Off Balance

"Isabel Evans!" Julie scolded, marching up to Isabel. "I can't believe you didn't tell me!"

Isabel looked up, mildly annoyed. "Didn't tell you what?"

"About your brother," Julie said.

"What about him?" Isabel asked suspiciously.

"He broke up with Liz Parker! I can't believe you didn't tell me."

"What!" exclaimed Isabel.

"Max and Liz broke up. Don't tell me you didn't know."

"No, I didn't," Isabel snapped.

"The whole school's talking about it."

"Excuse me," Isabel said. She got her stuff together and hurried off.

Julie shook her head and watched Isabel go. Then she started to gossip with her one of her other friends.


"Max," Isabel yelled.

Max winced and waited for his sister to catch up to him. "Yes Isabel?"

"You broke up with Liz!"

"Yes, I broke up with Liz," Max sighed.


"Last night."


Max looked around the crowded hallways. There were quite a few people taking a great interest in their conversation. "We can talk about this later."

Isabel also looked around and understood why Max wasn't talking. "Fine," she said. "But I expect you to tell me everything when we get home."

"I will," Max promised.


"So, man, did you hear?" Tommy asked.

"Hear what?" Kyle asked, sitting down beside his friend.

"Max Evans broke up with Liz," Tommy told him.

"He what?"

"Everyone's talking about it. Julie just told me."

"But he's crazy for Liz," Kyle protested.

"I know. That's why everyone's talking about it. No one knows why he broke up with her."

"Maybe I should go talk to Liz," Kyle said.

"Good idea," Tommy said. "I mean, if you comfort her, she'll be yours."

That wasn't what Kyle meant, but he didn't argue with his friend. The subtleties of romance usually went right over his and Kyle's other friends' heads. Kyle knew Liz wouldn't be fooled if he tried to help her only to make himself look good. He also knew that doing so would only make Liz hate him. But he really and truly cared for Liz and he wanted to make sure she was okay.

"Here's your chance now," James, another one of Kyle's buddies, whispered. 

Liz came into the class with Maria. She looked awful. Kyle's hatred for Max Evans went up another notch. How a person who claimed to care for Liz that much could hurt her so badly, Kyle didn't know.

Kyle made his way over to Maria and Liz.

"Go away, Kyle," Maria growled. "Liz isn't in the mood right now."

"I'm not here to try and get Liz to go out with me or anything. I heard what happened. I wanted to know how you're doing."

Liz looked up and flashed Kyle a grateful smile. "Thanks," she said, meaning it. "I'm fine."

Max chose that moment to make an appearance. He and Isabel entered the class quietly and slipped to the back to take their seats without saying a word. 

When she saw him, Liz's eyes immediately filled up with tears. She bit her lip. Max didn't even glance in their direction. 

Kyle had the sudden urge to murder Max.

"C'mon, Liz." He grabbed her arm and led her to a desk at the front of the class. He didn't think she should be anywhere she could see Max. He shot another look of hatred at Max and sat down next to Liz. Maria sat on the other side.


"Kyle looks like he wants to kill you," Isabel commented.

"I'm not surprised."

"Liz looks awful."

Max became upset. "She does?" he asked.

"Terrible." Then Isabel pointed out, "You can look at her, you know."

"I don't think that's a good idea," said Max.

Isabel looked over at Liz again. "She looks horrible. What did you do to her?"

"Besides break up with her?" Max asked bitterly.

"The way she looks right now you'd think you tore her heard out and danced on it," Isabel told him.

Max winced again. "All I said is that I thought we should take a step back. That we should take a break."

"Is that all?" Isabel asked. "Well, Liz took it very badly. It also looks like Kyle's using this opportunity to get close to Liz again."

Max's head shot up. Until now he had been concentrating solely on the ground, his desk, his book, anything that wasn't Liz. He now turned to look at Liz.

Both Liz and Maria had their backs turned to Max. Kyle, however, was turned around and glaring at Max.

"Jealous?" Isabel asked lightly.

"Shut up, Izzy."

Isabel shook her head. "On our way home you are telling me everything."

"I already told you I would," Max said impatiently.


Michael showed up for school and stay all day for once. He didn't know how people could stand it; going to every class every day. He knew he would go insane if he did.

He walked into the class and immediately felt the tension in the air. He wondered what was wrong.

Liz looked as if she had been crying and Kyle was hovering way too close to her. Maria was talking to Liz and looked very concerned.

Isabel and Max were sitting in the far corner. They were both looking at Liz, but neither of them made any attempt to go see what was wrong. Michael couldn't believe that Max wasn't with Liz when she was obviously so upset. He headed over to them.

"What happened? And why aren't you over there with Liz? She looks upset."

Isabel answered. "He broke up with her."

"He what?" Michael yelped.

"I broke up with her," Max repeated, angrily. "Can we please stop having this conversation?"

"What's wrong with him?" Michael asked Isabel.

Isabel shrugged. "I don't know. He's not talking to me."

"I am sitting right here, you know," Max said icily. "You don't have to talk about me like I'm not."

Michael made a face. "Someone's in a bad mood."

The bell rang, but the teacher didn't show up. He was out sick and they had a substitute. It was kind of ironic, Michael thought, that the one day he showed up to class the teacher didn't.


Liz felt horrible. She felt worse than horrible. She felt miserable, she felt awful, she felt wretched. She felt just plain bad.

She still couldn't believe Max had broken up with her. Max Evans. The boy of her dreams. The guy who had cast a spell on her. Max, who was supposed to have been in love with her since third grade. Not just supposedly, he *had* been in love with her.

They were soul mates. Liz was sure of it. And she thought Max knew it too.

"Are you alright?" Maria whispered for the thousandth time while the supply teacher was taking attendance. 

"I'm fine," Liz whispered back for the thousandth time.

Maria didn't believe her. That was obvious. "Liz," she said, worried, "You shouldn't suppress your feelings. It isn't healthy."

"DeLuca?" the teacher asked loudly. "Maria DeLuca?"

Startled, Maria said, "Here," and raised her hand, forgetting that the teacher had already marked her down.

"We've finished attendance, Miss DeLuca," the teacher said coldly. "Now if you're finished chatting with your friend, we can start class. Take out your books and turn to page 179."

Maria, blushing furiously, did that. She looked very embarrassed. Liz felt bad for her. It was Liz's fault, after all, that Maria was talking in the first place.

"I'm sorry," she mouthed at Maria the first chance she got.

Liz, for once in her life, couldn't concentrate on class. As the teacher droned on about some battle, Liz found her thoughts once again on Max.

Suddenly she had to blink back tears again. Max hadn't even glanced at her when he came into class.

Liz spent the rest of the period thinking very miserable thoughts. She was very relieved when the bell rang.

"Liz, are you okay?" Maria asked yet again as they headed out into the hall.

"For the last time, Maria, yes!" Liz exploded.

Maria looked at little hurt and Liz immediately felt guilty for the out burst. "I'm sorry, Maria," she apologized.

"It's okay," Maria said sympathetically. "I've been there myself." She glanced at Michael, who was walking a few yards ahead of them with Isabel and Max. "And Michael and I weren't anywhere near as serious as you and Max."

"Obviously we weren't that serious." Liz was getting really mad at herself for letting a guy affect her this much. Not that Max Evans was just any old guy.

"Look," Maria said. "Maybe you should go home or something."

"I can't skip school because I broke up with my boyfriend," Liz said. "I'm not even sure if he was ever even my boyfriend. We went on one date."

She hadn't even stayed home when her grandma was in the hospital after her stroke. There was no way she was going to go home now because of Max Evans.

That name again. She couldn't stop thinking about him.

"I can't get him out of my mind," Liz complained, extremely frustrated, to Maria. "I think of school, I think of Max. I think of work, I think of Max. I think of history, Max. Cars, Max. Sports, Max. Hell, even dust reminds me of Max."

"You're in love," Maria explained, a sympathetic smile on her face.

"I don't like being in love. It sucks," Liz grumbled irrationally.

"You liked being in love yesterday," Maria reminded.

"Yesterday I loved someone who loved me back."

"He still loves you," Maria told her. "You said yourself, he just thinks you need to take a step back. I guess things were getting to intense," Maria said bitterly. "I think it's genetic. They run away if they start getting close to a girl."

"Aren't we supposed to be cheering Liz up no depressing her?" Alex asked.

Liz jumped. She hadn't even noticed him come up. "Alex? How long have you been here?"

"Long enough to realize DeLuca's doing a horrible job at making you feel better.

"Now," he continued, worming his way in between Maria and Liz. "I've seen the movies. We're supposed to go pig out on chocolate ice cream and complain about what a big jerk Max is, right?"

Liz giggled despite her bad mood. Alex usually was able to cheer her up. "Yeah, then we give each other makeovers. I think you'd look great wearing this new lipstick I just bought."

Alex looked freaked and Liz wasn't sure whether it was all part of his act or if he seriously thought she wanted to play dress up Alex.

"Uh-uh," he said, shaking his head fiercely. "I'm not letting you anywhere near me with anything that resembles cosmetics. I'll do the ice cream thing, but that's where I draw the line.

Liz and Maria pouted. "Please Alex?" Maria begged. "It would be so much fun."


"Fine," Maria sighed. "But you're still going to do the ice cream thing, right?"

"Sure. Meet you guys after school?" Alex asked.

Liz nodded. 

"Sounds good," Maria said.

"Okay, see you then." Alex waved and ran off to places unknown, leaving Maria and Liz behind.


Biology was torture that day. Despite the fact they had just broken up, Max and Liz were still lab partners and still had to work together, pretending nothing was wrong.

Worst was the fact that everyone kept on looking at them. The word of their break-up had spread amazingly quickly and everyone was watching to see if something exciting was going to happen. Even Ms. Hardy was giving them odd looks from time to time.

Max wasn't sure why everyone was so interested in his and Liz's love life. It wasn't like either of them was all that popular. Well, Liz was, but he wasn't. Max doubted that if half the people in his class even knew his name. 

He was a loner, never in the spotlight. That was one of the reasons he was so uncomfortable with all the attention he was getting.

Max was determined not to act any differently around Liz. Liz seemed to be doing the same. Although her voice shook a bit whenever she talked, she said nothing about the break up.

Max was relieved that Liz wasn't making a big deal about it. He'd had enough of people staring at him and whispering behind his back. He hated being the centre of attention.

"Here, you can look now," Liz said. She moved away from the microscope to give Max a turn.

She started to draw her diagram and a strand of her hair fell across her face. Max moved his hand to brush it aside. Then he suddenly stopped himself. That wasn't something he could do anymore. He had given up that right when he broke up with her.


Michael took the seat beside Maria. She looked at him, scowled and looked away again.

Michael wasn't fazed. "Maria," he said.

She tried to ignore him. But after he said her name another two times she was forced to answer. "What?" she snapped.

"How's Liz doing?" he asked.

The question surprised Maria. She didn't think Michael cared enough to ask. "She's upset."

"What exactly happened?" Michael wanted to know. "Max wouldn't tell us."

"Max broke up with her."

Michael sneered. "No kidding," he said sarcastically. "I already knew that much."

Maria bit back a scathing reply. She was in no mood to start fighting with Michael. She answered his question. "He said the needed some time apart. He said they should take a step back."

"Is that all?" Michael sounded very surprised. "That's nothing. She shouldn't be so upset over that."

Maria became angry at him. "Yes, that's all," she hissed in a low tone. "She has every right to be as upset as she is. She just had her heart broken. I suppose that may not seem like mush to you, but to us humans who have emotions that's a lot."

"What the hell did you just say?" Michael whispered furiously. "I thought you had more brains than that."

"I thought you had more compassion that that," Maria shot back. "No, wait, I didn't."

Michael glared at her. "At least I'm not some oversensitive emotional chick."

"No, you're a self-centered bastard who runs away at the first sign of getting close to a girl."

"I never intended to get close. All I was looking for was to have some fun," Michael said meanly.

That really hurt Maria. "You don't want to get close?" she asked. "I'll help you out." She grabbed her backpack and moved to another seat across the room.

So much for decision not to fight with Michael.


Liz looked much better, Kyle decided when he saw her at lunch. He walked up to her table. "Do you mind if I sit here?" he asked.

"No," Liz said absently.

She was staring at a nearby table. A couple of seniors were sitting there. At first Kyle couldn't understand why she found them so interesting. Then he remembered. That was Max, Isabel and Michael's usual table.

Maria and Alex were also sitting at the table with him and Liz. Maria looked both angry and hurt at the same time. Kyle kind of wondered what had happened to her since the last class they had together.

No one spoke. The air around them hung awkwardly. Alex apparently felt it too because he attempted to start a conversation.

It worked. Liz and Maria were snapped out of their trances. Lunch passed quickly. Alex and Maria headed off to class leaving Liz and Kyle behind.

Kyle told a joke and Liz laughed. He was very happy to see her smile again. She really needed to cheer up. He hated to see her so downhearted.

For no particular reason, Kyle found himself looking over to the side of the cafeteria. He saw Max standing there, staring at them. Kyle felt a sense of déjà vu. Things seemed the same as they had been back before a man had taken a shot at Liz one fateful day in September, forever changing seven student's lives. In Kyle's opinion, everything was right in the universe once again.


Michael hadn't meant to fight with Maria earlier that day. Truth be told, he had gone into that classroom fully intending to apologize. She had saved his life and he wanted to thank her for it. But instead he managed to make her even madder at him than she had been before. Michael hadn't thought that was even possible.

Max was already waiting for him by the jeep. "Have you seen Izzy?" he asked.

"No," Michael answered.

It was a few moments before Isabel ran up. She didn't bother to apologize for being late. That wasn't her style.

She climbed into the jeep. "Let's go," she said.

Wordlessly the two boys climbed in after her.

After driving for five minutes Isabel gave up waiting for Max to tell them what happened. "Spill," she demanded. "I want to know why you broke up with Liz."

"I just thought we needed some time apart," Max said. He seemed to be clutching the steering wheel abnormally tight.

"So I heard," Isabel said dryly. "That was the most common version of the story floating around. No, Max, I want the truth."

"That is the truth," Max said. "I don't think either of us are ready for a relationship right now."

Michael gave him a puzzled look. "Since when?" he muttered.

"You certainly didn't feel like this a few days ago," Isabel added.

"When Michael got sick," Max admitted. "You saw how frightened she was. And," he reluctantly revealed, "I'm just as scared. I'm afraid of what will happen. I'm scared of how blind to everything else I am while she's around me. I thought we should think about this. I thought we needed a break."

There was silence in the jeep while they thought about Max's speech. No one said a word until Max dropped Michael off. "See you tomorrow," he said.

"Yeah," Max muttered. Then he drove off.

And I thought my love life was screwed up, Michael thought. On second thought, his love life was probably even more messed up than Max's.


Isabel waited until they were home before she continued the conversation. "Why are you afraid?" she asked softly.

Max didn't answer. He went to his room and closed the door on Isabel's face when she tried to follow him. Annoyed, but not deterred, Isabel knocked.

"Go away, Isabel. I don't want to talk." The door muffled his voice.

Isabel's eyes narrowed and she opened the door and went inside anyways.

"I told you I didn't want to talk," Max said angrily. He was lying face down on his bed.

Isabel went over and sat next to him. "You look miserable," she declared.

"I am miserable," Max told her.

"Then why'd you break up with her?" Isabel asked.

Max turned over and sat up suddenly. He looked very mad. "Why are you bugging me about this? I already told you several times what happened and why."

"I don't understand how you could break up with her! You're madly in love with her. You've been in love with her since second grade."

"Why are you giving me such a hard time? I thought you wanted us to be apart."

Isabel was taken aback. Even her voice betrayed her astonish. "Where'd you get that idea?"

Max rolled his eyes, exasperated. "You. You're the one who every single time I so much as look at Liz, gives me a hard time about."

"I do not," Isabel protested.

"What about the other day?" Max asked. "When I was going out for Chinese with Liz?"

"What about it?" Isabel asked defensively.

"You and Michael were all over me when you found out I was going on a date."

"Michael was. I wasn't," Isabel told him.

Max didn't look like he believed her. "Sure," he said sarcastically.

Isabel narrowed her eyes again. "Look," she said. "Don't blame this on me. You're the one who broke up with her. It was your idea. It was your fault. Personally, I think it was a stupid idea."

Max glared at her. Finally, he said, "Go away."


"I said, leave. This is my room and I want to be alone."

"Fine," Isabel said, angrily. "You can just sit around mopping and feeling sorry for yourself. Why should I care." She left the room, making sure to slam the door on her way out.


The ice cream had been a good idea, Alex thought. Liz seemed much happier now. The three of them had talked and laughed and Maria and Liz had ranted about guys and how awful they were. When the conversation had started to become mostly girl talk, Alex took that as a sign that it was time for him to go.

On his way to the car, he ran into Isabel. "Oh, hi, Isabel," he said, a smile lighting up his face.

Isabel gave him a small smile in return. "Hey Alex," she said.

She looked tired. "What's wrong?" Alex asked, concerned.

"Nothing," Isabel sighed. "Just the whole Max and Liz thing."

"Yeah," Alex said, glancing back at Liz's apartment. "I actually just came from Liz's house. Maria and I were trying to cheer her up."

"How is she?" Isabel asked.

"She's taking it bad."

"So's Max."

Alex looked at Isabel. "Then why did he break up with her?" he asked, confused.

Isabel seemed almost angry for a second and Alex regretted his words. "I didn't mean to pry," he said quickly.

"What?" Isabel looked startled. "Oh, no, it's okay."

Alex waiting for Isabel to answer his question. When she didn't, he prompted, "Why did he break up with her?"

"Because my brother's an idiot," Isabel said flatly.

Alex didn't know what he had been expecting explanation-wise, but that wasn't it. He said as much. "That's doesn't really explain anything."

Isabel definitely looked angry now. "Look, Alex, I don't want to talk about it," she said flatly.

Alex backed off. "Okay, okay. Sorry," he apologized again.

Isabel instantly looked regretful. She sighed, "No, it's my fault. Max and I had a fight. I shouldn't be taking it out on you."

"It's okay," Alex told her. He was just so glad that he was actually talking to him that he didn't really care what she said.

Alex suddenly noticed that Isabel was no longer looking at him. She was now staring at something behind him. He turned around to see what had captured her attention. He saw a group of her friends. They were leaving the Crashdown.

"Look, Alex," Isabel said, distracted. "I need to get going. I'll see you later."

"Yeah, sure, later," Alex said, not even bothering to hid the disappointment in his voice. It wasn't as if Isabel was even paying him any attention. She would never notice. "Bye."

"Bye, Alex," Isabel said. She ran off to join her friends leaving Alex standing all by himself in the middle of the street.


Isabel felt bad about the way she had treated Alex. First she kept on snapping at him, then she abandoned him. She knew he was hurt. She had heard it in his voice. But she couldn't deal with him right now. In fact, she didn't want to speak with anyone who would remind her of Max, Liz or anything else to do with the fact that she was an alien. Isabel was really mad at Max. All she wanted to do was hang out with her friends and pretend she was a nice, normal, human teenager for once.

"Hey guys," Isabel greeted her friends.

"Hi," they said back.

Isabel saw Julie look back at where Isabel had come from and see Alex. Isabel sensed that Julie was curious about it. Before she could ask, Isabel spoke up. "Anyone up for some shopping?" she asked.

Shopping would take her mind off of her idiot brother and paranoid friend for a little while, at least.


Maria left shortly after Alex did, leaving Liz all alone. With a sigh, she decided to start on her homework. She had a lap report due the next day in biology. She had barely begun when her mom walked into the room.

"Hi, honey," she said, looking around the room. "I thought Maria and Alex were here."

"They were," Liz explained. "They just left."

Her mom sat down beside her. "What's happened?" she asked, concerned.

Liz was confused. "What do you mean?" she asked. "Maria and Alex had to get going, so they left."

"No, I mean before," her mom said as she shook her head. "The ice cream's gone and your dirty dishes are in the sink. Whatever it was had to be pretty bad if you convinced Alex to join you in your ice cream splurge."

"It was nothing," Liz said quickly.

"Did Maria break up with that boy? Michael or Matthew?"

Liz closed her book and looked at her mother. "How do you know about Michael?"

Her mom smiled slightly. "I have eyes, you know. And they weren't exactly being subtle these last few weeks."

"No, it wasn't Maria," Liz said. She opened her book again and started working, suddenly finding her homework incredibly interesting.

Her mother stared at her, as realization dawned. "It was you," she accused. "I didn't know you were seeing anyone."

"I'm not," Liz told her. It was the truth. Max had neatly and effectively ended their relationship.

"But you were," her mom guessed correctly.

Liz once again closed her book. "It was nothing," she said. She really didn't want to talk about it, especially with her mother. She gathered up her stuff and went into her room, closing the door behind her.

Her mother stared at the closed door for a few moments, then sighed. She wished her daughter would open up to her more.


"Max," his mother called out, tapping lightly on his bedroom door. "You in there?"

Max rolled off his bed and opened the door. Running his hand through his hair to make it more presentable, he asked, "Yeah?"

His mother looked at him, concern evident in her eyes. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"I'm fine, mom," Max sighed. Now even his mother was on his case.

"You sure?"

"I'm sure," Max said, exasperated.

His mother didn't look convinced, but she also didn't pursue the subject, to Max's relief. "Is Isabel here?"

"I don't think so," Max told her. "I think she left an hour ago." Right after their fight. Max had heard the front door slam, but he hadn't investigated. In fact, he hadn't moved from his spot lying face down on his bed since Isabel had left his room.

"Did she say where she was going?" his mother asked.


"Do you have any idea where she was going?"

Max rolled his eyes. "Again, no." He wondered why his mom was being so persistent. 

"She didn't say anything thing to you." 

Max groaned. "I have no idea where Isabel might be. She didn't say anything to me. She's not even talking to me."

"Did you have a fight?" His mom looked concerned again. Max realized she hadn't actually stopped looking concerned at all through their entire conversation, she was just looking more concerned now. He wondered if she was badgering him to find out what was really bothering him. If that was the case, he wish she would stop.

"Yeah. We had a fight."

Diane Evans finally walked into her son's room and went over to sit on the bed. Max followed her and sat down beside her. "What was the fight about," she asked.

"Isabel was sticking her nose where it didn't belong," Max muttered angrily.

"Care to explain?"

"Not really," Max said bluntly. Seeing that his mom looked hurt, he explained. "It doesn't really matter. Isabel was just acting as if she always knows what's best for everyone."

"What did she say?" 

"Doesn't matter." Max didn't want his mom to know that the argument had been over a girl.

"I see," him mom said. Max peered at her and frowned. She sounded almost sad. Then his mom stood up. "I should probably go get dinner started. What do you want to eat tonight?"

Max shrugged. "I don't care. Whatever is fine."

"Okay then." His mother gave him once last forlorn look then left, closing the door softly behind her.

Max flopped back onto his bed, put on the Counting Crows and brooded about Liz, Isabel and how horrible his life was in general.


"You look very nice today," Diane Evans commented, coming up behind Isabel.

Isabel looked at her mother's reflection in the mirror. "Thanks," she said, smiling.

"Is that outfit new?"

Isabel nodded. "Just got it yesterday."

"You were out late."

"Yeah, well we caught a movie after the mall closed," Isabel told her mom. She began to apply her lipstick.

"Isabel," Diane sighed. "You know I don't like you being out so late. Especially not on school night."

"Sorry, mom," Isabel said. She wasn't really that sorry, but she tried her best to sound contrite.

"Max told me about your fight," Diane said.

Isabel almost dropped her lipstick, she was so surprised. As it was, she managed to smudge it. She hadn't expected Max to mention it to their mom.

Wiping off the lipstick, Isabel asked lightly, "Did he?"

Her mother must have sensed her shock. Either that, or noticed Isabel's shaky hand. In any case, she added. "He didn't tell me what it was about. He just said you had one."

"Oh," was all that Isabel said.

Diane examined her closely. "What was the fight about?" she asked curiously.

"Max did a stupid thing. I told him so. He got mad at me."

"What did he do?"

Isabel hesitated, trying to decide whether she should tell her mother about Liz and Max or not. Finally she decided it wouldn't hurt her mother to know. "He broke up with Liz."

Diane stood still for a moment, shocked. "Max was going out with someone?" she asked, incredulously.

"Kinda." Isabel gave her hair one last brush, then turned around to ace her mother. "They only really went on one date. So I suppose you can't really call that dating."

"Why'd they break up?" her mother wanted to know. "Liz Parker's the girl I met when Max was in the hospital, right?"

"Liz Parker's the girl Max's been mooning over his entire life," Isabel confirmed. "He broke up with her because he's an idiot."

"That's what Max said," her mother said absently.

Isabel grinned. "Max said he was an idiot?" she asked.

Diane sighed, exasperated. "You know that's not what I meant. Max said you said he was an idiot," she explained.

"That's because he is."

"Don't call your brother an idiot," Diane ordered in typical mom fashion.

Isabel began to gather up her stuff for school. "He did a very stupid thing. Therefore he is an idiot."

"Izzy," her mom sighed warningly.

"I have to go get some breakfast now, or I'll be late for school." With all her school stuff in her bag, Isabel headed down the hall to the kitchen.


Max was finished his breakfast when Isabel came into the kitchen. Neither of them said a word to each other. A few seconds after Isabel's arrival, Max got up and brought his bowl over to the sink. Then he left the kitchen.

His mother followed him back to his room. "Isabel told me what your fight was about," she said.

"Isabel has a big mouth," Max replied.

"You seemed to really like Liz. Why'd you break up with her?"

Max was very sick of everyone asking him that, but he felt that he owed his mother some kind of explanation before he snapped at her.

"Because I didn't think it was a good idea. Things were going too fast. Why is everyone bugging me about that? Why can't they just accept it?"

His mother looked strangely sympathetic, the complete opposite of what Max had expected. He had thought his mother would act just like Isabel had and criticize him for ruining the relationship he had with the girl he loved.

Instead his mother said, "That's a very mature decision. You are only sixteen, after all. You shouldn't rush into things you'll regret later."

"I won't regret being with Liz," Max protested immediately.

"Maybe 'regret' was the wrong word," his mother said. "I just mean, don't do anything you don't think you're ready for."

"Thank you," Max said, glad she was agreeing with him. "That's exactly how I feel." Then he complained, "Why can't anyone else see it that way?"

"Because they just see that you're crazy about Liz and, from what I've seen, she's crazy about you, too."

Max blushed, but didn't say anything, so his mother continued. "Don't worry about what Isabel or anyone else things. When the time's right, things will work out."

Although the advice was a little sappy, Max could see the wisdom in the words. He thanked his mom and headed off for school.


The next few weeks passed by uneventfully. Max and Liz talked to each other very little, and never outside of class. Max wanted to talk to Liz, to explain to her why he had done what he had done, but he didn't. He didn't because he felt like any explanation he could offer would only hurt Liz. The last thing he ever wanted to do was to hurt Liz.

Kyle and Liz had grown closer. Their relationship, however, was strictly platonic. Kyle understood and respected the fact that if he was going to be friends with Liz, he could only be friends with her. Liz was in now way interested in him romantically. Any attempts at regaining boyfriend status would only cause Liz to become very angry at him and permanently ruin their friendship.

Max, Isabel and Michael had become distant from their human friends once again. It was not as if they actively went out of their way to avoid Liz, Maria and Alex, but they also didn't go out of their way to see them. Max and Isabel hadn't made up, instead they just acted as if their argument had never happened. Isabel still thought Max was being an idiot for breaking up with Liz and Max still thought Isabel was being a busy body and that it was none of her business.

It was nearly a month after the breakup when Max and Liz were given an assignment in biology where they had to work together. They had agreed to work on it at Liz's house after her shift, which is why Max found himself entering the Crashdown.

"Hi, Max," Liz said when she noticed him. "I'll be finished in a few minutes."

"That's okay," Max said. "I'll wait here." He took a seat by the counter and waited for Liz to finish working.

He noticed Maria doing her best to give him a deadly glare and he tried to ignore it. He already knew how Maria currently felt about him. It would do neither of them any good to bring it out into the open.

After what seemed like an eternity, Liz finally reappeared. She had changed into her regular clothes. "C'mon," she said, motioning Max to follow her upstairs to her house.

She led him to the kitchen where all her work was already laying on the table. Max put his bag on the floor and sat down in one of the chairs.

"Can I get you anything? Water? Pop? Juice?" Liz offered. Max got the feeling that she was doing it more out of politeness than out of any real want to make him comfortable.

"No, I'm fine," he murmured. "We should probably just get started."

"Yeah," Liz agreed. She sat down, as far away from Max as she could without being too obvious, Max noticed.

She refused to meet his eyes, even when he was talking to her. Finally, after about half an hour of working like this, Max closed up his books. "Look, Liz, we need to talk."

She frowned slightly in confusion. "About what?" she asked.

"About us," Max said bluntly. 

Liz looked startled. This was the first time either of them had brought up the topic since Max had broken up with her. "Us?" she asked, her voice sounding a little strangled.

"Yes, us," Max repeated. "I know I hurt you that night, and maybe that wasn't the best way to say it, but I stick by my decision." Liz looked even more crestfallen. 

Max continued, "Liz, I think we were moving too fast. I was scared," he admitted. She looked up to him and he held her gaze. "I was really scared. Liz, I care for you. A lot. In fact," he hesitated briefly, "I think I'm in love with you."

Liz gasped slightly, but didn't say anything. "But there's just too much going on in my life, in our lives, right now. We're only sixteen." Max gave her a small, sad smile. "We have lots of time. And I don't want to screw things up with you."

"Max," Liz said, her voice faintly shaking. "The only way you could screw things up is by trying to exclude me from your life. I know you're scared. But the truth is, I'm scared too." Tears were starting to form in her eyes. "But that's okay. 'Cuz we can be scared together.

"And I know our lives are messed up right now, but you know what? They will always be. Life is never without its problems. You just have to face them."

Max stared at him, speechless. Tears were now silently trickling down her cheek. He went to wipe them away but Liz jerked her head away.

"No," she said. "Don't do that. Don't comfort me. I can't fall for you just to have you break my heart again."

"Liz, look at me," Max ordered, lifting her chin with his fingers and forcing her to look in his direction. "I never, *ever,*" he said emphatically, "want to do anything that would hurt you. But being together is dangerous. And I'm afraid that you'd get hurt because of me. And that is something I could never bear."

"It's not just your decision," Liz said angrily. "It's my life. I'm willing to take that chance, if it means being with you."

"Liz," Max said, looking her straight in the eye. "I love you. I've always loved you and I always will love you. I don't want you to get hurt."

"It's not working," Liz told him. "I am getting hurt. Every second we're apart, I hurt. I don't care if I get hurt because we're together. No matter what happens, it can't be worse than being away from you."

For a second time, Max found himself speechless. What he ever did to deserve Liz Parker, he didn't know. The next thing he knew, he had leaned in and was softly kissing her.

When he pulled away, they were both gasping for air. Liz leaned in again and kissed him a second time. "I love you too, Max Evans. And I will be a part of your life, always," she promised.

Max was in no position to argue, nor did he want to. Instead he settled for kissing Liz for the third time that minute.

The End