By Nicole Anell
Tonight was not supposed to go like this at all.
My major flaw is in planning. No matter how hard I work at whatever I'm doing, something gets in the way. There's some little detour, an obstacle I wasn't prepared for. I never seem to know enough - that's my life story right there.
Like I'm supposed to know my Destiny will have a girlfriend. Like I'm supposed to know my mentor's going to die on me. Like I'm supposed to know there are going to be humans I sort of like to be around. Like I'm supposed to know mindwarping wears off. Etc. Yada yada. Nothing is ever simple and easy. I'm cursed like that.
So tonight, just when I think I have everything mapped out, some unforeseen event was bound to mess things up. It was all too simple and easy to actually go well. I planned my ass off, I really did. This was, in essence, the plan...
A: Put my little angel in crib. Recite 'Cinderella' or 'The Little Engine That Could' or some other motherly thing until he goes to sleep. I can't go away with my baby awake. He's all clingy and shit, like a little Max, only he's cuter and cries less.
B: Find someone who knows how to use the new transporter. I sure don't, and I don't want to blow anything up trying. I just want to zip down onto Earth and make myself a little human puppet toy. It can't be that hard. Larek does it. Kivar's been doing it a lot, and why should he get special treatment just because he could have people killed?
C: Zip down onto Earth. Make myself a little puppet toy. More accurately, make Max Evans a little puppet toy.
D: Find Liz. That shouldn't be too hard if I'm in Max. They're not allowed to be more than thirty feet apart, right?
E: Kill Liz. Nothing else to that step. Oh wait, yeah - kill Liz painfully. That sounds more official, with the adverb. It sounds more fun too.
See? Easy plan. It makes me sound a teeny bit like an awful person, but I've come to the conclusion that I am an awful person, so that's how I'm meant to sound. I don't care anymore. Also, I figure that every single person who's come into contact with Liz wants to kill her just a little, at one point or another. I'm just the right person to take action. Hell hath no fury and all that.
The first steps went fine. Some science boys made the transporter thing happen, because they have minor crushes on me. Which is almost just as effective as Kivar's whole could-have-people-killed way of getting things done, isn't it? I felt wind rushing and it was a little hard to breathe and everything was so bright it hurt, but that only lasted for about a minute. The Granilith took five hours or five days or something like that, plus I was already sick.
Technology is very very good.
I was supposed to be Max now. Max Evans of Roswell, New Mexico. I was supposed to be inside him or controlling him or something. I opened my eyes and didn't feel any different. Maybe the science boys fucked up.
No, wait. Different clothes and everything was heavy. I was lying on the floor. Max was. I knocked him over. Me over. How very confusing already. I/Max tried to stand up. He's tall. I'm not used to... height. Among other things.
I made him cough. I moved his arm, wiggled his toes. I put on his stereo and jumped up and-
Not his stereo. I knew the music seemed too angry.
I made Max say, "Yeah?" like everything was totally normal. His voice is deep and he's tall.
"Are you... ?" Michael started.
"...touching my CDs?"
I/Max hit the STOP button. "I was just going out," I made him say, and it occurred to me that maybe I should be talking slower or duller or something. "I was... getting ready. To go." Michael was staring. "Out."
I noticed some of Max's shirts strewn around and I added, "I live here," because apparently I'd lost some brain cells in all that interstellar traveling. "See you later. Michael."
I/Max headed for the door. Michael looked unbelievably confused, but I was safe. "Don't let me stop you," he muttered after me, followed by something that sounded kinda like, "You know you're not allowed in the Crashdown though." It made a lot more sense in hindsight.
As I/Max drove his car, I thought about how long I could stay in the body. At this rate, it would take me a while to find Liz. I started practicing my Max voice again. "Hey. My name is... Max... I like to be right. I'm not of this earth. I... brood... and I mumble... and I... work out.... I slow down at all the yellow lights, and I count to three before I go past a stop sign."
I was practicing my Max voice, because there's something about how he says the z part of Liz. His whole speech sort of freezes. My Tess voice drags her name out, I let the zzzs roll on and on too long. He says it as fast as possible, so there's a little breath where the talking just stops. He used to do it to my name too. Tes. Liz.
I was practicing my Max voice in the car, but I had to stop after a few Lizs, because I was seriously afraid I might throw up all over the interior of Max's pretty new car. As rewarding as that sounds, I didn't feel like actually doing it.
For the record, I know there's something wrong with me, and I'm almost certain it's not all my fault. I'm the one who was abandoned when I was little, you know. I'm the one who was ignored and rejected and pushed over the brink. I'm the one who only had one chance to be special, to be important, to have a home and a family somewhere, a pretty palace and a clingy little kid. This is stuff I tell myself sometimes, before I remember I don't care about being an awful person anymore.
When I got to the Crashdown, I wondered about the whole puppet-machine-transporter thing. Could Max feel this, any of it? I knew he wouldn't remember anything that happened while I was controlling him. Puppet toys forget and they forget forever (unlike certain other people). Technology is good. But now - right now - did he feel it? Was his mind asleep or trapped somewhere? Was he conscious, scared, powerless, gonna watch her die? Could he hear me?
Hello, Max. I'm an awful person. I don't care anymore. There was a time when I used to, you know, care. It passed. Don't worry about me, I'm all self-aware and content now. I've got inner peace, lover. And I'm going to enjoy this a bunch. Sincerely, Tes.
The Crashdown was more exciting than it was the last time I was there.
Liz was snipping, "Dad!" even before I walked in. I don't know why anyone would even come to eat here anymore.
When I did walk in, this guy who I guess was Mr. Parker said, "Get out now," to me.
Liz said, "Dad, enough."
I/Max looked him in the eye and said, "It's a free country."
Mr. Parker said, "I could have you arrested. Again."
I sincerely hope Max's eyes weren't sparkling the way I felt like mine were. "Could you? Really?"
Then Liz tore her little apron and antennae right off and stomped toward the door. "Fine. Maybe he can't come in, but I don't have to stay!" And suddenly she was grabbing my/Max's arm and heading out into the sun. Her father yelled after her, and she tuned him out. I/Max laughed because he actually called her "Elizabeth." And then, a little quieter, a little more helpless, "Lizzie." She just tuned him out, and we were gone.
In the car, she said, "That was so cool."
I felt so bad, in a fun way. Like I wanted a motorcycle. Like I wanted to be in a movie with leather jackets and motorcycles, listening to Michael's angry music and saying "screw you" and smoking. Because Liz Parker said four words, I actually felt all this.
She said, "So where are we going?"
I/Max said, "I don't know, Liz. Anywhere you want."
She said, "Do you know what I'm thinking?" Well, I really had no clue, but it didn't matter, because she continued, "Do you remember the place where... we almost..." She blushed. "...made love?"
If any two words on this planet can take you out of a bad/smoking/motorcycle fantasy faster than "made love", I'd like to hear them. Oh, and I also had no clue where on Earth he'd take Liz to almost do that.
So I said, "Remind me."
She said, "You know. It was, like... out in the desert..."
I said, "Doesn't ring a bell."
"Don't be annoying!"
"How long ago was this?"
"Well, it was pretty long ago, but...." she trailed off and looked straight at me/Max. "You really don't remember, do you?" She wasn't smiling anymore.
I said, "Liz. I'm kidding. We were... out in the desert."
"Right," she said softly, "I knew you'd still remember." But she didn't smile, and I didn't take her there.
I drove her to the observatory, and she knew why. I figured she'd know. I told her it was special because I wanted to associate it with her forever, and no one else. She faked a whole lot of smiles and looked nauseous. I was enjoying myself way more than even an awful person should. I think I'm more like an evil person. Yes, pure evil.
I gave her a bunch of fabulous romantic lines, and I called her Liz with the little breath at the end and no rolling the zzzs on forever. I kissed her like I think Max would kiss Liz, nice and like a gentlemen. Max and I, we never did anything even close to nice. We had maybe one sweet kiss, at the prom, the one that gave me a glimpse of how Max must kiss a girl he's in love with. Other than that one, we were all about intrusive tongues and dirty thoughts. Max kissed me like he was trying out for a porn movie. I think he kisses Liz like he wants to hold her hand in a park somewhere when he's eighty.
So I tried it like that, and afterwards she just stared at me, and didn't look nauseous anymore. "You haven't kissed me like that in a long time," she said.
I said, "Like what?" and I wasn't doing the Max voice perfect anymore, because I was thinking about the way her eyes look when she stares like that. They look interesting. Kinda like she's looking at something beautiful, and it gets caught and reflected back in them, and it's hard to look away.
Meanwhile, the other side of my brain scolded, "You know it's not you she's looking at. It's Max. She's casting her sweet little loving smiles at your Max." Because that's supposed to enrage me. This whole self-motivational speech thing is either normal or a sign of serious mental illness. (Well, I guess everything's one of those. They're usually much easier to figure out though. Putting real sugar in coffee = normal. Committing first-degree murder = the second one. Etc.)
At this point, her eyes stopped staring and closed shut, and she giggled at the question I forgot I asked her. "You haven't kissed me, like, all softly and romantic. Does that sound stupid? I sound stupid, don't I?"
I said, "No," quietly, because I was still trying to find her eyes, and she kissed me again.
There's something very wrong with me, and I'm started to think it's all Liz's fault.
We went into the room with the telescope, the one I don't have to adjust to look into anymore because Max is tall. By then, I had successfully broken out of whatever voodoo Robot Girl had on me a few moments before. I was thinking about Liz's father after she dies, and how he'll know right away, even before Max does, who killed her.
I/Max was saying, "I was so confused then. And upset. I mean, with Alex and everything. I just... really felt like Tess had something. That I couldn't get from you. I was wrong."
Liz looked up with a little half-smirk and eyebrow-raising thing going on, like she thought she was on a bad sitcom, and she bitched, "No, you were right. I don't have sociopathic tendencies. You could only get that from Tess."
I was thinking about how much easier this was getting every second.
She looked around and bit her lip, and said seriously, "Max, what I said before about the kissing. I didn't... I just think sometimes - you know, I think maybe Tess did something to you. She made you all, like, sexy." She says this like it's something outrageous, disgusting.
I said, "What a tramp."
"You know, I don't want to talk about her," said Liz. Hey, she was the one who brought me up again, wasn't she?
"Alright, we won't talk about-"
"Just tell me... if she was, you know, good, like, in be- oh, I don't want to know- just tell me." Oh Liz, you bipolar nutcase.
"It doesn't matter, she's gone," I said, since it's the kind of bad almost-comfort I think Max would offer.
"If she wasn't, would you rather be with her?"
"It doesn't matter," I repeated, since I knew it's exactly the answer Liz didn't want to hear. Maybe she wouldn't ever ask him again.
I mean, I'm sure she wouldn't ever ask him again, because I was going to kill her. Painfully. Any minute now.
"It matters to me," she started again. "Max, you slept with-"
"And she was amazing. Can we move on now?"
I could smack myself across Max's face. Of all the moronic things to say, that was the first response in my head. That was the one to make her shut up. Her eyes narrowed with hostility, then with... something else. Slow realization. Max is dumb, but not that dumb. Not dumb like me. She knew. It was over.
Her lips parted and her mouth just hung open a little, trying to say something but unable get the words out. She managed the word, "How-?" and just stopped.
Then her expression morphed again, and it occurred to me that I was wrong. She was realizing something, just not what I thought she was. She stared at me, at Max, with this maddening look of hurt and confusion. I had to look away from it, it was so unfair. She had this face, this face of complete, hopeless, profound pain. I'd seen it.
It was a Kyle face. It was the last Kyle face I ever saw. Before the five hours or five days or something that I was in pain, before I got all self-aware and content and found my goddamn inner peace to keep me from crying anymore, before I figured out awful people aren't supposed to care.
Liz was looking at me like I'd killed her, and I couldn't look. I'd killed her like what I did to Kyle, what she did her father. I told her she wasn't my first concern, or my second or third. I told her she was nothing at all, nothing special to me. I killed her the worst way you can kill someone who adores you.
Wasn't that what I came to do?
"I didn't mean that..." I heard myself saying in Max's voice. "I was just upset, Liz, please stop looking at me like that... Listen, when I was with... when I was with her, Liz, it didn't mean anything. And I was... I was thinking about you. I was. I was."
Where did all that come from? You take being disaffected and cruel, the simplest and easiest thing in the world to do, and I was still messing it up.
"You don't... you don't really mean..." Liz was whimpering and choking, refusing to let her tears fall.
I wanted the look to stop.
I said, "I'm not really Max, Liz."
She knitted her little eyebrows and didn't understand.
I said, "Liz, I'm Tess," and I realized just then that I'd been rolling the hell out of the zzzs in her name.
A sick, terrible thing happened then. I know - I just know - I saw relief on her face right before the fear. It wasn't supposed to make me feel anything. It made me feel better.
I had to do it. I had to do what I came for.
Any minute now.
I had to do it, because it was the only logical thing to do. If I do it, I can be self-aware. Aware of myself. I'm an awful person and I don't care. I can't care. I'm pure evil. I'm an evil killer person. All I have to do is kill somebody. On purpose, I mean. Any minute now.
You know, the only reason I hesitated at all is because I was anxious. Yeah, I'm going to be fully honest and say I'd never done this before, this pre-meditated murder with intent thing. I've done the third-degree manslaughter and the emotional abuse and the tampering with evidence and the obstruction of justice and all that other stuff I used to hear about from Jim and Kyle's TV. This was a new one for me. I only hesitated because I felt all virginal. I haven't felt virginal since I was 11.
I know there's something wrong with me, and I'm almost certain it's not all my fault. I know there's something very wrong with me, and I can think of a few other people to blame.
She didn't try to run or move or anything. She didn't try to look at me at all.
I couldn't stop looking at her.
I said, "Can I ask you something?" and she didn't answer. I said, "Why couldn't we be friends?" It pissed me off how small Max's voice sounded because I knew it was mine.
She muttered, "Are you serious?"
I said, "Yeah. Why couldn't we be friends, Liz? Why couldn't we be nice to each other?"
I said, "It was because of me, right?"
She said, "Yeah, Tess. It was because of you."
"I knew it," I admitted.
There was silence.
Max's voice was so small I could just kill myself when I got home. "What does... what does sociopath mean exactly?"
"I- I didn't..."
"Just tell me what it means, please."
And she looked up at me and swallowed and shot me the coldest look in the world.
She said, "It means you're an awful person and you don't care."
There was silence.
I couldn't. I really couldn't.
It was Liz, the easiest person on the whole damn planet to kill. She's self-involved and stupid and annoying and hurtful and...
I like her.
There's something so wrong with me it's never going to be right. It's everyone's fault and it's also mine.
I told Liz she was probably all "sociopathic" too, but she doesn't understand, because she doesn't look at her father when he's yelling.
I told her everyone can see it. I saw it and Kyle saw it. I told her she uses people and lies and whines. I told her she's a bad friend. I told her, "You're not that much better than me, you know. You'll never be a good person, Liz. And you know it. That's why you need Max, you need this obsession with him. He's the only one so screwed up with this love-lust-soulmate bullshit, he could make you his savior."
Her head was turned to the side when I said all this, gazing up at the stars in the ceiling. Droplets of tears formed in her eyes, and her voice got dark and hollow. "Just because you're not killing me doesn't make you Mother Teresa," she bit. "And it doesn't mean I have to listen to you. And you don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course I do. I've been there," I said a little softer. "I'm still there."
There was silence. She took it all in, and then a tiny noise emerged from her throat. I thought she coughed. Then her lips curled up on the sides and I realize she was stifling something else.
"Are you laughing?" I said, not believing it myself.
She tried to say, "No," but as soon as her mouth opened the truth came out and echoed across the walls. "Oh my God!" she managed somewhere between a giggle and a snort, "I don't - it's not -"
I laughed too then, only it was still Max's body and it sounded very creepy for a boy of his size to carry a high-pitched giggle. Liz looked up at me breathing deeply and calmly, but that started her fit again. We released our pain the way twelve-year-olds do at a slumber parties.
I don't know how long this went on, just that it ended with Liz closing her eyes and her laughter gradually turning into sobs.
Something made me put my arms around her, and she cried into my neck. Max's neck. Same difference.
She said. "Is there something wrong with me?"
I said, "It's not your fault."
She sniffled and looked at my chest, Max's chest, and asked, "How long are you going to stay in there?"
"Do you mind?"
"No. I think Max might."
"Oh, screw Max."
She smiled tearfully. "You know, you're right. Screw him." She looked down and kept smiling, like she knew she shouldn't be.
I wanted a motorcycle.
I got home and I checked on my little angel, and I felt the happiest and saddest I've ever been. Liz used to say something about that, I wish I could remember.
She asked if I could come back. I told her I'd think about how willing I am to spend another hour with muscles my red tank tops can't fit over.
"I'd like..." she said, "I'd like it if... I mean, I wouldn't mind if... if you could come back. Just if you want to or... you thought you needed to talk or..."
She kissed my cheek, and then averted her eyes.
I kissed her mouth, the way you kiss someone when you're somewhere between the porn-movie and hand-holding phases.
She exhaled and didn't move and said, "Uh, see you around then... you know... bitch."
There has to be a curse on me. Something trying to screw up every simple, easy thing I ever try to do.
Like I'm supposed to know I could fall in love with Liz Parker.