Liz stumbled through the school, scared and confused. She thought she knew every inch of West Roswell High, but the corridor she was in was completely new to her.
It was dark with only dim overhead lights, there were no windows, and every door was locked. It looked old and unused. Water dripped from overhead pipes, pooling on the floor. Paint on the lockers was peeling, and there was debris and broken glass everywhere.
She had no idea which way to go.
The worst part was, someone was following her.
Hurrying along as quietly as she could, she picked a direction and hoped it would lead her back to something familiar.
She kept looking back over her shoulder, watching for someone, but she couldn’t see anything in the dim light.
Faint footsteps sounded in the darkness, but she couldn’t tell where they were coming from. They seemed to echo all around her.
In the distance, she heard a faint scuffling, and turned down a hallway to avoid it.
Her breathing and heartbeat was so loud she could barely hear anything else.
A shadow suddenly blocked the light from another corridor and she flattened herself against the wall.
Quickly, she turned and hurried back the other way, choosing a different direction.
A soft chuckle sounded, and then whistling filled the air. It was exactly the same as before, low, long notes that seemed a bit off-key. And it was close.
Panicking, Liz started to run. She raced down the hallway, praying she was going the right way. And then she heard the footsteps behind her.
The pounding sound of running got louder, and she knew he was catching up to her.
She ran faster and faster, not daring to look behind her.
Something touched her shoulder and she flung it off without looking, not even breaking her stride. He’d have her soon!
“Liz,” he said softly, close to her ear.
She ran faster, wanting to scream, but nothing came out.
“Liz,” he said again. But this time the voice seemed familiar.
She was grabbed again, this time by her upper arms and shaken. “Liz, wake up.”
Her eyes snapped open and immediately focused on Max’s face. Looking around frantically, she realized she was still in her own room, and it had just been another dream.
“Oh Max,” she sighed, collapsing into his chest.
“You were having a nightmare,” he said. “I thought you might wake up your parents.”
She clung to him shaking. “It was about the murderer again,” she whispered. “I think he’s going to kill someone at school.”
(Friday, October 27th)
Max slung a towel around his hips as he stepped out of Michael’s shower, and raked a hand through his wet hair. He’d only left Liz a few minutes before, but he couldn’t wait to get back to her.
He was so worried about her, and he needed to make sure nothing happened to her.
Even after she’d told him about her dream, she’d insisted on going to school. He admired her strength and bravery, but it made it harder for him to protect her. He couldn’t be with her all day at school, and he didn’t trust anyone else to make sure she was safe.
If she was right, the killer was after someone who when to school with them, and Max worried that this time, Liz’s dream might have been about her.
They knew the killer was sending her gifts at work and at her house, so her could be watching her at school too.
Max just felt so helpless, but he swore he wasn’t going to let Liz down.
Liz’s parents hadn’t wanted her to go to school, but she persuaded them to let her go. She pointed out that she was never alone at school, and there was no way to know how long she’d be absent, and how much work she’d miss. It could ruin her entire future.
Finally they agreed, but only if she promised never to be without her phone and her friends. It also helped that Isabel and Max were taking her to and from school.
The administration and faculty had to be told what was happening, of course, but at least none of the other students knew. And Liz was glad. She hated being the center of attention, and the questions would never end.
And she really needed some normal routine in her life right now.
Not only was she being sent gifts by a psycho murderer, but Max had figured out most of her secrets, and was pressuring her for the truth.
She desperately wanted to tell him, but she was holding back because Future Max had said never to say anything to Max.
She wondered if it even mattered anymore.
Max said he wouldn’t be with Tess no matter what. So did that mean the world was doomed? But something had changed enough for the Max from the future to disappear. What had it been? And if she told her Max the truth would it ruin what had changed?
Her head hurt from trying to consider all the possibilities. It was way beyond her meager high school understanding of physics.
She’d gotten him to back off last night, but she knew he wouldn’t stop asking questions, and she had to figure out what to do. She’d actually lain awake half the night trying to think.
It made her feel so safe having Max with her, and nothing had happened during the night, other than her nightmare. He’d gotten up early, and left out the balcony, using his powers to unlock and relock the security panel on her ladder. Then he quickly showered and changed at Michael’s before returning to pick her up and drive her to school.
Max was sacrificing so much for her, giving so much to make sure she was safe, and it made her feel guilty that she wasn’t being completely honest with him.
But she’d already decided that she couldn’t let guilt, or any other feeling dictate her actions. She had to be smart and do what was best for everyone.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure what that was any more.
It was also getting in the way of her classes.
Several times she found herself trying to weigh the future of the Earth on her potential actions, when she was supposed to be listening to her teachers.
Otherwise her day had been normal, other than a few teachers giving her significant looks. The school day was half over already, and she and Maria were headed to lunch.
Choosing their selections from the lunch counter, they headed toward the table where they usually sat with the whole gang.
When they were almost there, Maria stopped. “Oh, I forgot the dressing for my salad. It’s inedible without it.”
She looked at Liz. “You’ll be okay if I go back, right?”
Liz rolled her eyes. “Of course. I’m not five.” She motioned with her head to their table a few yards away. “Tess and Isabel are already there. Go ahead.”
Maria nodded, and reluctantly went back while Liz continued. But Liz stopped a few feet away as she overheard Tess say her name, and ducked behind a tree to listen.
“I can’t believe how Liz always manages to be the center of attention,” Tess said bitterly. “You’d think the world revolved around her.”
“Jealous much?” Isabel asked, sarcastically. “I swear Tess, Liz is being stalked by a killer and you sound like you wish it was you.”
Tess shrugged. “No, it’s just, she keeps doing things to get Max’s attention. She won’t leave him alone.”
Isabel shook her head. “You don’t understand. Liz has been trying to stay out of his life because she thinks it’s the right thing to do. It’s Max that won’t leave her alone. He’s the one going after her. He truly loves her. He’s not going to give up. They are in love, and they have that connection. Liz contacted him across the country and saved his life.”
“He’s supposed to be with me,” Tess said petulantly.
Isabel rolled her eyes. “Are you still hanging on to that fairytale that your prince will come and save you? It doesn’t work like that, Tess. You don’t even know Max. How can you possibly think you love him and want to be with him?”
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Tess said. “Nasedo told me all my life, and you saw the pictures in the book.”
“I don’t love Michael,” Isabel said, “and that’s not going to change. And I’m not going to be with him just because of what some book seems to say. And I know Max. He’s not going to change his mind either. He loves Liz, more than anything. They belong together, Tess.”
“Besides,” she said, changing the subject, ”what about you and Kyle? You’re getting along really well.”
Tess shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s okay I guess, but he’s a human, and someday we’ll be going back home.”
“Someday,” Isabel repeated, “maybe we’ll go back, if it’s even possible. But that could be a really long time. Do you want to be alone until that happens, if it happens?”
Alex’s voice in Liz’s ear interrupted her eavesdropping.
“What are we looking at?” he whispered.
She jumped, more embarrassed at being caught than scared. “Um, nothing,” she said.
His eyebrows rose, knowing she was lying, and she relented. “I just heard Tess talking about me, and I didn’t want to walk in on it,” she admitted.
Alex nodded. “Well if we go sit with them, she won’t be able to talk about you any more.”
“Yeah,” Liz agreed, but she was worried. Obviously Tess was noticing the extra time Max was spending with her. What if she got mad enough to leave?
As Liz cleaned up her last table in the Crashdown, she wondered if she shouldn’t have taken some time off like her parents suggested. She was exhausted from lack of sleep and stress.
It had been a slow afternoon in the cafe. She wasn’t really needed to help. In fact, Max was the only person in the place besides herself, the cook, Maria, and the couple Maria was serving.
Liz’s mind had been on overdrive all day. First the murders and her dreams, then wondering about what Max had discovered, and worrying about what Tess might do. It was just too much.
When Max wasn’t looking, Liz kept sneaking glances at him where he was finishing his hamburger.
She wanted to confide in Max so badly, she just wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. She’d thought about it all day, and finally she’d come to a decision. She just couldn’t lie to him any more. It wouldn’t be easy, but she was going to tell him everything and hope he still wanted to help her.
Swallowing hard, she pulled her eyes away from Max. After her shift, she’d see if he could talk.
Taking the tray of dishes in the back, she grabbed a wet towel, heading to the dining room again. Methodically she wiped down the entire counter, trying only to think about her task, paying special attention to the drink machines.
When she reached the end, she saw a padded envelope under the counter from Deluca Gifts & Novelties, Maria’s mother’s business. It was marked, ‘Attention Liz.’
Calling over her shoulder, she opened it. “When did your Mom come by?” she asked Maria. “I didn’t see her.”
Pouring out the contents onto the counter, she stopped with a gasp, as Maria answered.
“My Mom wasn’t here,” she said coming over.
Liz eyes raked over the items on the counter. There were another dozen suckers, tied with a black bow, a pair of handcuffs, a blindfold, and a short, leather whip. The card landed right-side-up and the words jumped out at her.
Oh lolli lolli lolli
Call my baby Lizzie Lollipop
“Max!” Maria called out.
He was next to them almost instantly, and scowled down, taking in the latest delivery.
”How did these get here?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Liz said numbly. “I thought it was a delivery from Maria’s Mom.”
Her mind was reeling. Had the killer been in the Crashdown? Had she seen him? Talked to him?
Thinking, she tried to remember everyone who’d come in. It was crazy to think she might have served him and never known it.
“Look,” Max said, examining the package. “It came in the mail today.”
Instantly Liz relaxed. Even thought the items were creepy, it didn’t seem so bad knowing they’d been mailed. At least the killer was keeping his distance. He must have seen the Police around.
Scooping the items back into the envelope, Max picked it up. “Are you okay?” he asked Liz.
She smiled faintly and nodded.
His eyes raked quickly over her as if he were trying to decide for himself. Finally he nodded, and said, “I’ll be right back. I’m just going to take these out to the deputy.”
He was only gone a moment, and Liz could see him the whole time. Deputy Hansen was in his cruiser outside the restaurant. There was a cop parked there in a marked car all day and night now.
The State Police had come to the house while she was at school and looked for evidence on her balcony. They were coming back tomorrow to interview her, and she was dreading it. There was nothing she could tell them.
Max spoke briefly with Hansen, and then jogged back inside, stopping at the counter. “He reported it to Valenti, and he’ll take it to the station when he’s relieved.”
Liz nodded. She was so overwhelmed with everything.
Max touched her arm, and held her eyes when she looked up. “I’m going to stay all night, and make sure you’re safe.”
Liz sighed. “Thanks.” She was tired of being scared and nervous, jumping at every sound.
“I’m almost finished,” she said, straightening her back and trying to put the craziness behind her. “Then we can do our homework upstairs, and talk.”
He searched her face, and nodded. “Okay.”
Going back to his booth, he took a seat, sipping at his Cherry Coke.
Liz headed toward the back, turning to Maria as she passed her. “Want to help me take the trash out?”
“Sure,” Maria said distractedly. “Let me just get my last table their bill,” she said, writing it up, “and I’ll be right back.”
Gathering all the trash took less time than Liz anticipated, and she looked through the diamond-shaped window into the dining room to see if Maria was coming. But she was headed to the cash register with her customers.
Liz didn’t want to wait for Maria. It was still light outside, she reasoned, and the dumpster was only a couple of steps from the door. She would be fine.
She struggled with the bags of garbage, hefting them to the door. Unlocking it and pushing it open, Liz immediately heard the sound. Whistling. And even though the pitch was still off-key, this time the tempo was faster, and she could clearly hear the song ‘Lollipop.’
A surge of fear rushed through her, and she stumbled back, almost falling over her feet. Pulling heavy door closed behind her, she slammed the deadbolt home.
Just then Maria came in, and Liz whirled to face her. “He’s out there! The killer’s out there!”
“What!” Maria gasped. “What do we do?”
“The Sheriff,” Liz said urgently. “We have to call the Sheriff,” she said, already dialing her phone.
A stunned look crossed Maria’s face. “That deputy’s outside in his car.”
She raced out through the Crashdown, and Liz followed her, with the phone still to her ear.
Max jumped out of his seat, following right behind them. “What’s going on?”
Valenti answered the phone, as they burst through the front door, and Maria spoke to the deputy at the same time Liz spoke through the phone, their words identical.
“The killer’s out the backdoor of the Crashdown!”
Liz met Max’s eyes, and grabbed his arm, shaking her head. She didn’t want him to risk himself.
Getting out of the car, the deputy drew his gun, heading down the alley, as Valenti spoke to Liz. “Tell Hansen. He’s in a car out front, and I’ll be there in two minutes.”
“We did,” Liz assured him. “Just hurry.”
Max shook his head. “I can’t risk that he’ll get away,” he said, and he ran around the other side of the Crashdown.
Maria and Liz went back inside, clutching at each other.
Liz’s eyes were glued to the windows, scared to death for Max. She knew he could defend himself, but what if the killer had a gun or a knife.
A moment later Sheriff Valenti’s cruiser screeched to a stop outside, and he headed down the alley with a drawn gun.
For long minutes they didn’t know what was happening. They couldn’t see or hear anything.
Then suddenly Sheriff Valenti rushed around the corner, into the Crashdown, and Liz and Maria went to meet him. “We caught him,” he said, out of breath. “We got the murderer red-handed.”
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