69. From This Moment On
(1998) Max is 12, Liz is 12
It was two days after her birthday and it was the first sunny day in a week plagued by summer showers.
Ever since her birthday, she'd been sitting with her nose pressed up against the window pane, frustrated watching the rain flood the outside of the large windows. There was absolutely nothing to do in the house. Her brother was away on basketball camp, her parents were on a business trip and she was basically left to her own devices with only the service staff around.
Amongst numerous parcels of expensive clothes, bags and shoes, a bicycle had been delivered for her birthday. Even though she wasn't overly delighted about the two-wheeled transport vehicle, it represented an escape from the house. She desperately needed to get away from there. However, she didn't feel like riding a bike in the rain.
So here she was, waiting for the rain to stop so that she could try out that new shiny bike.
Hence, when she had woken up that morning, on the 24th of June, and the rain droplets from the last rain the night before glistened on the leaves in the morning sunlight, Gabriela almost had to tie the girl to the chair to get her to eat breakfast before she was out the door. She didn't have a particular plan on where to go. She just needed to get away. Her only plan was to ride the bike around for the rest of the day, because she really didn't feel like going back to the big, empty, boring mansion any time soon.
Gabriela's "Be careful!" fell on deaf ears as the girl hurried out the front door.
The boy, almost one year older than the girl, slowly awoke to the smell of pancakes that same morning. He barely even registered the sunny weather that had gotten the sister of his best friend so excited as he drowsily followed his nose towards the kitchen.
"Morning, baby," his mother cooed and ruffled his hair as he sank down in the chair.
He gave a mumbled protest at a) being called 'baby' and b) getting his hair ruffled. But the protest was half-hearted at best as the smell of freshly baked pancakes was rapidly awakening his senses.
"You want some pancakes?"
He nodded slowly, blinking away sleep as he slowly yawned, "Yes, please."
The boy's mother smiled to herself as she put two pancakes on the plate in front of her son. It was in the morning sleepy behavior of her son that she could spot how that same boy might behave as a difficult-to-talk-to-teenager. The kind that mutters in response and barely acknowledges their surroundings.
Her smile widened. She couldn't wait.
"Is there ice cream?" he asked and she started shaking her head.
Ice cream for breakfast? Ah, why not. "Sure, hun."
"Thanks, Mom," was the boy's reply as he started shoveling the first pancake, his hungry stomach not having the patience to wait for the ice cream, into his mouth.
Diane put the ice cream container down in front of him and Max nodded a 'thank you' as his mouth chewed away.
She sank down on the chair opposite her hungry son and took a sip from the hot black coffee. "Have you got any plans for today?"
Max shook his head. "Not really. But I might check out if they have anything new at the music store."
"Do you need money?" Diane asked.
She had raised Max to save up his own money and so it was on very rare occasions that she found herself giving him extra money outside of his regular allowance. But his birthday was coming up and she saw no harm in bending the rules somewhat this time.
"Nah, I'm fine," Max replied.
Diane smiled and started buttering up a slice of bread. "Speaking of… What do you want for your birthday?"
Having attracted his attention, he looked up from his pancake munching. "Uhm…" He shrugged. "I dunno."
Diane looked at him incredulously. "Nothing?"
"I haven't thought about it much," Max said simply.
"Any new clothes? Any video games?" Diane tried.
She preferred it if he would give her a shopping list. It was so hard to buy presents for him. Every time she tried to shop something for him, she ended up in the girl's section, thinking about all the small things she could have gotten if she'd had a girl. Boys were just so much harder to buy things for.
But Max wasn't helping. He offered her another shrug.
Diane smiled. "Okay. If you think of something, let me know."
"Sure," Max replied and reached for another pancake.
It was not that she wasn't paying enough attention to the road or that she wasn't proficient at riding a bike. She had been riding bicycles since she was four. But some things just can't be avoided.
It only took one larger stone in the wrong spot for Liz to lose control over the bike. It only took the fraction of a second of imbalance for the bike to tip over and for the girl to land in the ditch. As she landed, her foot twisted underneath the weight of her body as the shoe laces got caught in the chain.
With a cry of pain she barely felt the weight of the bike on top of her as the nerves in her twisted ankle screamed in pain. Her eyes prickling with tears, she pulled herself up into seated position to push the bike off her, mumbling repeated syllables of pain.
Sniffling, she managed to get the bike off and leaned forward to examine the foot. Tears were running down her cheeks and her hands were shaking as she tried to move the foot closer to her body so that she could remove the shoe.
She jumped in surprise at his voice, the sniffles intensifying as she looked up and saw his familiar shape throw his bike to the side and run up to her.
"I'm okay, I'm fine," Liz mumbled as Max slid to his knees next to her.
Liz tried to keep her emotions in check, which proved difficult as her foot throbbed with pain. "I fell."
A cry of barely restrained pain escaped through her lips, which made the blood in Max's veins chill by a couple of degrees.
Max's eyes flickered across her face, feeling somewhat unsure about how to act and where to look in the onslaught of her raw feelings of pain.
"Are you hurt?" The question felt stupid as soon as it left his mouth, since it was obvious to anyone that the girl in front of him was in a lot of pain.
"My foot," Liz hiccuped. "I think it's broken."
He followed her gaze to the foot. "Can I take a look at it?"
She sniffled, her whole body shaking with the pain. "Yes…"
As he bent forward and was about take a hold of the hem of the jeans, she added with an edge of fearfulness, "Careful."
He nodded and mumbled, "Yeah," as he concentrated on being as careful as possible.
He pulled up the pants leg and cringed as he heard her sharp intake of air. He reached for the shoe laces and carefully unlaced her shoe. She whimpered, which had him sit back on his heels and wonder how he would go about taking the shoe off without making it hurt.
Reaching a decision, as he literally saw her ankle swell before his eyes, he said, "Maybe we should leave the shoe on."
She sniffled and nodded in agreement. "Yes."
"Maybe I should get your parents," Max said, looking back at her flustered face.
His heart clenched painfully at the sight of her. He never knew that seeing someone in pain could make him hurt even more than himself being in pain.
"No… no," Liz said. "They're not home."
Max nodded, thinking quickly. He was on his feet before Liz had time to react. "I'll get my mom."
Her hand grabbed his tightly. "Don't…"
He caught her eyes, noticing the fear shining brightly through the moisture of her tears.
"…leave me," she finished on a weak note.
"I have to get help, Lizzie," Max said slowly.
She shook her head and repeated in a whisper, "Don't leave me."
Max looked around with the desperate hope that the solution would fall from the sky. He felt her small hand squeeze his desperately, and honestly, leaving her alone didn't feel like something he wanted to do.
But what other choice was there?
"Should we wait here until someone comes by?" Max asked.
It couldn't take that long before someone decided to drive by, could it?
She nodded, wiping her cheeks with the back of her free hand, but new tears followed her movement.
"Okay," Max agreed and sat down next to her.
Looking at her bare arms and feeling the tremors through her hand, which was still holding tightly onto his, Max asked, "Are you cold?"
She shook her head. "No." Then she added, "I don't think so."
A sharp intake of air shook her body as the pain fought across her effort to keep everything under control.
He shrugged out of his sweater, trusting that the T-shirt underneath was more than enough to keep himself warm, and pulled it over her head before she had time to protest.
Surrounded by his smell, Liz felt herself calming down. He wasn't going to leave her. She wasn't alone. He was going to stay until someone came by to help.
The action of giving her his sweater was followed by the two longest minutes in Max's life as Liz alternated between sniffling, whimpering and short sporadic soft cries of pain.
"Is there anything I can do?" Max asked, feeling every part of the role of the hopeless bystander.
"Just stay," Liz mumbled, biting her bottom lip against the pain.
It was not too long thereafter that someone actually did decide to drive past. Max jumped to his feet, almost dragging Liz along with him before he at the last second remembered to release the grip on her hand.
Waving his hands in the air, Max called out for the car to notice them, "Hey, stop! Stooop!"
The car came to an abrupt stop and an elderly man stepped out of the car, a worried expression on his face as he took in the scene of the young girl in the ditch, with red swollen eyes and dirt on her cheeks and the frantic boy that was running up to meet him.
"We need help," the boy said urgently.
From there on, the man called George took over.
With an authority that imbued Max with immediate relief, George carried Liz into the backseat of his car. Hopping into the driver's seat, the man guessed that the children were siblings, judging from how close they seemed to be as the girl pressed up against the boy's side as soon as he jumped into the backseat with her.
He never would've guessed that most of the time the two youngsters were barely on speaking terms.
As they arrived at the hospital, the man that had given them a ride immediately went to inform the nurses what had happened.
One of the nurses leaned over the desk to address Liz, "What's your name, honey?"
"Elizabeth Parker," Liz answered with a strained voice.
She was being carried by George since there was no possibility of her walking on the injured foot. Her face was devoid of any color as the pain continued to push its way through her.
"Okay," the nurse confirmed and typed the information into the computer. After taking some additional personal information, the nurse came by with a wheelchair into which Liz was transferred.
Max took charge of the wheelchair and directed it towards the waiting area, where he parked the wheelchair and took a seat in a blue plastic chair next to Liz.
It would take another 40 minutes before they would see a doctor. In those 40 minutes something happened to Max. He stopped seeing Liz as the one year younger sister of his best friend and started to see her as her own person.
As they got into the examination room, he watched the facial expressions fly across her face as the doctor examined her foot and started to take note of the small changes that he in his haste to grow up himself had failed to see. How her face had started to lose the childish roundness and her lips suddenly seemed more luscious.
He unconsciously licked his lips as his eyes continued to scan the changes. And just like that, it struck him; how beautiful Liz Parker was.
The world seemed to spin to a halt.
He swallowed slowly as his eyes traced the curve of her neck, which was dusted with a fresh summer tan. He felt his teenage heart beat faster, his breath flow quicker across his drying lips… and then Liz screamed in pain as the doctor pressed against the swelling of her foot and the world was put back into motion.
The subdued sounds around him were turned back on with full volume and he pushed out of the chair. Circling his fingers around her fingers that were gripping the edge of the bed, he transferred her grip to his hand.
And it was when Liz turned to him with fresh tears rolling down her cheeks, squeezing his hand as if her life depended on it, and whispered brokenly, "Make it go away. Please, make it go away," that Max fell.
That day, in a hospital room with blue-and-white wallpapers, in the presence of a white-haired grumpy doctor, a smiley young nurse and his own mother getting chocolate bars from the vending machine in the waiting room, Max Evans fell in love with Liz Parker.
And the rest is history.