Part Fifty-Seven

"So, you ready for this afternoon?" I ask Max, taking a sip of orange juice as we share a large plate of bacon and eggs in his kitchen the next morning.

"Yep, definitely," he grins, reaching around me for a piece of bacon. "Can't wait."

"What time are your parents and Izzy getting here?"

"Not until half-eleven," he grins holding the bacon out to me. I smile, shifting on his lap so that I can take a bite. "Which means we have a bit more time to ourselves before we go and meet them on campus."

"What will we do with ourselves?" I return the grin, before feeding him a forkful of egg.

"Oh, I can think of a few things," he murmurs, his eyes locked on mine as he leans forward and kisses me teasingly.

"Yeah?" my breathing is slightly laboured when we part.

"Absolutely," he grins, shoving the plate to one side as he slides his hands under my legs and deftly lifts me up onto the kitchen table.

He kisses me hungrily, but just seconds later, we're interrupted by a tut and a groan and I open my eyes to find Sophie standing in the kitchen doorway, rolling her eyes at us.

"Shit," Max mutters against my mouth, before pulling away and sinking back down onto the chair, leaving me perched on the edge of the table.

"Ugh, other people have to use that table too, you know," she grimaces as she tries not to look at us.

"Sorry," I mumble a quick apology.

"Any chance you guys can take it elsewhere?" she asks, entering the kitchen now. "Some of us have to eat breakfast in here."

As she walks past us and opens the fridge, Max rolls his eyes at me and I have to conceal a giggle.

"Fine, we'll go," he sighs, standing up and reaching for my hand. I take it, hopping off the table as he mutters quietly, "Even though we were here first."

"Hey, I heard that!"

"Sorry, Soph," he calls out, sounding anything but, as he gives me a grin, pulling me out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

"Come on," he says as we reach the top of the stairs.

I frown in confusion when we pass his room and he leads me into the bathroom instead. Before I have time to comprehend what's going on, the door is locked behind us and he's pressing me against it, his hands wandering beneath my – well, actually it's his – T-shirt as he captures my lips in an eager kiss.

"Hmm," I sigh against his lips, my stomach muscles contracting as his fingers skim across my skin.

My hands find their way to his hips and I grab fistfuls of his T-shirt as his hands move up to cup my breasts.

"What's all this in aid of?" I wonder, as his mouth leaves mine and he kisses a trail down my neck.

He stops and looks up at me with a smirk, "What, I have to have a reason now?"

"No," I smile, shaking my head.

"Well, okay, then," he grins, returning to his earlier ministrations, his hands reaching for my t-shirt and easing it over my head.

In return, I pull his shirt off too and clad in just our underwear, we stumble towards the shower, Max's lips meeting mine hungrily. He takes a step back and reaches out for the shower knob, fumbling slightly with it before turning it on.

"You joining me?" he nods towards the running water

I just give him an incredulous look, raising an eyebrow.

As if I'd say no.

He grins, pulling off his boxers, "Come on then."

I can't help but grin along with him as I step out of my remaining clothes and we climb into the shower together. I've barely stepped beneath the hot stream of water when Max's arms come around me, pulling my naked body close as his mouth covers mine once again. I eagerly sink into his embrace, savouring the feel of his wet skin pressing against mine.

"Mmm," I sigh happily, sliding my arms around his shoulders and burying my fingers in his hair as he nuzzles my neck, placing hot kisses along its length. "God, I'm gonna miss this."

"Me too," he mutters, his breath hot on my skin. "Don't know how I'm gonna survive the summer without you."

"We'll still see each other," I say determinedly.

"Yeah?" he stops his ministrations and lifts his head to look at me, his hand coming up to smooth my wet hair away from my face. "How do you figure that? You'll be working and I've arranged to do some work for the student union over the summer."

"Well," I smile. "My mum has already said I can invite you to stay for a few days this summer, if you want."

His eyes widen, "Really?"

"Yeah," I nod in confirmation. "She even suggested it."

"Wow," he murmurs, leaning in to place a soft kiss on my lips. "That's very… lenient of her."

"What can I say, I have a cool mum," I shrug. "Although she does have one stipulation…"

"What's that?"

"You'll have to sleep in the spare room."

"Right," he nods, his smile fading somewhat at that. "Okay."

With a wicked smile, I lean up to whisper in his ear, "But I think we can be sneaky, don't you?"

His eyebrows raise and the grin returns, "Oh, I'm sure we can."

I can't help but return the grin as Max's hands slide around my waist and move round to cup my bottom, pressing my lower body up against his. I suck in a breath as I feel his hardness come into contact with my stomach.

"So, when would this be?" he murmurs, his lips finding the curve of my neck once more.

I smile, my eyes sliding closed in response to his kisses, "Whenever you have a few days free and fancy a break."

"Great," he mutters, his voice distracted now as his mouth moves downwards.

"Oh, and don't forget your birthday's coming up too," I remind him breathlessly. "We're gonna have to do something special."

"Yeah?" he looks up from his task with a smirk.

"Yeah," I nod.

He gives a small chuckle before returning his attention to my skin. My head falls back against the shower wall as his mouth finds my breast and his hips press against mine more urgently now.

"God, yes," I murmur, getting lost in the sensations he's invoking in me. "Max…"

He grins against my skin before sliding his hands round to my bottom and lifting me up. I wrap my legs around his hips, letting out a small moan as his arousal comes into contact with my centre. My heart quickens as his attention moves to my other breast before he slowly enters me and I cling to him as we begin to move together. I feel tingles shooting down my spine as we make love urgently, yet tenderly at the same time and I find myself wondering if anyone would actually miss us if we decided to stay in here all day.

Alas though, reality eventually sets in and we have to get out of the shower and get ready for the rest of the day… although that's not to say that we don't take our time doing so. Although I know I'm supposed to be getting dressed, I can't help but watch as Max steps into a pair of black suit trousers and then pulls on a white dress shirt that fits him perfectly. He then reaches for a navy tie, but it's not until he slides it around his neck that he realises that he's being watched and his head turns in my direction.


"Nothing," I shake my head and flash him a smile. "Just enjoying the view."

"I could say the same thing myself," he smirks, fumbling with his tie as his eyes rake over my underwear-clad body. "You're not planning on wearing just that, are you?"

"Of course not," I roll my eyes, taking a step towards him and reaching for the tie. "Here, let me."

He lets the silky material slips from his fingers as he allows me to tie his tie, his hands reaching forward to rest on my hips.

"You know, I wouldn't object if you wanted to go in your underwear," he murmurs, his eyes dark as his gaze drops to my chest.

I grin, "I'm sure you wouldn't, but I think the rest of the student body might have something to say about that."

"You're right," he sighs dramatically, his arms coming around my waist now. "I guess I'll just have to make the most of you in private then."

"Okay, all done," I tell him, straightening the tie into place.

"Thank you," he smiles, leaning down to press a soft kiss to my lips. "What would I do without you?"

"Go to your graduation ceremony without a tie?"

"Ha ha, very funny," he retorts, kissing me again.

"Okay, I really have to get dressed now," I murmur, pulling away before I get lost in his embrace.

"All right," he agrees, letting go of me reluctantly. "And I have to call my parents to check what time they'll be here, so I'll leave you to it while I use the phone."

He leaves the room and I hear him descending the stairs as I reach for the outfit I've chosen for the ceremony. Pulling it on, I reach for my cosmetics bag and set about doing my hair and make-up. By the time I'm ready, it's almost eleven o'clock and time for us to leave. Grabbing my small handbag and checking my appearance in the mirror one last time, I head downstairs to find Max waiting for me by the front door.

"You look great," he compliments as I reach him.

"Thanks," I smile, giving him a quick twirl. "You like?"

"Definitely," he nods, holding out his arm to me.

I grin at his appreciative expression and curl my fingers around his forearm as we leave the house. After much debate over my outfit before I left my parents' house the other day, I eventually decided on a summery strapless bodice top and matching flowing skirt, with strappy sandals – a wise choice, it seems.

We arrive on campus just in time for Max to collect his robes before his parents and Izzy arrive. I accompany him into the student union building where the robing room has been set up, but apparently they are only letting graduating students in so I have to wait out in the corridor for him while he has his robe and hood fitted. Luckily it's not too busy in there and I only have to wait a couple of minutes for him to return… but when he does, I can't help but gasp at his appearance

"Wow, you look amazing!" I exclaim as he emerges from the room dressed in his black robes and red hood, mortarboard tucked under his arm. "Very distinguished."

He grins, coming to a stop in front of me, "Yeah?"

"Yeah," I nod, stepping forward to straighten his hood and smooth my fingers over the thick material covering his chest. "So, you looking forward to the ceremony?"

"I am," he nods, before giving a small grimace. "Although perhaps not so much to having to spend the afternoon with my family."

"I'm sure it won't be that bad," I try to assure him. "I know things are still a bit strained between you, but this is your graduation, Max; it's your day. You should just enjoy it, you know?"

"Yeah, okay," he manages a smile, as he slips his hand in mine and we make our way outside. "Enjoy it. Right."

"Come on," I roll my eyes at his lack of enthusiasm. "They should be here by now."

We head out across the grass and towards the guest car park, but we don't have to go far before we spot Max's parents standing on the pavement, looking around for us.

With a quick squeeze of my hand, Max acknowledges them with a nod and we make our way over to them.

"Oh, Max, look at you!" exclaims Diane as she takes in Max's appearance. "You look so grown up."

Max manages a small, slightly awkward smile as she reaches out to straighten his hood, "Thanks, Mum."

"We're very proud of you, Max," adds Martin. "Congratulations."

"Thank you… Martin."

There's a moment of uncomfortable silence as the three of them look at each other awkwardly and I can't help clearing my throat in an attempt to diffuse the tension.

"It's nice to see you again, Diane," I smile, holding out my hand in greeting, but she just tuts and shakes her head before pulling me into a hug.

"Come on now, Liz, there's no need for all this formality," she admonishes when she steps back. "It's great to see you… and don't you look lovely today?"

"Thanks," I smile, feeling a slight blush rising in my cheeks.

Out of the corner of my eye I see Max rolling his eyes and in response I give him a gentle elbow in the ribs. His eyes widen, but he just nods slightly and doesn't say anything.

"So, what's the plan then, Max?" asks Diane. "Your ceremony isn't until two, is that right?"

"Yeah, that's right," he nods. "Well, we have lunch booked for twelve, so I guess we should head over to the marquee soon." He frowns, looking around in puzzlement, "Where's Isabel?"

"Oh, she's around here somewhere," murmurs Diane, glancing towards the throng of people in front of the Great Hall. "She was here just now but then she saw someone she knew and disappeared on us."

"Hey, why don't you three head on over to the marquee and I'll go and look for Izzy?" I suggest in a perhaps not-so-subtle attempt to get Max to spend a little time with Diane and Martin.

Diane agrees with an appreciative nod and a thank you, before motioning for Martin and Max to start walking with her. Martin falls into step beside her and Max eventually follows, but not before shooting me a pained look, which I pretend to ignore in favour of pulling out my phone to call Isabel. Almost immediately after he's gone, I feel a stab of guilt over leaving him to deal with his parents alone, but in the end, it's for the best.

Unfortunately for me, Izzy's not answering her phone, so it takes a full five minutes of searching the crowd before I find her chatting away to a girl I recognise from our hall.

"Hey, Iz," I say happily as I tap her on the shoulder.

"Liz, hey!" she turns around in surprise, flinging her arms around me in greeting. "It's great to see you – how've you been?"

"Not bad," I reply with a shrug, not really wanting to get into the whole 'missing Max' thing right now. "How about you?"

"Pretty good," she grins. "So, is my brother around here somewhere?"

"He headed over to the food marquee with your parents a few minutes ago," I inform her. "I said I'd stay here and wait for you."

"Thanks, I appreciate it," she nods, linking her arm through mine. "Come on then, let's go… I'm getting hungry."

We meet the others over at the marquee and take a seat around the table they've picked. I grin as I realise that I have Max on one side of me, with Isabel on the other. Although there's some awkwardness at the beginning of the meal, with Max obviously slightly uncomfortable and both Diane and Martin trying to make pleasant conversation, pretty soon the tension eases and Max relaxes a little. By the time the meal is over and we make our way over to the queue for official photographs, the conversation is flowing much more easily and I find myself soaking in the atmosphere of graduation.

When we reach the front of the queue, Max poses for photographs alone, before the photographer calls his parents and Isabel up too for a family shot. He looks a little uncomfortable when the photographer poses them alongside him but I give him a nod of encouragement and he reluctantly smiles for the camera. However, before he leaves the small room so the next in line can step up, he gestures to me and insists that we have a photo taken together as well. A feeling of warmth spread through me as I slip my hand in his and he pulls me to his side to pose for the photograph, and as the camera flashes, I decide that this is definitely a moment to cherish.

Thirty minutes later, I say goodbye to Max and give him a quick good luck kiss as he is directed into the Great Hall to take his seat alongside the other graduands, and then Diane, Martin, Isabel and I enter the hall a few minutes later, taking our seats in the section reserved for guests. While we wait for the ceremony to begin, Isabel and I take the chance to catch up on the gossip from the last two weeks, as she tells me how Alex drove up to see her last weekend and that they've arranged to meet up again at the end of the month.

Our conversation is cut short when the ceremony finally begins and although I'm both interested and excited to see what happens in an actual graduation ceremony, I soon discover that actually, the whole process is kind of boring. It starts off with a speech from the Vice-Chancellor welcoming us to the ceremony and then quickly progresses to handing out the diplomas. Each student is announced in turn from the side of the stage and is then required to walk across the front, shake hands with the Vice-Chancellor and then walk off again to collect their diploma… which you might think would be fairly painless, but then when you factor in that there are well over two hundred students in the Great Hall and Max is right near the bottom of the running order, it gets boring fairly quickly.

About a third of the way through I feel myself getting restless and I turn in my seat to look for Max amongst the sea of graduation robes and mortarboards. It takes a few moments, but eventually I spot him near the back and I can't help the smile that crosses my face when my eyes meet his. He grins and nods and I feel my insides warming up as we share a long gaze. However, our staring match is interrupted when they take a break from announcing names and the guest speaker stands up to make his speech. Eventually though, the name-calling continues and finally Max steps up onto the stage, ready to walk across. Both Isabel and I find ourselves cheering as he shakes the Vice-Chancellor's hand and I feel a burst of pride for him as he walks off the stage, catching my eye briefly on his way.

After the ceremony is over, we meet Max outside on the grass and I fling my arms around him in congratulations, as Martin produces a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Max and I share a lingering kiss, before Izzy clears her throat and we have to turn our attention back to his family. We spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on campus, chatting amicably with Diane and Martin and laughing with Isabel (well, actually, I do most of the chatting and laughing, but Max does try his best).

It's early evening before Martin announces that they'd better make a move if they wanted to get back to Nottingham before it got too late, so with a few hugs and kisses, Max and I wave him, Diane and Izzy off and then head home ourselves. After the late night we had last night, the long day today and the Graduation Ball coming up tomorrow night, neither of us is up for a big night out, so we decide instead to curl up in his bed with a movie… although I have to admit that not a whole lot of movie-watching actually takes place in the end.

The next day passes kind of slowly and, to be honest, rather dull as well, mostly due to the fact that the 'graduation high' has worn off now, but also because we wake up to a dark, cloudy, wet day.

It's funny how the weather can affect your mood so much – yesterday morning, I woke up with a huge smile on my face as I leisurely stretched beside Max, feeling the warm sun from the window sneaking through the curtains and hitting my back; but today when I pry my eyes open, the room is shrouded in dark, the and I can hear the rain steadily pounding against the window and my heart just sinks. I bury my head against Max's chest, trying to snuggle up to him as much as possible as I try to pretend that the rain is just a figment of my imagination.

We remain in bed for over an hour longer than we would normally and when we do finally get up, it's only to make a cup of tea and then dive back under the covers again. We spend most of the day just lounging around the house, not doing much in particular and only going outside into the pouring rain when Max realises that he is out of milk… and bread… and several other food items, and we have to make a quick trip to the supermarket. At one point, I even wonder what's going to happen with the ball tonight – after all, it is being held outside with only a couple of big marquees to shelter us, but thankfully the rain stops around late afternoon and the clouds begin to disperse, allowing some blue sky to peek through.

By the time we're ready to leave for the ball, most of the puddles have evaporated and the wet day has turned into a pleasantly warm, mostly sunny evening. We arrive at the Graduation Ball without incident and I take great pleasure in actually walking through Hampton Castle with Max on the way out to the grounds where the ball is being held. Once there, we meet up with his friends by the dodgem cars and spend the next hour experiencing the fairground rides and trying to play poker in the makeshift casino, before sitting down to a three-course meal and free drinks.

After the food, we mingle with some of Max's Athletic Union acquaintances and then heading out to enjoy the fairground attractions once more, before ending up swaying together on the dance floor, making the most of being able to spend time with each other like this. As we dance, my mind wanders to the wonderful few days we've had together and I find myself gazing up at Max with a blissful smile as he grins down at me, soulful eyes looking right into my soul.

"This has been such an amazing night," I sigh. "Perfect ending to a perfect week."

"I couldn't agree with you more," he replies, his expression tender as his thumb drifts up to brush my cheek, the action sending shivers down my spine.

"You're a university graduate, Max," I murmur in wonderment. "That's just… wow, I'm in love with a graduate."

"Yeah," he grins, before lowering his head and capturing my lips in a heart-stopping kiss.

I tighten my arms around his waist as we continue to move together slowly. I'm so caught up in the feel of his lips on mine, his tongue dipping into my mouth as he deepens the kiss, that I don't give a thought to the fact that we are in public. I'm just concentrating on him.

"Liz…" murmurs Max when we finally part, his dark eyes full of barely-veiled desire.

My heart skips a beat when a memory of him looking at me like that once before flashes through my mind… that hazy night of the varsity match, just before he kissed me for the first time.

"God, I can't believe my first year is over," I let out a sigh as that memory brings back a whole host of others.

"I can't believe my final year is over," he responds.

"Do you remember when we first met… and I didn't want anything to do with you?" I reminisce with a small smile. "So much has happened since then."

"I know," his arms tighten around me, holding me close, before he admits, "God, I went into my third year determined to have as much fun living the bachelor life as possible… The last thing I ever expected was to fall in love with the most beautiful girl in the world."

"Max…" I feel a blush rising in my cheeks and I can't help but lower my head self-consciously at his words.

"I mean it," he tells me, his breath hot against my ear. "You changed my life, Liz."

I look up into his eyes again and swallow, feeling a lump in my throat, "You changed mine too."

We share a private smile.

"God, all that time I thought you were this egotistical, arrogant bastard and you turned out to be the most amazing person I've ever known."

Max nods, before giving me a playful smirk, "Just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its covers."

"Believe me, I get that now," I tell him sincerely. "It's what's between those covers that really counts."

"Is that so?" he raises an eyebrow suggestively.

"Yes it is," I smile. "But why do I get the feeling we're suddenly not talking about book covers anymore."

"'Cause we're not," he grins cheekily, his hands drifting lower on my back as he looks around the dance floor briefly. "Hey, you think we can get out of here yet?"

"No, we cannot," I admonish, giving him a playful shove. "Max, this is your graduation ball and we're gonna make the most of it, okay?"

He rolls his eyes, but eventually relents with a good-natured sigh, "Fine. Let's keep dancing then."

I can't help but laugh as he looks down at me with puppy-dog eyes before grinning and lifting me off the floor, spinning me around. Our eyes lock and the laughter suddenly dies on my lips as the expression on his face makes my heart skip a beat. Gently lowering me to the ground, his lips find mine once more and I sink into his embrace.

"I love you, Max Evans," I murmur when we part.

"I love you, too, Liz Parker," his eyes are shining as he speaks. "And I know the next year is going to be even better than the last."

"Even though we're gonna be apart?"

"Even though," he confirms with a smile. "We'll make it, Liz. I know we will."

"Yes, we will," I decide determinedly.

We share a promise-filled kiss before relaxing into each other's arms again and dancing the rest of the night away.