Part Seven

February 14th 2002

Valentine's Day dawned bright and sunny, albeit a little cold. For Max though, the nice weather went unnoticed, his concentration too caught up in what he was planning to do today. He'd decided a couple of weeks ago that he could no longer ignore the feeling that he got in the pit of his stomach every time he so much as glanced in Liz Parker's direction. So, with a heavy heart, he'd resigned himself to the fact that sometime in the following two weeks, he'd have to break up with Jennifer, most likely breaking her heart in the process. He really did feel guilty about having to do that to her, but he was sure that it would be for the best. He'd had so much fun with her at first and he genuinely liked and cared for her, but it was getting closer and closer to the end of senior year and high school graduation and he knew that if he didn't take the opportunity now to find out there was a chance for he and Liz, then he would regret it for the rest of his life.

Despite becoming casual friends over the last few months, their lives were still pretty separate and they never saw or spoke to each other outside of school unless it was study-related. They'd both applied to college and had each been accepted to their first choices. He knew that Liz had gone ahead and applied to Harvard to study Biology, although unfortunately, after a tough three days of interviews, hadn't been accepted. Last he'd heard, she'd been offered places at a couple of well-respected schools, although he wasn't too sure which ones, and was hoping to gain a scholarship to one of them.

He too had applied to study Biology, but his applications had been for different schools. He'd put a lot of thought into which colleges offered the best programme for him and had eventually decided on a school in California.

So, in just a few months, everyone at West Roswell High would be heading in different directions and he was just now realising that it would be stupid to leave for college and not have said anything to Liz about his feelings. Over the weekend, he'd finally plucked up the courage to let Jennifer down as nicely as he could; which he had to admit, didn't go down too well, but now he was free to talk to Liz. And since it was Valentine's Day, it seemed appropriate that he got everything out in the open today. He'd sent one last card to Liz this year and had even included a quote and a small note inside which stated that he hoped she'd be attending the Valentine's party being thrown for the seniors tonight at a local hotel. Actually, it was his party – organised by himself and a couple of his friends, but he was careful not to let the 'my party' part slip when he wrote the card; he didn't want to scare her off or anything.

He was planning on talking to her at the party and hopefully (if he didn't lose his nerve) tell her the truth about the cards and that he would like to date her. Actually, he was pretty sure she would be attending anyway. After all, her best friend Maria was dating one of his best friends. They'd been together since Michael had sent her a signed Valentine's card a couple of years ago.

Wait a minute, if no one had thought anything of the fact that Michael Guerin was dating someone outside of their social circle, then why had Max made sure that his cards had remained anonymous. Why had he not plucked up the courage to explore his feelings for her sooner? The only explanation that he could come up with was that it wasn't so much the fact that he was popular, but more that Liz had known him for so long. She'd known him as a loud-mouthed, bratty kid; she'd watched as he became popular in junior high; and then acquired a reputation for smoking and drinking and having sex with lots of girls (although, the sex part had been grossly exaggerated, mainly by himself when he was a freshman in order to look cool). But the thing was, she also knew that there was much more to him than that and that's what scared him.

She knew that he still went to church every Sunday with his parents, as he had done since they were kids. She knew his family and occasionally spoke to his mother when she walked over to his house instead of him picking her up for their Physics tutorials. She knew that underneath his high school persona, he really was a nice guy. But that also meant that he wouldn't be able to use his 'Big Man on Campus' attitude to sweet-talk her. He would just have to be himself and that's what worried him.

What if she rejected him? Or even worse, just wasn't interested?

At that thought, he rolled off the bed and reached into his dresser drawer to pull out the small pile of Valentine's cards that he'd been collecting the past few years. He still had no idea who had sent them, but there was something about those few cards that made him smile and in some weird way, comforted him. He'd noticed that there were only three cards, even though they first one had been sent four years ago. He briefly wondered why whoever she was had decided not to send a card that year.

He was still staring down at the cards in his hand when his mother shouted up that he was going to be late for school if he didn't hurry. With a sigh, he returned the cards to the drawer and stood up to pull on some clothes. He made his way downstairs to the kitchen, only to find a pile of cards addressed to him on the table when he got there. He sighed, not really caring too much for most of them – he got cards every year from young freshmen and sophomores that he didn't know, but had obviously looked up his address in the phone book. Leafing through them, he was just about ready to throw them straight in the bin when the last one caught his eye and he smiled. It was another card from her. It was strange that before, he hadn't even bothered to find out who had sent these cards to him; it seemed that simply receiving them had been enough for him over the years, but today he found himself curious.

Maybe after the party tonight and after talking to Liz, he would track down the sender and thank her for the cards, letting her know that he appreciated them. If everything worked out between himself and Liz tonight, he would also ask her not to send anything more in the future if they were together.

Max ate his breakfast quickly, before grabbing his things for school and heading out the door. It was a shame that he had an entire day to get through before he could finally talk to Liz at the party tonight.

February 14th 2002

Liz walked into the party with a smile on her face. She'd received yet another card from her secret admirer this morning and this time he'd included a romantic quote about stars and her making him smile, and had left a small note at the bottom saying that he hoped she'd come to the party tonight, which implied that he would be there. Maybe tonight she would finally find out who he was!

Glancing around the room, she saw Maria standing at the bar with Michael. They looked to be engaged in an intense conversation; although knowing Maria, she was probably reprimanding him for not wearing a tie that matched her outfit or something. Deciding to let them be for now, she let her eyes wander again and finally spotted her friend Alex, who was sitting at one of the tables talking to a couple of his computer club buddies.

She took a step forward, intent on making her way over to him to say hi, but was stopped by a broad, shirt-clad chest stepping in front of her.

"Liz, hey." It was Max. "Glad you could make it."

"No problem, Max," she smiled, butterflies going mad in her stomach suddenly.

She wondered how he could make her all nervous and sweaty with just one sentence today, when she'd been perfectly comfortable (well, almost) around him in school recently. They looked at each other for a moment before Max suddenly turned his head.

"Shit, it's getting kinda crazy over there. I'd better go sort it out." Liz turned in the direction he was looking. Sure enough, there were a couple of guys in the corner who looked like they were about to start a fight. "I'll see you later, Liz. Save me a dance, okay?"

"Sure," she smiled and watched him as he approached the guys across the room, before turning back and letting out a breath as she resumed her journey over to Alex.

Two hours and a couple of drinks from the bar later (how on earth did Max and his buddies arrange that one? It wasn't like anyone here even looked 21), Liz and Maria were having the time of their lives on the dance floor as the DJ played classic 80's pop songs. Liz was inwardly glad that so far this evening the DJ hadn't given in to Valentine's Day pressure and played loads of slow, romantic songs. For a start, it was incredibly cheesy and secondly, she was currently without a boyfriend, and the whole thing would just be awkward, especially since Maria would be pretty much glued to Michael for the rest of the evening once the slow songs started. But for now, she was content with the fast paced dance songs that were playing and she could just kick back and enjoy herself for a while.

Unfortunately, her happiness was short-lived as barely 15 minutes later the DJ switched and started up a string of love songs. She watched Maria's face light up as Michael approached them and took her in his arms. Liz sent her a small smile before excusing herself from the dance floor and taking a seat at one of the tables opposite. She sat there alone for a few minutes, munching on chips from the snack bowl that had been placed on the table, until an outstretched hand appeared in front of her and a male voice asked with a small bow,

"May I have this dance, milady?"

"Of course you may, kind sir," she grinned and took his hand.

He led her to the edge of the floor, wrapping his arms loosely around her waist as she placed her hands on his shoulders.

"You're such a goofball sometimes, Alex," she smiled as they swayed to the music.

"I know," he grinned. "But I couldn't just let you sit there all alone on the night of Valentine's Day, now could I?"

"So, asking me to dance has nothing to do with the fact that you're too scared to ask Isabel Evans to dance?"

His mouth dropped open in mock outrage, "No, of course not!" he exclaimed and she gave him a look. "Well, maybe just a little," he confessed a second later.

"Okay, this is what we're gonna do. I'm going to dance with you now, but later you have to go ask her to dance, alright?"

"But, Liz…"

"No buts, Alex. Otherwise I'm leaving the dance floor this minute and you have to ask her right now."

"Fine," he sighed. "I'll see what I can do."

Liz grinned at his discomfort, but leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder nonetheless. The continued to move to the slow music for two more songs until someone tapped Alex on the other shoulder and Liz was startled from her relaxed position.

"Do you mind if I cut in?" It was Max again.

"No, not at all," Alex replied, looking at Liz speculatively. "Go ahead."

Alex moved away, leaving Liz alone with Max, but before she turned to face Max, Liz glanced at Alex and mouthed 'Isabel' to him. His eyes widened, but he gave a slight nod anyway before walking away.

"Hey again, Liz," smiled Max. "So, can I get that dance now?"

"Uh…sure, okay," she smiled hesitantly and was a little unsure of herself as he pulled her into his arms.

They moved in silence for a couple of minutes, Max's hands on her waist and her arms placed on his shoulders like she had done with Alex, just moving to the music, as Liz searched her brains for something to say.

"So, I haven't seen Jennifer around tonight. Is she here?" Well, it wasn't the best thing they could talk about, but it was a start.

"Oh…um, actually…no, she's not," Max pulled away slightly to look at her. "We broke up," he said simply.

"You did?" Liz questioned sympathetically. "I'm sorry."

Max shook his head, "No, it's okay. I was the one who broke it off."

"Oh," said Liz, uncertain of what she should say.

But Max elaborated, "It was for the best. See, there's been this other girl on my mind for quite a while now and it wasn't fair on Jennifer to stay in a relationship with her."

"Oh," she murmured again, her heart sinking.

Max liked someone else? She knew she shouldn't be upset about that; after all, he could choose pretty much any girl he liked and they wouldn't say no; and it's not like it was realistic to even consider that Max might want to date her, of all people.

"Liz, there's something…" he trailed off suddenly, looking a little confused, but then sucked in a breath and leaned in to murmur close to her ear, "If I could reach up and hold a star for every time you made me smile, I would have the whole night sky in the palm of my hand."

She gasped, her mouth falling open at his words. The words she'd read from her secret admirer only a few hours ago!

"Max?" she whispered, looking up to find him smiling down at her tenderly. "That quote…the cards…it was you?"

He nodded, his smile growing to a grin. "Yes."

"All this time…?"

"Yes," his voice had dropped to just above a whisper and his gaze was intense. "I think that it's always been you, Liz. Ever since before we started junior high together…there was always something about you."

"Me?" she practically squeaked. This couldn't be happening. Could it? When he nodded once again, so assured and confident, she had to stop and take a breath. "But…I don't get it…why didn't you say something before?"

"I was scared," he confessed. "I didn't think you'd want the person I've become since then. It just seemed like there would be too many obstacles, I guess."

"Max…" Liz breathed. "You've got it all wrong; I do want you. I feel the same way, okay? I have done for a while."

"God…" he breathed. I've been so stupid, just sitting back and not saying anything all this time." He reached up and brushed his thumb across her bottom lip, making Liz shiver in response. "Can you forgive me?"

She nodded and opened her mouth to voice as much, but before she could get a word out, his hand cupped her neck and his lips were on hers, caressing them softly before taking them passionately. Liz couldn't think; there were so many emotions flowing through her right now that she could barely make sense of what had just happened. She sighed into his mouth, as her lips parted and he deftly slid his tongue inside, entwining it with hers. Her arms moved up to wrap around his neck as his hand on her lower back tightened, pulling her closer.

It was several minutes before they pulled apart, each panting and trying to catch their breath. Max lowered his hand from her neck to meet his other at her waist and Liz loosened her grip on his neck, allowing her hands to slide back down and rest on his solid chest.

"Max, there's something I need to tell you, too," she hesitated; trying to figure out how to tell him about the cards she'd been sending without it coming out wrong.

"What is it?" he asked, somewhat breathlessly.

"I've been sending cards to you, too. Since 8th grade," she looked straight ahead at his chest as she spoke.

If she'd been looking at his face, she would have seen his jaw drop and his eyes widen in surprise.

"You…you're my secret admirer?" he exhaled in wonderment. Liz nodded, her gaze still downcast. "God, Liz; what have we been doing all these years? All this time we've wasted?" Liz looked up to find an incredulous expression on his face.

"I didn't think you'd ever…" she started, but then shook her head "God, I should have said something!"

"Yeah, well, me too."

A thought suddenly struck Liz. "Shit, Scott!"

Max looked around, bewildered. "Scott?"

"Max, those first two cards…I thought they were from Scott. That's why I asked him out! Shit, what did I do? I should have found out for sure. I didn't even realise they weren't from him until it was too late!"

"Liz, it doesn't matter, okay?" Max tilted her head up with his hand. "Hey, I made mistakes too. I dated other girls instead of approaching you," he comforted. "How about we just forget about the past couple of years and just concentrate on the future?"

Relieved, Liz nodded, leaning into his palm, which was now resting on her cheek. "I can do that."

"Okay," he smiled. "So, Liz Parker…will you go out with me?"

"Yes," she smiled. "Yes, Max Evans, I will."

Sharing a tender smile with Max, Liz leaned up and her lips met his once more. As the kiss deepened, she held him close, the surroundings fading away as she finally allowed herself to enjoy everything that she'd wanted for so long.

The End