“I cannot believe you still have this.”
Liz is talking about Max’s jeep, which is parked on the rocky strip he refers to as his driveway. It’s the same jeep he’s had since he first got his licence, even if it’s a little more dented and rusted than it was then. They’re in the process of loading with picnic goods she’s picked up from the Crashdown.
“Never saw the need to change it,” he replies, heaving a cooler into the trunk. “Though some parts are newer than others. Michael keeps telling me I need a new engine, but then he always manages to fix it.”
“Good.” Liz smiles, tipping her head wistfully. “Though are you sure it’s going to survive the trip?”
“We’re not driving far,” he assures her. “The AC works—that’s what’s important, right?”
Liz laughs, shaking her hair out over her shoulders. The light catches it, despite how dark it is, painting burnished highlights through its lengths, and his heart skips a beat. He’s always fascinated by the effect light has on her. Right now she’s shades of honey and cream, bronze and amber. She’s framed by the desert and seems an elemental part of it too, the way her skin and eyes match its vivid, varied tones. Even the march of freckles across her nose looks like a sweep of sand and dust. But sometimes at night, in darkness, she is a study in contrasts, a perfect chiaroscuro. All the rich colours bleached away into black and white, and the glitter in her eyes.
“Where’d you go?” she asks, looking up at him from beneath her eyelashes, but the laughter in her gaze suggests she knows he was drinking her in. He’s tempted to lean in and kiss her, but if they start down that road they won’t be heading out, they’ll be heading back to bed. He makes do with a brush of their noses, and breaks away before Liz can seize the moment.
He regrets not kissing her for the entire drive. She’s taken control of the music, and he doesn’t mind, not when she chooses songs she likes to sing along to. He still has pretty much the same CDs as he did when they drove out into the desert as teenagers, and Liz treats this as a trip down memory lane. It’s a struggle to keep his eyes on the road when her smile is so wide and her singing is so…enthusiastic. Infectious, if not pitch perfect.
“Come on, Max, I know you know the words to this one!” But Wide Open Spaces is a song for her, not for him.
Life is good. It feels like the sunlight overhead is flowing through his veins.
They’ve headed to Bitter Lake, a rare place of greenery amongst the desert. It’s a good spot for a picnic on the river side, watching the birds and dragonflies from the trail. Max has remembered to pack a blanket to spread out over the grass, so they can curl up together and enjoy the view.
They leave the radio playing as they eat, switching from Max’s CD collection to a golden oldies station. Flocks of birds rise and fall above the water, and the occasional glittering jewel of a damselfly buzzes past them. It’s peaceful—until the food is gone, and that’s when Liz starts getting handsy.
Max can’t complain. Nothing feels more right than her pressed up against him, his hands in her hair, her mouth under his. She radiates warmth to him like he’s got the sun itself in his arms. Nothing could be more perfect than the softness of her skin or the quiet moans she makes as he presses her down into the blanket.
“Max—” She breathes his name, low and soft, and he damn near loses his mind.
The soft pop of the radio going silent says he’s lost control of something else entirely.
He breaks the kiss, glancing over at the jeep like that will fix things.
“Max?” This time Liz is less breathy. More frustrated.
“You know how my powers have been a little unpredictable since I came back?” he asks tentatively.
Her eyes widen. “You killed the jeep?
“I think so.” He stops resisting the urge to bury his face in the crook of her neck and hide his embarrassment. “I feel like a teenager again.”
“Wait, so you’re saying if I’d kissed you that day in the desert all those years ago, we might have got stranded out there?”
“Maybe,” he mumbles against her skin.
She giggles, and the sound fizzes through him. “I have to say, this makes me feel pretty powerful.” Her fingers are in his hair, stroking his scalp. “We’ll just have to call for a tow. Tell Michael you’ll finally replace the engine.”
He nods, about to admit defeat and face Michael’s knowing interrogation over how all the electrics got fried, before something else occurs to him. He groans, rolling over onto his back and blinking up at the bright sky.
“I think I might owe you a new phone. If I fried the car…” He’s got the money to replace both of their phones, but it’s frustrating to have reduced the electronics on his to dust when he’s only had it for a few months.
He can’t believe he’s ruined the picnic. They get so little opportunity to go out for days like this, with no drama and no urgent business to deal with, and instead his hormones have screwed things up. Like he’s fourteen, not pushing thirty. Liz always has an effect on him, but not like this.
“We’re going to have to wait until somebody else comes along the trail to ask for help,” he tells her.
She hums her agreement. “Could be a couple of hours.”
“I know.” He sighs, scrubbing at his face with his hands, when he feels soft fingers covering his own and pulling them away. Liz has propped herself up on one elbow and is grinning down at him.
“We’d better make the most of it, then.” Her wicked smile says she’s not unhappy with that plan at all.