Michael had pulled up to the curb to find Liz waiting for him, in a few short minutes they were on their way to the lake. As they rode with the wind in their hair they let go of all their problems. Maria and Max lay forgotten, evil aliens, the end of the world, were the furthest things from their thoughts as they took in the vast expanse of desert that lay before them.
They arrived at the lake and began unloading the small amount of things they had brought. Michael spread the tarp he used to protect the bike from inclement weather on the grass putting the blanket Liz had brought over it.
Liz busied herself by taking the food out of the basket; she’d brought potato salad, tuna fish sandwiches, bottled water for her, and a cherry cola and a bottle of Tabasco sauce for Michael. She set two places on the blanket, and divided the food. “Let’s eat now, I’m starving!”
“Okay.” Michael sat down and noticed the details that Liz had thought of, like the Tabasco and the cherry coke. He looked at her. She surprised him with the extent of her warmth and friendship. She was unfailing in her support, in her trust, in her trustworthiness. This petite woman had held the weight of the entire world on her shoulders and still she survived. In spite of them, the aliens who had complicated her life. Her existence.
“What?” Liz asked when she noticed Michael’s intent stare.
“Nothing. I…just thank you. I guess. This is all so good. You’re amazing.”
Liz blushed. “Not that amazing! Come on Michael.” Liz grimaced and took a bite of her sandwich. She had gone for the most traditional of picnic feasts, and she had taken them all from the Crashdown. It had been simple thing to do. They ate in a companionable silence, laying back on the blanket their heads close together and their bodies stretched out in opposite directions.
“Liz. God. I’ve been so awful to you in the past. When you have been nothing but a friend to me, to all of us. What you’ve gone through this past year, well no one should have to go through that. Loss, betrayal. You withstood it all. You love all of us still. I wonder sometimes how much more can your heart handle?” Michael began speaking in earnest. He had been holding all these questions in, his amazement at who Liz had proved to be, he needed to express the concern he felt for her.
“Michael. You don’t have to apologize. I did it all willingly. The loss and betrayal. Well I’m still working through that. Spending time with you has helped alleviate the pain of losing Alex, and it’s also helped me deal with Max. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’m prepared.”
“But you gave up your future. How can you forget about it so easily?”
“It hasn’t been easy. But I’ve come to realize that what I had in that life is gone, and I can only build a future from what I have now. And if things don’t turn out the way they did in that other life, I can’t do anything about that, because I had it. I lived it. Another version of me perhaps, but it was Max and me. And we were happy. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“I want you to be happy Liz.”
“So do I Michael, so do I.”
They lay quietly basking in the golden sun, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon, the warmth of feeling that lay between them. Michael had at that point taken off his t-shirt and lay in his swimming trunks absorbing the heat. Liz too had stripped down to her bathing suit, a small red bikini. As their skin darkened from a light gold to a deeper bronze, they decided to cool off in the lake.
They splashed around and swam at first, but as the day progressed they lay on their backs floating and talking.
“So how was Maria?” Liz asked.
“A pain. She’s upset that I’m not spending time with her, but really she hasn’t been free to spend time with me or vice versa. It’s become this big deal.” Michael answered. Liz made an unintelligible noise in reply. After a while Michael spoke up again, “Liz do you mind if I asked you something?”
“No. Of course not.”
“See Maria and I we’ve…well, you know, done it. And since then things between us have been funny. It’s like everything’s changed, but no one told me what the new rules are…I was just wondering if Maria has said anything to you about it.”
“I’ve gotten a few complaints at work. You know about attention. And showing that you care.”
“But she knows I do. Liz, I can’t change who I am because Maria’s feeling insecure. She’s seriously making me crazy.”
Liz swam up to Michael, who lay floating in the deeper section of the lake. He stood up in the water and held her in his arms. Looking deep into his eyes she said, “Michael I don’t think you should change either. But you can work on paying a little more attention to detail.”
Michael looked into Liz’s warm coffee colored eyes, he had never noticed how truly beautiful they were. Her honesty, her thoughtfulness, her earnestness, shone through the depths, and her eyes had amazing depth. Her skin was slightly chilled by the water, but smooth to his touch. Her breasts pressed against his chest as his hands wrapped around her petite waist as he held her up. He took all of this in and replied, “Liz I think I pay too much attention as it is.”
Liz opened her mouth as if to reply, when Michael lowered his lips to hers. For a few moments they were both swept away by passion, their bodies pressed tightly against one another.
When they separated, they let go of each other completely. Swimming to the shore in silence they both began to pick up the remnants of their day.
The ride back differed greatly from the ride out. Carefree they were not; the world and its troubles weighed them down decidedly. Michael dropped Liz off at the Crashdown, thanked her for the nice time, and headed home.
When Liz entered her room, she finally reacted. Bringing her shaking hands to her lips. Tears filled her eyes, as the guilt washed over her in waves. Running to her bathroom she made as if to scrub her mouth, before sinking to the tiled floor. Sobbing because she couldn’t bear the thought of rinsing Michael’s taste away.
When she had gathered herself together, she stood and began calmly preparing herself for her date with Max, pretending that what happened at the lake was something someone else lived.
Michael slammed the door to his apartment, and was surprised to find Isabel sitting on his couch watching TV.
“Hey, you wanna talk about it?”
“A fight with Liz?”
“No. It’s myself I’m mad at.” With those words Michael walked into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. He smashed his reflection with his fist and sat down on the floor holding his head in his bleeding hands.
Isabel ran in as soon as she heard the crash. Without saying a word, she set about fixing everything up. Flinching when Michael refused to let her heal his hands. She cleaned the wounds and bandaged him up. After a while convincing him to sit on the couch with her and watch tv. She was worried. Something was not right.