March 23rd. Happiness is fleeting. I’m Liz Parker, but nobody knows that any more.
It’s over a year after graduation and Liz Parker finds herself on the East coast. She’s alone for the moment, but she knows that’ll change by the end of the night. It varies how they travel these days; they can’t be too sure who to trust. A group of people become suspicious when crossing state lines; it’ll be more suspicious when they make it to the border.
It’s still cool in Pennsylvania, but she welcomes the fresh air. She misses the desert sometimes, the way she misses her youth. The past few months have forced her to grow up and face her life in a way she’s never done before. The ring on her finger bounds her to one man, but lately she feels disconnected from him. Some days are better than others; some days are wasted away in silence.
It’s when Maria goes missing, she feels her final undoing.
It started out feeling like a vacation. A quick detour to a small chapel where she and Max were married and it all seemed like a honeymoon. Their flight was more about the friendship and less about the departure. They were together more often than not, but now with the danger at hand, they’re more scattered than they ever were.
Isabel and Michael haven’t been back in three weeks. Sometimes Kyle travels with them, but he’s mostly been sticking around her and Max. She thinks something went down between him and the alien princess, but she’s never approached the subject. It’s when Kyle’s with them that Max disappears into the night. One night he leaves and a few days later he’s back.
“I never thought we’d ever end up here,” Liz tells Kyle one night. Max has left the morning before and won’t be back for another day. The three of them have moved beyond Pennsylvania and into Connecticut. Tonight her hair is black, while his is blond; she is Angela, while he is Matt. They’re just outside of the Harvard campus where there are students walking in pairs, so they fit right in.
“It must be the end of finals, there are people everywhere getting ready to party,” Kyle comments. The noise is refreshing to her, and she suddenly feels a surge of energy.
“Come on,” she grabs his hand and starts dragging him to the bar across the street.
“Liz, we probably shouldn’t--”
“Why not?” she blinks up at him, her real name sounds so foreign to her ears, “This is what we’d be doing now anyway if things were different.”
They end up in the dark corner on the side furthest from the juke box. Liz remembers Maria and the way she sings, so she orders shots of tequila for the both of them until the only voice she hears are hers and Kyle’s.
“I don’t see her anymore,” she tells him, leaning her head on his shoulder. The room spins but her visions are clear. Their future is something she can’t predict anymore. “I try but there’s nothing there and I’m afraid it means she’s gone. Or that I’m gone. And all I want to be is human again.”
“You are human.”
“Only when you remind me. No one else does.”
Later that night, she wakes up in bed, groggy and weak. He brushes her hair away from her face and presses his lips against her cool cheek. She says a name, not sure if it’s the right one. Sometimes it takes a while for her to remember the names, true or not.
She thinks she hears him say, “It’ll be okay,” but she falls back asleep before she hears anything else.
She doesn’t know why but he’s suddenly become the anchor in her life, unconditional and strong. More often than not, she’s turning to him when Max is away. Sometimes they have a hotel room and sometimes they hide in the back of the van. She doesn’t mind because it’s the company that matters.
But she finds herself missing Max when he’s gone for the night. Mostly, she finds that she misses herself.
Nearly four years ago, Max saved my life. He said that he loved me and I was his destiny. This is what our lives are now, running from who we are and what we know. Becoming a different person in a different city for every week of the year... I’m not sure if this can be called destiny. Alex is dead, Maria is missing. They’re everything to me and now they’re gone.
Sometimes I feel myself fading too.
Lately at night, she’s back at the Crashdown Cafe. An endless amount of memories in pictures are laid out on the counter before her. She remembers living those moments: dress up in the attic, childhood laughter, trips to the south. A flash happens and suddenly there’s clanging in the kitchen and somebody singing in the break room. It sounds like Maria, but she’s not quite sure anymore. Another flash and somebody is sitting beside her.
“I keep trying to see if I can touch her in my dream, but all I seem to find it you.”
“Oddly enough, I don’t really see that as a bad thing, Liz,” Alex says. Her name has never sounded so warm. “Didn’t think you were grooving the alien side so much,” he comments.
“She’s here, I know she is. I should be able to find her; she’s my best friend, my sister. I found you, didn’t I?”
“You’ll always find me because I’m always a part of you, just like I’m a part of Isabel and a part of Maria. We can’t ever really be gone,” he assures her. The singing grows louder from the back and Liz can’t shake it off.
“Do you remember the trip to see Madam Vivian?”
“Maria sang the entire way there and ranted the entire way back.”
“She was singing this song, don’t you remember?” she asks, “this is her, Alex. She’s here!”
Her declaration cuts off all noise. Alex is speaking to her, but she can’t hear his words. She reaches out to clasp his fingers but he moves into the distance. She sees his echoes and feels his sound, but nothing is registering as sound. A flash and she catches the side of blonde hair.
She wakes up alone.
Michael shows up one day, when they make a stop in Maine just before the border. She hasn’t seen him since Tennessee, but watches him carefully as he speaks to Max for the first time in months. They’re last encounter was volcanic, which resulted in the separation in the first place. She wonders what this one will bring.
“She’s not dead,” she thinks she hears him say. She hears enough.
Isabel returns three days later and her heart hums with adrenaline. There’s a plan in the works, she knows there has to be. The dynamic of the road changes again, now that there are five people in the van once more. One night, she sits beside Michael while they station the van in an abandoned loading dock just before the Canadian border.
“Do you see her?” she asks him, a little anxious and not at all sure he would understand what she means. “I can only hear her, everywhere I go, everything I do, I can only hear her.”
“I’ve seen her. Once, in a mess of lights and armour, but I know it’s her and I know she’s there,” Michael tells her. “Isabel’s seen her too. Max shouldn’t have left her behind.”
“No, he shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have either.”
They come to a standstill, the happy couple. It’s been building up since Tennessee and intensifying since Connecticut. Max is respecting her space and the anger she realizes is radiating from her body. No wonder he’s tentative to the touch.
They’re alone now; she doesn’t know where the others are. She’s sitting by the window writing to the journal in her mind, since they can’t afford to have written evidence of their existence lying around. Max is watching her from the other side of their hotel room. She sees his reflection in the window she feels sixteen again, waiting for him at the Crashdown, waiting for him to come and kiss her senseless.
She’s waiting to feel like herself again.
He moves towards her, taking her into his arms. Automatically, she feels solid and real, and whatever she’s been holding on to starts to fade away. She kisses him, fiercely, the first passionate contact she’s had in months and he kisses her back just as strongly. It feels like forgiveness.
A loud crash breaks them apart; they turn just in time to see Michael and Kyle bring a limp body into the room, wrapped in blankets, as Isabel follows from behind. Max immediately jumps into saviour mode, and helps lay the body on the bed. Liz rushes towards them, but Kyle makes a grab for her, pushing her away.
“Let them do it,” he tells her, his voice barely above a whisper into her ear. It takes another minute or two, but she hears her name being called and for the first time in ten months, there’s meaning behind it.
Maria’s voice is quiet and exactly like the one that’s been haunting her all this time. She lets go of Kyle and climbs into bed, gently wrapping herself around Maria’s weak limbs. She’s familiar to the touch, and the kind of humanity she’s been looking for in the world, in herself.
She starts to remember what this flight was originally about.
A vacation is far from their minds, though they are probably in need of one. They pass through customs with ease, and find themselves in a little town just at the edge of New Brunswick. There is snow on the ground, three feet more than the night before, and there are lights all around.
Liz is in the backseat with Max, hands clasped, wedding bands linked. Maria is curled up in Michael’s arms just in front of her, while Kyle drives through the night as Isabel dozes in the passenger seat. He catches her eye through the rear view mirror.
“Thank you,” she mouths to him. She’s not sure if he knows for what, if he remembers the promise he made her of everything being okay. But he gives her a short nod and turns his eyes back to the road.
Everything will be okay.
It’s December 24th. I’m Liz Parker, but nobody knows that any more, nobody except for the five other people in this van. It’s not destiny, it’s a choice, and as long as they never forget, I never will.