(Roswell NM, 2016)
I watch them a lot. Watch him.
Sometimes it seems like I’ve spent most of my life watching them. Certainly I’ve spent more time watching them than I ever spent with him.
I was with Max for less than a year, and he has been with Tess for over fifteen years now.
Being the honorable guy he is, Max married Tess when he found out she was pregnant, even though he didn’t love her. He married her so their son would have a father, and so he could be in his son’s life.
We never talked about it. We didn’t have to. Max had to be with Tess and his son. He wouldn’t have done anything else. And I certainly never gave him another choice even though I love him more than my own life. I love him more with each passing year, but it doesn’t matter. This was how it had to be. Destiny won after all.
That didn’t make it easy for us.
I kept silent and watched.
I watched over the years as Max’s son Zan has grown from a baby, to a beautiful little boy, and into a handsome young man of sixteen. Exactly the same age that Max and I had been when we first got together.
I watched as Max grew from the teenager I knew so well, into a strong and confident man and father. If it was possible, Max became even more handsome as he aged and his body got even stronger and harder as he lost any trace of childhood.
But the man inside is still the same kind, loving, gentle boy I grew up with, possibly he is even more so since he has gained experience and understanding of the world.
Of course I never get to see him as often as I want, so I have to make the most of the times when he is around, and I watch him as closely as I can.
I’ve watching him doing yard work, playing basketball, shopping for clothes, and sleeping.
I’ve watched him at work when he hires the Crashdown to cater his events, and we collaborate on the planning.
I’ve watched him grocery shopping and I know what he will buy because I know everything that he likes.
I’ve watched him cheering at his son’s soccer games, attending school plays and helping him learn about his powers and the universe around him. The son that should have been mine.
I’ve watched him when he was happy and sad, confident and concerned, indifferent and loving.
I’ve lived a lifetime with Max, just watching.
A familiar tingle raced up my spine and I turned to watch from the Crashdown window as Max, Tess and Zan walked down the sidewalk across the street. It wasn’t like I was looking for them, for him, I just always knew when he was near, and it was the same for him.
And I knew any moment Max would turn and look toward the Crashdown, toward me. He always did.
He’d never stopped loving me either and we couldn’t seem to stay away even though we couldn’t be together.
They reached the door of the building where they were going and Max pulled it open and held it for his family to enter. Suddenly he looked across the street, meeting my eyes through the one-way mirrored surface of the Crashdown windows.
With an indrawn breath of reaction, I felt like I was caught in the brilliant rays of sun.
Our eyes had met through that window a thousand times over the years, but today felt different.
My heartbeat sped up and I couldn’t seem to do anything but look at him. For those brief seconds it was like we were sixteen again before all of the craziness had driven us apart.
I knew he couldn’t actually see me, but that didn’t matter, he knew exactly where I was and that I was looking at him. Watching him, like I always did.
Flashes rushed through my mind of all the times we’d spent together, kissing, caressing, loving. I saw our first date at Senior Chow where I taught Max to play pool. I saw our first kiss, so sweet and tender but so intense. I saw the night we spent together in the desert after we found the orb when we’d almost made love.
But after a moment the illusion faded.
I didn’t feel any satisfaction or happiness like I used to as our eyes held. All I felt was the sharp pain in my chest.
Across the street, Tess said something to Max, drawing his attention and he turned and disappeared inside, and I was left feeling alone and bereft without him.
You would think the pain of loving him would have faded after all these years, but it hadn’t. It was almost a constant thing in my life, but it was worse when I saw him.
That’s why I’d left Roswell all those years ago, to go to college and forget. Forget the love of my life.
I arranged to graduate early because I couldn’t stand to be around him and Tess and the baby. It killed me every time I saw them together, every time I saw his son.
Max was so good with the baby, so loving and I couldn’t help thinking of everything that had been taken from me. I was supposed to marry Max and love him the rest of our lives. I should have had his children. We were supposed to be happy together instead of living in pain apart.
So I left town and threw myself into college trying to move on, trying to forget.
But I was stupid.
Even though I’d left Roswell, everything seemed to remind me of Max and the time we shared together.
I couldn’t look at another guy without comparing him to Max. I couldn’t go to a party without remembering the rave at the old Soap Factory where we almost shared our first kiss. I couldn’t go to store or a restaurant or a movie or even sit in class without looking for Max and remembering.
But the worst was when I was alone at night and looked into the sky.
All of the times we spent on my balcony under the stars would come rushing into my mind and each one was a precious memory. But the one memory that was the most special was the night we’d spent together after we’d rescued Max from the Special Unit.
Max was terribly hurt and traumatized but that was the night when I knew I would spend the rest of my life with him.
In that overturned van we cried and touched and talked and realized what we had was more precious than anything.
We admitted our love to each other for the first time even though we had expressed it physically in every touch and kiss. I held Max as he entrusted to me what had happened to him in the White Room, and I comforted him the best I could.
For that one beautiful night we belonged to each other and pledged our love and our lives together.
It was the closest I’ve ever felt to him, and it was all I would ever have.
As the days passed at college, I thought about Max more and more until it was practically all I did, wondering what he was doing, how he had changed. I was completely obsessed. I carried pictures of him that I looked at constantly, trying to get enough of him, but with each passing day my craving grew just to be near him.
The pain of not being able to see him or be around him grew unbearable, worse than being in Roswell had ever been.
Finally I realized I would never forget him, never get over him, and the physical distance between us somehow made it even worse. I was falling apart, going crazy.
I was back at the end of the semester. Watching.
The first time I saw him I knew he’d been suffering too. He’d lost weight and he had a tired haggard appearance, but when he saw me it was like he came alive again. I know, because I felt the same way.
And even though it killed me to see him with Tess, I didn’t consider leaving again. Seeing each other, watching, would have to be enough for us.
So I enrolled at Santa Fe State in correspondence courses, took my old job back at the Crashdown, and watched as life slipped by.
Not long after high school graduation, Maria and Michael got married. Two years later they had a daughter and three years afterward a son. Michael went to school to learn to fix motorcycles and now he owns a repair shop. Maria took over the homeopathic section of her mother’s store and they’ve gone international on the internet.
Isabel met a great guy at college named Ty, and they married after graduation. After both getting graduate degrees and five years later, they had a handsome son. Isabel got a degree in social work and is employed by the state Child Protective Service. Her husband is a child advocacy lawyer.
Kyle never married even though I think he’s dated every woman under 40 in Roswell. Ironically he followed in his father’s steps after all and is a Deputy in the Roswell Sheriff’s department. I never get tired of teasing him about it.
Brody decided to leave town to spend more time with his daughter about the same time Tess got pregnant, and he gave the UFO Center to Max. So Roswell’s resident alien king owns and runs the biggest alien attraction in town, and our alien queen is a stay-at-home mother of his son.
Zan is practically a copy of his father. He has his father’s eyes and his kindness, and he is so smart that he is graduating early and heading to college in the fall.
I eventually got my degree in Biology, but after everything it just seemed so pointless. I took over ownership of the Crashdown from my parents a few years ago and they moved to Florida.
Everyone moved on but me.
Some people might think I’m stuck and that I could have accomplished much more with my life, but I know I’m exactly where I need to be.
Max still comes in to the Crashdown every day for lunch, and I always make sure I’m working. It’s a strange parody of when we were younger. He covertly watches me as I work, and I make sure we always have his favorites, and watch as he eats.
Whenever Max and I talk we are practically strangers and we never mention the past, our relationship, our love. We are like two people in line at the grocery store, discussing the weather, our families, our jobs. It’s like we are afraid to say anything real, or do anything more real than watching each other because if we did the whole thing would blow up in our faces.
Of course there was never anyone else for me. I never even tried. What was the point when all I thought about was Max? It wouldn’t be fair to any guy I was with.
I go alone to the family gatherings my friends include me in, even though I’m not technically family. I go just to see him, be near him for little while.
It’s pathetic, but it’s all I have.
I try not to be obvious about watching Max when other people are around, but when we are together our eyes seem to automatically find each other across a room. I try to fight it, but I can’t stop myself from looking in his direction, and when I do, he is already looking at me.
We can’t seem to help ourselves.
And sometimes we accidentally touch. At least I think it’s accidental. There are times when it’s like an overwhelming force between us. I feel pulled toward him and our hands or bodies will brush together, and all of the same feelings and sensations rush through me just like when we were kids. Our eyes will meet and hold for a little too long as we briefly give into the urge to fall into each other like we use to.
Until reality breaks us apart again.
No one mentions that I don’t date and have never gotten married. I think it’s pretty obvious to them all that I never stopped loving Max.
And it was obvious to Isabel from the start that Max wasn’t happy with Tess. “He hasn’t slept with her since they were married,” she told me about a year after their wedding when she’d caught me watching him. “He has his own bedroom.”
I guess she thought it would make me feel better. In a way maybe it did, but it was hard knowing he was just going through the motions of his marriage.
Watching him like I did, I had already suspected. Max rarely touched Tess and I’d never seen them kiss. Somewhere inside I’d wondered if he was trying to make it easier for me by not showing his wife affection in front of me, but I knew it wasn’t true.
Max always has a sadness inside him that is there even when he’s happy and enjoying himself. I’m not sure anyone else can see it, but I know exactly what he’s feeling. It’s the deep sorrow of living without your soulmate.
Loving him like I do, I want him to be happy even if it isn’t with me, but seeing him happy and loving Tess would be torture.
Max never loved Tess, and I knew he would never have been with her if I hadn’t pushed him to do it. I kept telling myself it had to be that way, and it looks like I was right.
According to the Max from the future, the world should have ended sometime in 2014, but we’re still here two years later.
As each day dawned that year I held my breath, waiting for something to happen, but it never did. There was no alien invasion’ no one tried to take over of the world. We never even heard from any aliens again.
I guess something Future Max and I changed made the difference. Maybe just the fact that Max was with Tess saved the world, or maybe something else changed and the aliens were never going to come this time. I didn’t think I’d ever really know.
I never told Max though. Why make it harder for him too?
I’m sure there are many people, maybe most people would say that the unhappiness of two people was worth saving the world. I thought so myself. That’s why I’d pushed Max to Tess in the first place, but it was still hard.
Sometimes it was harder than others.
I remember so clearly a night four years ago like it was yesterday. May 16th, 2012. I was out walking in the calming dark, trying to clear my troubled thoughts, and got caught in a sudden downpour. Hurrying home, I didn’t pay attention to where I was going and stepped off a curb into the path of car.
Too late I realized, but I was grabbed around the waist and pulled back. We fell and rolled onto the grass and I ended up on top of my rescuer. I didn’t even have to question who it was. Max had always been there to save me.
Time seemed to stop as we both panted to catch our breath and the rain pounded down on us, dripping off our already soaked hair and clothes. I noticed that he was wearing a thin shirt with no sleeves, shorts and running shoes. He’d obviously been out jogging when he was caught in the downpour.
Max searched every inch of my face as if he were trying to memorize it before he met my eyes again. I could see the deep longing in sorrow in him as I’d seen it my own eyes every day for the last twelve years.
Tears for him spilled over my lids and the motion of them rolling down my face seemed to fascinate him. His eyes became so soft and loving as he reached a hand up to wipe the water off my cheek where it mingled with the rain.
It was such a familiar gesture, one he’d done a thousand times when we were together, and before I thought about what I was doing, I turned and pressed my lips into his palm.
Almost immediately I realized what I’d done and tried to pull away.
But he held me. “Liz,” he whispered so reverently, speaking for the first time.
I swallowed hard trying to dislodge the sudden lump in my throat. I wanted to kiss him so badly, and I could see the same longing in him. But I wasn’t a home wrecker, and more importantly I wouldn’t doom the world by giving in to my feelings after all these years.
More tears spilled down my cheeks as I shook my head, turning away, unable to look at him. “I’m sorry,” I said gruffly. “I didn’t mean to.”
“I know,” he said softly. “Sometimes, I just wish . . .” he trailed off and released me and I scrambled to my feet.
“Are you okay?” he asked sitting up.
I nodded stiffly. “Thanks for saving my life, again,” I choked out, and hurried away.
I still hold that feeble memory close to my heart.
Sweeping the Crashdown floor, I tried not to keep looking at the door across the street where Max and his family had entered, but my eyes were repeatedly drawn back. I needed just a glimpse of him. I just needed to see him, to watch him one more time and I would be content.
It was what I always told myself, and it was always a lie.
Suddenly the door swung open and this time it was Max’s son who led the way and held the door for his parents, and he surprised me by looking across the street just as his father had.
Children see a lot more than most adults realize and I blushed furiously feeling ashamed that the teen boy had possibly realized I was in love with his father.
I expected to see Zan’s eyes harden as he looked in my direction by they stayed kind like his father’s had always been, and he had a soft smile on his face. Tears stung my eyes thinking once again that he could have been my child.
I was shocked to see Max and Tess hug behind him, a rare display of affection, and it felt like my heart might stop. Had Max finally fallen in love with his wife?
They spoke briefly and then Max hugged Zan, speaking for a long time in his ear before releasing him.
Zan put an arm around his mother and left with her, and I watched them walk back the way they came, as I frantically wondereds what had just happened.
I started shaking as more tears filled my eyes.
How could Max have fallen for Tess without me noticing? I watched them so often, surely I would have seen it happening. How could I have missed it?
Watching Max in love with Tess would tear me apart.
For a second I considered leaving town, going somewhere, anywhere and starting over. But I knew it would be useless. I had to stay where I could watch him.
My gaze slid back to Max automatically, expecting to see him going to the UFO Center, but he was jogging across the street to me.
I wiped at my eyes, not wanting him to see my tears and resumed sweeping as he pushed the door open.
Forcing a smile, I greeted him. “Hey Max. Your usual?”
He smiled too and it took my breath away. It was one of the first genuine smiles I’d seen from him for years.
Coming close, he lowered his voice. “Can we talk upstairs?”
Suddenly I was afraid to be alone with him, afraid of what we might tell me.
The café was practically empty except for one waitress and the cook who were flirting, and they hadn’t even noticed Max come in. They probably wouldn’t pay attention to a word we said, but I was afraid something had happened. Maybe the alien invasion I’d been anticipating for the last sixteen years had finally come.
Nodding, I wordlessly led him into the back and up the stairs.
It felt so weird to have him in my house again. I couldn’t even remember how many years it had been.
When we were in my kitchen I turned to him, “What’s wrong?” I asked shakily.
“Nothing,” he assured me with a smile. “Nothing’s wrong.”
He looked so happy, so alive and my heart fell again.
I wanted to ask why he’d come to talk to me alone, but I was afraid of the answer and couldn’t speak. Was he going to tell me to stay away from him now that he loved his wife? Was he going to tell me to leave town like Future Max had once told the Tess in his world?
How ironic it would be if something I changed had led to a complete reversal in circumstances.
“Liz,” he said so tenderly that it brought tears to my eyes.
I felt like running from him before he could say the words, but he reached out, cupping my face and I couldn’t move.
Stroking my cheek he said what I’d longed to hear all of these years. “I love you, Liz.”
I started to shake my head but he kept going. “Tess has let me go,” he said. “We were just across the street finalizing our divorce.”
I knew now that I had gone insane and was just hearing what I wanted. I shook my head again, trying to speak. “I don’t…” My throat seemed to close around the words.
“I didn’t want to say anything to you until it was final and she couldn’t change her mind,” he rushed on. “Liz, I’m free to be with you, to love you.”
For the first time in sixteen years hope started to swell inside me. “Really?” I breathed.
He nodded and my legs went out from under me as relief swept through my body. Max caught me and we both slid to our knees. Tears of joy spilled down my cheeks and he wiped them away.
We both hesitated and then we moved slowly closer together, closing the distance between us. Our lips barely touched, brushing together so sweetly it brought more tears to my eyes.
But it wasn’t nearly enough and I wrapped my arms around his neck.
The kiss grew deeper quickly as the love that was always between us was released and caught fire. As we peeled of each others’ clothes, we touched and tasted and experienced each other in a way I never thought we would. Max took me to the bed and our bodies joined, and I knew what it was like to be in heaven.
Afterward, we lay together tangled up, just looking at each other.
I was so happy, more happy than I’d ever been, but still confused. “But why?” I asked him. “After all these years?”
Propping himself up on one elbow, Max stroked my hair. “Of course you know I only married her because of Zan,” he said softly. “I never loved her and I was never with her again after that night. I couldn’t. I’d betrayed you and myself with that one stupid act and ruined our future. Tess knew it, but she kept holding on to this fairy tale of the king and queen and didn’t seem to care that it was all an illusion.”
He shook his head. “We stayed together for Zan’s sake even though neither of us was happy in the marriage. I wanted Zan to have a stable, loving home, and we gave him that, even if we didn’t love each other.”
“But this whole thing was Zan’s idea,” he said incredulously, smiling and shaking his head. “He told me that he’s watched you for years, wondering why you never dated or married, and now that he’s old enough he understands.”
“He’s known since he was a kid that Tess and I aren’t like other parents, we don’t hug or kiss or even sleep in the same room, and he figured out that we weren’t in love. And he’s seen me watching you as you watched me. He saw the love between us.”
I shook my head still not understanding.
Max smiled softly. “Zan told us that we shouldn’t be unhappy. He’s grown up now and we shouldn’t stay together for his sake anymore. We should be with who we love.”
“And Tess agreed to that?” I asked.
Max stroked my cheek. “I’m pretty sure Tess never really got over Kyle. Our marriage has been a train wreck from day one, not the happily ever after she imagined, and it was like Zan telling us that gave her permission to finally scrap this whole destiny mess.”
“I’d planned to get a divorce when Zan leaves to go to college. There was just no point in dragging out our sham of a marriage any longer and living without you, but he beat me to it.”
Leaning in, Max pressed a kiss to my forehead before drawing back to meet my eyes. “I’ve loved you since the moment I saw you and it has only grown stronger over the years. I know we were meant to be together. Marry me, Liz,” he said solemnly.
I didn’t even hesitate. “Yes,” I said fiercely. “Tomorrow. Today. Anywhere and anytime you want.”
I hesitated, “Although, I’m sure you’ll want to wait a little while so it doesn’t look like we were having an affair and that is why you divorced.”
He shook his head. “I don’t care what people think and I don’t want to waste one more minute that we could spend together. I just want to be with you.”
We made plans and touched and kissed for what seemed like minutes, but it was hours in reality.
Eventually Max’s stomach start to growl and we laughed. “Stay here,” he said kissing me as he got out of bed. “I’ll make us some breakfast and bring it to you in bed to celebrate the first day of the rest of our lives together.”
I smiled, letting my eyes drink in every inch of his strong, beautiful body as he stood up and padded naked to the door, giving me a grin before he disappeared out of the room.
I didn’t think I’d ever get enough of the simple pleasure of just seeing him, and now I didn’t have to stop looking. He was finally mine.
And I would always be watching him.