Chapter 2: Here to Listen

Timeline: Set after 'Leaving Normal'

(This is actually set before Chapter 1)

Max Evans sat in the jeep in front of the Crashdown, wondering if he should make his way into the restaurant.

It is closed he could see that. The family needed time to heal, but he could see Maria in the Crashdown, just wandering around aimlessly and he felt his heart hurt for the family.

He did not know what it was like to lose someone close to him. He and Isabel still had their family, their Grandmother.

Moreover, he wanted to be there for Liz, especially after last night when she broke down in his arms.

When Liz had come to him to ask if he could do anything for her grandmother, Max had wished, for the first time, that he could heal anything. Nevertheless, he was not God. Healing Liz had been pure fate.

It a bullet, something he could dissolve. With her Grandmother, it had been her body.

There was nothing he could do…other than help Liz to say goodbye.

Max came out of his thoughts and climbed out of the jeep. He made his way over to the door and gently knocked on the glass, not wanting to startle Maria.

Maria's head whipped around to meet him before she gave him a small smile. She slowly made her way over to the door and unlocked it.

"Hi," he whispered when he opened the door, stepping in, taking in the sight of the unusual silent girl.

"Hi, Max," Maria greeted with teary green eyes. Max felt his heart go out to her and decided to take another step out from behind the tree. He went over to the blonde-haired woman and embraced her.

He felt Maria stiffen in his arms for a moment before she wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face into his chest before she started crying.

Max just sighed, slowly rubbing Maria's back. He was not as close to Maria as he was with Liz but he did care for Maria in his own way.

As strange as it was…none of the five of them had gotten any closer as they did before Maria and Liz knew about their secret. Sure…he and Liz had slowly formed a friendship, but he still found that none of them was willing to close the gap.

Maria's sobs softened before they became hitches then she sighed, lifting her head up from Max's chest and gave him a smile.

"Sorry Max, I got your shirt wet." He looked down at his shirt before he smiled softly at her.

"Nothing I can't wash."

Maria stared up at him before she smiled softly.

They heard footsteps and Max looked to see Jeff Parker making his way into the Crashdown, a haggard look on his face and he felt sorry for the older man. He never could imagine what it was like to lose a parent.

"Jeff," Maria greeted as she stepped out of Max's embrace, swept up in the older man's embrace.

"Honey, I thought I told you to stay at home today," Jeff kissed the side of Maria's head. "We're not opening up today."
"I wanted to see Liz," Maria's voice was half muffled. Jeff sighed as he took a step back, his hands on Maria's shoulders before he spotted Max.

"Oh, sorry Max, I never saw you there," he apologised. Max shook his head.

"It's fine, I just wanted to express my sympathy," Max told him. Jeff nodded.

"Thank you," he looked down at Maria, "Sorry sweetheart, Liz is finally sleeping. She went out for a walk last night and didn't come back until half an hour ago."

"She went out?" Max asked alarmed, "Alone?"

"She's stubborn," Maria sniffled as she shook her head. "Why didn't she call me?"

"I think she wanted to get her thoughts together. You know her, Maria. Liz never is the one to tell people what she is thinking until she thought it through."

A breathless laughter came from Maria as she nodded, more tears filling her eyes. Jeff sighed, cupping Maria's cheek and wiping away the tears before he looked at Max.

"Sorry, Max, but could you take Maria home?" he asked.

"Jeff…" Maria started to protest but silence when Jeff looked at her.

"Go home and get some sleep, Maria. I will get Liz to call you both later to assure you that she is okay."

"Sure thing, Mr. Parker," Max told him.

"Thank you." He turned back to Maria. "It's alright sweetheart. Just go home and rest."

"Alright, just make sure Liz phones me later."

"I promise."

Max gently placed his hand on the small of Maria's back, leading her out of the Crashdown. He looked over his shoulder to see Jeff standing in the middle of the Crashdown, hands on his hips and his head tilted backwards.

Max swallowed at the grief on the older man's face before he looked away. That was the same grief he had saw on Liz's face the night before.

Max helped Maria into his Jeep before he climbed into the driver's seat.

"Maria," she looked at him and he gave her a small smile, "I need your address." Maria nodded slowly before she gave him the address then looked back out of the window, sitting silently as Max backed out of the parking lot.

It was strange, driving Maria to her house. Even stranger when the usually bubbly girl was silent. He wasn't sure what to say to fill the silence so he left it, though he occasionally glanced at Maria to make sure she was okay.

He eventually pulled up in front of Maria's house, switching off the engine and he slowly turned to look at her in time to see her bottom lip tremble.

"I don't even know what to do," Maria sniffled. "Grandma Claudia was such a big part of our lives that I…" she shook her head.

"Maria," he reached over and took her hand.

"I don't even know how Liz is going to cope." Maria rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. "Grandma Claudia was the one she always spoke to. Anything that happened, Grandma Claudia was there." Maria laughed breathlessly. "And it just dawned on me that she's not even going to be there for anything else!"

"Maria," Max tugged her forward and this time, she went willingly, burying her face into Max's chest again. Max just sighed, slowly smoothing back Maria's hair, giving her time to grieve.

"I'm sorry, I'm just getting snot all over you again," Maria apologised, her voice half-muffled again. Max just laughed.

"Its fine, Maria," He wiggled his fingers. "It helps to have abilities."

Maria stared at his fingers before she giggled nervously, gently pushing at his chest before she sighed, and sitting back against the chair once more.

"It's funny, isn't it?" she asked, drawing Max's attention back to her, "How it takes a moment to change everything you know."

"Yeah," Max could not help but agree.

"Listen, Max," she gripped his elbow. "Liz told me…about what you did for her and Grandma Claudia. Thank you," Maria told him, her heart in her eyes and he could see the clear gratitude.

Max cleared his throat, shaking his head.

"There is nothing you need to thank me for," Max told her, looking away. "I couldn't heal her."

"But you helped her," Maria placed a hand over his', gently squeezing it. "You were there for Liz when she needed you."

Max slowly nodded, squeezing her hand back.

"Another thing, I can't believe I never even got round to saying this before," a bewildered laugh came from her as she shook her head before she took a deep breath and looked at him. "Thank you, for saving Liz that day in the Crashdown."

Max inhaled sharply. "You didn't just save my best friend that day, you saved me. Without Liz…"

"Nothing would have made sense," Max finished. Maria watched him before she smiled and laughed.

"I knew you like her," she gently teased. Max felt his cheeks heat up.

He heard the front door open and turned to see a tall slender woman with dark brown hair and green eyes, just like Maria. She was watching them both with concern yet curiosity in her eyes.

Maria sighed.

"That's my mum," Maria informed him unnecessarily. "Come on," she patted his arm, drawing his attention to her as he frowned. Maria rolled her eyes. "Believe me, mom wants an introduction, and I am so not in the mood for a third degree."

Max made his way out of the Jeep and was by Maria's side before she knew it, holding out a hand. She arched an eyebrow, amusement dancing in her eyes before she let him help her.

"You really are like a white knight in shining armour," she told him with a shake of her head. Max just smiled before he helped her onto the ground. Maria let go of his hand and walked up to her front door.

"Mom, this is Max Evans. He is a friend of Liz's and mine. Max, this is my mother, Amy."

"It's nice to meet you, Miss DeLuca." He held out his hand, watching as Amy watched him with warm eyes; it was like looking at an older Maria.

"It's nice to meet you too, Max," she shook his hand before she turned her daughter. "What are you doing home, honey?" She ran a hand through Maria's hair.

"Jeff sent me home; they are not opening up today." Amy nodded before she looked at Max.

"He asked me to take her home. She was a little emotional," he explained.

"Thank you, Max," Amy told him, gratitude clear that he shifted on his feet, uncomfortable then she turned to her daughter. "I'll be inside; do you want me to make you something? I have some herbal tea boiling."

"Thank you," Maria told her as Amy kissed her forehead before stepped back into the house. Maria turned to face Max. "Thanks for bringing me home Max."

"It's fine Maria. I will see you later. Probably tomorrow?" he shoved his hands in his pocket. Maria touched his elbow.

"She'll call you Max. Don't worry too much about Liz. She has this habit where something happens, she'll withdraw into herself so she can try and get her head sorted out."

"Thanks, Maria." He gave her a smile. "Do you want my number?" he shifted on his feet at her surprised expression. "You know, just in case you ever need to talk? I might not be Liz but I think I am a good listener."

Her green eyes softened with warmth before she smiled.

"Can I bitch to you about Michael? Because let me tell you, he's a jerk."

That got a startled laugh out of Max as one hand came out of his pocket to cover his mouth. He watched as amusement glinted in her eyes and he was pleased to see the life return, even if just for a little while.

Max nodded, pulling his hand away.

"Yeah, you can bitch to me about Michael," he assured her. "Do you mind?" He wiggled his fingers. Maria tilted her head curious before Max placed his hand on the back of hers. A tingling started up before he removed his hand to reveal his phone number on her skin.

Maria stared at it open-mouthed before she looked at Max. "It'll fade in about an hour or so."

"That was…so cool!" Maria breathed as she lifted her hand so she could admire it before she eyed Max. "I hope you realise you have opened yourself up to a whole bunch of questions."

Max laughed.

"Hey, I survived Liz and her list of questions," he told her with a shrug, shaking his head at Maria's curious smile. "I'd better get home. Feel free to call me when you want."

"Thanks," she embraced him once more before she slipped into the house, giving him a small smile as she closed the door.

Max took a deep breath before he backed away from the door and over to his jeep. He wondered if he was slowly closing the gap between them all.

It felt like he was driving forever when he finally reached his house. Pulling his Jeep into the driveway, he sat there for a minute, just needing to breathe.

His gut felt tight, coiled, almost as if he could feel Liz's tension before he groaned, leaning forward and resting his forehead on the steering wheel.

He wished he could see her, see for himself that she was okay. He could not believe that she went for a walk, on her own but at the same time, he understood it.

Liz needed time to process it. She had been in shock the whole time he has driven her home. He wished there was something he could do, just anything to ease her grief but what could he do.

Exhaling, Max slowly got off the Jeep.

"Max, honey?" called out his mother when he entered the house. He turned to see Diane poke her head around the kitchen wall and she smiled. "Hey, where did you disappear to this morning?"

Max sighed as he rested his back against the door, looking up at the ceiling. God, now there were tears coming to his eyes. In front of his mother?

"Max?" concerned filled his mother's voice and he felt hands on his arms. He looked down and suddenly, he felt like he was a young boy again.

"A friend lost her grandmother last night," he told his mother, who inhaled sharply, sympathy shining in her blue eyes. "I stopped by her house this morning to see her but her father informed me that she had just fallen asleep. I took our other friend home; she was also close to the grandmother and was upset."

"Oh, honey," Diane lifted a hand and cupped his cheek. "You've been at her side, haven't you?" Max slowly nodded as a tear slipped free. He reached up a hand and roughly wiped it away, looking away from his mother.

"Yeah, Liz needed me. That's where I went, by the Parkers because I wanted to see if…" he shook his head.

"Parker, as in the Crashdown?" asked Diane. Max nodded.

"Yeah, Liz Parker. She's my partner for Chemistry and Biology." Max made a face, why did he feel that was important information? "Maria DeLuca is her best friend. She turned up at the Crashdown but Mr. Parker sent her home saying they weren't opening today and asked me to give her a lift home."

"That was sweet of you honey," Diane rubbed her son's arm. "How do you feel?" She gave her son a knowing look, who sighed.

"Drained," he admitted. "I was with Liz when her Grandmother passed away. I didn't even know what to say. 'I'm sorry' doesn't seem to cut it, you know?"

"Oh, I know honey," Diane agreed before she gently led her son into the kitchen, gesturing for him to sit at the counter while she returned to making lunch. "It's hard when you haven't gone through the loss like they have."

"I just wish I could have seen Liz, but she went out last night and didn't get back until this morning," Max stood up and began pacing. "I just wish she had called me. The thought of her being out by herself, especially when she is grieving…" He shook his head.

He caught his mom's eye out of the corner of his and turned to see the curious glint in her eyes.

"What?" he shoved his hands in his pocket; he wondered what was going through his mother's mind.

"You have never spoken about Liz before…have you always been friends?" Diane asked.

"Mom-"

"Honey, you are clearly upset. I am willing to listen…if you want to talk." Diane turned to face her stubborn son. "Don't bottle everything up Max, it's not healthy. Especially grief. You may not realise it but you are grieving too. It doesn't matter you didn't know Liz's grandmother personally, you are grieving because Liz is grieving."

Max sat back down at the counter, resting his forearms on the surface before he looked up at his mother.

"I've known Liz since 3rd grade," he slowly admitted. "We didn't actually become friends until September. I guess I'm still navigating on how to be friends." He gave his mother a rueful smile.

"And Maria?" pushed Diane, gently.

"She's Liz's best friend, she kind of came with the package," Max shook his head. "It's weird you know." He started tracing invisible patterns on the counter. "In all the times I've known them…I don't think I've ever actually seen them…sad."

"It sounds like you are close to them," Diane pointed out. Max shrugged.

"Kind of, I am actually a lot closer to Liz than I am to Maria, mostly because Maria and I have never really had a chance to talk." Max shook his head. "But today…Maria is a…what was it Liz called her…a babbler! She needs to talk, waving her hands around and everything." Max gestured and he could see his mother trying to hide a smile. "But today, in the Jeep, she was just…motionless."

Diane turned to look at her son and she smiled gently.

"And you being you, you want to find a way to help them through their grief," she reached over and patted her son's hand. "You have a big heart Max, but sometimes, all you can do is be there for her."

Max slowly nodded, understanding where his mother was coming from.

"Are you going by later to see Liz?" Diane asked. Max shook his head.

"No, Mr. Parker told me he would tell Liz to call me when she got up," he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I just wish I knew what to do for her."

"Oh Max," his mother placed her hand over his and he looked at her. "Just be there for her, that's all you can do. Just let her know that you will be there for her when she needs you. That is all she needs right now."

"Okay," he whispered and she nodded.

"And don't worry; she will call you when she is ready."

"I'm gonna head to my room," Max stood up.

"Ok honey. I'm here if you want to talk again later."

"Thanks, mom," he kissed Diane's cheek before heading down to his room. Diane just watched him go with a sad smile before she shook her head.

Max kicked off his shoes and reclined in his bed, taking a deep breath just as there was a soft knock on his door.

"Hey, Max," he turned to see Isabel standing in the doorway, a hand on the handle. "How is Liz?"

"Her grandmother died last night," he admitted. Shock entered Isabel's eyes before she made her way into the room and sat down on his bed.

"How is she doing?" Max arched an eyebrow causing Isabel to roll her eyes. "Come on Max. I may be a bitch, but I don't think I'm a cold-hearted one."

"To Liz…" he trailed off, getting a glare from his sister, "She's hurting right now."

"And you're upset you can't do anything for her," she gestured to the C.D. "You listen to them when you're upset."

"Glad to know I'm predictable," he muttered, getting a grin from Isabel before it faded.

"Can we do anything for her?" she plucked at her skirt. "I mean, maybe we can take some food round to them."

"Thanks for the offer Izzy, but I think the family just want to be alone right now."

"Did you see her this morning? Because I'm assuming you went by the Crashdown."

"No, she was sleeping. I took Maria home instead." Isabel arched an eyebrow. "She was at the Crashdown waiting to see Liz. Mr. Parker sent her home but her mother dropped her off so I took her home."

"How is Maria?"

"Not Maria," Max told her, getting a confused look from his sister. "She barely spoke Izzy." Shock flashed over Isabel's face before sympathy crossed it. She had no idea what it was like to lose a grandmother and she wished she could do something for Liz and Maria.

"So what's happening with Liz?" Max shrugged.

"Mr. Parker said he would tell Liz Maria and I came by earlier and get her to phone us," Max tilted his head back. "It's a waiting game, I guess."

Isabel slowly nodded before she patted Max's knee and got up, heading to her own room to be alone. And maybe phone her grandmother. Life was short and she wanted to hear her Grandmother's voice.

Max watched as Isabel left his room before he turned his gaze to the ceiling, exhaling deeply before he closed his eyes just as the phone rang.

Max turned down the music and picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Max," Liz's voice came over the phone and relief surged through him.

"Hey, how are you feeling?"

"Hmm, better," she admitted softly. "Dad told me you came by the Crashdown this morning."

"Yeah, I heard you went for a walk last night." Liz sighed.

"I needed to clear my head. I couldn't sleep."

"Liz…you know-"

"I know Max," she cut in softly, "Believe me; I wanted to come to you-"

"Why didn't you?"

"Because sometimes it scares me," she slowly admitted. "I haven't felt this way about anyone…ever." He heard her swallow as he closed his eyes. "I needed to think, Max. And I can't do that when you are around."

"That bad huh?" he tried to tease but it didn't stop the pain in his heart.

"Not all the time," she confessed. "But you have been there for me Max; I didn't want to impose on you."

"Liz…" Max shook his head, wishing he were in front of her, "You can never impose on me. I want to be there for you."

Liz was silent for a while that Max feared that they had lost the connection.

"Max?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you, for last night. I know you told me that I don't need to thank you but really, thank you. It meant a lot to me that you were able to give me closure."

Max cleared his throat before he sighed.

"You're welcome, Liz."

"I better phone Maria before she decided to come back here."

That got a laugh out of Max.

"Yeah, she was pretty determined to see you this morning," Max agreed, his voice hoarse.

"That's Maria for you, once she is determined, nothing short of wild horses can stop her," Liz agreed, humour in her voice. "Though I am glad that Dad let me sleep, I think I might have ended up crying again if I had seen either one of you this morning."

"Liz…" Max sighed, "I am here for you, whenever you need me."

Liz was silent for a moment before he heard her sigh.

"Thank you." Simple but it said everything to Max and he closed his eyes, wondering how this slip of a girl could undo him so simply. "One more thing, could…could you come to the funeral? Please?"

"Tell me when and I'll be there." He heard Liz sniffle.

"I'll let you know Max, bye." She hung up the phone and Max brought the phone to his chest before he sighed heavily.

He was getting in too deep. He was finding it harder to stay away from Liz Parker. His mind was telling him it was better to stay away from Liz, that it was safer for her. His heart was screaming at him to go to Liz, to be there for her.

He placed the phone back in the cradle when a rustling sound came from outside and he looked toward his window to see it open.

"Yo Maxwell," Michael's head popped through the window before he frowned. "How is Liz?"

Max arched an eyebrow at his best friend's question. "Isabel told me what was going on."

"She's doing the best she can," he answered honestly. "I just got off the phone with her."

Michael climbed through the window and pulled the chair over to Max's bed, sitting on with a serious expression.

"Did you try to heal her grandmother?" Michael asked. Max stared at his friend before he shook his head.

"Michael, you know I can't heal anything that is natural," he reminded.

"But you did something," countered Michael.

"I helped Liz to say goodbye to her Grandmother, which was something she desperately needed Michael."

Michael sighed, running a hand through his hair.

"Max-"

"I'm not leaving Liz," Max cut off his best friend, who stared at him, "Not now Michael. She has just lost her Grandmother."

"Max," Michael rubbed his forehead before he shook his head, "I'm not saying stay away from her. I'm not that cold." Max shot him a contrite look, guilt slicing through him, "Just…be careful. Kyle's friends beat you just because you happened to be friends with her. Who knows how Kyle could react with her grieving."

"Kyle will just have to deal," Max bit out, "If Liz wants me to be there for her; I'll be there for her. We are friends and Kyle doesn't get to dictate who her friends are."

"Wow," Michael's eyebrows rose into his hairline.

"Sorry," Max blew out a frustrated breath.

"Nah, it's nice to see you lose your cool once in a while," Michael told him, "Besides, you're right. If Liz needs you then you should be there for her."

"…Thank you," Max whispered and Michael nodded.

"But do you think Liz will be alright in time?"

"Yeah, she's strong," Max slowly nodded, "Plus she has Maria."

"Right, motor-mouth," Michael agreed, getting a glare from Max and rolled his eyes. "Relax Maxwell; I'm sure she's a nice girl." Michael got up, brushing off his jeans and headed over to the window. Max arched an eyebrow.

"You're not staying the night?" Max asked. Michael shook his head.

"I got some stuff to do. I'll see you tomorrow." Michael waved he climbed back out of the window just as the phone rang again, drawing Max's attention to it and he frowned curiously.

Was Liz calling him again?

"Hello?"

"Hi, Max! I hope you don't mind me calling you," Maria's voice came over the line. Max had to smile.

"No, I did give you my number," he reminded.

"Doesn't mean that you would be happy with me calling you up whenever I wanted," Maria told him. Max smiled. It was nice to hear Maria sounding a little closer to herself.

"Maria, feel free to call me whenever you want. Unless we're at school, don't call me because I won't answer."

That got a startled laugh from Maria and he smiled.

"Hey, Max?"

"Yeah?"

"What did you mean when you said you survived Liz and her list of questions?" Max smiled at the memory.

"After she met with Mr. Valenti, she pulled me into the art room and told me that she needed answers. So when I agreed, she pulled out a list from her pocket."

"She didn't," gasped Maria before she laughed. "Oh honey, she really does like her lists and charts." Max grinned.

"I thought it was cute," he admitted shyly and Maria cheered.

"Ha! I was right. Max Evans was totally staring at Liz Parker pretty much every time he came into the Crashdown," Maria said smugly.

"Was I that obvious?" he tugged at his collar.

"Oh honey, to everyone but Liz. She refused to believe you were even interested in her."

"Wait? What?" Max sat up straight. "Why would she think that?"

"That is something you will need to ask her yourself if you ever get the courage," Maria replied.

"Maria-"

"Max, just think about it, yeah? God, the two of you are like so hopelessly adorable together you actually make my teeth rot."

Max merely rolled his eyes.

"How are you doing though?" Max changed the conversation.

"Better," admitted Maria. "Liz finally called me, and I gave her a stern talking to about walking the streets late at night by herself. I love the girl, I understand she needed to think but she doesn't need to go wandering!"

"She's really lucky to have you," Max told her, his heartwarming. He actually envied Liz and Maria's friendship, how they worked together, how they shared everything. Even though he and Liz were getting to that stage, he wished he had that kind of friendship with Michael.

"I'm lucky to have her," Maria told Max, "If I didn't have her, I don't know where I would be."

Max flashed back to Maria thanking him for saving Liz. As stupid and selfish as it sounds, he had not thought about what everyone else would have felt if Liz had died that day in the Crashdown. All he had thought about was himself, and how he couldn't lose her, even though they were barely an acquaintance.

"Hey, Max?"

"Yeah?"

"You were right," He arched an eyebrow, "You are a good listener." That got a laugh out of him. "Goodnight Max."

"Night Maria."

The End/TBC

I will try and get the next chapter of 'The Road We Travel' soon! Three stories are competing right now and neither of them is winning.