a couple dozen times. That would be a lot less painful than having her look at him the way she was looking at him right now-like he had hurt her more than she'd realized she could be hurt.

'I didn't mean to confuse you or mess with you or anything,' Max added quickly. 'The situation just got out of control. I won't let it happen again, I promise.'

'You promise,' Liz repeated dully.

He waited, but she didn't say anything else.

I won't have to worry about keeping that promise, Max thought. After the way I just destroyed her, Liz will never let me touch her again.


'Did you just take a sip of my orange soda?' Alex exclaimed.

'Huh?' Maria glanced down at her hand and realized she was holding Alex's glass. 'Oh. Sorry,' she mumbled. She slid it across the table to him.

'No, go ahead and finish it,' Alex said. 'Flying Pepperoni has the best orange soda in town. I just didn't think a natural foods baby like you would appreciate the perfect blend of sugar, water, and artificial colors and flavors.'

'I thought I was drinking my mint tea,' Maria admitted. Her mind was a million miles away. Actually, that wasn't true. Her mind was right here in Roswell-over at Ray Iburg's. 'Do you think there might be a whole community of aliens in Roswell?' she asked Alex.

'They do seem to be popping up all over the place lately,' Alex answered.

Maria ran her finger around the rim of her cup, collecting all the drops of moisture. 'Everything's going to change,' she murmured.

Alex looked alarmed. 'Why?'

'Well, if there's this whole group of aliens, Michael, Max, and Isabel are going to want to be a part of it,' Maria said. 'And we can't be a part of that.'

'But… but Isabel needs us,' Alex said urgently. 'They won't just drop us the minute they find other aliens. They won't.'

Maria shrugged. 'Still, it won't be the same.' She stared into her tea. What would she do without Max joking around with her, calling her pea pod? Or Isabel's hilarious fashion critiques of everyone who walked by in the quad? Or Michael crawling through her window late at night just to hang out?

Yeah, that's what she would miss the most. But if Michael found out there was a whole assortment of alien girls available to him, it's not like he'd still be showing up at Maria's every couple of nights. She was your basic, ordinary human chick. How could she compete with girls who would have so much more in common with Michael, girls who would share his species memories of his home planet? Girls who were probably totally beautiful in some exotic, enticing, non-cute-girl-next-door kind of way.

'Why is everyone so late?' Alex complained.

'Ray must have had a lot to say,' Maria answered.

'So what's your excuse?' Alex asked. 'You were late, too.'

Maria wondered if Alex was having the same kind of thoughts she was-except about Isabel, not Michael. That would explain why he was getting so annoyed.

'Alex, you have to be at least fifteen minutes late for it to count,' Maria explained. 'Plus I have a great excuse. My clock is doing something weird. When I was getting dressed, it skipped ahead, like, five minutes in one jump.'

'There they are. Finally,' Alex announced.

Maria glanced over her shoulder, her eyes going directly to Michael. His face wasn't giving any clues about how it had gone at Fay's. He'd shoved whatever emotions he was feeling way down.

Michael slid into the booth next to Maria. He pulled Isabel down next to him and looped his arm around her shoulders. Maria didn't know what she was supposed to think about that. He chose to sit next to her, which was good. But he had Isabel pulled up close against him, which was-

Get over yourself, Maria thought. Isabel just went through something world shattering. That's what you should be thinking about. Not whether Michael's sitting closer to you or her. Maria rummaged around in her purse and pulled out a vial of tangerine oil. She reached across Michael and held it out to Isabel. 'I like to smell this when I'm… not feeling so great,' she said. 'I want you to try it, okay?'

Isabel didn't answer. Her blue eyes were focused on the sugar shaker in front of her. She's trying not to cry, Maria realized. She'd never thought of Isabel as a crying kind of girl. Isabel was so strong, the kind of person who didn't take anything from anyone. But it was like the steel inside her had turned into glass, glass so fragile, a puff of air could shatter it.

Maria pressed the tangerine oil into Isabel's hand and gently closed her fingers around it. 'Take it home and try it later,' she said. 'If you like it, I'll get you some more.'

'Thanks,' Max said. Maria smiled at him, although she had to fight to keep the smile in place when she got a good look at his face. He looked… ravaged. That's the only word that seemed to fit. This isn't just about what happened last night, Maria realized. There's something new. Something horrible.

She glanced over at Liz. Liz sat with her arms wrapped around herself. It was like she was trying to take up as little space as possible. Or like she didn't want to have one inch of her body touching Max's.

What was going on? Had Max already told Liz whatever he found out from Ray this morning-was that why she looked like she was about to throw up?

'Somebody better start talking fast,' Alex said.

Max pulled in a deep breath. 'Do you want to do this or do you want me to?' he asked Michael.

'You're our fearless leader. You do it,' Michael muttered.

Maria didn't like the sound of his voice. It was too flat, too dead sounding.

'Okay, so we went over to Ray's this morning,' Max began.

'Did any of you start writing that history paper?' Alex interrupted. 'Don't tell me yes, because I haven't even picked a topic.'

What was he talking about? None of them were even in his history class. Maria opened her mouth to ask him if he'd lost his mind, but then she heard footsteps coming toward them, and she caught a whiff of cologne. She knew that smell. She didn't have to turn around to know that Sheriff Valenti was behind her.

What was he doing here? Did he know the truth about Michael and the others? Maria felt a shiver race across her shoulders. She hoped Valenti didn't notice. She didn't want to do anything that might make him suspicious.

'I'm already halfway done with my paper,' she told Alex. 'You shouldn't be here right now if you haven't started. You should be at the library.'

Valenti stepped up to the table. 'I'm looking for Nikolas Branson,' he announced. 'His parents called me this morning and informed me that he never made it home last night.'

Did he sound this calm when he talked to Nikolas's parents? Maria thought wildly. Did he just ask them all the usual questions and tell them he'd do everything he could-knowing the whole time that Nikolas was dead? Dead because of him!

'Nikolas didn't seem like the kind of guy who would be tucked in bed by midnight, you know what I mean?' Liz said, looking Valenti right in the eye. 'He probably just partied a little too strenuously last night.'

'Yeah, I bet he'll come rolling home sometime this afternoon,' Alex agreed.

Valenti turned to Isabel. 'Is that what you think?'

'Sounds like Nikolas to me,' she said. Her voice gave the tiniest quiver when she said her boyfriend's name, but she answered without hesitation. She must have a little of her steel left after all, Maria decided.

'Is that all you can tell me? The two of you were together last night, weren't you?' Valenti asked. 'My son, Kyle, said you and Nikolas were going out.'

Thank you, Kyle, Maria thought. The little rat boy had to tell his father everything about everyone at school.

'We were together for a while, but we… we had a fight. I…' Isabel's breath began coming in ragged pants.

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