“You really asked that?” he said, making an effort to chuckle softly. It would be unseemly for parishioners to hear loud guffaws coming out of the confessional box.
“I did,” she answered, smirking indulgently. Apparently he found the idea as funny as she found his watching anything off the WB.
“And what happened?”
“He taught me how to use some, of course.” She began listing them. “Grappling hooks and rope climbing for going over walls, mirrors for – well, for so many things. You’d be shocked at what you can do with a mirror. And, let’s see, first aid when you don’t have a first aid kit handy, quick, easy and cheap ways to disguise yourself in 20 minutes flat, basic automechanics … well, okay, he got Jordan to show me how to fix a car, because he’s helpless under a hood and she won’t let him near her car anymore. Then there are the toys, the kind of thing he was able to order through a catalogue for me, like night-vision goggles, CO2 dartguns, throwing knives, mace –”
“Thank you child. I – I get the point,” the priest interrupted, soundly slightly nauseous. She sighed sympathetically; this guy was curiouser than Alice, but she had to remember that this must be very strange to him. She wasn’t surprised when he changed the subject.
“But what about your friends? You were already quite advanced. Why didn’t you tell them yet?”
“I was getting to that!” she protested.
“It’s all right, child,” he said, sounding somewhat ashamed for pushing. “It’s your story, you tell it at your own pace.”
“Thank you, Father,” she said gratefully, and took a deep breath.
“Hey, Maria. Do you know where Liz is?” Max asked, casually grabbing a seat and a menu. Maria wasn’t fooled, and she was starting to feel a little upset. She also needed an outlet.
“No, I don’t,” she said loudly, and everyone within earshot winced as she slammed down a tray of glasses. Unable to hold it in any longer, she grabbed Max by his shirt and dragged him into the back room. Neither of them noticed a small figure darting up the stairs as they entered.
“I feel like I don’t know anything about her anymore!” she burst out. “I don’t know where she is, what she’s doing, who she’s doing it with, what she wants … I just don’t know!”
She grew quiet when she saw Max’s bleak expression. Gently, she waited until he looked at her before saying, “I wonder if even Liz knows what she wants right now.”
Unwilling and unable to hear any more, he turned to leave. And in the shadows at the top of the stairs, Liz listened, and realized that things were getting out of control. Wiping a tear from one eye, she started making plans. She had a feeling the time had come.
“So your friends were getting suspicious,” he mused. “What about your family? Didn’t they say anything?”
“Oh, they said something, all right.” Liz sighed. “You know, it’s awfully hard to lie to your parents, even if you’re doing it to protect them.”
“Protect them? You were just taking martial arts lessons. What was there to protect them from?”
“Even then,” Liz said, wistfully; “even then, I think it was in the back of my head, that someday this part of my life would be pulled into the secret alien part of it, and I never wanted to put them in danger. So, instinctively, I kept lying …”
“Mom, I really need to go. I’m late!” Liz said, for the hundredth time, trying to inject just the right note of urgency and reassurance in her argument to appeal to her mother’s sense of responsibility without alerting other instincts.
It didn’t work. Nancy looked meaningfully at Jeff, and they pinned their daughter with simultaneous looks of concern and determination. She groaned inwardly. She really was late, by almost 45 minutes, and she knew Jay would be worried because she’d never been late before. And she couldn’t even call, because she didn’t even have his phone number, she realized with some disgust. It had never occurred to her that she would ever need to know it.
But her parents had finally noticed that she was busy all the time, and that day they’d attended a parent-teacher meeting ... where they learned with some shock that while Liz was excelling in her courses, she was not participating in any extracurricular activities. At all. So there really wasn’t any reason for her to disappear for a couple hours after school everyday … for months.
The meeting was late in the afternoon, so they waited to drive Liz home after school, to ask about what kept her so busy these days. She’d been dodging questions for an hour now, trying to reassure them. She’d even tried her “meditating” excuse on them, but they weren’t buying it.
Suddenly inspired, she stood up. “Okay,” she said, as if admitting some big secret. “I didn’t want to worry you, but I’ve been taking some self-defence classes.”
They stopped and looked at her, and reacted exactly as she knew they would.
“Oh, Lizzie!” her father exclaimed. “Did something happen? Did someone hurt you?”
Her mother looked to Liz, also concerned.
Battling feelings of intense guilt, Liz adopted an expression that could only be described as puppy-eyed. “I started feeling a little weird when I closed at night by myself, when you were both out of town. And after I saw on the news about that waitress that got attacked after leaving work …” she said, making it up on the spot. Nancy and Jeff just nodded. They didn’t recall anything like that happening, but they knew such people did exist and they were preoccupied with thought of their daughter’s safety. “So I thought that it wouldn’t be a good idea.”
She had one more card to play. “I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Do you want to see what I’ve learned?” They nodded.
And ten minutes later, her rather winded father rubbed a few sore places while her mother looked on with shining eyes.
“Oh Liz, I see what you mean. In fact,” her mother said enthusiastically, “maybe you could teach me some of those moves. Oh, and the other waitresses, if they want.”
Liz nodded, thinking that she would definitely love to see Maria learn a few. She made a big show of looking at her watch, though, and allowed her parents to see how upset she really was.
“Can I go now? The class was expecting me an hour ago, and they might worry. I just want to explain.”
Her parents nodded, and she turned to leave. “Lizzie,” her father said suddenly.
“Would you mind closing tonight? Now that I know you’d be okay, I’d love to take your mother out.” Nancy smiled in pleasant surprise and turned to Liz expectantly.
“Sure,” she agreed. “Go on, you crazy kids,” she joked, and laughed at how quickly they grabbed their jackets and were out the door.
Heading back out into the diner, she was relieved that the dinner rush was almost over. Mid-week was always a little slow anyway, and she knew that business wouldn’t pick up for another hour or so when people came in for a quick treat after school activities or hanging out with friends.
“Maria!” she called out, and found her behind the counter filling salt and peppershakers. “My parents left me in charge, but I need to run an errand. Could you watch things for half an hour, hour tops?”
“Sure!” Maria smiled cheerfully as Liz ducked into the back to grab her jacket. She was glad Liz was working tonight, because she’d finally decided that she didn’t buy the meditating crap anymore and wanted some answers. And since Liz seemed happier than she had in a long time, she thought she knew where she’d been going.
“She’s met someone,” she said, anticipating a little female bonding over ice cream and salacious detail sharing.
She spun around to see Max. He looked devastated.
“Oh, I didn’t see you there. Hey Max.” He nodded and sat down.
“She met someone? Who?”
She winced at his plaintive tone.
“I don’t know that she has,” she said quickly. “It’s just a theory.”
“Oh,” and they both turned to watch Liz come out from the back, smile at them and walk backwards to the front door as she waved and opened her mouth to say something else.
Suddenly someone yelled “Look out!” and they watched in horror as she stepped into a spill that no one had cleaned up yet and her feet slipped out from beneath her.
“Liz!” Maria screamed, having flashbacks of a certain day in a September not so long ago, a day that was etched permanently and painfully on her mind.
But instead of falling hard Liz somehow twisted in mid air, just one hand meeting the ground as she completed the rotation into a back flip and landed securely on her feet instead of her tailbone.
Unconcerned, Liz dusted herself off, signalled to a nearby waitress to clean up the mess, and continued towards the door, stopping only when some customers started clapping. Smiling self-consciously, she pretended to curtsey and then left as they laughed in admiration.
She completely missed the unbelieving look exchanged by one best friend and one ex-boyfriend, however, because just then someone in the crowd caught her eye.
But Max and Maria didn’t miss her wry smile or the warmth of her greeting. “Sorry, I’m running late today. Did you catch my little performance?”
And they didn’t miss the way his eyes lit up when he saw her, or the way he checked her over in a very familiar way to see if she was injured, and didn’t look surprised at all.
And then followed Liz out the door, hand to the small of her back.
“Uh oh,” Maria said.
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|DC Slash||Harry Potter||Ros. Hetero||Ros. Slash||Ros. Other|