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The Madonna Pedestal

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Added to the Roswell Slash Archive October 24, 2001

Author: Bennie
Rating: PG-13 for mature themes, not especially graphic.
Disclaimer: I own nothing Roswell.
Character Focus: Maria/Liz, Maria POV (Contains references to other Liz 'ships.)
Premise: Maria thinks about Liz.
Author's Note: Thanks, Debbie. I really appreciate it.



I don´t like Liz Parker.

Sounds almost sacrilegious, doesn´t it? Someone *not* liking sweet, perfect little Liz Parker? Well, I don´t. I never have. The funny part is, I don´t think she knows. I don´t think the possibility´s ever even occurred to her.

But something happened a long time ago. I got … infected. At some point, when I was still too young to know better, I got sucked into her crazy little world and it seemed like more trouble than it was worth to get out of it. And let´s face it, there are perks to being friends with her, mostly because she (if you´ll excuse the cliché) really knows how to pick ‘em.

It´s true. Take Alex – he was the best, a total stand-up guy, and she knew it before anyone else, even me. And of course, he adored her, and maybe that was part of the fascination for me. Because if he saw something …

And it wasn´t just him. There was Kyle, Max, Sean … of course, the Sean thing was inevitable, especially after the fallout with Max. I saw the bad boy/good girl thing coming a mile away. My point is, they were all decent guys (yeah, even Sean, although there´s something you will never hear me admit out loud), and every one of them got sucked in by the small-town princess.

What was it they saw in her? No, really, I want to know.

Because it wasn´t just guys. Everyone at West Roswell thought she hated Pam Troy because they had some fight or something. Well, I knew the truth. I heard them talking, and I knew she didn´t hate Pam. No, she was afraid of her and what they did one lazy Roswell day behind the bleachers.

I wonder if she was afraid of being called names if someone found out. I always thought she was the kind of girl who would be.

For me, friendship with Liz Parker always came down to one undeniable fact: the girl had connections. Like, she got me a job when no one in town wanted to trust me with their money. And every time I thought about bailing on her insane little world, I´d think about what I´d be losing if I did. She was the kind of person you kept close, you know? She was … useful. And long before I realised that, before it really sank in, it never escaped my attention that she gets away with just about anything.

You don´t believe me? A long time ago, the Sheriff caught her and some other students spray-painting a wall behind the school. He would´ve busted her for vandalism with the rest of them, too, except one of the other students, Paulie (the guy *I* had a crush on, by the way), told the Sheriff that she thought it was an art project. Valenti bought it, too. Probably took one look into those big, scared brown eyes of hers and melted. Just like Deputy Hanson did the night Sean took a fall for her. I do know, even if no one else does, that the girl was so grateful that she dated Paulie for a while afterwards, and she met Kyle through him. By that point I was over Paulie and into Doug. Not a step up.

(And you know, as I lie here in this bed, listening to the familiar sound of breathing, and drinking in a familiar scent, I suddenly wonder whether if they really liked her. I always thought they did, but then, everyone always thought I did too. )

Of course, I wasn´t a kick-ass best friend and sidekick for nothing, because when you´re a good sidekick to Little Miss Perfect, you can get away with a lot. You can hide what you really think and feel and do because it all gets eclipsed by her spotlight. You can dodge your mom´s nosy questions with those magic words: “I´m with Lizzie,” secure in the knowledge that, in a parent´s eyes, anything to do with Liz Parker can´t be wrong. It´s … well, it was freeing.

But …

I still don´t *like* her.

And I don´t like that even after all this time, she´s all I think about.

That´s right, for years now I´ve been thinking about her. Her, and wanting her. I mean, *wanting* her. Like I told you: I´ve been infected. And I´m not the only one. Seriously. Give me a minute, and I´ll tell you why.

Heck – I´ll even tell you who.

<>

It was an accident, really, that kicked it all into high gear. We should never have been there, any of us.

It was back in high school. Max, the original infectee himself, had charged into the CrashDown that night, outwardly calm but obviously agitated about something.

You can always tell with him. Well, I can. But I´m pretty perceptive about people.

“We need to have a meeting. Now.” He wouldn´t say anything more. The place was overflowing because some convention or another was in town, and there wasn´t really any place to talk where we could be sure of some privacy.

“I can´t leave,” I told him. “If you haven´t noticed, we´re kind of busy here.”

He looked a little panicked. “Do you have a break anytime soon?”

“Yeah. Why don´t you get everyone together, and we´ll meet in the back room in fifteen minutes?”

He shook his head. “I just saw Liz´s dad go back there. We should go to the quarry.”

I just looked at him. Right, like I´d have a job to come back to after taking off like that. Knowing the boss´s daughter only goes so far.

“I´m off in a couple hours. Mr. Parker is closing up tonight. What about meeting in Liz´s room then?” I suggested. His eyes lit up – pathetic, really, but he does do a cute puppy act so I always forgive him – as he agreed. If I didn´t know better, if he was anyone else, I´d say he planned that. You know, having someone else suggest it so he didn´t have to. Unfortunately, I do know better. Max the Saint. Sigh.

“Okay, but we should take the ladder, so Mr. Parker doesn´t see us and get curious or anything. It´ll be dark out soon, so no one should see us out there.”

I rolled my eyes. We could tap dance and sing show tunes and still get by Liz´s dad. Don´t get me wrong, he´s a great guy. But clueless.

Anyway, we all met in the alley behind the Crashdown. Well, almost everyone.

“Where´s Liz?”

Max shook his head. “I couldn´t find her.”

I really didn´t feel like waiting around for her. “Can we tell her whatever it is later then?”

He nodded reluctantly and started up the ladder.

I climbed up last because my stupid uniform was *so* not made for preserving the dignity, if you get what I mean. And when I got to the top, it freaked me out how quiet the others all were. They were standing around Liz´s window, just standing there, not saying a word.

“Guys?”

Isabel ‘shushed´ me, which would tick me off later but right then I just wanted to see what was going on. So I pushed my way through the crowd and then I was quiet too.

Liz was in her room. She wasn´t alone. And she´d forgotten to close her curtains all the way.

<>

I´ve never seen anything like it, before or since.

I´ve had sex. It was good sex. Hell, it was incredible sex. But compared to what we saw that night … it was downright civilized. Polite, even.

What we saw Liz doing with Eddie of all people …

I didn´t know she had it in her.

Uh, no pun intended.

<>

So that´s when things started to get a little exciting.

As far as I know, she never found out that we were there. She knew something had happened, though. We kept slipping up. Like one day, we were continuing this debate we´ve been having for years – you know, whether pizza is better if the cheese is above or below the toppings, and you´re kidding yourself if you don´t think it makes a difference – and she laughed and said a little too loudly, “I like it on top!” She flushed, of course, because it came out more suggestively than she intended, and waited for the inevitable teasing joke at her expense.

No one said a word. I think we were all too busy remembering how she looked on top of Eddie to – to think about *cheese*, for pete´s sake. I know I was.

She smiled, surprised but relieved to get off so easily, and chattered about something else.

But then later, a customer bumped into her and knocked her into the plates on her tray. That´s right, two plates of pasta that left big circles of red on her chest, right in front of the booth where I was taking the rest of the group´s orders. She waited for it, but it never came. No one – not Kyle, not Isabel, not Michael, no one – said anything as she took a break to go change, and I could tell from the look on her face that we were being too obvious. We weren´t acting normal.

And after that, it was like she was hyperaware of us. She kept catching one of us staring at her. And not always her face, either. I know I couldn´t keep my eyes off her knees.

I just couldn´t help but remember the way she´d writhed on her bed as he knowingly teased the little crease in the bend of her leg with his tongue before … you know. Working his way up. But my point is, he did it ... knowingly. *Knowingly*.

I don´t know why it hadn´t occurred to me before, but that´s when I realised that their little trysts or whatever they were had to have been going on for a while, because you just aren´t that comfortable with someone right away. Liz, the one person in the world I thought could never keep a secret from me, not for long, had been hiding this one. Perfectly. I´d had no idea. I didn´t know whether to be insulted or impressed.

“Miss?”

I looked down at the customer in front of me and blushed. “I´m sorry, did you want Saturn Rings with that?”

He nodded and I turned to put in the order. I stopped mid-spin to watch Liz wipe down a table across the restaurant. She was facing away and her uniform rode up as she bent over a table, showing a lot of leg. One leg lifted slightly for balance, and then came down … and I realised that she wasn´t facing away anymore.

I looked away when I felt her eyes on me.

<>

You know, I've long forgotten whatever it was Max wanted to talk about that night. But I still remember everything that I saw through that window.

And I can imagine the rest. Vividly.

And do. Constantly.

<>

At one point she cornered me in the back room.

“Okay, what´s going on? Why is everyone staring at me like I´ve grown a second head or something?”

I could hear it in her voice: the pleading. The need to know what was going on, what she was being kept out of. And the certainty that I would tell her.

“I don´t know what you mean,” I said, and she looked at me hard. But she´s so damn trusting. It´s something I could never figure out about her, how easily she can justify trusting people without question. People like me.

Finally she shrugged. “It´s because I didn´t make it to the meeting, isn´t it?” she asked.

I nodded. In a way, it was.

She looked impatient and, to my practised eye, a little depressed. “Well, it´s not like I knew about it beforehand. He can´t expect me to sit around waiting for him to include me in his life whenever he feels like it.”

She meant Max. I shrugged. I didn´t really want to hear about her and Max and how they´re at such different places in their lives right now. It´s enough to hear about it from him all the time. “No, probably not,” I agreed.

She smiled, openly relieved by my show of support, but hesitated before going back out into the diner. “Is something … is something wrong? I´m getting this weird vibe from everyone …”

I shrugged again. Talk about your all-purpose gestures. I´m getting a good technique going, too. “Seriously, I have no idea what you´re talking about, chica.” I used the last bit deliberately. I know that she thinks that when I use it, I´m in ‘best friend´ mode, and she thinks it´s sweet. “Go on, get back to work before your dad starts looking for us.”

She nodded, smiled, and headed back out front.

And when I was sure she wasn´t looking, I watched her through that little diamond window, studying the way her legs bent as she walked away from me and wondering why on earth I was feeling jealous without the slightest idea of who I was feeling jealous of.

<>

I completely expected Max to go ballistic, you know.

Instead, he just got really, really quiet. It freaked me out. It made me talk just to fill in the silence. Finally, one day at school when it was just the two of us, he said something.

“I can´t stop thinking about that night,” he said. Right out of the blue.

I looked around. No one was paying any attention to us. “Liz,” I said, and it wasn´t a question.

He nodded, and suddenly I noticed he was sweating. Seriously – he had a bead of sweat rolling down from his forehead and everything.

I got a little worried. “Are you okay?”

He closed his eyes and just stood there, breathing himself calm. I was actually kind of impressed with his little show of willpower. I mean, the guy had looked ready to hump a lamppost a moment earlier. “I … I see it when I close my eyes,” he said hoarsely. “I see … them …*her* …”

He was starting to space out on me again. “Hey, Max … Max! Focus.”

His eyes cleared and he flushed a little at the look on my face. Was I smirking? I think I was.

“You going do anything about it?”

He looked at me, and shook his head. “If Liz and I ever get back together, I don´t want it to be for the sex.” Can you believe he said that with a straight face? Only Max.

“No,” I said patiently, “I mean, she slept with someone else. Aren´t you going to freak about it? Confront her or something?” I was thinking about the way he acted when he´d caught her in bed with Kyle. He´d gotten all moody for, like, weeks after that.

But now he looked away and I almost laughed at the expression on his face.

That´s when I knew he wasn´t going to say a thing to Liz. Because what he saw didn´t make him angry or jealous or bitter. Or maybe it did, but it also did something else.

It turned him on.

Well, that I understood. “Come on,” I said, not unkindly. “Let´s go get some lunch.”

I like Max, you know. On some cosmic level, we understand each other.

<>

Then one fateful day, a couple months after the unintended peep show, I woke to blistering heat. And I never quite managed to dry off after my morning shower.

Damn it. I knew what that meant. Heat wave.

“It´s gonna be a long day,” I groaned miserably to my mother at breakfast.

I didn´t know how right I was.

<>

Sure enough, the town was an oven by mid-morning. People moved slowly, stopping to drink a lot of water and squint at the bright sunlight. And they wore as little as possible.

Even with the air conditioning cranked, the Crashdown never quite cooled down, and by noon the waitresses had abandoned synthetic blend uniforms in favour of cotton. Liz wore a tank top and shorts, nothing too revealing. But every time she walked by, some other memory flashed through my mind, and my own clothes would chafe.

I watched her all that day. I was helpless not to. I … I´ve slept in her bed hundreds of times. We´ve worn each other´s clothes. I know her scent, and I know how it gets a little stronger, a little muskier, when she´s hot and sweaty.

So I was watching when she sat Max down in one of the booths. And you know, there was something about her. She looked … determined. Yeah, that´s the word I´m looking for. She looked determined, and – this is what really got to me – excited. Like she felt a little uncomfortable but had no intention of letting that stop her from doing whatever the hell it was she wanted to do.

Kind of like how she´d looked kneeling on her bed with a man behind her, I thought before I could stop myself, and took a gulp of some oblivious customer´s iced tea.

No one saw me do it, though. Not any of the others anyway – a quick glance around told me that we had all noticed how intense Liz and Max´s conversation was getting. Actually, that wasn´t quite true. Liz was intense; Max just looked stoic. But I had no doubt that she´d get her way about this, whatever it was.

I may not like her, but I *know* her.

And the way little wisps of hair stick to the back of her neck when she´s all shiny with sweat makes me think that it really doesn´t matter if I like her or not. There are other things in life, aren´t there?

But this was neither the time nor the place to lose track of what was going on. I looked to Max instead, and found his expression, or lack of it, much more interesting.

I wondered what Liz was telling him. And how long it´d take me to find out.

<>

“I´m pregnant.”

It took me … 3 hours, 14 minutes. It would´ve been faster but her parents came home and she disappeared for a while to talk with them. Plus, I´d dragged Michael outside for a quick make-out session at closing. We both needed the outlet.

<>

She was shocked that none of us were more surprised. Either about her having sex, or about her having sex with someone other than Max. But I guess she was relieved and distracted enough that she forgot to ask why.

She insisted, though, that they had used protection. Well, duh. We knew that.

Hell, we even knew what brand they´d used.

<>

Her parents were less than thrilled, but they couldn´t talk her out of keeping the baby. So they offered to help her out instead, hoping that it wasn´t too late for her to accomplish some of her dreams. Weirdly enough, they were happy that she decided not to get married. I think they were worried she´d go off, get settled into some domestic routine, and never finish school.

She agreed to continue living with them until college, although she wouldn´t take any money. She had her savings, her inheritance from her grandmother, and Eddie had already made it clear that he planned to help support and raise his child.

They were still shaken, though.

<>

“Does Liz talk to you?” Mr. Parker asked a few days after Liz´s big announcement, while he and I were opening the diner. I guess I had a funny look on my face because he went on. “I just … I feel like I don´t know my own daughter anymore. I didn´t even know she was dating anyone until … until this.”

I didn´t have the heart to tell him that no one had, and that actually, she wasn´t. What they did together … that wasn´t dating. I don´t know what it was, exactly, but none of those old words – dating, courting, wooing – none of them applied. Maybe a less polite word … but this is Liz. Somehow I doubt it was just that. Not her.

“It didn´t last for long,” I told him smoothly, although really I had no idea. “They´d decided to cool things even before she found out about the baby.” There, I thought smugly. Now her parents would know it wasn´t a case of Eddie abandoning his pregnant younger girlfriend. Oh yeah, I´m good. “They regretted rushing things so fast,” I finished.

Mr. Parker bought it, too. I think that sounded more like the Lizzie he knew than … well, than the Liz who was upstairs, serenely comparing the different types of education savings plans she could invest in for her child in between calculus and chemistry assignments.

It was weird defending her, but for once she was the screw-up and I was the responsible one, and I liked that. Plus, there was a part of me that was glad she wasn´t getting married. I never did figure out why, exactly, but I think it was because Eddie was an outsider. Sure, he knows about the aliens and all, which is probably good, but it just seemed wrong to bring someone else into the group like that. Even if he does know all those interesting positions.

“Thanks, Maria,” Mr. Parker said gratefully. And he meant it. He looked like a huge burden had been lifted off his shoulders.

I smiled. I´d always liked Liz´s dad. “She´ll be okay, you know. She has a lot of people who´ll stand by her and help out. And besides,” I said, almost more to myself than to him, “this is Liz. Things´ll work out eventually. They always do, for her.”

He looked at me kind of strangely when I said that, and I worried that I´d spoken too openly, revealed too much. But he just nodded, as if he knew what I meant.

“Sometimes that´s what worries me,” he said softly, and for a split-second I thought about asking him what he meant by that. But before I could decide one way or the other, he grinned and I was relieved to see a glimpse of the old Jeff Parker.

“You´re a good friend to her, Maria,” he said, and I beamed. “No wonder Lizzie loves you like a sister, and you know Nancy and I think of you as family.”

My grin turned a little shaky then, as the full force of his words hit me. I managed to get out a strangled “Thanks, Mr. Parker, I feel the same way,” and then went into the kitchen, to check things in there and to think.

She sees me as a sister. Well, of course she does. Wasn´t that the plan? But I found myself thinking about the look on Mr. Parker´s face when he said that, and wondering if I hadn´t missed something yet again. I´d always assumed that Jeff Parker really was clueless about his darling daughter. Or for that matter, about me. Now I wasn´t so sure.

Suddenly I didn´t feel sure about anything.

Well, almost anything. Some things just don´t change that easily.

<>

See, pregnancy wasn´t the bucket of cold water I´d hoped it would be.

Instead it was a parade of books showing more about the workings of female anatomy than I´d ever really wanted to know, and endless discussions about childbirth and parenting methods.

And when there was no one else around, or when she thought no one was looking, she´d pull up her shirt and look at her belly. Sometimes she´d pat it gently and I could see the wonder she felt at the prospect of life growing inside of her.

I felt it too sometimes, but more often I looked her belly and saw ice cubes sliding about on it, chased by a pink tongue.

<>

Once, somewhere around her seventh month I think it was, she saw me watching, and I guess she misunderstood.

“Do you want to feel the baby move?” she asked brightly, as if no one could ever want anything more.

I nodded and placed one hand carefully on her distended belly, shocked at how warm and soft her skin felt. I couldn´t help it, I rubbed a little. She laughed.

“It´s the buttermilk baths. I read about them in a magazine, that they´re supposed to help reduce stretch marks. I don´t know about that yet, but they sure do leave your skin soft, don´t they?”

I nodded, hoping she couldn´t tell I was thinking of her in a bathtub with nothing but a loofah and a smile. Maybe a rubber ducky.

I was so far gone it scared me sometimes to think about it.

<>

So the official tally so far was eight. Max, Alex, Paulie, Pam, Kyle, Sean, Eddie, and me. Right?

Wrong. Make that nine. I had a talk with Isabel that totally threw me for a loop.

I was on my break and sitting with her and we were both watching Liz taking orders across the diner and pretending not to. Then Isabel stopped pretending.

“Doesn´t it get to you sometimes?”

Huh? “What?” I asked, understandably confused. Did I miss something?

“Liz.”

Of course, silly me. There should be a sign somewhere to remind me of that law. You know, the one that says ‘Unless otherwise stated, all things are about Liz´. I could post one on the CrashDown wall and another in my locker to avoid embarrassing situations like this one.

Anyway, I nodded. “Yeah. So?”

She turned from Liz then to stare at me. “You´re not going to defend her? Get on my case for even hoping she´d fall off that damned Madonna pedestal or something?”

I shook my head before answering. “No.” Then, “Madonna pedestal?”

She caught my look and rolled her eyes. “No, not *that* Madonna. You know, *the* Madonna. The virgin mother. Pure and all that.”

“Oh,” I said, following now. “But she´s not a virgin, Isabel.”

“Yeah? Well, you´d never know it,” she started to rant quietly. It was kind of fascinating to watch her go at it. She never actually raised her voice enough that anyone else noticed, but her words came out with this weird intensity. “I mean, she screws up and she *still* comes out on top. Everyone still adores her. It´s sickening. And it´s the whole, ‘I´m Liz Parker and I can do no wrong. And if you think I did, it´s really because I did some noble thing that if you ever found out about, you´d hate yourself for doubting me´ thing, all over again.”

She took a deep breath as I blinked, a little stunned. “Oh,” I said again. What was I supposed to say to that? Then it sank in. “Hey,” I accused, “you found out. How did you find out?”

I was deliberately vague. If she knew what I was talking about, that should be enough to get a reaction. If she didn´t, well, I´d make up some story to explain what I ‘thought´ she was talking about.

She did know. In fact, she looked shocked that *I* knew.

I sighed as I put it together. “You dreamwalked her, didn´t you?”

She nodded, a little embarrassed herself. Good; I hate being the only one. “I wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant,” she said, shooting me a glare that dared me to make fun of her.

I just waved at her to continue. Despite myself, I like Isabel. She´s a jerk, but a transparent one. She´s almost as easy to read as her brother, and she´s openly nasty to Liz, Michael, and well, anyone she feels like. Yeah, we´re kindred spirits, which is why I don´t take what she says personally. I know what she really means by it.

I told you, I´m perceptive that way.

“Max doesn´t know. He feels like enough of a jerk as it is. I don´t think he could take knowing that he really was the one who totally broke her heart first. And certainly not after finding out they could have had 14 years together.”

I nodded. I agreed. Max wouldn´t handle it well. He was already dealing with a lot of guilt, more than he probably deserved.

“How did you know?” she asked then.

“She told me,” I said, in a ‘duh´ kind of tone.

She kind of squinted at me. “Oh right, you´re her … best friend.”

I straightened up. What the hell? Who was she to suggest otherwise? Because she was, you know. Suggesting otherwise. “And what´s that supposed to mean?” I demanded. Then I clued in. “Oh right. Dreamwalking.”

She nodded.

“Damn it, Isabel. You said you´d stay out of my head!”

She cocked one eyebrow. “I have.”

Oh, crap. She got all that out of one stupid night in my head, way back then? I blushed, thinking about what she had seen that night when she dreamwalked me. I mean, I gave dream-Michael tentacles. Tentacles! How Freudian can you get? “You can´t tell anyone,” I said.

She shrugged. “Why should I? I haven´t said anything yet, have I?”

I nodded and we just sat there for a while, thinking about stuff. I had just decided on the combination of bath gel and candles that would be most soothing that night – I ended up going with a little cucumber/melon/dandelion action, by the way, and don´t knock it ‘til you´ve tried it – when she spoke again.

“Do you know why she won´t marry him?” If I didn´t know better, I´d swear she sounded wistful.

My turn to shrug. I tell you, I´ve gotten really good at it. I use a kind of upper shoulder rolling motion that I think looks a little more elegant than the old up-and-down routine. “She doesn´t love him,” I told her. “Well, not in that passionate-compatible-together-forever kind of way. Why?”

She wouldn´t meet my eyes. Instead I turned to see what she found so irresistible across the room.

Liz. She was watching Liz. I turned back to look at her a little more carefully. And there it was. I don´t know how I missed it before.

Like I said, kindred spirit number nine.

I didn´t bother telling her she probably didn´t have a chance. She already knew.

<>

Strangely enough, if any of us had a chance, I always thought it might be Michael.

No, really – bear with me for a moment.

One, she was planning to move out of her parents´ place after high school, to get an apartment near whatever university she ended up at. And she´d need a roommate. One she could trust. And Michael was the only one of us who didn´t have any definite plans after high school. He could get a job anywhere he wanted, assuming he stayed on the planet. Which he did. So he could go with her if he wanted.

Two, he was half in love with her kid already. Who knew Michael Guerin would be such a sucker for babies? Oh, not that the casual observer would see it. He´s good at the act. But I could see the way he really got into the talks with Liz that bored or scared me. He read up on maternity stuff and they´d discuss breastfeeding vs. the bottle (and seriously, not the way Kyle did), and the importance of choosing names carefully, and the normal course of development for a child. And he was really careful around her without being obvious, like forcing Liz to take a lot of breaks during her shift by pretending her dad would fire him if he didn't.

I guess I never realised just how much having those dreams had affected him. And now that he knew Eddie wasn´t going to move in with her, it´d probably already occurred to him to ask if he could help out.

(FYI, Eddie wasn´t exactly neglecting his responsibilities. Once he made sure that Liz had medical insurance, he opened a joint account to take automatic deductions from his paycheque for her to use after the baby was born. It´s like I said – Liz really does know how to pick ‘em. I mean, he even started making tentative schedules for times when he gets the kid, volunteering to cover exam times and that sort of thing. Beautiful, beautiful man. On so many levels. I want one. But then, I want a lot of things that probably aren´t good for me …)

Where was I? Oh yeah: Michael. And Liz.

The weird thing is, the idea didn´t really bother me as much as maybe it should have. Maybe it´s because I knew he´d be better with the kid than I would. And maybe it´s just because that way he´d be the one she´d run to first when school and motherhood got overwhelming, letting me off the hook.

But maybe it was because when he asked me if I ever wanted to have children someday, I changed the subject.

I remember hoping that Isabel and Max were going to be okay with her being with Michael. Kyle and I would be there for them, though. After all, we´d all be going through the same thing anyway: loss of Liz. Well, not losing her, obviously, but losing the part of her that caught us in its insidious little snare in the first place. The part that gave you hope, that made you ask ‘what if´ and thought ‘maybe if I, then we …´. The part that was gone, because she´d made her decision and it wasn´t to be with any of us.

The part that reminded me just why I didn´t, or couldn´t, like Liz Parker.

<>

Sometimes I wish I´d had the nerve to go cold turkey. Quit the Crashdown, avoid her and all of them, maybe even change schools or something. Because all this constant contact (no, not contact … closeness, yeah, *that´s* what I mean) started to get to me. I just couldn´t move on, or something.

It wasn´t just Liz; dealing with the rest of them was just as wearing. But it was mostly Liz.

The scariest part came when she started swelling in interesting places. It might not have been obvious to the average person, but I couldn´t help but notice the way her shirts grew snugger, and not just around her belly.

It´s just that I was always used to thinking of her as this … small person. And to some extent, her pregnancy cooperated. She carried the baby low, wore roomy clothes and didn´t gain much weight, so most of the time you could forget all about it.

Then one day Kyle made a crack about her giving Isabel a run for her money, and I couldn´t stop with the mental images … and of course she went and leaked (what was it she called the stuff? Michael called it colorstrum, or something). Whatever it was, the sight of two wet patches making her nipples stand up under her already skimpy tee shirt almost did me in.

It was a good thing the weather was so hot, because it no one noticed the way I was flushed a lot during that time. It was just so damned hard not to react to her – her, and the memory of a mouth attached to her. Sucking on her. Intimately. Greedily, even.

Frickin´ Eddie.

<>

For some reason I was kind of surprised that she wanted me in the delivery room.

Come to think of it, though, her parents seemed reluctant to come closer than the waiting room, and the only ones who expressed any real interest in the birth itself were Michael and Isabel. Max and Kyle wanted to be there for her, but something about the way Max stayed unnaturally calm was a bit of a damper. He was thinking about his own baby, and how he couldn´t be there at that birth, and him being in there just wasn´t good for anyone. So when Kyle made one more stupid joke, I dragged them both out of there and gave them both errands to run, like getting coffee for the grandparents and making sure everything was set up back at the Parkers.

When I went back in, Isabel was helping Liz keep the pain down. Max had tried before, but he always went too far and Liz was worried that the doctors would suspect something if she didn´t feel any pain at all. This was better.

Michael had to leave soon after that. He wasn´t 18 yet and he had a meeting with the social services people who checked up on him. But he promised to come back afterwards, and I knew he meant it.

Me … I don´t know what she expected from me. But I held her hand during the early contractions while Eddie was on the way, and after he got there, made sure there were plenty of ice chips on hand.

Even then, though, I had trouble controlling myself. It didn´t help that for the most part, giving birth is boring. Really, it is. Well, except maybe for the parents. They both looked pretty excited. They weren´t all lovey-dovey or anything, but they were used to the idea of being parents now, and wanted to meet the baby that would change their lives.

So I had plenty of time to watch her sweat as the contractions got worse, and to notice the way her nipples were clearly visible under that ridiculously thin hospital gown. What was it about nipples, anyway? And then I tried to avoid looking at her legs, because I couldn´t think of a casual and non-suspicious way to cover them up. Them, and her toes. They still showed the results of Isabel´s last pedicure, and clenched when she concentrated hard.

And her knees. Bent, lifted, so close …

I think I ended up eating more of the ice chips than she did. Even took a cup of them with me to the waiting room where we gathered later to arrange rides home for those of us not staying in the hospital overnight. In other words, Jim went home with Mom, Max and Isabel went home with their parents, and I went home with Kyle because I needed company and Michael was staying here with the Parkers.

It actually worked out pretty well. Kyle and I had a good talk about Liz and where she´s heading, and how it was going to affect us. I talked about Michael and he told me about the time he returned a CD to Liz after she dumped him, and how he curled up in her bed for a while that afternoon because he missed the smell of her.

I´ve always liked Kyle.

No, really – I have. Oh, shut up. I just didn´t think he was right for Liz. I never said I didn´t like *him*.

<>

Now, Liz: Teenage Mom wasn´t all that much different than the Liz I knew. As usual, her entire life revolved around some guy, and in this case it was little Christopher Jefferson Alexander Parker. Other than that, nothing else really changed.

(That´s right, I said Parker. She had worked this out with Eddie, who apparently understood that she would want to carry on her family name. That´s cool, but personally, I wanted another “J” name, like Jake or Justin or Jeremy. That way we could call him “JJ”, though I guess “CJ” isn´t too bad. And I don´t believe Liz when she threatens my well-being if I ever call him that, either. Kyle, Jim, Mrs. Parker and Eddie all like “Chris”, and Isabel and my mom call him “Topher”, so “CJ” isn´t that bad, is it? Of course, Liz, Michael and Max insist on calling him by Christopher, and poor Mr. Parker is really pushing the “Jeff II” angle. This kid is gonna have issues.)

Wait, where was I? Oh, right: Liz, and how ridiculous it is that both Michael and I called out her name at an awkward moment. Okay, so I wasn´t there yet. I was going to build up to it, I know, but I figured I´d just cut right to it ‘cause it´s been bothering me.

I mean, how wrong was that? In a way it was a relief. It cleared the air, anyway. There we were, all sweaty and, you know, pushing at each other, and we both said it. Her name. We both froze, realising what was happening.

“I don´t want kids,” I blurted out.

I barely beat Michael. “I just want to be friends,” he said really fast.

We stared at each other for a while, and then I said “Me too” and he said “But I do” and we pulled apart and got dressed in this bizarre silence and he walked me to Liz´s where I´d told my mother I was staying anyway. He waited until I was up the ladder and then left.

I hoped Liz was up for some ice cream. This definitely called for some comfort food.

But when I climbed in her window, I nearly forgot how to breathe. I definitely forgot all about needing ice cream and whatsisname.

<>

Liz was sitting in a rocking chair, nursing CJ, and the sight of his tiny little hand against her breast, of his eyes locked on hers, just – just did something to me. And the look on her face … for the first time in my life, I wished I could draw. I wanted to take a picture, although I´m sure it wouldn´t have done the scene justice.

In that soft, glowing moment, I saw what Isabel had been talking about that day in the CrashDown. There really was a – a purity to her. In her?

Maybe it didn´t mean anything. She was still the same person, and she could still irritate me the way no one else on this planet could. She still lived in her little land of denial and self-delusion that made me want to cut her down to size sometimes like you wouldn´t believe.

But see, that´s when I realised why I don´t, why I wouldn´t. Because whatever it was I was seeing at that moment, I couldn´t deny that there was something in her. I *wasn´t* imagining it. And if someone did knock her off that pedestal, that Madonna pedestal, the world – my world – would be diminished. Maybe forever.

<>

My little epiphany wasn´t precisely a pivotal event in my life. Nothing really changed, because I still didn´t like her. There was something in her that I knew I couldn´t relate to, a naïveté and self-focus that made me feel tired and not a little contemptuous. I knew that I could never sit down with her, pour out my soul, and bask in the attention of someone who truly understood me.

That, I think, is why I will never like Liz Parker. Because the day that I can look into her eyes and see a person (just a person, maybe someone like me) look out of them, someone I can look at and call friend without reservation, is the day the magic will have gone out of my life.

Well, screw ‘relating´ and ‘understanding´. It´s not worth the trade-off.

Sometimes only magic can get you through.

<>

I crawled in the window as she finished up. She didn´t jump when she saw me, just let her shirt fall and burped the kid gently across her lap.

I had already turned on the monitor and pulled it as far as it would come outside when she came to join me on her balcony. CJ was half asleep in his crib already. It figures she´d get a well-behaved kid, doesn´t it?

“What´s up?” she asked.

“I broke up with Michael. For good.”

Her eyes widened. “What happened?”

“We want different things out of life,” I said. Now that I was here, I didn´t want to talk about him. I wanted … I wanted …

She scooted over and pulled me into a hug, as I had done for her countless times before, and she held me as I cried. I don´t know why I cried. But if I had to cry, Liz was the person to do it on.

Her breasts were soft, her shoulder firm, and her hands comforting as they massaged my back. Her hair … her hair smelled like a field on a sunny day. Like candles on a warm night. Like a bit of childhood. My childhood.

I forget what we talked about that night. The usual stuff, I suppose. Questions about what happened (without unnecessary details) and what I was going to do now, how things were going to change. It all kind of blended in together. I dimly recall watching her nurse CJ again, and helping her bathe him and change his diaper, but when I think back to that night, what I remember is that she was holding my hand when I feel asleep, and that in my dreams we were happy.

Now that´s magic.

<>

I know, I know. I´m all over the map, aren´t I? I didn´t understand it myself for a while. What did I want from her, anyway? Did I want to do her, or did I want to be mothered by her?

Couldn´t I want both? Guys do it all the time. Michael kissed me, wanted me, but it wasn´t until I comforted him in my arms as he cried that anything really started to happen between us. And it wasn´t until he saw either Isabel or, as far as I know, Liz as mothers that he thought about either of them that way.

And Eddie. Did I mention whether or not I like Eddie?

I guess I do. I mean, I don´t really know him, and I don´t think I ever will. Like the Sheriff, he´s not really part of the group, even though he knows the secret that holds it together. And a lot of the time, people outside the group just don´t seem real to me. But he´s nice enough. He thinks of me like a sister-in-law of sorts.

The thing is, one time I got up the courage to ask him what his deal was with Liz. How did they get together? How come they never dated?

He didn´t answer, just sort of *looked* at me, and suddenly I felt really young and awkward and embarrassed because for a second I thought he could read my mind or something.

The truth is, I´ve spent a lot of time wondering (or, you know, obsessing about) what it was for him. Between you and me, I think it was that thing where guys feel all protective about a girl and for some reason it turns them on. I never really understood why. But Liz sure fit the bill, didn´t she? She´s small, fairly pretty, and has come closer to dying more times than anyone else I know. Add in some hormones and sexual energy, and he couldn´t resist.

As for her, I thought it was obvious. Older guy. Mysterious. Probably more experienced, so he´d know what he was doing. Not bad looking. Not someone she had to see every day if it didn´t work out. (Guess she learned her lesson with Kyle and Max.) I had to laugh, though. What was it she told that radio guy she wanted? A “mysterious, serious, dark-haired guy from out of town” or something like that?

Uh, yeah.

Anyway, I figure they ran into each other by accident and started talking, and one thing led to another. Maybe it was comfort sex. Maybe … maybe I just romanticized the whole thing because otherwise it could mean I didn´t know Liz as well as I thought I did.

I don´t really need to know. Just like I don´t really need to know exactly why it is I´m drawn to her despite myself. I just am.

And maybe I´m worried that if I ever explain the mystery, or burst the bubble, the magic will fade.

<>

I guess I´m not the only one.

One night at the CrashDown she asked us to stay after closing. She wanted to have ‘the college talk´. You know, sit down as a group and talk about where we were all heading with our lives.

But I know her. She was really asking how much we wanted to be a part of her life, because everyone already knew that she had already accepted an offer by NMSU so she´d be near her parents and Eddie. She´d spent her entire life thinking she would be the one to leave, and now she simply couldn´t bring herself to ask anyone else to stay.

That night was … revealing. For me, anyway.

<>

“I got an offer from McGill,” Max said.

“McGill?” Kyle frowned, clearly trying to place it.

Max smiled. “It´s a school in Canada. Pretty prestigious. They have a really good international political science/ pre-law program.” He didn´t have to say the rest, that it was the farthest away he could get without leaving the continent. I guess he finally understood that he needed to stop looking back, to find out who he was when he had no one but himself to answer to.

Liz was thrilled for him. “That´s great, Max! We´ll all have to come up and visit in the winter, sometime. And … and we´ll have snowball fights!” and Max balled up a paper napkin and lobbed it at her while she giggled.

I was watching Kyle, though. He was staring at a crumpled piece of paper that he´d pulled out of his pocket. “Kyle? What´s that?”

He flushed a little when we all looked at him. “Acceptance letter,” he mumbled. “I got into New Mexico State. Kineseology.”

I grinned. I was the one who badgered him into applying in the first place, who recruited Liz to help him study for his SATs and research possible scholarships. After she helped me, of course. And okay, I might´ve had a tiny ulterior motive, because this way we could save some serious money by living or commuting together, and if he got a sports scholarship then Jim and Mom had more money to help me out.

But I really was happy for him. “Cool. I´ll see you there, then,” I said, nonchalantly letting everyone know I got accepted there too, but I ruined it by giggling when he held up his hand for a big ‘high-five´.

“Music, right? Congrats,” Michael told me, and I have to admit, I´m kind of proud that I talked myself out of hating him. Who would´ve known that Michael Guerin would make a better friend than boyfriend? Not me. I had no idea. And don´t think you´ll ever hear me admit anything like that out loud.

For some reason I looked at Liz then, and from the look on her face, I knew she was thinking of the same thing. “Alex,” I said, really quietly.

She nodded, and for a moment I forgot anyone else was there. It was just Liz and I, and a memory that only she and I shared, and for the first time since his death I felt like he really wasn´t completely gone, not while we could do this, and not while we could go somewhere that, perversely enough, kept him alive for us.

I wondered if we were the only ones who felt that way … “Isabel?”

She flushed a little. After all her frantic efforts to get out of Roswell and away from everyone after Alex died, she had pulled a complete 180 and decided to work for a year and wait for the rest of us. So I had no idea what she was thinking, but I did know that she didn´t want to go off on her own anymore. The question was, Max or us?

“I´m studying Government,” she said, and she and Max shared a wry glance. No one ever said anything, but ever since they´d discovered their unique heritage, both had started taking more of an interest in political theory and leadership. It did seem like a good idea, just in case. But she still hadn´t said where.

I caught the teasing glint in her eyes as she made us wait for it, but she relented with a trademark smirk. “Okay, okay. State.”

And maybe it was just the mood we were all in, but suddenly she reached out and there was another high five, this time with four of us getting into it and making us all laugh, even Max, who relaxed noticeably. I think he was relieved about her decision; he didn´t want her to be alone, but like I said, he needed to get some perspective, and he couldn´t do that with his sister watching over him and needing to be watched over in turn.

“Michael?” he asked, and we all turned, knowing that college was out of the question; how could he possibly afford it? But he had some plans, I knew. Liz had hinted that he had an announcement of his own to make earlier.

He pretended to think about it for a moment, until Liz whacked him on the shoulder. “Tell them!” she commanded, and I wasn´t at all surprised that she knew. A quick glance around told me that no one else was either.

“That would be one more for State,” he drawled, as though it was no big deal.

“Michael!” Isabel shouted happily. “How?”

“Weekend courses,” Liz explained excitedly while Michael tried to look bored. “He can take a couple courses at a time, and work or – or something – during the week.” Aha, now I get it. Something tells me they have an arrangement where he´ll just happen to be there when she has classes so he can watch CJ. And I bet the Parkers and maybe even Eddie are helping to subsidize this little enterprise, because they think he´s great with the kid and this way everyone´s happy …

Everyone looked at me when I started to laugh, but a strong instinct for self-preservation kicked in and I didn´t share my mental image of Michael as a nanny, wearing a frilly apron over his flannel shirts and holding a baby against one hip as he cooked dinner … keeping one eye on some hockey game, of course.

“Nothing,” I said. “I´m just surprised, that´s all. But, you know, happy. And thinking that maybe we should just forget getting apartments and see about renting a house. Maybe we could have a guest room for whenever Max or Eddie visit.”

Max flashed me a surprised but grateful smile and Liz reached over and put her hand against mine, palm to palm, fingers forked through fingers. “I think that´s a great idea,” she said.

I might have held her hand a second longer than was strictly necessary, but I wasn´t the only one feeling a little emotional that night.

I saw the way Max watched Liz, and you know, I don´t think life is going to take him as far away as he thinks it will. Not for long, anyway; I don´t think he needs it to as much as he thinks he does.

Why was I so sure? I´ll tell you: because he didn´t even flinch when he saw how close Liz was getting to Michael. But more importantly, the circle isn´t complete without him, and he knows it.

<>

The house idea actually worked out better than I expected.

With all of us pitching in, we managed to afford a place with a yard, a basement apartment for Liz and CJ, and enough bedrooms that no one had to share. And yes, there was a small room with a pullout couch that we kept for Max or Eddie or anyone´s parents who wanted to visit. Of course, Michael spent more and more time with CJ while Liz was at class or the library, and Isabel and I fought over the washroom space, and we had barbeques in the back yard every blessed time it was Kyle´s turn to cook.

It wasn´t easy, and there were awkward moments. Dating became something to do somewhere else, and bringing someone home was like playing ‘meet the parents´. It didn´t happen often, because somehow no one else seemed to fit in here. It was just easier to sleep over at their place than to bring them home.

Michael and Liz were the only ones who never dated or stayed anywhere else. They weren´t together, you understand, and actually, I may have miscalculated there. Maybe they really were just two people who adored a certain baby boy to distraction. When CJ started going half-days at the daycare centre, Michael took on a larger courseload and the two of them spent more time studying together. Yeah, you heard me. Studying. Nothing more. Some people.

Oh, and I was right about Max. He actually ended up enjoying himself a lot, even dated a bit. But he was lonely, I think, because he called a lot and visited at least once a year. So he worked hard and took summer classes and learned how to scan his text books the way Isabel and Michael did (have I mentioned how irritating that is? Well, it is). And when he graduated early, he came back. He´s taking a year off to think about what he wants to do with his life, and he´s doing it here.

I´ll tell you what´s been fun, though. Girls´ Nights. Seriously, every month or so Isabel and I would grab Liz and the three of us would do all the silly things we missed out on in high school while one of the boys babysat. We´d do makeovers and watch stupid movies that made us cry and talk about home and Alex and bitch about school and fall asleep curled up together on the couch or someone´s bed.

But for my money, the best part is the morning after.

<>

Like now.

As always, I woke up early, and I´m just lying here, listening to Liz breathe and inhaling the scent of her hair. I´m a little older, a little wiser, and I can control myself around her much better. But I still feel the electricity. I still get the urge to taste the skin behind her knees, to touch her breasts, to feel her pulse racing beneath my fingers.

I also remember how irritated I got when she bought a dishwasher rather than go on vacation with the rest of us last spring break. How annoying it was that Michael always takes her side, or that she enjoys her classes while I struggle to make up for years of not having rich parents who could give me conservatory lessons like a lot of the other students. How frustrating it is to argue with someone who seems to have veto power over everything that happens in the house just because she has a child downstairs.

How sometimes it just gets to me that she has us all wrapped around her little finger. That when I get upset, everyone tells me to calm down. When she gets upset, everyone – including me, which is *truly* infuriating – falls all over themselves to make it better. And she´s not always nice, either. She can be just as bitchy and moody as the rest of us. She can say things she doesn´t mean that hurt anyways, and she can be thoughtless and take people for granted.

She can do and be all of these things, and does. This will never change.

But – she´s still Liz. She´s my Liz.

You don´t have to like her, but you gotta love her.

I do.

Can you believe how long it took me to figure that out?

(End)

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