Finally Liz got the truth about Maria.......and Max's son. I don't blame her for being upset about that news.
It's a big deal that Max has a son, and is he going to take some responsibility?
Yes, it is a big deal, and Liz was pretty blindsided about it. But she's invested enough time and energy into her relationship with Max at this pint that this news isn't going to make her back out of it.
One more secret........cliff hanger here.
Max really likes Liz . . . but yes, there's one more secret, one more thing he's not being completely honest with her about.
Loved the Texas Tech mention......almost time for me to leave and go watch the first game. Hope Kliff and the boys have a better year.
How did the game go?
Awww, I am glad Max came clean about Dylan to Liz. And I think AND HOPE Liz and Max can be a good couple together. I want to believe that people can change because we have already seen it in Michael.....
This Max has been very interesting to write. He does have some redeeming qualities, and his relationship with Liz is actually kind of a nice one. And yes, we have seen Michael change for the better in a lot of ways, so it's possible Max could do the same.
Can't wait to see what the surprise is!!
It's a pretty sweet thing that Michael does for her.
Thanks for the feedback!
Lyrics in this part today are to the song "Wild Ones," originally by Flo Rida and Sia, but I'd like to include the far superior cover version by Madilyn Bailey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmyRUhx5Xco And yes, I'm linking to my own video, shamelessly.
Isabel listened in amusement as Jesse spoke to his mother on the phone. She’d called right after they’d gotten done fucking, and at first, he’d seemed like he didn’t feel like talking to her. But nearly twenty minutes later, he was still on the phone with her, and they seemed to be having a good conversation. Of course, Isabel couldn’t understand a word of it, since every word they were saying to each other was in Spanish. Jesse spoke so quickly, so fluently, that all she could really make out was the adios at the end.
“Sorry,” he said, setting his phone on the nightstand. “Didn’t know that was gonna take so long.”
“That’s okay,” she said, liking that he and his mom got along well. “I knew I should’ve taken Spanish.”
“What’d you take?”
“French.” She rolled her eyes at what a colossal waste of time that had been. “I thought it was a more romantic-sounding language.”
“Ah, Spanish is romantic,” he said, turning onto his side. “Mi amor.”
She smiled, knowing at least what that meant. “Say something else.”
He leaned in and whispered something in her ear. She couldn’t decipher a word of it, but it sure sounded sexy.
“See?” he said. “Romantic language.”
“You’ll have to teach me,” she said.
“I love teaching you things.” He grazed his fingers along her side, stopping at her hip.
“So are you and your mom close?” she asked, wondering if he had told her anything about the two of them yet. Did Mrs. Ramirez even suspect there was an Isabel Evans in her son’s bed right now?
“We’re very close,” he replied unabashedly. “My dad was never around, and after my older brother got locked up, it was just me and her. She raised me all on her own. She’s my hero.”
“She sounds amazing,” Isabel agreed. She really wanted to meet her someday, but . . . was there a point? She was going off to Princeton in a few months, and she and Jesse hadn’t talked about whether or not they were going to continue this relationship once she was gone.
“What about you and your mom?” he asked. “You do anything special for her today?”
“Not really,” she admitted. “Got her a gift, but I always do.”
“You guys close?”
“Kind of. I don’t know, we used to be.” It made her sad to know that she and her mom had grown apart this year. Not as far apart as her and Tess, obviously, but still . . . pretty far.
“She seems like a nice lady,” he remarked.
“She doesn’t like you,” Isabel informed him, amazed that he would say anything nice about her after how standoffish she’d been to him at their dinner.
“Of course not,” he said. “I made porn with her daughter. She’ll never like me.”
She frowned. Was that true? He didn’t seem bothered by it, but she was. “I don’t think she likes me much anymore, either,” she confessed.
“But she’s your mom.”
“So she loves me. But I don’t think she likes me. Not lately.”
He brought his hand up to brush her hair away from her face. “Why not?”
“Because . . .” She shrugged as best she could lying down. “I’m not perfect.”
He pressed his finger to her lips and assured her, “You’re perfect to me.”
She smiled at the compliment. “But that’s you.”
“So? Do you honestly care what anyone else thinks?”
Did she? It was hard not to. Having grown up in Roswell, having always been popular and well-known, it was hard to toss aside concerns about her reputation. But her reputation was already tarnished. It had been ever since that video had gone viral. Or maybe even before then. Maybe blowing Ryan at prom had been the turning point. Or sleeping with her sleazy neighbor. Whatever had tipped the scales, everyone knew what her life was like now. Everyone knew she was bedding a self-employed porn star, and everyone knew she wasn’t the valedictorian, and everyone knew her ex-boyfriend was happily engaged.
Screw it. She didn’t give a fuck what anyone else thought anymore.
“Jesse,” she said, eyeing the camera on his dresser. “Maybe we could . . .” Before she was able to finish the sentence, though, the bedroom door flew open and in came Courtney. She had one of Eric’s shirts on, but it was halfway hanging off, and she was very clearly naked underneath.
“You guys gotta come downstairs,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Eric and I are gonna try one of the hardest Kama Sutra positions. We wanna film.”
“Great,” Jesse said, already getting out of bed. “Do you want me to do the honors? ‘cause I was thinking, maybe Isabel . . .”
“You want me to film?”
He shrugged. “Why not?”
Her first instinct was to be repulsed but to politely decline. But then she thought it over and changed her mind. What was the big deal? She’d seen Eric and Courtney knocking boots on more than one occasion. They had done it in the same room as she and Jesse, for crying out loud. It wasn’t a big deal to be the one holding the camera while they got it on again. They were her friends, and they were horny, and they were absolutely willing to put their horniness on display for the world wide web to see.
“Sure,” she agreed. “You pop some popcorn.”
Jesse grinned eagerly. “Alright, dinner and a show.”
Isabel smirked right back at him, sort of excited by the chance to take part in something a little deviant. It was probably a good thing neither one of their moms knew they were doing this.
Maria took her mom out for lunch that day, not because she particularly wanted to, but rather because . . . well, quite honestly, she felt obligated. It was the one day out of the whole year where moms were supposed to be recognized and feel important. And being a mom herself, she understood how crushed Amy would feel if they did nothing.
Unable to stomach the Crashdown food anymore, Maria took her mom to another local café, one that was, perhaps fittingly, run by a mother and a daughter. No space theme here. Just good old-fashioned meals, real stick-to-your-ribs types of food. And reasonable prices, which was a bonus.
But, of course, Maria’s mom was complaining. “Is our waiter ever gonna come back?” she asked. “I need my meat to be more cooked than this.”
“He’ll be back,” Maria assured her. It was pretty busy at a lot of restaurants today. Many families had the same idea she did, to take mom out for lunch. It made her glad she wasn’t working today, because that would have been killer. Too many customers on holidays.
“He’s not the best waiter,” Amy complained. “He wasn’t very friendly.”
Maria rolled her eyes. “Let it go, Mom. You don’t know who he is or what kind of day he’s having.” She sympathized with anyone and everyone who had to plaster on a smile day after day and serve up food to a bunch of people who usually forgot to be grateful and sometimes even forgot to tip.
Her mom fell silent for a moment. Then, in a rare moment for her, she admitted some sort of fault. “You’re right,” she said. “I shouldn’t be so critical. I’m just happy to be here. I have to admit, I, uh . . . I wasn’t sure you’d wanna do anything.”
“Well, it’s Mother’s Day,” Maria said simply. “And you’re my mom.”
“Whether you like it or not.”
Maria sighed, trying to keep things peaceful. It was just a constant effort with the two of them. “Look, I know we might not always see eye to eye on a lot of things,” she acknowledged, “but it could be worse. I don’t hate you and I don’t hate the fact that you’re my mom. But sometimes, to be honest, it feels like you hate me.”
“Oh, Maria . . .” Her mother reached across the table, squeezing her hand gently. “Of course I don’t hate you. It’s just . . . you know how I am. Sometimes I can’t express myself or express how I’m feeling without coming off as . . .” She made a face. “Oh, what’s the word I’m looking for?”
“Condescending?” Maria filled in readily. “Insensitive? Judgmental?”
“Well, all of the above, by the sound of it.”
“Listen, I know I’m not the ideal daughter. I made a lot of mistakes, and it disappointed you. It hurt you.” She really had been a pill back in the day, back before she’d gotten pregnant and she’d first started doing drugs, back before she’d gone to live with her dad. She and her mom had gotten in so many fights about what she was doing to her life. Looking back, Maria knew her mom had been right to warn her about everything that would happen if she went down that wrong path, that she’d only been trying to look out for her. But back then, at fourteen years old . . . she just hadn’t been able to see it.
“It did hurt,” Amy conceded. “It still does sometimes. I wish we were close. You know, I really worry what’s gonna happen when you move.”
“Why?” If her mom launched into a tirade about how she and Michael weren’t going to be able to handle all the responsibilities of adulthood, she was going to have to change the subject fast. Because that lecture was so old.
“I just worry I’ll lose touch with you completely,” she said. “You and Dylan . . . I know I don’t always show it, but you both mean so much to me.”
That wasn’t completely true, that she didn’t always show it. She always showed that she loved Dylan. That was never in question. He was just a little boy. He was too young to have disappointed her or hurt her in any way.
“You’re his grandmother,” she pointed out. “I won’t let him lose touch with you.”
“What if you get pregnant again?” Amy wondered out loud. “What if you have another baby and I never even get to be a part of its life?”
“Mom . . .” She wasn’t planning on getting pregnant again anytime soon. “If it happens, you’ll be a grandmother again. I’m not gonna just forget about you.”
“Do you think it will happen again soon?” Amy asked. “Or are you still being careful?”
Maria lowered her voice, mumbling, “We’re still being careful.”
“Mom . . .” She really didn’t want to go into the details of her sex life.
“Okay, none of my business,” she said, holding up her hands. “I just . . . I’m just always thinking about what your life’s gonna be like, you know. Hoping for the best.”
“But expecting the worst?” Maria guessed.
“No, I’m . . . I’m cautiously optimistic right now,” Amy claimed. “Or at least I’m trying to be.”
This was the optimistic version of her mom? It was better than nothing, she supposed, but seriously . . . her mom hadn’t asked to see the ring again, hadn’t asked her if she’d ended up purchasing the wedding dress she’d spotted her trying on.
Oh, well. That would have been asking too much.
“Although I have to admit,” her mother added, “I’m a little curious as to why Michael suddenly decided he’s not going to college after all.”
Maria frowned. “How did you hear about that?” Was the town gossip in full swing again?
“Jim told me,” Amy revealed.
“Jim?” Since when were they on speaking terms again? “So that means you’re back together with him.”
“Well, he and Diane split up, so . . .” Her mother trailed off and shrugged.
“You decided to just step back in for your turn in the rotation?”
Giving her a stern look, her mother warned, “If you don’t want me to judge your relationship, maybe you shouldn’t judge mine.”
As much as Maria hated to admit it . . . damn, her mom was right. Judgment could go both ways, and even though she didn’t particularly understand or support her mom’s relationship with a known womanizer, she had no right to insult it. “Sorry,” she apologized, quickly getting back on topic. “So Jim told you, huh?”
“Yeah, I was talking about you and your engagement, and then he just mentioned it.” Her mother gave her an inquisitive look. “So what’s the reason for that, huh? Did he just decide he doesn’t wanna go?”
“No, he’s gonna go next year,” Maria informed her. “He just wanted to sit this year out so we could figure out all our financial stuff. He wants to work so it’ll be easier for us to pay our expenses our first year out on our own.”
“Hmm.” Even though her tone didn’t change much, Amy did say something not horribly judgmental in response. “That’s actually probably a good idea.”
“Yeah.” In some ways, some obvious ways, it was. “Yeah, it’ll work out.”
“Do you really think he’ll end up going to college, though?”
“Yeah, next year.”
Her mom half-smiled, sort of a skeptical smile. “Really?”
“Yes, Mom.” She had made up her mind not to dwell too much on the negative what-if scenarios. “I believe in him.”
“Well, that’s good, I suppose.”
Maria tried to push the question aside in her mind, forget her mom had even asked it. “We’re still moving, though, probably at the start of July. And the plan is to get married before that, so . . .”
Her mom’s eyebrows shot straight up. “Before that?”
“What?” Why did she sound like that worried her? What was there to worry about? It didn’t make a difference whether they got married this June or the next.
“Things just seem to be moving incredibly fast,” Amy remarked.
Well . . . that much was true. She hadn’t even known Michael for a year yet. But she knew him, knew she would never know anyone else like him or want to be with anyone the way she wanted to be with him. Forever.
“We actually started looking into adoption procedures, too,” Maria revealed. “So maybe by the end of the year . . .”
“Michael’s gonna adopt Dylan?” Amy sounded incredulous. “The boy who’s barely graduating high school is gonna step up and become somebody’s dad?”
“Mom, don’t say stuff like that.”
“Honey . . . he’s eighteen.”
“I’m nineteen,” she pointed out.
“You didn’t have a choice when you became a parent; he does.”
“Right, and he’s choosing this. Mom . . .” The lunch hadn’t been too bad so far, and it was freaking Mother’s Day. For the both of them. She didn’t want things to go south now.
“It’s like I said, I’m cautiously optimistic,” Amy reiterated. “And you should be, too.”
Great, advice, Maria thought. I don’t recall asking for advice.
“His whole life’s about to change, in more ways than he can even imagine,” Amy said, as if Maria didn’t already know that. “Moving to another state when you’re as young as he is . . . that’s one thing. But becoming a husband on top of it . . . that’s another thing. And then becoming somebody’s dad . . . that’s just something else entirely.”
“What are you saying?” Maria wasn’t even sure why she asked. If she didn’t want advice, especially her mom’s, then she should just let the conversation die. But her mom always knew how to say things that just egged on her curiosity.
“You just need to make sure,” her mother replied. “Make sure he’s ready.”
Maria shifted in her seat, averting her eyes. Michael still wasn’t the most responsible, disciplined guy—and truthfully, she didn’t want him to be, because then he wouldn’t be the guy she knew and loved. But at this point, when it came to the future, he was probably as ready as he would ever be. Hopefully it was enough.
Michael had always hated going out on dates. They were just too much pressure. Pressure to wear the right thing, go to the right place, say the right stuff once you were there. He had never taken Isabel out much, and the few brief girlfriends he’d strung along before her hadn’t been any different. But it was different with Maria. He enjoyed taking her out, because he knew she’d spent the majority of her teenage years staying in, hiding away.
“This is a nice surprise,” she said as they walked hand-in-hand down the sidewalk, past E.T.’s Pizzeria. “Date night.”
“It’s part of your Mother’s Day present,” he informed her. “I know I don’t take you out enough.”
“It’s fine,” she told him. “I get out more with you than I ever did when I was alone.”
“But I know I we should have date night more often,” he admitted. “Besides, I kinda like getting to show you off.”
She looked down at herself and said, “What’s there to show off? I didn’t even dress up.”
“You don’t have to.” Maria was one of those girls who could blow his mind in jeans and a simple shirt. She didn’t need to get all fancy.
He led her across the street right as the crosswalk was at the end of its countdown, and then led her down a dimly-lit side street.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“You’ll see.” He’d parked a few blocks away on purpose, just to keep her curious up until the last possible second.
“Come on, just tell me.”
“You’ll like it,” he promised.
“Are we eating somewhere?”
“Not really.” There were pastries and shit like that where he was taking them, but not actual meals.
He took a left at the stop sign, and there was their destination. It was a little family-run coffee shop called the Cosmic Coffee House. It might as well have been the little sister of the Crashdown, what with the alien figure out front, permanently posed in a position to wave at all who entered. He’d stumbled upon this place back in October, right after he’d accidentally gotten her fired. He’d gone in to ask if they had any applications for Maria to fill out, and they’d told him no. But that had given him a flyer listing all the open mic nights they had lined up through the end of summer.
“This place looks cute,” Maria said as they walked in. “Cliché, of course, but hey, we live in Roswell.”
“Everything’s a cliché,” he agreed, looking around. A good handful of people had showed up, maybe thirty or so. A few had instruments.
“What are we doing here?” Maria asked, still not getting it.
He grabbed her shoulders and turned her around so she could look up onto the small stage set up in the lounge area. It was actually more of a platform, just slightly elevated from the rest of the floor. There was a stool up there, along with a microphone. And a guitar. “Notice anything?” he asked.
She stared intensely, and it didn’t take her long to recognize the instrument. “That’s my guitar,” she said. “What is it doing here?”
“Hmm, I wonder.” He grinned, because at this point, it was obvious. He’d made arrangements for her to be the first act up tonight, because he knew that if she heard other people sing, she might get too nervous to go on. And in order to totally surprise her, he’d swung by and dropped off her guitar an hour earlier.
“You want me to sing?” she gasped. “In front of people?”
“You sing in front of me all the time,” he pointed out.
“This is no different.”
“It’s totally different. I’ve never sung in front of a crowd before.”
“It’s a small crowd,” he said. “Not hostile. Open mic night.”
“Michael . . .”
“Maria.” He smiled encouragingly. “Come on, you’re so good.”
“I mean . . . I’d like to sing,” she said, “but what if I mess up?”
“So?” Chances were, no one would even notice.
“I don’t even know what to sing,” she fretted. “What song would I choose?”
“I don’t know. Just sing any of the songs you sing for me, or when you think no one’s listening.”
Before she could freak herself out even more, the owner of the coffee shop stepped up on the platform, hushing the small crowd, and she said, “Thank you all so much for coming tonight. This is our last open mic night for a while, and I do believe we have some new talent willing to get things started for us.” She glanced at Michael, and he nodded to confirm. Yep, Maria was going up there. No way was he letting her back out. She’d sacrificed a lot in order to be a good mom to Dylan. Now she deserved at least this one moment in the spotlight.
“Michael, this is so sweet but so sneaky,” she said as he pushed her towards the stage. “What am I gonna sing?”
“Whatever you want.” He pushed her so close to the platform that she had no choice but to step up onto it as the owner introduced her.
“I’m gonna kill you for this,” she warned.
He shrugged. “Can’t think of a better way to die.”
People clapped for her as she made her way up to the microphone and the owner stepped aside. Michael found a spot at a table and settled in, trying to predict what she would sing. Sure, “Unchained Melody” was her favorite, but it had that really high note towards the end, and she probably wouldn’t want to do that without practicing it. He’d heard her singing some Dido a few weeks back, and some Skylar Grey before that. But there was always the possibility she’d sing for them the first song she’d ever sung for him. But then again, maybe not, because that was sort of just their moment.
“Oh god,” she said, probably not even realizing she spoke it into the microphone. She reached down and picked up her guitar and sat down on the stool, her left leg folded up beneath her, her other leg down to the floor. She plucked the strings a few times, then reached up to adjust the microphone so that it was lower. “Hi,” she greeted, smiling nervously.
She’s so pretty, Michael thought, feeling proud that she was his girlfriend. He really hoped she didn’t freeze up while she was up there. He wanted everyone in that room to see just how amazing she was.
“I didn’t know I was gonna be singing tonight,” she confessed. “My boyfriend kinda surprised me, like, two seconds ago.”
He smirked. Kind of surprised her? More like completely.
“So, uh . . . I guess I’ll just sing a song or two that make me think of him.”
Like a kid with a crush, he felt his heart beat a little faster.
She positioned her hands on the strings, and he saw that her fingers were shaking. But then she took a steadying breath, waited for a few seconds, and the shaking stopped. And then she started singing.
“Hey, I heard you were a wild one
Oh . . .
If I took you home it’d be a home run
Show me how you do.”
He recognized the song immediately, having heard it on the radio over and over again. But he immediately liked her version better, and he liked that she thought of him when she sang it.
“I wanna shut down the club
Hey, I heard you like the wild ones
Wild ones, oh . . .”
When she sang the bigger notes, she usually closed her eyes, but whenever she opened them again, she looked right at him. No one else. And he loved that.
“I am a wild one
Break me in
Saddle me up and let’s begin
I am a wild one
Tame me now
Running with wolves
And I’m on the prowl.”
The more she sang, the more it intrigued him, turned him on, even. Each word, each note, was dripping with meaning. Maria was no longer that girl who was quietly living her life, content to go unnoticed. Somewhere along the way, she had gotten more in touch with herself, and she was more passionate now.
“Show you another side of me
Something you never thought you would see
Tear up that body
Gotta make sure that you’ve had enough
I hear you like the wild one!”
She definitely hadn’t stayed nervous for long. It seemed so natural for her up there, like she could sing the song without difficulty, play the chords without even thinking about it.
“Hey, I heard you were a wild one
Oh . . .
If I took you home it’d be a home run
Show me how you do.”
Michael couldn’t have looked away from her even if he’d tried, but if he had been able to, he was sure everyone else sitting in that coffee shop would have had their eyes transfixed on her the same way he did, completely captivated by a girl who was completely captivating.
“I wanna shut down the club
Hey, I heard you like the wild ones
Oh . . .”
When she stopped singing and people started applauding, he realized just how enthralled he had been. It was like he had to literally shake himself out a stupor to clap along with the rest of them.
Again, her eyes locked onto his, and she smiled appreciatively. He could see her mind making a quick decision of what to sing next, and he felt like he could listen to her sing forever. Hearing her voice, hearing her do something she loved . . . it drove him wild for her.
Max wasn’t ready to meet Liz’s parents yet, so when she invited him to dinner that night, he made up an excuse. He said he was taking his mom to a movie for Mother’s Day, when in reality, she was out with some of her friends.
He stayed in, because he had to. Couldn’t risk going out and possibly running into Liz and her family. Even though the likelihood of that was slim, he didn’t want to risk it. He’d risked enough in his day.
So he sat in the living room, listening to depressing ambient music, a genre he’d only gotten hooked on since he’d started college, and he preoccupied himself with looking through pictures on his phone. He deleted the ones he didn’t care about anymore, which were a lot of high school ones, and kept the ones that still meant something.
Among the pictures he kept was a very, very distant picture of Dylan. Actually, it was more of a picture of the hospital nursery. He remembered going there, feeling completely clueless, feeling like the only way to deal with things was to leave and get high.
Peering through the window, Max scanned the rows of babies, trying to locate his. It wasn’t easy. Their little cribs only said their first names, and he didn’t know what name Maria had chosen. And he couldn’t go ask her, because she didn’t even know he was there. And he wanted to keep it that way.
He saw a Joey who had dark hair. Was that his son? Or was it Raul, who was in the neighboring crib? Maria wouldn’t seriously name their kid Raul, would she?
He whipped out his phone and took a picture of the one side of the nursery, then took a picture of the other. He pretty much got all the babies in the shot, except for a few girls on the far side that obviously weren’t his. At least he knew he had a son. At least he knew that much.
A nurse walking past stopped when she saw him and asked, “Do you need some help?”
Did he need help? Oh, yeah. More than she could have ever imagined. “I’m just looking at them,” he said simply.
“Adorable, aren’t they?”
“Sure.” He wasn’t one of those people who thought babies were cute. He thought they were . . . terrifying.
“Is one of them yours?” the nurse inquired.
Of course she would ask that. He was nearly seventeen years old now, but he looked old enough to be in college. He looked like he was at an appropriate age to be a dad. But he wasn’t. This unsuspecting nurse didn’t know that. “Yeah,” he answered reluctantly, “one of them is mine.”
“Which one?” she asked.
He looked over at Joey again, wishing he could just tell, be intuitive about it somehow. But he just wasn’t sure which boy in that room belonged to him. “I don’t know,” he admitted. Maybe he’d never know. And maybe that was for the best.
He needed to go get wasted. That was the only way he could deal with this.
Max squinted at the photo. It was the one and only picture he’d had of Dylan over the years, and it wasn’t a very good one. Dylan was in the farthest row back, and even cropping the picture to zoom in on him didn’t help make him more visible. But Max had held onto that picture over the years, through multiple phone changes and upgrades. He’d always made sure that picture stayed with him. Because it was all he had.
He wondered how many pictures Maria had of Dylan. And then he started to wonder if Michael had pictures of him on his phone, too. Probably lots.
That pissed him off.
The front door opened, and Isabel came in. She looked trashed. Max had been around enough debauchery over the years to know that she’d been drinking, probably gotten high, too. But he wasn’t about to ask her, because she’d be too proud and reluctant to ever admit it, even to him.
“Hey,” he greeted, setting his phone aside.
“Hey,” she returned, dragging herself into the living room. “Is Mom home?”
“No, she went out,” he replied. “Where were you all day?” As if he didn’t already know.
“With Jesse,” she replied.
“Well, I guess that answers my next question: What were you doing?”
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly, sitting down beside him. “Actually, I filmed his friends making a movie today,” she informed him.
“Really? One of those movies?”
“Yes, one of those.”
“Huh.” His little sister . . . she was venturing into quite the edgy territory with these friends of hers. He wondered if it would be different when she went to Princeton, or if she would keep venturing.
“So Mom’s not home, you say,” she said as she kicked her feet up on the coffee table. “That’s too bad. I was really looking forward to another Your-boyfriend’s-no-good-for-you rant.”
“Yeah, she’s clearly anti-Jesse,” Max agreed.
She shrugged. “Whatever. I’m used to it. She never liked Michael, either.”
“Imagine that.” He and his mother might still be getting to know each other again, but they had that very pertinent opinion in common. “Did you know she was asking me about Dylan today?”
“Really? What was she asking?”
“Just, you know, what he’s like.”
“To which you replied?”
He sighed, saying the same thing he had to the nurse three years ago. “I don’t know.”
Isabel tilted her head to the side, staring at him sympathetically. “Max . . .”
“And she asked if she’d ever be able to meet him, and I told her probably not, because Maria won’t even let me see him.” He grunted angrily, finding it really fucked up that, when he didn’t make an effort to see Dylan, he was the bad guy. And now that he finally was making an effort to see Dylan, he was still the bad guy. “You know, when I came here, I didn’t even know they were here. So obviously it wasn’t my intention to . . .” He trailed off, grappling with his own frustration. “But now that I’m here, and they’re still here . . . it’s weird, but it actually matters to me. I want him to know who I am.”
“I’m sure he does,” Isabel said. “Kids can tell who their real fathers are. When I was six, mom brought home her first real boyfriend since she and dad divorced. They were together for a while, and she actually almost got engaged to him. He told me I should start calling him dad, but I wouldn’t. Because I knew he wasn’t my dad.”
“That’s because you spent the first four years of your life with Dad,” he reasoned. “You might not remember him vividly, but you still remember him.” Dylan didn’t have that with him. He didn’t have any memories. He looked at him and saw a stranger. And as awful as it was to admit, Max saw a stranger in Dylan, too. Had he ever just passed him on the street, he wouldn’t have even known he was his son. There was a resemblance, sure, but not a big enough one.
“You’ll always be his dad, Max,” Isabel reassured him. “Nothing can ever change that.”
“That’s not exactly true, though.” He picked up his phone again, resuming his stroll through the old photos. He deleted the ones of him and Maria, not sure why he’d even kept them on there this long. “After they get married, Michael’s gonna end up adopting him, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”
“There has to be,” she insisted.
He shrugged. “I can make it a hassle, but that’s it.” And what was the point of that? Why should he invest so much time and energy into something that wouldn’t even reward him in any way? His dad had taught him all about investments from a very young age, and he’d proceeded to make many bad ones, but not with money. He’d invested himself in drugs, in dealing, and now that that was all gone . . . he felt sort of lost. Powerless. And he wasn’t used to feeling that way.
“Max, you just have to remember . . . however it works out for you, for them . . . their lives aren’t really going anywhere. At least yours is.”
“Is it?” Lately, he wondered.
“Of course. Michael’s gonna end up being, like, a janitor or something. Maria’s probably gonna be a waitress for the rest of her life. But you’re gonna be this rich and successful lawyer.”
“You think so?”
Was it really obvious, though? He had the last name, the one that tended to be equated with privilege and prestige. Every man in his family seemed to do well, and everyone assumed he wouldn’t be any different. But he’d already screwed up so much. What if it was too late to get his shit together?
“What about you?” he said. “You’ll probably be a rich and successful writer.”
“Hopefully,” she said. “It doesn’t matter, though. People around here will always know me as the girl from the porno.”
Max shrugged. “There’s worse things.” He would have loved for pornography to be the worst of his problems.
“I guess,” she said, sighing. “Hey, Max?”
She fell silent for a moment, and when she spoke again, she did so quietly. “I know you always boast about being an Evans. We know we’re smart and good-looking and . . . yeah, we probably will be successful. But . . .” She bit her bottom lip, as though she were hesitating to finish her thought. “Do you ever actually feel sort of pathetic?”
He didn’t even have to think about his answer. The answer was in the crappy photo of dozens of babies in the hospital nursery, a picture where he hadn’t even known enough to make Dylan the focal point. He clutched his phone tightly, and gave an honest response to the only person he felt like he could give it to, the only person who would understand. “All the time.”
As the coffee house started to clear out, Michael held Maria on his lap. He had yet to move from the table he’d sat down at while she’d performed. Part of him was hoping that, once everyone was gone, she’d hop back up on that stage and sing another song for him. Just him this time.
“Babe, you did so good,” he told her, even though he’d already told her that at least a dozen times.
“Thanks,” she said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Seriously, you were the best one.”
“I don’t know, I thought the guy at the end was really good.”
“But you were better.” Sure, he was biased as hell, but she’d gotten the biggest round of applause out of everyone, so clearly the crowd had agreed with him. “You were the best.”
“Mmm.” She bent forward and kissed his cheek, then whispered in his ear, “You’re the best.”
He smiled, trying to recall a time when he had ever been the best at anything—besides sex. Couldn’t come up with anything. And even though he knew he wasn’t the world’s best boyfriend, it felt good to know Maria was thinking of him that way. At least for right now. Come tomorrow, he’d say something to piss her off and she’d reconsider.
“I can’t believe you did this for me,” she murmured, nuzzling his neck.
He rubbed her back, wishing he could claim that it had been a huge undertaking, required a lot of effort. “It wasn’t that hard.” All he’d done was come in for a few seconds and ask the owner if it was okay for her to perform, which, since it was an open mic night, hadn’t even really been necessary.
She sat up straighter, resting her hands on his shoulders. “I’ll admit, after the MILF card this morning, I thought that was all I was getting. But then you go and do this, and . . . it’s so romantic.”
“I know, right? I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve oddly been doin’ alright on the romance stuff this year.”
“You have,” she agreed.
“Buyin’ you a guitar for Christmas, kissing you for the first time on your birthday. Now this. And let’s not forget the ‘Unchained Melody’ lovemaking.”
“I’ll never forget that,” she promised.
“Yeah, I don’t know, I got a hell of a streak going here. I might as well ride it out.”
She laughed a little, shifting on top of him. It probably wasn’t supposed to be a sexual maneuver, but when she did it, her ass brushed against his crotch, and it was hard not to think of it that way.
“Hey, speaking of riding it out . . .” Having her on his lap like this was very inspiring.
“And just like that, the romance is gone,” she said.
“What? No. I still got it.”
“No, you don’t. But that’s okay,” she assured him. “I kinda like it when you’re just fucking horny, too.”
He stared at her in amazement. He didn’t know why, but something about the way she said that turned him on so much. “ ‘cause you’re the same,” he concluded.
“Yeah,” she admitted. “I’m, like, in a constant state of arousal for you. It’s not even fair.”
He grinned proudly. “What? How is that not fair?”
“Because I can’t concentrate on anything else. Literally, the whole time I was up there singing, all I could think about was how I wanted to take you home and rip your clothes off.”
Oh, screw romance, Michael thought. His girl was fucking sexy and horny as hell. He’d taught her well. “That can be arranged,” he told her. “Actually, that’s kind of mandatory.”
“Yeah. Hot sex is part three of your Mother’s Day gift trifecta.”
“Oh, yeah? Are you gonna fascinate me?” she teased, leaning in.
“Yeah, ‘cause you’re a mom I’d like to fascinate.” He held her cheek and kissed her, not even caring that there were still a few people filtering out. They could watch. And be jealous.
“Okay, we should go home now,” she suggested.
“Uh-huh,” he agreed, still unable to stop kissing her.
“Uh-huh.” He, on the other hand, was seriously thinking he wouldn’t make it home without ripping her clothes off. Maybe the backseat of the car would suffice. Or . . . a really animalistic part of him had always fantasized about taking her out back behind the Crashdown, right against the wall.
Possibilities. He wondered just how wild she was willing to be tonight.
His mind barely even registered the voice of the owner, but Maria at least was aware enough to tear her mouth away from his. “Oh, hi,” she said, smoothing her clothes down as she stood up. “Thank you so much for having this tonight.”
“Thanks for singing,” the owner returned. “You were so good.”
“See?” Michael stood up. “I’m not the only one who thought that.”
“I’m Leah,” the woman said, shaking Maria’s hand. “Just out of curiosity, do you just sing for fun, or do you actually make some money off of it?”
“Oh, um . . .” Maria shook her head. “No, just for fun.”
“She’s great, isn’t she?” Michael said.
“Yeah, she’s really good,” Leah agreed. “Hey, listen, I know this is kind of out of the blue and all, but I’m actually in a band with a few other girls called Vegas Winter. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of us. Anyway, we’re hittin’ up the west coast starting Thursday, just doing a few shows at some bars and lounges and stuff. We really wanted an opening act. Any chance you’re interested?”
Maria looked stunned. “What?”
“It’s nothing big, nothing major, but you would make at least a little money. And you’d get some exposure,” Leah tried to persuade her.
“You want me to . . . take a road trip with you?” Maria summarized. “With you and your band?”
“Yeah, it’ll be fun. We’ve got a few talent scouts scheduled to come see us at this venue in L.A. They’d probably be willing to watch you perform, too.”
“Me?” Maria looked like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Are you sure I was that good?”
“You were great,” Leah reiterated. “Look, it wouldn’t be too intense for you. Maybe just two songs a night, for about a week. We’ve got six places lined up. It’s a win-win. We get an opening act, you get a chance to sing.”
“Wow. Um . . .” Maria’s eyes were wide with amazement. “Yeah, it sounds really fun, but . . .”
“But what?” Michael cut in. “Maria, this is awesome.”
“It is,” she agreed. “But it’s kinda hard to just take off for a week. I mean, I have to work.”
“Oh, trust me, I get it,” Leah said. “My dad—he’s technically the one who owns this place; I just manage it when he’s not here—he was pretty upset when I told him I was going. He thinks singing’s just a pipe dream of mine. But you never know which performance is gonna be the big one, you know. Something might come of it.”
“Yeah,” Maria said. “Maybe for you, and your band, but not for me.”
Leah frowned. “You don’t wanna be a singer?”
“No, I’d love to,” Maria said, “but, um . . . it’s just kinda complicated.”
“Why?” Michael pressed.
“You know why.”
No, honestly, he didn’t. “Just talk to your boss, get some other waitress to cover your shifts,” he suggested simply. “My mom won’t have a problem with letting you off work to go. You know that.”
“Yeah, but what about Dylan?”
“What about him?”
“I can’t just take him up the west coast, Michael.”
“You don’t have to. He’s fine with me.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
He frowned, trying to understand. Did she not think he could take care of Dylan by himself for a week? She didn’t really think that, did she?
“I’d feel guilty,” she said, “leaving him here with you and your family while I’m off on some road trip.”
“Is Dylan your son?” Leah guessed.
“Yeah,” Maria replied. “He’s only three.”
“I understand,” Leah said. “I had a baby when I was pretty young, too. It’s hard to pursue anything for yourself when you’re a mom.”
“Exactly,” Maria said. “So thank you so much for the offer, but . . .”
“No, Maria, come on,” Michael interrupted, not willing to stand there and listen to her pass up a huge opportunity. “You can go.”
“What about your graduation?”
“Graduation?” Leah echoed. “I thought most colleges had already had their graduations by now.”
“No, high school,” he mumbled. “Maria, you’d be back in time for graduation. Which I might not even go to, so don’t even try to use that as an excuse.”
“We have a wedding to plan,” she reminded him, “and pay for. I should be working, not gallivanting about.”
“Gallivanting?” That was a hell of an SAT word. Pretty impressive for someone who’d never taken the SAT.
“I’m really sorry I can’t go,” Maria apologized to Leah, “but thank you so much for even inviting me along. And I hope you and your band have a great time.”
Leah sighed disappointedly. “Okay,” she said. “Well, listen, if you change your mind . . .” She jotted down her phone number on a napkin and handed it to Maria. “Give me a call. Like I said, we don’t leave ‘til Thursday night.”
“Okay,” Maria said. “Thanks.” She grabbed Michael’s hand, and suddenly looking like she couldn’t get out of their fast enough, she headed for the door. Reluctantly, he followed her, wishing she would put herself first for once. Here she was, passing up an opportunity when she was always so worried about him doing the same.
Maria moaned contentedly as she leaned back against Michael in the bathtub that night, her arms draped back over his shoulders. He smiled at the little sound, enjoying being her human pillow as she recuperated from the two orgasms he’d given her. The first had been when she’d been sitting in front of him just like this, and he’d reached around and put his hand beneath the water to dip between her legs. She’d squirmed all about, splashing water onto the floor, as she’d cum on his hand, and then, without much of a delay, she’d turned around and settled on top of him, riding both of them to orgasm just the way he’d envisioned tonight. He loved to dominate most of the time, but he also loved watching her on top.
“You feel good?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she purred. “That was fascinating.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, happy that he could make her feel this way. Max may have been the first guy to ever have sex with her, but he was the one who had truly taught her about sex, pushed her to discover what she liked and how to get it.
He kissed her wrist, then her cheek, then slid one of his arms around her stomach beneath the water, letting the other rest atop her thigh. Her skin was so smooth. It was hard to control his hands, because he just wanted to keep touching her.
“We should do it in water more often,” she proposed.
“Yeah, I know.” Usually they couldn’t make it out of the bedroom, though. “I got a lot of ideas for locations.”
“Like what?” she asked.
“Like . . .” Aha, perfect time to reveal his back alley fantasy. “Okay, behind the Crashdown, out back. Preferably when you’re wearing your uniform. Just a good old-fashioned fuck.”
“Hmm . . .”
“Yeah, and then there’s—ah, let’s see—the school. Gotta do it there before I graduate.”
“Yeah. I was thinkin’, you could bring me lunch—once again in your uniform . . .”
“You really have a fetish for this outfit, don’t you?”
“Oh, yeah. You bring me food, and I bring you to orgasm, right on Mr. Frost’s desk.”
She laughed amusedly. “Which one’s Mr. Frost?”
“Oh, you hate him.”
“Exactly.” The guy had been a prick all year. What better way to exact vengeance than to fuck on the place where he sat playing Solitaire on his computer every day?
“Where else?” she asked eagerly.
“Well, the library is a must-do.”
“But you’re supposed to be quiet in the library,” she pointed out.
“Yeah, good luck with that.”
She laughed again, lowering her arms beneath the water to rest on top of his. “Those are good ideas,” she agreed.
“Think we can make ‘em happen?”
“At least the Crashdown one.”
“Good.” That was pretty much the most important.
“Mmm,” she moaned as her eyes fell closed. “I’m so tired.”
“Don’t fall asleep,” he told her.
“Because, if you fall asleep, I’ll fall asleep. And then we’ll be really shriveled by the time we get out of here.”
He smiled adoringly. Yeah, it was okay, wasn’t it? Maybe he could wait until she was out, then carefully lift her out, carry her into the bedroom, and tuck her in, all without waking her up.
“Michael?” she whispered.
She linked her fingers with his on the hand atop her stomach, asking, “Did I really sound that good tonight?”
Perfect, he thought, a segue. He really wanted to talk to her some more about that offer the coffee shop girl had made, but he didn’t want to sound pushy about it. “You sounded awesome. And apparently I’m not the only person who thought so.”
“Yeah.” She opened her eyes again, a thoughtful look on her face. “That really surprised me when that girl said she wanted me to go along with them.”
“You know what surprises me?” he said.
“That you’re not even considering it.”
She tensed up, no longer looking tired as she sat up straighter. “You think I should?” she asked, furrowing her brow.
“Yeah.” He rubbed her shoulders, feeling like there was a chance to do some convincing here. Obviously it was still heavy on her mind; otherwise she wouldn’t have brought it up.
“I don’t know . . .” she mumbled. He could practically hear her thinking herself out of it.
“Remember when you were trying to convince me to apply for college?” he said. “And I asked why I should go. You remember what you said to me?”
She smiled softly and echoed her own response. “Why wouldn’t you?”
“Exactly. So why wouldn’t you go do this?”
She turned around so that she could face him better. “It’s just kind of coming out of nowhere, don’t you think?” she said.
“Most good things do.”
“But I don’t even know this Leah girl, or her band.”
“Well, you know they’re all girls,” he pointed out, “so it’s not like you’d be hopping on board with a bunch of guys.” If there had been guys in this band, he probably would have insisted on going with her. But with it just being girls, she could rest assured that she’d be safe and probably have a really good time.
“But it’s for a week,” she said, still talking herself out of it. “I can’t just take off for a week. It’d be selfish.”
“What? Selfish?” He looked at her in dismay. “How is it selfish?”
“I have a son to take care of.”
“And you have a boyfriend who’s perfectly capable of taking care of him.”
She put one hand on his chest, right over his heart. “I know.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“It’s just . . .” She sighed. “You shouldn’t have to take care of him on your own.”
“You did,” he pointed out. “For three years.”
“But I didn’t have a choice.”
He frowned, really not following.
“Look, Michael . . . I really appreciate it, but . . .” She sighed, looking like she was having a hard time articulating herself. “When I had Dylan, I pushed all the singing stuff to the back burner. You know, I kinda just forgot about it because . . . I had to forget about it.”
“Yeah, and now you don’t have to.”
“But I don’t wanna get caught up in all of this,” she protested. “My life changed. I don’t dream about being a famous singer anymore. I dream about Dylan being happy. You know, all of us being happy together.”
“So you think it’d make you selfish to go off and do this because it’d be the one thing in the past three years you’ve done just for you?” he deduced.
He laughed at the absurdity of that. “Maria, you’re probably the least selfish person I know. You gave up high school for Dylan. You’re moving to another state for me. You’re not selfish.”
“But I’m not some rock star, either,” she pointed out.
“No one’s saying you have to be. Just go with these girls, sing at these places, and have fun with it. You know you’d have fun.”
“Well . . .” She smiled a little. “Yeah, I would.”
“And when you come back, everything will be fine. And you can go back to normal.”
Still, she was reluctant. “I don’t know, Michael.”
“Maria, I just . . .” He stroked her hair, his fingers getting tangled in the wet ends. “I don’t want you to give up this chance.”
“This chance to what?” she asked.
“To live your life a little, do somethin’ you’ve always wanted to do, even if it is just for a week.”
“Really?” She gave him a look. “This, coming from you?”
“What does that mean?”
“You’re giving up the chance to go to college for me.”
“Just this year,” he reminded her. “I’m still gonna go next year. But there’s no guarantee you’re gonna have this same chance next year, Maria. So you gotta take it now.”
She sighed heavily, but he could see her resolve lessening. “But we have a wedding to plan,” she babbled, “and I work two jobs—two jobs. And I don’t even have that girl’s number anymore, ‘cause I threw away the napkin.”
“That’s alright. I fished it out of the trash.” He smirked. “Come on, quit trying to think of excuses.”
“Yes, you are.” He put his arm around her waist and lifted her forward so she could rest more fully on top of him. He kissed her and traced his hands up and down her spine. If nothing else, maybe he could bribe her with the promise of mind-blowing sex when she returned.
“I’ll think about it,” she decided.
“Don’t think; just do it,” he urged.
“Huh, see, it’s that kind of attitude that produced Dylan in the first place.”
“Just do it,” he repeated, unable to see a downside. She got a week to remember, and he got a chance to step up and prove to all his doubters that he could be a good dad and take care of Dylan just fine.
“I’ll think about it,” she said again.
Well . . . that was something. Probably all he was going to get for tonight, at least. But he felt like he’d done a good job convincing her, and ultimately, it was obvious what she wanted to do. She just needed another day or so to realize there was absolutely nothing to feel guilty or selfish about.
TBC . . .