out to him how absolutely ridiculous he looked. He gave me a withering glance and said, "Yeah, and you and Max look so much less goofy during AP Chem." I couldnít really argue with him on that one.

They broke up a few weeks after graduation. He said it was because they were just too different. I was a little bit skeptical that the "not of this earth" thing could really break them up after everything theyíd been through. But Alex explained that it wasnít their biologies that were too different but their personalities. He said they were better off as friends.

I know she was his first -- first crush, first love, first sex (though for obvious reasons I try not to dwell on that last part too much). And I guess I just canít help but wonder how they can be "just friends."

********

"It is fucking cold out tonight!" Alex and I rush to the car with our overflowing baskets of laundry. This is my second winter in the frozen wilds of Minnesota. Iíve actually come to enjoy the snow, though not the way people drive in it. Youíd think in Minnesota of all places people would be able to drive with some level of sanity in the snow, but I swear that Iím a better bad weather driver than most of the natives. But no matter how long I live here, I donít think Iíll ever get used to the way the wind just cuts right through you.

"Do you want to go back in while I warm up the car?" Alex asks as we load everything in.

I pull my coat tighter around me and shake my head. "No, itíll take you longer to do that than for us to get to Perkins. Letís just go." When the weatherís nice, we usually walk over for dinner, but thereís no way Iíd even dream of that tonight. He unlocks my door from the inside and starts the car. I jump in and immediately start shivering. The seat is freezing. He glances over at me, a grin on his lips.

"Donít start," I say.

He stifles a laugh. "Iím sorry. I just canít help it. Itís still funny to me that you picked Minnesota."

I roll my eyes and look out the passenger window. Weíve had this conversation several thousand times since we moved up here. Never mind how many times we had it before I decided on U Minn. I came because they have an excellent Bio program and Alex came for the Computer Science Lab. Alex and I actually applied to a lot of the same schools. At first I thought it was just coincidence, but after a while, I realized that neither one of us really wanted to be all alone in a new place. Though both of us were pretty big on the idea of getting as far away from Roswell as possible. Me for obvious reasons and Alex to get out from under the watchful eye of "Military Mom."

Maria, on the other hand, had her heart set on Los Angeles from the very beginning. She didnít really care what school it was so long as it was in L.A. At first, she was going to be an actress. Then it was a singer. Now itís a singer/actress. But she seems to like it out there. I donít think I could deal with the lack of seasons. Sure, itís cold here and Roswell basically only has dry, drier, and cold and dry, but L.A. is summer all year. Maria says itís worth all the heat and smog to be able to see the ocean every day.

Alex pulls into a space close to the entrance. Itís always slow on Sunday nights. We dash inside, pausing in the lobby to look around for Sonya. She waves at us from a booth in the smoking section and we head over.

"Youíre late," she says lightly, pulling Alex down for a long kiss as I slip into the booth opposite them. After a minute, I clear my throat loudly. Alex pulls away and grins at me sheepishly, taking a seat next to Sonya. She smiles brightly at me.

"Hey, Liz." I smile back. Sonya and I get along very well, which is a good thing considering how many nights she spends in our room. She and Alex arenít dating, but theyíve been sleeping together on and off since she joined the band last spring. Alex calls her "a friend with privileges." Apparently, it took going to college and moving thousands of miles away from home to bring out the stud that had been laying dormant in Alex Charles Whitman.

"What time did you get off?" I ask, hoping she hasnít been waiting long for us.

She shrugs, stubbing out her cigarette. "Only about ten minutes ago. Nathan walked, so I said Iíd cover the rest of his shift. You guys hungry? Brian said heíd buy me a couple of meals if I picked up the rest of Nathanís shifts."

"I can always eat," Alex says happily. Sonya and I roll our eyes at each other. He eats constantly. Which wouldnít be nearly so infuriating if it werenít for that fact that he never gains a pound. I swear heís been the same weight since freshman year of high school.

Sonya waves the waitress over and we order without looking at the menu. Alex excuses himself to go to the menís room. As soon as heís out of sight, I snatch Sonyaís fresh cigarette from the ashtray and inhale deeply.

She smiles at me again. "Long day?" I nod slowly, exhaling a large cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. Alex knows that I smoke occasionally, but he hates it and Iím not in the mood for a lecture. Iím aware that itís a nasty, filthy, disgusting habit. Iíve read all the literature about the terrible things that tobacco will do to your body and I believe all of them. But what all those pamphlets and public service announcements never mention is that it feels really good while youíre doing it.

Youíre shocked that I smoke, arenít you? But itís true. I, Elizabeth Anne Parker, straight A student and all-around good girl, love the taste and feel of smoking a cigarette. I donít even care that Iím up to three packs a week since I came back from summer break. Nor do I care that it would be significantly more if it werenít for the fact that I canít smoke in my room or my car. Everybodyís allowed to have a vice and this is mine.

I take another long drag, relishing the feeling of the warm smoke in my lungs, and then hand the cigarette back to Sonya. Alex returns to the table just then, but Sonya pulls him into another long kiss so that I can exhale safely. When they pull apart, I smile at her gratefully and she winks at me.

My mind drifts as they start talking about the set list for Tuesdayís gig. I have a test in Organic Chem on Wednesday and a paper due in Middle Eastern on Friday that I havenít started yet. I have to remember that my Bio study group is meeting at seven instead of eight. I should probably spend some quality time at the library for that ridiculous History project. I wonder if Alex has Maxís phone numberÖ

Damn Alex! Why the hell did he have to suggest I call Max? What good could possibly come from that? But to hear his voice againÖ Just the idea of it sends chills down my spine. I know that we could never be "just friends" the way Alex and Isabel are, but that doesnít keep me from wanting it desperately. Just to have him back in my life in any capacity.

I barely saw Max this summer. He only came into the Crashdown a few times, usually to pick Michael up from work -- did I forget to mention that my dad hired Michael as a cook? -- and always left quickly upon seeing me. I could never quite tell if he was angry or sad. Maybe it was both. Alex said Max got an internship in Albuquerque which was why he wasnít around much. But I couldnít help thinking that he got the job so he wouldnít have to be around me. That sounds pretty self-absorbed, huh?

I know what youíre thinking. You think that I want him to be as miserable as I am. Well, I donít. I cherish the idea that he is getting on with his life, getting over me. Maybe even finding someone else. It kills me to think about, but itís also the only thing that keeps me going. Because if I thought that I had ruined his life the same way I ruined mine, I wouldnít be able to get through the day.

The waitress brings our food. I pick at my omelette, trying and failing to not think about Max. I notice Alex eyeing me suspiciously and I realize that Iíve barely said three words since we got here.

"Theyíre doing a Kevin Smith retrospective at the Uptown next week. You guys wanna go?" I ask around a mouthful of hash browns. Alex glances at Sonya out of the corner of his eye and I can tell that heís only letting me skate again because weíre not alone. Man, am I gonna get when we get home. Maybe I can convince him to stay at SonyaísÖ

Sonya nods enthusiastically. "Definitely. What are they showing?"

"Only the Jersey flicks."

"Cool. I can always go for another round of Dogma on the big screen." Sonyaís been hanging around us far too much not to pick up on the tension. She elbows Alex in the ribs and he removes his eyes from me slowly.

"What?"

"Do you want to go, space cadet?"

"That sounds cool, but we have rehearsal every night. And we might have a gig on Friday."

"Itís Monday through Thursday and theyíre all midnight shows. You should make it okay." We make tentative plans and Sonya asks if Iím coming to the show on Tuesday.

I shake my head. "I have an O Chem test on Wednesday. Otherwise I would." I try to participate in the conversation for the rest of the meal but my mind keeps wandering back to the idea of calling Max.

********

Itís ten thirty by the time we finally roll into Caffettoís. We grab our usual table and Sonya starts to set up for chess. Iím dying for another cigarette so I send Alex to get the drinks and bum one from Sonyaís purse.

I watch Sonya across the table. I never would have pegged her as Alexís type. Sheís built a little like Maria: short and slender, but with slightly more cleavage. Blue eyes, dark hair tinted purple, and a whole slew of piercings: eyebrow, tongue, six or seven in her right ear, four in her left. It seems to be the thing up here.

I stub out the cigarette, resisting the temptation to reach for another. Alex will be back soon. Sonya moves her first pawn. "Did it hurt when you got your tongue done?"

"For a couple of days, but it wasnít that bad. Once the pain goes away though, you never feel it again." She wiggles the stud between her teeth and I smile. "You thinking about getting one?"

Although Sonyaís influence has led me to add three or four holes to my ears, the idea of a tongue ring just doesnít appeal. "No, no. I was just curious."

"They can be fun," she says, her eyes on Alex.

"Iíll bet," I reply as Alex sets the steaming mugs next to the board.

"You bet what?"

Sonya and I look at each other and start to laugh. "Nothing." He rolls his eyes and sits down facing both of us.

"Women." For which comment he is promptly smacked on both arms.

"Hey!" he protests good naturedly. "If you guys donít cut it out Iím going to go over and sit with Elliott."

"Weíll call you when itís your turn to play." He glares at me.

"Have a good time," Sonya adds, her eyes not leaving the board.

"Fine." He gets up and joins Elliott, Caffettoís resident wacko. Elliott considers himself a playwright. And some of what comes out of his mouth is actually interesting. Unfortunately, what comes out of his mouth and what makes it onto the page largely have nothing to do with one another. I smile as Alex attempts to engage him in conversation.

It takes Sonya all of fifteen minutes to whip my butt. I sigh, consoling myself with the knowledge that I can at least still beat Alex, who gave up chess back in junior high. I stretch my arms and get up to get Alex. Heís thoroughly engrossed with Elliott.

"So, you see, if the Native Americans had just been more willing to use the technology that the aliens gave them, this whole society wouldnít be here right now." Alex nods solemnly, but I can see heís fighting back laughter.

"Thatís a really cool theory, Elliott," he says, standing. "Iím going to have to do a lot of thinking on that."

"Thatís good. Uh-huh. You should. You should definitely be prepared for when they come back. Because they are not going to be at all happy with us for killing off their friends." I pull Alex back to our table because I can see that heís going to get Elliott started again.

"Itís sort of too bad we canít tell him the truth," Alex whispers in my ear, his trademark grin finally bursting free onto his face.

"Yeah, I bet Michael would take that news real well!" Sonya has already reset the board and I settle down to watch her toy with Alex. She likes to let him think heís winning for a while.

My thoughts float to Michael. We sort of made our peace with each other when I convinced my dad to hire him. I think Michael was surprised that I would do something like that for him. I told him he was my friend and that thatís what friends do. He thanked me for getting him the job and for being his friend. I mean, he didnít say it in so many words, but Iíve learned to interpret him over the years.

The fact that Michael and Maria arenít together isnít all that surprising. But the reason for the break up is. I mean, we all assumed that eventually Michael would push Maria away one time too may and she just wouldnít come back. So when it was Maria who did the pushing, I think we were all a little -- no, extremely would be a more accurate word -- shocked.

I asked Maria once why Michael was so stuck on his past. She got this funny smile on her face, kind of wistful, and said, "Thereís got to be something better out there for me than Roswell, New Mexico."

I was about to ask her what the hell she was talking about when I remembered. It was the same thing she used to say when she daydreamed about her dad. And somehow, that put it all together for me.

Here are my thoughts on Michael Guerin. He is driven by one thing: an overwhelming desire to know who he is. And he thinks the only way heíll find out is if he discovers his past -- where he comes from, who or what his parents were. Maria has her mom and Max and Isabel have the Evansí. It gives them a sense of themselves and of where they came from. A sense of their own past -- even if itís an incomplete one.

But Michael -- Michael doesnít have anything. Oh sure, he has the five of us -- once he finally accepted the fact that we were never going to leave him (he would call it being stuck with us, Iím sure). But weíre not his real family. We canít give him the answers he needs.

So he has to keep searching. For the past.

But Maria wanted a future.

He asked her to stay. Hard as that is to believe, itís true. Now donít get me wrong. It wasnít like he got down on his hands and knees and told her he loved her and begged her to stay. I mean, this is still Michael "I am an island unto myself" Guerin weíre talking about. But he did ask, and from what Maria said, he was even nice about it.

She said she couldnít. She finally had the chance to find out what was waiting for her outside of Roswell, New Mexico and she couldnít pass it up. She asked him to come to L.A. with her. But he couldnít leave anymore than she could stay, so they spent the summer together and she went off to college.

I think he understands why she said no. How could he not? She was leaving for exactly the same reason he was staying. But understanding why she had to go doesnít keep him from loving her. I see it in his eyes whenever theyíre together. He canít let go of his love for her anymore than he can let go of his need to find his past. Theyíre the defining elements of who he is.

I give him points for effort, though. The first time Maria went home, things were really awkward between them. But when she came back for winter break, she invited him for Christmas at her house. I would have given every penny Iíve ever made to have been a fly on the wall at the Delucaís that night. Amy, Maria, Michael, Kyle, and the Sheriff all sitting down for the traditional holiday meal that Valenti had talked Amy into making.

I canít imagine that there are many things on this or any other planet funnier than that must have been.

"Whatís got you so giggly all of a sudden?" Alexís voice startles me and I realize that I must have been laughing.

"I was thinking about the Deluca-Valenti family Christmas last year." His eyes go wide and he smiles brightly.

"God, I havenít thought about that in a while. Iím still amazed everyone survived." Sonya looks puzzled so he tells her the story, leaving out the part about Michael being an alien and chalking up the ill will between him and Valenti to Michaelís brushes with the law.

Iím happy that Michael and Maria have found a way to be friends. They still bicker constantly, but underneath, you can see they care for each other. Sometimes, though, it hurts to be around them, because in the back of my mind Iím always wondering why Max and I couldnít have that with each other.

Index | Part 2
Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours
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