Someone, Anyone (M&M, CC/UC, AU, Adult) COMPLETE, 01/20/16

Fics using the characters from Roswell, but where the plot does not have anything to do with aliens, nor are any of the characters "not of this Earth."

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April
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Part 85

Postby April » Sun Jan 17, 2016 7:42 pm

Arriving home without Maria and Dylan was the worst thing that night. Noticing his dad’s car in the driveway was the second-worst thing.

Michael’s plan was to just ignore him when he walked in, but as usual, his dad made that impossible. “Well, well, well,” he chimed from the kitchen. “If it isn’t my son the lifeguard.”

Ha, ha, he thought sarcastically. Apparently his mom had already filled his dad in about what had happened. Sweet. Now he didn’t have to be the one to tell him. He just had to endure all the taunting about it.

“Jumpin’ off a bridge to save that kid . . .” His dad poured a can of beer into a wine glass, as if that would make it more sophisticated somehow. “That’s real heroic. But then again, you are the reason his life was in danger in the first place. But what the hell.” He raised his glass in a mock toast. “Cheers.”

Michael stood there, watching him drink, and as awful as it was to admit . . . part of him wanted to be doing the exact same thing, to join him.

His dad cleared his throat once all the beer was gone and started tracing his fingers around the rim of the glass to collect any remaining liquid. “Glad to hear he’s gonna be okay, of course,” he said. “Sounds like it could’ve been pretty bad.”

“Could’ve been,” Michael muttered. It was bad enough as it was. He took a seat at the kitchen table, where there were still a few cups from the beer pong set-up. Ironic, he’d been sitting all day, and it had been driving him crazy. But now he felt too tired to stand or even walk upstairs.

His dad fell silent for a moment as he got another beer can out of the fridge. But as soon as he popped open the tab, he just started chuckling, slow at first, and then faster and louder.

“What’s so funny?” Michael growled.

Through airy laughs, his dad responded, “Oh, everything. Me. You. You are definitely my son.”

“Yeah, whether you like it or not.”

“See, this one time when you were two, you crawled into the dryer. I almost turned it on with you in there. I screwed up. Of course, this is worse, though. You really screwed up.”

“Gee, thanks.” Knowing his dad, he’d probably tossed him into that dryer on purpose.

“So where’s Maria?” his dad snooped. “Still at the hospital?”

“No.” He didn’t plan to elaborate, but his dad gave him this curious look, and Michael suspected he’d just keep asking about it until he relented and explained. “She’s staying with her mom tonight. Her and Dylan.” That was one hell of a bitter pill to swallow.

“Ooh.” His dad grimaced. “Well, can’t say I didn’t see this coming.”

“Really?” Michael challenged. “You knew Dylan was gonna get kidnapped and fall off a bridge?”

“Well, no, not exactly,” his father acknowledged. “But I knew you were gonna do somethin’ to fuck things up. It’s in your nature, your DNA. That’s why this whole thing is my big, fat chance to say ‘I told you so.’”

“Told me so,” Michael echoed. “Told me what?”

His dad sloppily poured his second glass of beer, seemingly disappointed when some sloshed over the sides. “That you weren’t ready, that you wouldn’t be able to handle being a father and a spouse and just an adult in general.”

Michael grunted. “Weird, because I’ve had such a great role model in that regard.”

“Hey, I just call it like I see it,” his dad said with a shrug. “Your girl goes off, leaves you in charge and trusts you with the one person she loves more than anything in the world. All you had to do was look after him, keep him safe and sound for one week.” He chuckled again, as if he were finding some savage delight in this failure. “You couldn’t do it.”

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Michael struggled to not show much of a response. He wished he had some witty comeback, wished he could disagree with him and point out all the ways he was wrong. But the disturbing thing was, he couldn’t do that. As much as he hated to admit it, for once in his pathetic, miserable, no-good life . . . his dad was right.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maria watched Dylan sleep that night, wondering what he was dreaming about. Was he having a nightmare or a good dream? She would never know, but she liked to think it was a good dream. He wasn’t tossing and turning or whimpering or doing anything that would lead her to believe differently. In fact, he looked perfectly content as he lay on his side, sucking his thumb.

“Maria?”

She gasped when she felt her mom’s hand on her shoulder. Having been so entranced watching Dylan, she hadn’t even heard her come into the room.

“Sorry,” her mom apologized. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“It’s okay.” She readjusted Dylan’s blankets since he’d started to kick them off.

Her mom sat down on the foot of the bed, reaching up to stroke Dylan’s cheek. “He looks cozy,” she remarked.

“Yeah.” That was the goal. Keep him warm, safe, cozy, and happy. The poor kid had just spent nearly twenty-four hours in a hospital bed.

“You should get some sleep, Maria,” her mom suggested. “He’s fine here.”

Maria shook her head stubbornly. “No, I don’t wanna leave him.” She’d already done that, and look what a mistake it had been.

“He’s fine,” her mom insisted. “I’ll sit here with him if you want.”

Reluctantly, she took a look at her mom and nodded. She did need to rest after being on the road all last night. She hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep since Friday night. “Let me know if he needs anything,” she said, slowly getting to her feet.

“Sleep well,” her mother said.

Hmm. That wasn’t likely.

Instead of going into the bedroom right away, she slipped into the bathroom to take a shower. Another thing she hadn’t gotten to do since Friday night. She felt gross, and the thought of a warm, relaxing shower sounded nice.

It wasn’t relaxing, though. The minute that water hit her skin, she started to imagine Dylan, flailing helplessly in the depths of water that could have killed him. She started to feel breathless, because it freaked her out knowing that he hadn’t been able to breathe. He must have been so scared. So scared.

Just to calm herself down, she had to put her hand to her chest and take a few deep breaths. Dylan was breathing just fine now. He was warm under his blankets. Completely safe. And apparently completely un-traumatized thanks to some fortunate selective forgetting.

She felt traumatized, though, even though she hadn’t lived through it. Just the thought of her own son almost losing his life . . . it was too much. Too much to handle, too much to think about. And she started to cry. Her tears mixed with the water pouring down on her seamlessly, and she wished there were someone there to wipe them away.

But he wasn’t there. For a very good reason.

She started to cry harder. It wasn’t just the fact that Dylan had endured this horrific event that was so gut-wrenching; it was the fact that he wouldn’t have had to go through it at all if Michael hadn’t been so careless. Just thinking about it filled her with so much anger and disappointment and despair that she couldn’t distinguish one feeling from the next.

The more she cried, the louder she got, and at some point, she was sure her mom would be able to hear her. Dylan’s room wasn’t that far down the hall, and even with the water running . . . surely her tears were no secret. And that was okay. After everything that had happened, there was no reason for them to be.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

School was buzzing on Monday. Not a surprise. Everyone was talking about what had transpired at Michael’s party Saturday night. Kyle had braced himself for it, knowing all along that it would be the subject of every conversation. How could it not be? The only thing that had generated a bigger buzz in the hallways of West Roswell had been Isabel’s sex tape, and that had been a much different kind of buzz.

With it being the second-to-last day of school for the seniors, nobody had anything to do, so they just stood around in the hallways, gossiping. A lot of people approached Kyle, wanting to know more about what had happened. But out of respect for Michael and Maria, he refused to talk about it. At all.

The downside of that was that he had to stand around and just listen to the story get more and more exaggerated and inaccurate every time somebody told it. Jase was probably the biggest culprit when it came to peddling the story to his own advantage. As someone who always longed to be the center of attention but rarely ever was, he circulated the rumor that he had seen the whole thing go down, that Max had shown up with a gun and threatened to kill them all, and that he and Antonio had beat him up and chased him off the property, thereby saving everyone’s lives. The worst part was that there were plenty of people who seemed to believe his warped version of events.

By the time fourth period rolled around, even though they were all supposed to be in class, people were mostly just loitering, and teachers didn’t seem to mind. The senior hallway was littered with students, many of whom Kyle had to step over on his way to Isabel. She was sitting by her locker, alone, taking selfies and sending them out to someone. Probably her new boyfriend. It was so weird to see her alone. Back at the beginning of the year, she’d been popular, maybe the most popular girl in the whole school. Now, she kept to herself, and if she was sad about that, she didn’t let it show.

“Hey,” he greeted, towering over her.

“Oh, hey, Kyle,” she said. “How’s it going?”

He shrugged. “Been better.” Truth be told, this wasn’t exactly his ideal way to spend the last two days of high school. His best friend wasn’t even there.

“Yeah,” she agreed, putting her phone away. “I get that.”

He supposed she did. When she’d started off the school year, she probably had never envisioned ending it like this. No Michael, no Tess, no graduation speech to prepare for.

“Can we go talk somewhere?” he asked her. This hallway wasn’t the place for it. It was too noisy, too distracting.

She nodded, climbing to her feet.

They got quite a few curious looks from people as they slipped around the corner and into the eraser room. Good, Kyle thought. Let’s give them something else to talk about.

Isabel smiled a little. “Gotta say, I never thought I’d slip into the eraser room with you, Kyle.”

He laughed lightly. “I know, right?”

She looked around, her eyes glossing over as if she were remembering something, and then she murmured, “Michael and I used to . . .” before trailing off and blushing. “Sorry,” she apologized. “Overshare.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I think every couple in this school’s done it in here a few times,” he assured her. “That kinda makes me not wanna touch anything.”

She laughed a little, wrapping her arms around herself as if she were now trying to avoid all contact with anything in that little room, too. “So what’s up?” she asked him.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied. “I just wanted to touch base with you. Seems you and I are two of the only people who actually know what happened the other night.”

“Seems like,” she agreed. “It’s kinda annoying how people keep talking about it like it’s a storyline on a TV show or something.”

“Yeah, I know,” he agreed. “They don’t get it. It’s like entertainment to them. But, I mean . . . it’s not. It’s my best friend. It’s your brother. It’s different for us.”

She looked down at the floor and nodded sadly. “Yeah.”

Fishing for a little info, Kyle probed, “What’s the status on your brother anyway? He still high as a kite?”

“Thankfully, no,” she answered. “Actually, he, uh . . . he left town. To go get some . . . help with his problems.”

“Oh.” He had to admit, that surprised him. Apparently Max had a smidgen of common sense left in him after all.

“I’m sure Michael and Maria will be relieved,” she said softly.

“Yeah, they will be.” He could see that she wasn’t so relieved, though. It was pretty clear that she already missed him. “Sorry,” he said. “That sucks for you. I know you and he had really started to bond.”

She shrugged. “Whatever. People leave. I’m leaving in a few months. I should just be all about college now, you know?”

He chuckled inwardly. “Oh, trust me, I know.” No one was more focused on college than he was. He had to be. It was going to pave the way for the rest of his life.

The bell rang, signaling the start of fifth period, and conversation from the hallways rattled even louder than before. Isabel made no effort to leave the room, though. Instead, she kicked at a few stray erasers on the floor and mumbled, “How’s Michael?” as though she were ashamed to even be curious.

Kyle shrugged. “I don’t know. Hard to say.”

“I noticed he wasn’t here today.”

“No. I didn’t expect him to be.” They’d exchanged a few texts last night, and Michael had told him that Maria took Dylan to her mom’s house. But then the texts had stopped, a clear indicator that Michael didn’t want to talk about it. So Kyle had left him alone, hadn’t bothered him this morning, either. But he knew it wasn’t a good idea to leave Michael alone for too long when he was upset, or he might end up doing something he’d regret. Like getting completely wasted, for starters.

“I think I’m gonna go check on him over lunch,” Kyle revealed. “I’d invite you to come, but . . .”

“That’s probably not a good idea.” She touched her left shoulder as if she were recalling the way he’d shoved her in the hospital. “Tell him . . .” She trailed off, shaking her head, abandoning whatever she’d been thinking about saying. “Never mind.”

He couldn’t even try to fill in the blank. There were so many things that Isabel probably wanted to say to Michael, about so many things, but with Princeton on the horizon, she probably never would. And given their complicated history, maybe that was for the best.

He reached for the doorknob, but she stopped him before he walked out.

“Kyle,” she said. “You’re a really good friend. Michael’s lucky to have you looking out for him.”

He sighed, feeling like he’d failed in that responsibility recently. “Thanks,” he said anyway. But then he wondered . . . Who’s looking out for you, Isabel? It was impossible not to notice the despair written all over her face. She didn’t have her brother around anymore, and she and Tess had severed things long ago. That had to be scary, feeling like you had no one. But what could he do? He couldn’t look out for her, too, not when he had his hands full with Michael. And honestly, without Michael serving as a common link between them, he and Isabel weren’t very close.

He had a feeling she would stay in that dirty, dark room all by herself while everyone else ate lunch.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The thin sliver of sunlight peeking in through the blinds aggravated Michael to no end. He had them closed for a reason, because he wanted to mope. To sulk. Whatever it was called. And it was way easier to do that in the dark.

He’d lay awake all night, wishing Maria was there, feeling foolish that he’d actually believed she would want to come back home with him after all this. But to go stay with her mom of all people, a woman she couldn’t seem to have a civilized conversation with for more than five minutes at a time . . . it felt like the ultimate slap in the face. A complete an utter rejection. Which, he supposed, he deserved. But still, it would have been easier to suck it up if she’d just gotten a motel room instead.

He lay on his bed, tossing a small plastic football into the air repeatedly. There was something calming about the monotony of catching it over and over again. When the door to his bedroom opened, though, he got distracted, and it bounced off his fingertips as it came back down. It rolled on the floor, stopping right at Kyle’s feet as he stood in the doorway.

“Hey, man,” his friend greeted. “Brought you a Crashdown burger.” He took a fairly substantial wrapped burger out of a paper sack and tossed it to him, but Michael only halfheartedly reached for it since he wasn’t even hungry. It slipped right through his hands and landed beside him on the bed.

Kyle chuckled and shook his head. “You’ve had better catches.”

“Well, you’ve had better throws,” Michael countered, wondering who Kyle’s receivers would be at the college level. This new roommate, probably. Someone better than him? Someone who caught the game-winning pass instead of dropping it?

Kyle stepped into the room and shut the door, leaning back against it. “So no school today, huh?” he remarked.

“Nope.”

“You comin’ tomorrow?”

Michael grunted. “Yeah, right. That’s the last place I wanna be.”

“But tomorrow’s the last day,” Kyle reminded him.

“Great.” It didn’t matter. He still wasn’t going. Everyone would probably be talking about all the crap that had gone down over the weekend, just like they were undoubtedly talking about it today. He didn’t want to have to deal with that.

“Well, I guess it is kinda pointless,” Kyle acknowledged, sauntering forward. “It’s not bad, though. Today in Spanish, we watched Selena.”

“Yeah, well, you can tell Senora Martinez I’ve seen that stupid movie a thousand times,” Michael grumbled. “So I’m not coming to . . . el escuelo.”

Kyle stared at him in disbelief. “La escuela,” he corrected, shaking his head and laughing. “Man.”

“I suck at Spanish,” Michael admitted, adding on quietly, “I suck at everything.”

Kyle sighed, sitting down at the foot of the bed. “See, this is why I think you should come to school tomorrow. You’re just sittin’ here feelin’ down on yourself.”

Well . . . there was a lot to feel down about. “School, huh?” Michael sat up, giving his friend a serious look. “Kyle . . . I’d rather rip my dick off and throw it in the river.”

“Okay, imagery.”

“And for the record, I haven’t just been sittin’ here all day. I went out this morning,” he revealed. “To the police station.”

“Oh, really?” Kyle’s eyebrows rose with intrigue. “What for?”

Michael shrugged. “Just wanted to see if they were gonna charge Max with anything serious. Of course they’re not, though, so that really pissed me off.”

“I’m sure.”

“I mean . . .” God, it made his blood boil just thinking about it. He clenched his hands into fists momentarily before quickly unclenching them again. “The guy kidnapped his own kid. You were here; you saw it. But he’s gettin’ off scot-free ‘cause of all these stupid technicalities.”

Kyle nodded sympathetically. “Because he’s Dylan’s biological father.”

“Yeah, and ‘cause there was no custody order or restraining order in place. And because they say he had no intent to harm or conceal him. Never mind the fact that he did harm him. I mean, they got in a freakin’ car accident ‘cause he was so high, but apparently those are the only charges they pinned on him. Drug charges.” He snorted at the ridiculousness of it all. “It’s like a slap on the wrist.”

“It is,” Kyle agreed. “I’m sorry, man.”

“Oh, and the best part . . .” Michael laughed angrily. “The best part was when they told me I’d better drop it, ‘cause I both possessed and distributed a whole lot of alcohol to minors that night, and consumed plenty myself. So if they wanted to dig a little deeper, they’d probably start with me.” He narrowed his eyes in contempt, balling his hands into fists again. “Isn’t that fucked up?”

“Oh, yeah, but that’s how the legal system works,” Kyle said. “Maybe I could talk to my dad, see what he could do. He is the sheriff, after all.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Michael muttered unenthusiastically, for he doubted it would do any good.

Kyle unwrapped the Crashdown burger that was still just lying on the bed, holding it out for Michael. When Michael shook his head to decline, Kyle shrugged and took a bite of it himself. In between chews, he announced, “Hey, I do have one piece of good news, though.”

“Really?” It had been a while since he’d heard any.

“Yeah.” Kyle set the burger aside and revealed, “Max left town.”

Michael immediately sat up straighter. Hell . . . that was good news. “How do you know?” he asked.

“I talked to Isabel today. She said he went to . . . I don’t know, detox or rehab or somethin’. Somewhere to go get help.”

“Yeah, he needs a fuckin’ lot of it,” Michael mumbled. “Hmm.”

“It’s good news, right?” Kyle said. “Now you don’t have to deal with him.”

“Yeah.” It was a small weight off his shoulders, which was better than nothing. Now he could concentrate all of his energy on Maria and Dylan without having to worry that Max was going to show up again and rear his ugly head. The only bad part, as childish as it sounded, was that he never really had gotten to kick Max’s ass before he’d left. That fight on the bridge definitely wasn’t a fight he had won, and he was embarrassed to admit that.

“I’m sure it’ll come as a relief to Maria, too,” Kyle said.

He winced. Maria.

God, he missed his girl.

“Did you guys talk at all today?” Kyle asked.

He shook his head wordlessly. He’d tried calling her a few times, sent her a few texts, too. No response.

“Well, if you want, I could swing on by her mom’s place today,” Kyle offered, “check up on her and Dylan, see how they’re doin’.”

Michael nodded, liking that idea. “Thanks, Kyle.” Getting some info from his friend was better than getting nothing at all.

“Yeah, no problem,” Kyle said, standing up. He groaned as he stretched, then told Michael, “Eat something. Get up. Take a shower. You really stink.”

Michael chuckled. Yeah, he probably did.

As his friend was leaving the room, he called out to him to stop him. “Hey, Kyle?”

Kyle swiveled back around.

It took him a moment to ask the question he was afraid to hear the answer for. “Do you think I ruined what Maria and I have together?”

Kyle didn’t answer right away, but when he did, it was a reassuring one. “Of course not,” he said. “She loves you, man. That’s all that matters.”

Michael sighed, repeating that sentence again in his mind. That’s all that matters. That’s all that matters. Hopefully that was true, because with the way he’d screwed things up, his only shot at redemption was if nothing else mattered more.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dylan seemed to have made a friend. An animal friend, anyway. There was a squirrel in the front yard that was not at all afraid of people, and while it was digging at something in the ground, Dylan chased after him. Maria sat back on her mom’s new porch swing with a blanket over her lap, watching him, getting a kick out of how much fun he was having. This single squirrel had been amusing him for half an hour now. He just couldn’t get enough.

He was inquisitive. Young. So very innocent. Just like she had probably once been.

Her mom came outside with an afghan around her shoulders and a cup of tea in her hand. It was chillier than usual out today, but still not cold.

“Here you go,” her mom said, handing her the tea.

“Thanks.” She kept her eyes glued to Dylan, slowly bringing the cup up to her mouth to take a sip. She winced a bit because of how hot it was.

Her mom sat down beside her in the swing, watching Dylan adoringly for a moment, too. “Look at him,” she said. “Sure is resilient, isn’t he?”

“Yeah.” Maria gripped the mug tightly, wishing she had that same kind of resilience. “He doesn’t remember what happened to him,” she revealed so that her mom could have a better understanding of just how he was managing to bounce back from this so fast. “The doctor told me that’s not uncommon after a . . . traumatic event, I guess.”

Amy frowned, as if she were concerned or confused or some combination of the two. “What, like a repressed memory?”

Maria shrugged. “If it means he never has to remember what happened that night, I’m fine with it being repressed.”

Her mother thought about it for a moment, then conceded, “I guess that’s the way to look at it. I just hate that he has any memories worth repressing, don’t you?”

Maria shivered a bit, looking down at the liquid in her mug. “Yeah.” She wasn’t an idiot; she knew that was her mom’s subtle way of throwing an insult at Michael. But this time, it was probably warranted, so she let it slide.

“But it happened,” her mother stated simply. “There’s nothing we can do about it. So maybe instead of dwelling on the past, it’s time to think about the future.”

Maria rolled her eyes, giving her mother an impatient look. “Why don’t you just come right out and say it?”

“Say what?”

“Mom . . .” She wasn’t buying the act. Her mom’s conversations always came with an agenda attached.

Amy sighed in admittance. “Okay, fine,” she said. “We’re both thinking the same thing anyway.”

Oh god. Were they?

Her mom reached over and put her hand on her lap, probably in an effort to appear supportive. “I think we both know you have some tough decisions to make.”

Maria gripped the cup of tea so hard, she could have sworn it was about to crack.

Thankfully, a car pulled up along the sidewalk, and a distraction in the form of Kyle Valenti emerged. “Excuse me,” she said, handing her mother the tea. She tossed her blanket aside and got up, giving Dylan’s shoulder a quick squeeze as she walked past him and met Kyle at his car. “Hey,” she said, relieved that he was alone and didn’t have Michael tagging along with him. “What’re you doing here?”

“Oh, just wanted to check up on you and Dylan,” he replied. “He looks good.”

“Yeah.” She glanced back over her shoulder, smiling as Dylan crept closer to the squirrel. It just stared at him, then darted away again, and Dylan chased after it, yelling, “Frankie!” Apparently he had named it now, which probably meant that he was going to feel really bad when she told him he couldn’t keep it as a pet.

Returning her focus to Kyle, she blatantly asked, “Did Michael send you?”

“What? No,” he insisted. “I came on my own. Honest.”

She wasn’t quite sure if she believed that, but then again, she wasn’t quite sure if she cared. Whether Kyle reported everything she said back to Michael or not, it didn’t really matter. Either way, he already knew how upset she was.

“I just . . . I feel like I need to clear the air about something.”

Maria frowned, unsure where this was going. “Okay . . .” She couldn’t remember ever seeing him look anything less than completely confident, but right now, he did.

“The party Michael was hosting on Saturday night . . .” Kyle sighed, his shoulders slumping. “It wasn’t his idea. Actually, it wasn’t even my idea. This guy at school, Jase . . . it was his idea. Like a last hurrah for all of us, especially for Michael and me, since we both got engaged.”

Maria reached down and touched the ring on her finger. The mood ring that was just meant to be a placeholder for her lost engagement ring. It had been orange for a very, very long time now.

“Michael didn’t want anything to do with the party,” Kyle informed her nobly, “but I convinced him to have it. I told him it wasn’t a big deal, that it’d all be fine. ‘cause I really thought it would be.”

The sudden breeze blew her hair in front of her face, and she brushed it aside. “Why are you telling me this, Kyle?”

“Because you need to know,” he said. “It’s my fault what happened that night. Michael would’ve never agreed to that party if I hadn’t persuaded him.”

Maria narrowed her eyes, studying him intently, his body language, his eyes, trying to figure out if this was the truth or if Kyle was just making it all up to try to get his best friend back in her good graces. But of course it was true. Kyle was a stand-up guy, not the lying type. But still . . .

It didn’t change anything. “You know, I’m really starting to get tired of people trying to take the fall for Michael here. First Tina, now you. You guys know it’s not your fault.”

“It is, though,” Kyle persisted.

“No, it’s not.”

“Oh, come on, Maria. You and I both know Michael relies on me to be the responsible one, to make good decisions, to help keep him on the right path.”

“He should be able to do that on his own,” she argued. “You shouldn’t constantly have to be setting the example for him, Kyle. He’s eighteen years old; he’s perfectly capable of making his own decisions.”

“Yeah, I know, but . . .” Kyle trailed off in frustration. “I’m just saying, I should’ve known better.”

You should’ve known better?” As admirable as it was that he held himself to higher standards, this was complete nonsense. He wasn’t the one who Dylan called Daddy. His name wasn’t the name on the back of the jersey her little boy slept in every night. It wasn’t up to him to know better; it was all up to Michael.

“I just wanted to apologize,” he reaffirmed, “and come clean with you. Whether you blame me for any of this or not, I really do feel like it’s partly my fault.”

She shook her head, disagreeing completely. “It’s not,” she told him. “Just like it’s not Tina’s. It’s Max’s fault, Kyle.” She felt a lump in her throat when she added, “And Michael’s.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Waking up wasn’t getting any easier. For two nights in a row now, Michael had slept alone and woken up the same way. It was depressing as hell, and it didn’t exactly motivate him to start the damn day off on the right foot.

That morning, he busied himself with making the last tally mark on his wall. The last one out of a hundred and eighty lines. His mom was going to be so pissed at him for destroying that wall, but making those marks had helped him get through the year. And what a year it had been.

He wasn’t the same guy he’d been when he’d put the first line up there. Whether he was a better or worse guy now was up for debate and probably depended on who you asked. Isabel would say he was worse. Kyle and his mom would say he was better. And Maria . . .

God. What would Maria say about him?

Thinking about her made him want to talk to her, so he reached for his phone. Instead of calling her though, he looked back through all the texts he had sent her yesterday. There were dozens of them, each one more desperate than the next. Not a single reply, though.

She was shutting him out, hence the reason why he was shutting himself up in his room.

Crap. He felt his determination to stay home fading, and reluctantly, he set his phone back down on his nightstand and got out of bed.

He dragged himself through his morning routine and out the front door. He didn’t expect Kyle to be sitting out there in his truck waiting for him, but there he was. When he saw that Michael was dressed for school, he grinned, rolled down his window, and said, “I had a feeling you’d change your mind.” He motioned to the empty passenger’s seat and coaxed, “Get in.”

Michael sighed and lumbered across the front yard. He tossed his useless backpack into the back of the truck and climbed in, figuring it was either this or a repeat of his pointless yesterday.

On the way to school, Kyle did most of the talking, until Michael decided to chime in. “You know there’s only one reason I’m comin’ today, right?”

“Because it’s the last day?” Kyle guessed.

“No, I don’t care about that.”

“Uh, then maybe because it’s only fitting we end the year together since we started it together.”

“Nope.” Football games held nostalgia and sentimental value for him and Kyle. Classes didn’t.

“It’s ‘cause you wanna slam Mr. Frost’s face into a locker, isn’t it?” Kyle concluded.

“No. Well, yeah, but that’s not why I’m goin’.”

“Hmm.” Kyle frowned contemplatively. “Then I assume you’re goin’ so you can prove to everyone at school that you don’t care what they’re sayin’ about you or thinkin’ about you right now.”

Michael looked out the window, wishing it were something like that. But actually, it was way simpler and less inspired. “Actually it’s just ‘cause I have nothin’ better to do,” he admitted. “It’s either this or sit up in my room sending unanswered texts to Maria all day.”

“Oh.” Kyle made a face. “Yeah, this is slightly more productive.”

Emphasis on slightly, Michael grumbled inwardly. He didn’t plan on doing much of anything while he was at school today. In fact, it would probably be a miracle if he lasted past first period.

“Maybe you should track down those freshmen girls we met in Frazier Woods at the beginning of the year,” Kyle suggested, “find out if you really did have a threesome.”

“Oh, I did,” Michael boasted surely.

“How do you know? I thought you didn’t remember it.”

“I don’t, but I know I did,” he insisted. “I was like a pimp at the beginning of the year.”

Kyle chuckled lightly. “A lot’s changed since then.”

“Yeah,” Michael agreed solemnly. At the beginning of the year, he hadn’t felt like such a worthless piece of shit, even though he’d been one. And if he’d started to feel that way back then, he wouldn’t have cared about it. At the beginning of the year, he’d had no desire whatsoever to be anyone’s husband or anyone’s father. Maria had only been the waitress. He hadn’t known her, and he hadn’t loved her, and he hadn’t known that he would end up falling in love with her. At the beginning of the year, he’d doubted he was even capable of love.

Oh, yeah. A lot had changed.

From the moment he stepped out of the truck and started through the parking lot with Kyle, he felt like he was being scrutinized. Other people in the parking lot were looking at him and then whispering to each other, probably saying things like, “Look, he’s back,” and “There he is.” It wasn’t narcissism that made him think people were talking about him; they really were. The whole fucking school revolved around him and Kyle, Isabel and Tess, and the select few other people who bore the burden of being popular. But usually the good things revolved around Kyle, and the bad things revolved around him.

“Just brace yourself, alright?” Kyle cautioned him as they walked in the heavy double doors. “You knew people would be talking.”

He rolled his eyes. Whatever. He was determined not to care.

He probably would have drawn fewer inquisitive stares if he’d walked in naked. People stopped whatever they were doing when they saw him, and the hallway got unusually quiet.

Kyle gave no sign of being fazed by it, though. He walked ahead with Michael, carrying on a normal conversation. “So I Skyped with my college roommate last night,” he revealed. “We had to figure out who’s bringin’ what to the dorm.”

“Oh, yeah?” Michael was relieved when the conversations around him started to pick up again. “Does he seem cool?”

Kyle grunted. “Not as cool as I first thought. He pretty much wants me to bring everything.”

“That sucks,” Michael sympathized. “I wish I was goin’ to college with you.”

Kyle gave him a surprised look. “Do you really?”

Oh, shit. He really hadn’t meant to say that. “No. I mean . . . I don’t know. Sometimes.” He had his whole plan to take a year off from school, and then he really did intend to go. But sometimes plans changed, and his plans were never really planned that well right from the start so . . . maybe he’d just have to get used to watching Alabama football games from the stands.

As awkward as talking about college could be, it was a hell of a lot worse when Jase rounded the corner and came towards them, grinning like an idiot. “Michael!” he exclaimed. “Dude, I didn’t think you’d be here.”

“Neither did I,” he muttered.

“Man, everyone’s talkin’ about Saturday,” he rambled. “I hope you don’t mind, I told a lot of people what happened. I just wanted to make sure they got the facts, you know, so they weren’t just spreading rumors.”

“Oh, I’m sure.” Jase embellished everything. His girlfriend’s hotness. His sexual experiences. The amount of alcohol he could consume without passing out. And now probably this, too.

“Hey, Jase, speaking of rumors, you should go find Antonio,” Kyle suggested. “I don’t know what’s going on, but everyone’s sayin’ he’s been makin’ time with your girl.”

“What the hell?” Jase looked utterly confused. “Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know. You should go ask him about it.”

“Yeah, I will. I’ll see you guys later.” Looking shocked and perplexed, Jase walked back in the direction he had come from, around the corner and out of sight.

“Is that true?” Michael asked Kyle. “About Antonio.”

“No, I just wanted to get him to leave.”

Michael laughed a little. “Thanks.” He was pretty damn thankful to have an awesome best friend.

They had only taken a few more steps when Roxie skittered up to them next. She practically threw herself on top of Michael, her hands roaming all over his chest as she babbled, “Oh my god, Michael, are you okay? Everyone’s saying you got shot.”

“What?”

“Yeah, and they’re saying Maria’s ex-boyfriend threw you off a bridge. Is that true?”

He rolled his eyes. “No.” Maybe that was just Jase’s version of something he knew nothing about.

“Well, that’s what everybody is saying.”

“Actually . . .” Ryan sidled up to them, sliding his hand around Roxie’s petite waste. “Everyone’s saying your girl kicked you to the curb.” He looked Michael up and down, then smirked. “Gotta say, I believe that one.”

That was it. Michael felt the switch inside flip, and he was set off. Dealing with Jase’s idiocy and Roxie’s stupidity was one thing, but Ryan fucking Adderman was another. “Shut the fuck up, you motherfucker!” he roared, shoving Ryan back against the lockers, pinning him there with his elbow against his throat.

“Whoa, hey . . .” Kyle grabbed his shoulders and pulled him away. “Calm down, alright?”

Michael shook his shoulders out of his friend’s grasp, feeling anything but calm. “I can’t . . .” He shook his head angrily, fleeing the scene. It would have been nice to kick Ryan’s ass—hell, wouldn’t be the first time he’d done that this year. But then he’d just be giving people something else to talk about.

He stormed through the cafeteria and made his way to the office. Thankfully, there was a girl who was on her way out of Topolsky’s office, because he couldn’t wait. He barged right in, slamming the door shut behind him.

“Michael.” Topolsky sounded a little bit alarmed, but just a little bit. She was, after all, used to seeing him worked up like this. “Is everything okay?”

“No.” He paced back and forth in the small space, unwilling to sit down, unable to stand still.

“What’s wrong?” she asked calmly.

He clenched his mouth shut, afraid of just going off on a tirade if he didn’t collect himself for a moment. “Did you hear about what happened this weekend?” he mumbled tensely, but he already knew the answer. Roswell wasn’t a big town. There were no real secrets here.

“I did,” she replied.

“Yeah, everyone did.” Everyone knew how he’d fucked things up, but with rumors circulating out of control, some people probably couldn’t even explain how he’d fucked things up; they just knew he had.

“I’m glad you came to see me, and I’m glad you came to school today,” she said. “I’ve been wondering how you’ve been doing.”

“Not good,” he admitted. And that had to be obvious. He probably looked like he was hanging on by a thread, which he was at this point. “I need my check-out sheet. I’m not gonna make it through the school day.”

She gave him a pleading look. “Michael . . .”

“No, I can’t stay here,” he decided. “It’s pointless anyway. I just wanna get outta here and go back home.”

Reluctantly, she reached underneath a stack of papers on her desk, took out a blank student check-out form, and wrote his name at the top of it. “What’re you gonna do when you get home?” she asked, handing it to him.

“Don’t know.” He folded the form in half, sliding it into his pocket. “I can tell you what I wanna do, though: get drunk.”

“Well, you could do that here,” she pointed out. “Don’t you have alcohol in your locker?”

“Don’t you have an obligation to report that?” he retorted.

“Oh, I already did. Never seems to do much good.”

“Well, yeah, I got alcohol in there,” he admitted. “I can’t go drink it, though. No.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I do, then I’m proving them all right.”

“Them?” she echoed.

“Yeah, them. Everyone out there. And Maria’s mom. My dad. All of ‘em.” He resumed his pacing as his ranting intensified. “They don’t really know me; they don’t know what I can do. Amy and my dad just point out every single flaw every chance they get, ‘cause they think I’m destined to be this loser. And all those people out there . . . they just use me. For popularity. For entertainment. When I screw up, it entertains them.”

“So stop screwing up,” she suggested.

“I can’t.” That was the worst part. He been trying so hard this year to change himself for the better, but he still felt like he was no good. Cheating on Isabel, endangering Dylan . . . what was next? Maybe Maria was wondering the same thing. Maybe that was why she wouldn’t text or call him back.

He flopped down in the chair across her desk, the one he’d sat in so many times this year. Not one of those times had he felt as awful as he did right now. “Maria’s really pissed off at me,” he revealed sadly. “No, not . . . that’s not even the right word.” It wasn’t strong enough.

“Do you understand why she’s upset with you?” Topolsky asked.

“Oh, yeah. Believe me, I’m upset with myself,” he told her. “I just . . .” He swallowed hard, staring off into nothingness as he pondered, “I wonder if she’ll be able to forgive me.”

Topolsky gave him a small, encouraging smile. “I’m sure she will.”

“Yeah.” He wanted to be sure, too; he really wanted to. “But her son almost died because I wasn’t a good enough dad.” Tears stung his eyes. “How do you forgive someone for that?”

For the first time since he’d known her, his guidance counselor couldn’t seem to give him an answer.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Meeting with Topolsky calmed Michael down enough that he was able to make the rounds before the first bell of the day rang. He had to get his stupid check-out sheet signed by every single teacher to show that he had had no incompletes in the gradebook and had turned any textbooks or other materials in. Once he was done with that, he was out of there.

He stopped by Ms. Alvarez’s room first, knocking on the doorframe. She glanced up from the pile of papers on her desk and semi-smiled. “Michael,” she greeted. “I think this is the first time you’ve ever gotten to my class early.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, shuffling into the room. “I’m not stayin’. I just need you to sign my check-out thing.”

“Oh.” She motioned him over and picked up a pen. “There you go,” she said, scribbling her initials in the signature box for English. “I guess I’ll see you at graduation then.”

“Yeah, I don’t know if I’m goin’ to that, either,” he revealed. “I kinda got some stuff goin’ on.”

She nodded in understanding. “Well . . . best of luck then.”

“Yeah.” Right now, he needed luck in a major way. “Hey, listen, I know I was a real piece of shit this year. Probably didn’t make your first year any easier on you.”

She laughed a little. “Well . . .”

“But you did pretty good,” he told her. “I’m just a bad student.”

“No, you’re not a bad student, Michael,” she corrected him. “You’re . . . challenging.”

“Hmm.” That was probably the nice way to put it. “Well, thanks,” he said, refolding his check-out sheet. He shoved it back into his pocket, gave her a flippant wave, and headed out the door.

He went to a few of his other teachers before stopping at his locker to get his chemistry textbook. He brought it in to Mr. Frost, dropping it onto his desk, interrupting another vitally important game of Solitaire.

“I’m signing out early,” he informed him.

Mr. Frost opened the front cover of his textbook, then flipped through a few pages. “Mint condition,” he remarked. “Looks like you never used it.”

“I never did,” Michael admitted.

Mr. Frost rolled his eyes, mumbling something under his breath, and signed Michael’s check-out sheet. “Good riddance, Guerin.”

Michael stared at him incredulously, trying to fathom how or even why he’d become a teacher. Maybe he’d just been doing it for so long that he hated it now, or maybe he just found one student every year to be a complete dick to. Not that Michael minded, because he enjoyed being a dick in return.

“You’re an ass,” he told his teacher, seizing his check-out sheet back again.

After forging the initials of the teachers whose rooms were located on the opposite side of the school, Michael returned to the office and dropped his sheet off with the secretaries. And that was it. He was done, through with school. At long last. It seemed completely anti-climactic.

The bell rang, and he pushed his way through dozens of people going in the opposite direction as him. Ryan spotted him again in the senior hallway, and he started taunting him. “Hey, Guerin, if your girlfriend’s done with you, toss her on over to me for a couple hours. I wanna give you another stepson.”

God, did this guy ever learn? Michael shoved him against the lockers, then kept on walking. He would have done more if he wasn’t in such a hurry to get out of there.

Since Kyle had driven him, he was going to have to walk home, but that was fine. It wasn’t like he was in any big hurry to get home and sit up in his room all alone. Maybe he wouldn’t even go home. His mom could probably use some help at the library now that Maria was done working there. Maybe he’d swing by and make himself useful for once.

Halfway through the parking lot, he spotted Isabel getting out of her car, scrambling for her purse. It had either been a rough morning or a late night for her. She didn’t look as put-together as she usually did, and she was running very late. She’d probably been with Jesse, maybe making another porno or just making out. Whichever.

“Isabel,” he called, feeling like it was fate that he’d run into her out here. He couldn’t leave without saying something to her.

“What do you want?” she grumbled impatiently.

Oh, so many things, he thought, but when it came to her, he just wanted to apologize. So he did. “I’m sorry.”

She frowned suspiciously, then asked, “For what?”

Did she really have to ask? “For everything.” He’d accumulated a laundry list of screw-ups with her in the past two years, and he felt bad about every single one of them.

“What if that’s not enough?” she challenged.

He shrugged. “It’s all I got.” Feeling like he’d said what he needed to, he walked along, leaving her in the parking lot by herself as the tardy bell rang from inside. If she actually made an effort to accept his apology, then maybe she could enjoy her last day of high school.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maria lay in bed longer than she should have that day, perusing the massive amount of texts that Michael had sent her yesterday. There were a lot of apologies, along with pleas to text him back or call him. More than once, she thought about doing that, but then she changed her mind. What was there to say that she hadn’t already said? She was still mad at him, still heartbroken. Still confused about what she should do now.

Somewhere along the way, browsing through texts morphed into looking at all the pictures on her phone. He had taken most of them. There were lots of pictures of him kissing her cheek while she just smiled giddily, and pictures of her cuddling up against him in bed. Dylan was in a lot of the pictures, too. The ones of him and Michael together made her tear up a little, and then a lot.

She sat up, stumbling across a video he had recorded just a few weeks ago, back before she’d ever made that fateful decision to go on that mini-music tour. Back before Max had ever shown up in town. Back when things had been simple, and amazing.

Even though she knew it would only make her feel worse, she pressed play and watched miniature versions of herself and Michael cuddling and chattering playfully in bed, both of them fully-clothed but still so intimate.

“Michael, what—what’re you doing?” she sputtered as he held her phone up over the two of them.

“Filming,” he replied simply. “This is some great cinematography right here.”

“Okay, we are
not making a sex tape,” she told him emphatically.

“Who said anything about a sex tape?” He gave her a look. “Maria . . .”

“What?”

“Is your mind in the gutter again?”

She rolled her eyes at his teasing. “Okay, why are you filming this?”

“Because, it’s a memory,” he answered. “We can show it to our grandkids someday.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. Prove to them how hot we once were.”

She laughed, pulling the covers up over her head.

“Hey, what’re you doin’? Come back out. The camera loves you.” He pulled the blankets back down, smiling at her adoringly. “I love you.”

She gazed at him wistfully, blushing. He always knew how to make her blush.

“Come on, say it, say it,” he urged. “You know you wanna say it.”

Oh, yes, she definitely did. “I love you, too.”

He grinned, leaning in to kiss her lips, the camera in his hand shaking as he did so. “Sex tape? Sex tape?” he murmured against her lips hopefully.

She shook her head, nuzzling her nose against his. “No.”

“Come on, let’s make love, baby.”

She kissed him again, whispering, “Turn the camera off.”

And just like that, the video ended.


Maria inhaled shakily, trying to be less affected by such a short, simple video. But it did affect her. There was no way she could lie in bed next to Michael and play around like that right now. In a way, it seemed like a different life, one she wasn’t sure they would ever be able to get back to.

She felt the tears forming, but when her mom came into her room, she shoved them back down.

“Maria, why are you still in bed?” she asked. “It’s after 9:00.”

She sniffed, setting her phone down. “Yeah, I just . . .”

“Well, Dylan’s already up,” her mother cut in, “and he’s full of energy. I wish I could say the same. I have to go into work.”

Maria nodded skeptically, surveying her mother’s choice of wardrobe for the day. Short black skirt, nice red shirt that accentuated her curves. Even high heels. “Kinda dressy for work, don’t you think?”

Her mother tugged down on her skirt, confessing, “If you must know, I’m meeting Jim for lunch today.”

Of course you are, Maria thought. It was painfully obvious. “So this is how it’s gonna be?” she said. “He screws things up with you, but eventually you just take him back and wait for him to screw up again?”

Her mother narrowed her eyes, advising, “Maybe you should be asking yourself the same question.”

Maria averted her eyes, lacking any snappy comeback, any quick response for that one. She didn’t want to ask herself that question. And she really didn’t want to answer it.

“Have a good day,” her mother said, her heels clicking on the wood floor as she walked out.

Maria sighed heavily, picking up her phone again. Her thumb hovered over the speed dial button for Michael momentarily, but then she tossed it down to the foot of the bed and leaned forward, holding her head in her hands, trying to forget all those texts, that video, and the questions she was supposed to be contemplating.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Isabel sat atop the counter in Jesse’s kitchen while he whipped up some Mexican lasagna for the two of them. An old family recipe, he said, one he’d made a dozen times and could make with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back. It did smell good, but Isabel had never known her boyfriend to do much cooking before. He’d insisted on doing it tonight, though, as a way of celebrating the end of one very long chapter in her life.

“So how’s it feel to be done with high school?” he asked, sprinkling yet another layer of cheese atop his already cheesy creation.

She shrugged. “Not all that different, actually. Besides, am I really done with high school if I haven’t gone to graduation yet?”

“Ah, graduation’s just a formality,” he dismissed. “You don’t have to go.”

“No, I want to,” she said decisively. “I wanna sit there and listen to how bad Raymond Sullivan’s valedictorian speech sucks.”

He chuckled, opening up the oven. “Well, I for one am glad you’re outta high school now,” he told her, sliding his lasagna onto the top rack. “Now when I tell my mom about you, I don’t have to start out with, ‘Okay, don’t freak out, Mama, but she’s still in high school.”

Isabel laughed. “Yeah, that must be a relief.”

“But you know . . .” He shut the oven and stepped in front of her, pulling both her legs apart so she could wrap them around his waist. “I never really thought of you as a high school girl. That place was never big enough for you.” He stroked her hair, then leaned in and kissed the side of her neck.

“Well, soon I’ll be at Princeton,” she reminded him, draping her arms over his board, muscular shoulders. “That should be big enough.”

“Yeah,” he mumbled, nuzzling her skin. “Too far away, though.”

It was far. And they hadn’t really talked about it. Maybe it was time to. “So what exactly is our plan?” she asked, leaning back a bit. “Do we have one?”

He grinned, touching her cheek. “I don’t know about you, but I plan on having the summer of my life with you, and then we’ll take it from there.”

She tried to smile, but really, that answer made her nervous. Was that his way of reassuring her that he was into her and wanted to do the long-distance thing? Or was it a subtle hint that this relationship of theirs would be short-lived? She didn’t even want to think about that, because even though Jesse wasn’t everyone’s dream guy, he was good to her. Kind. Understanding. She wasn’t ready to lose him yet.

“You alright?” he asked.

She forced a smile, an unconcerned one. “Yeah.” As long as she had these moments with him to escape to, she was perfectly fine.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The fact that merely doing the dishes with him seemed to delight his mother made Michael feel bad for her. Just how awful had her life become that this was the highlight of her day? She put on a brave face for him, for Tina, for just about everyone, but he knew she wasn’t happy. Apparently she was happy to spend time with him, though, since he’d been hanging out with her all day and she hadn’t told him to go away yet.

“I really liked having you help out at the library today,” she said, passing him another plate to dry. “And now with the dishes . . . I don’t think I recall you ever being so helpful.”

He shrugged, wiping an already damp towel against the wet plate. “I just wanna stay busy.” He’d gone to the library after leaving school today because the thought of coming home and sitting up in his room all alone for another day was just too damn depressing. Being productive, as unnatural as it was for him, was a good distraction from how bad his life sucked right now.

“You can come help out tomorrow, too, if you want,” she offered.

He nodded mutely, considering that. He wasn’t about to wake up at 7:00 a.m. like she would, but maybe once he got up and around, he’d stumble on in there and give the card catalog another shot. Or maybe he’d go do something else.

It was a perfectly fine moment he and his mom were having until his dad came tripping downstairs, his mere presence enough to ruin it all. “Well, well, well,” he said, looking them over. “Never thought I’d see my boy doin’ the domestics.”

“Maria and I used to cook and do dishes and stuff all the time,” Michael reminded him. They hadn’t done any of those things well or particularly fast due to the massive amounts of flirting that had gotten in the way, but still, they’d done them.

“Ah, yes, Maria.” His dad grinned cruelly, slipping past him to the refrigerator. “Pretty blonde girl, right? Used to live in my house.”

“Andy, stop,” his mom ordered warningly.

But of course he didn’t stop. He never did. Didn’t stop insulting. Couldn’t stop drinking. Wouldn’t stop being an ass for even one second. “I’m just statin’ the obvious,” he said, rummaging around for a beer. “Clearly she’s done with us.” He shot Michael a look, making sure to add pointedly, “All of us.”

Michael gripped the plate in his hands tightly, resisting the urge to slam it down against the counter and watch it break.

His dad chuckled, teasing him even though basically half his head was in the refrigerator now. “God, you must feel like a fool.”

Even his mom’s hand on his shoulder didn’t help.

“You gave up college for her!”

“Don’t listen to him,” his mom told him quietly.

But how could he not? All his life, there was one voice he’d always heard echoing in the back of his head, and it was his father’s. A taunting, seething, accusatory voice that wasn’t quieting down with time. If anything, it was getting louder and louder with every passing day.

He put the dishtowel and plate down on the counter with the other dry dishes, hastily marching towards the front door.

“Michael, wait!” his mom called. “Where are you going?”

He was already on his way out the door when he heard his dad respond for him, “Where do you think?”

It was true that his destination was no secret. He drove over there in record time, trying to convince himself that it couldn’t possibly be true. Maria wasn’t really done with him. She was just taking a step back, just for now. Maybe if he talked to her and she just listened, then maybe she wouldn’t be so mad anymore. She could forgive him, and things could be good again, and they could do everything they’d planned to do before any of this had ever happened.

He knocked on the DeLuca front door normally at first, then more insistently, and then even more so. By the time it finally opened, he felt like his hand was going to break.

Disappointment engulfed him, because it wasn’t even Maria standing there to greet him. It was Amy, and she had that same expression on her face his dad had had on his.

“I had a feeling you’d show up here sooner or later,” she said. “Although I thought it’d be sooner.”

“I was giving Maria some space,” he said, not willing to let her think that he just didn’t care. “Can I see her?”

Amy laughed in ridicule. “Absolutely not.”

“Come on, please?” He tried to look past her to see inside, but it was mostly dark in the living room, except for the light coming from the TV, and no one else seemed to be downstairs.

If Maria ever wants to see you again, she will,” Amy said. “If she does.”

He groaned inwardly, fighting hard to keep his cool. Lashing out at Max and Isabel at the hospital hadn’t done any good, and lashing out at Amy wouldn’t here. “I just wanna talk to her,” he said, feeling pathetic that he was literally at her mercy here. If she took pity on him, he’d get what he wanted. If she hated him too much, he wouldn’t.

“She doesn’t wanna talk,” Amy said.

“Why don’t you let her tell me what she wants?” he suggested.

“Because she doesn’t know what she wants.”

He frowned. What the hell did that mean? Amy really thought this was going to drive them apart for all time, didn’t she? Well, she didn’t know shit. What he and Maria had was stronger than this. All he had to do was talk to her and remind her, but this bitch of a woman was standing in the way.

“Go home, Michael,” she advised coldly. “Get drunk. From what I recall, that’s what you’re good at.”

No, he thought vehemently. No! That was what his dad was good at, not him. He wasn’t gonna be that man’s legacy, not if he could help it.

Even though his mind was screaming, words escaped him, and he just stood there like an idiot and let her close the door in his face.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maria came downstairs upon hearing the front door shut. “Who was that?” she asked her mom.

“Oh, just Mr. Marcel from across the street,” her mother replied. “He needed to borrow some milk.”

Maria nodded, pulling the sleeves of her shirt down over her wrists. “Can we . . .” She wasn’t able to finish asking if they could sit down and talk, because suddenly, Dylan’s voice called out from upstairs. He was crying the way he always did when he had a bad dream or thought he saw a monster.

“Oh, no,” her mother said. “That doesn’t sound good. I’ll go take care of it.”

“No, that’s okay, I got it,” Maria assured her. She turned and took a few steps back up the stairs, but she paused when she heard what Dylan was yelling.

“What is it?” her mother asked.

She felt an ache in her stomach as he called out over and over again for the only person who had ever managed to put his fears about monsters to rest. “I’m not the one he’s crying out for,” she said sadly, waiting a few more seconds before heading upstairs anyway. Maybe she was only the second best choice when it came to vanquishing those pretend monsters that lurked in closets and under the bed, but she could still put his little mind at ease.

When she opened the door to his room, he was sitting up in the middle of his bed, clutching his blankets to his chest, shrieking and crying, “Daddy! Daddy!”

Hoping he wasn’t too disappointed to see her, Maria shut the door and shuffled towards him. “Hey, it’s okay,” she cooed. “You’re fine.”

“No!” he cried. “Monster!”

“There’s no monster.”

“Yeah-huh.”

She shook her head, insisting, “There’s not.”

“Where’s Daddy?” he asked, pouting.

She sighed, wishing there was a way to answer that question so that he could understand. But there wasn’t, so she decided not to answer it at all. “Mommy’s here, Dylan. If there is a monster, I won’t let him hurt you.”

“Daddy fights the monsters,” Dylan mumbled.

“I can fight ‘em, too,” she offered. “Where are they?”

He fearfully pointed towards the floor.

“Under the bed?” she guessed. Playing along, she got down on the floor and lifted up the bedspread, looking underneath. “I think it’s gone now,” she told him. “We scared him off.”

He shook his head stubbornly. “Nope.”

“Come look. There’s nothing here.”

He adamantly scooted back on the bed, pressing himself against his wall, holding the blankets up over everything but his eyes now.

Clearly her attempt to calm him down wasn’t working, so she asked, “What do I have to do?”

“You—you gotta . . .” He frowned. “Get Daddy.”

“Daddy’s not . . .” She caught herself and corrected. “Michael’s not here right now, Dylan. I’m gonna have to do.”

“No!” he screamed, slamming his hands down at his sides. “I want Daddy!”

“I’m sorry.” She climbed back up on the bed, hoping he’d change his mind and decide the monster was gone, decide that what she’d done had been enough. Michael had the magic touch when it came to this sort of thing, for whatever reason. He made Dylan feel completely safe, even though, when it had really counted, he hadn’t kept him safe at all.

“I want Daddy!” Dylan yelled again. “Daddy! Daddy!” He started throwing a full-on temper tantrum, hitting at the mattress, the wall, his pillow, and even her. She had to grab his hands to stop him.

“Dylan, don’t hit!”

That only made him scream and cry some more.

“Dylan, stop!”

He didn’t stop. And eventually, feeling helpless and like a failure of a mother, Maria started to cry, too. Her screams stayed on the inside, but they were still there.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 86

Postby April » Mon Jan 18, 2016 5:55 pm

This was a really long update!








Part 86








Even though she hadn’t gotten much sleep, Maria dragged herself to the Crashdown the next day. Dylan was back at day care for the first time since his accident, and Maria figured it would be best to swing by and see if she could pick up some work hours.

Liz was on duty, which made the whole thing even better. Maria had been meaning to come talk to her. “Hey, Liz,” she greeted.

“Oh!” Liz startled a bit, almost dropping the plates in her hand. “Hey, Maria.” She set them down on the counter, then came to Maria and hugged her. “How have you been?”

“Oh . . . I’ve been better,” Maria admitted.

Liz took a step back, nodding sympathetically. “I’m sure.”

“What about you?”

Liz didn’t answer right away, but eventually, she shrugged and claimed, “I’m alright.”

She didn’t sound alright. Didn’t look alright, either. But Maria wasn’t about to press the question further.

“It’s been a crazy couple of days,” Liz acknowledged. “But maybe now that Max is gone, it’ll be better.”

That caught Maria’s attention. “Max is gone?” How come she didn’t know about this?

“Yeah, he left. To go to rehab or something,” Liz explained. “Isabel told me.”

Maria breathed a sigh of relief, feeling like a huge weight was lifted from her shoulders. “Good.” She had enough problems to deal with right now without worrying that Max was lurking around every corner, ready to snatch Dylan up again.

She saw a look of sadness gloss over Liz’s eyes for a moment, and that made Maria feel like she’d been insensitive. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I know you two were . . .”

“No, it’s okay,” Liz cut in reassuringly. “I mean, yeah, we were . . . but . . .” She shook her head. “We’re not anymore.”

“Because of what he did to Dylan?” Maria guessed.

“Among other things.”

Maria frowned, wondering what those other things could be.

“Anyway, it’s over,” Liz summarized. “And that’s probably for the best. He’s got a lot of stuff he needs to work on. He’s not ready to . . . be with me.”

“Hmm.” Maria wasn’t about to say it now, but she was thrilled for Liz. The girl deserved way better than that scumbag. “Well, on the bright side, at least he didn’t leave you with baby as a souvenir of your brief but memorable time together.”

Liz smiled and laughed lightly, but she didn’t say anything.

He left her with something, though, Maria thought, narrowing her eyes as she studied the other girl. What was it, though? A broken heart? Regret? She couldn’t tell.

“Well, listen, I’m really glad you stopped in,” Liz said. “I feel really bad about what happened the other night, and partly responsible.”

“What?” That didn’t make any sense. “Why?”

“Because . . . Max and I had a pretty dramatic argument right beforehand. When he left, he was so upset, said he felt like getting high. And that’s what he did. And that’s what led him to . . .” She trailed off, inhaling shakily. “So yeah, I feel like it’s a little bit my fault. Because if I hadn’t upset him, maybe he never would’ve gone to Michael’s house and taken Dylan. Maybe the whole thing would have never happened.”

“Or maybe none of this is your fault at all,” Maria assured her. “But of course you would say it is. Everyone’s so eager to take their share of the blame. You, Kyle, Tina. But there is no blame for any of you, Liz. When I think about what happened, I only blame two people: Max and--”

“Michael.”

“Exactly.”

“No, uh . . .” Liz motioned over Maria’s shoulder. When Maria turned around, Michael was standing at the door, staring at her painfully.

Oh, great, she thought. It hadn’t been the plan to run into him here. Or anywhere, really.

He came forward, his hands in his pockets. “Hey, Liz,” he greeted quietly.

“Hey,” she returned.

“Can I talk to Maria for a minute?”

“Sure,” Liz replied. “She’s not on the clock, so take as long as you need.” She gave Maria a small but encouraging smile, then picked the dirty plates up off the counter and brought them back to the kitchen.

Maria stood with Michael awkwardly, trying to remember the last time things had felt awkward between them. Had they ever? Not like this.

“What’re you doing here?” she asked.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

She sighed, heading over towards his usual booth, sliding in on the side he usually didn’t sit on, and he followed her, of course, sitting on the other side. “I was gonna see if I could work today,” she explained. “It’s probably only a matter of time before my mom starts demanding rent money again.”

“Rent money?” he echoed. “How long are you gonna stay there?”

“Michael . . .” She gave him a look, silently warning him not to ask questions he didn’t really want answers to.

“A week?” he ventured. “Two weeks?”

“I don’t know, okay?”

“Oh, come on, Maria.”

“What? What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t want you to say anything,” he growled. “I want you to come home with me so we can work this out.”

“Work it out?” She huffed. “Okay, tell me, how are we supposed to work out the fact that Dylan almost died because of you? He almost drowned, Michael.”

“Trust me, I remember.”

“Do you? Because it kinda seems like you just expect me to get over it.”

“No, I just . . .” He threw his hands up, leaning back against the seat. “I don’t wanna lose you or Dylan, and I feel like I am.”

She felt tears stinging her eyes, and she had to look away so he hopefully wouldn’t see them. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she managed to get out.

“Tell me . . .” He reached across the table, taking her hands in his, surprising her with his touch. “Tell me you can forgive me. Because I love that little boy, Maria, and you know I’ll never let anything like this happen again.”

She felt tears spill out of the corners of her eyes as she slid her hands out from his. “You say that.”

“I mean it. Come on, you know I’d do anything for him.”

“I know.” That wasn’t the issue. “You saved him.”

“Yeah.” He grinned a bit, as if he felt like he were getting somewhere.

She swallowed hard, determined to not give in and forget about all the concerns this whole incident had brought up. “But that doesn’t make up for putting him in danger in the first place.”

What smile existed fell from his face, and a look of despair overcame him instead. “Maria, I didn’t . . . I didn’t know any of that was gonna happen. Neither did you. None of us knew Max was gonna lose it like that.”

“No, but I knew . . .” She frowned deeply, staring dazedly at the empty napkin holder to her left.

“Knew what?” he prodded.

Oh god, she thought. This was going to kill him. But she had to say it. “That you weren’t ready.”

“Ready for what?”

She forced herself to look him in the eye when she said it. Because he had to see that she meant it. “Being a father.”

That look on his face was worse than she could have imagined. It was like something in him just shattered. There was a dull shock in his eyes and a speechlessness that spoke volumes.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, not wanting to hurt his feelings or be mean. She just had to be honest.

“But I’ve . . . I’ve been a father,” he protested weakly, his voice cloaked with emotion. “And up until now, a pretty good one.”

“Yeah, up until now,” she agreed.

“But I’m ready,” he insisted. “Maria, I am ready.”

“Michael, if there’s anything that night proves, it’s that you’re not ready.”

“No,” he argued stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest and shaking his head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Michael . . .”

“I’m Dylan’s father,” he growled. “He didn’t even know what that was until he met me. He started calling me Daddy all on his own. That’s gotta mean something.”

“Yeah, it means that we dove into this whole thing way too fast.”

“This whole thing?” He glared at her. “What the hell is this, Maria? Is this just about Dylan, or is it more than that?”

“What do you mean?’ she grumbled, feeling like she already knew.

“Is it . . .” His voice got really quiet when he asked, “Is it about us?”

Us, she thought. Us against the world. How long had it felt like that now? And now it felt like the world was closing in.

“I love you,” he told her, as if just to remind her.

She felt like he was squeezing her heart when he said that. “I know. And I love you, too.” It wasn’t a question of that.

“Funny,” he grunted, getting to his feet. “Right now, it doesn’t feel like it.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets again and headed out. Part of her wanted to tell him to come back, or run out there after him and throw her arms around him; but another part of her felt like it was best to just let him go.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Mmm,” Tess murmured as she cuddled up to Kyle’s side, tracing lazy circles atop his naked chest. “I can’t wait ‘til we’re both in college and we can do this whenever we want.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, loving the way she rubbed her legs against his beneath the covers, “in between football practice and cheer practice and classes.”

“Okay, so there might be quite a few quickies,” she acknowledged, “but they’ll be good.”

“Yeah.” Hell, sex with Tess in general, whether it was fast or slow, drawn-out or brief, was the greatest thing he’d ever experienced in life. It made scoring the game-winning touchdown feel like just an average event.

She nuzzled against him, moaning. “I wish I could be with you next year.”

“Oh, you’ll still be with me,” he said, tightening his arm around her a bit, managing to pull her even closer. “You just won’t be with me in the state of Alabama.”

She gave him a pouty look. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”

Damn. It was supposed to. He bent his head down and kissed her lips, then lovingly rubbed his nose against hers.

“Okay,” she whispered, “that makes me feel better.”

He grinned, kissing her again. Perfect. Now they could transition back from cuddle time to . . . something else.

He was just starting to climb back on top of her when his bedroom door flung open, and in marched Michael. “Shit, man!” he swore, getting off his girlfriend.

“Michael!” Tess yelped, quickly covering herself up.

“Sorry,” he apologized.

“God, what’re you doing?” she shrieked.

“I need to talk to Kyle,” he replied.

Kyle looked over at his girlfriend—his ready and willing girlfriend—and then back at his best friend. “Right now?” he asked.

“Yeah. If you don’t mind.” Michael turned and headed out into the hall.

Kyle groaned, not getting up until Tess reached over whacked him on the shoulder. “Go.”

He tugged on a pair of sweatpants and joined Michael out in the hallway, shutting the door so Tess didn’t have to stay huddled under blankets.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Michael apologized.

“No, it’s alright.”

“What’s she doin’ here anyway?” Michael asked. “Don’t they have school ‘til Friday?”

Apparently eavesdropping, Tess huffed on the other side of the door, “Pot calling the kettle black much? When did you ever go to school?”

Kyle chuckled, motioned to the living room, and suggested, “Let’s go out here,” so his girlfriend couldn’t overhear whatever conversation they were about to have.

Michael sat down on the couch, looking frazzled, and Kyle headed into the kitchen to make himself a quick sandwich. He was, after all, working up quite the appetite. “So what’s up?” he asked his friend.

“I’m worried, man,” Michael revealed.

“About?”

Michael gave him a duh kind of look. “Everything.”

Kyle sighed, abandoning the sandwich for the time being, and joined his friend in the living room, taking a seat next to him on the couch. “What happened?” he questioned.

“Ah, I went to see Maria at the Crashdown. Didn’t go well.”

“What’d she say?”

Michael snorted, then grumbled bitterly, “She doesn’t think I’m ready to be a dad.”

Kyle frowned. “What makes you say that?”

“Uh, maybe the fact that she told me. Right to my face.”

“Oh.” He tried not to cringe, but . . . damn, that didn’t sound good.

“And she thinks we took things too fast, and now we’re payin’ for it,” he added. “She hates me.”

“She doesn’t hate you,” Kyle assured him.

“Well, what if she breaks up with me?”

Kyle shook his head. “Not gonna happen.”

“You sure?”

“No, I’m not sure. But she loves you, so hang in there. She’ll forgive you.”

“I hope so.” Michael exhaled heavily, his shoulders slumping forward, and Kyle started to get worried, too. He’d never seen his friend look so defeated, so depressed. Michael was capable of doing some pretty dumb, reckless things when he felt like nothing was going to go the way he wanted it to.

“It’ll be alright,” Kyle assured him. Michael had to believe that; otherwise, he was going to spiral.

“I feel like I’m losing her, Kyle,” Michael confessed, his voice wavering as if he were right on the edge of tears, “and I can’t lose her; I need her. And Dylan. They’re my family.”

Kyle put a supportive hand on his friend’s shoulder, wishing there was something more he could do. But Michael and Maria were going to have to work this out all on their own. And if they didn’t . . . well, he didn’t want to think about what could happen to Michael if they didn’t.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maria had never thought she would miss the library, but when she set foot in there that day, she realized she did. She missed the peace of it, the quiet. It had been a nice place to work, but she no longer had a job there. No, she was supposed to be focusing on the upcoming move to Alabama now, so her days at the library were done. She wished they weren’t.

Krista was sitting at her computer at the front desk, typing feverishly, only glancing up when Maria cleared her throat a bit. She stood, smiling. “Maria.”

Maria smiled back, happy to see the woman who had been more of a mother to her than her own mom had been this year. “Hey.”

Krista came towards her, holding her arms out. “Come here,” she said, enveloping her in a bear hug. “Oh, I’ve missed you.”

Maria felt tears prodding the corners of her eyes again. That was part of what made this whole thing so hard. It wasn’t just that she was apart from Michael right now; she was also away from Krista and Tina, two people who had become family to her. She missed them, too.

Krista released her, squeezing her shoulders. “How’s Dylan?” she asked.

“He’s good,” Maria replied. “He doesn’t, uh, remember anything that happened, so . . .”

Krista nodded. “That’s probably for the best.”

“Yeah.” It definitely was. She would have given anything right now to have that same luxury.

“And how are you?” Krista asked.

She forced a smile and whimpered, “I’m okay,” but it sounded weak right from the start. She attempted to smile, but it didn’t pan out. She could feel all the emotion right there, right underneath, just waiting to spill out, and before she knew it, she was crying.

“Oh, honey, you’re not okay,” Krista said, leading her over to the front desk. “Here, sit down.” She pulled out the computer chair, and Maria flopped down, feeling completely spent and unenergetic.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, trying to wipe all her tears away. “I just feel confused.”

“About . . . what?” Krista asked gently. “Michael?”

She nodded sadly, wishing there was nothing to feel confused about. “I saw him at the Crashdown today. I think I said some things that really hurt his feelings.”

“Like what?” Krista asked, handing her a tissue.

She used it to dab at the corners of her eyes, almost afraid to own up to what she’d said, afraid that Krista would be angry with her for it. “I said he’s not ready to be a father,” she revealed shakily in a rush of breath.

Krista didn’t say anything for a moment, but there was a flash of hurt in her eyes, like she was sympathizing with her son. But that sympathy never turned into judgment, and she didn’t lash out at Maria. Instead, she calmly said, “I’m sure that did upset him.”

“I wasn’t trying to be mean, you know? I was just trying to be honest.” She felt like she desperately needed the perspective of someone who knew Michael just as well as she did, so she asked, “Do you think I’m right? Maybe not right to say that, but . . . do you think it’s true?”

Krista sighed, clearing a little space on her desk so she could sit there. “You know, when you and Dylan first moved in with us, I was incredibly wary,” she admitted. “I didn’t want Michael getting in over his head, but I saw the way he looked at you and Dylan, and I just knew he’d end up getting attached. I knew there was nothing I could do to stop those feelings from developing.” Slowly, she smiled. “But then this really amazing thing happened: He started changing. He became the kind of man I always knew he could be. Because of you, Maria. You and Dylan.”

Maria choked out a sob, feeling . . . ungrateful somehow. Michael had given her so much this past year, and now, he probably felt like she was throwing it all back in his face, making him regret ever opening his door and his heart to her.

“I don’t know if he’s ready to be a father,” Krista acknowledged, “but I do know that, for the past few months, he’s really enjoyed being one.”

Maria let out a quivering exhale, trying to calm her emotions down. “Dylan really loves him,” she whispered.

“Yeah. And he loves Dylan. You know he feels horrible about what happened.”

“I know,” she said. “It’s just . . .” She wiped underneath her nose with the back of her hand. “I can’t help feeling like maybe this whole thing happened for a reason.”

Krista tilted her head to the side, inquiring, “And what reason might that be?”

Maria just gave her a hard look, not saying anything. Because she couldn’t say it. Not to Michael’s mom, definitely not to Michael. Not even to herself. But she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Whenever she tried to go to sleep, whenever she woke up, and whenever she did everything in between, all she could do was worry and wonder and question every single decision she’d made since she’d moved in with the Guerins in the first place.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It hadn’t been Michael’s intention to go down to Dylan’s room, not until Dylan was back in it. But somehow, he found himself there, standing in the doorway, staring it at . . . just a space. Even with the bed and the toys and the drawings he’d done hanging on the walls, it was just an empty space without him in it.

His Guerin jersey was lying on the bed. It was hard for Michael to even look at.

Even though he couldn’t step inside, he couldn’t seem to walk away, either. He tried to picture Dylan jumping up and down on his bed, laughing, enjoying being young and happy. He wanted to picture it so vividly that it would feel real, but he couldn’t do it. And that made the aching feeling in his gut ache even stronger.

“Michael?”

He pulled himself out of his trance and turned around to find Tina looking him over with concern. She had shorts that were too short, makeup that was too dark, and her backpack was slung over one shoulder.

“Did you walk home from school?” he asked her.

“Yeah,” she replied softly. “You were supposed to come pick me up.”

Was he? Damn. He’d totally forgotten. Or lost track of time. Or something. He looked back in at Dylan’s room, mumbling, “Guess I wasn’t ready to be a big brother, either.” God, he just sucked at everything, didn’t he? No one felt like they could rely on him.

“Have you been drinking?” she asked him.

He looked back over his shoulder, hating that he’d gotten drunk enough over the years to give her that idea. “No,” he assured her. He wasn’t going to cope with this stress in that way. It would only make things worse, and it was something his dad would have done.

“Good,” she said, breathing a small sigh of relief. But still . . . she didn’t look relieved. She came up beside him, sliding her arms around his waist, hugging him supportively, and it became very clear to him that she was worried about the same nagging fear that he now couldn’t get off his mind. She was worried that bedroom was going to stay empty, that Maria and Dylan wouldn’t be coming home anytime soon. Or at all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maria didn’t feel ready to wake up, but she couldn’t very well continue sleeping in that morning when her mom was in her room, making a bunch of racket. She opened her eyes to find her mother rummaging through her closet, tossing shoes aside, apparently frustrated when she didn’t find what she wanted.

“What’re you doing?” Maria asked her groggily, lying on her stomach with her forearms propped.

“Oh, just looking for those nice strappy sandals you have,” her mom replied. “You know, the red ones. I was thinking they might help me look not so casual.”

Maria surveyed her mom’s outfit. Very summery with the jean shorts and the loose-fitting white blouse. Very stylish in general. She didn’t look casual. “Lunch with Jim?” she guessed.

“That’s the plan.” Her mom groaned in frustration. “Where are those shoes?”

“I think they’re at Michael’s,” Maria informed her. A lot of her stuff still was. The only things she had here were the things she hadn’t cared about enough to take with her when she’d moved out.

Her mom immediately shut the closet, mumbling, “Never mind then,” as she headed for the door. She stopped on the way, though, glancing down at Maria’s nightstand. “Interesting,” she remarked.

At first Maria wasn’t sure what she was referring to, but then she looked over and saw the mood ring. She’d set it down there last night, and she hadn’t put it back on. “It’s Tina’s ring,” she told her mom. “It’s kinda tight.”

“What happened to your real engagement ring?” her mother asked.

Biting her bottom lip, embarrassed, Maria replied, “I kinda lost it. Down the sink.”

“Hmm.” Her mother just shrugged. “Seems appropriate.” Then she had the audacity to smile before she left the room.

Maria felt a stab of hurt in her gut. It hurt that her own mom couldn’t be more sympathetic. It hurt even more that she was kind of right.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Michael rejoined his mom at the front desk, surprised that she already had a whole new stack of books checked in and ready for him to shelve.

“Done already?” she asked.

“Yeah.” Truth be told, he’d given up on the card catalog system a long time ago, and now he was mostly just sticking the books wherever he could find shelf space, wherever they didn’t look too out of place.

“Well, if I’d known how helpful you’d be, I would’ve hired you to work here years ago,” she teased.

“Well, you know me. I’m all about the books,” he joked dryly. Honestly, this was just a distraction. His mom hadn’t asked him to come in, and he hadn’t told her he was coming. He just couldn’t stay at home, not when it was so empty there.

Just as he was about to grab the new stack of books, she said, “Oh, just take a break for a minute. Sit with me. Talk to me.”

He sighed, not wanting to take a break. Breaks led to thoughts, and thoughts led to feelings, and feelings led to worrying. And he wasn’t sure how much more of that he could take. His mom seemed to enjoy spending this time with him, though, so he let the books be and flopped down in the empty chair beside her instead.

“So are you excited to graduate?” she asked him perkily.

He shrugged. “Not really. It’s just . . . whatever.” A stupid hat and a piece of paper. What a great payoff.

“Is Maria gonna come?” she asked hopefully.

“I don’t know.” At this point, he doubted it. But then again . . . maybe. She always had encouraged him and motivated him to make it through school, after all. Maybe she’d be proud of him. Maybe she’d want to be there to tell him that.

He didn’t want to get his hopes up, though. He couldn’t.

“You know, she came to see me yesterday,” his mother told him suddenly.

“What?” His interest rose. “What’d she say?”

“Well, she was upset. She said she thought she hurt your feelings.”

Well, that was because she had. Getting tackled in a football game or getting punched in the face by some idiot like Max . . . that didn’t hurt at all, not compared to her telling him he wasn’t ready to be a dad. “What else did she say?” he pressed.

His mother sighed and said nothing.

“That bad, huh?”

“No, I just . . . I don’t know, I guess I just got the feeling that she has a lot on her mind right now, a lot of stuff she’s trying to work out.”

Without me, he thought. Therein lay the crux of their problem. She was trying to figure things out all by herself. She kept pushing him away instead of letting him in so they could deal with it together.

“Maybe you should talk to her,” his mother suggested.

He grunted. “Yeah, ‘cause that worked out so well yesterday.”

“I mean it,” his mom insisted. “That whole conversation just left me with the feeling that, if you love her, and if you’re committed to working things out with her . . . you need to let her know.”

Oh, god. Suddenly, he started to feel panicked. He started to worry that he was wasting time being here, that he shouldn’t be concerned with distracting himself when it wasn’t much of a distraction anyway. What if he wasn’t fighting hard enough for her? What if he was giving her too much space? His mom was right. He had to let her know he wasn’t giving up or going anywhere, and he had to do that now.

“Thanks,” he told his mother, springing up from the chair, bolting out of the library. He had to go find his girl.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Of course Maria was at the Crashdown, filling in for Agnes. Of course. Never mind the fact that she had the week off because she was supposed to have been on her music road trip. She didn’t give herself downtime; she got right back in the swing of things.

Not that Michael minded, of course. The Crashdown was an easy place to interact to her, much easier than at her mom’s house, where either one of them could just lock him out if that was what they wanted. Except even the Crashdown wasn’t proving to be as easy of a place as he’d thought it would be to start up a conversation. Maria seemed to have mastered the art of avoiding him. She and Liz switched sections the second he came in, so instead of Maria waiting on him, Liz was the one who came up and delivered his drink, took his order. Maria effectively ignored him, but obviously she knew he was there.

He knew he probably looked like a stalker, because his eyes rarely left her. He watched as she chatted up a few customers at the counter, managing a few smiles here and there. They looked genuine enough, but he knew they weren’t; they were forced, because she didn’t feel like smiling any more than he did.

Every once in a while, she would let her eyes dart over to him, but just for a millisecond, and then she was ignoring him again.

I’ll sit here all day if I have to, he thought, determined, order every fuckin’ item on this menu. Eventually, she would give in and just come over and say something to him. Eventually.

“Refill?” Liz asked, holding up a glass of lemonade. “On the house.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled, sliding his empty glass towards the edge of the table. He would have gotten root beer, but for some reason, he only liked that when Maria served it.

“You know,” Liz said as the lemonade trickled down from her larger glass into his smaller one, “there was a time when I was your favorite waitress. You used to smile and flirt with me all the time.”

He smiled a bit as he recalled all of that. It had been a different, simpler time, one he wished he could go back to, in a way. It would have been easier. But then again, he couldn’t imagine going back to a time when he didn’t know Maria, didn’t know what it felt like to be in love with her. This was harder, but it was better.

“Don’t worry,” Liz said. “I’ll make sure she comes over here.”

Before he could ask her how she intended to do that, Liz left the table. He watched in interest and satisfaction as she approached Maria and started holding her stomach as if she were getting sick. “Can you cover for me?” he heard her ask. “I just can’t--”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Maria said quickly. “Just--”

And with that, Liz scampered off into the bathroom. Michael had to admit, he was impressed. Who knew Liz could be such a good actress?

The bell at the order window rang, and the cook chimed out, “Chili rocket dog!”

That’s mine, Michael thought eagerly, grinning. Perfect.

Maria reluctantly picked up the chili dog and fries basket, glanced at the order ticket, and rolled her eyes. But in the spirit of doing her job, she did indeed bring it to his table. All she said was, “Here you go,” as she set it down in front of him. She quickly spun to walk away, but now that he had her in the vicinity, he wasn’t about to let that happen.

“We need to talk,” he blurted.

She turned back around slowly, flapping her arms against her sides. “I can’t. I’m working.”

He made a face. “Isn’t that when we used to do all of our talking?” What a lame excuse.

“Well, that was then,” she mumbled, fiddling with her antenna headband.

“Yeah, and this is now, and right now . . .” He stood up, reaching out to adjust her headband for her. “Everything sucks. ‘cause you won’t talk to me.”

“Michael . . .” She took a step back, crossing her arms over her chest. Her body language radiated . . . not hostility but . . . defensiveness. Like she was closed-off. “What do you want? We talked yesterday.”

He grunted. “Barely.”

“Well, I’m busy now. Liz might not be coming back, so I have to wait on everyone and--”

“And I’m a customer,” he pointed out. “Service me.”

Her eyes bulged, and he realized how wrong that had come out.

“No, I didn’t mean . . .” He tried to backtrack. “I meant with talking. That kind of service.”

“Well, I’m sorry if I don’t think the Crashdown café is the best place to discuss our relationship.”

“Oh, so we still have a relationship?” He nodded. “Good to know. I wasn’t sure.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t be like this.”

“Like what?”

“Like a jerk.”

“I’m not bein’ a jerk!”

“Just eat your food and let me work, okay? We are not doing this here.” She started to stomp off, but again, he didn’t want her to go.

“Why not?” he challenged way too loudly. “We already fucked right here; we might as well fight here, too.”

A few other customers gasped in disbelief, and Maria stormed up to him, her eyes wide and accusing. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she ground out, her voice an urgent whisper. “Are you trying to get me fired? Again?”

He sighed frustratedly, wishing he hadn’t just said that. Now she was even more pissed. He softened his voice and reiterated, “I—I just wanna talk.”

“Well, I can’t do that right now,” she persisted, “so eat your food and get out.” Fuming, she whirled around and walked off, ignoring the looks she was now getting from the other customers, and this time, he didn’t say anything to try to make her stay. Because most likely, he’d say something he regretted.

Not feeling at all hungry, he took a couple dollars out of his pocket and flicked them down onto the table so Liz would at least have a tip when she came out of that bathroom. She’d done her part by getting Maria over there; he’d just wasted the chance.

He did what Maria wanted and left the Crashdown. That had been a total bust.

He got in his car and drove, contemplating going back to the library for a while but eventually deciding against it when he was only a few blocks away. His mom would still be there, and she would want to know how it had gone. He didn’t have the heart to tell her he’d made a bad situation worse.

He knew he could go to Kyle’s, but why bother his best friend when he and Tess were probably spending her lunch break together again? Being the perfect couple, having everything go their way. It was so easy for them.

So he just drove, no real destination in mind. Yet somehow, he knew where he was going to end up before he even got there.

The bridge. The one that had been fixed quickly, no traces of Max’s car accident left at all. He got out of his car and stood at the railing, peering down into the water, remembering that night, the sound of the pouring rain, the sound of Dylan’s terrified scream as he fell backward and out of sight.

He took a steep path down to the riverbank so that he was right next to the water again. He grazed his fingertips across the surface, amazed that it felt so much warmer today. And it was so calm that it barely even made a sound.

Picking up a rock, he tossed it sideways at the water, and it skipped on the surface. He did that a couple of more times, and then he took a step back and looked up to the bridge again. God. It looked like an even bigger drop from down there.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Isabel heard their babbling laughter before she saw them: her former friends. Cheerleaders. Tess was among them, right in the middle of them, of course, deciding which store to go into next as they perused the mall. They all just followed her. Didn’t seem to matter, though, because they were all having a good time.

Isabel pretended not to notice them and instead got all intent on looking at the price tag of a shirt she didn’t even intend on buying. Tess and the other girls of course came into the store, though, and it didn’t take Tess long to spot her.

“Give me a minute,” she told her friends.

Isabel took the hanger off the rack and draped the shirt over her arm, trying to step away, but Tess was too quick.

“Hey, Isabel,” she said softly, sidling up beside her.

“Hey,” Isabel returned unsurely. It had been so long since she and Tess had said anything to each other, let alone anything friendly. It felt nice, though. She missed her friend.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” Tess remarked, “you know, without . . .” She trailed off, but Isabel knew what she was going to say. Jesse. She hadn’t expected to see her there without Jesse.

“I’m here with a friend,” Isabel revealed, because contrary to popular belief, she still had a few of those.

“Oh. Good. Yeah, so am I,” Tess said. “A couple friends, actually. I have to find a dress for Kyle’s graduation party. I can’t believe you guys are done on Saturday.”

“Well, we’re already done,” Isabel pointed out, quoting her boyfriend when she added, “Graduation’s just a formality.”

“It must be exciting, though,” Tess said, “knowing that you don’t have to go to high school anymore. You get to go to college and, you know . . . just start over.”

Isabel frowned inwardly, translating that as, You need to start over, Isabel, because your life sucks. But then again, maybe Tess hadn’t meant it that way.

“Are you excited?” Tess asked. “I would be.”

“Yeah, I’m excited,” Isabel said, although truthfully, there wasn’t much to look forward to be about the day anymore. No speech. No graduation party, even, because her mom was too disappointed in her and too distraught about Max to host one. It was really just going to be another normal day.

“I think you’re gonna love college,” Tess said. “It’ll be nice for you when your life isn’t so complex and dramatic.”

“Hmm, I don’t know. I think college gets complex and dramatic in a whole different way,” Isabel said. For starters, there was the complex, dramatic question of whether her relationship with Jesse would survive the long-distance thing, or if he even wanted to attempt it. They hadn’t talked about it much, and every time she brought it up, he seemed to just brush it off.

“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m happy you get to go to Princeton,” Tess said. “That’s your dream school.”

“Yeah.” It always had been. But the thought of being completely and utterly alone there . . . it wasn’t freeing; it was intimidating. And that prevented her from feeling as happy and excited about it as she ought to.

Tess cleared her throat, asking, “So . . . who are you here with?”

Isabel opened her mouth to respond, but before she could, the door to one of the dressing rooms swung open, and Courtney pranced outside in nothing but a metallic silver bikini. “What do you think?” she asked Isabel, striking a seductive pose. “Is it slutty enough?”

Isabel cast a worried glance at Tess. “Uh . . .” Great. So much for their friendly conversation. “Yeah, of course it is.”

“Do you think it’ll look good on film?”

“Sure.” Please stop talking, Courtney, she begged internally. Don’t say anything more.

“I think it’ll match really well with your white one,” Courtney raved. “Although, I guess it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like the boys will let us wear them for long anyway.” She grinned lasciviously, then twirled and scurried back into her dressing room to change back into her clothes.

“So,” Isabel said, hurriedly trying to change the subject, “is Kyle--”

“Oh my god.” Tess looked sick to her stomach. “Was she talking about what I think she was talking about?”

“No.”

“She was, wasn’t she? She’s making another sex movie, and you’re gonna be in it with her. Both of you and your boyfriends . . .” She threw her hands down at her sides. “Oh my god, Isabel! What’s wrong with you? Why would you do that when people are just finally starting to forget about the last one?”

“You wouldn’t understand,” she muttered. How could Tess understand any of this when Isabel didn’t even understand it herself? All she knew was that Jesse had suggested making another movie, and she’d agreed. Why not? What did it matter since she was headed off to Princeton anyway? She didn’t care what people in Roswell thought of her anymore. They could say whatever they wanted to about her. It didn’t matter. She didn’t care.

“God, just when I think you might be getting back to your old self, you go and do something like this.” Tess shook her head disappointedly, mumbling, “I don’t even know you anymore,” as she walked away to join back up with her cheerleader friends.

No, you don’t, Isabel thought in agreement. Nobody did. At this point, she wasn’t even sure she knew herself.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I can’t do this, Maria kept thinking as she forced more and more of her clothes and shoes into boxes. I can’t. Yet somehow, she kept going, kept removing her items from Michael’s closet and packing them up. She was a mess of tears the whole time, barely even conscious of what she was doing. She dropped her red strappy sandals into the shoe box, knowing her mom would be happy to see those. But nothing about this was happy for Maria. Nothing.

Any second, she was sure she would just quit and put everything right back where it had been. Clothes on the hangers, shoes on the closet floor . . . jewelry scattered atop Michael’s dresser, desk, and end table. But she managed to keep going, all the while thinking, I just can’t do this.

Every single inch of her body ached and shook as she sobbed. Her legs felt weak, and she had to press her hand to the closet doors at times just to stay standing. She felt like she might collapse.

Even though she tried to stay as quiet as possible, it was no use. Tina could probably hear her from down the hall. Hell, Krista could probably hear her from all the way downstairs. Surely they both knew what was happening, what she was doing. They’d seen the boxes she had brought in, and they would see them full on the way out.

Once half the closet was empty, she thought she might be a little more in control of her emotions. But it was only getting worse. She touched one of Michael’s shirts, knowing that, if she brought it up to her nose, it would smell like him.

She started to cry harder.

The closet was done, though, so she forged on, looking around the bedroom for anything else that belonged to her. She made the mistake of glancing over at the mirror, and she caught sight of her reflection. She looked . . . devastated. As devastated as she had the night James Winston had convinced her to go down on him in exchange for a hundred measly bucks. That had been one of the worst nights and one of the worst experiences of her life. She shuddered at the mere thought of it, wondering where she would be right now if Michael hadn’t . . . saved her. Taken her in. Given her a place to stay.

Michael Guerin saved me. She remembered writing that on a restroom stall at West Roswell High once. She wondered if it was still there, and she hoped it was. She hoped it was there for a long, long time. People should know that he had done that. He saved her, and he saved Dylan, and now, maybe, in an unusual, painful way . . . she had the chance to save him, too.

Just go, she told herself. Get out of here now. But then she remembered she still had Dylan’s room to pack up, and that brought on a whole new level of despair. The room Michael had made, the best Christmas present Dylan would ever receive . . . was it even fair to take anything out of there? Everything in there was something Michael had gotten for Dylan, something he had given him. Maybe she should leave it all where it was. Or maybe that would be too heart-wrenching for him.

She didn’t know what to do.

Feeling helpless, she spun around, and what a mistake that was. Because then she was staring right at the one object in that room she’d been trying to desperately avoid even taking a glance at: the bed. Their bed.

Oh god, how many hours had they spent in that bed? Not even just hours, but days. That had always been their place. Always. The place where he had taught her to explore and discover so many things.

It was a bad idea to lie down on it, and she knew it was a bad idea. But she couldn’t help herself. She curled up on her side at first, then rolled over onto her back, looking up at the ceiling, trying to blink back tears. They seeped out of the corners of her eyes without her consent, and she started to reminisce about all the times she’d been right there in that bed, times when he’d been right there with her.

Her first night in this house, when he’d sat down beside her and talked to her, assured her everything would be okay.

Nights when he’d started to sleep on the floor, and she’d had a hard time falling asleep knowing he was so close to her.

The night he’d moved closer still. Dylan had been in between them, but she’d told him not to leave. To stay. To stay and lie with her. And of course he had.

Silly nights spent telling stupid jokes, listening to music, pretending to read each other’s palms.

The nights when he would play with her hair.

The night he’d brought her up there and truly made love to her for the first time, her favorite song playing in the background on repeat.

The night he’d made a pointless cell phone video, one she hadn’t been able to stop watching for days now.

Her first time trying anal sex, giving in and trusting him completely, experiencing one of the most intense, connective acts of her life.

The night he had told her he planned to marry her someday, and the night when he’d followed through on that promise and surprised her with a ring that was now gone forever.

Their last night together in that bed, right before she’d left town. Limbs twisted, a feeling of safety and security as she’d sat in his lap, moving against him gently, but insistently, passionately.


She had to turn and bury her face in a pillow to muffle a sob that was more of a scream. Leaving that bed, that house, that man . . . it hurt in a way nothing had ever hurt before. It was killing her.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Who would have known that sitting by a river all day could be so damn exhausting? Michael’s energy level that day had been minimal to begin with, but it was shot by the time he got home that night. He supposed he could just take a shower and try to go to sleep. Try being the key word there.

That idea went to hell when he saw a different car in the driveway, though. He faintly recognized where he’d seen it before: in Amy DeLuca’s driveway. A little red Jetta. At first he wondered what the hell she was doing there, but when he wised up and took a look inside, he saw the entire backseat piled with boxes. Boxes of clothes, shoes, and other things. Maria’s things.

Shit.

He whirled around, about to hurry into the house, when the front door opened, and out she came. There she was, the love of his life, the girl of his dreams. She looked tired, too. And sad. Very sad.

His mouth felt dry. He didn’t know what to say. So he just stood there on the front lawn like an idiot, staring at her wordlessly, helplessly, desperately, trying to convince himself that he was wrong, that there was no way she had really packed up everything and decided to move out.

Maria didn’t say anything, either, but unlike him, she couldn’t lock eyes. In fact, she looked everywhere and at everything but him.

“So that’s it, huh?” he said when words finally found him again. “You’re movin’ out?” God, that was a hard pill to swallow.

“I was hoping I’d be gone by the time you got home,” she mumbled dejectedly.

“It’d be easier?” he guessed.

“Nothing about this could ever be easy, Michael.”

“Really?” How hard could it have been if she’d made this decision without even discussing it with him first?

“Yes,” she insisted. “Please don’t be mad at me.”

He frowned. Mad? That wasn’t really the right word. It wasn’t strong enough, and what he was feeling didn’t feel like anger. It felt like . . . like something he’d never felt before. Something he didn’t even have a word for.

Maybe it’s not too late to get her to change her mind, he speculated desperately, knowing he had to try. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you in the Crashdown today. I just . . . I was pissed you wouldn’t talk to me, and you know how I get. I just say stuff sometimes. I didn’t mean to upset you or . . .”

“It’s okay,” she assured him, wiping a tear from her cheek. “You were right, Michael. We do need to talk. I just . . .” She shivered, even though it was hot outside. “I didn’t want to.”

He took a few steps forward, hesitantly, worried, suddenly, about invading her personal space. “And now you do?” he asked.

Tearfully, she shook her head. “No,” she whimpered, but she sat down on the porch steps anyway, wrapping her arms around herself. She looked so small.

Oh, no, he thought, his whole body filling with dread. This didn’t sound good.

He sat down beside her, not too close, but not too far away. His own heartbeat thudded in his ears, feeling like it was about to beat right out of his chest. She wasn’t saying anything, so he said the only thing he could think of, the thing that meant the most. “I love you.” Maybe if he just reminded her of that, then maybe . . .

“I know you do.” She sniffled, wiping her nostrils with the back of her left hand. And it was as she did that that he caught sight of something that chilled him to the bone.

He lifted her hand in his, staring down at her left ring finger. No silly mood ring meant to be a substitute for the real thing. It was completely bare.

Quickly, she slipped her hand out of his and tried to hide it underneath her leg, but it was way too late for that.

“So this is bad, huh?” he concluded. “You’re not just movin’ out.” Even though he already knew, he phrased it as a question, just in case he was somehow wrong. “You’re leavin’ me?”

She looked down at her lap, then up at him, then back down at her lap again. “Michael, I’m leaving town.”

He whipped his head towards her in shock and disbelief. “What?” That heart of his that had been pounding almost violently just moments before . . . he swore it stopped when she said that. “No.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“Maria, no.” He refused to believe this.

“But when I heard Max left to figure his life out . . . I thought maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.”

“What’s there to figure out? I love you. You love me. We’re a happy family.” He cringed right after the words came out. “Oh, shit. I quoted Barney.”

That actually got a laugh out of her, a laugh that quickly dissolved into tears.

“Maria . . .” He reached out to put his arm around her, but she leaned away.

“No, don’t touch me,” she said. “If you do that, I might change my mind. And I—I can’t change my mind about this.”

Oh, she could. And he was going to make her. “Maria, you can’t go,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because . . .” Did he really have to explain it to her? Wasn’t it just fucking obvious? “Okay, fine, you can go, but . . . go do what we said we were gonna do. Go to Alabama. If you’re gonna leave, leave and go there. And I’ll go with you, but . . . if you wanna slow down or something, I’ll—I’ll get my own place.”

“Michael . . .”

“No, I’m serious. I’ll just live on my own, and then when you’re ready, we can all live together again.” He actually hated that idea, but it was better than being cut off from her completely. “Just go with me, Maria. Don’t go somewhere else.”

“I have to,” she insisted.

“Why?” It didn’t make sense to him, on any level. Why would she even entertain the idea?

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said.

“Oh, like hell it is!” He shot to his feet, outraged now. What the fuck had Amy DeLuca done to her daughter? There was no way Maria would have decided to do this on her own. Amy had poisoned her mind or something, brainwashed her into thinking this was for the best. “Maria, I can’t lose you; I need you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I . . .” He stopped and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. Yelling hadn’t gotten him anywhere in the Crashdown today. “We gotta be together,” he told her forcefully. “We gotta be.”

“Michael . . .” She took his hand in her softer ones, urging him to sit down beside her again. “Do you remember the first time we met?”

He closed his eyes momentarily, remembering what it had been like to see her for the first time. “Of course.” He’d thought she was cute, but he’d had no idea—no idea—how beautiful she would someday be to him. Inside and out.

“You tried to order a beer,” she recalled.

“You gave me a root beer.”

“You didn’t leave me a tip.”

“Well . . .” Maybe he would have if he’d gotten his beer.

She angled her body towards his, smiling softly, even though her eyes were glazed over with tears. “I had no idea you’d become the love and my life and my closest, truest friend. Or that my son would find a father figure in you. Or that you’d . . . save his life. And mine.” She sniffed back tears, whispering, “Michael Guerin saved me.”

He swallowed the lump in his throat, wishing he could save her right now. Save them. From whatever it was they were rapidly becoming. “You saved me first,” he mumbled. Without her, it was hard telling what he would have become.

No. Actually, it wasn’t. He would have become the man who was on the other side of that door, sitting inside that house drowning every single one of his sorrows, trying to find his salvation at the bottom of a bottle. Nothing terrified him more than the thought of becoming that man.

“The whole time I was getting to know you, I really tried not to fall for you,” she told him, “because I just thought . . . I thought it would get too complicated, and I thought it wasn’t right to drag you into my life. But I just couldn’t resist it. And the more I got to know you, the more I got to liking you. And eventually . . .” Her voice cracked as she said the words. “I just started loving you.” She breathed in shakily. “And the world didn’t end.”

No shit, he thought morosely, ‘cause it’s ending right now. “Yeah, well, you are my world,” he told her. “You and Dylan, so . . .”

“I know,” she said, reaching over to put her hands on his leg, “but Michael . . . there is so much more out there in the world.”

“And you’re gonna go see it, huh?” he ground out.

“I don’t know where I’m gonna go.”

“Somewhere without me,” he mumbled bitterly, getting to his feet again.

“Michael . . .” She stood up, too, a look of pleading in her eyes. “You have to try to understand where I’m coming from.”

“Well, that’s too bad,” he snapped, “because I don’t understand. I don’t understand why you’d just throw in the fuckin’ towel and give up on us!”

“I’m not giving up,” she insisted.

“What—what do you call this?” He pointed to the box-filled car dramatically. “That . . . that’s giving up, Maria. This . . .” He pointed to her ring-less hand. “If you really loved me so damn much, you wouldn’t just call it quits like this.”

“Don’t you dare insinuate that I don’t love you,” she warned. “Michael, I made this decision because I love you, because I know I can’t be selfish with you.”

“Selfish?” he echoed.

“Yes!”

“What the hell are you talking about, Maria?”

“Why don’t you get it?” she shouted back.

“What am I supposed to get?”

“You’re just supposed to get it. You’re supposed to realize after nine months of knowing me and four months of dating me that it’s not so simple as saying, ‘I love you; let’s be together forever.’ How do you not get that, Michael?”

“It is that simple,” he argued. “I don’t know why the fuck you would make it any more complicated. I don’t know why the hell you’d think you were being selfish. I really don’t know why you’d think leaving town is the answer to all our problems.”

“Michael, I--”

“No,” he cut her off. “No, you know what? I’m gonna make it really simple for you, Maria: I love you, and I’ll always love you; but if that’s not enough for you, then maybe you should leave.”

She dug her hands through her hair, groaning frustratedly, “No, you’re not hearing me. It’s not that this isn’t enough for me. It’s that it’s not enough for you.”

He stared at her for a moment, frowning, still utterly confused. “What?” How could she think this wasn’t enough for him? With her and Dylan, he had everything he wanted. He’d never want anything else.

“Michael . . .” She took a few steps towards him, closing the distance so she could take his hands in hers again. “You’re so young.”

“So are you,” he pointed out.

She shook her head stubbornly. “Not like you, though. You have all these opportunities, all these roads in front of you that can lead you in all these different directions.”

“Well, which one leads me to a life with you?” he asked her. “ ‘cause that’s the only road I’m interested in.”

“I know, and that’s the problem.” She squeezed his hands, then let them go. “You’re so focused on being with me and being a father to Dylan that you’re just overlooking everything else that’s out there. You don’t see it, but I see it, because I might never have any of it. A high school diploma, a college education, a career—not just a job, but a career, Michael.”

“I can have that stuff and be with you, too,” he told her.

“Can you?” she challenged. “You’re already giving up college to be with me.”

“Just for one year,” he reminded her.

She gave him a hard look, shaking her head.

“What, you don’t believe me?”

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I don’t. I know you. You’ll take this year off and you’ll never go. And you’ll miss out, and it’ll be all my fault.”

“So that’s what this is about?” he spat. “You’re dumping me because I’m not goin’ to college?”

“I’m letting you go, Michael,” she corrected, “because it’s the right thing to do. For you.”

“Oh, yeah, you’ve really got my best interest at heart,” he mumbled sarcastically.

“I do. And I don’t expect you to understand that now--”

“ ‘cause I’m such an idiot?”

“No! Because you’re too worked up about this to see it clearly. But someday you’ll understand that I’m right. And you’ll even thank me. Because you’ll get to go to college with Kyle, and maybe even play football, and end up getting the kind of job you never could get without a college degree. And someday, when you’re ready, Michael . . .” She choked out a sob. “Maybe you can have a son of your own someday.”

He felt a tear stream down the side of his face. The lump in his throat was so huge now that he could barely talk. “I don’t want just any son; I want our son.” That was what was so hard about this, what made it harder than any ordinary break-up. He wasn’t just losing her; he was losing Dylan, too.

“Michael, you’re gonna have an amazing life,” she assured him. “I just wanna make sure you don’t end up like . . .” Her sentence faded.

He looked back at the house, glimpsing a silhouette standing at the kitchen window, probably listening and loving every word of this. “You think I’ll end up like him?” He actually took offense to that. She’d always told him he wasn’t like him.

“No. But why would we risk you ending up being as unhappy as he is? Why would we even put you in that situation? I am not gonna let you live a life of regret; I’m not gonna be the one to limit your possibilities.” She looked him right in the eye, not blinking until the tears overcame her, and she started crying. Hard. “God, Michael, if you even knew how hard this was for me . . .” She wiped both her eyes, smearing what little was left of her makeup. “Loving you has been the most exhilarating, passionate experience of my life. But this whole time, I’ve felt like I was holding you back, and then with everything that happened with Max and Dylan . . .”

“Yeah, you know, I find it really convenient that you waited until after I fucked that whole thing up to break up with me.”

“No, it was just, like, this gigantic sign that this is not what’s best for you.”

“Why do you get to decide what’s best for me, huh?” he grumbled. Wasn’t that something he could decide on his own? “Because you’re so much smarter? ‘cause you’re so much more mature? ‘cause you’ve been through more in your life than I have? Is that it?”

“Because you won’t decide for yourself, Michael. That’s why. You won’t admit it; you won’t accept it. You might never accept it, but I am doing the right thing for you.”

“Alright. Okay, fine. Yeah, thanks,” he said sarcastically, “for doin’ the right thing for me. I’m sure my life will be perfect now. I’m sure I’ll be real happy spending the rest of my life alone.”

“You won’t be alone.”

“Well, I’m sure as hell not gonna fall in love with anyone else,” he informed her vehemently. “Ever.” She was it for him. The one. The one and only. He never used to believe in all that crap, but now that he knew her and loved her, he believed. He believed there would never be anyone else.

“Don’t say that,” she whispered. “There will be someone. You’ll meet her and marry her and start a family with her, and you’ll be such a great dad. And you’ll make her the happiest girl in the world.” It became too much for her, and he could barely understand her when she cried, “Just like you made me.” She completely broke down then, her whole body slumping forward, burying her face in her hands, and his first instinct was to hold her, to comfort her. So he reached out for her, and even before he touched her, she threw herself into his arms, hugging him, holding on tightly, as if she suddenly didn’t want to let him go.

“Oh, Michael . . .” she cried, her whole body shaking against his. He could feel his shirt getting wet from where her tears immediately soaked through.

He rested his chin atop her head and stroked her hair, wishing this was a hug at the end of the disagreement, rather than in the middle of one.

What if I never hold you again? he feared. Was it really possible? Even after everything he’d just heard her say, he couldn’t quite believe it, couldn’t convince himself this was real. It was like a fucked up nightmare. Somehow he’d never imagined it would get this bad, that his mistake with Dylan would end up resulting in this.

“I love you, Michael,” she whimpered, her voice muffled against his chest.

He wanted to say he loved her, too, but he’d already said it countless times. He didn’t have it in him to say it again and feel his heart break when it didn’t automatically fix their problem; so instead, he bluntly asked, “Are you still leaving?” Maybe something he’d said had been enough to change her mind.

Slowly, she pulled back from their hug, but she kept her arms wrapped around his waist. “Yeah,” she replied sadly. “I am.”

Oh, of course she was. So much for getting her to change her mind. She’d go, and he’d be stuck here in this stupid tourist trap of a town with nothing and no one. She thought she was doing the right thing for him, but he knew better. With Maria DeLuca, he had become someone: a fiancé, a father. A semi-decent man. Without her . . . he’d go back to being no one. The same no one he’d been before he’d known her. The same no one he’d always be if she stayed gone.

He looked right at her, right in the eye, and said exactly what he felt in that moment, not holding back, not fearing that he would hurt her feelings. “I hate you.” He let go of her—because fuck, clearly she’d already let go of him—and he staggered up the porch and into the house, leaving her standing outside alone, stunned and probably half as hurt as he was. He ignored his dad, who was standing in the kitchen, chuckling to himself, and he even ignored his mom and sister, who were sitting on the stairs, apparently having overheard their fair share of his and Maria’s discussion, too. Tina was crying quietly, and his mother was trying to console her.

He went upstairs, slammed his bedroom door shut, took one look at the bed that was now just his bed again, and he couldn’t take it. So he balled his hand into a fist, took a mighty swing, and punched it through the window.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 87

Postby April » Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:08 pm

Part 87








Maria’s eyes were so clouded over with tears that she could barely even still see when she finally pulled into her mom’s driveway. Weakly, she put the car in park and turned the key off in the ignition, slumping forward as she did so, pressing her head against the steering wheel.

She just couldn’t stop crying. Whenever she felt like she was even remotely close to a stopping point, she thought of that look on Michael’s face when she’d told him she was leaving, that pure devastation in his eyes. She remembered how angry and destroyed he’d sounded when he’d uttered those three words: I hate you.

And so she wept, wondering if that was true, or if it was just a passing thing. It had to be. She believed everything she’d told him about the amazing life he was going to have. But it hurt knowing he was going to have it without her, and it was torturous not knowing if he would ever forgive her for any of this. She hadn’t meant to break him, but the boy who’d walked inside his house that evening and left her standing out on the front lawn, trembling and weeping . . . that boy had looked so broken.

It was the right thing to do; she was sure of that. But it still hurt like hell. She wasn’t sure if she would ever stop crying.

A knock on the car window startled her, and she looked up to see her mom standing there. Perfect. She quickly wiped all her tears away, trying not to look like quite such an emotional wreck. She rolled down her window and said, “Mom. You scared me.”

“Sorry,” he mother apologized. “I didn’t mean to. I just saw you pull in, thought I’d check up on you out here.”

How long have I been sitting here? Maria wondered. It had only felt like a minute, but it was possible it had been longer. “I’m alright,” she lied, and really, what was the point of lying? All it took was one look at her to gather that she was definitely not alright.

“I’m guessing it didn’t go well,” her mother said.

Maria fought to hold back more tears, tilting her head back against the seat so they would hopefully stay inside. “No, not really.” Truthfully, she hadn’t been ready to have that conversation. But it wouldn’t have mattered if she’d put it off until tomorrow or even prolonged it another week. No matter how much time passed, she’d have never been ready.

“Well, you’ll feel better in the morning,” was her mom’s way-too-simple assurance. “Let me help you with the boxes. You can sort through them inside, figure out what you’re taking and what you’re leaving behind.”

What did it even matter? Those boxes were just full of things, meaningless crap, mostly. The only important thing she was leaving behind was the person who apparently hated her now.

“I think I kinda just need to be alone,” she whispered, her voice strained from all the crying. She knew her mom was just offering to be helpful, but she could not be around that woman right now. She was too insensitive and judgmental about her and Michael’s relationship to offer any sort of comfort over the end of it.

Luckily, her mom didn’t press things. “Sure,” she agreed, reaching in through the window to give her shoulder a gently squeeze before turning and headed back up the driveway.

Maria managed to wait until she was back in the house and out of sight before she resumed her sobbing. Oh yeah, she needed to be alone for a long time tonight. And now that she and Michael were over . . . she’d have plenty of time to be alone. Plenty of time.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The blood seeping from Michael’s knuckles was noticeably less now. His mom kept a cool washcloth pressed to them, though, lifting it up every now and then to see just how much blood was soaking in. “Hmm,” she said. “I don’t think you’ll need stitches. But we’ll have to keep this bandaged up for a couple days.” She reached over into her little first aid kit and took out some gauze wrap, asking, “Can you put your hand flat?”

He elongated his fingers, feeling a dull ache as he did so. Nothing major.

“There you go.” She started wrapping the gauze around his knuckles and palm, making sure it wasn’t too tight. She would have been a good nurse, which was, if he recalled, her dream job until she got pregnant with him and put it on hold. For eternity.

“Well, you needed a new window up there anyway,” she said as she secured the gauze in place with adhesive tape. She might have been mad at him if it weren’t for . . . the circumstances. She knew he was hurting. Tina knew he was hurting. His dad knew, too, but seemed to be the only one who didn’t give a shit. He’d already lectured him about paying for a new window.

“There,” she said when she was done. “Good as new. How’s it feel?”

He moved his hand as much as he could, not saying anything.

“Does it hurt?” she asked.

He knew she was just talking about his hand, but he didn’t feel any pain from that. His hand didn’t hurt at all. It was everything else that felt like it was tearing apart, shredding on the inside. “Yeah,” he answered vaguely. Right now, he was hurting more than he’d ever imagined he could.

She carefully put her hand on top of his, but even though she was his mom, and even though she was doing her best to take care of him . . . it just didn’t make him feel any better.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Being in the shower was supposed to make Maria feel better. It was supposed to be the one place where she could cry freely without feeling totally pathetic. Because her tears would just mix with the water streaming down on top of her, and she wouldn’t be able to decipher which was which. The water would be loud enough to drown out any agonized sounds she was making. So when it didn’t make her feel any less worse than she’d felt out in the car or up in her room or anywhere else in that house full of tension, it was an awful disappointment.

It didn’t help when she started to imagine Michael, slipping in behind her, his arms wrapping around her stomach, holding her close, pressing his body against her own. Despite her effort not to, she let herself believe it was real, allowed herself to believe that he was really right there, bending his head to press feather-light kisses to her shoulder and nuzzle his face against the side of her neck.

For a second, everything felt okay.

And then, just like that, she stopped imagining, and she was alone in there again. The only company she had were the tears that wouldn’t stop falling, and that knowledge just made them fall harder.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Something was wrong with Michael. More wrong than usual. Kyle could tell from the moment his friend walked out the front door and lumbered to the truck that today was not going to be a good day. He asked him what had happened to his hand, and all Michael said about it was, “Punched out a window.”

Yeah, that didn’t sound good.

Kyle tried to start up a conversation as he drove to school. A conversation about anything. Football. Food. Metallica. Nothing he said got any sort of response. Michael just mumbled a few unintelligible words and stared out the window somberly. Kyle had never seen his best friend look so lost.

“So my dad convinced Principal Forrester to retire my jersey tomorrow,” Kyle put out there, thinking that at least that news might generate some sort of reaction. But once again . . . nothing. Not even a ‘cool’ or ‘great.’ He couldn’t take the silence anymore, so he came right out and asked, “Alright, what’s wrong, man? Did something happen with Maria?” Michael’s whole bad mood had to be about her. No question. Anything else he would have shrugged off his shoulders.

“Yeah, something happened,” Michael muttered. But of course that was all he said.

“Something bad?” Kyle guessed. Didn’t take a rocket scientist.

Michael snorted, keeping his eyes fixed on the window. “I’d say so.”

Oh, no, Kyle thought. He’d tried to hope for the best, but this whole week, he’d watched Michael and Maria drift farther and farther apart. He’d watched his friend get sadder and sadder with every passing day, to the point where he looked the way he did right now: hopeless.

“Did you guys break up?” Kyle asked gently, suspecting he already knew the answer.

“No, she broke up with me,” Michael corrected. “And it’s worse than that.”

“How could it be worse?”

Michael finally tore his eyes away from the window and looked over at Kyle, sighing heavily. “She’s leaving town.”

“What?” Kyle nearly slammed on the breaks instead of slowing down to turn into the school’s parking lot.

“Yeah, it caught me off guard, too,” Michael mumbled. “I don’t know where she’s goin’ or when she’s goin’ . . . but she’s goin’ somewhere. Probably sooner rather than later.”

“Ah, shit, man.” Kyle whipped his truck into a park space, second-guessing if school was even the right place for Michael to be today. They were supposed to spend the morning there rehearsing for graduation, but really, how hard could it be? Maybe Michael needed a guys’ day today instead. “That . . . beyond sucks. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Michael agreed dejectedly. “I don’t really know what I’m gonna do.”

Already, Kyle was working out a plan in his head. The first step involved not getting drunk, which was good, because it didn’t seem like Michael had been drinking today. In fact, Kyle hadn’t seen him drink anything since last Saturday night at their . . . at their party. The second step of his plan would be convincing Michael to follow through on his decision to go to Alabama. At least if he was there, Kyle could keep an eye on him, make sure he stayed out of trouble. It was better than leaving him in Roswell with his dad and the inevitable manual labor type of job that awaited him.

He was determined not to let Michael spiral, not after he’d come so far this year.

“You know, we could just get outta here,” Kyle suggested readily. “It’s just a rehearsal. We don’t have to be here.”

“Might as well be,” Michael grumbled, opening up the car door. “Let’s just get this over with.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Michael had to fight to stay awake while Principal Forrester outlined the routine for him and the rest of the senior class—those who had chosen to attend, anyway. Only about half of the graduating class was there. He hadn’t planned to come, because today was supposed to have been Maria’s first full day back from her road trip, and he’d thought . . . well, the plan had been to spend it together, but now that plan was shot to hell, so . . .

“When the band begins to play, you’ll file in from each of the side doors at the back, meet up with your partner, and walk as a pair down the center aisle and up onto the stage. You’ll file into your seats, filling them from back to front in an orderly, quiet fashion.”

Kyle raised his hand just as if he were in class, and Principal Forrester called on him.

“Yes, Kyle?”

“Uh, do we get to pick who we walk with?” he asked.

“No,” the principal replied swiftly, “because there’s a very specific order we need to maintain in order for things to run smoothly.”

“Oh.” Kyle frowned. “ ‘cause at East, they always got to pick.”

“Well, Kyle, if I let everyone pick, I think they’d all wanna walk with you,” Principal Forrester said, getting a small laugh out of everyone including Kyle. As stuffy and out of touch as the guy seemed sometimes, he was pretty tuned in to the social dynamics at his school.

“Alright,” Kyle relented. “I guess if that’s how it goes . . .”

Bummer, Michael thought. Years ago, he and Kyle had decided that they were going to make their entrance at graduation by doing a combination of the Cat Daddy and the Dougie on their way to their seats. Couldn’t do that now.

“We’ll be going in alphabetical order,” Principal Forrester informed them.

Oh, fuck, Michael immediately thought, sensing where this was headed.

“That means . . .” Forrester took looked down at a clipboard and read off the names quickly. “Adams with Adderman, Baker with Borenson, Clark with Cooper, Cruz and Davis, Diaz and Dorado, Evans with . . . Guerin.”

Michael glanced to his right, where Isabel was already rolling her eyes. Yeah, yeah, he wasn’t happy about it, either.

Being partnered up with Isabel meant that he had to hold his arm out to her and that she had to link her arm with his. The whole thing was way too formal for Michael’s taste; he felt like he was walking down a wedding aisle instead of a graduation aisle. And thinking of it like that automatically made him think about . . .

No. He couldn’t think about her right now. He had to get through this.

He forced himself to think about something else. Gonzalez. What’s-his-face Gonzalez, who had dropped out a few months ago. If that little shit was still enrolled, then he’d be walking with Isabel right now instead of Michael.

Fucking Gonzalez.

“You look awful,” Isabel remarked as they traipsed towards the stage while a pre-recorded version of “Pomp and Circumstance” droned in the background.

“Yeah, I know. Thanks.” He hadn’t slept last night, and he hadn’t showered his morning, so he was a mess.

“Are you hating this?” she asked.

“Every second.” There should have been some kind of loophole involved here that made it so you didn’t have to walk with an ex. It was awkward as hell, probably for Isabel, too.

They took their seats at the end of the front row, waiting for the last remaining pairs to make their way down. Forrester was motioning for them to walk faster, as if he, like the rest of them, couldn’t wait for this rehearsal to get over with.

“So why do you look so awful?” Isabel asked quietly as they waited. “Did Maria keep you up last night?”

“Pretty much.”

“Ew.” She made a face of disgust. “You weren’t really supposed to answer.”

“No, not like that,” Michael informed her. Thoughts of her and everything she’d said . . . that was what had kept sleep at bay.

“Well, are you two still together?”

“Why? You wanna join the fan club?” he retorted.

She grunted. “Hardly. I was just wondering.” She turned her attention to the principal once everyone had taken their seats and he started talking again.

“Alright,” he said, “we’ll begin things by saying a few words. The next order of business will be to retire Kyle’s football jersey, so we’ll do that right up by the podium here. Coach Warner might say something if he gets over his bronchitis. And then . . .”

“Did she break up with you?” Isabel asked Michael suddenly, her voice quiet but curious.

Oh god, was it that obvious? Was he that guy who was a blatant train wreck after his girl dumped him? He’d never actually been dumped before, so this was all new. “How do you know I didn’t break up with her?” he countered.

“Oh, please,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

“Ahem.” Principal Forrester glared at them warningly as he cleared his throat. “A little attention would be nice.”

Michael sighed impatiently, pretending to pay attention for a few seconds while Forrester instructed Raymond Sullivan, the valedictorian who only had the grades of a salutatorian, to go stand beside the podium so he could get an idea of what it would feel like to stand there and deliver his speech. Raymond, ever the attention-whore, actually started in on the damn thing, and Forrester had to tell him to stop.

Michael leaned over to Isabel and commented, “That’s gotta sting.”

“What, watching him give a speech?” She shrugged. “Stings less than being dumped by the love of your life.”

Dammit. That was a good one.

“Why’d she break up with you?” Isabel asked. “The Dylan and Max thing?”

“Partly.” He didn’t feel the need to go into much detail with her. At this point, he wasn’t even sure if he’d tell Kyle much about it. It was too painful to rehash everything out loud, especially after he’d spent all last night rehashing it in his head.

“Maybe it’s karma,” Isabel speculated.

“What, like she broke my heart because I broke yours? I’m getting a taste of my own medicine now?”

She smirked. “Makes sense to me.”

He hated to admit it, but . . . damn, maybe she was right. He’d broken her heart twice in one calendar year. Maybe he was just getting what he deserved.

It was almost as if Isabel couldn’t stay snotty with him, though, because a few seconds later, that smirk disappeared, and she actually sounded friendly again. “I wouldn’t worry about it. You guys will get back together.”

You don’t know how bad it is, he thought. You have no idea.

“She just needs some time and a little space, but sooner or later, she’ll go weak in the knees again and come crawling back to you. That’s what girls do, you know. They give you a second chance.”

“They do, huh?” Not this girl.

She shrugged. “I did.”

Yeah, and that hadn’t worked out too well for them, had it? Even if he somehow did get a second chance with Maria someday, there was no guarantee they could make it work. And the way she was talking made it sound like a second chance wasn’t even possible, wasn’t even a thought in her mind.

“Well, look on the bright side,” Isabel said, ignoring Principal Forrester as he loudly hushed the two of them.

“There’s a bright side?”

“Yeah. At least she didn’t pull a Max and leave town.”

He swallowed hard. No, she hadn’t done that. Not yet. “You miss him, don’t you?” he said, not understanding why she would. So what if Max was her brother? He was a creep.

“I miss a lot of people,” she admitted sadly. “Max, Tess . . . Alex.” She got real quiet when she added, “Sometimes even you.”

Well, wonders never ceased. Did that mean Maria would miss him, too, then? Would she think about him? Would she ever call him? Would he ever even see her again?

Oh god, what if he never saw her again? Never touched her? Never kissed her? Could he live like that? Was that even living? He couldn’t remember anymore.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maria pushed open the door to the employee’s break room, not surprised to find Liz back there, getting ready for her shift. She was smoothing her hair back from her face with one hand, clutching her stomach with the other.

“Hey,” Maria greeted softly.

“Oh, hey,” Liz returned, smiling shakily.

“Still don’t feel well, huh?”

“No, unfortunately.” Liz shut her locker and reached up to secure her hair into a messy ponytail.

“Maybe you should go to the doctor,” Maria suggested, “get it checked out. Seems like you’ve been feeling sick a lot lately.”

“Oh, it’ll pass,” Liz assured her. “You know, for the record, I wasn’t really sick yesterday. I just faked it so you’d have to go talk to Michael.”

Even though it hadn’t gone well, Maria couldn’t help but smile and be grateful for the attempt. “Very sneaky.”

“Well, I’m sorry it didn’t go better.”

“Yeah.” It was probably a good thing she was quitting. After Michael’s very public announcement of the fact that they’d once had sex in that restaurant, Mr. Parker probably wanted to fire her anyway. “Anyway, I just came by to drop off my uniform.” She handed the hideous light blue monstrosity over to Liz, hoping neither she nor her father would look too closely at it. There was a button that was hanging on by a thread, and there was a coffee stain near the hemline of the skirt. One of her antennae was bent slightly to the right, and some of the silver on her alien head apron had started to wear off. All in all, that uniform was a mess just like she was.

“I was pretty bummed when my dad told me we’re losing you,” Liz admitted, taking the uniform from her.

“Yeah, I’m sorry it was so sudden,” Maria apologized. She would have liked to give an official two-weeks’ notice, but given everything that had happened lately and everything that needed to happen soon, it was just impossible.

“No, I understand,” Liz assured her. “Things are crazy for you right now. Are you just gonna take some time off, or did you find another job, or . . .”

“No, I . . . I’m actually leaving,” Maria informed her. “I’m leaving Roswell.”

“Really?” Liz sounded surprised, but then she exclaimed, “Oh, that’s right! I forgot you and Michael were going to Alabama, right?”

“Um . . .” Maria scratched the back of her neck awkwardly. “I’m not . . . I’m not going there with him anymore.”

“Oh.” Liz cringed a bit. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“So where are you going then?”

“I’m not sure yet, but . . .” She sighed sadly. “Michael’s not going with me.”

“Oh, Maria . . .” Liz looked at her sympathetically. “I’m so sorry. I was really rooting for the two of you.”

“Yeah. So was I.” She couldn’t talk about it much longer, or else she’d start to cry again, so she quickly tried to change the subject. “Anyway, I just wanted to come here and drop that off and wish you a fun rest of the summer and a great sophomore year in college.”

Liz laughed lightly. “Oh, yeah, we’ll have to see how that goes.”

“And . . . I wanted to let you know that I’m really glad I got to know you and work with you,” Maria went on. “You’re a really good person, Liz, and I’m glad things weren’t awkward between us because of Max and Michael.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Liz agreed. “Oh, I’m gonna miss you, Maria.” She came closer and hugged her, and Maria hugged her back, wishing all her goodbyes could be as simple and amicable as this one.

When she left the Crashdown, she felt an unexpected sense of sadness. Even though she’d never really loved working there, there were a lot of memories for her in that place. Lots of Michael memories, some more poignant than others. Like their first kiss. Or like their first time together.

If she had the willpower to stick to her decision and stay away, then she might never set foot in that café again. She just hoped the memories wouldn’t fade away over time. But then again, maybe it would be less painful if they did.

As she was walking down the sidewalk, she spotted a familiar little girl across the street. Tina looked like she was hanging out with a group of friends outside the movie theater. She had on a pair of extremely short denim cutoffs and a white spaghetti strap shirt. Maria recognized that horrible Hannah Crown girl, and there were boys there, too.

Crossing the street once no cars were coming, Maria hollered, “Tina!” waving to get her attention.

Tina tried to look away and put on oversized sunglasses to disguise herself, but it was too late.

“Tina!” Maria called again, approaching the group. “Hey. What’re you doing here? I thought you still had school.”

“Uh, let’s go, guys,” Hannah said, motioning for everyone else in the group to follow her as she slinked away. Tina tried to go with them, but Maria grabbed her arm, pulling her back.

“Let go of me!” she hissed.

Taken aback, Maria released her arm. “What are you doing here?” she asked as calmly as she could. “You’re skipping school now?”

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Tina argued. “Michael skipped school all the time, and he’s still graduating.”

“That doesn’t mean you should do it, too.”

Tina put her sunglasses on top of her head and huffed, “Why would I listen to you? You dropped out, remember?”

Maria was so stunned to hear Tina say something so mean, she couldn’t even formulate a response. “What?”

“What makes you think you can come embarrass me in front of my friends anyway?” Tina growled in a bratty tone. “You can’t tell me what to do!”

“I’m not . . .” Maria felt like she was under attack, and she couldn’t believe she was letting a fifth grader make he feel that way. “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, Tina.”

“Good, ‘cause I wouldn’t listen to you,” Tina grumbled. “I don’t like you anymore.”

Great, Maria thought sarcastically, another Guerin who hates me. “Tina . . .”

“How could you break up with my brother? After everything he’s done for you!”

“It’s complicated.”

“You don’t even care! You’re taking Dylan away, and you’re going away, and you don’t even care!”

She’s lashing out, Maria thought. She was upset, probably mostly upset about no longer getting to play the big sister role with Dylan. And the only way she knew how to express that was by yelling. But it didn’t matter how angry she was; she shouldn’t have been skipping class. “You need to go back to school,” Maria told her, trying to stay calm.

“Too bad, I’m not going!” Tina declared defiantly. “Why don’t you call Michael and tell him to come get me? Oh, wait, he hates you now. Just like the rest of us.” She glared at Maria, then tipped her sunglasses back down over her eyes, and stomped off, leaving a trail of preteen attitude behind her.

Oh my god, Maria thought, completely flabbergasted. A hell of a goodbye that had been. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that Tina would be so angry with her, too, and that her anger would cause her to slip back into her own bad habits.

She didn’t expect Tina to be able to understand that she was just trying to do the right thing. But she sure hoped Krista would. She needed somebody in that family to be on her side.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Since eating at the Crashdown was obviously out of the question, Kyle and Michael found themselves at E.T.’s Pizzeria after graduation rehearsal wrapped up that afternoon. They ordered two large pizzas—one meat lover’s and one plain pepperoni—which Michael eagerly set about devouring, mostly by himself. Kyle got full fast after gorging on four slices. He felt like he’d burst if he ate one more bite, while Michael, on the other hand, wasn’t slowing down as he picked up his ninth slice of pizza.

Stress-eating, Kyle thought, cringing as Michael shoved half the slice into his mouth at once. Eating his emotions or something. Man, he’s gonna pay for this later. Upstairs in the Guerin house was a bathroom with Michael’s name on it.

“Hungry, huh?” Kyle remarked.

Michael just snorted, shrugged, and kept eating.

Damn, he’s not even slowing down, Kyle thought in amazement. He knew his friend could eat, but this was truly a sight to see. “So . . . kinda weird how you and Isabel got paired up for this graduation stuff,” he commented, hoping to engage Michael in some sort of conversation so he’d be forced to take a breath in between bites. “Don’t you think?”

“Yep,” was all Michael said. And just like that, he was picking up yet another slice of pizza before finishing the one already in his hand.

“Well, at least you’re not with Toby,” Kyle said, shuddering inwardly. “I know he’s gay, but does he have to hit on me all the time?” Luckily, he was used to it. That still didn’t lessen the creepiness of the fact that Toby insisted they walk down the graduation aisle hand-in-hand, though. Kyle had almost discreetly asked Principal Forrester for a switch-up, but he figured he could handle it.

“I’d be walking with Roxie if Gonzalez hadn’t dropped out,” Michael said, chewing with his mouth open. “That’d be cool.”

“Yeah, but Roxie’s probably gonna show up tomorrow hammered,” Kyle predicted. “Whoever walks with her is gonna have to carry her or drag her or something.”

“Yeah.” Michael set his new slice of pizza down on the plate he’d been too impatient to use and leaned back from the table, looking a bit full for the first time since he’d started eating. He belched loudly and started picking off the pepperoni slices, eating them one at a time.

“So are you gonna . . .” Kyle wasn’t sure how to bring up the obvious elephant in the room, but he couldn’t ignore it any longer. “Are you gonna tell me what went down with you and Maria?”

Michael frowned deeply, fixating on an unusually thick pepperoni slice. “Not much to tell,” he muttered.

Kyle didn’t believe that for a second. The guy’s fiancée called it quits with him and there wasn’t much to tell? Yeah, right. “Did the Max/Dylan stuff send her over the edge?”

His frown intensified. “Pretty much.” Picking up his entire slice of pizza, he resumed eating, as if it were a welcomed distraction. “Apparently it’s been brewing for a while, though. She thinks she’s holding me back from all the good things life has to offer. What a crock of bullshit, huh?”

“Well . . .” Kyle wouldn’t dare voice it, but if that was part of Maria’s motivation for ending this, he sort of understood where she was coming from. Like her, he just wanted the best for Michael, and seeing Michael pass up on his opportunity to go to college concerned him. Watching him dive head-first into fatherhood was as nerve-wracking as it was inspiring. Michael was too upset to grasp that right now, though, understandably.

“Anyway, I don’t wanna talk about it,” Michael grumbled while chewing.

“Well, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s the plan now?” Kyle inquired. “You still rollin’ with me to Bama or . . . I don’t know if you’ve even thought about it.”

“Nope,” Michael declared. “Haven’t thought about it. Don’t care.”

Kyle sighed, knowing he’d have to broach that topic again with Michael when he’d had a chance to consider his options. “Alright, so you don’t wanna talk about Maria, don’t wanna talk about your future.”

Michael grunted unhappily. “What future?”

Kyle gave him a look. “Oh, come on, man.” Contrary to how he felt right now, his entire life wasn’t tied up in Maria DeLuca. He still had a future.

“I grew up this year; I thought about the future,” Michael reminded him. “I made plans for the future, until . . . you know, they all blew up in my face.”

Kyle sighed. Yeah, they pretty much had blown up. There was no denying that. In a matter of days, Michael’s life had gone from being an on-track, exciting one to a depressing, uncertain one.

“Man, I wish I could be like you, Kyle,” Michael openly envied, folding up the remainder of his current pizza slice. “You make plans, and they actually work out. I mean, I know you have to work for it just like everyone else, but . . . man, I just wish my life would work out.”

“It will,” Kyle assured him, trying to get him to be at least a little bit hopeful, but that was a near impossible task right now.

Michael unfolded the remainder of his pizza and set it back down on his plate, looking like he was done with it now. “No,” he muttered dejectedly, “it won’t. Not without Maria.”

Kyle sighed heavily again, wishing he knew what to say. But this was new territory for him. Michael had never really been so emotionally torn-up before. And like he’d said, Kyle’s life usually went according to plan, so it wasn’t like he had any relatable personal experience he could draw from.

This wasn’t going to be easy. Kyle would help his friend however he could, but when it came right down to it, Michael was going to have to figure out how to deal with this on his own.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maria used a blunt yes/no system for packing. Yes, she had to hold onto the item in question, or no, she could live without it. The things she didn’t absolutely need moving forward could stay behind in her mom’s house here, or maybe even be given to charity. It was mostly important that Dylan have as many of his things as possible. Leaving Roswell would be a big transition for him, much bigger than the move from her dad’s house in Albuquerque had been. He’d been too young to remember much of that. This time, he would need familiarity.

“Mommy?” he cooed as she hastily sorted through her old CD collection. Righteous Brothers. The album ‘Unchained Melody’ was on. Yeah, she was keeping that one.

“What is it, sweetie?” she asked distractedly.

He came up beside her and stood on his tip-toes, trying to reach into the box on the bed. “What these boxes?”

“Well, they’re for when we move.” She tried to sound upbeat, because she didn’t want him to be down about it.

“Where we goin’?” he asked.

“I . . . I’m not sure yet,” she admitted. Right now, her plan was . . . well, sort of unplanned. She was going to get in the car and drive and see where she ended up. Living with Michael and his family these past few months had been very financially convenient, so she had enough money to pay for a hotel for a few weeks if she had to. Hopefully that wouldn’t be necessary, though. She was hoping to settle somewhere quickly, get a nice little one-bedroom apartment for her and Dylan—maybe a two-bedroom if it was in her price range—and find a job and a daycare nearby. No, it wouldn’t be the dream life, but as long as Dylan was safe and happy, she’d be fine, too.

“Does Daddy goin’ with us?” Dylan inquired eagerly.

She felt her chest tighten. Oh, that question. It was the one she dreaded him asking, but his asking it had been inevitable. “Uh . . .” Thankfully, she didn’t have to answer, though, because the doorbell rang. “Let’s go see who it is,” she suggested, scooping her son up in her arms.

When she got to the top of the stairs, she heard a familiar voice, one that wasn’t entirely friendly: Michael’s dad’s voice. She hesitantly walked down towards the door, stopping about halfway there. Her mom had answered the door and didn’t seem to know what to think of their unexpected visitor.

“I assure you, I’m not here on my son’s behalf,” Andy was telling her.

“Well, that’s good,” Amy responded, “but if you’re here for Maria, she’s--”

Andy spied her on the stairs. “Right over there. Perfect. Just the person I wanted to see.” He let himself into the house, stepping around Maria’s mom to do so.

Maria cleared her throat, quickly handing Dylan off to her mother. “Will you take him back upstairs?” she asked.

“Sure.” Her mom eyed Michael’s dad suspiciously. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Maria waited until her mom and Dylan were gone to walk into the living room with Andy. “What’re you doing here?” she asked warily. Andy rarely ever took it upon himself to have a one-on-one conversation with her, and whenever he did, they never seemed to be all that pleasant.

“Well, I just wanted to stop by and offer my congratulations.” He grinned.

She made a confused face. “Congratulations?” He made it sound like she was pregnant or something.

“On your impending departure from this shitty little town,” he elaborated. “I heard you’re gonna take off, and I have to say, I think it’s for the best.”

She rolled her eyes. “Great. Thanks, I’m glad to know you’re so eager to be rid of me.”

“No, you don’t understand,” he backtracked. “I’m complimenting you. See, I was wrong about you, Maria.”

“What?” She really didn’t follow where he was going with this.

“When I first met you, I assumed you were gonna be just like every other girl my son’s persuaded to open her legs. Head over heels for him, worshipping him for his good looks and, uh . . .” Andy scratched his eyebrow, looking very Michael-esque in that moment. “Oh, how do I put this? His bedroom talents.”

“Okay, Mr. Guerin—” She shifted around a bit, uncomfortable discussing her and Michael’s sex life with him.

“But I was wrong,” he reiterated. “You looked deeper and realized what a loser he truly is.”

Maria narrowed her eyes at him angrily, immediately jumping to Michael’s defense. “He’s not a loser,” she argued. “He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be.” Now that she was no longer living in this guy’s house, she had no problem standing up to him.

“Well, clearly you still have a thing for him,” Andy noted. “Which makes your decision all the more admirable. You’re right to let him go, Maria. He’s got a lot of growing up to do, and now, because of you, he’ll get the chance to do it.”

“Well, that was the goal.” Even though Andy was an asshole, at least he could still see what she was trying to accomplish.

“Anyway, I just wanted to stop by.” Andy smirked as he headed back towards the door. “Have a nice life, Maria.”

She would have told him the same, except she really didn’t care if his life was ever nice, and she really doubted it ever would be as long as he kept feeling so damn sorry for himself.

After he left, she felt all scrambled up inside. Because on the one hand, she was glad somebody was finally on her side in all of this; but on the other hand, it was the one person in the Guerin family whose opinion she valued the least.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dylan somehow got his hands on two huge Pixy Stix after he ate dinner that night, so for a while, he was bouncing around on a sugar high. But he crashed shortly before 11:00. Maria tried to wake him up again, because they needed to go somewhere. They couldn’t leave without . . . saying goodbye.

She strapped Dylan into his car seat and drove her mom’s car over to the Guerin house. Pulling up in the driveway felt surreal to say the least, knowing it was quite possibly the last time she’d ever be here. It still felt so much like home.

“Come on, Dylan,” she said, hoisting him out of his seat. “Wake up, baby.”

He gurgled a bit, resting his head on her shoulder, completely out of it.

Kicking the door shut with her foot, she took a deep breath and made her way up to the front door. The doorbell was busted, so she knocked, waited a bit, then knocked a little louder. Eventually, the door opened, and Krista stood on the other side. She didn’t smile right away; she just looked sad. She glanced upstairs unsurely, and Maria figured that meant Michael was home. Good. If there was anyone she and Dylan needed to say goodbye to most, it was him.

“Hey,” Maria greeted softly.

“Hi,” Krista returned, managing a smile now. Just a small, sort of sympathetic one. “Come in.” She stepped aside, reaching out to stroke Dylan’s soft blonde hair when Maria brought him in. “Oh, he’s so precious,” she cooed.

“Yeah,” Maria agreed. “You’d never believe it, but he had, like, endless energy half an hour ago.”

“Sugar?” Krista guessed.

“Yeah.”

Krista laughed lightly, rubbing the little boy’s back. “Oh, I sure am gonna miss him,” she said, teary-eyed.

“Do you wanna hold him?” Maria asked.

Blinking back tears, she nodded. “Please.”

Maria carefully handed her son over. He stirred a bit but still didn’t wake up.

“Yeah, you’re just a little angel, aren’t you?” Krista murmured in his ear, rocking him gently from side to side. “Yeah, you are.”

Maria had to hold back her tears. It was probably best that Dylan was asleep, because if he was awake, he wouldn’t quite understand what was all going on, and he’d end up crying, too.

“I wish Tina was home,” Krista said, “but she’s at a friend’s sleepover tonight.”

“Hannah?” Maria guessed.

“Yeah.”

She sighed. Yeah, it would have been nice for Tina be able to say goodbye to Dylan, too. Those two had grown so close this year, like two peas in a pod. But then again, judging by how angry Tina had been earlier that day, maybe it was also for the best that she wasn’t there. “I think she’s really mad at me,” Maria revealed quietly. “I’m sure you are, too.”

“No, I’m not mad,” Krista assured her quickly. “It’s not my place to judge, Maria. I was a young girl once, too, and just like you, I had so many difficult decisions to make. It’s not easy.”

“No,” Maria agreed, her emotions suddenly right on the edge. “Nothing’s been easy this year. But being here . . . it really helped me.”

“Oh, it was the least I could do,” Krista said modestly.

“No, you don’t even know how grateful I am for everything you’ve done for me. Letting me stay here, giving me a job . . .” Maria exhaled shakily. “You’ve been more of a mom to me this year than my own mother has been.”

“Oh, Maria . . .” Tears started to stream from Krista’s eyes. “You’ve been like a daughter to me, so it hasn’t been very hard.”

That did it. Maria couldn’t not cry anymore. God, all she seemed to be doing lately was crying. It was just that, when she’d decided to leave town, she’d never imagined it would be quite this hard. She’d put down roots this year, not only with Michael, but with Michael’s family.

Krista slowly lay Dylan down on the couch, softly kissing his cheek, then stood up straight and opened her arms to hug Maria. “Come here,” she said, pulling her in tightly. “Oh, we’re gonna miss you so much.”

I’ll miss you, too, Maria thought. A week ago, she was all set for this woman to be her mother-in-law. Now it was possible she’d never see her again after she drove away from this house tonight.

“How will I know you’re alright, though?” Krista asked, stepping back a bit. “Will you call me?”

Maria nodded. “Yeah, I can call you when I get settled somewhere.”

“Okay.” Krista frowned, asking, “What about Michael?”

Maria inhaled sharply.

Suddenly, he appeared at the top of the stairs. “No,” he grumbled. “No, she won’t call me.”

Maria tensed, looking him over. Oh god, he looked . . . like a wreck. Like he was just as exhausted and emotionally drained as she was. And he didn’t look particularly happy to see her as he lumbered down the staircase.

“I’ll let you two talk,” Krista decided, squeezing Maria’s shoulder supportively. She stopped to give Dylan one more kiss on the cheek, then headed upstairs, giving her son’s shoulder a squeeze, too, on her way.

Michael trudged into the living room with his hands in the pockets of his sweatpants. He stood in front of the couch, staring down at Dylan, and Maria swore he looked like he could break into a million pieces any second.

“He fell asleep on the way here,” she told him. “I can wake him up.”

“No,” Michael said. “This is fine. It’ll be easier this way.”

But it still won’t be easy, Maria thought. It could never be.

Michael knelt down in front of Dylan, brushing his hair out of his eyes, looking at him adoringly. “How’s he feel about all this?” he asked.

“He . . .” Maria shook her head, wishing she had a better idea. “He doesn’t really get it. He thinks of it like an adventure.” Plus, he didn’t know Daddy wouldn’t be coming along with them. Once he figured that out, there would be many sleepless nights, many nights filled with crying and screaming and arguing that only Daddy really knew how to get rid of the monsters.

“He’ll be alright,” Michael said, standing up again. “Next year at this time, he probably won’t even remember me.”

Maria just stood there as Michael moved past her on his way to the kitchen, horrified that he would think that. Sure, Dylan was young, but not so young that he would just forget about someone who had had such a huge impact on his life. It wasn’t even a possibility.

She followed him into the kitchen, reassuring him, “Dylan could never forget you.”

“Sure he could.” Michael opened up the refrigerator, bending down to look inside. “He forgot his accident.”

“That was . . . a traumatic experience,” she said, watching warily as he dug around past the milk and juice cartons. She prayed he wasn’t searching for alcohol. “You’ve been one of the best things to ever happen to him in his life. He won’t forget.”

Much to her relief, Michael took out a can of soda instead of a can of beer. “But you’re taking him away from me,” he reminded her, shutting the fridge door, “so I must not be that great.”

She shook her head, hating that he sounded so down on himself, so morose. He knew, though. He knew how important he’d been to Dylan this year. He just wasn’t in the mood to acknowledge it.

“Is this some kind of punishment?” he asked suddenly.

“What?” What would even make him think that?

“You know, for the Max/Dylan thing,” he clarified. “Are you punishing me for being careless with him? Is this your way of getting revenge?”

What?” she shrieked. “No, of course not!”

“ ‘cause it kinda seems that way.”

“I would never . . . punish you.” She wasn’t that vindictive.

“But when all that happened, you realized it was an opportunity, right?” He popped the tab open on his can, narrowing his eyes at her suspiciously. “To get out.”

“To get out?” she echoed, confused. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, by the sound of it, you were a lot more worried about us than I ever was, and you were worried for a lot longer. Maybe you were looking for a way out, and then when Dylan had his accident . . . it was like your escape hatch.”

She stared at him incredulously, actually insulted that he would insinuate such a thing. It was like . . . like he was questioning how much she actually loved him, and that didn’t sit well with her. “Okay, look, I know you’re mad at me, but I never wanted things to end this way. Don’t make it sound like this was my plan all along.”

He shrugged flippantly, sipping his coke. “Maybe it was.”

“Would you just stop?” she barked shrilly. “I am not rehashing all of this all over again. I told you why I’m leaving; I told you I’m doing it for you. Now I don’t expect you to understand that right now--”

“Good,” he cut in, “ ‘cause I don’t. I think it’s bullshit.”

“Yeah, you’ve made that perfectly clear.” She hated that he was villainizing her, but it seemed to be the only way he knew how to express his feelings about all of this.

“Good, so we don’t have to rehash,” he said. “Why don’t you just say what you came here to say and be done with it?”

“I . . .” She flapped her arms against her sides, feeling at a loss for words. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“Say goodbye,” he suggested. “I mean, isn’t that what you came here for, so you could say goodbye to me and I could say goodbye to Dylan?”

“Yeah, but . . .” It just wasn’t that simple. She couldn’t say that one word and just go.

She gazed at him hopelessly, wishing he would say something else to fill the silence, even if it was something hurtful. Because if he didn’t say anything, then she had to, and she dreaded telling him what she obviously had to. Working up the words, she forced them out of her mouth. “Michael, I’m leaving tomorrow.”

He froze momentarily, then set his soda down on the counter, staring at it dazedly. “Graduation, huh?”

“Yeah.” It seemed like as good a time as any to go. While he was getting a diploma, she could get in her mom’s car and just go. Her car now, she supposed. Her mom was getting a new one. So wherever she ended up, she would have transportation, enough money to get her started, and enough waitressing experience to hopefully get a job in some new café.

But no Michael. She wouldn’t have Michael.

“Where you goin’?” he asked. “To stay with your dad or . . . somewhere else?” He sounded desperate to know.

She still didn’t have an answer for that question, but even if she had known, she wouldn’t have told him. He would have spent his entire summer chasing her down, trying to get her to come back to him. Deep down, Michael was sort of hopelessly romantic like that. “It’s probably best if you don’t know,” she whispered. “If you wanna move on, you’re gonna have to forget about me.”

He grunted, mumbling, “Kinda hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember.”

“Try,” she urged. She would do the same. She would try to put him out of her mind, try to move on. But it would be harder for her, because she didn’t have guys lining up at her door, and he would surely have girls lining up at his.

“Do you have any idea what you’re asking me to do?” he growled.

“I know exactly what I’m asking you to do, because I’ll have to do it, too,” she pointed out. “Contrary to what you might think, this isn’t any easier on me than it is on you. It’s not an escape hatch; it’s not a way out. It’s definitely not punishment, and it wasn’t an easy decision. But I’m not gonna change my mind, Michael.”

He frowned, looking away from her for a moment, then nodded with reluctant acceptance. “Alright,” he said. “Fine. You know what, I’ll do it, Maria. I’ll go out there in the world and pursue all these great opportunities you think I have. I’ll go to college, get a job. I’ll do somethin’ with my life, make somethin’ of myself. But none of it means anything without you. You know that, right?”

She shook her head. “No.” That was where he was wrong. “It does.” Like his mom and like Isabel and like Kyle, she saw all sorts of potential in Michael. It wasn’t about who got him to reach that potential, whether it was her or someone else or himself, just so long as he got there, just so long as he experienced it.

“So just like that, huh?” he said, looking a bit stunned that it was all really ending. “It’s over.”

Quite honestly . . . she wasn’t sure if it would ever really be over between them.

“Do you still hate me?” she asked, afraid of what his answer would be.

He met her eyes, and in his, she saw . . . something different. Compassion. Maybe even a bit of sympathy. Not the understanding she longed to see. Not yet.

He came a little closer to her, stopping when he was mere inches away from her. “Yeah,” he answered finally. “I do.” Every bit of compassion faded from his eyes, and he was just angry again. So angry and so hurt and so unwilling to forgive. His body brushed against hers as he walked out of the kitchen and back upstairs to a bedroom she couldn’t call hers anymore. The mere contact was enough to send shivers creeping up her spine and tears streaming down her face.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Even though Isabel was trembling, Jesse’s hand was completely steady as he set his video camera down on his tripod and made his way over to her. He slid his hands up over her hips, over the waist band of the miniscule thong he’d ended up picking out with her, past her bikini-covered breasts, over her shoulders to the graduation hat atop her head. Grinning, he flicked at the tassel, which was on the left side of the cap, even though she wouldn’t actually graduate until tomorrow. Right now, it was basically just a prop for his and Eric’s new movie. Isabel couldn’t remember what it was called, nor did she care to. All she knew about the plot was that she and Courtney were playing two girls who were graduating from some sex school. Or something. Didn’t matter. Nobody watched porn for the plot anyway.

“You look so beautiful, baby,” he said, stroking her cheek as his hand dropped back down, this time stopping at her cleavage. He massaged her flesh for a moment, whispering soothingly, “Just relax. It’s just like normal.”

She managed a small smile, but it didn’t feel like normal. Not when she could see a blinking green light out of the corner of her eye that meant the camera was on.

He kissed her, starting slow, but gradually getting more and more sensual. Eventually, he was pushing her swimsuit top down underneath her breasts, palming one at a time before bending down to suck her nipples into his mouth.

She rolled her head back, making eye contact with the camera, trying to look at ease and turned on, even though inside, she felt nervous.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Kyle sat on the side of his bed, looking down at the football in his hand. The same one he had looked at before every game he’d played in junior high and high school, the one that had the signatures of so many of the all-time greats on it. God, he loved that football. It had been a great source of inspiration over the years.

Tomorrow, they were retiring his jersey, because they thought he was great. And he had been. High school in general had been great experience for him. Now the challenge was to be just as great at the next level. And the level after that. Tomorrow was another step in the journey he had long ago planned out for himself, with his dad’s help, of course.

Reaching over onto his desk, he picked up a sharpie that didn’t work as well as he would have liked it to and pressed the tip of it hard against the football, squeezing his own signature into one of the few spaces that wasn’t already written over. He wasn’t trying to be presumptuous, but he did want to be hopeful. Maybe someday there would be another kid sitting in his bedroom, staring down at a football full of autographs just like this. And maybe the name Kyle Valenti would help inspire that kid the way these names had inspired him.

Graduation. College. The future. He felt so excited.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Wasn’t great music supposed to be the result of great pain? Wasn’t that how Kurt Cobain had penned all of his greatest hits? He’d channeled the rage and the fear and the uncertainty, and he’d expressed it all in song. Wasn’t that what all the great musicians did?

Then I must not be a great musician, Maria thought, because here she had been, sitting on her bedroom floor for what felt like hours now, her guitar in her lap, fingers gripping the pick expectantly. But no music came. For god’s sake, she didn’t even feel motivated to sing a cover of a song. Because that brought back too many memories of Michael. Singing to him for the first time, teasing him while he tried to figure out her favorite song . . .

Her favorite song. She squeezed her eyes shut, thinking that it might be her least favorite now.

She set her guitar aside, deciding it would just be best to leave it behind. Sure, it had been one of the nicest, most thoughtful presents she’d ever received, but it was just another painful memory now. Besides, logistically, there was no way she could take it. She wouldn’t have enough room in her mom’s car—her car . . . whatever.

Truth was, there would be no music where she was going, no melodies on the tip of her tongue, itching to be recorded. Because there would be no Michael. Her music was tied to him now, and it probably always would be.

God, she felt heartbroken.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Michael lay on his bed, staring up at his ceiling, shrouded in darkness. The house was quiet for once. No Tina, jabbering on the phone with her boyfriend. No parents fighting. No Dylan playing. No Maria laughing, giggling as she curled up beside him. No Maria, complaining that her feet were cold, rubbing her toes against his legs beneath the blankets. No Maria with her hair sprawled out across the pillowcase.

I know I messed up, he thought, but how did it get so bad? He felt like an idiot for being so oblivious to Maria’s indecision. He felt like a fool. He was going to sit and rot in that pointless little town his whole life, the symbolic warning for every young guy who ever gave himself over completely to a girl and let himself fall head over heels for her. Kyle would be the success story; Michael, on the other hand, would be the cautionary tale.

And he would be alone. Always wondering what they were up to without him. Always wondering what he could have done differently. Always wishing he was someone else. Here he was graduating tomorrow, and he didn’t know what the hell he was supposed to be looking forward to.

Maybe Maria’s intention had been to build him up, make him stronger, make his life better, but it wasn’t working. Not in the slightest.

He felt destroyed.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 88

Postby April » Wed Jan 20, 2016 7:28 pm

Here it is, the final chapter of this fic that I enjoyed writing so much! (Along with the music recommendation of "Disintegration" by Jimmy Eat World, which you can listen to when you see :? if you'd like.)

It's no secret anymore that there is a sequel, Somewhere, Anywhere, which I recently started posting on other sites. I'll start posting it here, too, maybe as soon as tomorrow!


Somewhere, Anywhere Trailer








Part 88








Epilogue

Comets. That’s what we were this year. Not exactly one big, happy school. And not exactly happy anymore.

See, the thing about comets is, they’re not all that great. Historically, they’re omens of doom. They’re basically just dirty snowballs—or snowy dirtballs, whichever—floating around out in the coldest parts of space. They’re not even really . . . anything at all. Just a collection of materials that didn’t get sucked into anything else’s gravitational pull. So they really just drift around aimlessly because they don’t belong anywhere.

I learned that in Mr. Frost’s science class. No thanks to Mr. Frost, of course. Ass.

Point is . . . I didn’t expect to be a dirty snowball at the beginning of the year. I didn’t expect a lot of things.

Didn’t expect to blow Kyle’s shot at a state championship. I did. Didn’t expect to start dating Isabel again. Still can’t believe she took me back. Didn’t expect to get engaged. Sure as hell didn’t expect to become someone’s father. Shit, I didn’t even expect to graduate. But here I am.

But mostly . . . I didn’t expect to fall in love. I fell for my waitress.

It all sort of took me by surprise. And since my senior year got off to a surprising start and continued to surprise me the whole way through, I should have known it would end that way.

And it
is ending. No doubt about that. Comets are flying by. You better take a good look, because even if you’re lucky enough to see one, it won’t come back. It’s once in a lifetime.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

All the graduates had to gather up outside the gym while parents, other family members, and friends headed inside to try to find a crowded seat on the bleachers. Michael wasn’t shocked that his extended family hadn’t shown up—truth be told, he was relieved; he was, however, shocked that his dad had dragged his drunk ass out of bed, put on a suit, and accompanied his mom and sister. He hadn’t even said anything mean to him all morning, which in and of itself was practically cause for a parade.

Michael sauntered up to his usual group of friends outside the gym, noticing that, unlike him, they were already dressed in their blue graduation robes and square hats. Jase had his tassel on the wrong side, though. Idiot. And Bubba looked like he was about to burst right out of his robe, even though it was supposed to be a one-size-fits-all thing.

“Michael!” Jase exclaimed, stupidly holding a flask high into the air. “Michael’s here!”

“Put that down, man,” Kyle cautioned him. He looked like the only one out of all of them who hadn’t been drinking.

“Sorry,” Jase said, handing the flask off the Bubba. “Guys, we’re graduating!”

“Fuck yeah!” Bubba roared.

“Graduating,” Kyle agreed.

“Thank God,” Michael muttered. He watched Bubba raise that flask up to his mouth and take a swig, and for a split-second, he longed to do the same thing. Just get fucking plastered and block out this entire shitty day. For Bubba and Jase, it was different; they were using alcohol to have a good time. This was just graduation day for them. When they were sitting up on that stage, they wouldn’t be thinking about anything else. Michael didn’t have that luxury.

If he were to drink, it definitely wouldn’t be for fun.

“You gonna get dressed, man?” Kyle asked, obviously trying to draw his attention away from the flask.

“Huh?” Michael snapped himself out of it. “Oh, yeah, I will.” It was hot out there, though, and graduations always seemed to start at least fifteen minutes late. He didn’t want his robe to be soaked in sweat by the time it finally got underway. Besides, that hat . . . it barely fit over his hair.

“Want a drink, man?” Bubba offered, holding out the flask.

Yeah, I do, he thought. But at the same time . . . he didn’t. It was weird. He wanted alcohol because he knew it could make him feel better throughout this whole stupid ceremony. But he didn’t want it because . . . well, because his dad wanted it. Constantly.

“I’m alright,” he decided, declining the offer.

“You sure?” Bubba asked again.

No, he wasn’t. But he wanted to be.

“You know,” Kyle jumped in, “some of us actually wanna remember this day. Isn’t that right, Michael?”

Michael gave him a look. He didn’t know Maria was leaving today, otherwise he never would have asked that question.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maria stood at the kitchen window, gripping her coffee cup tightly as she watched the clouds outside. The day had started out sunny, but now it was getting gloomier. Not rainy weather by any means, just . . . not bright and sunny, either. Was that a bad sign? Wasn’t weather always used in foreshadowing and stuff? She faintly remembered her ninth grade English teacher talking about that.

Her mom came up behind her, sounding cheerful. “The big day.”

“Yeah,” she mumbled, wishing she could muster the same enthusiasm for it.

“You ready?”

She sighed, turning around. “As I’ll ever be.” She leaned to the left a bit, looking around her mother’s frame at Dylan. He had been playing in the living room all morning, sometimes with his cars, sometimes with his dinosaurs; and other times, he just started running around, jumping on the couch, doing all the things an energetic three year-old boy loved to do.

“He’s gonna tire himself out again,” her mom said.

“Good.” Best case scenario, he would sleep while she was driving, and he wouldn’t wake up again until they were at a hotel. She’d looked up a few places online, but she would have to drive all afternoon to get there by nightfall.

“How are you doing?” her mom asked. “You look tired, too.”

“I am.” No point in denying it, not when it was so obvious.

“Are you gonna be okay to drive?”

“Yep.” She set her unfinished coffee down on the table. She knew caffeine equaled energy and all, but she’d just never been a coffee drinker. “As far as parting gifts go, the Jetta’s a pretty nice present.”

“Well, I just hope it doesn’t give out on you,” her mother said. “I’ve had a lot of problems with it this year.”

“It’ll be fine.” Anything was better than having to hop on a bus.

“Do you have it all loaded up?” her mother asked.

“Almost.”

“Do you need my help?”

Maria glanced in at Dylan again. He was looking bored now, and if he got bored, he was more likely to ask questions about what exactly was going on today. And if he asked too many questions, he would piece together that Michael wasn’t coming with them, and then he would get sad and angry, and this whole day would be even harder than it already was.

“Could you just keep Dylan occupied while I load the rest up?” she asked.

Amy smiled. “Of course. I’ll squeeze in all the time with him I can get.”

Yeah, no doubt, Maria thought. Honestly, she was surprised just how okay her mom was being with this decision to leave town. But then again, that was probably a testament to just how much she disliked Michael since she was willing to sacrifice time with her grandson just so this whole situation would be . . . resolved.

“Thank you,” Maria said, but she wasn’t even sure what she was thanking her for? Distracting Dylan today? Giving her the car? Kicking her out of the house in the first place, thereby giving her time to move in with and fall in love with Michael?

And therein lay her problem, the reason why her stomach was in knots today: She hadn’t fallen out of love yet.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Let’s just get this freak show over with, Michael thought as he traipsed down the center aisle in the gymnasium with Isabel on his right arm. For some reason, there seemed to be more underclassmen holding their phones up and taking pictures when they were on their way to the stage. Fuckin’ Twitter again.

The band supplied ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ They sounded like shit, and the director even seemed to realize that, because he actually told them to stop and start over again.

Why did I even come? Michael wondered. But when he looked up in the stands and saw his mom beaming and proudly taking pictures on her old digital camera, and when he saw Tina waving at him excitedly, he knew why. It was for them. And even though his dad wasn’t smiling or taking pictures, for once, he didn’t look completely disappointed in him.

Michael and Isabel took their seats up on the stage in the front row of chairs just as the band was nearing the end of the song. There were still a few remaining pairs making their way down the aisle, though, so Principal Forrester motioned for them to hurry it along, and they ended up practically running to their seats.

Train wreck, Michael thought. Oh, well. That seemed fitting. “Wake me up when it’s over,” he told Isabel.

She wacked his arm as he tried to curl up in his seat, glaring at him threateningly. “No.”

Dammit. Did that mean he was really going to have sit here and try to pay attention to the whole damn thing? The rehearsal had been dry as a bone; he didn’t hold any higher hopes for the real thing.

Glancing out at his mom again, he saw her dabbing at the corners of her eyes. At first, he wondered why she was crying, but then he understood. They were happy tears. This was a happy day for her. She’d probably doubted countless times that he would ever make it to this point.

He sat up straight again, just for her. She deserved a son who was on his best behavior for once.

Thankfully, Principal Forrester didn’t do the official welcome. Topolsky stepped up to the podium and said, “Greetings, graduates, faculty, and guests in attendance. We’re so thrilled to have you all here today to commemorate this milestone moment in the lives of our senior class. I’m sure these students will be the first to tell you what a long—sometimes seemingly endless—road it’s been. But they’ve made it here today, and they have a lot to be proud of.” She looked over to the students, and Michael swore she caught his eye directly as he emphasized, “A lot.”

He smiled a little, hoping she knew how thankful he’d been for her this year. This woman had single-handedly turned his abundant hatred for guidance counselors around completely. If they were all like her, they wouldn’t be so bad.

“From the academic to the athletic, the accomplishments of this year’s senior class span a wide range of pursuits,” Topolsky went on. “And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a group of kids with more character and personality than these students have. You can trust me on that.”

Michael glanced back at Kyle and smirked. Was that a nice way of saying their class was kind of . . . nuts?

“I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know a whole new group of seniors this year,” Topolsky continued. “When East and West Roswell High merged this year, I know many people were skeptical about it, but I think everyone up here would agree it was a resounding success.”

Michael leaned over to Isabel and whispered, “Yeah, I thought you and I merged pretty well.”

“Shut up,” she snapped quietly.

“So without further ado, it’s time to celebrate the successes of our senior class,” Topolsky segued. “Principal Forrester?”

There was a light round of applause for Topolsky, one in which Michael felt the need to applaud a little louder, and then that douche Forrester came to the podium. “Thank you, Ms. Topolsky,” he said. “At this point, I’d like to invite Kyle Valenti up to the podium, please.”

A roar of applause and cheers thundered through the gym. Somehow, even though she was tiny as a toothpick, Tess managed to be louder than everyone else. “I love you, Kyle!” she shouted.

He smiled at her.

Girlfriend who loves you unconditionally, Michael thought. Must be nice.

Principal Forrester cleared his throat, adjusting the microphone so it was angled higher. “Now this isn’t the norm for a high school graduation, but ever since Kyle transferred to West Roswell and began lighting up our football field with his incredible talent, many students, community members, and even staff members alike have suggested we retire his jersey so that we may always remember the amazing athletic talent he brought to our school. So without further ado . . .” He took a step back and to the side of large frame set out on a display stand. It was covered with a curtain or blanket of some kind, but when he pulled back the blanket, there was Kyle’s jersey, number seven, encased in glass.

More applause. More cheers. It was a big deal. Most people had to wait until adulthood to have a jersey retired, and even then, it usually didn’t happen. Kyle’s season and those plays he had come up with had just been so awesome that people wanted to honor it.

“Congratulations, Kyle,” Principal Forrester said when the applause finally started to die down. “Thank you for everything you did for our football team this year, and we wish you the best of luck at the next level and beyond.”

I wish I could go to the next level, Michael thought suddenly. He wasn’t ready to stop playing football yet.

Yet more clapping as Kyle waved at the crowd and retook his seat. This time, Isabel craned her neck towards Michael and remarked, “That must suck.”

Michael made a face. “What?”

“Watching your best friend live his perfect life,” she elaborated. “You gotta feel envious.”

So what if he did? Everyone envied Kyle. Didn’t mean he was about to admit it out loud, though.

There was a lull in the activity as the commencement speaker—some old cross country coach and former East Roswell graduate Michael didn’t even recognize—got up to speak. The guy was about as interesting as watching paint dry, and even though Michael was trying not to fall asleep, it was hard. Isabel had to reach over and nudged him a few times.

After that boring speech, it was time for another: the salutatorian’s address. No one cared about that shit, though, and it was mercifully short. And then came Raymond Sullivan’s valedictorian speech. From the moment he stepped up the podium and started talking, Isabel’s entire body tensed.

“That must suck,” Michael mimicked. “He’s only giving that speech ‘cause you gave head on camera.”

She shot him a hard, angry look, growling, “You’re an ass.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, I know.” Oh, well. Truth hurt. If she was going to insinuate that he was jealous of Kyle, he was sure as hell going to point out the obvious, that she was jealous of this little twerp.

Raymond’s speech was virtually un-listenable. It started out with him talking about his favorite classes, and then it inexplicably shifted to a diatribe about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy somewhere in the middle. By the end of it, he was talking about My Little Ponies and claiming that he would someday be elected president of the United States. It got to the point where Principal Forrester literally had to pull him back from the podium and tell him to go sit down. He did, but only after yelling, “That’s all, bitches!” into the microphone first.

“Thank God,” Michael muttered, leaning forward in his seat, pressing his elbows to his knees. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. This stupid hat was making his head itch, and he had to pee like a racehorse.

“Alright.” Principal Forrester sighed in exasperation, as if he were eager to get this over with, too. He tried to pass his frustration off with a joke, though, referencing Ms. Topolsky’s opening address when he said, “A lot of personality, right? Oh-ho . . . kay. Well, now it’s time to get to that part of the graduation ceremony everyone looks forward to, the moment where these students officially receive the diploma they’ve been striving toward for years. When I call your name, please come up to the podium. David Adams.”

Michael looked out at his mom again. She had the camera all poised and ready to go.

I love you, Mom, he thought. He’d tell her that when he got home, because he didn’t tell her enough.

“Ryan Adderman.”

The total lack of applause for him was almost enough to make Michael forget what a bad mood he was in today.

“Emily Baker . . . Justin Borenson . . . Christian Clark . . . Jase Cooper.”

Jase stumbled up to get his diploma, barley able to put one foot in front of the other. One too many sips from that flask. Michael was now very glad he’d abstained. Nobody thought it was funny. Nobody laughed. He just looked like a fool.

“Hernando Cruz,” Principal Forrester went on, wasting no time. “Maya Dorado.”

Here we go, Michael thought, getting to his feet when Isabel did.

“Isabel Evans.”

There wasn’t as much cheering for her as there would have been at the beginning of the year. Plenty of people—mostly guys now—still got plenty loud for her. But there was a low murmur that filled the crowd when her name was announced now, as if they were saying, ‘Yep, that’s the girl. That’s the one from the Internet.’”

Principal Forrester cleared his throat, giving Michael a sharp look when he said his name. “Michael Guerin.”

Michael shuffled forward, well aware that he was garnering plenty of applause himself. In fact, so far today, only Kyle had gotten more.

“Yeah, get it, Guerin!” Bubba blared.

Get what? Michael thought, unimpressed by the piece of paper that Forrester slid into his hand after a halfhearted handshake. This was his fucking diploma? It felt worthless. He wanted to tear it in half, just because it would be so easy to. Honor roll students got their diplomas in some kind of black padded holder. Regular screw-ups like him just go the plain paper.

So that’s it, he thought, slowly heading back to his seat, staring down at the paper in his hands. As pointless as it was . . . it was sort of surreal seeing his name there. A couple months ago, he never would have imagined it was possible. But somehow, he’d gotten here. Because of . . .

. . . because of someone.

****

“What’s the big deal about senior year?” he’d once asked her when they’d first been getting to know each other at the Crashdown cafe. “What the hell’s it all about anyway?”

“Well . . .” Maria paused for a moment, a contemplative look on her face as she searched for an answer he truly felt didn’t exist. “I don’t know. I never actually made it to mine. But I think it’s supposed to be, like, this last hurrah, or a time to grow and change.”

He grunted. “Well, I’m not gonna do either one of those things.”

That look . . . that look in her eyes, even back then . . . it was like she hadn’t believed that.


****

The diploma fluttered in his hands, and he realized he’d stopped moving. He stood in the middle of the stage now, blocking traffic of the other students as they tried to get back to their seats. He couldn’t help it. He was caught off guard by his own memory, by his reaction to it.

Maria.

I did grow, he thought in awe. I did change.

And it was all because of her.

Oh god, he thought, suddenly panicked. What the hell am I doing here? Why was he sitting at this stupid graduation when she was probably getting in her car and driving away right at this very moment? Why was he wasting time being pissed at her when there was no fucking time to waste?

“Shit,” he swore, jumping down off the stage. The audience collectively gasped, like they didn’t know what was happening. He darted down the aisle, heading for the back exit as Principal Forrester just kept calling out names, as if he didn’t care that a student—or at least this student—was fleeing the premises.

“Michael!” he heard his mom calling. “Michael!”

He burst through the huge double doors and raced outside into the parking lot, leaving her voice and all those curious eyes behind. Picking up the pace, he ran as if he were on the football field, trying to get to the end zone in time to make that perfect catch. His feet slapped the pavement with determination, and he almost tripped over the blue robe. But he didn’t slow down. He couldn’t. He had to get to her before it was too late.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Here we go.

Maria took one last look at the items she’d left on her bed. Her guitar, of course, and Dylan’s Guerin jersey. It had shown up outside her doorstep today, which probably meant Michael had dropped it off on his way to his graduation. Whether that was a good sign or bad sign of how he was feeling, she didn’t know. On the one hand, maybe he just wanted Dylan to have it; or maybe he couldn’t bear to hold onto it himself anymore. Either way, she couldn’t bring it with her. It would break her heart to see Dylan wearing it, to see him wearing the last name they’d both come so close to having.

She came downstairs where her mom was at the door with Dylan, holding it together surprisingly well while she said goodbye to him. He had indeed tired himself out again, and just like last night, he was sleeping.

“Are you ready?” Maria asked her mom.

She patted Dylan’s back, returning the question. “Are you?”

She took a deep breath, figuring she had to be. It was too late to back out now. She’d made her decision, and as much as it hurt . . . she knew it was the right one.

Her mom handed Dylan over, gave them both one more quick hug, and finally started to cry a little as Maria carried him out the door.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

( :? )

His lungs were burning. His heart was pounding. His legs felt like they were on fire. He ran faster.

He darted across streets, running out in front of traffic, garnering quite a few angry honks from cars that narrowly avoided hitting him. He practically ran right over anyone who was going too slow or blocking his route, and a few people shouted obscenities at him for that.

He raced past the Crashdown and took a few shortcuts that led him past the coffee shop he’d arranged for her to sing at. The library, too, was merely a blur as he flew right by.

Even though his whole body ached, all he had to do was picture her face, and that propelled him forward. His Maria, his beautiful girl and those beautiful eyes of hers . . . he couldn’t go the rest of his life without ever seeing them again. He wouldn’t.

Streets became avenues. Avenues became roads. The closer he got, the faster he ran. His whole body sped up with urgency. He just sensed he didn’t have much time, and if he didn’t push himself, he wouldn’t make it in time. He’d lose her forever, and he couldn’t bear the thought of that.

Paseo del Norte came into view. Air scraped against his lungs as he pushed forward the rest of the way, rounding the corner to her house. She was there. She was putting Dylan in the car.

“Maria!” he shouted, coming to an abrupt stop just a few feet away from her.

She whirled towards him, eyes wide with surprise. Immediately, she started looking him over in his graduation robe. His hat, though no longer on top of his head, was in his right hand, and his diploma was rolled up in the other.

“Michael,” she gasped. “What’re you doing here?”

He just stood there gazing at her for a minute, trying to catch his breath. It was coming in ragged pants for the moment, and he didn’t feel like he could form a sentence. So he settled for stating the obvious instead. “I graduated.”

A small smile found its way to her gorgeous lips, and she shut the back door of the car, coming towards him. “Put your hat on,” she told him.

His hair was so wind-blown now, he really doubted it would stay in place. But he did his best to smash it down and fit the boxy blue cap on top his head.

“There,” she said, reaching up to move the tassel from the right side of the hat to the left. “Now you graduated.”

He grinned, loving that she was so close to him. That had to be a good sign . . . right? “I couldn’t have done it without you,” he told her.

“No, you could’ve,” she assured him.

He shook his head, insisting, “Really couldn’t.”

She sighed, taking a few steps back again, smoothing back her hair as the wind blew it in front of her face. He wanted to do that for her. “Why are you here?” she asked again.

Wasn’t it obvious? He was doing the whole romantic, time-stopping run-to-your-lover thing. It worked all the time in movies, and hell, his and Maria’s love life was dramatic enough to be a movie, so why not give it a shot?

“I don’t hate you,” he blurted. If she got in that car right now and drove off, he had to at least make sure she knew that. “I could never hate you, Maria.”

“Really?” she squeaked out.

“Really.”

She looked relieved to hear that. “Thank you.”

“I love you. You know I love you.” He tried to take a step closer, but that made her take another step back. He frowned, confused. Wasn’t this working? “I ran all the way here,” he told her. “I got up there and got my diploma and I just . . . I just couldn’t sit back down again. I had to see you. So I just ran, and I was so worried you might’ve already left.”

“Well . . .” She motioned to the car. “I was going to.”

“Yeah, that’s why I . . .” He let out a heavy, nerve-wracked exhale, trying to compose himself, figure out what the hell he was supposed to say. The downside of running all the way here was that his brain was now having a hard time catching up to his body. “I just thought . . . I changed this year, you know? So maybe I can change this.”

“Change it?” she echoed confusedly.

“Yeah.” He couldn’t have this conversation with that stupid hat on, with that stupid tassel flying in front of his face, so he took it off again and dropped it on the ground along with his diploma. “I know we’ve been through some rough stuff lately. We’ve put each other through the ringer. But I—I don’t wanna lose you. I still wanna be with you.”

“Michael . . .” She looked like she was about to let him down easy, but he wasn’t about to let her get that far.

“No, Maria, just . . . just look at me, okay?” he begged. “I ran across town for you. I’m standin’ here pouring my heart out. I mean, I know I messed up, but please, just . . . just tell me this is enough for you, please.”

Her eyes started to shimmer with tears again, but he couldn’t tell if they were the good kind or the bad kind. She looked completely blown away by all of this, and he wasn’t sure if that was working in his favor. On the one hand, yeah, this was probably the most romantic thing he’d ever done in his entire life. But it was also putting her on the spot, and part of him wished they’d had this conversation last night instead.

The longer she stayed silent, the more worried he got. The more those tears welled up in her eyes, the easier it was to tell that they weren’t the good kind, not the kind he wanted to see.

“It’s not enough, is it?” he deduced dispiritedly. “It’s not enough for you.”

“No, Michael . . .” She hesitated a moment, looking like she was fighting to keep those tears inside. “We’ve been through this. It’s not that it’s not enough for me.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s not enough for me. I forgot,” he grumbled. “You know what, Maria? It is enough for me. It’s more than enough. Please. You gotta believe me on that.” He hated how desperate he sounded, but . . . he was desperate.

“Michael, look at where you are right now. You’re standing here talking to me when you should be with your friends and your family celebrating your graduation.”

“So?”

So?” she echoed. “So I’m holding you back from being a normal teenager, even right now.”

“No, you’ve never held me back,” he argued fervently. “I’m serious, Maria, I never would have graduated without you. Okay? I’m not . . .” He felt himself losing his cool, not that he’d shown up with a lot of it to begin with, and his voice wavered when he tried to make her understand. “I don’t even know who I am without you.”

“You’re Michael Guerin.”

“But I don’t know . . .” He looked up at the sky, wishing the magic words would just appear to him. “I’m just the guy who dropped the game-winning pass at quarterfinals. I’m the fucking Snowball king. I’m Andrew Guerin’s loser son. I’m no one, Maria.”

“No, you are a good man,” she insisted.

“Yeah, when I’m with you!”

“With or without me. Give yourself some credit, Michael.”

He wanted to believe that, because it all sounded nice in theory, but he just didn’t have the same faith in himself that she had in him, and he doubted he ever would. “Why don’t you give yourself some credit?” he suggested. “You’re not a burden, okay? You’re the love of my life, and I’m not just gonna let you go!”

“Michael,” she whispered. “You have to.”

“No!” This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. He was screwing it up. He wasn’t good with words. “Maria, please, you gotta . . . you gotta trust me, okay? We love each other. We’re supposed to be together.” He’d never been more sure of anything in his entire life, and he just wanted her to be as sure as he was, so he said it again. “We’re supposed to be together.”

Her eyes locked onto his, and he thought he saw something soften there, maybe give in a little bit. His heart sped up in anticipation as she came closer to him again, lifting his hands in hers this time. Even that slight touch was electric. He knew she felt it, too. He wasn’t alone in this.

But all of a sudden, she was crying again, slowly backing away, slowly letting go of his hands. “Maybe if things were different.”

Incredulous, he stood there and felt his hands slip from hers. No way, he thought. No way was this happening. It wasn’t supposed to go this way.

He looked down in his left palm and saw Tina’s little mood ring there, the last remaining symbol of an engagement that had already ended days ago. He stared at it helplessly, then at her. She really wasn’t changing her mind.

“No, Maria . . .” he pleaded.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized tearfully, backing up towards the driver’s side door now.

“Don’t . . .” He felt weak, and his voice was weak, too.

She reached her left hand down to the door handle, but for some reason, he felt like, if she didn’t open it, there was still a chance she’d stay; but if she opened up that car door, it was all over.

“Maria . . .” He felt like he was about to die. “Where are you going?”

She pulled up on the door handle and opened the door. “Somewhere,” she breathed as she climbed in. “Anywhere.”

Flat line. Was this really happening? It hadn’t felt real until this moment.

She started the car up, and that urged him into action again. “No, Maria, wait!” he yelled, running around to the side of the car. His heart broke when he saw Dylan in the back seat, surrounded by boxes, waking up from a nap, struggling to open his eyes. “Dylan!” He pounded on the windows. “Dylan! Maria!”

But it was no use. She put the car in drive, and she didn’t drive away slowly. She was out of there fast, and even though he made a feeble attempt to run after the car for a couple of yards, he knew it was useless. “No!” It got away from him fast, and there he was, standing in the middle of the street all by himself, watching her get farther and farther away.

The girl he loved. Girl he wanted to marry. Girl he wanted to have a family with. Girls like that didn’t come along every day, especially for guys like him.

She said she loved him . . . but it was like she couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

So he just stood there. It was over. All the running in the world couldn’t stop time from running out.

Maria . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Running towards Maria had taken a lot less time than walking away from her did. It was already getting darker out by the time Michael finally got back to Main Street. He wasn’t sure if he was walking slower than normal or not, but it felt like it was taking forever. Time was a funny thing like that. Sometimes, there wasn’t enough of it. And other times, like right now . . . there was too much.

He ditched his diploma and graduation hat in a trashcan outside the Blue Moon bar. He got rid of the robe outside E.T.’s Pizzeria. His phone had to go, too, because he had forty-five text messages and ten voicemails. Everyone was probably wondering what was going on and if he was okay.

Screw that shit.

He tossed his phone out onto the middle of the road, and a car rolled right over it and smashed it into pieces. Perfect.

He held onto that silly little ring, though, all the way until he got to the Crashdown. But once he was there, it felt . . . too heavy. So he dropped it down a storm drain. And just like that, it was gone, just like the real ring. Just like the girl who was supposed to have been wearing it.

For whatever reason, he opted to torture himself a little bit more, and he trudged into the Crashdown. It was definitely busy—there were a few other graduates and their family members there. But as if it was fate, his usual booth was still empty, so he sulked over to it and flopped down, waiting.

But what the hell am I waiting for? he wondered. He wasn’t hungry. Wasn’t even thirsty. There was no blonde-haired, green-eyed waitress who would come up to this booth anymore. She was probably well on her way down the highway by now, way out of Roswell, getting farther and farther away from him.

There was nothing to wait for. There was only time to pass.

Time had passed this year, faster than he realized. Nine months ago, he’d sat in that very booth and met her for the first time. He remembered it like it was yesterday. And now he was alone. She wasn’t coming back.

As it turned out, he wasn’t alone for long, though. He was technically still a customer after all, so a waitress came up to him. He didn’t even notice who it was until she spoke.

“Hey, Michael,” Liz greeted cheerily, probably trying to sound all upbeat just because he looked so awful. “How was graduation?”

He just stared at the table, unable to formulate an answer. Graduation? Did it really matter? Did any of it really matter right now?

“Um . . . do you want something to drink?” she asked. “Or something to eat?”

He just wanted to sit there. He wanted to get his hopes up and start imagining all sorts of crazy scenarios where Maria came rushing back to him. He wanted to remember all the conversations they’d had right there in that cafe, all the things they’d done. Mostly . . . he didn’t want to talk about it.

“Michael?” Liz said, her voice full of concern as he stared dazedly at the nothingness in front of him. “Are you okay?”

He almost laughed at that. Almost.

“Michael?” she asked again when he remained silent. “Michael?”

He would just wait for her to leave.

“Michael?”








THE END
Image
LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

keepsmiling7
Roswell Fanatic
Posts: 1922
Joined: Thu Jun 28, 2007 9:34 pm

Re: Someone, Anyone (M&M, CC/UC, AU, Adult) COMPLETE, 01/20/16

Postby keepsmiling7 » Wed Jan 20, 2016 8:23 pm

nice story......but I'm really glad there is a sequel to make some things right.
Thanks,
Carolyn

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killjoy
Roswell Fanatic
Posts: 1627
Joined: Wed Sep 07, 2005 12:24 pm
Location: Alabama

Re: Someone, Anyone (M&M, CC/UC, AU, Adult) COMPLETE, 01/20/16

Postby killjoy » Wed Jan 20, 2016 10:32 pm

Wow......took me hours to catch up. ....and all I got to say is thank God we got a sequel coming to work on these folks :!: :shock:


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