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The Best Day, Part 1/1
by Jenny (jbangelo)

Title: The Best Day
Author: Jenny
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me.
Pairing: Max/Tess
Rating: TEEN
Summary: Set the summer after Destiny, on the Fourth of July to be exact. Max and Tess have both had pretty miserable summers so far, but this day might bring something different… Oneshot; 3,199 words.
Author’s Note: Challenge from Chrisken for the Support Stacie April Author Auction.


Tuesday, July 4, 2000

9:46 am

Tess Harding turned her head to look at the glowing red letters on her clock radio. She’d been awake for a good hour now, but couldn’t seem to muster the energy to do anything other than lie there and stare at the ceiling. She’d been staring at one particular spot for so long that she was sure she could see a face looking back at her. She rolled over with a groan of disdain.

It had been an utterly miserable summer so far. With Nasedo off in Washington pretending to be Pierce, she had the house all to herself. Which had sounded great at first, but it only added to the loneliness. She’d had such high hopes in the Spring after getting the message from Max and Isabel’s mother, of the four of them bonding and becoming the family they were supposed to be. Liz had even helped matters by leaving town unexpectedly, and while Tess would never openly admit it to anyone, she’d been glad to see her go. She was just a distraction for Max.

In reality, she’d barely spoken to her fellow hybrids since that day in the pod chamber. Michael was the occasional exception, but all he did was complain about Max’s lack of leadership. Max and Isabel, it seemed, were avoiding her like the plague, and she was smart enough to know that Maria and Alex didn’t want her company. And since she’d spent her entire life with Nasedo just preparing to be reunited with her “family,” she wasn’t exactly a pro at making new friends.

Tess’ mood continued to sour as she showered and dressed. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to turn out, not at all. It was all supposed to be so easy – she hadn’t expected such resistance from the other hybrids, and she certainly hadn’t expected her so-called destiny to be in love with someone else. She had thought her life would get better once they were all together again.

But so far, it had been quite the contrary.


11:06 am

Against her better judgment, Tess found herself outside the Crashdown, craving a Belgian waffle topped with whipped cream and plenty of Tabasco sauce. Going in there would likely dampen her spirits even more, but her taste buds were dying for that heavenly sweet and spicy combination. So she took a deep breath and went inside.

Her eyes immediately went to the usual booth and she was not at all surprised to see Max sitting there. He was alone, his eyes fixated on a straw that he was twirling in his fingers. The corners of his lips were turned downward in a frown, and his mood didn’t appear to be much better than her own.

Before she could talk herself out of it, she approached his booth. “Hey,” she greeted, plastering on what she could muster of a fake smile.

Max looked up, startled. “Oh, hey,” he responded cautiously.

“Can I join you?”

“Oh. I was actually just getting ready to leave…” Max looked around the café, very obviously avoiding Tess’ eyes.

Tess heaved a sigh of rejection. “Forget it,” she said, turning away from the table.

She felt more than heard Max’s heavy sigh behind her. “Tess, wait,” he called out, and she half-turned around. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I wasn’t—sit down. Please.”

She knew his invitation was only out of pity and guilt, but Tess couldn’t help it. She’d take what she could get. She slid into the booth across from him.

An awkward silence settled over the table. Tess had rehearsed over and over the things she’d say when he finally granted her some face time – she wanted to talk about the message from the orbs and what it meant for them, she wanted to talk about a plan for their so-called enemies, she wanted to talk about “destiny.” But now that she was here and looking at him… the words wouldn’t come.

Max’s eyes were haunted. She’d never seen eyes that looked quite so… tormented. With a pang, she remembered the night he’d been held in the white room. She remembered how terrified she’d been, how terrified they’d all been. And she was sure it only paled it comparison to what Max felt. And what he still must be feeling.

“So.” Tess mustered another smile. “What have you been up to?” Inwardly she kicked herself. Is that really the best you can come up with?

Max answered with a shrug. “Not much. Laying low. Keeping an eye on the news. Watching out for… stuff.”

Grasping the opening, Tess started to speak. “I’ve been watching, too,” she said. “I really think we should—“

“Max, honey, I’m so glad I found you.”

Tess looked up to see who had interrupted the start of her first real conversation with Max in weeks. She tried to keep her irritation at bay when she saw that it was only his mother.

“Hey, Mom,” Max greeted, his tone somewhat surprised. Tess noticed that he sat up a little straighter in her presence.

“Sweetie, I’m in a bind and I really need your help. You know our office is hosting the 4th of July festival this year, right?” Max nodded in response and Mrs. Evans carried on. “Well, I’m short-handed on some of the booths and could really use some extra volunteers. Do you think you could come by for a few hours and help?”

She gave her son a smile and placed her hand on his shoulder. Oddly, Tess found herself touched by the gesture.

Max hesitated only briefly. “Yes. Sure, Mom.”

“Oh, thank you, honey.” She squeezed his shoulder affectionately. “Why don’t you bring your friend, too?” Mrs. Evans turned to look at Tess. “Tess, right?”

“Uh, right,” Tess responded, surprised at the acknowledgement. She’d only met Max and Isabel’s mother a couple of times.

“Wonderful,” Mrs. Evans said with a clap of her hands. “There’s a booth set up right in front of the hardware store on Main. If you could be there in about an hour, that would be great.” She patted her son’s shoulder before turning from the table. As she walked away, she called back, “And bring your bathing suits!”

Max turned an apologetic smile on Tess. “Sorry,” he said.

“Don’t worry. I didn’t have any plans anyway,” Tess responded casually, while inside, she was practically dancing with glee. A legitimate excuse to spend a few hours with Max? Hell, she’d take it.

“I think my mom’s been wanting to ask me to help all week long, but figured I’d say no unless it was some sort of emergency.” He paused for a moment before continuing on, hesitantly, it seemed. “She wants me to see a therapist.”

“Really?”

“She’s just worried about me. Thinks I spend too much time shut up in my room. That’s probably really why she wants my help today. Just to get me out of the house.”

“Well, I’m happy to help, too,” Tess replied, a real smile finally crossing her face. Her mood significantly brighter, she picked up a menu.

“Wait, why does she want us to bring our bathing suits?”


12:01 pm

“A dunking booth?!”

Max and Tess both stared with wide eyes and matching expressions of shock at the small pool full of cold water and corresponding bull’s eye. Tess wondered what exactly she’d gotten herself into.

“Mom, you could’ve mentioned that this was what you needed help with,” Max grumbled.

“Didn’t I mention?” Mrs. Evans asked good-naturedly, her tone making it clear that she knew good and well she hadn’t. “Come on, honey,” she coaxed, nudging her son closer to the tank. “It’ll cool you off on this hot day.”

Max cast a beseeching glance back at Tess as his mother ushered him to the target seat, but all Tess could do was smile and shake her head and shrug. It appeared there was no getting out of this now.

Tess watched longingly as Max grudgingly peeled off his t-shirt and situated himself on the collapsible seat. Good lord, he was sexy. That perfect chest, those six-pack abs…

“I do hope he’s not too upset with me.”

“Huh?” Tess tore her gaze from the object of her affection and realized that Mrs. Evans was standing next to her. She shook her head; pulled herself together. “Oh. No, I’m sure he’s not.” Tess felt inexplicably nervous talking to Max’s mother.

Mrs. Evans smiled at Tess. “Thank you for helping, dear.” She led Tess to a table with a basket full of softball-sized balls. “One dollar buys three throws,” she explained to Tess. “The cash box is under the table. I’ll be back to check on you later. Have fun!” And with that, she was off, leaving a befuddled Tess in her wake.

Tess looked up at Max, trying not to get distracted again at the sight of his half-naked body. She raised an eyebrow at him, silently asking him if he was ready, and he shrugged in response, as if to say, Why not?

For the next hour or so, Tess collected money and handed out balls to kids and grown-ups alike who came to try their hand at the ever-popular dunking booth. Max’s spirits seemed to get better as the time wore on, and after a while he even started having some fun with the kids by goading them. It was a side of Max that Tess had never witnessed, and she found that she was actually quite enjoying herself.


1:32 pm

When there was a lull in the crowd, Tess approached the pool. Max shook some water out of his hair. “All right?” she asked, a smile on her face and a hint of laughter in her voice.

“Well, my mom was right,” Max said. “It’s definitely keeping me cool.” If Tess didn’t know any better, she’d think he might actually be enjoying himself.

“Wanna switch?” Tess offered.

Tess stripped down to her swimsuit, thankful that she’d been unable to find her bikini and had gone with a conservative one-piece. She settled herself onto the seat and wiggled a toe in the cool water. It did feel nice and soothing amidst the heat of the day.

Tess looked at Max to indicate that she was ready, but the smile drifted from her face when she saw who their next customer was.

Maria DeLuca.

Tess was no dummy. She knew Maria didn’t like her. Hated her, even. And the sinister smile that was on her face at that moment said it all: I’m going to enjoy this.

Tess took a deep breath as Maria prepared for her first throw and prayed that she had bad aim.

Strike one. Tess released the breath she’d been holding.

Maria picked up another ball and tried again. Strike two.

Nice try, blondie, Tess thought to herself as Maria heaved ball number three at the target.

And it was her last thought before she felt the seat collapse beneath her and the shock of the cold water enveloping her body.

Tess pushed herself to the surface, sputtering and gasping for air. She pushed her wet hair off her face and wiped the water from her eyes before searching out the face of her assailant. A satisfied smile was plastered across Maria’s face.

Then she handed Max another dollar.

Maria threw six more balls at the target.

And Tess was dunked six more times.

As Tess recovered from the seventh dunk in a row, she watched in horror as Maria pulled another dollar out of her pocket. But Max put out a hand to stop her.

Tess watched as Max pulled Maria aside. She couldn’t hear what was said as they spoke in hushed voices, but Maria eventually put the dollar back in her pocket. She prepared to leave the booth, but not before looking back at Tess. The girls locked gazes, their eyes both saying the same thing. This isn’t over.

After she was gone, Tess turned grateful eyes to Max. She didn’t know what he’d said to get Maria to go away, but she was thankful to not be under attack anymore. She mouthed a “thank you” to him, and he nodded.


4:02 pm

Shortly after four p.m., Mrs. Evans came to allay them of their dunking duties. Tess was relieved, and she was sure Max was, too, because while it had ended up being fun, she’d had about all the dunking she could take.

“Thank you both so much for helping,” Mrs. Evans gushed. She handed the cash box to Max. “Honey, would you take this home with you?”

“Sure, Mom,” he said, taking the box.

“You’ll both come back for the barbeque tonight, I hope?” Mrs. Evans smiled again, and Tess wondered if anyone ever said no to her. “And don’t forget the fireworks start at 9:15 sharp,” she added.

“Okay?” Tess responded, more of a question than a statement. She was, of course, happy to spend more time with Max, but wouldn’t be surprised if he soon ended their time together.

They made small talk on the ride to the Evans’ house to drop off the money. Max recounted some of the children who’d tried so hard to dunk him. He admitted that he’d intentionally fallen off the chair a couple of times for the kids that were having a hard time hitting the target. Tess was beginning to think that he had genuinely enjoyed himself.

They entered the front door of the Evans’ home and found Isabel and Alex in the living room watching TV.

Tess didn’t miss the surprised looks on both their faces at seeing Max and herself together, but she chose to ignore them. She was having a good day – the first good day she’d had all summer – and she wasn’t going to let anything ruin it.

“What are you guys up to?” Max asked.

“Trying to find something to watch,” Isabel answered as she flipped through the channels on the TV.

“Oh! Oh!” Alex suddenly burst out. “Stop! Independence Day!”

“No,” Isabel answered and continued to flip through the channels.

“What? That’s a great movie!”

“It’s offensive,” Isabel responded.

“Yeah, I gotta go with Iz on that one,” Max agreed.

Tess didn’t know. She’d never seen it.

“Offensive how?” Alex asked in confusion.

“Alex.” Isabel patronizingly patted her boyfriend’s hand. “Think about who you’re with.”

Alex took a second. “Oh,” he said with an embarrassed chuckle. “Right.”

Tess still didn’t get it.

“All those alien movies are the same,” Isabel said with disdain.

“Not true,” Alex countered. “What about E.T.? Max, Tess, back me up here.”

“I’ve never seen it,” Tess answered.

All three of them turned shocked eyes at Tess. They stared at her like she’d sprouted antlers. “What?”

“You’ve never seen E.T.?” Alex asked in shock.

Tess didn’t understand their reaction. “Nasedo wasn’t exactly the type of dad to take me to the movies.”

Alex stood up abruptly. “That settles it. I’m going home to get it right now. I’ll be back in ten.”

Max looked at her and shrugged. “What do you say? Wanna watch a movie?”

Tess didn’t have to think twice. “Yes,” she answered with a smile.


6:39 pm

As the closing credits rolled across the screen, Tess stretched her arms over her head. She and Max were sitting on the loveseat together since Isabel and Alex had claimed the couch. For the first few minutes of the movie, she could sense that Max was uncomfortable and very obviously avoiding getting to close to her. But he’d relaxed as the time wore on, and now their knees were touching. Max didn’t seem to notice, but it gave Tess little tingles of pleasure.

It was strange, but as the day had progressed, Tess could feel her affections for Max taking on a different form. It had started with the way she’d been so touched by his interaction with his mother that morning, then to the gratefulness she’d felt when he’d gotten Maria to back off of her assault at the dunking booth, and the feelings she’d gotten when he talked about the children and the fun he’d had with them. It was like… it was like she was starting to develop actual feelings for Max. Not just destiny, but the way a woman was supposed to feel about a man.

“So, what’d you think?” Alex’s voice shook Tess out of her reverie.

“I liked it,” Tess answered. “It was really cute.”

“I’m hungry,” Isabel interjected. “Let’s go downtown to the barbeque and get something to eat.”

“Good idea,” Max agreed, standing up from the loveseat. He reached out a hand to help Tess up, and again, she was touched by the gesture.

Maybe this day was doing something to change Max’s feelings, too.


9:12 pm

The sun was setting, and the excited chatter of both adults and children filled the air as people settled themselves in for the impending fireworks show. Max, Tess, Isabel, and Alex had brought a picnic blanket and spread it out in a nice spot that wasn’t too crowded. Isabel and Alex had wandered off to find some dessert, leaving Max and Tess alone.

Tess wanted so badly to talk to Max. Really talk to him. They’d made small talk all day, and while she was grateful for even that, there was so much more she wanted to say. But again, she couldn’t seem to make the words come out.

She settled for asking, “Where’s Michael today?”

“Who knows,” Max responded. “I called him after the movie to see if he wanted to come out here with us, but he said he was busy. I think he’s just still avoiding Maria.”

“Can you blame him?” Tess joked.

Max chuckled in response.

“What did you say to her earlier anyway? You know, to get her to stop torturing me?”

Max shrugged and looked down at the blanket. “Just, you know. To go easy on you. That you’re probably having just as crummy a summer as the rest of us.”

Tess hesitated briefly before making her next move. Tenderly, she placed her hand on top of Max’s. “Thank you,” she said softly.

Max let her hand stay there for a moment before moving his away. Tess tried not to feel stung.

“Tess, I uh…” Max cleared his throat. “It’s been a rough few weeks. And I’ve been in a pretty dark place. And I don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow or next week or whenever. But today… Today has been really great. I really needed this.”

Tess nodded and breathed a sigh. “Me, too,” she agreed.

When Max didn’t speak further, Tess asked, “Do you think, maybe, we could do this again sometime? Just hang out, I mean.”

He nodded. “Yeah. I think so.”

The crack of the first firework sounded, and a multitude of colors exploded across the sky. Tess jumped. It was her first fireworks show.

Max laughed, and after her shock subsided, Tess joined in. Like Max, she didn’t know what the future held. She didn’t even know what would happen when Liz inevitably came home. But this might have been the best day she’d ever had, and for now, that was enough.

THE END