Michael didn’t understand what the hell was going on in his life. One moment he’s as close as he possibly can be with one person, the next they weren’t even speaking. It was a pattern he would rather not perpetuate, but it seemed to be getting the better of him.
Maria was giving him the cold shoulder. Not the same shoulder she was giving Jerry Vaughn from the looks of things. Michael wasn’t sure if talking it out would do any good or if pretending nothing was going on was the only the choice he had. God knew that he wasn’t happy with the way things stood, but at the same time he knew he didn't want to get back together with Maria.
And then there was Liz. He still hadn’t gotten over the fantasy he’d had at the lake. Making love to Liz Parker by the shore, beneath a star-filled sky was his idea of heaven. Not that he knew when he had gone past she’s my friend to she’s the woman I want to be with. But she was.
He’d kept to himself since dropping her off at her parent’s. Seeming to retreat, while still coming by her window every evening. He would spend the night on her balcony, watching her sleep. Making sure he left in the early morning hours before she awoke. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. But he didn’t want to make things weird between them.
He was sure she was still in love with Max. That at some point Max and Liz would find their way back to one another. And that sooner or later he would lose what had never been his to begin with.
Michael walked into the Crashdown in a mood. Tonight he would be left alone with Liz. They would have to close together. It had been a while since they’d last had closing duties. Since the lake they hadn’t really been alone together. At least not while both of them were awake. And he didn't want things to be awkward. Except that by avoiding her he'd made them awkward so he had no one to blame but himself and this kind of thing pissed him off.
He made his way into the kitchen, stopping briefly by the employee lounge to pull his apron and one of his gray work shirts from his locker. He walked into the kitchen and asked Jose, the other cook where Liz was.
“She went out earlier with your friend, the one with big ears.”
“Do you know if she’s working her shift today?”
“No man, I don’t ask the boss’s daughter nothing.”
Michael nodded and went into the storeroom under the guise of looking for more tomatoes. He felt like punching the wall. It was starting. They'd get back together. And he’d be alone.
Taking a deep breath he reminded himself that it was how it was supposed to be. He was a soldier. A soldier whose duty was to keep himself free of entanglements. He’d already made the mistake of opening up to Maria. He’d be a fool to surrender to his feelings regarding Liz.
“Michael? What are you doing in here?” asked Liz quizzically from behind him.
“I was getting more tomatoes. Where were you when I got in?”
“Oh. Max needed me to analyze some dirt for something unusual. Not that he ever specified what in particular would be unusual.”
“Unusual. Nope. As far as I could tell it was just dirt. He made me analyze it every which way, I was almost late because of that.” Liz said with laughter in her voice.
Michael almost melted at the sound. But the wall was up. The fear was real. And he wasn’t about to let it down. “Shouldn’t you be out front?”
“Yeah, it’s just that Jose told me you were looking for me? Is everything all right, Michael, you're acting really weird?” Liz asked. He was acting more like the Michael she had first met two years ago. Surly and closed off. But hadn't they gotten past all that?
“Yeah. Just peachy. If you’ll excuse me I have work to do.” Michael strode past her. Without looking at her twice. And Liz knew it had to be about Maria. He had found out about Jerry. She had suspected he wouldn’t take the news well, but she hadn’t imagined he’d go back to shutdown mode. Michael was so much more than that. His heart was so full of feeling; it was killing Liz to see him so hurt.
Liz had known that her feelings for Michael had changed at some point over the past month. She loved Maria. She even understood some of Maria’s behavior. It had a lot to do with hurt, but the way Maria was lashing out at Michael wasn’t fair. Maria had just never seen Michael for who he really was, she wanted to change him mold him into what she considered the perfect boyfriend.
Max had always been the model boyfriend. The whole thing with Tess didn’t even really reflect on his record because by then he had been an ex-boyfriend. Although kissing her on the night of their prom had been a bit much. That and the kiss in the rain were his blackest marks as a boyfriend. But he had always been so sensitive. He paid attention to the details, he made the small things count, and he looked great with his shirt off.
But the perfect boyfriend hadn’t brought Liz any real happiness. More like heartache and anguish. Spending time with Michael had healed her. Her body may not have been bruised or battered, but her soul had been. And Michael reminded her of how easy it was to laugh, how much there was to laugh at, rather than cry.
She would talk to him tonight. When they were alone as they closed. She hadn’t actively sought him out after the night at the lake, because she had been so embarrassed. She wanted so badly to fling herself into his arms, and she knew he wasn’t ready for that. He was still too involved with Maria. And she hadn’t wanted to give away her true feelings.
She had sensed him, every night he spent outside on her balcony as she lay in bed. Wanting—even as she made her breaths seem even as she faked sleep—to go to the window and invite him in. Afraid that if she moved too suddenly he would run away.
Realizing that she had spent far too much time in the storeroom she went out to the main dining room and relieved a harried Maria, who was taking off for the day.
Hours later she heard, “Lizzie? Come here a moment.” Jeff Parker called from his office in the back.
“Yeah, Dad? What is it?”
“Hon, I hate to do this to you, but your Mom and I have to make an emergency run to Santa Fe tonight. Cousin Jeanie just called and Rick… you remember Rick? Well, he was in an accident at work and it’s a long story, but she’s just gone into labor and she needs someone to watch the kids because Rick is still in the hospital and the neighbors—“
“Okay, Dad. It’s fine. I’ll take care of the Crashdown.”
“Thank you honey, I don’t know how long we’ll be away. But it’s okay to keep it closed tomorrow and Monday, but open regularly the rest of the week.”
“It’s fine Dad.” Liz said as she gave her Dad a smile and a hug.
The Parkers left as the rush of customers petered out. It was ten when Liz flipped the open sign to closed, and there were still seven tables full. The rain that had been drizzling on and off all day, had taken a decided turn for the worse, as the sky began to rumble. She told Alice, the waitress working with her to head out, and began cleaning the empty tabletops. Eventually the last check was paid and Michael and Liz were alone in the restaurant.
Michael had been short with Liz all day, his temper fraying at her nerves. Instead of being playful and following their usual closing routine, Liz and Michael worked separately, Liz taking care of the front room, while Michael cleaned up the kitchen.
As she was close to finishing up Liz turned to break the ridiculous silence they had been sharing. Only to hear Michael slam out the back door. Upset by the suddenness of his exit Liz literally threw in the towel and headed into the lounge to change. She slipped into the locker room area and out of habit made sure she was alone. She quickly unbuttoned the snaps of her seagreen and silver uniform. She wore only a lilac lace bra with a matching lace thong beneath it. She rummaged through her locker for her dark denim jeans and a baby tee she usually kept there.
Michael watched with a dry mouth as an almost nude Liz Parker poked around her locker. She was oblivious to his presence as she wriggled around. But he was completely aware of hers. His jeans were now oppressively tight where they usually fit comfortably. He had come back to apologize for his behavior all day, but finding her like this, he knew that he was about to fall off a precipice.