(Sunday, October 22)
Liz sat at the counter of the Crashdown bent over a book. She had gotten off her shift early, but she didn’t have Zan’s phone number to call and tell him. Also he’d told her he was he was running some errands and she didn’t know if he would be finished. So she’d used the extra time to do some homework.
Glancing at the clock, she noted there were fifteen minutes before Zan would be there and she looked back at the page she was reading. The assignment was to write a ten-page paper on one of Shakespeare’s plays, and of course she’d chosen Romeo and Juliet.
Even though she’d told Max she no longer considered it to be romantic, she’d lied. The beautiful language and obvious feelings the couple shared was impossible not to love. And Liz couldn’t help wishing every time she read it that they would surprise her and have a happy ending.
“But soft,” said a deep voice behind her, “what light through yonder window breaks?”
She turned to see Zan, and he held her eyes, continuing to quote. “It is the East, and Juliet is the sun. Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon who is already sick and pale with grief that thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”
Liz was more surprised than she could say, and she actually felt herself blushing. “You know Shakespeare,” she said trying to keep the shock out of her voice.
He nodded. “I love Shakespeare,” he said.
Liz shook her head as her perception of him as an uneducated tough guy was slipping away. “I mean you don’t look like the typical academic, and I just assumed since you dropped out of school that you wouldn’t…”
He cut her off with a smile. “You assumed I was stupid.”
“No,” she instantly denied. “Not stupid, just not interested in stuff like Shakespeare.”
Zan leaned on the counter next to her. “I was bored with school, but I love to learn and read.”
She nodded. “Me too.”
His smile widened and he cocked his head toward the door. “Let’s get going then. There’s no telling what we might learn.”
Liz stowed her stuff behind the counter, grabbed a jacket, and followed Zan out to his car. He drove them several blocks to a more industrial part of town and pulled into the parking lot of an old warehouse.
Zan opened the door of the building with his powers and let Liz enter before him. She looked around eagerly, taking in the professional-looking training course. There were targets, practice dummies shaped like real people, all kinds of small items that she assumed were for throwing, and other things she had no idea what they were for.
As Liz looked around the room, Zan looked at her. She was so beautiful. Her long, dark hair was loose and looked like silk where it fell around her shoulders. His fingers itched to reach out and touch it to see if it was as soft as it appeared.
He’d surprised her with the Shakespeare quotation, and he’d seen in her eyes that her perception of him had significantly altered because of it.
It amused him to realize she had already written him off. He’d never had trouble attracting women, but Liz was different. She wasn’t just looking for a pretty face or a good time, she wanted substance, a real relationship, and that’s exactly what he wanted too.
He would make sure she changed her mind about him. Even if she didn’t realize it yet, he was what she was looking for.
And as much as he was ready to go forward with her, he had to take it slow. He didn’t want to risk going backward when he’d already made so much progress.
She turned back to him. “You know, I’ve been wondering,” she said, “how did you discover Lonnie was going to betray you?”
Her words caught him off guard. Obviously her mind had been going in a completely different direction. “Well,” he said cautiously, “that is an interesting story. An informer came to me a couple of weeks ago and told me the whole thing, about Lonnie and Rath and the summit.”
Liz hadn’t expected an answer like that at all. She thought that he’d seen or overheard something Lonnie or Rath had said or done. “An informer?” she said incredulously. “Who? An alien obviously, a shapeshifter or a rebel Skin like Courtney?”
Zan shook his head. “I can’t say. It wouldn’t be safe for him.”
“But how do you know you can trust him?” she asked. “Maybe he’s just trying to divide your group.”
“I trust him,” Zan assured her, “almost as much as I trust myself. And there is no doubt that everything he said was true.”
“But he knew about the summit,” Liz said, “so it must be someone close to Khivar.”
Zan smiled. “It won’t do any good guessing, I’m not going to tell you.”
“But,” Liz persisted, “if he can tell us anything else…” she stopped as Zan cut her off.
“He already told me everything he can,” Zan said, “and he can’t, um, risk contacting me again.”
Liz nodded. As frustrating as it was not to know, she could see Zan wasn’t going to tell her anything else.
“So why haven’t you told Max and the others?” she asked.
Zan shrugged. “They never asked, and I thought it was better to keep it to myself.”
“But you told me,” Liz said.
“Yeah,” Zan rumbled, holding her eyes, “but I know you won’t tell anyone.”
Liz felt her heart beat speed up. “How do you know?” she asked, suddenly breathless.
He took a step closer to her. “I just know.”
Liz swallowed hard, eager to change the subject. “Okay,” she said, looking around at the training equipment again, “how do we start?”
It took Zan a moment to follow her new line of thought. For a second he’d thought she was talking about starting something between them, but again her mind had gone a completely different direction, and Zan realized she was nervous.
He used a wave of his hand to change a practice dummy into two chairs, and motioned for her to sit.
“Wow,” she said, taking a seat. “It will take a bit of getting use to seeing you using your powers like that. Max, Michael and Isabel hardly ever use theirs.”
Zan sat next to her. “They’ve been hiding all their lives, afraid to expose themselves. That’s why we’re training you to control your powers, so you don’t have to worry about accidents.”
She nodded. “Isn’t Ava coming?”
“Not this time,” Zan said. “She had some errands to run. But I can start you on the basics.”
Tess and Kyle moved through the store arguing.
“I thought we were getting some candy,” Tess said, looking around. “This isn’t the candy aisle,” she said sarcastically.
Kyle rolled his eyes. “I told you I need some t-shirts. It seems like they keep disappearing.”
“Oh,” Tess said with a laugh, “you mean the ones I’ve been wearing to bed?”
“What?” Kyle stopped, grabbing Tess’ arm and pulling her around to look at him. “You’ve been stealing my shirts?”
“Well,” Tess purred, “you said you didn’t want me to sleep naked.”
“I,” Kyle started. He shook his head, pointing at her. “You…”
She fluffed up his hair, giggling. “Guess you do need some new shirts.” She motioned to the store. “Where do you think they are?”
Kyle released a sigh, knowing better than to pursue the subject. “I think,” he said, heading toward an aisle, talking to her over his shoulder, ”we have to go this way.”
He bumped into someone. “Sorry,” he said, quickly grabbing her by the shoulders to steady her. “I didn’t see…”
He trailed off as he turned and really looked at her. She was Tess, but she wasn’t, and if he didn’t know Tess so well, he realized that he might not have even recognized her.
Luminescent blue eyes met his, and he felt a jolt in his gut.
“Oh,” said Tess next to him. “Kyle, this is Ava. I told you about her.”
Kyle nodded dumbly and Ava smiled. “Damn Tess,” she said, “you’ve been holding out on me. You didn’t tell me he was so gorgeous.”
Ava winked at him. “And so strong,” she said glancing down at his hands that were still clasping her shoulders.
Kyle looked down, seeing that he was still touching her and immediately dropped his hands. His eyes bounced from Ava to Tess as his mind raced to catch up. “Wait, you two talked about me?”
Ava nodded. “Yeah, Tess told me all about you at our training session yesterday.” Her eyes dropped down his body, and then back up. “Even about the Calvin’s.”
“What?!?!” Kyle asked, his voice going up several octaves. “You discussed…” he trailed off as he realized he was almost shouting. He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. “You discussed my underwear?”
Tess looked at Ava. “See, I told you he’s kinda uptight.”
Ava smiled. “I think he’s cute.”
Kyle looked at her, and when he saw she wasn’t joking, he smiled.
All day Max had been looking forward to seeing Liz and he’d come to the Crashdown at five like they’d arranged. Liz was waiting for him in a booth with her books already spread around her, and a cherry Coke for him. He joined her with a smile.
“Hey, Liz,” he greeted.
“Hey, Max,” she said with a shy smile.
His stomach flipped like it always did around her. More than anything he wanted to touch her, but he forced himself to calm down. “Ready to study?” he asked, aware of how stupid it sounded.
“Yeah,” she agreed.
They finished the Physics in just under an hour, and the whole time Max had been arguing with himself. He desperately wanted to know what was going on with Liz, but he’d been so afraid of pushing her. But for some reason Zan and Ava’s appearance in town made him feel like he was running out of time.
He decided he couldn’t wait any longer. “Liz,” he said, drawing her attention away from her books. “Can I talk to you, in private?”
Liz looked at him and glanced quickly around the Crashdown, noting the number of people, and nodded. “Sure,” she said quietly. “Let’s go up to my room.”
Max gathered his books and followed her into the back, up the stairs, and into her room. She closed the door behind them. “What’s going on, Max?”
He walked across the room, staring out her window, wondering where to start.
Liz could see how worried he was. “Max, is everything okay?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted, turning to face her. “That’s what I was hoping you could tell me.”
Confusion creased her brow.
“Liz, just hear me out,” he said.
“Okay,” she agreed.
“Liz, I know something has been really wrong for a long time now. You’ve been acting strangely. You tried to get me together with Tess. Then you came to my room to tell me you wanted to be safe and date normal boys, and you set me up to find you in bed with Kyle.”
She started to speak, but he held up a hand. “There’s no use trying to deny it, Liz. I know you didn’t sleep with Kyle, just like I know you are lying about not wanting to be with me.”
He held her eyes. “Liz, I can see the love in your eyes. No matter how much you deny it, I know you love me, and I want to know the real reason you are pushing me away.”
Liz looked at Max miserably. She couldn’t believe he had figured out so much. She had to try and explain without telling him about Future Max and everything.
“Max,” she started, her voice choked with tears as he held his eyes. She wanted to lie to him, to tell him she didn’t want to be with him but she just couldn’t. Everything about him was begging her to be candid, and she couldn’t stand to crush him again.
“I do love you,” Max,” she admitted. “More than anything I love you, but we can’t be together. You have to be with Tess. Nasedo told us over and over, and we both heard the message from your mother. The four of you are made to be together, to work as a unit. With the four of you, your powers are stronger. You have to see that.”
Max shook his head. “Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t mean I have to be with her. We can work together without being together.”
Liz started to shake her head, but Max cut her off. “I don’t love Tess,” he said gruffly. “I could never love her. I could never be with her like that. It just isn’t possible.”
“But Max,” Liz protested.
He took a step closer, putting his hand on her arm. “Liz, it would be like me asking you to be with Michael or Alex. You couldn’t do it. Love has to be there, chemistry. You can’t force it.”
“But Tess was your wife,” Liz said sadly, “you loved her.”
Max shook his head. “Who says I loved her?” he asked. “Political, loveless marriages are made all the time. Maybe I married her to seal a contract or to gain support.”
“You don’t know that Max,” Liz sighed. “It’s more likely that you were in love and got married.”
“I don’t think so,” Max said decisively. “It’s true I don’t remember what happened, and I admit she seemed familiar when I first saw her. But if I loved her, I know I would remember, or I’d be drawn to her, and I’m just not. From the beginning I felt a special love and friendship for Isabel and Michael, and I don’t feel that with Tess. Even now that I know her better I don’t feel more for her than a sense of duty to protect her.”
Liz jumped on his words. “But you feel a duty to her, Max,” she explained, “and she feels familiar.”
“That’s not enough to build a relationship on,” Max said. “Tess knows I don’t love her. She knows I want to be with you. I’ll tell her we’re going to be together, but she’ll always be part of our family.”
Liz grabbed his arm. “Max, you can’t,” she said, horrified. “What if she leaves? You aren’t strong enough without her to defeat Khivar.”
Max looked at Liz’s hand on him. She hadn’t touched him for months and he couldn’t help a smile, even in the midst of her panic. “Liz,” he said softly, cupping her cheek, “it will be okay. I can make Tess see how much we need her, and how much a part of us she is.”
“No,” Liz said, gripping him harder. “Max, you’ve got to promise me you won’t talk to her. Please.”
“Okay,” he agreed to calm her down. “I won’t say anything to her until you feel okay about it.”
Liz’s lips parted as she tried to find the words to make him understand, and Max took the opportunity to kiss her.
In a single motion he slid his fingers into her hair, pulling her toward him, and lowered his head, pressing his lips to hers.
He kissed her softly, feathering his lips over her, putting all of his love and longing into it.
At first Liz was shocked, and froze under his touch, but after a long moment she started to respond.
Her hands rose to Max’s chest, and she genuinely wasn’t sure if she had done it to be closer to him or push him away. Nothing seemed more right than being with Max.
As they kissed a connection opened between them and Max was deluged with her feelings, her love for him and her desire, her loneliness, and even her fear. He’d known she was afraid, but the depth of the fear surprised him. She was terrified, and he was sure he’d just discovered the reason why. Liz was worried that they wouldn’t be strong enough to defeat their enemies and they’d all die, and it would be her fault for separating him from Tess.
He wrapped his other arm around Liz’s waist, pulling her to him, as he deepened the kiss. He hadn’t held her in his arms for months and it felt so good having her there again. He’d already made up his mind that this time he wasn’t going to let her go, and he’d do anything to keep them together.
Suddenly Liz pulled away. “No,” she said, shaking her head furiously. “We can’t.” Tears poured from her eyes. “I’m sorry Max, but we can’t be together.”
Max took a step toward her but she backed up. “Please Max,” she begged, “please stop.”
He shook his head. “For now, but I’ll never give you up.”
Never Underestimate Destiny|
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