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Title: The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Dreamer Story
Rating: PG-13, some slight R
Category: AU, M/L.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Roswell or any one associated with it.
Summary: My own little Roswell world. Tess doesn’t exist because my mommy taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. The shooting never happened. It’s Christmas time, and Liz Parker has a Secret Santa. Will it turn out to be the man of her dreams?
Dedicated to Ian, because seven years later I still think of you and wonder why.
December 7, 2000
“For those juniors participating in the Secret Santa project, don’t forget to leave your first gift with your homeroom teacher by noon tomorrow. As usual gift distribution will take place the last ten minutes of the day, so make sure you are in your homeroom class no later than two o’clock.”
Liz couldn’t help the melancholy smile that spread across her lips at the announcement over the loudspeaker. She had dreamed of taking part in the Secret Santa project since she had first heard about it freshman year. She always thought there was something romantic about buying a dozen little inexpensive gifts for someone while they were trying to figure out who the giver was. She had secretly hoped that when she finally participated in the junior class’s special activity she would miraculously draw the name of the only boy who could make her heart stop beating with one glance of his incredibly soulful amber eyes: Max Evans.
Although he had been her lab partner for a little over two years they had never talked much past exchanging pleasantries and comparing biology notes. He was pretty much a mystery to everyone at West Roswell, save for his sister Isabelle and best friend, Michael Guerin. When he had turned down Pam Troy’s invitation to join her in the eraser room for a little makeout time, rumors that he was gay had not been far behind.
Still, that didn’t stop Liz from fantasizing about being Max’s, more specifically what it would be like when Max discovered she was his Secret Santa. She could see the happily amused smile that would flutter across his face as he sat in the Crashdown and opened his final gift, or more appropriately, his final clue as to her identity. He would gently tug the festive paper off the carefully wrapped item, his mesmerizing eyes immediately meeting hers as the alien headband from her waitress uniform was revealed. Silently he would make his way across the crowded restaurant until he was standing before her, his lips just inches from hers. Tenderly threading the silver band into her hair his deep, sensuous voice would quietly resonate in her chest, “I’ve come to claim the rest of my gift.”
“And what would that be?” she would manage to ask despite her breathlessness.
“This,” he would whisper huskily as his mouth descended on hers. Just as she parted her lips in welcome he would…
“LIZ! LIZ! C’mon, we’re gonna be late,” Maria DeLuca’s voice hissed in her ear, startling her back to reality. “Homeroom’s over, so would you save the daydreams of Max for later? I can’t get another detention or my mom will kill me.”
Liz sighed dejectedly. It was only a daydream. She already knew that she would be buying twelve gifts for her best friend, probably one of the least romantic notions she could ever imagine. Besides, it didn’t really matter whose name she had drawn, because even if she had drawn a hundred times none of those names would have been Max’s. Year after year, ever since he had shown up in her third grade class, she had covertly watched him. She had silently questioned how such a sweet, handsome guy ended up being a loner, why he never once participated in any of the school’s athletic events or social activities and, most importantly, whether there would ever be anything she could do to rid him of the loneliness that always lay hidden behind beautiful amber eyes, eyes that she knew were capable of seeing into her very soul.
Yes, no matter how grand her dreams were, despite wishing on hundreds of stars, Liz knew that in the end there was one thing she couldn’t change.
She would never be Max Evans’ Secret Santa.
No matter how desperately she wanted to be.
December 8, 2000
“Hey, chica. Ready to go?” Maria asked as Liz sat waiting in a booth at the Crashdown.
Liz made sure the tiny box holding the alien head necklace for Maria was hidden deep in her backpack. Playing Secret Santa wouldn’t be any fun if her best friend figured it out on the first day. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” she answered.
“I bet you’re really psyched to find out who your Secret Santa is,” Maria said jovially, knowing that Liz was a regular Nancy Drew.
“I suppose,” Liz answered as they walked out to the Jetta, unable to hide the disappointment in her voice.
“Let me guess,” Maria said sympathetically. “You’re bummed because you know it’s not going to be Max Evans.”
“Yeah, but I shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t know what I was expecting,” Liz remarked, but she did know what she had expected. She had expected to have her dream.
“Well, if it’s any consolation, I got stuck with Pam Troy. How about you?”
“You wouldn’t know her,” Liz lied. “It’s someone who hangs out with the stoners.”
“That stinks,” her friend quipped as she started the car and backed out of the parking space. Trying to lighten the mood, she added, “I can’t wait to see what our Santas brought us.”
Liz gave her a polite nod, but she wasn’t really listening. Her mind was already on her second period class and the beautiful amber eyes she always looked forward to seeing there.
Liz slowly stood up and made her way to the teacher’s desk, blocking out the endless chattering going on around her. Mrs. Bryant handed her a fairly large sized box, beautifully wrapped in gold foil paper. She gave the woman a grateful smile before returning to her place in the back of the room.
She knew she had no right to be disappointed. Whoever her Secret Santa was had obviously made quite an effort to make her first gift look pretty, so it wasn’t really fair to reject it simply because she hadn’t gotten her way. With a deep sigh she plastered on a happy smile and opened the small envelope attached to the outside of the package. Sliding out the small piece of paper she realized she’d get no clue from the handwriting. The note, printed from a computer in a script font, simply said:
Because you are sweeter than the finest chocolate…
A sincere grin tugged at the corners of her mouth. Her Secret Santa sure knew how to flatter a girl. Suddenly she couldn’t wait to see what was underneath the fancy paper. Carefully undoing the tape so that she could save the wrappings she let out a startled gasp as she saw the name emblazoned on the heart-shaped box. Hesitantly lifting the lid her eyes confirmed her surprise as she spied the delicacy she had previously seen only in photos.
“Godivas?” Barbara Peters asked incredulously. “Your Secret Santa bought you Godivas? Wow.”
“What’s so special about a box of chocolates?” Jeff Rogers asked as Liz continued to stare down at the gift on her desk.
“Godivas aren’t just any box of chocolates. Besides the fact that they are sinfully delicious,” Barbara answered, “they’re incredibly expensive. That right there is at least thirty dollars. I guess it won’t be too difficult for Liz to decipher who her Secret Santa is.”
“How do you figure?” Jeff asked dumbly.
“How many people in this school can afford to buy presents like that, genius?”
“Oh,” he replied. “I see what you mean.”
Barbara rolled her eyes in disgust before turning her complete attention to Liz. “So who do you think it is? Mark Hiller? Or maybe Jeremy Edmonds? I just know it’s a guy.”
“I don’t know,” Liz said as she shook her head for emphasis.
“Well I do know that you are one lucky girl,” Barbara teased.
Try as she might, Liz only wished she could agree.
He sat staring at the computer screen Saturday afternoon, thinking of ways to compose his note for Monday’s gift.
She had told him that the Godiva chocolates had been a huge hit with Liz, but he had refused to believe her until he saw it with his own eyes. He had tried to conceal the goofy grin that insisted on making itself part of his features as he sat at his usual booth in the Crashdown earlier in the day, but it had been difficult to say the least. He would watch in fascination as Liz constantly went behind the counter and took out the heart-shaped box he had so carefully wrapped, her fingers lovingly caressing the raised pattern on the cover. Oh, what he would do for her to touch him like that just once.
But he would have to be content with watching her enjoy his gifts from behind his self-imposed tree. It had taken a little help and a lot of pushing on their part for him to follow through with his desire to be her Secret Santa, but even with all their insisting he had still refused to agree to reveal himself to her at the end of the twelve days. It was one thing to shower her with lavish tokens of his affection and worship her from afar, but something else entirely for her to know how much he loved her already, despite the fact that they had barely spoken to each other outside of comparing class notes and his almost daily order of Crashdown food.
He was the first to admit that his refusal to consider revealing his identity had everything to do with his very real fear of being rejected by her. They would probably be surprised to know, however, that his concern had little to do with his otherworldly status. In his eyes finding out he was not from around here would be an extremely valid excuse for her to want nothing to do with him, but from all that he had observed of her over the years he knew she was quite open-minded when it came to matters of science. He actually didn’t think she would have too much of a problem accepting the fact that aliens roamed the earth, but just because she accepted it didn’t necessarily mean she would want to date one of those said aliens. It didn’t mean she would want to date him, and as long as he didn’t know for sure he could keep his fantasies of a life with her intact.
For now he would use the anonymity afforded a Secret Santa to give her all the gifts he had ever dreamed of bestowing upon her. He would watch the smiles of joy on her face and pretend that she loved the gifts not because of what they were, but because he was the giver. He would pretend that she could fall in love with him as easily as he had fallen for her.
And for him, that would have to be enough.
December 11, 2000
Liz loved Mondays.
Not that there was anything wrong with weekends. Despite her science geek reputation she did enjoy having a break from homework and boring lectures, and the fact that Max Evans would usually eat at the Crashdown at least once over the course of those two days more than made up for not seeing him in class. Standing in front of him as he looked over the menu always gave her ample time to drink in his handsome features without being too obvious about it. There she was just a waitress waiting to take her customer’s order, not a shy awkward girl afraid of being caught sneaking peeks at the hottest guy at West Roswell High. Like she was doing right now.
Max truly was the best looking guy in school. His skin was the color of a bronzed god, and his full lips were just the right blend of masculine softness to make her constantly wonder how they would feel and taste against her own. His strong jawline and high cheekbones curved in just the right manner to highlight unearthly amber eyes that were the best part of him. The way his raven black hair fell across his forehead gave him an innocent appearance that was completely contradicted by a firm, lean body so obviously created for all sorts of decadent pleasures.
Which led to the reason she loved the first school day of the week so much. Since freshman year colder weather heralded the arrival of what she called Max’s Monday sweater. Its simple black knit design had fit him rather loosely the first winter he wore it, but since then he had filled out quite nicely. Now it fit him perfectly, still comfortably roomy yet snug enough to reveal the sculpted treasure hidden underneath.
Each Monday he wore the sweater she was reminded of a similar one she had once seen at the Sears store in Hondo. She and her mother had planned a special trip out of town to buy new clothing for her foray into high school when she had come across the men’s black, V-neck pullover. In the few weeks she had been a freshman she had seen many female upperclassmen sporting such oversized sweaters and hadn’t understood the appeal of wearing clothing that was so obviously too big until Maria explained to her that the sweaters were the modern day equivalent of wearing a boy’s class ring. As she stood there in the middle of the store, fingering the soft ebony garment, she had wondered whether she would ever get the chance to wear a boy’s sweater like that. Now two years later she still asked herself that same question, only now it wasn’t just any boy’s sweater she wanted caressing her body. She wanted Max’s Monday sweater and its gorgeous owner.
“Liz?” he asked, bringing her out of her amorous thoughts.
“I’m sorry?” she answered, trying to not reveal how distracting he could be. “Did you ask me a question?”
“Mr. Seligman said we should start the experiment. Are you ready?”
‘Yes,’ she wanted to say. ‘Yes, I want to start experimenting with kissing you, and I don’t want to stop until we get a perfect result.’ Instead her cheeks pinked in embarrassment as she gently nodded her head in answer.
It was obvious that the only way she’d ever wear Max Evans’ sweater was for the latest trend to become sharing clothes with your lab partner, so she decided to turn all her attention to her Secret Santa. Had she been lucky enough that one of the few very wealthy kids at West Roswell had drawn her name? Were the Godiva chocolates a one-time extravagance or would she receive another elaborate gift today? If today’s present ended up being just as expensive as Friday’s, what about the final gift to be exchanged at the Christmas dance? Could her Secret Santa be romantically interested in her? It was a huge conclusion to draw from one box of candy, but she couldn’t help but indulge herself. In a few short hours she would have some answers, and she could hardly wait.
“She’s not here today.”
“Ok. Laura Orozco.”
Her hands had started getting clammy the minute Mrs. Bryant began calling off names. She hesitantly stood up and walked to the teacher’s desk, suddenly aware that Alex was intently watching her. Her friend had been just as surprised as she was that her Secret Santa had such expensive tastes, and they had spent their lunch hour analyzing who that person could possibly be. Maria had been unusually silent on the subject, most of her time being used to stare down at her lunch and toy with her alien head necklace. Liz was glad her best friend had liked the gift, and she had no doubt that Maria would love the aromatic vial of cedar oil that was today’s present. Now the only question was whether Liz would like her own gift.
Taking the square package that was wrapped as carefully as Friday’s gift had been, she crept back to her chair and sat down. She stared at the red and silver paper for several minutes before Barbara prompted her to see what was inside. Just like before Liz opened the attached envelope to discover one line in neat computer generated script:
Because your intelligence rivals that of Earth’s smartest creatures …
Her brow immediately wrinkled in confusion. What could that possibly mean? Curiosity getting the better of her she unceremoniously tore the wrapping paper from the box and swiftly lifted the lid. “Oh my goodness,” she managed to breathe out on a startled gasp, her hand instantly covering her mouth in surprise. Nestled inside layers of tissue paper was a stunning blue crystal statuette of two dolphins dancing on the waves, their snouts, ‘technically their rostrums,’ the science geek inside of her corrected, touching as if in a kiss. It only took her a moment to realize she had seen these Kissing Dolphins in a Wyland catalog her parents had brought back from their anniversary trip to Hawaii last year. This was a miniature version of the sculpture she had drooled over with Maria, and she hoped that its diminutive size meant it had cost her Secret Santa significantly less money than the original as well. Even so, this gift made two things very obvious to her. Not only were her Secret Santa’s gifts going to be much more elaborate than the five dollar trinkets they were supposed to be, it appeared that her best friend was somehow assisting in their selection. She spent the rest of the day wondering what she should do with that information.
Putting the last of his books into his bookbag Max shook his head to stifle a yawn. The worrying and waiting involved with being a Secret Santa was exhausting, but he wasn’t about to complain. Liz Parker was worth every last bit of it.
He had stood by his locker at the end of the school day, waiting for Maria and Liz to meet up so that he could see whether Liz was excited about his latest gift to her. At first he had been hesitant to compare her to dolphins because, despite their superior intelect, they were still animals and he had feared that she might get the wrong impression. Then Maria had begun bouncing around in that excited way of hers, talking with her hands as she described the dolphin statue Liz had gushed about earlier in the year. It took some patient prodding before he had managed to get the name of the artist out of his partner in crime, but once he had it had been easy to find a website where several variations of the statue, appropriately titled Kissing Dolphins, were for sale. All it had taken was one look at the radiant smile that lit up Liz’s face to know he had made the right decision.
He checked his drawer one more time to confirm that he had already given Isabelle the next day’s present to drop off with their homeroom teacher. He had come up with a complicated schedule of who would bring the present to school each morning, glad that his friends were willing to accommodate his paranoia about being caught. Michael had jokingly suggested that he and Maria should wrap their Secret Santa gifts in paper and boxes identical to those of Max’s gifts to cover the trail even more, but the idea had been so good that Max had insisted they implement it immediately. He didn’t want to take any chances when it came to Liz Parker.
Tugging his sweater over his head, he couldn’t stop the upward turn of his mouth as he remembered the events surrounding the acquisition of his favorite article of clothing. His mother had dragged him along on her latest shopping excursion with Isabelle, insisting that just because he was a freshman didn’t mean he was old enough to stay at home alone. He had resented it at the time, but he had quickly learned to appreciate the mall in Hondo once he discovered that he was not the only Roswellian wandering around the Sears store. As was his usual m.o. when it came to Liz, he had covertly watched from the second floor balcony as she pulled a man’s sweater from the rack and experimentally held it up to her small frame. She would swim in it, he knew, but no matter what she wore she would always be attractive to him.
As soon as she and her mother had left the store he had rushed down the escalator to retrieve the item she had just held in her hands. He had been hit with a flash, something that was happening with increasing frequency as he grew older, and the accompanying thoughts and feelings associated with it nearly blew him away. He had half listened at the beginning of that first year of high school when Isabelle and her friends had discussed the strange ritual of a boy giving his favorite sweater to his girlfriend as a sign of her ‘taken’ status, so he had immediately recognized that Liz’s desire for the sweater was more about having a boyfriend than the actual garment. In any case he hadn’t been able to resist begging his mom to buy the V-neck pullover that day and now, two years later a tiny hope still flickered deep inside of him that one day he would be able to see that same black sweater caressing the soft curves of his dreamgirl.
Tossing it into the dirty clothes hamper he was suddenly hit with an idea of how to make that hope a reality much sooner than he could have ever imagined. He’d just need a little help from his sister to pull it off.
December 12, 2000
“I’ve heard of making someone see stars,” Alex quipped as he stared at the ornate certificate in Liz’s hand, “but I’ve never seen it in such a literal sense before.”
Liz didn’t know what to make of her latest gift either. She had flushed with shyness as she read more of the eloquent flattery her Secret Santa loved to write, still not quite ready to fully accept someone could feel that way about her.
Because one smile from you is more brilliant than the light of a million stars…
She felt sort of guilty that she wasn’t more impressed by the fact that her Secret Santa had paid to have a star named after her. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t help but think that the cheapest, most mundane gifts in the world would have held more importance to her if she had received them from the right guy…a very specific right guy. Nevertheless she plastered on an appreciative smile just in case her benefactor was watching.
“Wow, this even lists the exact location of the Liz Parker star,” Maria added as she glanced over Liz’s shoulder while gathering her books from her locker. The genuine surprise in her expression made Liz believe she may have been wrong about her best friend’s involvement with her Secret Santa. The dolphin statuette was more than likely just a bizarre coincidence. This was Maria, after all. If she really knew the identity of Liz’s Secret Santa, she would have accidentally blurted it out by now.
“I’m going to set up my telescope after work tonight and look for it. Do you two want to join me?” she eagerly asked.
“I’d love to,” Alex said with complete sincerity, “but I have a date with AP History tonight. I haven’t even written one sentence of my paper on JFK yet.”
“Isn’t that due Friday?” Liz questioned. “Talk about cutting it close.”
“I know. I know,” he conceded. “One of my New Year’s resolutions was going to be to stop procrastinating but I decided to put it off until next year.”
The two girls moaned in unison before Maria playfully slapped him on the shoulder.
“So what about you?” Liz asked the pixie haired girl.
“Gee, Liz, I’d love to stand outside and freeze my butt off looking for some little speck of light millions of miles away,” she said sarcastically, “but today is my mother/daughter bonding night. Gotta love tofu burgers, popcorn and a chick flick.”
“Suit yourself,” Liz answered in feigned hurt. “You’ll be sorry when I discover a new planet and become famous.”
“Then you’ll have a star and a planet named after you,” Alex observed as he patted her on the head like a little child.
All Liz could do was roll her eyes and swat his hand away.
Max nervously waited for Liz to come and take his order, his knee bouncing underneath the table the only outlet for the excess energy created by his tense mood. He loved being able to hide behind his menu and watch her as she mingled with the customers, her sweet laughter filling the room as she flirted with Mr. Patterson or teased the children as the dined with their parents. It reminded him of the playful exchange he had witnessed in the school hallway earlier in the day.
He had so desperately wanted to walk over and join her little group as she proudly showed off her star certificate. If he only had the courage he could have gone up to her and said, “Hey, I’m your Secret Santa, and the star named after you isn’t really a star but the planet my alien family fled from before it was sucked into a black hole.” Then she would have given him a loving look, and just before their lips met she would have whispered in that voice from his dreams…
No. Wrong voice. That was her waitress voice. He meant her bedroom…
“Max, are you all right?”
Oh, goodness. She was standing right in front of him, which meant she had probably caught him staring at her. Talk about embarrassing! “Yeah, I’m fine,” he fibbed. “I was just, uh, looking at the specials.”
She looked like she was about to call him on his bluff when she suddenly said, “Do you have any plans tonight?”
He stupidly gaped at her. There must be a hidden camera somewhere. Had Liz Parker just asked him whether he had plans for the night?
Before he even had time to comprehend the enormity of her question she began to explain, “See, my Secret Santa gave me a star. Well, he didn’t really give it to me. He just had it named after me. Anyway after my shift is over I was going to set up my telescope and try to find it but I thought it’d be more fun if I had someone to share it with except that both Maria and Alex turned me down so I was wondering whether you would want to join me. I figured you must be somewhat interested in the stars since we did take Astronomy together last year but you don’t have to feel like you have to join me if you don’t want to, okay?”
He tried like heck to keep a straight face but the combination of his giddiness over her question and his amusement at her little narration made it impossible for the corner of his mouth to not curve up in a half-smile.
Obviously flustered she said, “I’m sorry. I guess I shouldn’t have asked. I…”
She was apologizing? She had just made one of his greatest fantasies come true and she was apologizing? This just would not do. Bravely reaching out and resting his hand on hers to get her attention, he waited until she had stopped talking before saying, “I would feel honored to join you.”
Her shocked eyes shifted from his face to the spot where his hand was contacting hers several times before she breathlessly asked, “You would?”
Suddenly self-conscious that he was actually touching her softer than soft skin he slowly withdrew his hand as he nodded his confirmation.
The smile she gave him definitely was brighter than the light of a million stars. “Great! That’s great,” she said cheerfully. “That’s really great, so I, um, I guess I’ll see you after my shift is over.” She turned and walked away before he could remind her that she hadn’t taken his order, so when she later returned with what he usually ate on Tuesday nights, complete with a bottle of Tabasco sauce, it made him wonder whether Maria was right after all.
Could someone as exquisitely perfect as Liz Parker actually be interested in him?
Max Evans is staring at you again.
Maria had uttered those words to her at least a thousand times, but she had never caught him in the act until tonight. She had just given the recently widowed Mr. Patterson another refill on his coffee, his excuse to not go home to an empty house, when she caught Max’s gaze out of the corner of her eye. She had assumed he was upset that she hadn’t taken his order yet, but when she was finally able to give him her full attention the look on his face was definitely not an angry one. If she didn’t know better she’d think he had been daydreaming, and since he had been staring at her the entire time she even dared to imagine she was part of that daydream.
That thought, coupled with the confidence her Secret Santa’s attentive notes had recently given her, had prompted her to make the bold move of asking him to stay and stargaze with her. She was certain she had sounded like an idiot as she had rambled out her invitation, so the fact that he was now standing on her balcony with her was pretty amazing. Even more amazing was that he seemed to be really enjoying himself.
After her shift had ended he had followed her upstairs to her family’s apartment, patiently waiting in the living room as she changed clothes and quickly straightened her neglected bedroom. He had been a little leery about crawling through her window to reach the balcony, but when she offered for him to use the fire escape instead he had quickly relented. They set up the telescope in no time, the years of working together as lab partners making each the perfect compliment to the other. No sooner had they gotten the night sky in focus than they started taking turns finding their favorite stars and constellations until they finally concentrated on the star that had been Liz’s latest gift. She tried for ten minutes to find it before she admitted defeat, throwing her hand up in frustration as she wiped away the tears from squinting into the eyepiece for too long. Less than a minute later Max had found the correct twinkling light and was offering her the first real look.
“So that’s it, huh?” she asked as she stared into the telescope. “I can’t believe how bright it is. It’s beautiful.”
“It sure is,” he said so quietly she thought she had imagined it. When she lifted her eyes to meet his he was staring at her again with the same dreamy look on his face from earlier.
Her cheeks began to flush under the intense scrutiny, so she decided to quickly return her focus to the telescope’s eyepiece before either one of them could be embarrassed. “How did you manage to find this so quickly?”
“Practice,” he wistfully admitted. “I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the stars.”
The ever-present loneliness that clouded his soulful eyes had crept into his voice with this comment, and she was compelled to abandon the telescope in favor of taking a seat next to him on the edge of the balcony. She wanted to tell him that there was no reason to feel lonely, that he didn’t have to alienate himself the way he did, that she would gladly be his confidant, but she simply couldn’t bring herself to do it. She may wish she knew him well enough to be that honest with him, but the truth was that she knew next to nothing about the boy who was at the center of her dreams. Maybe now would be a good time to change that. “So what do you think?” she asked innocuously, “Do you believe there’s intelligent life out there?”
An emotion she didn’t quite recognize flickered across his face but it was gone before she had a chance to analyze it. He raised his eyes to the heavens and contemplated the sparkling darkness for a minute before looking down at his hands. “Yeah. I do,” he said on a whisper, “and I think it may be closer than anyone could ever imagine.”
“I don’t know,” she teased, hoping to lighten his mood. “I have a pretty vivid imagination. I bet I could give Hollywood a run for its money when it comes to aliens. Thanks to Alex I think I’ve seen every alien-related movie there is at least a dozen times. ”
His eyes met hers, that same unrecognizable emotion lingering there for just a second before he asked, “Which do you think is more accurate? ‘Independence Day’ or ‘Close Encounters’?”
Grasping her chin as if in deep thought she hypothesized, “Although the coolness factor for the spaceships is up there for both films, I’d have to say that I subscribe to the ‘Cocoon’ school of alien life. I think that we’d be more of a curiosity to them than anything else. If they really wanted to take over Earth they would have done it by now.” Max nodded his agreement. “What about you?” she questioned. “Which movie do you think comes closest to what aliens would be like?”
“ ‘Starman’,” he answered with a conviction she didn’t know he possessed.
“ ‘Starman’” she commented. “That one doesn’t sound familiar. What’s it about?”
For the first time that evening Max looked uncomfortable, and she wondered what she had said to upset him. She was just about to ask him when he began, “It was made in the eighties and stars Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. It’s about an alien who takes on the form of this widow’s husband….” He trailed off when he saw the skeptical look on her face. “I know it sounds awful,” he continued, “but it is really good. I think it is one of those movies you just have to sit down and watch to appreciate it.”
“I guess so,” she remarked. “An alien in a dead man’s body just doesn’t seem all that appealing to me.”
“He isn’t in the dead man’s body,” Max explained. “He just takes on his form.”
“You mean he’s a shapeshifter? Like from the Terminator movies?”
“Sort of like that, but he’s not a machine.”
“Oh,” she simply said. After a few minutes of companionable silence she added. “I think that would be fascinating.”
“Video Vault still has it for rent if you want to see it,” he offered.
She let out an embarrassed laugh. “I wasn’t talking about the movie, although I might just give it a try over Christmas break. I meant that I think it would be fascinating to meet an alien for real, and not just to see whether it looks like all those drawings of little green men with black eyes. I can think of a million questions I’d want to ask it if we could communicate.”
“What kinds of questions?”
“Everything. What does it eat? How does it breathe? How is Earth different from its planet? Does it have emotions? A family? Does it know how it feels to fall in love?”
Max suddenly stood up and walked across the balcony to the telescope. She could sense his nervousness but decided to not call his attention to it, worried that her seemingly casual dismissal of his favorite alien movie in favor of discussing real aliens may have upset him.
He stared into the eyepiece for several long minutes before finally looking at her again. “Liz…” he began, his voice strangely emotional.
“What is it, Max?” Now she was starting to worry.
He took a deep breath. “Liz, the star your Secret Santa had named for you…I…”
“I…I think you should know that……that I……..I think it’s a really nice gift.”
The look on his face told her that he had planned to say something completely different. Could he possibly be jealous of her Secret Santa? What if he had wanted to ask her out but decided against it because of the elaborate presents she was receiving? What if he felt he couldn’t compete? “Max, about the Secret Santa gifts….”
“I thought you liked them,” he interrupted, almost as if he didn’t want to hear what she had to say.
“No, that’s not it. Don’t get me wrong. They’re nice, but…” but they’re not from you, she wanted to say. What if she was mistaken? What if Max had no interest in her outside of friendship? What if he knew who her Secret Santa was and had only wanted to ask her opinion of the gifts so he could report back to their giver?
“But?” he asked with curiosity.
“Nevermind,” she decided to answer. “Don’t pay any attention to me. It’s been a really long day, and I’m just getting tired.”
Max pulled up his jacket sleeve to look at his watch. “I should probably get going anyway. My mom sits up and worries if I stay out too late on a school night.”
“I know what you mean,” she sympathized. “I’m surprised mine haven’t been pounding on my bedroom door yet.”
As if her words were her father’s cue a loud knocking resonated from her bedroom door. “Lizzie, I think it’s time to tell your friend good night.”
She pushed herself away from the balcony’s ledge and knelt down in front of her window. “I’ll be right in,” she confirmed. Turning to Max she said, “Thank you for finding my star for me.”
“The pleasure was mine,” he replied. Fingering the white piece of equipment next to him he asked, “Do you want help taking this down?”
“No. I plan to leave it up for a few days, but thanks for offering.”
He gave her a barely perceptible smile. “I think I’ll try the fire escape,” he said as he headed towards the metal railing.
She stood up and followed behind him. “I promise that it’s perfectly safe.”
He turned to look at her with his piercing amber eyes. Even in the darkness it felt like he could see into her soul. “I trust you,” he said as he carefully stepped up and over the ledge.
The honeyed tone of his voice made her think that he was talking about much more than a trip down the fire escape. Without thinking she blurted out. “I don’t have a card.”
He stopped his descent to give her a puzzled look.
“I don’t have a membership card for Video Vault,” she explained, “so maybe you could rent the movie and we could watch it together sometime over break. I’ll supply the VCR and the popcorn.”
His entire face lit up with a smile. “I’d like that.”
“Yeah, me too,” she returned, his handsome face captivating her so completely that she couldn’t move. She didn’t realize he hadn’t moved either until another knock on her bedroom door brought them out of their mutual trance.
“Good night, Liz. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good night, Max.”
As she drifted off to sleep an hour later, Liz silently thanked her Secret Santa and his elaborate gifts for delivering the man of her dreams to her very own balcony.
December 13, 2000
He had almost told her the truth. All of it.
The evening couldn’t have been more perfect if he had dreamed it up himself. Not only did he get to be with Liz, but also the discussion had led to just the right opportunity for him to tell her the truth about his otherworldly heritage.
Does it know how it feels to fall in love?
Yes, he had wanted to tell her, and when an alien falls in love with his dreamgirl he would move the Earth and stars just to have a single night like the one they had just shared.
He had been so close.
“Liz, the star your Secret Santa had named for you…I…”
I came from that star. I had it named after you.
He had tried to force the words past his suddenly dry throat, but they just wouldn’t surface. Instead he had ended up focusing her attention on the Secret Santa gifts. Any thought he may have had about telling her the truth vanished with one simple sentence.
They’re nice, but…”
But they’re nothing special to her, he thought, and neither was he.
Although he had never actually seen her date anyone, a girl as wonderful as Liz probably had guys constantly showering her with gifts. He had tried his best to make his stand out, but from that one line of conversation it was obvious he was failing.
He didn’t want them to be nice. He wanted them to take her breath away.
When he had told Isabelle and Maria about his evening they argued that Liz only downplayed the significance of the gifts to spare his feelings. After all, she had no idea he was the one giving them to her. Still, he wasn’t about to take any chances. It was too late to change the rest of the gifts he had planned for this week, but he still had ample time to work on the ones for next week. He would have to ignore Maria’s warning about being too extravagant, but he could handle the tirade he was certain to receive from her if it meant Liz would indeed be left breathless.
He knew she had only mentioned watching ‘Starman’ together over Christmas break to be polite. Nevertheless, he couldn’t help but hope that the movie watching date would be some kind of turning point for them, one where casual friends became so much more. Maybe by then he would have found the courage to tell her that he was her Secret Santa. In any case, he should take a trip to that new ritzy shopping center on the other side of town since next week would be here before he knew it.
It had taken every ounce of her resolve to not break down and cry in the middle of homeroom. Now, as she sat outside on her balcony, her mind was still reeling with the events of the past few days. She was even more confused than she had been the night before, when she had been sharing her special refuge with Max. After years of pining away for him she had finally worked up the courage to talk to him about something besides school or food. Stargazing with him was everything she had hoped it would be and so much more, but she still couldn’t be sure whether or not that was a good thing.
And it was all because of her Secret Santa.
Because your captivating eyes are more expressive than a thousand words…
She had told herself that the boy giving her gifts in the guise of her Secret Santa couldn’t possibly make her feel the same way she did when she was around Max, but with each passing day it was getting more and more difficult to make that assertion. Anyone who didn’t know her would think that the expensive gifts were the reason behind her change of heart, but that was the farthest thing from the truth. As she traced the rose pattern on the leather journal that had accompanied the latest note from her Secret Santa, she couldn’t deny that the items he had chosen for her were beautiful and seemed to be exactly the things that she had surreptitiously wished for over the years. However, the most precious part of his gifts, and the reason she was so torn over her growing feelings for him, were the beautiful words that gave her a hint as to what each gift was and how it related to his feelings for her instead of revealing anything about his identity.
Barbara Peters had been right. There weren’t too many boys in their class who could spend the kind of money that it had taken for her to receive such expensive gifts, around two hundred dollars so far. At that rate her Secret Santa will have spent close to six hundred dollars before the time to show himself had arrived. Unless someone was so obsessed with impressing her that he had dipped into his college fund, her Secret Santa had to be one of four boys.
Grant Sorrenson’s dad was a fifth generation attorney, and his family was used to having and giving the best of everything. Grant would be a viable candidate except that he made it no secret at all that he was gay. With the obviously romantic tenor of the gifts she could easily cross him off the list. Danny Pierce’s family owned one of only two car dealerships in Roswell, so he definitely had the means to be her Secret Santa. However he had been with the same girl, Laurie DuPree, for as long as anyone could remember, so she doubted he was the boy behind the amorous notes. Sean DeLuca was Maria’s rich, arrogant, and totally self-absorbed cousin. His family shunned Maria and her mother since Maria’s father had deserted them in favor of a woman of ‘good breeding’ hand picked by the DeLuca family matriarch. Sean didn’t bother to hide his distaste for Maria or her friends, and Liz was sure he wasn’t capable of thinking about anyone but himself.
Which led to the only real choice of who her Secret Santa could be: Kyle Valenti. Unlike the others Kyle had not been born into money. His father had started out as a deputy with the Roswell Police Department. He eventually worked his way up to be the county sheriff, and when it became obvious that people wanted him to run for higher office he had begun taking night classes to become an attorney. After several years of lean days and long nights his hard work had paid off. The people had elected him as their district attorney. Through all those stages Kyle had remained the same happy, levelheaded guy he had always been. Even when he became the most popular jock at West Roswell High he still found time to tease her and call her cute little pet names like ‘Lizzie Tizzy’. They had always had a comfortable friendship. Perhaps the Secret Santa gifts were his way of telling her he wanted more.
Kyle was the kind of guy any girl would kill to go out with. He was steady and loyal. He had a sweet personality and wasn’t bad on the eyes. She should be flattered that he was interested in her enough to give her such lavish gifts and write all those beautiful words. After all, not many high school boys were that romantic.
But he wasn’t Max. And as much of a mystery as the elusive Mr. Evans might be, she had always felt somehow that she belonged with him. She had thought that last night had been a good beginning for them, that their tentative friendship may evolve into so much more, but when they met up in biology class it was as though last night had never happened. They were back to square one.
This is what had led her to nearly cry in homeroom. She was falling and she knew it. She just didn’t know which boy she was falling for: the one who wanted her or the one she wanted. It was like some bizarre love triangle.
Shaking off the thought she cracked open the journal and began to write.
‘It’s December 13th, and five days ago my heart came to life…’
December 14, 2000
“I still can’t believe what my Secret Santa gave me,” Maria said as she rolled her eyes in disgust. Holding up one of her Cheetos for emphasis she continued, “Orange nail polish! Can you believe it? Who in the world wears orange nail polish?”
Liz stifled a laugh. She had thought that the previous day’s gift to Maria, a token of the time in second grade when the two girls had gotten into Amy DeLuca’s makeup drawer, would be a definite giveaway of her identity. Obviously the details of the mess they had made that day was more deeply ingrained in her memory than in Maria’s. Nevertheless, she quickly decided that changing the subject would be a good idea. “I caught Max Evans staring at me when I was working Tuesday night.”
“It’s about time!” Maria said as she threw her hands up in the air. “So you finally believe me?”
Liz merely nodded.
“What did you do?” her friend asked excitedly. “What did he do?”
“I asked him to come look at the stars with me, and he said yes.”
“I guess it’s a good thing Alex and I were busy then, huh?” Maria teased.
“Yeah,” Liz answered dreamily.
“So spill and I’ll forgive you for not telling me about this sooner,” Maria ordered impatiently. “How was it? What am I saying? The two of you alone on your balcony. I bet it was romantic.”
A wistful look immediately came over Liz’s face. “He helped me set up the telescope, we looked at a bunch of stars and then talked about some movies. It was…perfect, or at least I thought it was.”
“What about Max? Did he enjoy himself?”
“I think he did…” Liz hesitantly answered.
“But…” Maria prompted.
“I don’t know. Things were going great, but then he mentioned the star being one of my Secret Santa gifts and…after that he started to act a little strange.”
“What do you mean by ‘a little strange’?” the pixie blonde asked with curiosity.
Liz didn’t quite know what to say to her friend. There was no easy way to explain the turbulence she had seen in Max’s usually placid eyes. The change in his demeanor hadn’t lasted more than a minute, but Liz still hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that he had wanted to tell her something important. After he had remained his stoic self in biology yesterday she was afraid that he had felt cornered into accepting her movie invitation, but earlier today when she had tried to give him a way to beg out of it he had been very enthusiastic about the prospect of sharing his favorite movie with her. “It was probably just me being paranoid,” she conceded as she stared out over the quad. “He wouldn’t have agreed to a date with me if he hadn’t enjoyed himself, right?”
“Hold on a minute. First you ask the guy to stargaze with you, and then you ask him out on a date? Who are you and what have you done with the real Liz Parker?”
“I’m right here,” Liz said in mock insult.
“No,” Maria shook her head. “The Liz Parker I know has been silently pining over Max Evans for years. Now not only does she get up the nerve to talk to him about something besides Bunsen burners, but she asks him out on a date as well? What gives?”
“It’s not like a real date,” Liz argued. “We’re just going to rent ‘Starman’ over Christmas break.”
“Are you going to sit next to each other and watch it?”
“And eat snacks together?”
“And hope his hand ‘accidentally’ meets yours over the popcorn bowl?”
“And pray that neither of you pulls away when it’s time to kiss goodnight?”
“Don’t’ fool yourself, Lizzie. It’s a real date,” Maria concluded. Wrinkling her brows in thought she added, “Christmas break is probably the worst time to be renting movies, though, ‘cuz everyone else will be out of school and renting them, too.”
“I didn’t think of that,” Liz remarked.
“Why can’t you guys get together this weekend instead?” Maria suggested.
Liz had felt pretty guilty over her confused feelings for Max and Kyle, but after writing it all out in her journal she had reached the conclusion that she felt no real attraction to Kyle. She loved the beautiful notes he had written, but only because she wished that a certain other boy would someday feel that way about her. However, even if she never received one romantic word from Max, Kyle still deserved to be let down easy. Somehow she didn’t think letting herself be seen on a date with another guy was the best way to do that, no matter how much she would have liked to spend part of the upcoming weekend with Max. She really didn’t care to explain all of this to Maria at the moment, so she just said, “My mom and I already made quite a few plans, so I don’t think there will be enough time. Besides Max probably already has plans of his own. I’m sure he has more important things to do than wait around for me.”
Maria snorted and shook her head, “Suit yourself, chica.”
Because your beauty is magnificent, yet your most precious treasure rests inside...
Liz carefully pried open the lid of the cardboard box that had been immaculately wrapped in blue metallic paper.
“Ooooh, that is…wow,” Barbara cooed as Liz lifted the intricately designed jewelry box from its protective packaging.
Liz closed her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. She had never seen such beautifully carved wood before, but she couldn’t truly enjoy it knowing it was from someone she had no romantic interest in. There was no way she could accept it, especially knowing how much Kyle must have paid for it. She would have to return it to him, even if it was exactly the kind of jewelry box she had always dreamed of owning.
During the middle of the previous period she had seen him and the rest of the basketball team boarding the bus for an away game, so she knew there was no point in looking for him after school. She would just have to catch him before class in the morning and lure him away from his jock friends for a private conversation.
It was time to put an end to her Secret Santa’s amorous inclinations.
Max stretched out across his bed on his stomach as the first melancholy notes of Counting Crows filled his room. He still couldn’t believe he had almost completely ignored Liz in Biology class the day before. He had been so engrossed in planning the rest of his gifts for her and analyzing his discussion with Maria and Isabelle that the entire hour had flown by before he realized he hadn’t said more than a handful of words to her. Then his mom had made him help with so many Christmas decorations when he came home from school yesterday that he hadn’t even been able to get to the Crashdown to offer his apologies.
This morning had gone much better, especially since Liz had easily accepted his lame excuse for his rudeness. He was astonished to learn that she thought he hadn’t really wanted to watch ‘Starman’ with her, so he had immediately quelled that notion with enough eager words to leave no doubt as to how much he was looking forward to being with her.
Unfortunately the afternoon had taken a downturn when the small slip of paper known as a bathroom pass had afforded him the opportunity to see firsthand her reaction to his latest gift. It had been easy to tell by the look on her face that she hadn’t liked the jewelry box. He had spent so much time looking for the perfect one that he had been rather proud of it, but it was apparent that he didn’t know her nearly as well as he liked to think he did, even after years of memorizing any little thing that had ever caused her eyes to sparkle or had brought a smile to her lips.
Caressing the soft black sweater one last time, he folded the red and green ribboned paper over it and fastened the edges with invisible tape, making sure the corners of the envelope were firmly held in place as well. He could only hope that this gift would elicit a very different response from her.
Because if she rejected it, he would be devastated.
December 15, 2000
As Liz approached Kyle and his buddies Friday morning she realized this was going to be more difficult than she had imagined. How did you go about breaking someone’s heart?
“Hey, Kyle,” she said sheepishly when a half dozen sets of eyes suddenly all focused on her.
“Hey there, Lizzie Tizzy. Did you come to congratulate us on last night’s spectacular game?” Kyle teased as he gestured for her to join the group.
“Um, not really, but congratulations anyway,” she said nervously. Her eyes darting away from the boys she elaborated, “Actually, I kind of needed to speak to you. Alone.”
This elicited a chorus of whistles and catcalls from Kyle’s friends before he noticed the embarrassed flush on Liz’s cheeks. One withering glare from him made the noises abruptly cease. He gave Liz an apologetic smile as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and led her away from his friends. “Don’t mind them,” he said loud enough for the precocious gang to hear. “They’re just jealous that I got the attention of the prettiest straight-A student at West Roswell.”
Kyle was being so sweet that she knew this was going to be much more difficult than she had imagined. She gave him a grateful smile but remained silent as they walked toward a secluded spot in the main entrance’s courtyard. He withdrew his arm from her so they could remove their bookbags before sitting down together on one of the stone benches.
“What’s up, kiddo?” he asked curiously as he rested his bag against the leg of the bench.
Liz took a deep breath as she removed the handful of notes from the pocket of her bag and reluctantly handed them to him. She let him slowly read through each one before she said, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t flattered by these, but I don’t think I can be more than friends with you.”
“Ohhhkaaayyy,” he drawled out as he gave her a confused look.
“And I’m going to return all the gifts to you,” she said emphatically.
“Well, not the journal because I’ve already written in it…”
“…or the strawberry truffles because they were so good they were gone within the first twenty-four hours…”
“…but I insist on giving you whatever you paid for both of them…”
…and I don’t quite know what to do about the star. I doubt they’ll give you a refund on that…”
“I’ll even drop the other gifts off directly at your house to avoid any embarrassing scene here at school. Just let me know when would be a good time…”
Her mouth suddenly snapped shut as she realized he was yelling her name.
“Liz, what on Earth are you talking about?” he asked with amused irritation.
“It’s ok, Kyle,” she patiently explained. “I’m sure this is a little upsetting to hear, but I know you’re the one who wrote the notes and gave me the gifts. There’s no need to deny it.”
“Why, exactly, would I be writing you love notes and giving you gifts?” he questioned.
“Because you’re my Secret Santa,” she said in her best talking-to-a-four-year-old voice, “and you’re in love with me.”
“Um, no. I’m not,” he replied.
“You don’t have to pretend,” she offered as she tensed in frustration. “I figured it out already. Please don’t make this any harder for either one of us.”
Kyle pried open her clenched fist and placed the notes on her palm. “I think you’re a nice girl, Liz. A really nice girl, but in a friendly buddy pal kinda way, you know? So whatever you may be thinking, I did not write these notes and I cannot possibly be your Secret Santa.”
Realizing he was telling the truth, she asked in a squeaky voice, “You can’t?”
“Nope,” he said while trying to contain a sympathetic smile.
“Why not?” she hesitantly inquired.
“I didn’t sign up to be in the program,” he explained.
“You didn’t?” she asked as the blood began to drain from her face.
“Nope,” he confirmed. “I’m not into Christmas and the whole gift giving thing anymore.”
“Since when?” she whispered.
“Since I met this great girl while visiting my Grandpa in Montana this past summer.”
“Yup,” he replied. “Her name’s M.G., she’s from New Jersey, and she’s beyond great. She taught me all about Buddha and how to find my inner peace. She says material possessions are merely obstacles designed to distract you from finding the path to true enlightenment.”
“That’s nice,” she absently commented. Her eyes suddenly widening as his words sunk in, she buried her face in her hands and let out a deep moan. “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this. I can’t believe I thought you were in love with me. Just put me out of my misery and shoot me now. Please?”
Kyle put his arm around her shoulder and rested his forehead against her temple. “Don’t be embarrassed, Lizzie. While I can’t take credit for the notes, it’s at least nice to know that someone around here thinks I can do more than just bounce a basketball up and down the court. Whoever did write them, though, really has a thing for you,” he observed. With a teasing laugh he said, “I hope for his sake that you’ll give him more of a chance than you gave me.” Liz’s answering groan elicited a second laugh from him before he asked in a soothing tone, “Do you think you can manage to look at me?”
She hesitated a minute before lowering her hands and turning her face sideways to meet his gaze.
“Would you feel better if I just pretended this entire conversation never took place?” he questioned.
She wordlessly nodded her head.
“Ok, then,” he answered. “I give you my vow as a Buddhist and a friend, Miss Lizzie Tizzy Parker, that I will never utter a word of this to another human being for as long as I live. I’ll even seal my promise with a kiss,” he added as he gently pressed his lips to her forehead.
She flashed him a relieved smile as he pulled away and gave her a mischievous wink.
“Do you feel better now?” he inquired.
“Yeah,” she said with a shake of her head. “Thanks, Kyle.”
“Don’t mention it,” he joked. “I know I won’t.”
Max dashed up the stairs and into the front entrance of the school, hoping that he’d still have time to get his usual morning glimpse of Liz before the bell for first period rang. He was running late since Isabelle had taken forever to get ready, but with all the help she had been giving him lately he could hardly be irritated with her.
He had no idea how he was going to make it through all his classes without going crazy. He had barely slept last night, the shiny wrapping paper on today’s present for Liz acting like a beacon in his moonlight bedroom. He had waited two years for this day to arrive, and in just a few more minutes, when Isabelle delivered the present to their homeroom teacher, there would be no turning back.
He looked out over the courtyard toward the Art wing to see whether Michael had arrived yet when his eyes did a double take. Sitting on one of the stone benches in a secluded corner of the courtyard was Kyle Valenti, the most popular guy at West Roswell and someone Max readily envied. The sports superstar and Liz had always been friendly with each other, sharing a rapport that Max was more than a little jealous of, and if what he was currently seeing were any indication, then the two had apparently decided to cross the line from friendship into something more.
He stared transfixed as Kyle rested his forehead against Liz’s temple, an innocent yet intimate gesture that he himself had dreamed of doing to her at least a million times over the years. His heart froze in his chest as he saw the familiar pieces of paper clutched in her hand. They were laughing at the notes he had written her!
Liz turned to gaze into Kyle’s eyes, a serene smile crossing her features as her new boyfriend devoutly whispered all the things he had hoped to someday tell her. He finally found the strength to turn away when Kyle’s lips adoringly caressed her flawless skin. He couldn’t bear to watch her return the kiss.
He wanted to escape. His mind screamed for him to sprint out the door he had just entered and to keep running until he could no longer breathe, until the ache that had suddenly seized his heart completely overtook his body and paralyzed him forever. Instead he angled to the left and followed the path his sister had taken to their homeroom. He had to get his present back before it was too late.
He had been such a fool to think that Liz Parker would ever be his girl.
She had sensed Max’s somber mood before she even entered the lab.
Anyone who heard her say that out loud would probably think she was insane, but she knew beyond a doubt that it was true. This wasn’t the first time she had known Max’s temperament without having to lay eyes on him. It should feel strange to be so in tune with someone she barely knew, she distantly thought, but instead it just felt right in a way that she couldn’t even begin to put into words. Since she seemed to be so aware of his morose disposition she decided it was her job to try to cheer him up, even if it meant revealing the embarrassing conversation she had shared with Kyle earlier that morning.
“Bad day?” she asked sympathetically.
“You could say that,” he answered in a flat tone.
“I bet it didn’t start out as bad as mine,” she pressed.
“I don’t know about that,” he mumbled to himself.
“Well, I think I have you beat unless you can top making a huge fool out of yourself in front of one of West Roswell’s most popular students,” she quipped.
Max squeezed his eyes closed in exasperation. The last thing he wanted to hear was Liz’s description of anything that had gone on between her and Kyle this morning. It had taken every ounce of restraint to not rip apart the present he had retrieved from Isabelle just seconds before she was to turn it in, so he didn’t think he had much reserve left to stomach a detailed account of Liz’s affectionate behavior toward the bane of his existence.
He knew he really had no right to be acting the way he was. After all, he had been the one to insist that Liz not know of his interest in her, even after Maria had assured him time and again that Liz was just as interested in him. If the girl of his dreams had finally decided to seek solace in the arms of another guy it was his own darned fault. He was the one who had been a coward, so the least he could do was be happy for her.
“What happened between you and Kyle?” he managed to choke out.
Liz immediately recognized that she hadn’t attached Kyle’s name to this morning’s incident and suddenly wondered whether Max had been witness to the conversation. That couldn’t possibly be why he was in such a melancholy state, could it? She had been so worried about letting Kyle down easy that it had never occurred to her that Max might see them together and get the wrong impression. Didn’t he understand that he was the only guy she wanted to be with? If he didn’t know it yet, he would within the next few minutes.
Using the pretext of secrecy she leaned in close to him, inhaling the wonderfully clean, masculine scent that was uniquely his. She couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel to be surrounded by that scent as he held her in his arms, her face turned up to stare into his gorgeous amber eyes as he threaded his fingers through her hair to guide her mouth to his. Would he taste as good as he smelled? Would the passion she sometimes saw flickering in his eyes be manifested in his kiss as well? Realizing she’d never find out if he believed she was interested in Kyle, she quickly whispered, “I thought he was my Secret Santa.”
“Oh?” he asked, trying to sound as neutral as possible when all he wanted to do was scream, “I’m your Secret Santa. I’m the one desperately in love with you, not him!”
“And since my Secret Santa has been writing me romantic notes and giving me these very expensive gifts, I assumed that meant Kyle wanted to be more than friends,” she explained as she carefully observed him. His sudden edginess confirmed her suspicion, so she hastily continued, “Except that I don’t like Kyle that way, and I thought it was only proper to tell him so before he went broke buying me more fancy presents. The only problem is that Kyle’s not my Secret Santa, so I made a fool out of myself by insisting we could only be friends when he had no romantic interest in me in the first place. The whole thing was pretty embarrassing. Thankfully Kyle was pretty cool about it and promised to never tell another living soul.”
Enhanced by his lack of sight, the scent of strawberries and vanilla, her scent, was more than overpowering. He couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel to be surrounded by that scent as he felt her silky hair flow through his fingers, his other hand holding her tightly to him as he lowered his mouth to meet hers. “Then why are you telling me?” his shaky voice asked as his mouth began to curl with the hint of a smile.
She bravely brushed her lips against the outer edge of his ear. “Because you looked like you needed to be cheered up, and for some reason I thought that this particular story just might do the trick.”
He finally opened his eyes and turned toward her, his cheek gently stroking against hers with the movement. If he turned just a little further their lips would be touching. “It did,” he replied in the same emotion-filled voice he had used that night on her balcony.
“Mr. Evans, Miss Parker, if you are done with your private little powwow the rest of the class and I would like to get started with today’s lesson,” the teacher’s voice pierced the haze that had settled between them. The couple immediately separated and shyly looked down at the lab table, both of them too embarrassed to meet the eyes of their snickering classmates.
The next hour lasted an eternity as the couple stole longing glances at each other while enduring Mr. Seligman’s nasal lecture on the unique characteristics of the fruit fly. Unwilling to draw any more of the teacher’s attention, Liz scribbled a note on a piece of scrap paper and covertly slid it to Max.
Maria suggested that we rent ‘Starman’ this weekend instead of over Christmas break so that we don’t have to fight everyone else who wants to watch it over vacation. What do you think?
Max wanted to find Maria and give her a huge kiss. This was one time when her penchant for being nosey wasn’t unwelcome in the least little bit. However, the thought of Liz’s best friend suddenly reminded him that he had a little problem. Now that Liz had told him point blank that there was nothing going on between her and Kyle, he had to find a way to sneak her Secret Santa present, currently residing in his locker at the other end of the school, into her homeroom before the end of the day. The only chance he would have to do that was right after this class, so despite his intense desire to stay and talk to Liz he would have to make a mad dash for the door as soon as the bell rang. He quickly scribbled his reply on the paper and slid it back to her.
Sounds like a great idea. I can’t stick around after class to talk about it, though. Meet me after school instead?
She read the note and a radiant smile lit up her features. Her eyes meeting his she mouthed the word ‘Where?’
‘Your locker?’ he mouthed back.
She eagerly nodded. Now that she knew Kyle wasn’t her Secret Santa she truly had a dilemma on her hands. However, even if her mystery man turned out to be Brad Pitt she knew she wouldn’t choose him over Max. The only thing she could do until her generous benefactor decided to reveal himself, or at least give her some real clue as to his identity, was gracefully accept his gifts and hope they didn’t make Max too jealous.
Mrs. Bryant called out the name on each package until her desk was empty. Liz was still debating whether she should bring the fact that she hadn’t received a gift to the teacher’s attention when Barbara Peters called out, “Hey, where’s Liz’s? Seeing what her Secret Santa gave her is the highlight of my day.”
Mrs. Bryant looked around her desk and then frowned. “Liz, why don’t you go down to the office and see if your gift is there. Perhaps it was sent to one of the other homerooms by accident.”
Reluctant to be the center of attention for the second time that day Liz hesitantly gathered her things and timidly headed for the door. Her shoes echoed in the empty hallway as she made the short trip from the classroom to the office, wondering whether her gift had really been misdirected or had just not existed in the first place. What if Max weren’t the only one to witness her little scene with Kyle this morning? By the time the secretary got around to helping her the bell to signal the end of school had already rung. With a quick confirmation that there had been no gift left for her she jogged out of the office to go meet Max at her locker, the intensity of her disappointment at leaving empty-handed surprising her. No romantic note and fancy gift from someone she wasn’t interested in was supposed to be a good thing, wasn’t it?
As she approached her locker she could see Max was still down the hall in front of his, sorting out and collecting the books he would need to bring home for the weekend. She dropped her bookbag at her feet, trying to concentrate on her locker combination with one eye while continuing to focus the other eye on Max. It wasn’t until she got the door opened and reached in for her books that she noticed the present resting on top of the pile. She let out a startled gasp before reaching for the envelope taped to the red and green ribboned paper. Gingerly running her finger along the crease she pried the flap open and pulled out the note.
Because your skin should be caressed by something that is as soft as it is…
He had wanted to stay away from her locker until after she had opened his gift, but the urge to be close to her was simply too great. He arrived at her side just as she tore the paper away and got her first glimpse of the sweater.
“This is beautiful,” she whispered as she held up the black short-sleeved cardigan, “and it’s real angora.”
He remained silent as she brought the sweater up to her cheek and rubbed against it like a kitten greeting its owner, proudly noticing that her eyes had curved into crescents like they did when she was really happy about something.
“These pearl buttons are just the perfect accent,” she said as she carefully undid them to slide the sweater on over her white turtleneck. She quickly fastened them and smoothed the material out over her curves, his eyes following every little movement her lithe fingers made.
She froze as she realized Max was standing next to her while she gushed over a present she had received from another boy. She immediately dropped her hands to undo the buttons as she said, “I’m sorry for being so insensitive. Let me just get this off…”
“DON’T!” he yelled as he stilled her fingers, causing both of them to jump in surprise. “I mean, you don’t have to take it off on my account,” he added calmly.
There was something about his voice, that honeyed tone she had heard a few times before, that made her stomach flutter in delight. “You like the sweater?” she quietly asked.
“That depends,” he answered cryptically as he toyed with the bottom button.
“On what?” she curiously questioned.
“On whether or not you’ll agree to wear it without the white shirt when we watch ‘Starman’ together this weekend,” he said with a glint in his eye.
“I’m pretty sure I can arrange that. Let’s say for Saturday night?” she teased.
“In that case, I like the sweater a lot,” he replied as he willed her to see the truth in his eyes, “but not nearly as much as I like the beautiful girl wearing it.”
And both of them couldn’t help but think that the weekend was getting off to a darn good start.
December 16, 2000
“I’m thinking about telling Liz I’m her Secret Santa.”
“It’s about time,” Michael grumbled.
“Thank God,” Maria huffed in relief as she spun back and forth on the barstool in Michael’s apartment. “Now I don’t have to worry about letting it slip.”
“Actually,” Max cringed, “you can’t say anything just yet. If I do tell her, I want it to be at the Christmas dance.”
“But that’s another week!” Maria sputtered. “Why are you waiting?”
“Because the rules say I can’t tell her I’m her Secret Santa until the night of the dance unless she guesses it on her own,” he explained.
“Well the rules also say you’re supposed to be giving her clues about your identity, but I don’t see you following that one too closely,” she teased.
“I’m giving her clues,” he protested.
“I meant clues she could understand,” the blonde clarified. When he remained quiet she asked with concern, “You were so dead set against her knowing. Not that I’m complaining, but why the sudden attitude change?”
He didn’t think he could talk about how it felt to have his heart ripped out of his chest when he saw Kyle kiss Liz. Besides, it wasn’t his place to tell Maria about Liz’s humiliating encounter with the popular jock. Still, he owed his friends some sort of explanation, especially since they had agreed to support him in whatever decision he made. “I don’t want to lose her before I even have her,” he simply said.
“Like that would ever happen,” Maria said as she rolled her eyes. Exasperated she asked, “How am I supposed to keep quiet for another whole week?”
Michael walked around the counter and grabbed a hold of the barstool. Rubbing his nose against Maria’s he said in a deep voice, “I can think of a few interesting ways to shut you up.”
Max turned away as the couple shared an intimate kiss, good-naturedly mumbling, “Get a room, you two.”
“Hey,” Michael answered in a gruff tone that was more show than substance, “this is my room. This whole apartment is my room, so if you don’t want to watch get your jealous Antarian butt out of here.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” he said wryly as he went to the door.
“Remember, Max,” Maria called out, “fingers colliding over the popcorn bowl is your clue to hold her hand!”
“Yeah, yeah,” he laughed as he solidly shut the door behind him.
Despite his teasing, Max was glad to see how close Michael and Maria had become. His best friend had suffered greatly at the hands of his foster father and as a consequence had a strong mistrust of humans. It had been more than surprising when the usually rebellious alien had suddenly settled down and had begun to study for his classes with a diligence Max didn’t know his friend possessed. Although it meant they spent much less time hanging out together Max was glad that Michael finally seemed at peace with himself, at least until he discovered the reason behind his friend’s drastic changes. He had attributed them to Michael’s new status as an emancipated minor until the day toward the end of September when he had inadvertently walked in on his best friend making out with the best friend of his dreamgirl.
It was upsetting enough that Michael had conveniently neglected to tell him he had a girlfriend, but when Max realized Maria knew the secret of their alien heritage he had been so furious at Michael for breaking their sacred pact that for over six weeks he refused to speak to his spikey-haired friend. He was finally forced to deal with the situation at the beginning of November when a crying Maria had showed up on his doorstep and refused to leave until she talked to him. The minute he let her into the house she accused him of being jealous of her and Michael’s relationship then proceeded to tell him that Michael had broken up with her because of his silent treatment. He had denied any liability in the matter until her parting words had stopped him cold.
“I love Michael with all my heart, and I’d give up my life before jeopardizing his or Isabelle’s or your safety. He thinks of you as a brother and he’ll do whatever you say no matter how much it hurts him, including giving up the only thing he has ever wanted. It’s a shame, you know, because if this situation were reversed he would never try to come between you and Liz.”
“Liz?” he asked in shock.
“That’s assuming you’d ever have the guts to admit you’re in love with her in the first place.”
He felt like she had stabbed him in the heart. “How did you know?” he questioned, stunned to hear her reveal the one secret he guarded more closely than his otherworldly status. Even Michael and Isabelle had no idea how special Liz Parker was to him.
“I’ve seen the way you stare at her when you think no one is looking.”
“Does Liz know?” he asked, terrified to hear the answer.
“That you’re in love with her,” she asked angrily, “or that you’re an alien?”
His eyes nervously shifted away from the one person whose knowledge could destroy him.
“The answer is no, on both accounts,” she explained in a more rational tone. “I’ve dropped some hints that you may be interested in her, but I figured the rest wasn’t for me to tell.”
Max knew exactly what Maria was saying: she had kept a secret for him long before she had her relationship with Michael as an incentive. Despite the fact that Michael had chosen his friendship with Max over his love for her, she would never think of betraying them.
“Max, I may not know you that well, but maybe if you spent less time being jealous of Michael’s new life and more time living your own, you’d realize that Liz stares at you exactly the same way.”
When confronted with the truth Max couldn’t deny that Maria had made the correct assessment: he was jealous that Michael had successfully embraced the chance he himself was afraid to take. He developed an intense appreciation for Maria’s keen sense of observation that day and now, a month later, he was happier than ever that Michael had found someone who felt so deeply for him. The fact that she was Liz’s best friend had only been a plus.
He had been reluctant to ask for her help with his plan to be Liz’s Secret Santa, knowing it would more than likely mean she would have to outright lie to her best friend, but when she had suggested that it would be a way for him to start coming out from behind his self-imposed tree he could not refuse the assistance she so freely offered. Michael and Isabelle had been shocked to discover the depth of Max’s affection for Liz, but they had been more than glad to help with his and Maria’s scheme, Michael wanting his friend to have what he had with Maria, Isabelle hoping that victory for Max would bring about her own courage to seek happiness with someone. After years of pining away for the girl of his dreams, he had taken the first small step toward making those dreams a reality.
How quickly that small step had become a giant leap, he thought in disbelief as he climbed into the Jeep. He actually had a date with Liz Parker tonight, and next Saturday he would try to find the gumption to reveal that he was her Secret Santa. And during the five weekdays in between, he would continue to give her little pieces of himself.
“Liz, your friend is here,” her mother called out from the living room.
“All right,” she answered, trying to still her shaking hands long enough to finish applying her mascara. “I’ll be out in a minute.” Why was she so nervous, she asked herself. This was just Max. They saw each other practically every day, so why should tonight be any different?
She rolled her eyes at the stupidity of the question. She knew exactly why tonight was different. She knew why she had barely slept a wink the night before. She knew why she had checked the bright red numbers on the clock a hundred times throughout the day. She knew why she had pulled every skirt and pair of pants out of her closet and meticulously tried on each one, the fact that the beautiful black angora sweater was a perfect match with all of them only making her decision on what to wear even more difficult. Yes, she knew.
Tonight was nothing short of a dream.
She actually had a date with Max Evans, and the fact that next Saturday night would be spent breaking the heart of her Secret Santa was the furthest thing from her mind.
“Are you sure it’s all right?” she asked as they wandered the aisles of Video Vault, slowly making their way to the science fiction section.
All right? It was more than all right, Max wanted to tell her. In fact, it was perfect. Liz had just been lamenting the fact that her aunt and uncle had shown up for an unexpected visit on their way to see her cousin at Washington State University. Part of that visit involved taking over the sofa bed in her family’s living room, leaving the couple no place to watch the movie they were about to rent unless they wanted to be joined by an audience. Fortunately he had been able to offer an alternative.
“Sure, as long as you don’t mind no one being there but us,” he explained. “My folks are at a Christmas party, and Isabelle is doing one of her holiday charity things tonight.”
He saw her hesitate a moment and thought she was going to object when she shyly commented, “Well, since I was supposed to provide the VCR and popcorn, I think the least I can do is buy us some dinner. Why don’t we order a pizza?”
“That sounds great,” he breathed out, relieved that she hadn’t rejected his offer, “especially since I’m sort of low on funds. I don’t start my job until next weekend.”
“You got a job?”
“Yeah, at the UFO Center,” he answered wryly. “My parents were originally against it because they were afraid my grades would slip, but I think they must have finally got tired of me bugging them for money all the time because my dad made it a point to tell me the UFO Center was hiring.”
“So does that mean I won’t be seeing as much of you at the Crashdown after school?” she questioned with a sadness that he easily picked up on.
“I was sort of hoping we might be able to take our breaks together on the days we both work,” he commented.
She immediately brightened at the suggestion. “I’d like that.”
He noticed that they had reached their destination. “Here we are,” he observed as he scanned the shelf for the movie. Picking up the tape case he flashed her an eager smile, “Ready?”
“I watched you very carefully. Red light stop. Green light go. Yellow light go very fast.”
“Sounds like he’s been watching Maria drive,” Liz laughed as she sat on the couch next to Max, trying very hard to not be too affected by the fact that his leg was touching hers. “You wouldn’t believe some of the crazy stunts she pulls when she’s running late for school.”
“I don’t thinks anyone is as nuts as Michael can be with his motorcycle. I’m really surprised that he hasn’t wrapped himself around a tree yet.”
“How did you and he ever become friends, anyway?” she asked with more than a little curiosity. “You two don’t seem like you’d have much in common. You study hard and get good grades, and he, he seems kind of…”
“…like a slacker?” he finished. His eyes focused on a family photo atop the fireplace. “Isabelle and I were adopted, and he was stuck in foster care. I guess we bonded over not knowing what happened to our real parents. He’s not as bad as people make him out to be, though. Just because he acts like he doesn’t know anything doesn’t mean he doesn’t. He’s actually pretty smart.”
“I know what you mean,” she agreed. “I’m sure people wonder how Maria and I have stayed friends for so long. Everyone thinks of her as this ditzy girl who can’t keep her mouth shut, but deep down she’s very loyal. Sure, she lets some things slip, but never the important stuff. She’d rather die before she revealed a secret that might hurt someone.”
If the room weren’t so dark, she would have sworn she saw him nod his agreement.
“Orange and black ’77 mustang. Now the gal that was driving claimed she was being kidnapped, but when this Heinmueller went to help her the guy who was with her, the kidnapper, yelled greetings and melted his lugwrench.”
“Yelled greetings and melted his lugwrench?”
“Weird you want, weird you get.”
“I don’t think I’d be nearly as calm as she’s being about the whole thing,” Liz said as she shifted positions on the couch, the movement causing more of her denim-clad leg to rub up against his. “I mean, it isn’t every day that you’re kidnapped by an alien who looks like your dead husband.”
He couldn’t stop stealing glimpses of her. The soft black sweater clung to her in just the right places to make her even more beautiful than he could have imagined. The silky dark hair that cascaded down around her shoulders shone with an extra luster in the darkened room, just begging for him to run his fingers through it. “She’s probably in shock,” he replied to Liz’s comment as he forced himself to concentrate on the t.v. screen. “It’s only natural that she would be a little freaked out at first, but I think deep down she knew he wouldn’t hurt her.”
And the seed was planted, he hoped.
“He doesn’t understand. He’s not from around here.”
“ Now why would she say that?” she quietly questioned. “Wouldn’t that just make the guy ask, ‘Then where’s he from’? How’s she going to answer that?”
“She could say he’s from Canada,” Max suggested, the nervousness in his voice apparent.
They had slowly inched their way closer to each other until their entire sides were touching, and she had started leaning in on him, hoping he’d take the hint and put his arm around her. Maybe he was just too shy. “Or from up north,” she chuckled as she looked over at him, intentionally brushing her shoulder against his nicely muscled arm. “At least that way they wouldn’t be lying.”
“Popcorn!” he said loudly enough to startle her. Jumping up from the couch he said in a rush, “I think it’s time for popcorn. Don’t you?”
And before she could even answer him he was gone.
“Do you want me to pause the movie?” she called from the living room.
He raised his head from where it had been resting on the counter. “No. You can go ahead and keep watching. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“She must think I’m a jerk,” Max mumbled to himself as he watched the green numbers count down on the microwave. He couldn’t believe he had taken off on her like that, but the minute she had mentioned lying about being an alien he had panicked.
“Love is, um, it’s when you care more for someone else than you do for yourself. But it’s not just that. It’s when someone is a part of you, and when they…”
The feel of her warm, soft body pressed so close to him had only made matters worse. They were alone in his house, which gave him every possibility in the world to take advantage of her, yet she trusted him enough that she didn’t think twice about snuggling up against him. If she had that much faith in him, why couldn’t he bring himself to tell her that there was a very good reason why ‘Starman’ was his favorite alien movie? He knew that if he did tell her the truth next Saturday about being her Secret Santa, he would have to tell her the entire truth. She deserved that much from him.
The beeping of the microwave brought him out of his thoughts. He decided that the least he could do for now was show her as nice of an evening as possible. Dumping the bag of popcorn into a big bowl, he grabbed a couple of Cherry Cokes and walked back into the living room. He nearly dropped everything when he spotted the tears trailing down her cheeks. He had made her cry. He really was a jerk!
He quickly made his way to the coffee table and set down the snacks before kneeling in front of her. “Please don’t,” he begged as he wiped her tears from her cheeks with his thumb. “I hate to see you cry. I’m sorry…”
“I can’t help it,” she sniffled. “What he did was so beautiful.”
It took Max a second to realize that her tears weren’t because of him. She was crying over the movie. He turned around to look at the screen, his hands never leaving her face as he tried to figure out what scene had moved her so.
As if she were reading his mind she said, “He brought that deer back from the dead. That would be such a wonderful gift, wouldn’t it? To be able to bring something, maybe even someone, back to life with just the touch of your hand?”
He forced his gaze to meet hers and with nothing but complete honesty answered, “You’re absolutely right. It must be one of the greatest feelings in the world.”
“You remember everything you hear word for word?”
“Everything I hear, everything I see, everything I….everything this body feels.”
She knew that she would always remember how her body was feeling at the moment. She had been a little ashamed of her crying fit, but Max had been so concerned and attentive that her embarrassment hadn’t lasted long. After he had climbed from the floor back onto the couch his hand had worked its way around the back of her neck to rest on her shoulder, his arm protectively pulling her to his side even as her own hand lightly rested on his knee. If she had thought having his leg touching hers felt nice, there were no words to describe how incredible a sensation it was to be held in his tender embrace. Well, maybe there was one word.
Although it was by no means graphic, he had still worried about the lovemaking scene. Would she be embarrassed to watch something so intimate with him? Could she possibly know how often he had dreamed of being that close to her? How would she react if he told her?
Once he had her in his embrace there was no way he could stop his hands from wandering. It had started with lightly caressing her arm where it met the edge of her sweater sleeve, a knowing smile gracing his lips as he discovered that her skin was indeed softer than the fuzzy black angora. From there it had led to playing with the ends of her hair, their constant feathery tickling finally enticing him to take his first touch of the silky strands. When she turned to raise her face to him he was afraid that perhaps he had bothered her, but the look in her eyes only beseeched him to give her more of his worshipping touch.
He had readily complied, moving his hand from where it held hers on his knee to tenderly cup her face, his thumb sweeping across her cheek in the same manner he had used to remove her earlier tears. She closed her eyes as she leaned into his palm, a serene smile crossing her mouth as they both reveled in the adoring gesture. He wanted so desperately to sample her lips, curious to know whether she would taste like the sweet strawberries that scented her hair, the Cherry Coke they had shared, the salty popcorn they had fed each other or some unique combination of the three. However, he held back, remembering what Michael and Maria had said about receiving flashes from each other when they kissed. Although it hadn’t happened to them until they had been together for several weeks, he couldn’t dare take that chance with Liz. There were too many things she might learn by seeing into his mind, and he doubted that he would have the chance to explain them before she took off screaming.
Still, he couldn’t resist the need to continue touching her, didn’t even want to fight the urge to feel her skin underneath his lips, so he began gently exploring her face, memorizing the supple texture of her skin as he trailed his lips over her forehead and across her fluttering eyelids. He savored the downy touch of her lashes before he nuzzled her ear, her cheek against his mouth more sumptuous than the most luxurious velvet. Aching to discover whether her other cheek was just as soft, he crossed the tip of her nose with a quick brush of his lips. When his mouth encountered the same delicate skin on the opposite side of her face, he nearly moaned in anguished delight. Motivated by her own hand as it wrapped around his neck and held him tightly to her, he traced the edge of her jaw until his mouth grazed her trembling chin. A taste of heaven was so close, and if her labored breathing were any indication, she wanted his lips on hers as desperately as he yearned to put them there. Maybe one brief kiss wouldn’t be so dangerous, he thought, even as his heart told him that the slightest touch of their mouths would bind him to her forever.
Suddenly he wasn’t in the living room about to kiss the girl of his dreams. He was on the playground, waiting for the first day of third grade to begin. His eyes scanned over the crowd of classmates as if searching for one in particular. It wasn’t until he made a second pass that he found his target. His heart leapt with joy as he focused on the group of students who had just disembarked from the bus. He instinctively sought out eyes he had never seen before, eyes that happened to be his own!
He automatically pulled away as he realized that he was getting a flash from her. He could only hope that the surprised look on her face was from his unexpected movement.
“No. I must go back, but…there is something I must tell you. I gave you a baby tonight.”
“No, that’s impossible. I can’t have a child. I’ve been to a doctor, a couple of them…”
“Max…” she managed to breathe out.
“Believe what I tell you. A boy baby. He will be human, a baby of your husband but also he will be my baby.
“Max, honey, is that you? I thought you were going out…” Mrs. Evans’ voice trailed off as she
walked into the living room. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had a friend over.”
He will know everything I know and when he grows to manhood he will be a teacher. If you do not want this baby, tell me now and I will stop it.”
This doesn’t look too bad, Liz sarcastically told herself. Two dazed and out of breath teens alone in a dark room? Uh huh.
“Which is your star. Can you see it from here?”
“We had a change of plans,” she heard Max answer weakly, the fact that he still hadn’t taken his eyes off of her registering in the back of her hazy mind.
His mother walked over to the end table and turned the switch on the lamp. “Why don’t we leave this on so you can see better?” she asked, everyone in the room knowing it wasn’t really a question.
“I want to show him where his father came from.”
Mrs. Evans then proceeded to walk toward the kitchen. “Your father and I are home for the evening. We’ll be right here in case you need anything.”
“There. No. Wait. There. Low in the sky. There.”
Although she had never found herself in this particular situation before, Liz knew the parental code words for ‘no more making out now that we’re home’. She should probably be embarrassed that they had been caught, but what exactly had they been caught doing? Max’s hands hadn’t moved any lower than her shoulder, and they hadn’t even shared a kiss. Still, Liz knew that what had happened between them was just as intimate as the scene that had been playing out on the video. With nothing more than the press of his lips to her face, Max Evans had made love to her.
Now if she could only figure out why she had imagined an aging Christmas tree ornament in that final moment of bliss…
“I must go.”
“Take me with you.”
“You will die there.”
“Do you think I care?”
“I care. Now, tell me again…how to say goodbye.”
“Kiss me, and tell me you love me.”
“I love you.”
“I’m never gonna see you again, am I?”
“I love you.”
“Tell the baby about me.”
“What should I do with this?”
“The baby will know. Goodbye Jenny Hayden.”
“I can’t believe he had to leave her,” Liz sniffled into his shirtsleeve.
He smiled down at her as he squeezed her hand, glad that his mother’s subliminal warning hadn’t frightened her away from him completely. She also hadn’t mentioned anything strange happening when he had almost kissed her, so hopefully that meant she hadn’t gotten a flash from him. “But at least she’ll always have a part of him,” he reminded her as he stopped the tape and began to rewind it.
“I know,” she said, giving him a grateful look when he handed her a tissue, “but still…”
“…it’s not the same,” he finished, glad to know that he would never have to leave her to go back to his original home. There was no planet left to return to.
She stood up and stretched to work the kinks out of her muscles as she commented, “Hey, we never ordered our pizza.”
“I didn’t notice,” he numbly answered, too transfixed by the patch of exposed skin at the small of her back to care about anything else at the moment. That sweater fits her perfectly, he thought proudly.
Bringing her arms down she looked at her watch and said, “Do you want to stop at the Pizza Palace? I don’t have to be home until midnight.”
He’d love to drag the night out as long as possible, but the look his mother had given him before she disappeared into the kitchen did not bode well for him. He sheepishly looked toward the door, “I don’t think my folks are too happy with me at the moment, so I’d better not push my luck.”
“I take it you aren’t supposed to have girls over when your parents aren’t home,” she comment.
He could hear the jealousy in her voice, and he thought it was cute. Liz Parker was jealous over him. “I don’t really know,” he answered as he stood up to join her. Lightly tracing her cheek with his thumb he added, “You’re the first girl I’ve ever had over.”
Her eyes closed in silent triumph, and he couldn’t resist pressing a kiss to her temple as he said, “I think I’ll return the tape when I take you home.”
“Do you mind if I keep it until tomorrow night?” she asked as she turned to look at him. “I’d like to watch it again.”
“Go right ahead,” he replied as he walked over to eject the tape. Putting it in the case and handing it to her he continued, “It’s not due back until Tuesday anyway.”
“Great,” she said with a contagious smile. “I think I have a new favorite movie.”
She had hoped to finally get a real kiss from Max when they said goodnight, but he had shied away as soon as her father had flipped on the downstairs light. Even so, the tender brush of his lips against her cheek had been more than wonderful, and as she set the rental tape on her desk she swore she could still feel his lips on her skin.
With a contented sigh she carefully undid the pearl buttons on her new sweater, feeling its softness one last time before reluctantly removing it. Gently folding the delicate garment, she set it on top of her dresser and then proceeded to strip off her jeans. Pulling her nightgown over her head she thought of ways to make her Sunday afternoon go by faster. Thankfully the Sunday morning rush would keep her quite busy as she doled out pots of hot coffee and plate upon plate of greasy food, and if she watched ‘Starman’ again that would shorten the day by another two hours. She’d like to finish up her Christmas shopping, but weekends at the mall just weren’t her scene. She’d rather go during the week. Maybe she’d give Maria a call and see whether she could come over. They hadn’t been spending as much time together since the new school year had started, so perhaps they could have a afternoon to catch up. Besides, she had to tell someone about her great date with Max.
Yes, if she could find a way to keep busy all day Sunday, then the beginning of the school week would be here before she knew it.
And, of course, the best part of that would be seeing Max Evans, the boy who had kissed her breathless without once touching her lips, in his Monday sweater.
The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told - Prey