Cleaning Up the Mess

Max and Isabel both looked subdued when they sat down at the breakfast table the morning after Liz's blind date. Neither of them looked like they had slept well the night before.

Philip Evans came into the kitchen with the newspaper in his hand. His wife handed him a cup of coffee, grabbed her own off of the kitchen counter and they both sat down beside their children. Philip unfolded the newspaper and took a sip of his drink.

Philip frowned. "There was a fire by the library last night," he said, reading the front page. "They think someone set it."

Everyone at the table looked up. Max was the only one to notice the concerned look on Isabel's face. "Can I see, dad?" he asked, reaching for the newspaper.

His dad handed him the section. "Fire at the library," read the headline. Underneath was a picture of the burnt remains of the grounds surrounding the library. The fire hadn't reached the main building, but had completely incinerated the surrounding area. Max could faintly see the outline of a familiar symbol. It was barely noticeable, only slightly darker than the rest of the area, but dark enough that Max could pick it out.

He looked over at Isabel, but she avoided his gaze. Max handed the paper back to his dad. "Thanks," he said.

Then he gave Isabel a meaningful look and left the table. A few minutes later she joined him in his room.

Before Max could say anything, Isabel said, "I put the fire out, I swear. And we waited there for like an hour, so it shouldn't've caught fire again."

"What were you doing?" Max asked angrily.

"Michael thought he knew how to contact Nasedo," Isabel explained.

"And you helped him?" Max yelled.

Isabel furiously shushed him. "We don't want mom and dad to come in and ask what we're fighting about," she reminded.

Max lowered his voice. "You know he probably killed all those people."

"I know," Isabel admitted. "But Michael doesn't. At least, he won't let himself believe that."

"So why did you do it?" Max wanted to know. "Why did you help Michael if you think he's dangerous?"

"Because," Isabel said, calmly holding her brother's gaze, "I wasn't about to dash all of Michael's hopes. You know as well as I do, that Michael needs this much more than either of us does. And if you weren't so occupied with your obsession with Liz, you'd remember that."

Max winced when Isabel mentioned Liz. Isabel noticed it. "What is it, Max," she demanded. "That's more than your usual melancholia for Liz. What happened?"

Max winced again. He was incredibly embarrassed and showed it.

"Max," Isabel growled, "what happened.

"You know how Liz had that blind date thing last night?" Max began.

"Uh huh," Isabel nodded.

"Well, Kyle stopped by - "

Isabel cut him off. "Kyle? As in Kyle Valenti? The sheriff's son?"

Max nodded. "He was drunk. I could either drive him to the concert or he and is friends would spend the night on our lawn."

"So you drove him to the concert," Isabel supplied. "What happened next?"

"He convinced me to take a sip of whatever we had in his flask," Max admitted sheepishly, "and the rest of the night is kinda a blur."

Isabel stared at him. "You got drunk?" she asked incredulously.

Max slowly nodded.

"How could you get drunk?" Isabel demanded.

"I only had a sip," Max said. "Literally. But I guess that's enough. I wouldn't suggest you or Michael ever try alcohol."

Isabel sighed. "So what did you do?"

"Besides act like an complete idiot," Max asked in a self loathing tone. "I completely ruined Liz's night and . . . " he trailed off, remembering his actions. He groaned. "I drew a giant heart with our initials in it on Liz's wall. It's still there. I have to get rid of it."

Isabel shook her head. "I don't believe you," she muttered. "And you gave me a lecture because I helped Michael do something stupid last night? God, Max, you could've exposed all of us." Isabel got up. "Get ready," she ordered. "We have to go undo the damage you did."

Still shaking her head, she left Max's bedroom. When she had closed the door, Max whispered to himself, "I don't think we can."

* * *

Max waited for his sister at the corner as she casually walked by the Crashdown Café. She came back and said, "Yeah, Liz's working. It's safe to go up."

When they were sure no one was watching, the two aliens climbed the ladder up to Liz's bedroom.

Isabel stared in disbelief at the heart Max had drawn when he was drunk. "You thought that would help you get Liz back?" she exclaimed.

Max glared at her. "I wasn't exactly thinking clearly."

"I should hope not," Isabel said. "That is so tacky."

Max didn't reply. He went over and erased the heart.

"So is that it?" Isabel asked.

Max frowned. "Not quite. There's one other thing in her room."

"You went into her room?" Isabel questioned, eyebrows raised.

"Kyle's idea," Max said defensively.

Isabel sighed dramatically and went into Liz's bedroom. Max followed her. They bother looked around, trying to find the altered object.

Isabel spotted it first. She burst out laughing and went over and picked up a picture from Liz's table. She handed it to Max.

Her brother's entire face turned bright red. He stared at the picture, completely mortified.

Isabel stopped laughing long enough to say, "I think your head looks cute on Maria's body."

"Shut up," Max told her, deadly serious. "Please, shut up." He quickly restored the picture to its original state.

"That's everything," Max said, putting the picture back. "That's all I did."

Isabel, still giggling, found some paper and a pen.

"Liz," she wrote. "Max told me what happened last night. Fixed everything I could find. Isabel."

Max and Isabel had decided it would be best if Isabel took credit for fixing Liz's place. Max had told Isabel everything that had happened while he was drunk. Everything, that is, except about the picture, which seemed to have conveniently slipped his mind. She placed the note where she was sure Liz would be able to see it, then Isabel and Max left.

* * *

"Where were you guys?" Michael demanded as soon as Isabel and Max walked in through the front door.

"Seeing proof of why we should never drink alcohol," Isabel told him.

Michael stared blankly at her, so she explained, "Mr. Responsibility here," she jerked her thumb at Max, "got drunk last night. We were cleaning up his mess."

Michael was so surprised that he temporarily forgot the reason he was waiting for them. "He what?"

"I had a sip. Apparently aliens and alcohol don't mix."

"You were drunk?" Michael exclaimed. None of them had ever had alcohol before. Michael had always expected it would have been him or Izzy it tried it first. But not Max. Max was the responsible one. It must have had something to do with Liz.

"Yes, I was drunk," Max said, annoyed. "Can we stop talking about it? It's not as if I wasn't embarrassed enough last night."

"Why were you waiting for us," Isabel asked Michael, changing the subject.

Michael grabbed the newspaper off of the table and started to wave it around. "Did you hear about what happened?"

"Do you mean the fire?" Max asked.

Michael nodded. His eyes were dancing with excitement. "Something happened."

"Yeah, "Max said angrily. "You set the place on fire."

Michael shook his head. He was too happy to become mad at Max's accusation. "The fire was out long before we left. And Izzy erased the symbol."

Isabel nodded her head in confirmation. There's no way it could've started up again on its own."

"Don't you see?" Michael asked. "Someone else had to've set it again. Someone who knew what the symbol was."

"Nasedo,' Isabel whispered.

"He's back," Michael agreed.

Max looked troubled. "But," he said slowly. "Why would he start a fire and just leave it to burn? To spread?"

Isabel shivered. She also looked worried. "All the corpses with handprints on them. The ones that Hubble mentioned," she reminded.

"Hubble was crazy. We have no proof." Michael's protests sounded weak, even to his own ears, in light of what had happened Max's and Isabel's points were getting to him.

"You have to admit," Isabel said. "It would fit if he killed all those people. Why would he care if something burnt down or if someone got hurt." She had paled slightly.

"It could've been an accident." Michael didn't believe what he was saying and he knew Max and Isabel had no doubt of the other alien's guilt. "He could be our father."

"And he might just as easily not," Max said softly.

The three of them sat in silence for a long time, wondering what the fire meant.

The End