Disclaimer: Well, ok, if you're going to insist on the technical legalities of the issue... I don't own anything.
Author's Note: At long, last -- the sequel to "Reading Comprehension." This is more of an interlude … sort of a transition between the first steps taken in RC and a full-blown … something ;-). Thank you Bennie, for beta-reading!
Feedback: always welcome! Both positive and constructive remarks are fine. Just be polite.
Max roused from sleep when he felt the arm beneath his head pull away. The mattress shifted, there was a rustle of blankets, and he was alone in the bed.
He blinked sleepily at the departing figure. "Leaving already?"
Michael looked down at him. "Yeah. It'll be morning soon, so I'd better get back to my place before people wake up here."
Max propped himself up on an elbow, watching as the other boy pulled on his jeans and sweatshirt. It had been like this for the past several weeks. Ever since that night when Michael had come to his window for that heart-stopping, life-affirming kiss, they had taken things slowly. They told no one what was really going on, behaved no differently in the public realm, even to the point of still arguing over plans and actions. But slowly, surely, their private relationship grew and developed. Michael now spent about half his nights with Max -- they just slept, nothing more, but now Michael stayed *with* Max, not alone on the floor. The feeling of having Michael's warm body curled around him as he slept brought Max a peace and happiness that he had never dreamed possible, and watching him leave early every time made the rest of the night that much emptier.
"Michael," he said quietly. "Stay the whole night tonight. Please?"
"You know I can't," Michael replied. "What if someone found out?"
"Maybe it's time they found out. I'm not saying we should tell the world, but we should at least tell Isabel what's really going on. I mean, she and Tess are going it alone right now. They would probably appreciate knowing that they were right about that 'Japanese' concept. And what about Liz and Maria? They deserve the truth, Michael."
Michael ran a hand through his hair, making it stand more wildly than ever. He sighed. "I hate it when you're right, Maximus. Yeah, I guess we should tell the girls. But no one else, okay? I don't want the public spectacle that happened with Isabel and Tess. We don't need that kind of publicity."
Max nodded. "Agreed." He smiled winsomely at Michael's dimly-lit figure. "Now, will you come back to bed?"
Michael quickly stripped back down to his boxers and T-shirt and climbed back under the covers. "So, how do you want to tell Isabel?” he asked Max. “You want to go the subtle or not-so-subtle approach?"
Max raised an eyebrow in the darkness as he pulled Michael in close. "Hmmm. What did you have in mind?"
"Morning, Iz," Max said as he came into the kitchen. He looked around. "Where's Mom?"
Isabel looked up from the book she was reading while she ate. "She's still in the shower. You know her -- when Dad's away, she tends to sleep in a little." She turned a page. "Max, do you remember what Mr. Little was saying about 'Pride and Prejudice' the other day? I'm so not understanding it, and we've got that test tomorrow."
Max buttered a piece of toast and added Tabasco sauce on top. "You mean the stuff about societal expectations?"
"Yeah. The part where--"
"Jane Austen was talking about the stupid constraints and expectations society had for women in that era," Michael explained casually as he walked in. "And she did it so artfully that most blind idiots of the day had no idea she was making fun of them."
Isabel raised an eyebrow. "Uh, thanks, Michael. Didn't realize you paid so much attention in class. And you're here kind of early, aren't you?"
"I read 'Pride and Prejudice' on my own a couple of years ago. Something to keep my mind off Hank's shit. As for my being here ..." He leaned down and kissed Max full on the lips before taking a seat. "I thought I'd stay for breakfast. Pass the cereal, would you?"
Isabel gaped at them. They grinned back at her.
"Are you putting me on? 'Cause it's not funny. Tess and I get enough hassle from everyone else at school -- we don't need it from you."
Max looked at her earnestly. "Honest, Iz. It's for real. We, uh, we've just been taking it slow, and didn't feel like telling anyone at first."
She looked from one to the other. "Seriously? How long has this been going on?"
"Just a couple of weeks, that's all." Max explained what had happened after Isabel had stormed out of his room that day.
"Yeah," Michael put in, stirring Tabasco sauce into his corn flakes. "Max told me about your theory, about how maybe that book should be read like Japanese, and once I stopped freaking out, I had to admit I, uh, agreed with him ... and you." He sighed. "Wouldn't you just know that whoever designed us had to make our lives as difficult as possible? That we couldn't just be ordinary aliens, oh no. Like that wasn't causing enough trouble. No, we had to be attracted to each other in ways that draw even more attention."
"That's why we've been so quiet about things, Isabel," Max said in a low voice. "But we figured you and Tess deserved to know."
"Thanks. I'll tell Tess when I see her later. But what about Liz and Maria?" Isabel asked them.
Michael shifted uncomfortably. "Maxwell here has been trying to convince me we should tell them too. So I guess they're next to know."
Isabel suddenly pasted a bright smile on her face. "Morning, Mom!" she said loudly, by way of warning.
"Good morning, everyone," Diane Evans said as she came into the kitchen. She looked around. "You're awfully quiet all of a sudden. Did I interrupt something?"
"Oh, well, we were just studying for our upcoming English test, that's all." Max pointed at the book as he exchanged a glance with Isabel. He knew she hated lying to their mother, but Isabel was eating her toast placidly, going along with the charade without protest.
"That's a good idea," Diane Evans said, pouring herself some coffee. She nodded at the extra boy at the table. "Hello, Michael. You're here bright and early. You studying with them?"
"Yep. Really hitting the books this year." Michael smiled at her, ignoring Max and Isabel's muffled snorts. He started to rise. "Here, you want me to cook breakfast for you again?"
"Oh, no, dear, that's all right. But it's very thoughtful of you to suggest it. I'm a bit late, so I'm just going to grab a bagel and go." She gave Max and Isabel a kiss on the cheek as she walked out. "See you tonight, kids. Good luck with your test!"
When she had gone, Isabel and Max turned to Michael. "Studying? Breakfast? What was that all about?" Max asked.
Michael looked a little sheepish. "Hey, I just figured I'd make sure to stay on her good side, now that I’m spending more time here and all."
Isabel looked at them both. "You know, it would be a lot easier to do this if we would just *tell* her what's going on. She’s open-minded, she’ll be able to handle it."
Michael gave Isabel a *look*. "Let's not go overboard."
When Michael went down the hall to use the bathroom, Isabel leaned in and whispered to Max, "Are you sure about this, Max? You're really not doing this because I guilted you into it?"
Max put his hand on hers reassuringly. "I'm sure, Iz. I got so upset with you before because I hadn't wanted to face that side of me, but you were right. Michael is the one I feel connected to, the one I love."
Isabel looked mildly surprised. "You love him?"
"I know, it sounds weird since we haven't been 'together' that long, but I think my feelings have built up for a long time. I know you and Tess don't have the same kind of history, but don't you feel the same way about her?"
Isabel nodded. “I do. I just didn’t expect you to really feel that way yourself. I was just feeling frustrated when I yelled at you that day. I mean, what about you and Liz? You guys seemed so close.”
Max sighed. “We are. And I *do* like her – she’s smart and caring. But it’s not the same, Iz, not to me, anyway. And I’m not sure how she’ll take it when I tell her.”
“If she’s that caring, Max, she’ll just want you to be happy …” Isabel trailed off when she saw that Max wasn’t listening to her. Michael was coming back into the kitchen and Max’s whole attention had shifted to him. She had never seen Max’s face light up like that. Oh yeah, she thought with a smile. He’s in love all right.
Max took a deep breath and tapped on Liz’s window. Here goes nothing… he thought. He had waited until now to talk to her, after school, after her shift at the Crashdown, fearing a public revelation if things went badly. This way, everything would be private.
“Hey, Max,” Liz said, pushing up the sash. “What are you doing here?”
Max shifted nervously. “I know it's late. I just wanted to talk to you a bit, without the chaos of being at school or at the Crashdown. Mind if I come in?”
Liz seemed mildly distraught about something, which puzzled him. But she stepped back and let him climb through her window anyway.
“Are you all right, Liz?” He reached out a hand to touch her arm, and was surprised when she acted as if she was going to pull away. But the moment passed quickly, so quickly that he thought he might have imagined it.
“I’m fine, Max, really. Why?”
“It’s just that … you seem distracted. Or upset. Did something happen?”
Liz bowed her head for a second, and seemed to be thinking. “Actually, Max, I have something I want to talk to you about, too.”
“Oh?” Max tried to keep his tone light, but inside he was shaking. So he hadn’t imagined that flinch earlier. Something was definitely bothering her. Had she, despite all his and Michael’s precautions, heard about them already? That wasn’t at all the way he’d wanted Liz to find out.
“Um, yeah. Is it okay if I go first?” Liz chewed on her bottom lip, a gesture Max recognized as indicating her nervousness. She saved the lip chewing for really big things – a major chemistry presentation, or facing evil aliens, or … being repulsed by her gay soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend? Max could only nod at her to continue.
“Okay, Max. It’s like this. You know I really like you, right?” He nodded again, afraid to speak. Afraid that he had really hurt her with his choice of partners. Liz took another deep breath. “Oh, god, Max, this is so hard to say…. I, uh, Max, I kissed Kyle the other day.” She looked at him hesitantly trying to gauge his reaction.
“What?!” He couldn’t believe his ears. Kyle? It wasn’t what he’d expected her to say at all.
Liz flushed. “I’m so sorry, Max. I never meant for it to happen like this. But Kyle’s changed a lot since you healed him, and we’ve been talking a lot, and things have just clicked, and the other night, before I knew it, we were kissing. I swear, it’ll never happen again.”
Recovering from his shock, Max looked at her seriously. “Liz, do you love him? Be honest.”
Liz gave a tiny nod, tears filling her eyes. “I … I think I might.”
Max smiled at her. “Then I’m happy for you, Liz.”
“Wh-what? You’re not mad?” She stared at him.
“I mean it, Liz. You’re right – Kyle’s changed and he seems like a great guy. And, uh, you just made what I wanted to say a lot easier.” Liz breathed a sigh of relief at Max’s calm reaction, but then looked at him curiously as he changed topics. He plunged ahead. “I came here tonight to tell you that I’d found someone else too.”
“You did? Who?” Liz ran down the list of possibilities in her mind. Maria was still with Michael, and the whole town knew that Tess was with Isabel. She hadn’t noticed Max talking to any other girls …
Her mouth fell open. “Michael? As in our Michael?”
“Yeah, that Michael." Max smiled wryly. "Not exactly the same sort of announcement that you had, I know. Are you ok with this?”
“Yeah, sure, I’m fine. Just surprised, that’s all. Wow … seems like you four were destined to all be together after all. I didn't think it would be in that combination, though.”
Max smiled. "Neither did we." He gave Liz a hug. "Thanks for being so understanding."
Liz smiled. "I should be saying the same thing to you." Suddenly her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my god, Max. Maria! What about Maria?”
Max looked uncomfortable. "Well, hopefully Michael is telling her now. I don't suppose she's secretly found someone else to be with too, has she?"
Liz shook her head.
"Well, in that case, maybe you should be ready with a big box of Kleenex for a phone call from her soon. She sometimes talks to me, but since in this case I'm the problem …"
Liz nodded in understanding. "I'll make sure I've got some mocha fudge ice cream on hand, too."
Max clicked the front door shut and tiptoed wearily up the stairs toward his room. He was glad everything had gone so well with Liz, but it had still been a draining experience. He shook his head in amusement. Kyle. Who would have thought? Well, at least he didn't have to worry about Liz being alone or angry, and now he was free to let things progress with Michael. Progress … Max's smiled inwardly. They'd been taking it slow, but Max was more than ready to have things move along. How long had he been waiting, even unconsciously, for the chance to really *be* with Michael? All his life, he felt. And now that they'd come clean with the girls, they would be free to move on.
Max pushed open the door to his room and his inward smile turned to an outward beam when he saw who waited for him there.
He shut the door and locked it with a careless, almost absent-minded use of his powers. It wouldn't keep Izzy out, of course, but she knew better. Besides, he'd seen Tess's car out front. It seemed likely his sister was having a sleepover of her own tonight.
"Hey," he murmured to the boxer-clad figure on the bed.
"Hey yourself. Took you long enough to get here."
"Sorry. Liz had things she wanted to tell me too, so it took a bit longer." Max tossed his jacket over the desk chair as he approached the bed.
Michael propped himself up on an elbow and watched as the other boy kicked off his shoes. But when Max started to pull off his sweater, Michael sat up and reached out a hand to stay him. "That's my job," he said. He tugged the offending garment over Max's head, then repeated the gesture with his T-shirt before pulling Max down for a deep kiss.
Max returned the kiss with equal fervor, exploring the warm recesses of Michael’s mouth with his tongue, relishing the flavor of Tabasco and sugar and Michael, all rolled into one.
“So, how’d it go with Maria?” Max murmured in between kisses.
“Fine. You?” Michael was busy running his hands over Max’s chest and nibbling on Max’s ear.
“Great. Liz was really understanding.” Max was having trouble forming any coherent thought as Michael flipped him over onto his back and moved to undo the button on Max’s jeans. But it did seem odd to him that Maria had taken the news so calmly. She was usually pretty wound up when it came to Michael. He put out a hand to touch Michael’s shoulder, down by his knees where he was busy coaxing the denim off of Max’s long legs.
“Wait, Michael. Maria was really ok? She wasn’t mad?”
Michael barely glanced up as he responded. “I said she was fine. You said Liz was fine. No problem.” With Max’s jeans finally disposed of, Michael slid his body up over Max’s, making as much of their skin come into contact as possible. He leaned in for another hungry kiss.
Max submitted himself to Michael’s ministrations for another minute, but the incongruency of Michael’s statements finally got to him. He sat up, inadvertently knocking Michael to one side. “Yeah, but Liz was fine because she’s found someone else. Is Maria with someone new, too?”
Michael heaved an enormous sigh and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Ok, fine, Maxwell. You want to know what happened? Nothing happened. I went over there … but I didn’t tell her. She was babbling on about some plans she had for a picnic or some romantic thing, and I just couldn’t say, ‘Hey, that’s great. Mind if I bring Max, my real lover?’”
“Look, Michael,” Max said, looking into Michael’s eyes, trying not to think about what a wonderful sable color they were, trying not to look at lips swollen from kissing, at long, talented fingers. He swallowed hard. “I think it’s great you didn’t want to hurt Maria. She’s been my friend and I don’t want to hurt her either. But it’s not right that we take things any further until you’ve told her the truth. What if she heard about us from someone else? She’d be even more upset.”
“Ok, fine, so I’ll tell her.” Michael leaned back in to caress Max’s thigh. “Tomorrow.”
Regretfully, Max stilled Michael’s fingers. “All right,” he said quietly. “Tomorrow.” He didn’t know where he found the willpower for the next sentence. “But I think we should wait until then before doing anything more.”
Michael stared at him silently. The same old story, Max thought. The battle of wills. Dark eyes locked until finally Michael turned away to pick up his own rumpled clothing. Without a word, he pulled them on, tied his shoes, and climbed out the window.
And, just as he had done the night of their first kiss, Max stood at the window watching his lover disappear into the night. But the heart-pounding elation he’d felt that night was missing. Instead, Max leaned his head on the cool glass, feeling suddenly exhausted, and sad. He loved Michael, he really did. And he was pretty certain Michael felt the same about him, especially after seeing the way he’d made nice with Mom that morning. But whatever personality traits they’d had inbred, leader and second, it seemed they were going to keep rearing their ugly heads and causing problems for him and Michael. To Max, all the potential problems were worth it, anything to keep Michael by his side.
He only hoped Michael would see it that way too.
Back to "Reading Comprehension"
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