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After a minute, Zander nodded towards the door. "So.....was that true, what you were telling your sister?" When Maxie looked blank, he went on. "About the dance. Did you really not have a date, or did you just need an excuse to stick around here?"

She shrugged awkwardly. "Both, I guess."

His eyes twinkled at her. "Come on, a pretty girl like you? The boys should be lined up at the door."

Maxie felt a blush spread over her cheeks, and had to bite her lip to keep from smiling. But then, remembering when Kyle had said the same things to her, her walls came back up. "Yeah, well.....," she said softly, "I made the mistake of dating a total user, and it’s kinda soured me on the prospect of high school romance."

Zander squinted at her. "He really hurt you."

Feeling uncomfortable at how well he could read her, Maxie looked away for a minute. "I hurt myself. I knew this guy was a total jerk, but I let him play me anyway."

Zander stared at her levelly for a minute. "For all you know, I could be playing you, too."

Maxie’s heart skipped a beat, but not in a good way. "Are you?"

He immediately looked like he regretted his last words. "I swear to you I’m not," he said quietly, staring at her. All of her instincts told her not to believe him, but she couldn’t help it - she did. Before she could say another word, he looked away, shaking his head slightly. "Look, Maxie. I don’t want you to get hurt again. So how about if I just sneak on out of here, and you go to your dance and have fun with your friends? I’ll be gone by the time you get back here, and we can forget all about this."

She felt a slight panic at his words. "Zander -"

He shook his head again. "I shouldn’t be taking advantage of you like this. It’s wrong. You’re the only person who’s been there for me, and I’m putting you in a terrible position. You don’t deserve it. So, go on. Go put on that dress," he pointed back towards the closet, where her formal gown was hanging, "and go be happy. Just don’t let anybody drag you down. You’re the best, Maxie. Remember that."

She heaved a large breath. He was giving her an out, but she knew what decision she was going to make. She’d known it in the exam room, she’d known it outside Kelly’s, and she knew it now. "Then why don’t you give me a chance to prove it?"

Zander’s eyes softened, and she thought for a minute he might actually cry. Instead, he reached out, touching her cheek gently. Swallowing hard, he finally nodded. "Thank you," he said, sounding choked up. He shuffled slightly on his feet, and Maxie knew he felt uncomfortable about his emotions. Turning away from him, she gave him a minute to collect himself before moving on. "Zander, I really think you should let me talk to Mac about this. He’s a really good guy, I swear to you. He’ll listen to you. He’ll -"

He held up his hand, silencing her. "Max, I know you’re just trying to help, but honestly? The cops haven’t done a damn thing for me yet, and I seriously doubt they’re going to in the future. Besides - there’s too many people after me. Sonny, Faith, Jason Morgan....."

Seeing an opening, Maxie jumped on it. "Listen," she started in, "I know Jason. I’ve known him since I was little - he used to date a girl who was like a sister to me. I’m sure I could talk to him, explain what was going on....," she let her voice trail off as she saw that Zander wasn’t having any of it. "There’s no other option?" she whispered. It was ridiculous, but she didn’t want him to go. She knew that he was planning on going to Canada, and if he did that, he became a fugitive. She might never see him again.

Zander shook his head. "There’s no other option. If I stay here, I’m dead."

Maxie winced, nodding. She wanted him in Port Charles, but she wanted him alive. Seeing her obvious discomfort, Zander cleared his throat. "Hey, why don’t you try on that dress?"

Maxie looked blankly at him, confused at the change in topic. "Dress?"

"Yeah, the one you got to wear to the formal."

She looked at him like he was crazy. Which he very well might be. Cute as hell, but probably a little crazy, nonetheless. "Why? I already said I wasn’t going."

"I know, but it would be a shame to waste a beautiful dress like that, you know? Besides, maybe once you try it on, you’ll change your mind."

Maxie gave him a look. "I won’t."

"Well, just do me a favor and try it on, anyway." When she still hesitated, he gave her a little boyish smile. Dimples - oh, crap, Maxie thought to herself. "Please?"

~*~

"What the hell am I doing?" Maxie grumbled to herself, checking herself out in Georgie’s mirror. Her sister had left for the dance quite awhile before, and Mac still wasn’t home, so Maxie wasn’t worried about Zander getting caught alone in her room. But why had he insisted on her trying on her dress? She hoped he wasn’t distracting her so he could steal something. She trusted him, but she knew he was desperate. "If he steals anything, he won’t have to worry about Faith Rosco, I’ll kill him," she muttered fiercely. Tying her hair up into a smooth knot, she glanced again at her reflection, taking a deep breath.

When she had first seen the dress, she’d thought it would look better on Georgie, honestly. But Georgie was all about bright colors - she wanted something slinky and loud, something that would attract Dillon’s attention and make him weep for ever hurting her. She’d finally convinced Maxie to try on the dress herself.

It was a pale gold satin, interspersed with sparkly panels. It wound up into a halter-style neckline, leaving part of her back bare. The skirt slinked down towards the floor. She’d still been questioning whether or not to attend the dance, but when she walked out and Mac had looked at her, his breath had caught in his throat. "You look just like your mother," he’d whispered, brushing his hand over her hair. It was his reaction that had convinced her to get the dress.

Taking another breath, she headed out of Georgie’s room and back to her own. "Zander?" she said softly, opening the door slowly. "Why did you ask me to -" Her words broke off with a gasp as she glanced around her room. Zander had turned off all the lights, and collected up her candles and placed them around her desk, in a semicircle around her CD player. He’d moved a vase of flowers from her windowsill to said table, and was busily lighting the candles. He smiled shyly at her as she burst into spontaneous giggles. "What is this?"

He held his hands out to the side, laughing himself at the gesture. "Let’s just call this, the winter Informal."

Maxie bit her tongue. Whenever she was particularly pleased, she got the giggles, and didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of him, especially now. "You didn’t have to do this, you know," she said happily, closing the door back behind her.

"Do what?" he responded, grinning adorably at her.

"Try to make me feel like I’m NOT a pathetic loser."

He looked a little sad, and she wondered if she’d said the wrong thing. "Actually, I was kind of trying to make myself not feel like a pathetic loser." Before she could say anything, he went on. "You know, I took a girl to the prom once."

Maxie smiled gently at him. "Emily?"

He nodded, then laughed softly. "It was a total disaster. I didn’t fit in at all. The other kids just looked at me like I was dirt, like I was lower than them. I couldn’t make conversation with them, nothing. I felt like such a freak."

Maxie swallowed hard. Welcome to my life, she thought bitterly. "Was she angry?"

Zander sighed, shaking his head. "She was....disappointed, I guess. But she tried not to show it. I felt like such a jerk. So on the way home, I stopped the car, took her hand, and danced with her under a streetlight."

Maxie bit down her jealousy. "Sounds romantic."

He blushed. Even in the dim light of the candles, she could tell he was blushing. "It was. But more than that....it was real." His voice trailed off for a second, and then he cleared his throat. "So, Maxie Jones, it would be my honor if you would dance with me, and help me to remember that guy and that girl, and a time when life wasn’t so insane."

Her first thought, of course, was to squeal. Do not squeal, you freak, she chided herself. Trying to keep it together, she took a deep breath and stared at her shoes. Obviously noticing her hesitation, Zander added, "Uh, Maxie. I’m not trying to hit on you here."

She did not respond with, "Oh, I know. Because if you were? I would so totally pass out," and instead said, in her most mature voice, "I know. But, uhm, that guy? He was probably wearing a boutinerre." She plucked one of the daisies out of her floral arrangement, and tucked it neatly through the buttonhole of his suit jacket. She was pleased to notice that her hands were not shaking. "There you go."

Zander hit the button on the CD player, and a slow song quietly filled the silence of the room. He held out his arms, and Maxie felt her feet carry her straight into them. The first thing she noticed was how good he smelled. He’d been on the run from the law, he’d been hiding in her closet, and who knows how long he’d had that suit on, but yet he still smelled good. She decided not to question things like this, and just go with it.

She bit her lip happily as they slowly twirled around the room. This is so much better than the actual winter formal would be, she couldn’t help but think to herself. In the back of her mind, she still remembered the imminent danger there was, for both of them - sure, Zander was in far more trouble than she would be, but that still didn’t mean she would escape blame-free. But suddenly, none of that seemed to matter. All that mattered - was this. This moment.

Feeling her eyes drift shut, Maxie slowly lowered her head to Zander’s shoulder. She relaxed against him, and felt his arms tighten around her, and his breath on the back of her neck. She shivered. Suddenly, Zander recoiled slightly. "Uhm.....," he said tightly, backing away.

"Zander?" she questioned him, afraid she’d done something wrong.

"I just....maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, you know?" he stammered, taking a step away from her. "I mean....I mean, you can’t go back. You’d think I’d have figured that out by now."

"No, it’s okay to remember when you were happy....." she whispered.

He shook his head. "No. It just proves it. It proves that that guy, that Zander - he’s dead. That guy who danced with Emily under a street lamp, that guy who let himself fall in love - he doesn’t exist. Maybe he never did."

Maxie shook her head. "I know what you’re doing, I’ve done it myself. You’re sad, and it’s so hard to believe that someone you love that much can hurt you, so you block it out, and pretend -"

And suddenly, there was a knock on her door. "Maxie?" Mac’s voice called out.

Maxie and Zander both froze. She glanced at him frantically. He looked every bit as freaked as she was, but quickly gathered himself, running over to the window. "It won’t open!" he hissed at her. She pushed aside the urge to rip her hair out. Quickly, she grabbed her bathrobe from the back of the door. Making sure she was bundled head to foot, she walked into the hallway, closing her door firmly shut behind her.

"Hi, Dad....," she said evenly, thanking god she hadn’t actually curled her hair. Right now, it looked like she’d just put it up like she did before she took a bath.

"Maxie, Georgie said you weren’t going to the dance. What’s going on?"

Maxie took a minute to remind herself why she should never, ever, have a conversation with her sister. About anything. "Look, like I told her. I just don’t want to deal with everyone, you know? It’s bad enough, the way they look at me at school. It would be worse at the dance. At school, I have to go. But this dance, I don’t have to."

Mac sighed sadly. "Are you sure, Maxie? You shouldn’t let them get you down, you know."

"I know, Dad," she said quietly, "but sometimes they just do. Don’t worry, I’m okay."

He smiled at her, squeezing her shoulder. "I know you are. I just worry sometimes. I can’t help it, I’m a dad. It’s what we do."

She grinned at him. "Yeah, yeah."

Squeezing her shoulder again, he sighed once more. "Listen, I’ve got to go back into work for awhile. Will you be okay here by yourself?"

"Sure," Maxie responded, inwardly thanking the hands of fate. "What’s going on?"

"Just this manhunt for Zander Smith," he responded, not noticing as the color drained from Maxie’s face. "We have no idea where he is."

Maxie fumbled for words, finally saying "That’s terrible."

Mac nodded. "Anyway....you know where I’m at, if you need anything."

"Okay," she said absently. "Bye, Dad."

Moving back into the room, she saw that Zander had put on his overcoat and was obviously getting ready to make a run for it. "Zander, what are you doing?" she asked frantically.

"Maxie, I can’t do this. I can’t stay. You heard him. They’re really desperate to find me. It won’t be long before they start going door-to-door."

She felt tears well up behind her eyes. She knew he was right, but did it have to end like this? "Zander...."

He shook his head. "I’m sorry, Maxie. I have to." Just then, they heard Mac’s car pull out, and knew he was gone. Zander’s eyes softened as he looked at her. "You look beautiful, by the way."

She blinked back her tears, laughing slightly. "I’m in a bathrobe."

"Well, before that," he responded, laughing back. The mood fell somber again. He finally leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "Thanks for everything, Max," he whispered, and then bolted out the door. Maxie sat down heavily on her bed.

She was alone again.

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chrysalitron

July 2009

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