Disclaimer: I own nothing Roswell.
Spoilers: Nope, except for some vague canon references. AU.
Character Focus: CC; Liz POV
Summary: Liz was never shot. And if anyone around her has secrets, she doesn't know about them ... yet.
Author's Note: I found this while I was cleaning up some old files, and while it's not the most sophisticated fic out there, I thought it was kind of engaging, walking the line between angst and fluff with a bit of suspense thrown in for good measure. So ... you know. Here. Hope you agree. And thanks, Sue, for betaing and everything. Lol – and okay, Zoe, you were right. In the first section, Liz absolutely is The Cheese. Ye gods...
Part One: The Cheese Stands Alone
Ever have one of those days when you feel like you don’t belong to the human race?
I’m not talking isolation, or alienation (the dictionary sense).
I mean when you get the feeling that everyone around you is part of some big secret, and they’re keeping it from you, and they know you don’t know what it is, but they have no intention of telling you what it is or why you’re different.
It’s the eyes. You can tell by the eyes. You say something, something that sounds perfectly normal to you, but it gets an odd reaction. Nothing obvious, maybe just a tightening of the features, but for a second the eyes get glassy, or dull, or some other tiny change that doesn’t really register with you at the time. Then later, you’ll be doing something, and you’ll remember, and it’ll just come to you.
All of a sudden, without any proof but beyond any doubt, you understand that there was knowledge there, important knowledge, and it was something that didn’t include you.
Now, I’m not a total idiot, or some kind of control freak. (Okay, maybe a little. But not as much as Michael always said, honest.) The point is, I don’t expect or want to know everything about everyone, or all of their secrets, or anything psycho like that. But one day I saw a bumper sticker on a tourist’s car that said “It’s not paranoia if they’re really after you,” and it started me thinking. I connected some dots. And the only conclusion that made any sense was there was some kind of conspiracy, a secret that everyone except me was in on. Everyone.
This is my story, of the secrets that bound me to my hometown and then drove me away.
I wonder if you can guess how it ended … but first, let me tell you the beginning of the end. Maybe you’ll understand the choices I made, that led me to where I am now. I hope so.
So let’s go back five years, to when I was seventeen, in the dark, and unable to ignore the signs anymore. When I could no longer pretend that everything was normal in the small town of Roswell, New Mexico.
“Lizzie, help an old man out?”
I looked up and laughed. As usual, Dad was trying to do too many things at once, carrying a tower of papers and boxes that teetered alarmingly in his arms.
“You’re not old, Daddy.”
He looked pleased but sheepish as I relieved him of several cartons of Tabasco sauce and set them on the counter. “Thanks, honey.”
“Geez, Dad, how much of this stuff do we need?” Honestly, I didn’t understand how we could go through so much of it. I loved spicy food as much as the next person, but a drop of hot sauce goes a long way.
Except here in Roswell, I guess. The diner could barely keep it in stock.
Dad kissed the top of my head and then disappeared into the back room, presumably to file those papers, although I would bet good money he’d forget why he went back there as soon as the door shut behind him.
I had barely started shelving the Tabasco when my mother came in. “Liz, have you seen your father? He went to make us some coffee and that was...” she checked her watch “ ... half an hour ago.”
I grinned mischievously and pointed into the back room. She shook her head in exasperation, but she was smiling when she went to go join him. “That man. I swear, he’d forget his– ”
The rest was muffled as she shut the door behind her, but I knew what she meant and chuckled to myself as I went back to work.
I stopped laughing a minute later though, when they both came out carrying steaming mugs of coffee filled to the brim. They both winked at me and didn’t seem to notice my strained smile as they made their way out into the diner.
I stopped smiling as soon as they were gone. Because I’d just spent a morning going over the books in that office, and I’d been irritated that the office coffeemaker was broken.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t broken, and Dad had gotten it to work. Except … even if it wasn’t broken, it had definitely been off and unplugged, because I’d boxed it up because I was going to take it to get fixed later. There simply hadn’t been enough time to heat up the water, let alone have it do the drip thing.
I answered automatically, my eyes never straying from the suddenly ominous office door. “What is it, Maria?”
“Come on, we need you out here!”
“Sure. On my way.”
I took a tentative step forward, but at the last moment I couldn’t do it. Instead I grabbed my apron and order book and ran out front.
See what I mean? Where did their hot coffee come from?
And it wasn’t like that was the only time. Things like that happened all the time. It’s just that that time I couldn’t explain it away in my own mind.
My parents loved me. I know this, and they made no secret about it, so everyone else knew it too. Lovely, isn’t it? And actually, it was. It is. They were the best parents I could want. They’d never given me any reason to doubt them, or fear them. It’s just ...
They had their secrets.
I was watching TV when it happened again.
My parents were off on a trip to visit my aunt in Florida, and I was staying up later than usual, just enjoying having the place to myself. They did this sometimes, when I got older and could take charge of the diner. I didn’t mind. It was nice, in a way, not to have anyone looking over my shoulder.
Feeling ever so grown up, I flicked on the TV to check the news. Just on impulse, just to see if I really was going to be the kind of adult that did that.
“Tonight, the town of San Antonio is abuzz with reports of strange light activity over –”
I hit ‘mute’ and leaned forward when I saw it. Them, I mean.
Mom and Dad. In the crowd. Standing back, not really close to the cameras, but I could see them, and I knew my own parents when I saw them, didn’t I?
I leaned back, stunned.
Okay, so geography never was my best subject, but wasn’t San Antonio in Texas, not Florida? Just then one of those annoying station-identifier things popped up in the corner of the screen, and sure enough, this was a local Texas station. Shooting live, on location, in San Antonio, Texas. When my parents told me they were going to Florida.
But it was them, I’d swear it. And I did know my own parents, didn’t I?
At least, I thought I did.
I didn’t say anything when they came back, but when I helped my mother unpack like I always did, I noticed an old, forgotten airline sticker from somewhere I’ve never heard of on her suitcase, left over from some trip I didn’t remember her going on. And I found myself thinking of that time I’d found sand in a pile of clothes from a ski trip, and the fact that they rarely took pictures when it was just the two of them, but take me somewhere and I’d see stars from all the flashes in my face.
None of it added up.
Is that normal for parents? To lie about where they go? Aren’t parents, I don’t know, supposed to make sure they can be reached in case of emergency? I thought it was some law of parenting, or something.
The funny thing is, I never actually confronted either of them about it. I didn’t call the emergency numbers they did leave. Childishly, I think I was afraid that I’d be tempting fate and I’d never see them again, if they didn’t answer when I called.
Then again, maybe I was just afraid that I’d call the number and they would.
And it wasn’t just my parents. Maybe I could’ve written that off as some weird thing I’d never understand, and really, that seemed almost natural. There was a lot I didn’t understand, but until then it didn’t get in the way of my life or my happiness. And I watched TV; I knew that it was practically expected that kids never understood their parents.
But what about my friends?
“Chica, I love your parents, I do, but the way they’re practically giving food away makes me worry about cashing my paycheck.”
I smiled, having successfully put what did not just happen in the back room out of my mind. “Oh please, we both know you just work here to see Michael all hot and sweaty,” I teased, and she wrinkled her nose.
“Ew. That reminds me, if he thinks he’s getting me within fifty feet of his place before he changes those sheets, boy is he in for a surprise.”
I pretended to shudder. “TMI, Maria!”
She just winked and walked over to a booth where customers were looking over a menu, and I didn’t miss the way she swayed her hips as she walked or the way a certain cook’s eyes followed every move she was making as she did.
I rolled my eyes and snuck up behind him.
“Psst, Michael,” I hissed, as if imparting some deep, dark secret and checking about to make sure no enemy spies were listening in. “Word of advice. Wash the sheets, or you might as well go rent a movie tonight because you’re gonna have a lot of time on your hands.”
Instantly his expression went from indifferent and annoyed to mildly panicky. “Oh, shit, I forgot. Thanks, Liz.”
I nodded. “No prob. In fact,” I thought out loud, “I seem to recall asking Jose to come in early for his shift so if you thought it was really necessary, you could probably slip out early and get a good start on that laundry. Heck, you might even have the bed made before she shows up.”
He looked torn between griping at me for being so nosy and thanking me for saving his butt.
I waved him off. “Hey, this isn’t exactly altruism. If she doesn’t have a love life, then she starts noticing how I don’t have a love life, and I’m afraid I haven’t quite worked out my plan for disposing her body after her next matchmaking attempt fails miserably.”
He smirked and swiped at the antennae that topped my stupid uniform, making them bob idiotically around my head. “Gotcha.”
“Again, not a problem – in fact,” I added, worried that our relationship was about to be ruined by a moment of actual niceness, “you might want to throw that shirt in, too. It used to be white, didn’t it?”
Just then, Jose came in and Michael caught him up on what orders were in progress before giving me (ahem) a dirty look and hightailing it out of there.
But my good mood faded as I caught a glimpse of him by the employee entrance, zipping up his jacket and heading out.
Because in that split second before the zipper closed, I saw his shirt.
And it was white, all right. Blindingly white.
I had good friends. Hell, I had the best friends. I’d known Maria Deluca since we were babies, and I had absolutely no problem imagining us best friends for forever. We were like sisters, we were that close.
And I always figured that if we were going to grow apart, it would’ve happened by then. I mean, we were about to turn eighteen. Most of our teen angst should’ve been behind us, right? I submit as evidence a dated picture, which testifies most certainly that yours truly had not dyed her hair some ungodly color in at least six months at that point.
Pretty convincing proof of maturity, wouldn’t you say?
And then there was Alex Whitman. He came on the scene in the fifth grade (fourth if you ask him, but I swear it was fifth), and he became the brother neither of us ever had. The three of us clicked and never looked back.
Not that we were loners. We weren’t the most popular kids in school but we all had friends outside our circle. Alex had his band and he was really good at computers, so he belonged to all sorts of clubs and went to all the classes related to that stuff. Sometimes Maria sang with his band, but more often she worked at my parents’ diner or went out with friends or worked on her aromatherapy experiments.
I liked to think that was my influence. I always liked science, and I’d been thinking that I might have a future in it at that point. I was pretty smart and I got good grades and I was head of the science club and treasurer for the astronomy club, so I figured I’d gotten a good start. (Actually, I’d planned to work especially hard that year. I didn’t tell anyone, but I wanted to be Valedictorian. If I didn’t make it, I told myself, that was fine, but if I did, that would look really good on college applications, right?)
Anyway, as I was saying, we weren’t loners. In fact, we’d all dated pretty regularly since starting high school. Alex somehow managed to catch the eye of Isabel Evans, which kind of surprised me but after a few years to get used to it, it seemed almost natural. Then again, at least there’s something kind of predictable about social opposites falling for each other.
It’s not like they were paired up because they matched genetically or anything so ridiculous as that.
So how to explain Maria and Michael Guerin? I sure as hell couldn’t, although I (grudgingly) admitted that he could (on occasion) be a (sort of) decent guy and he did (seem to) make Maria happy – when they weren’t bickering like an old married couple.
I can’t say I was as lucky. I dated a few guys but none of them worked out.
Overstatement. Almost every single one of them was a complete and total bust. I almost always got dumped within a matter of a few dates, and for no good reason that I could see, either. Not a big morale booster, let me tell you.
Notice how I said, “almost”? Kyle Valenti was the first relationship I thought might actually go somewhere. We dated for almost a year, and towards the end of junior year he got all nervous and stuff and – stupid me – I thought he wanted to do something daring like have sex or get pre-engaged or some other mark of commitment. But no, he was just dumping me too.
My Mom and Dad told me it was for the best. They never liked me dating, and I know they were worried that Kyle and I were moving too fast.
Too fast? Snails on a hot summer sidewalk move faster than the boys in Roswell. I kid you not. Then again, I’m pretty sure Maria and Michael had done it, although Maria wouldn’t give me details, and I had my suspicions about Alex and Isabel too, so maybe it was just me.
I’m pretty sure about that, actually. If I ever hear “It’s not you, it’s me” one more time, I might explode. Because I never believed it then, ever, not once I made eye contact. All it took was one look in their eyes and I knew it absolutely was me.
Remember how I said it was in the eyes?
Anyway, I gave up on dating after Kyle. Any time I needed a date for something, like a dance I had to attend because I got roped into the decorations committee, or a formal dinner party or something like that, I just asked Isabel’s brother Max to go with me.
Max was nice. Max was more than nice. He was nice, good-looking, good company, and he knew how to dance but not so well it made me look like an idiot. He asked me out a few times but he took it pretty well when I said I wasn’t interested in dating seriously.
Of course, I could never look him in the eyes when I lied so outrageously. What if he could read eyes the way I could? It’s just … I couldn’t let myself in for that kind of humiliation again. I figured I’d wait until I was out of Roswell to find someone. That way, he (whoever he was) wouldn’t know me, or that I was such a loser no one in his right mind would want to be with me. Maybe then I’d have a chance.
But I’m getting away from my point.
See, I’d noticed another pattern with all the dumping. Not a literal pattern, like on such-and-such-a-day something would happen, but more like a change in atmosphere. It was like every time I got dumped, I’d have this incredible run of good luck. Like, people refusing take my crappy attitude personally. Being nice to me even though I was miserable. Tipping really well. Holding doors when I was running late. That sort of thing.
Seriously; people who wouldn’t normally give me the time of day would be nice to me, like somehow they just knew I was feeling fragile and they felt bad. I mostly noticed it with the adults, like the grocery store guy or the librarian or the deputies, you know, the people you see around town who probably know you by face or family but not by name? Suddenly they’d start stopping me on the street and try to cheer me up. Even my parents and teachers would get in on it, letting me stay up past curfew to watch a retrospective on Marie Curie or giving me extra time to correct a less-than-perfect assignment.
Maria and Alex, who would of course be expected to be sympathetic, were practically bastions of strength whenever I was dumped. They actually had the ice cream out and waiting when I got home from that fateful last date with Kyle. How did they know? They didn’t, they insisted. And I would’ve believed them too, except that I saw their eyes. And in that split-second, I knew that they knew, maybe (I suspected) even before I did.
Once is a fluke. Twice could be coincidence. But when it happens eight times in three years? That, my friend, is a pattern. And insomuch that it is perpetrated by persons who are all in the know except for yours truly, I call that suspicious.
Hell, I call that conspiracy.
Still, I prided myself on being rational and logical. This was the kind of thing I admitted to myself in the dark, when I was alone and unable to distract myself with the petty stuff of everyday life.
I always put down any feelings of suspicion to jealousy. These were my best and closest friends, right? They had a right to be happy, and I wanted them to be happy, I did. It just … it reminded me just how alone I felt sometimes.
“Tell me the truth, Liz,” Maria said, eyes gleaming and mouth quirking, “you told him to go home early to do the sheets, didn’t you?”
”Absolutely not,” I lied blatantly. “Jose just happened to come in early. If Michael is doing his sheets as we speak, it in no way indicates any interference on my part, and you can’t prove otherwise.”
She just laughed. “Hey, I’m grateful. Fighting is fun, don’t get me wrong, but tonight I was really hoping for a little –”
“Maria!” I protested, clapping my hands over my ears. I was kidding around, but really, I wasn’t in the mood to hear about it.
She reached over and pulled them off. You’d never know it to look at her, but she was really strong.
“ – Consideration,” she finished impishly, and tagged her last order up for Jose to get before handing me her order pad and heading for the employee lounge to change. “Thanks, Liz!”
I just waved her off and went to fill her last order, only I couldn’t read her writing so I went to catch her before she left.
Now, we’d been like sisters since forever, and it would never have occurred to me to knock just because she was changing. But that day I wish I had, because then I never would have seen her take one last look at the mirror, tilt her head in thought, and then casually change the color of her lipstick with one swipe of her hand.
And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that her hand held a tube of lipstick in it.
I backed away quietly, and just went back to re-take the order.
Once, on impulse, I’d asked Maria what the big conspiracy was, the secret everyone was in on but me.
She looked at me, confused, and to anyone else she would’ve looked the very picture of innocence.
Still, I knew her. I saw her eyes, and I knew she wasn’t going to tell me. I think she resented me for asking too, which bothered me as much as her denial. It seemed like a weird reaction, like it was insulting to her to get caught.
Caught? There was something for her to get caught at?
I let it slide. There was this weird distance between us after that, though. It wasn’t noticeable, and I’d go for weeks and even months without thinking about it. But when something happened, something important to me, I was more likely to go write it in my journal than I was to run to her.
We were still best friends, but it was never the same.
I never even bothered asking Alex. Somehow I knew he wouldn’t tell me. Especially after he gave me that truly lame excuse about how he just happened to show up just in time to interrupt a conversation that Maria clearly did not want to have. And I sure as hell didn’t imagine the nod he gave her, or the way she smiled in gratitude at the distraction. It was like they’d had a whole conversation right then and there and I was the only one who couldn’t hear the words.
And that’s how, at age seventeen, I realized the truth.
There was a lot going on in Roswell, but I wasn’t a part of it. I never had been and I never would be. It hurt. But more than that, it was a wake-up call.
I was alone, you see. Surrounded by friends and family and people I’d known all my life, it was true, but still alone.
Looking back now, I have to laugh at how naive I was. I was alone, all right. I just had no idea how much.
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