it's a day early for scheduling reasons. and it's the big confrontation...
“You two haven’t slept at all have you?” Maria admonished.
It’s strange to see Maria so chipper in the morning. I know that splitting the group up will affect her most. She may love Michael, but she’s as social a creature as they come, and his surliness cuts her deeply even though she knows he doesn’t mean any harm by it.
Liz shakes her head and steps away from me slowly, the shuddering has stopped, and there is no sign of the green electricity coursing through her nervous system. “You missed a gorgeous sunrise.”
“Chica, you’ve seen one sunrise, you’ve seen them all,” Maria answers Liz back smartly, “Anyway, Michael went to get some coffee and breakfast if you two want anything?”
“That’s all right, Liz and I had something earlier.”
Liz nods in agreement before looking over in the direction of the minivan. “So is everyone up?” she asks casually.
“Well, her Royal Highness is still sleeping. But everyone else is up. Max went with Michael to get food. He wanted me to find you two, and ask if you wanted anything.”
“But we’re okay,” I reply as Liz hugs herself.
A silence looms, and Maria clearly seems discomfited, but unusually perceptive, because she doesn’t insist on filling the air with her nonsensical chatter.
I walk away from the girls, toward a nearby picnic table and sit down facing the road. I can’t believe the conversation that Liz and I have just had. If I’m honest, I still can’t believe that it happened anywhere but in my dreams. If I hadn’t been driving, I’d definitely have doubts as to my wakefulness.
I’ve felt this way few times in my life. As if I were trapped in a stream of deep water and moving is an arduous task.
Kyle smiled at Liz. “What?” he replied.
“You’re very distracted. I’ve been saying your name for the past five minutes. I wanted to know if it was okay to meet this afternoon about the science project Ms. Henderson assigned to us?” Liz asked as she fiddled with the combination on her locker.
“Sorry, I just have stuff on my mind. I guess. I can come over if you like?” Kyle leaned back against the metal frame and watched as Liz sifted through her books.
Liz looked slightly uncomfortable, “Well,” she hedged, “I was thinking we might do it at your house since it’s closer to the canyon.”
Now it was Kyle’s turn to look uncomfortable. “I don’t know. Why do we need to be close to the canyon? Can’t we just go to the mall or something?”
“Kyle, you do realize our project involves studying the different types of rock at the canyon, to see if there has been any significant geological changes in the last sixty years?”
“Oh. When did we pick that?”
Liz glared at Kyle in frustration as she shoved one last notebook into her backpack. “I hope that was a joke. It wasn’t very good.”
“Sorry Lizzie, it’s just—I’m not—nothing, never mind.”
“What’s going on? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, why don’t we just work at the library until we need to go out to the canyon?”
Liz nodded, “That sounds good, we can stop by the Crashdown before the library. Suddenly, I’m starving.”
Grinning, Kyle grabbed Liz’s hand and pulled her into his arms. “You’re great, you know.”
“Thanks,” she said, and then whispered, “Tell me.”
He stared at her for a long moment. His arms tightened around her. “I will if you will,” he replied.
They look into each other’s eyes.
And look away.
“The Crashdown’s good for me. Let’s go,” Kyle said as he pushed away from the lockers.
He sensed her watching him walk away, and felt that somehow, the closer he got to the school doors, the physical distance between them was a reflection of the state of their relationship. There was a gap, a divide, that he didn’t know how to breach. He wasn’t sure he’d ever find the right words to heal the silent rift that lay between them.
I am silent as the others eat breakfast. I can feel Liz’s gaze on me, her emotion, her electric sensibility, and her tautly reined energy all course through my bloodstream. I know she wants me to speak, but I can’t. I won’t
If she wants out she needs to say it herself. I know that she may never work up the courage to tell Max she loves me, but it’s a risk I have to take. I’m not sure why I feel so strongly about not interfering with her life, perhaps because last time I interfered I lost my one shot at normalcy. And maybe there’s nothing great about normal, but there’s nothing too terrible about it either.
Michael asks, “Where to next? When do you think we can take a chance to relax?”
“Don’t be foolish Michael, we can’t stop now.”
“And where will that take us, Max?” Liz speaks up suddenly, “We can’t live this way forever. I can’t do this anymore.”
“Liz, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying…I can’t…I won’t…we can’t do this forever. I want us to split up—“
“Don’t be ridiculous—“
“Don’t interrupt me. God, you just don’t listen anymore Max. You’ve become unrecognizable. We should go our separate ways, maybe in groups of two. Michael and Maria deserve some alone time and Michael can reach any of us if he’s in trouble. You and Isabel are pretty self-sufficient, and Isabel has a direct line to all our dreams.”
“So you and Kyle—“
“Make the most sense. Max, I don’t expect you to understand, but…” Liz trails off and looks at me helplessly.
I try to find the right words to explain what has grown between us, something that was always there even when we were doing our best to ignore it.
“I need her.”
Liz smiles, and my breath hitches. I haven’t seen Liz smile at me that way in years. She literally glows, and not an unearthly silver-green glow, but a soft blush that infuses her features with a vivacity that hasn’t been present for a long time.
“I need him,” she adds softly.