Somewhere, Anywhere (M&M, CC/UC, AU, Adult) COMPLETE, 07/23/17

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sarammlover
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Re: Somewhere, Anywhere (M&M, CC/UC, AU, Adult) Part 75, 05/21/17

Postby sarammlover » Tue May 23, 2017 2:31 pm

Maria needs to FESS UP! OMG the longer she does this, the more case Max will have. And though I was feeling bad for Max, the fact he is going to Billy really pisses me off. UGH, Michael and Maria are on the bottom of my list right now. I want to smack them both!

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April
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Part 76

Postby April » Sun May 28, 2017 4:38 pm

sarammlover wrote:Maria needs to FESS UP! OMG the longer she does this, the more case Max will have. And though I was feeling bad for Max, the fact he is going to Billy really pisses me off. UGH, Michael and Maria are on the bottom of my list right now. I want to smack them both!


Who are you more upset with right now, Michael and Maria, or Max?

This is a case of some dramatic irony right here. We know that Maria is just giving Max time to build up his case against her. She thinks he's still in the dark.



Thanks for reading!

This is random, but if anyone on this board watches The 100 or is thinking about watching The 100 and wants to hear about it from someone, message me. I'm in love with this show right now and want to talk about it!

Anyway, on we go!









Part 76








Isabel snuggled up next to Jesse on the couch that night with a cup of hot cocoa in hand. It was unusually cold out given the month they were in, and their heater was on the fritz. Jesse mumbled something about an unpaid bill when she asked him about it, but he didn’t dwell on it.

“See, this is gonna be nice,” she said, pushing the lone marshmallow she’d included in her drink beneath the surface before letting it pop back up again. “Now we can be a normal couple. And have privacy.”

“Yeah, you can wear your fuzzy socks,” he said, putting his arm around her. “And your flannel pajamas.”

She glanced down at her outfit, knowing it wasn’t the most seductive of her bedtime looks. “Don’t worry,” she assured him. “I’ll still dress sexy for you. But just for you. Won’t that be nice?”

“Hmm.” He kept his mouth shut and smiled. “It does have a certain appeal.”

“A big appeal.” She took a sip of her cocoa and held it up for him, but he shook his head to decline, so she leaned forward to set it on the coffee table.

“You know, Is,” he said, tightening his arm around her, pulling her back against his side, “I was thinking, even though you’re done now, maybe we should just do one last video.”

She frowned. “Why?”

“Well, just as, like, a send-off,” he clarified. “A thank you to the fans.”

“Ah, yes, thank you for jacking off while watching me have sex,” she said sarcastically.

“I’m serious,” he persisted. “They paid good money to get on our site. And that money’s helped keep a roof over our heads.”

“Yeah, I know, but . . .” She was so excited to be through with it that she didn’t want to backtrack. She understood what he was saying and everything, but . . . she just didn’t care about it as much as he did. She never had.

“Just one more,” he pressed on. “It can be whatever you want.”

“Whatever I want?”

“Yes.”

She mentally weighed the pros and cons of it. As much as she was ready for porn to be a part of her past . . . it did sort of make sense in a way. Maybe at the end of it she could put in some plug for Courtney’s site. After all, as long as Courtney kept gaining subscribers, the roof stayed over their heads. Besides, she’d already made hundreds of videos. It wasn’t as if one more would make a difference.

“Okay, just one,” she reluctantly agreed. “But it has to be just you and me. And like, romantic. Not some cheesy storyline.”

“Of course,” he said. “It’ll be our best one ever, ‘cause it’ll just be real. It doesn’t even have to be about sex. It can be about . . . love, you know?” Reaching out, he ran his hand through her hair and down her arm to hold her hand. “We’ll make love.”

“That sounds good to me,” she said, not dreading it as much anymore. These kinds of films really could be quite artistic, if they were done in the right way. She’d always admired the movies that weren’t so objectifying, the ones that were, in a sense, beautiful. But Jesse had never given her the chance to make one of those. Until now.

“And it’ll be the last one,” he reassured her. “I promise.”

The last one, she thought eagerly. Thank God. It actually wasn’t a bad idea, either. At the very least, it was a graceful way to exit a rough business.

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

Billy sure as hell was a needy little scumbag. He refused to talk to Max until he was fed, so Max had to stop at Burger King on the way home and pick him up a Whopper. He ate it on the drive to Max’s house and was done by the time they got there. Once inside, though, he mainly just roamed around the living room, looking at Dylan’s now vast array of Xbox games, his school picture up on the wall, and a photo of the three of them at their first Houston Texans game. Maria looked particularly hot in that photo, and Billy’s eyes lingered on it a little longer than necessary.

Finally, though, he tore his attention away and remarked, “Nice house.”

“I’ve lived in nicer,” Max grumbled. Maybe he’d still get his mansion and his millions someday, like his father had.

“So you were lookin’ for me, huh?” Billy gave him a curious look. “How’d you find me?”

“Oh, it wasn’t too hard. I just followed the sound of crappy music.” Max smirked derisively, all too eager to insult this guy, even though he needed his assistance. “No, actually, I just asked around.”

“Okay, better question then: Why did you find me?” Billy amended.

“I told you, I need your help.”

“With what?”

Max shoved his hands in his pockets, shuffling forward. “I have a situation,” he stated vaguely.

“Let me guess: love triangle,” Billy knowingly speculated. “Pretty much saw that comin’. Trust me, man, they’re into each other.”

“I’m well aware of that.” Max picked up the envelope of Dave’s incriminating photos and handed one over to Billy, one of the ones where they were fucking in his own bed.

“Whoa,” Billy said, eyes growing wide with a mixture of shock and arousal. “Looks like he’s been gettin’ into her.” He handed the photo back and motioned to the Texans one up on the wall. “That’s a far cry from, uh . . . this.”

Max slipped the photo back in the envelope, set it back down on the coffee table, and sadly glanced over at the picture of him and Maria and Dylan, where they were all smiles. Those had been the early days of their fragile little family, back before Dylan had learned to call him dad, before he and Maria had started up their romantic relationship again. Michael Guerin had been a non-factor in their lives, and it had been . . . simple. Peaceful. Harmonious, one might even say. They probably should have just stayed in Houston. Although even that probably wouldn’t have been enough to keep Michael and Maria apart.

“You see that little boy?” he said. “That’s my son, Dylan. He’s the only thing in this house I still care about.” He gulped, remembering what life had been like before him, before knowing him. Every single day, it was as if there had been this empty hole in his heart, and he’d tried to fill it up with drugs, with the false sense of empowerment drugs would give him. But now that he had Dylan in his life, now that he was able to tuck him into bed every single night and wake him up the next morning, he knew just how much he’d be missing without him around.

“I’m gonna lose him,” he predicted dreadfully. “If I let this play out the way Maria wants, I’m gonna lose my son.”

Billy’s face scrunched up in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, it’s simple, really.” He flapped his arms against his sides and outright stated, “Michael and Maria are having an affair. They think I don’t know about it. They think they can keep it a secret, and when she does finally decide to tell me . . .” He shrugged. “I’ll just give in, let them have their happy little family, settle for joint custody at best.” Scoffing inwardly at the very idea, he growled, “They think I’ll eventually make room for Dylan to have another dad. But that’s not happening.”

“So you gonna sue the shit outta her or what?”

He grinned smugly. “That’s the plan. But first, I gotta make sure she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.” He circled around his soon-to-be partner in crime, laying it all out in extra dramatic fashion, just so the severity of the situation sunk in. “You see, I’m not an idiot, Billy. I may have let her pull the wool over my eyes, but that was . . . a fluke. A momentary lapse in judgment brought on by the pressure of trying to be a nice guy. But I’m not that nice, and I am that smart. Smart enough to know mothers usually win the custody battles these days.”

Billy grunted, “Even whore mothers?” He took a step back, holding his hands up in front of himself defensively. “I assume I can call her that now without getting punched in the face?”

“Go right ahead,” Max allowed. He had no problem with Billy speaking the truth. “Maria’s a liar and a cheater, sure,” he went on, “but I’ve got plenty of strikes against me, too. Drugs. Kicked out of college. Kidnapping. Not to mention the fact that I wasn’t around for the first four years of his life.” It was quite a colorful list of disappointments and endangerments, one that he knew he would always struggle to overcome. “If I go against Maria, my chances aren’t good.”

“So then do the shared custody thing,” Billy suggested, as if it were that simple.

But I’ve never been good at sharing, Max thought, smirking. “I’ve got a better idea,” he announced. “I think the only way to beat Maria is to make her seem as bad as I used to be. And in order to do that . . . I have to take away everything she has.” He stopped in front of the Texans photo and shook his head at the happy version of her posed there. “Her credibility, her reliability, source of income, opportunity for education.” Some of those were easier to take away than others. Some of them she was damaging all by herself. “If she doesn’t have a job and she’s not goin’ to school and she’s a lying bitch who spends more time with secret lover than her own son . . . then who in their right mind would side with her?”

Billy chuckled lightly, kicking at the carpet. “Alright, sounds good,” he said. “But how the hell do I figure into this?”

Truthfully, Max wished he didn’t. He didn’t like having to ask for help, especially not with something so important to him. But Billy was the only person he could think of who had a grudge against Maria, a score to settle. So that was built-in motivation. “Maria’s taking one class this semester,” he said, rolling his eyes at how easy she had it, “and she’s got a final exam coming up.”

“You want her to fail it?” Billy assumed.

“No.” That wouldn’t cause enough controversy. “I want her to do what she does best: cheat.”

“Yeah, I don’t think she’s gonna.”

“But we can make it look like she did. If only there was someone who could get his hands on the answer key . . .”

“Me?” Billy said. “You want me to swipe the answer key?”

“Shouldn’t be too hard. You’re a TA, after all.”

“No, I was,” Billy corrected. “I’m not anymore.”

“Thanks to her,” he made sure to remind him.

“And Michael. And even you.”

Max waved that off. Water under the fucking bridge at this point. “Consider this my olive branch,” he urged. “You think you could get it?”

Billy thought about it for a moment, then shrugged as if it were no big deal. “Sure. Professor stores all his tests and keys online. I know his password. And he doesn’t even know I know his password.”

“Perfect. You get that to me, and I’ll make it look like she had it all along.” Hell, he’d even use that answer key to help Maria study for her exam, and then she really would be cheating. Unbeknownst to her, of course. “So do we have a deal?” he asked eagerly.

Billy narrowed his eyes at him skeptically. “That depends,” he said. “What’s in it for me?”

The only thing that matters, Max thought. The same thing that’s in it for me. “Revenge,” he answered coldly. “If you want it. Do you want revenge, Billy? I mean, this is the girl who brought you down. I know you wanted to teach that music class someday. Fat chance of that ever happening now. So don’t you think Maria deserves a taste of her own medicine?”

Billy grinned wickedly, as if he were really enjoying this. “You really hate her, don’t you?”

He shook his head. “It’s not about hate. It’s about love. She loves Michael. I love my son.” He took in a deep, determined breath and proudly declared, “I love him enough to fight for him.”

Billy studied him for a few more seconds, contemplatively, then slowly nodded. “So if we do this,” he said, “and say she gets kicked out . . . then what?”

“Well, then she loses her job, for starters.” It excited him just thinking about it. “Can’t work for housing if you’re not even a student.”

“And you think that’ll be enough to beat her?”

“No. But it doesn’t need to be.” This was just one piece of the puzzle. The others were either already in place, or getting there. “I’ve still got some other tricks up my sleeve.” There wasn’t necessarily one thing that was going to be the smoking gun. There was just going to be so much evidence against her that added up enough to cast a reasonable doubt on whether or not she had any suitable parenting potential. “So what do you say, Billy?” He held out his hand for a shake, hoping to seal the deal on this unconventional partnership. “Are you in?”

Slowly, and much to Max’s delight, a mischievous grin crept to Billy’s face. “I was in from the second you let me call her a whore,” he said, firmly shaking Max’s hand.

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

“Thanks again for buying all of these,” Liz told Maria as she set a box full of twenty-four doughnuts down on the counter in front of her. “Business has been a little slow lately.”

“Oh, it’ll pick up,” Maria assured her. “And I’ll be back in a couple weeks to buy a Mother’s Day cake, by the way.”

Liz quickly rang up her total on the register and said, “Aw, I’m sure your mom will appreciate that.”

“Pretty sure she won’t,” Maria mumbled, handing her friend a twenty, “but it’s worth a shot.”

“Yeah. Max wants me to make a cake for his mom, too.”

Maria smiled. “I like her. She’s really nice.”

“Yeah, she is,” Liz agreed, taking two one-dollar bills out of her register. She tried to hand them back over to Maria as change, but Maria shook her head, signaling her to just keep them. As she was opening the doughnut box, about to take one out, Liz cleared her throat and segued, “Hey, speaking of Max . . .”

“We were speaking of Max?” Maria cut in.

“Well, his mom. Close enough.” Liz pointed out a particularly well-frosted doughnut and continued, “How’s he been doing lately?”

“Fine,” Maria said, carefully lifting that doughnut out past the rest. “Just . . . typical Max.” She took a bite, savoring the sugary goodness, and then frowned. “Why?”

“He just seemed kinda . . .” Liz trailed off and shrugged. “I don’t know, there was something off about him when he hung out with me and Scarlet the other night.”

“Off?” Maria echoed. Maybe he’d just been tired or something. His job was pretty damn physically demanding, after all.

“He just seemed quiet,” Liz said, traces of concern in her voice. “A little closed-off.”

Maria took another bite of her doughnut, not sure why Liz would interpret it that way. “Well, I don’t know,” she said, assuming it wasn’t anything to make a big deal out of. “He’s been fine with me.”

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

Maria had finally managed to come up with a new excuse this time. Study group. For finals. Yeah, right. The only thing she was studying was Michael’s lower anatomy.

Her absence meant Max once again had to pick up the slack. Dylan was over at Luke’s house for dinner, but that didn’t change the fact that they needed food, too, so he swung by the grocery store to stock up. As fate would have it, Sarah happened to be in the pasta aisle at the same exact time he was, eyes fixated on two boxes of noodles in her hands: spaghetti and elbow macaroni.

“Hey, Sarah,” he greeted, wheeling his cart towards her.

Her head shot up, almost as if he’d scared her. “Oh. Hey, Max,” she returned, quickly making the spaghetti her choice. She tossed the box into her cart and asked, “How are you?”

In truth, he was the worst he’d been in years. But no way was he telling her that. “Pretty good,” he lied. “You?”

Her response wasn’t exactly convincing. “Yeah, I’m alright.”

You’re not alright, he thought, narrowing his eyes at her. Outwardly, she looked good, but she just didn’t sound or act like her usual bubbly self.

“Gosh, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you, huh?” she said.

“Yeah. Since basketball season, I think.” He wondered now if Michael and Maria had been getting it on even back then.

“Things have been really . . .” She trailed off, searching for the right word.

“Crazy,” he supplied.

“Yeah, that’s a good word for it.”

It occurred to him that she was quite possibly in a similar situation to his own, even though she and Michael weren’t together anymore. What if they’d broken up because of Maria? It certainly seemed possible, even likely. Surely the timing of the whole thing couldn’t have been that much of a coincidence.

“So you’ve been doin’ alright?” he asked. “You know, with the . . .” He didn’t exactly want to say it, because he actually legitimately liked Sarah, and there was no need to be harsh with her.

“Break-up?” she filled in.

“Yeah.”

She sighed shakily, once again sounding unconvincing when she said, “I’m okay. Some days are harder than others.”

He wanted to openly sympathize, to tell her that he understood; but he had to be a fortress, strong and undamaged. For now, at least. “Well, take comfort in the fact that it’s his loss,” he assured her, hoping one day Michael would look back and realize what an idiot he was for breaking up with a girl who, by all appearances, was pretty much the perfect girlfriend. “You were obviously way too good for him.”

She smiled appreciatively. “Thanks, that’s what Tess keeps telling me.”

You’re probably too good for me, too, he thought. Not that he was looking to get involved with her or anything. But when all of this was said and done and Dylan was securely in his custody . . . well, it wouldn’t suck to sleep with Sarah Nguyen, to add a little extra salt into Michael’s wounds.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” he said gently, “why’d you guys break up?”

“Oh, it was . . .” She immediately looked frazzled, and her answer was uncharacteristically vague. “It was a lot of things.”

“Such as?” He really wanted to know if she knew about Maria, or if she even suspected the possibility.

Sarah winced. “I’d rather not talk about it, if that’s okay.”

“Of course.” He backed off, not wanting to seem too pushy. “Sorry, I shouldn’t pry.”

“No, you’re fine,” she assured him, gripping the handlebar of her grocery cart. “Well, I have to go. But it was good seeing you, Max.”

“You, too.” He gave her a friendly wave as she walked on past, and when she rounded the corner into next aisle, he shook his head in disgust. It wasn’t her who disgusted him, though. It was Michael. Clearly he’d recruited her into this whole cover-up, even though she surely didn’t want to be a part of it. Maybe she didn’t know that they were still having an affair, but she knew something, and he’d somehow convinced her to keep it a secret for him. How sick and twisted was that?

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

“Oh my god, look at him,” Maria cooed as scrolled through pictures of Joe on Michael’s phone. “He’s so cute.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty great.” He rubbed his hands up and down her back, appreciating the smooth feel of her bare skin. “I’ve got tons of pictures, too. My mom and Tina both send me some every day.”

She smiled, setting his phone aside. “I took so many pictures of Dylan when he was a baby,” she said.

He’d seen some of those pictures. They were adorable enough to melt even the manliest man’s manly heart. “I wish I would’ve known him then.”

“Well, he wasn’t that much different than he is now,” she said, resting her chin atop his chest. “Except that he couldn’t walk or talk or . . . okay, he was different.”

“What about you?” He tucked her hair behind her ear for her, letting his thumb linger over her cheek. “What were you like?”

I . . . was very different.”

“Very?”

“Yeah.” Her eyes glossed over thoughtfully, and she lay her head down. Tracing invisible designs on his chest with her middle finger, she murmured, “I never thought I’d end up doing all of this.”

“You mean us?” he asked.

“Yeah.” It was like there was this sudden sadness surrounding her when she spoke about it. “I guess that’s normal, though, right? I mean, nobody grows up thinking they’ll have an affair.”

“Don’t call it that,” he said, twisting the ends of her hair around his fingers.

“That’s what it is.”

“It’s more than that,” he insisted, refusing to let what they had be diminished to something so . . . one-dimensional. “We’re in love.”

She didn’t say anything for a few seconds, and when she did finally speak again, she even sounded sad. “It’s still wrong, though.”

He sighed heavily, wishing he could disagree with that. But he couldn’t. There was no way to justify what they were doing, and there never would be. Knowing that, he just kissed her forehead tenderly, hoping she’d fall asleep there with him tonight and forget to go home.








TBC . . .

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Part 77

Postby April » Sun Jun 04, 2017 1:48 pm

Part 77








“Okay, big news!” Isabel announced, nearly bursting at the seams with excitement as she scampered into Liz’s bakery. “Life starts now. I’m making a huge positive change.”

Liz stopped frosting the cake she was currently working on and made a face. “What does that mean?”

“It means that I’m done doing porn, Liz,” Isabel declared. “Well, one more video, and then I’m done. Isn’t that great?”

“Uh . . .” Liz looked a little at a loss for words, but she managed to find some to say. “Yes, that is . . . that’s very good, Isabel.”

“Aren’t you excited for me?” Alex had been a lot more smiley when she’d told him the news. “This is a really big deal.”

“It is, and I get that,” Liz acknowledged. “I’m—I’m really . . . proud of you, Isabel. For finally standing up for yourself.”

“Thank you.” There was some genuine support there, even if it wasn’t as exuberant as she’d been hoping. It probably was strange, in a sense, to be congratulating somebody on giving up their porn career. That wasn’t as standard as congratulating somebody on a marriage or a new baby. “Anyway, I gotta get to class,” she chirped, glancing at the clock. “Tell Max, okay?”

“Uh, why don’t you just tell him yourself?” Liz suggested.

“Because . . .” She let out a heavy sigh, wishing he’d give a damn about anything she had to say. “He doesn’t like me. Because every conversation he has with me seems like a chore.”

A flash of sympathy flickered in Liz’s eyes for a few seconds, and she said, “Alright, I’ll tell him.”

Good, Isabel thought. Then maybe he’ll start to like me more again.

She got in the car and started her drive to campus, blasting radio-friendly pop songs at top volume. She normally tried to avoid overly-catchy music, because it just didn’t seem like a suitable soundtrack to her life. But today, it seemed fitting.

While she was stopped at a light, she noticed something curious. Her brother, the exact same one who didn’t want to talk to her . . . walking into a jewelry store. A jewelry store.

Her mouth gaped. Holy shit.

She sat through one class, contemplating whether or not to text him and just ask him outright what he’d been doing there. But chances were he wouldn’t respond. Besides . . . wasn’t it kind of obvious? Guys didn’t go get jewelry for the hell of it. Clearly he had a reason.

As if by fate, she spotted Michael outside the student union, sitting with his feet in the water of an overly large fountain in which wading was technically not supposed to be allowed. There was an open book in his lap, and he looked like he was struggling to get through it.

Cramming? she suspected. That was some vintage Michael Guerin right there.

She went and sat down beside him, figuring she’d slip a little good news in before the bad. “So first things first,” she started in, “I’m turning my life around.”

“Don’t care,” he grumbled, flipping the page without even glancing at her.

“And second . . . I saw something interesting today.”

“Still don’t care.”

She rolled her eyes at his utter disengagement. “Max went into a jewelry store.”

That got his attention. His head whipped up from the book, concern all over his gorgeous face.

“Oh, now you care,” she noted.

Of course he tried to act like he didn’t, though, like he hadn’t just reacted the way he did. “Go away, Isabel,” he muttered.

“I wonder what he was buying,” she said. “A ring, perhaps?”

He slammed his book shut, clearly growing agitated. “You really think he’s gonna ask her to marry him?”

She shrugged. “Maybe. I just thought I’d warn you so you have the proper time to rehearse not being jealous about it.”

“I’m not jealous,” he denied.

“You’re also not a very good liar.”

“Well, what do you expect, Is? I hate the guy. Of course I don’t want her marrying him.”

“Yet it was okay for you to get engaged to Sarah?” She tilted her head to the side questioningly. “Double standard much?”

“That’s different,” he insisted. “Sarah’s an amazing person. Max is a creep.”

“Sarah’s an amazing person who couldn’t hold your interest,” she reminded him.

“Just like you,” he bit out harshly. “Although you were never really that amazing.”

Nice, Michael, she thought, narrowing her eyes at him angrily. It would have been great to have some witty comeback lined up for that one, but, when he said something like that, something that touched on her deepest insecurities . . . what was she supposed to say?

“Just thought you’d wanna know,” she mumbled, getting to her feet. Whether he believed her or not, she really was just trying to do him a favor. She knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of a relationship blindside, and she didn’t wish that on anyone. Not even him.

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

A minute before class was set to start, Michael finally showed up. He didn’t stroll in with his usual confidence or swagger, though. He actually looked a little . . . uneasy.

“Cuttin’ it kinda close, huh?” Maria teased as he came back to his seat.

He bent down but didn’t sit down. “Come with me,” he said, his voice low and insistent.

Her eyebrows arched upward in surprise. Was this what she thought it was? Because . . . they’d been planning to save that until after class.

She followed him out of the room right as the professor started teaching, and he brought her down the hallway into their favorite empty classroom.

“Michael, we really should be in there,” she said, worried about how much class she was missing, and more importantly, how much class he was missing because of her. “He’s reviewing for the final.”

Michael didn’t seem to care. But he didn’t seem to be in a frisky mood, either, which was . . . strange. “Is Max gonna propose to you?” he blurted.

“What?” she gasped. What in the . . . where had that come from?

“Because Isabel said--”

“Isabel?” she cut in. “You talk to Isabel now?”

“Occasionally, never by choice. Look, she said she saw him at a jewelry store today. What if he’s . . .” He trailed off, his shoulders slumped with hopelessness.

Oh god. It hurt her heart to see him so desperate for answers, but at least she could give him a reassuring one. “He’s buying a necklace for his mom,” she explained. “For Mother’s Day.” He’d told her that morning that he was going to swing by. They’d talked about it over breakfast.

“Oh.” He looked down at his feet, uncharacteristically embarrassed. “I feel stupid now.”

“No, it’s . . .” It wasn’t something he needed to feel stupid about. As much as she hated to admit it . . . it was probably a legitimate concern.

“But what if he did ask?” Michael went on, fear still coating every word. “What would you say?”

“Michael--” She didn’t even want to think about that.

“Because you told me once that you’d say yes, but that was before we . . .”

She shook her head, knowing there was no way she could lie to Max in that way. If things went that far, then it was too far. Cheating on him was bad enough, but she wasn’t going to accept his proposal when she knew that she didn’t really want it. “I wouldn’t say yes,” she assured him. There was no way that word would cross her lips.

“But would you be able to say no?” He frowned, as if he already anticipated her answer.

She tried to picture herself saying that word, breaking Max’s heart, watching it shatter right in front of her . . .

“He’s not gonna propose,” she said, almost to herself rather than to him. “You don’t have to worry.” She wasn’t going to let it get to that point. She’d work up the courage by then to be honest with him.

“I do, though,” he confessed, his voice trembling with emotion. “I worry all the time, Maria.”

She blinked back tears. “Why? You know how I feel about you.”

“But I still worry.” He pressed his lips together tightly, looking past her as he shook his head. “I worry what would happen if he proposed, or if you guys had another kid.” He swallowed hard as his honest anxiety came pouring through, and she wondered just how hard he had to work to keep this hidden from her on a daily basis. “I mean, those are things I want with you, Maria. So I’m . . . terrified.”

She didn’t want to terrify him. And she didn’t want to lead Max on. Yet that was exactly what she was doing. She was harming two of the people who were most important to her.

“I feel like it’d be so easy for me to lose you,” he said, tears shimmering in his eyes. “Again.”

She gazed at him remorsefully, hating that she was the one to make him feel this way. It wasn’t nice to know that she was the one who made his life more difficult, more complicated, more dramatic. She felt bad that he worried so much about her, about them, especially since he’d given her no reason to worry in return. He was all in.

“You’re not gonna lose me,” she told him, moving in close to him, reaching up to touch his cheek. “I promise.” There would be no dramatic drive away from him this time. Even though she hadn’t quite proved it yet, she was all in, too.

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

Billy leaned back in the computer chair, clasping his hands behind his head, a satisfied smirk on his face. “There you go. Music Appreciation 2. Two-hundred questions. Nice.”

“Perfect,” Max said, eyeing the document on the screen. “Thank you.” Billy had proven to be a worthy accomplice. He’d claimed to be able to get the answer key without problem, and he’d delivered. Plus, it had been his idea to access it straight from Maria and Max’s own computer. That way, just in case the university was able to track down where it had been downloaded, it would still lead straight to her.

Billy clicked the mouse to print the answer key and stood up. “So now what, I just get to sit back and watch the fireworks?”

“Pretty much.” Max pulled out two twenties and handed them over. It wasn’t much, but . . . hell, why not? The kid deserved it.

Billy pocketed the money, then held out his fist for a bump. “Fuck this bitch, man.”

Max knocked his fist against Billy’s, vowing, “I will.” Before they could delight too much in their imminent success, though, Max heard the front door open, and Maria called his name as she entered.

“Max?”

“Oh, shit,” he swore, quickly retrieving the answer key from the printer. He slid it into the top desk drawer, knowing he’d have to hide it better later. “Out the window.”

“What?” Billy yelped.

“Crawl out the fuckin’ window now.” He practically dragged Billy over to it, pushed it open, and shoved him out head first. He landed on the ground with a thud.

Maria came into the bedroom right as he was shutting the window. “Hey,” she said. “You’re home early.”

Oh, the irony of that particular statement almost made him sick to his stomach, but he managed a complacent smile somehow. “You, too.”

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

Since Jesse had given her full production reign over their final video, Isabel was determined to do it right down to the most minute detail. Everything had to be sensual rather than sexual, charming rather than vulgar. She was probably annoying him with all the nitpicking, but he was just going to need to understand where she was coming from. This last video of theirs . . . it had to tell a story. Not just a cheesy sex story. A love story.

“Okay, but the lighting has to be softer,” she told him as he played around with the dimmer in their bedroom. “Like more romantic.”

“Like this?” he asked, bringing it down to a near candlelit glow.

“Yeah, that’s better.”

“It won’t film well,” he told her.

I don’t care, she wanted to say, but she decided to compromise. “Okay, just a little brighter then.”

From behind her, Courtney’s voice rang out. “What are you guys doing?”

Isabel spun around, not entirely surprised to find her best and only friend standing in the doorway wearing nothing but a too-tight Aggies t-shirt and a thong.

“Isabel’s directing,” Jesse told her.

“It’s the last hurrah,” Isabel added. “Is that officially what we’re calling it?”

Jesse shrugged. “If you want.”

She beamed a smile at him. Finally, at long last, it was all about what she wanted.

“What’s going on?” Courtney asked again.

“Well, um, Courtney . . .” Isabel slipped out into the hallway, pulling her friend with her. “Listen, you should know what’s up,” she said, regretting that she hadn’t told her sooner. She’d told Alex and Liz, after all, but that was because she knew for sure that they’d be happy for her. “This is the last movie I’m gonna make,” she revealed, hoping to get some support from Courtney, too. “Ever.”

Courtney wrinkled her face in confusion. “You’re quitting?”

“Yeah.”

“And Jesse’s okay with that?”

Jesse didn’t need to be okay with it—it was her decision. But still, it was nice that he was. “Yeah, he totally respects my decision.”

Courtney snorted. “That’s surprising.”

“But nothing else is gonna change,” Isabel assured her quickly. If the situation were reversed and Courtney was the one leaving the business, she knew she might feel a little on edge. “You and Eric are still gonna be my friends, and Jesse’s still gonna be my boyfriend. And I’m still gonna live here.”

That didn’t seem to make Courtney feel much better, though. If anything, that confused look on her face intensified. “Why would you quit, Isabel?” she asked, as though quitting were something unfathomable.

Then again . . . maybe it was. To her.

“Because I need to,” she explained, feeling like she was at a crossroads in her life. If she didn’t quit now, then she probably never would. “It’s just time to move forward. You know?”

Courtney hung her head, pouting. “No,” she replied honestly. “I don’t know.”

Isabel gazed at her sympathetically, feeling her heart go out to her. It was tragic, in a way, that Courtney was just stuck. This was her life, and it probably always would be. There was no moving forward for her.

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

The sound of running water could only mean one thing.

Max slipped into the bathroom as steam rose up from the shower. Quickly, he stripped himself of his clothing and pulled back the curtain.

“Oh, Max!” Maria gasped, immediately covering herself up. “You scared me.”

I scared you? he wondered. Or just disappointed you? “Who else would be joining you in the shower?” he asked as he stepped in with her. He shut the curtain and got close enough so that the water pouring down on her was pouring down on him, too, and put his hands on her waist. “Dylan’s asleep,” he hinted.

It was hard not to notice her tense up as she turned her back towards him, pretending to be all interested in adjusting the temperature of the water. “I’m almost done in here,” she said.

“No, stay.” It wasn’t that he wanted to have sex with her as much as it was that he wanted to see if she’d be able to have sex with him. Again. She’d already done it the other night. Hadn’t cum, though. She’d probably never cum with him again.

He looked down, appreciating the view of her backside, and smoothed his hands over it. “I thought we could try . . . something different.” Bending his knees a bit, he pressed his semi-hard cock against her ass, giving her a not so subtle hint.

She jerked forward, whirling around. A decided “No,” was all she said.

“No?” He hadn’t expected her to go for it, but . . . damn, that was adamant.

“Sorry, I . . . I don’t do that,” she sputtered awkwardly. It was as if she couldn’t get out of there fast enough then, because she literally pushed past him and stepped over the edge of the tub, still dripping wet. She quickly bent down and grabbed her towel, wrapping it around herself as she scurried out of the bathroom.

Max stepped further under the water, pressing both his hands against the wall. She does that, he thought, growing evermore accustomed to picking up on her lies. She just doesn’t do that with me.

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

A few months ago, Jake hadn’t been able to sit in the lunchroom and eat without yelling and screaming and drawing attention to himself. Now, he didn’t even need to have an adult sitting with him to be able to do that. It was some pretty damn remarkable progress, rivaled only by the fact that he now had some other boys sitting with him.

Michael stood back and watched proudly as Dylan led his friends to Jake’s table. He said hi to Jake, and they all set their trays down and sat down around him. An actual circle of friends.

Vanessa sidled up to him and noticed the same thing. “That’s nice to see,” she commented.

“Yeah,” he agreed, getting a kick out of how Dylan and Luke immediately started swapping food items. They didn’t even have to speak to know what they were willing to give up and what the other wanted. A kindergarten bromance. Nice.

“They’re good kids,” Vanessa said.

“Let’s just hope they stay that way.” Michael really wished he could know what adults had been saying about him back when he’d been in kindergarten. Had they had some hope for him? Or had they just always assumed he’d turn out to be a miserable failure of a man?

“I’m really impressed with Dylan,” Vanessa went on. “He’s a good little leader.”

Michael smiled. “He’s awesome.” There was probably nothing that kid couldn’t do well if he put his mind to it.

“Hard to believe the year’s coming to an end, isn’t it?” Vanessa remarked.

“Yep. It’s gone fast.” Michael was pretty sure he wasn’t going to know what to do with himself this summer. Sure, he’d still work for housing, and maybe he’d make an attempt to get on the Aggies football team. But other than that, his schedule would pretty much be open.

Scratch that then. He knew exactly what he was going to do with his time. And who he was going to do it with.

“Hopefully I can lure you back next year,” Vanessa hinted.

“Oh, definitely. I’ve enjoyed it.” It worked out that he’d found a job he liked that would also look impressive on his résumé. “Thanks for giving me a chance.”

“And a second chance,” she reminded him.

Yeah, he had almost blown it all to smithereens when he’d laid into Max’s face, hadn’t he? “And that.”

Their conversation was cut short when Dylan got up from the table and scampered over. “Hey, Micho?” he said, looking up curiously. “Can I talk to you?”

Michael glanced at Vanessa for her approval, but she just nodded encouragingly. “Sure,” he said. He started out of the lunchroom, motioning with his head for Dylan to follow.

They walked around the halls together, and Dylan started telling him about what he was going to do this summer. It sounded like he’d be busier than Michael was.

“So baseball, huh?” Michael said. “That’ll be fun. Baseball’s not bad.”

“Did you play?” Dylan asked.

“Yeah, but I was always better at football.”

“I love football.”

Michael smiled, loving that he loved it so much. “Good. It’s the manliest sport.” There was a reason why the NFL was as popular as it was, and why college football dominated so much ESPN coverage. America was obsessed with the sport and the guys who played it. “You gonna do any football camps this summer?”

“No,” Dylan mumbled, looking down at his feet as he walked. “My dad wants me to go to basketball.”

“Like basketball camp?” Michael made a face. “That sounds . . . awful.” What the hell was the appeal of dribbling down a court just to try to swish a ball through the net? It was so pointless. Glancing down at Dylan, he could see that he felt the same way about it, so he concluded, “That’s what you wanted to talk to me about, right?”

“Yep.”

Alright, counselor time, Michael thought. Dylan may have been an awesome kid, but like any boy his age, he needed advice on how to handle things sometimes. “So you don’t wanna go.”

“No.”

“Have you told your dad?”

Dylan shrugged. “Not really.”

“Not really? Well, you gotta tell him. Or tell your mom and she can tell him.” He thought of all the things Maria wasn’t telling Max, though, and then amended, “Actually, it’s probably just best for you to tell him yourself.”

“But what if he gets sad?” Dylan sounded genuinely concerned about his dad, which was pretty impressive for a kid his age. Most kindergarteners didn’t really consider other people’s feelings yet, because they were so focused on their own.

“Well, if he gets sad, he gets sad,” Michael said. “That’s alright. You gotta be honest. Sometimes you just gotta tell people the truth, even if it hurts their feelings.” The irony of what he was saying was not lost on him. It was the kid-friendly version of what he’d been saying to Maria for months now.

Dylan stopped in the middle of the hall, scrunching his face up contemplatively, and then he gave Michael a big, affirmative nod. “Okay, I’ll tell him,” he decided. “Thanks, Daddy.”

His stomach clenched.

Dylan realized what he’d said right away, and he dropped his head and mumbled, “Oops, sorry,” as he kicked at the carpet.

“Hey.” Michael knelt down in front of him. “Look at me.”

Dylan lifted his head, and he had this worried look in his eyes, like he feared he was going to get in trouble or something, just for saying that one word.

“You don’t ever have to apologize for callin’ me that,” Michael told him. He’d never grow tired of being Daddy to Dylan, and he’d never have it in his heart to correct him. Not when it was something that didn’t need correcting.

Dylan smiled in relief and held out his arms for a hug. Michael embraced him, longing for the day when he could just be Daddy. No conflict, no controversy attached. He wanted it, more than anything.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 78

Postby April » Sun Jun 11, 2017 3:43 pm

Music suggestion today is the beautiful "Stealing Cars" by James Bay, which you can listen to here when you see :) if you'd like. I discovered this song by accident and loved it from the second I listened to it.








Part 78








The housing department always held an annual celebration the first week of May, sort of an end of the year celebration for all their employees. It was always in the Vidorra lounge, and it was always pretty boring until they started handing out the awards with scholarships attached.

It was a little more exciting for Michael this year now that Maria worked there, too. She showed up, thankfully, without Max in tow, so it was easy to spend time with her that evening. They mingled, making sure to stay close enough that they didn’t lose track of each other but far enough apart that they didn’t look like a couple. By the time they took a seat at one of the tables for the awards, though, Michael felt like he could barely keep his hands off of her.

“Thank you all for being here tonight,” Brody began as he got up behind a podium. “It’s that time of the evening now where I’d like to give some special recognition to the staff members who went above and beyond this year. Your contributions to our university’s housing system have definitely not gone unnoticed. So with that in mind, the first award for Outstanding R.A. goes to . . .”

Michael pretty much tuned him out as he announced the winner. His eyes drifted over to the beautiful girl sitting next to him. Damn, she looked good. She had on this black strapless dress, and her hair was down and wavy over her shoulders.

“What?” she asked him quietly when she caught him staring at her.

“You look pretty,” he told her.

Just as she always did whenever he complimented her appearance, she blushed. “This is Liz’s dress,” she admitted.

“I like it.” The strapless thing was a nice surprise, and he was digging how short it was, too.

As Brody continued on with the awards, Michael couldn’t help but grow . . . restless. If he didn’t get his hands on her soon, he was going to go crazy. So he scooted his chair a little closer to her, leaned forward, and lowered one hand beneath the table. First he just reached over and set it on her knee, then moved it back a little further to rub against her thigh. Her skin was so warm, though, that he longed to feel something even hotter, so he subtly slipped his hand underneath her dress in between her legs.

She gasped.

No underwear. He grinned. Perfect.

She didn’t object as he touched her, right there in a room filled with dozens of other people. To her credit, she managed to stay pretty fucking calm and collected. She sat up a little straighter than she normally would have, and every once in a while, her eyes would flutter shut. But she’d quickly open them again, pretending to be focused on what was going on.

God, it was such a rush to get away with this.

Few things could have diverted his attention from the task at hand, but when Brody transitioned, “And now for our Outstanding Returning Employee award . . .” Michael snapped his hands back up to the surface, linked them together, and murmured, “Oh, please, please, please,” shutting his eyes in prayer. If he got this, he’d get a two-thousand dollar scholarship. And he really needed scholarships for next year.

“This year the award goes to . . .” Brody drew it out for dramatic effect. “Spencer Burman.”

Everyone else clapped as Spencer went up to the podium, but Michael didn’t. “What?” he spat, outraged. Spencer? That kid was such a dick.

“Thanks, Brody,” Spencer said, nudging him aside. He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and unfolded it. “If you don’t mind, I have a speech prepared.”

Brody did mind, though. He had to keep this thing moving. “Oh, actually--”

With total disregard for his boss, Spencer launched right in. “To some, housing may just be a two-syllable word.”

Michael rolled his eyes in contempt. What an arrogant son of a bitch.

Thank God Maria had the boldness to lean over and quietly ask, “Can we go upstairs?” Because he needed something good to take his mind off of losing out on this award.

“You don’t wanna stay for the New Employee award?” he asked. At the rate Spencer was going, it’d probably be another hour before Brody got around to presenting it, but hey, he could finger the hell out of her until then.

“Oh, please,” she scoffed, “there’s no way I’m winning that.”

Yeah, she probably wasn’t. Their time would be much better spent together in his apartment than it would be down here with all of these people. “Let’s go,” he said, getting up. They both tried to be quiet and inconspicuous as they slipped past all the other tables and walked out in the midst of Spencer’s monologue. Michael caught Brody giving him an inquisitive look, though.

( :) )

It was worth it to leave early. Being alone with Maria felt like being in heaven.

They kept the lights off, so he could only see a silhouette of her standing by the window. He stood in front of her, watching her delicate fingers as they unbuttoned his shirt from the top down. She pulled his shirt open, and he shrugged it off, letting it drop to the floor. Her hands splayed against his chest for a moment, then slid lower to roam over his abs. As they hovered dangerously close to his groin, he gave her a small, encouraging nod. Eyes fixated on the ever-growing bulge he felt happening, she unfastened his pants, but she didn’t take his cock out. Instead, she turned around, pulling all her hair over her right shoulder, glancing back at him over her left.

He moved in closer, using this thumb and index finger to pull down on her dress’s zipper. The smooth skin of her back came into view, and his whole body tingled in anticipation. God, he wanted to have his hands all over her.

He slid her whole dress down for her, and she stepped out of it eagerly. Since the last item to rid her of was her bra, he wrapped his arms around her stomach, caressed her flesh insistently, and then snaked his hands upward to undo the front clasp. It fell to the floor, and her breasts fell into his awaiting hands. She leaned back against him, her head on his shoulder, moans escaping from low in her throat as he squeezed and kneaded them beneath his fingers. Her nipples were already pert and hard, desiring his attention.

He spun her around so he could bend down and use his mouth to lavish them with adoration. Alternating between sucking kisses and gentle licks and nips, he got the exact reaction he wanted. She arched her chest up into his mouth, tossing her head back as she got lost in the ecstasy.

Greed got the best of him, though, and he wanted more. So he sank down even lower, onto his knees. He urged her legs further apart and slipped his head in between them so he could get a taste of her. She was wet from the fingering he’d started earlier, and she got even wetter the instant his mouth made contact.

While he was thoroughly tonguing her, he found himself reaching down to free his cock from its confines. He stroked up and down his hard length, wishing he could replicate the feel of being inside of her. But nothing felt as good as that. Nothing even came close.

When she saw what he was doing, she got down to her knees, too, reached forward, and replaced his hand with her own, handling him expertly. He didn’t want to cum on her hand, though. He wanted to cum in her body.

They made it to the bed, and naturally, he found himself on top of her, comfortably nestled between her legs as he rolled his hips forward and moved into her. The pressure surrounding his cock felt so damn good that, with every thrust, he tried to push in just a little deeper, trying to bury himself in her so far that he might not ever find his way back out.

He kept his pace steady, not too slow, but not frantic, either. Every time she moaned or inhaled sharply, he knew he was doing something right. He didn’t need overly graphic dirty talk to know that she liked when he reached down and grabbed her ass, or appreciated when he took the time to rain hot kisses down on the side of her neck. Her body responded to his in the exact way a woman’s body was supposed to respond to a man’s, and it turned him on so fucking much.

His hand linked with hers, next to her head, fingers intertwining, holding on tight as their breathing became labored and skin began to sweat more. He kept his gaze fixed on her, refusing to look away as her face contorted in pleasure. She came hard, her release triggering his own, and he could have sworn he went somewhere else as spent himself inside her. Somewhere where the rest of the world didn’t exist, where this was the world.

It was his whole world.

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

The shadier the neighborhood, the crappier the streetlights. The road Max was driving on became progressively darker as he neared his destination.

Dylan had called a few minutes earlier from Luke’s house. Apparently Luke’s mom had cooked some huge, extravagant dinner, and she was more than willing to let him stay there a little while longer, even though it was a school night. Worked for Max. He had things to do tonight anyway, things that Dylan couldn’t be around for.

“Alright, you make sure you tell Luke’s mom thanks for the dinner,” Max reminded his son. “And tell her I’ll be by in about an hour to pick you up. Alright?”

“Okay,” Dylan chirped. “Hey, Dad? Sorry about basketball camp, by the way.”

Max frowned inwardly, though he admired his son’s honesty. They’d talked about it on the way home from school today. “You don’t have to be sorry,” he told him. “It’s fine. I’ll see you later, alright?”

“Bye, Dad.”

“Bye.” Max ended the call and pocketed his phone as he turned a corner.

He had to park a few blocks away, just to be on the safe side. He didn’t need his vehicle showing up on any surveillance videos of local businesses. He tossed a sweatshirt hood over his head and meandered down the sidewalk as if he walked these streets all the time. Nobody who passed him even took a second glance at him, and he eventually slipped into an alley behind a taco restaurant without any fear of getting caught.

A slender male figure emerged from the shadows, peeking over Max’s shoulder. “You good?” he asked.

“Yeah.” No one had followed him.

The man reached into the inside pocket of his coat and took out a small bag of cocaine. It wasn’t more than a couple of grams, and it must have been a shitty quality, because he wasn’t even asking that much money for it. “This what you want?” he asked.

“Yep.” Max took five twenties out of his pocket and handed them over in exchange for the drugs.

“Wait a minute.” The dealer squinted his eyes and peered at Max more closely. “I know you. Max Evans, right?”

He bristled, alarmed that he’d been recognized.

“I used to buy from you, back in Albuquerque. Man, you always sold the best stuff.”

Max relaxed instantly. This guy was still a nobody. It didn’t matter if he recognized him. Who the hell would he even tell?

“You still dealin’?”

“Nope,” he replied. “Not usin’, either.”

The dealer wrinkled his face in confusion, glancing pointedly down at the cocaine in Max’s hand.

Max shoved the bag in the pocket of his sweatshirt, grinning smugly. “It’s not for me.”

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

Effortlessly, it seemed, Michael fell asleep after they were done having sex that night. He spooned up behind her, shut his eyes, and within seconds, he was out. But Maria was on the opposite end of the spectrum: wide awake. And not by choice. It was just that her mind was racing and wouldn’t allow her to find the same rest he was.

She watched the clock on the nightstand, counting to sixty in her head over and over again as the red numbers ticked upward. 11:58. 11:59. By the time it switched to 12:00, her stomach started to knot up. Because it was officially a new a day, and where was she? Warmly tucked away in Michael’s bed, in Michael’s arms.

How could anything that was so wrong still feel so right?

Get up, she told herself. You have to go. She’d been thinking the same thoughts for the past fifteen minutes, yet she’d barely moved a muscle.

Eventually, the clock switched to 12:01.

When she turned over onto her back, Michael stirred, but he still didn’t wake up. He was probably exhausted from having worked all day and . . . well, fucked all night. She gazed up at him, adoring the innocent look on his face. Michael Guerin was not innocent by any definition of the word, but when he was asleep, he somehow managed to look that way.

“Michael?” she said, rolling over onto her side so she could face him.

“Hmm,” he murmured.

“Michael, wake up.” Too much was going through her mind right now. She needed to talk to him.

“I’m tired,” he groaned, eyes still shut.

So was she, but in a different way. She was tired of lying, of sneaking around, of being this horrible person she felt like she’d become. “I think . . .” She took a deep breath and then let it all out in one big rush. “I think I’m gonna tell Max.”

That was all it took for his eyes to snap open. In a split second, he went from a guy who was tired to a guy who was completely alert. “You mean . . . tell him?” he questioned emphatically.

“Yeah.” She dreaded the thought, but it had to be done. “I’m gonna tell him everything.” She felt an unexpected sense of conviction when she said that, an overwhelming belief that this was the right thing to do, even if she was doing it late.

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, but he reigned it in. “Why the sudden change of heart?”

“Because . . .” She reached out and put one hand on his chest, over his heart. “It’s midnight.”

He frowned, perplexed.

“It’s late. I should leave,” she stated matter-of-factly. “I should’ve left an hour ago, actually. But . . .” She inhaled shakily and confessed, “I can’t leave. I feel like I can’t leave this bed.” Beneath the covers, she wrapped her legs up with his, craving the closeness. “I can’t keep doing it, Michael. I can’t keep leaving you. I don’t want to.”

He stroked her hair lovingly and said, “I don’t want you to, either.”

Even the simplest touch made her quiver with delight. At this rate, it’d be 2:00 before she made it home. “So that’s why I’m gonna tell him. And I know it’s gonna be really hard.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, wrapping his arms around her. His whole body felt so warm against hers, and that made her feel safe and protected. “You nervous?”

She swallowed hard, nodding. “You were right to tell Sarah when you did. I shouldn’t have let it drag out like this. It only makes it worse.” She felt like such a coward for the way she’d chosen to handle all of this. There were so many mistakes she’d made, but she couldn’t take them back. All she could do now was try her best moving forward.

“I think it’s the right decision,” Michael said supportively. And of course he thought that; he’d been advocating for it all along.

“He’s gonna hate me,” she fretted, already bracing herself for Max’s reaction.

“But I’ll still love you,” Michael reminded her. “I’ll always love you.”

In that moment . . . that felt like the sweetest thing in the world. She stretched upward, and he bent his head downward, and their lips met in the simplest of kisses, one that still managed to give her butterflies. That love that he felt for her was the same as what she felt for him. And it was because she felt it so strongly that she finally knew she could do this.

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

The housing party—if there had actually even been one—was clearly done by the time Max pulled into the Vidorra parking lot. It was practically empty, yet Maria’s car was still there.

He pulled into the empty space next to it and glanced up three floors at the window to the apartment he knew to be Michael’s. It was dark inside but safe to assume that they were still going at it like the world was ending.

A pair of drunken co-eds and their boyfriends staggered by, so Max waited until they were out of sight before getting out of his car and walking over to Maria’s. He punched in the numbered passcode to unlock the door and sat down in the driver’s seat. He reached over to pull open her glove compartment, but he caught sight of something on the passenger’s seat, illuminated by the parking lot lights.

Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me, he thought, picking up the small scrap of black fabric that somehow passed as underwear. Maria must’ve been really thirsty to go inside without that.

He set the underwear back down and focused on the task at hand. Glancing over both shoulders quickly, he made sure no one was in close proximity and then took the small plastic bag of coke out of his sweatshirt. He stashed it in her glove box, behind a flashlight and a half-empty bottle of hand sanitizer. Then he shut it firmly, got back out of the car, and slammed the door shut.

Sweet dreams, Maria, he thought, glaring up at the window to Michael’s apartment again.

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

The last day of Music Appreciation 2 was pretty much the worst. They all had to spread out and put a few empty seats in between them for the final, and it was a bitch of a final. Twenty pages, two-hundred questions. Barely any multiple choice. Lots of fill in the blank, and there wasn’t even a word bank provided. Michael knew he was fucked from the first question onward.

He cast a glance at Maria out of the corner of his eyes, impressed to see her pencil moving at light speed. She looked significantly more prepared than he was, which made him feel simultaneously proud and envious.

When she noticed him watching her, she looked over at him and smiled. He smiled back.

Only because he was guessing his ass off, Michael finished before his girl, and he had to sit out in the hall and wait for her to be done. She emerged about fifteen minutes after he had finished, and together they headed outside.

“Well, that sucked,” he declared.

“I thought it went okay.”

“I bombed it, I’m sure,” he predicted. “That’s what I get for takin’ a music class.”

“One you didn’t even need to take,” she reminded him.

“But wanted to take. For you. So that’s romantic.”

“Hmm . . . kinda desperate.”

“In a romantic way. Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

She giggled, bumping into him playfully.

“So you think you did alright, though, huh?” he said.

“Yeah, I studied a lot of that stuff.”

He grunted. “Not with me you didn’t.” Truth be told, even though they’d tried to study together, they just hadn’t gotten much done.

“No, with . . . with Max,” she mumbled, looking down at her feet. It had gotten to the point where even just saying his name seemed to fill her with shame.

“Right.” Leave it to Saint Max to be the success secret. He refrained from saying much, though, just because he knew it was a sensitive subject for her right now. “So did you decide when you’re gonna tell him?”

She nodded, leaning into him as a kid—or possibly professor—on a skateboard flew past. “The end of the week, I think. After you’re done with all your finals. Does that sound like a plan?”

He would have preferred sooner, but logically, that made sense. It would be a shit-storm of drama, surely, so it was better to have all his finals out of the way by then. “Fine by me.”

Since Maria legitimately had to work for a few hours that afternoon, Michael was left with plenty of time on his hands. Time he knew he should use to study, or at least be productive in some way. There were numerous piles of dishes in his sink just begging to be washed and laundry piled up on the floor of the closet. But if he was being honest with himself, he knew he’d find some excuse to not do any of those things.

The first excuse came in the form of a phone call from his mom. He flopped down on his bed and answered it, hoping she wasn’t going to ask him to come home this weekend. With everything going on, that would just be bad timing.

“Hi, honey,” she said when he answered. “Oh, you’re not in the middle of an exam, are you?”

“Would I be answering the phone if I was?” he pointed out.

“Right, right. You had one today, though, right?”

“Yep.” And he didn’t want to talk about it.

Unfortunately, she asked, “How’d it go?”

He sighed and sat up, raking one hand through his hair. “Not so great.”

“Really?”

“Look, Mom, realistically, none of my finals are gonna go well this semester,” he informed her.

“Well, what does that mean for your scholarships then?” she asked, her voice taking on a slightly shrill, panicked tone.

“I might lose some of ‘em,” he confessed. The ones with a lower GPA requirement would still be maintainable, but . . .

“And you’re just okay with that?” she shrieked. “I don’t understand, Michael. I thought school was a higher priority for you nowadays. What changed?”

“Nothing.” He wasn’t about to blame Maria. It wasn’t her fault that he’d slacked off.

“Obviously something has.”

“It’s just . . .” He had no one to blame but himself, and quite honestly, he was at peace with it. “Other stuff matters more.”

There was a slight pause, and then a concerned, “What other stuff, Michael?”

Oh, that was something he did not want to get into right now. Thankfully, there was a knock on the door, so he had a chance to escape from answering. “Hey, I gotta go. Someone’s here,” he told her. “I’ll talk to you later, alright?” Without waiting for a response, he ended the call, flung his phone aside, and got up to go get the door.

Kyle came right in, talking excitedly. “Hey, so I had a vision,” he announced. “You, me, football field. For every pass you drop, you have to answer a psychology question. What do you say?”

Michael shut the door, only managing a “Yeah,” in response. He just wasn’t in the right headspace right now to muster up the same enthusiasm his friend had.

“ ‘cause I just thought, two birds with one stone, you know?” Kyle went on, as if he sensed he’d need to do some more convincing. “We work on psych and football at the same time. ‘cause you should be doin’ both next year.”

Michael nodded quietly. Man, Kyle was . . . a really good friend. A hell of a lot better of a friend than he probably deserved.

“What’s that look for?” Kyle asked suddenly.

“What look?”

“That one.”

Michael made a face. “I wasn’t giving you a look.”

“No, you were.” Kyle sat down on the arm of the couch, crossing his arms over his chest. “Come on, spit it out.”

Damn, Michael thought, resigned to talking about some stuff he’d gotten so used to keeping inside. Kyle knew him too well to just let it go, and honestly, if there was one person he should tell first, this was that person. It would be like a test-run for telling everyone else. It might do him some good.

“Alright, I gotta tell you somethin’,” Michael confessed, warning him, “You’re not gonna like it, but I want you to hear it from me.”

Kyle stood up slowly, his posture suddenly very tense, wary.

Michael exhaled heavily, working up the words. “Maria and I . . .”

As if he already knew where it was headed, Kyle shook his head, muttering, “Don’t say it.”

He said it anyway, because it needed to be said. “We’ve been sleepin’ together.”

Kyle kept shaking his head, looking away from Michael now. His jaw was clenched, and he looked . . . pretty fucking pissed, actually. “Dammit,” he swore. “Dammit, man, why would you . . .” He squeezed his hands into fists for a moment, then relaxed them. “How long?”

Too long for his liking, but . . . it was what it was at this point. “Since Sarah and I broke up.”

“This whole—this whole time?” Kyle spat incredulously. “Well, no wonder your grades are shit then. That explains it.”

“It’s gotten . . . pretty intense,” he admitted, not sure where they were going from here. They didn’t exactly have a plan in mind, but if he had his way, they’d be living together soon enough.

“Oh, I can’t believe you, man,” Kyle ground out disappointedly. “How could you do that?”

“I’m in love with her, Kyle.” At the end of the day, how could he not?

“But you told me it was over. You said it was just gonna be the one time. And I believed you. I mean, I knew you still had feelings for her, but . . . an affair, man? Really? You’d stoop that low?”

“I didn’t mean to . . . stoop.”

“Well, you did,” Kyle growled angrily. “And you lied to me.”

“I didn’t mean to do that, either,” he insisted. “I wanted to tell you, but I couldn’t.”

“There shouldn’t have even been anything to tell!” Kyle roared. “Cheating on Sarah was bad enough, but then to continue cheating when you know damn well Maria’s with Max . . .”

“She’s gonna break up with him,” Michael made sure to interject.

“That doesn’t matter!”

“Look, I didn’t want this, okay? I wanted her to break up with him right from the start, but she didn’t want to.”

“No, no, don’t do that,” Kyle said, pointing an accusatory finger at him. “Don’t try to lay all the blame on her. Maybe that was her idea, but you went along with it. You guys both messed up.”

“Well, that’s what I do, Kyle,” Michael reminded him. “I mess up all the fuckin’ time.”

“No, that’s what you did in high school,” Kyle corrected adamantly. “But you’re not in high school anymore. You’re better than that.” Grunting, rolling his eyes, he added, “Or at least you should be.”

Michael sighed, nodding reluctantly in agreement. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, understanding why his friend felt betrayed by all of this. It was a lie of omission, and sometimes those were the worst. “I know I screwed up; I know it was wrong,” he admitted. “But I just wanted you to know about it before it all comes out and shit hits the fan.”

“So you haven’t told anyone else?” Kyle asked.

“No.” Maybe that would at least be some consolation, that, out of all the people he could have talked to about this first, he’d chosen Kyle and nobody else.

“Well, good luck telling Tess,” Kyle said warningly. “And your mom. And Tina.” He waited a moment, then added, “And Sarah.”

Michael’s stomach tightened up with dread. Sarah. Shit, he hadn’t even thought about that conversation. Nobody would be more disappointed than she was. Nobody would be more disgusted with him. He’d already let her down so much these past few months, and this was just going to make it worse. He’d promised her that there would be no affair, and that was the only reason why she hadn’t said anything to Max. She was going to feel even more betrayed than Kyle did. And rightfully so.

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

“So he was really mad, huh?” Maria shoved a stack of Dylan’s t-shirts into the appropriate drawer and picked up the laundry basket as she walked out of the room.

“Yeah. Well, more like disappointed,” Michael amended as he followed her. “I felt like I was talkin’ to my dad.”

She stopped at the end of the hall and gave him a curious look.

“Well, not my dad, but an actual good dad. So that bodes well for him, I guess.”

She set the laundry basket back down on the floor, leaning back against the wall, biting her already worn-down fingernails. “God, that makes me nervous,” she fretted. “If even Kyle reacts that badly, how’s everyone else gonna react?”

“Yeah, it’s not gonna be pretty,” he mumbled.

“He’s not gonna say anything, though, right?”

“No.”

“Because Max needs to hear it from me. I at least owe him that much.” The only thing worse than the thought of having to tell Max everything was the thought of someone else doing it for her.

“He won’t say anything,” Michael promised.

“Who else are you gonna tell?”

He scratched his eyebrow, wincing as though he dreaded having to tell anyone else. “My mom and Teenie.”

She nodded, imagining that his mom would be sad and Tina would be furious. “What about Sarah?” That seemed like the obvious omission at this point.

He shifted uncomfortably and shrugged. “I think I’ll just let her find out on her own. Same with Tess.”

“Oh, god.” Just thinking about Tess’s reaction scared her. “That girl is going to kill us.”

He nodded nonchalantly. “Probably.”

“How can you be so calm about all this?”

“I’m not calm; I just know it has to be done,” he said. “And it’ll all be okay in the end.” He moved in close to her, cupping her cheek, and bent down to kiss her. She had to admit . . . one little kiss did sort of make it seem like it would be okay.

As always seemed to happen with them, one kiss quickly morphed into many, and before she knew it, they were full-on making out right there in the hallway. One of her legs came up to wrap around his waist, and his hands moved underneath her ass to hoist her up and pin her back against the wall.

And that was when it happened, one of the worst things that could have possibly happened in that moment: The front door opened, and in came Liz, holding Scarlet’s hand.

“Hey, Maria, are you--” She stopped short when she saw the compromising position they were in.

Michael quickly set her down, and she tried to push him away from her, but it was a little too late.

“Sorry,” Liz said, covering up Scarlet’s eyes. “I didn’t mean to just barge in. I should’ve . . .” She trailed off as the reality of what she was seeing seemed to fully resonate with her. Her eyes widened in horror, and her mouth gaped in shock.

“I can explain,” Maria whimpered, but could she really? Could she really explain any of this?

Liz didn’t wait around. She lifted Scarlet up and hurried back outside.

“Wait, Liz!” Maria ran after her, catching up to her out at her car. “Liz, hold on a minute!”

Liz helped Scarlet into her car seat, then slammed the car door shut and whirled around. “Oh my god, Maria!” she yelled, hands moving all around in the air dramatically. “What was that?”

“Liz, I’m so sorry,” she apologized. “I never meant for you to see that.”

“To see what? What did I see?” she demanded heatedly. “Aren’t you gonna tell me it’s not what it looks like, that it was all just some big misunderstanding?”

A week ago, or maybe even just yesterday, she might have actually attempted to do just that. But there was no point in that now. This whole scandalous chapter of her life was winding down, and Max wasn’t the only person she had to be honest with. “No,” she squeaked out.

“So then . . .” Liz made a face of disgust. “So then you guys are, like, hooking up or something?”

Or something, Maria thought. ‘Hooking up’ sounded way too casual to describe what they were doing.

Oh my god, oh my god!” Liz cried hysterically. “Maria! What’s wrong with you? How could you do that?”

“I don’t know.” She’d wondered the same thing a lot lately.

“How long have you guys been . . .” Liz shook her head vigorously, as if trying to shake the image of what she’d just seen out of her mind. “How many times have you guys done that?”

“A lot.” That was going to have to suffice, because there was no way she could keep count.

“What’s a lot? Like, five or . . .”

Maria gave her a guilty look.

“Oh my god,” Liz said again. She narrowed her eyes at Maria, and clearly the pieces of the puzzle started coming together in her mind. “That’s why he broke up with Sarah, isn’t it?” she deduced. “Because of you. Because you guys started . . .” She trailed off and shuddered.

“It just happened, Liz. I didn’t mean for it to.”

“So you’ve been cheating on Max for months now?” Liz huffed in outrage. “Good God, Maria, how could you do that to him? After everything he’s done for you, to be with you . . . you just throw it back in his face!”

“Liz, I’m going to tell him. Please don’t say anything,” she begged. This was quite possibly the worst case scenario. As close as she and Liz were, there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that Liz and Max were closer. If there was anyone who would tell him everything without skipping a beat, it was Liz.

“God, I don’t even know you right now,” Liz growled, stomping around to the other side of the car. She sent Maria another nasty glare, shook her head in contempt, got in, and drove off in a hurry.

Maria wiped away tears she hadn’t even been aware were falling as she watched the car disappear out of sight. Had that really just happened?








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

sarammlover
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Re: Somewhere, Anywhere (M&M, CC/UC, AU, Adult) Part 78, 06/11/17

Postby sarammlover » Mon Jun 12, 2017 3:03 pm

Gotta be honest here April....I am SO glad Liz found out. I am NOT glad about the placed drugs in Maria's car. That is shady and sickening and if Max wants to do this right, he needs to do it right. Michael and Maria are completely self-involved and this dose of reality is just what they need. I don't buy that Jesse is ok with Isabel quitting. It will be interesting to see what his next moves are....

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Re: Somewhere, Anywhere (M&M, CC/UC, AU, Adult) Part 78, 06/11/17

Postby CandyFi » Mon Jun 19, 2017 5:08 am

Getting serious now! Max is going too far, I hope he gets stopped soon. Glad Liz found out, will be interesting to see how that pans out. I think Jesse is going to do something bad to Isabel and hopefully Alex will save her. I am definitely rooting for those two. Isabel deserves happiness as long as she can turn her life around.
M & M have gone about this all the wrong way. No one is going to be happy for them or rooting for them, they are gonna have a lot of obstacles to overcome. The fact that Michael is now worrying about what Sarah is going to think is ridiculous! He hasn't stopped to think about her once! What a mess! Looking forward to seeing how you pull this all together for them all!!
Hanging on for the next part!
Fi

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Part 79

Postby April » Tue Jun 20, 2017 7:32 pm

Sorry for the delayed update! I was on vacation this weekend.


sarammlover wrote:Gotta be honest here April....I am SO glad Liz found out.


Michael and Maria are completely self-involved and this dose of reality is just what they need.


I was so glad to finally write that scene. It's been long overdue that somebody finds out. They haven't been the best at hiding it, so it's a wonder no one else found out sooner.

I am NOT glad about the placed drugs in Maria's car. That is shady and sickening and if Max wants to do this right, he needs to do it right.


Max isn't doing his own image any favors by stooping to this level. There's a right and a wrong way to go about this, and he's going about it the wrong way. Because he knows that, if he goes about it the right way, his past will come back to haunt him. So his mission right now is to try to make Maria's present look just as bad as his past, if he can.



Thanks for reading!








Part 79








Obviously the day was a pretty crazy one when tanking your final exam wasn’t the worst part of it. Michael sulked back home that night after many failed attempts at comforting Maria before Max came home. The plan as he knew it was still to wait until the end of the week to tell him, but for all either of them knew, Liz could blow the lid off of things early.

In a way, for him, that would’ve been a relief.

He trudged to his couch and flopped down, feeling pretty crappy. He’d been texting Kyle all afternoon, but no response. It wasn’t fun to know that his best friend was pissed at him and that Maria’s best friend probably wasn’t her best friend anymore.

Might as well get it all over with in the same day, he thought, taking his phone out of his pocket. He quickly dialed his mom’s number and held the phone up to his ear, contemplating hanging up with each successive ring.

She answered right as her voicemail was about to kick on. “So you decided to call me back,” she said.

“Yeah.” He rubbed his forehead, trying to ease some of the tension that was building up behind his skull. “Sorry for hangin’ up so fast earlier.”

“That’s okay.”

“It’s not.” He sighed, wishing he’d thought about how to do this in advance. “None of this is okay.”

Her voice took on quite possibly the most heartbreakingly supportive tone of all time when she asked, “What’s wrong, Michael?”

He shut his eyes, gulping. In some ways, she’d be the easiest person to tell, because she’d always love him and never hate him, no matter what he did. But for that same reason . . . telling her might be harder than telling anyone else.

“Michael?” she said again. Her voice was soft, encouraging.

Just do it, he told himself. He’d feel better once this huge weight was off his chest. “Mom . . .” He hated to disappoint her, but it was inevitable. In a way, it was all he’d ever done. “I need to tell you something.”

There was just silence after that, the kind that made him suspect she probably already knew what was going on.

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

Kyle got home well after dark that evening, but Tess was still sitting up on the couch awake, waiting for him.

“Hey,” she said, setting aside the remote control. “You’re home late.”

“Yeah, I worked out, then went for a run.” He took a detour into the kitchen and admitted, “Okay, more of a fast walk, actually. Or a slow jog.” Regardless of the pace, it’d been tiring, so he poured himself a glass of water and gulped down a drink.

“Well, I must say, the body is looking pretty on point.” She gave him a thumbs up and a smile, and that acknowledgment made him feel ridiculously good about himself.

“Thanks.” Even though he had yet to get back to his high school stature—and probably never would—at least she seemed to be feeling physically attracted to him again.

“Here, sit down,” she said, patting the empty space next to her on the couch.

“Oh, I should probably jump in the shower first,” he said, plucking at his sweat-soaked shirt. “I stink.”

“No, come here,” she insisted, scooting over a bit to make more room.

Well, there was always the possibility that she was feeling frisky, and even though she’d blown up like a tick these past few months, he definitely wouldn’t say no. He sat down next to her, angling his body towards her, looking at her expectantly. “What’s up?”

“Well . . .” She took his water from him and took a drink. “I’ve been doing some thinking. A lot of thinking, actually. About our . . . conundrum.”

“Conundrum?” he echoed. What exactly was their conundrum again?

“Yeah. This whole godfather thing.”

He nodded wordlessly. Right. That.

This probably wasn’t the best day to be thinking about that.

“So I talked to Sarah a lot, and I talked to my parents, and I talked to my older brothers,” she revealed. “And when I asked both of them who they thought the godfather would be, you know what they said?” She lowered her voice and mimicked a dumb guy’s response. “‘Uh, I don’t know.’” She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. “Whatever. I love them both, but clearly they’re not the right guys for the job.”

“So . . . what’re you getting at, Tess?” he asked, sensing where this was going.

“Maybe . . . maybe Michael is the right guy for the job,” she mumbled in admittance. “I mean . . . I may not agree with some of the decisions he’s made this year, but he’s still . . .” She shrugged. “He’s still Michael. And I know he’s more like a brother to you than a friend. I know he’ll treat our kids like family. And as much as I hate to admit it . . .” She sighed, reluctantly muttering, “I actually kinda miss the guy.”

He’d figured that much. Lately she’d been slipping in a lot of subtle questions about Michael, about what he was up to, and even though she’d acted like she hadn’t really cared, it was obvious she did. Regardless, this was still a shocking turn of events, though, one he hadn’t seen coming. “Wow, I’m—I’m really surprised you changed your mind,” he said.

“Let’s just hope he’s done screwing up, Kyle. Because we can’t keep giving him all these second chances.” She handed his water back to him, and with a great deal of effort involved, pushed herself up off the couch and waddled down the hallway into the bathroom. Probably to pee, because her bladder was the size of a pebble these days.

Done screwing up? Kyle wondered, frowning. I wouldn’t count on it. As much as he wanted to just sit back and be happy that Tess had changed her mind, he almost felt more uneasy about it than he had before. Because she didn’t yet know what he’d found out today, and once she did . . . well, she’d probably change her mind right back.

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

All night, Maria had been awake on pins and needles, anxiously wondering if Liz would call Max and spill the beans about . . . everything. She took Max’s phone off the nightstand, moving it out into the living room so he wouldn’t hear it if it rang, and she got out of bed extra early that morning to check and see if he had any missed calls or texts.

Nothing. Thank God.

Even though they’d made it through the night without incident, she knew she had to go see Liz the next day, just to try to sort some things out. It wasn’t a conversation she was looking forward to by any means, but it had to be done.

She knocked on the door to Liz’s apartment, but no one answered. She knew she was home, though, because she could hear the TV on. So she tried the doorknob, finding it unlocked, and made her way inside. “Liz?” she called.

Scarlet glanced up at her from the middle of the living room floor. She smiled and made some gurgling noise when she saw Maria, then returned her attention to the cartoons on the screen in front of her.

Liz came out of the bedroom a moment later, looking a bit more frazzled than she usually did, like she was running late from work or something. “What’re you doing here?” she grumbled as she hastily secured her hair in a ponytail.

“Look, I think we just really need to clear the air.”

Liz grunted and shook her head, stomping back down the hall.

“Liz, please,” Maria begged, following her friend into the bedroom, where the bed was unmade and there were dozens of different shirts strewn all about.

Whirling around, Liz shrugged and said, “I’ve lost all respect for you. There. Air cleared.”

“Liz . . .”

“What do you want me to say?” she cut in loudly. “I can’t even look at you the same way anymore, Maria. I don’t even wanna be in the same room with you. I’m so completely . . . repulsed by what you’ve done.”

“Repulsed?” she echoed, thinking that might be a little too dramatic. “Oh, come on, Liz! You hooked up with Michael when he was with Isabel. You’re not perfect, either.” In a way, if there was anyone who could understand this, shouldn’t it have been her?

“But at least I learned from that mistake. At least I would never do it again,” Liz argued. “I mean, do you even feel bad about it?”

“Of course I feel bad. I feel horrible.”

“Good. You should. Because Max . . .” Her eyes welled up with tears, and her mouth trembled. “He doesn’t deserve this. He turned his whole life around for you, you know. He became a better person. I mean, most girls would kill to have a guy do that for them.”

“I know, he’s been amazing,” Maria acknowledged. “It’s not his fault. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

“Yet you wanted something more,” Liz growled. “You wanted Michael.”

How could she explain that it was something beyond want? Want was something you could overcome, bury if you had to. This was on a whole different level. “We just have something,” she whimpered, “something undeniable.”

“Oh, save it,” Liz huffed.

“And I tried—I tried to deny it, believe me. But I couldn’t. I just . . . I can’t stay away from him. I’m still in love with him.”

“Oh my god. That is the most pathetic excuse,” Liz declared.

“Look, I know it’s hard for you to understand . . .”

“Hard for me to understand?” Liz shrieked, sounding almost . . . offended now. “Are you blind, Maria?”

Maria frowned, confused. “What do you mean?”

Liz threw her hands down at her sides and yelled, “I’m in love with Max!”

The shock of that almost knocked her over. “What?”

“I’m in love with him,” Liz repeated. “I always have been.”

Always? Maria thought. Immediately, she started thinking back to all their interactions over the years, all the smiles, the hugs. She’d always just assumed that it was a close friendship, a family bond if anything. But had there always been more to it than that for Liz?

“Whenever I’m around him, I feel like I can’t think about anything else, and when I’m not around him, I wish I was,” Liz revealed in a rush of honesty. “I love him so much, but I would never make a move on him. Because he’s with you. He chose you.”

Oh my god, Maria thought, clutching her stomach. She literally felt sick now, not because of Liz’s confession, but because . . . because she’d been so oblivious to it. Which meant Liz truly had been a great friend, willing to sacrifice her own wants for the benefit of their blended family.

“God, do you have any idea what it’s been like to spend the past two years of my life watching him get closer and closer to you?” Liz cried, tears rolling over onto her cheeks now. “Knowing he’s probably gonna marry you someday and there’s nothing I can do about it? I mean, do you know what I would give to be you for just one day, Maria? To be there when he gets home from work, to lie next to him in bed at night? I don’t . . .” A particularly hard sob made her whole body shake as she struggled to go on. “I don’t get to be that person, but you do. And you don’t even care!”

“Liz, I . . .” She did care, though. About Max, about Liz, about everyone. “I had no idea.”

“Because I kept it a secret,” Liz said, but judging by the way everything was pouring out of her mouth right now, it’d been a secret that had weighed on her. “And I would’ve kept it a secret for the rest of my life if I had to, because I respected his decision to be with you. And I liked you. You really were my friend.”

Maria winced, noting the usage of the past tense.

“But that’s all over now, so my secret might as well come out. I mean, it’s not as scandalous as yours, but . . .” She flapped her arms against her sides. “There it is.”

There it is, Maria thought, feeling . . . oddly relieved, in a way. Knowing that Max wouldn’t have to deal with this alone, that Liz would be there for him . . . it was comforting. He needed someone on his side, and clearly Liz was that person. She would always be that person for him.

“I know you think I don’t care about him,” she said softly, “but I do. I just haven’t been brave enough to come clean with him. But I’m going to.”

Liz crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at her. “When?”

“Probably tomorrow.”

“Probably?”

“Yes.” It was happening tomorrow. She was sure of it. Michael had his last final tomorrow, and once that was done and he could afford more distractions in his life . . . she’d do it. No backing out, no backing down this time.

“You’d better,” Liz bit out. “Because if you don’t tell him everything, then I will. Not because I love him, not because I want him. Because I respect him. And he deserves the truth.”

Maria nodded, not doubting that for a second. Liz would not sit back and let this lie continue on much longer, which was actually a good thing. It gave her extra incentive to not chicken out. “Thank you for letting me tell him myself, Liz,” she said. Even though it wasn’t something she was looking forward to . . . it just had to happen that way.

“Well, what’s gonna happen when you do, huh?” Liz questioned. “This is gonna change both your lives. Not to mention Dylan’s.”

“I know.” It wasn’t like she hadn’t thought about it at all. The next few days were going to be tough on all of them. “We’ll have to figure it out.”

“You’re not gonna try to take Dylan away from him, are you? Because that wouldn’t be fair.”

“No, of course not. I would never do that.” But the fact that Liz would even consider the possibility showed just how fast their friendship had deteriorated over these past twenty-four hours.

“But have you even thought about how this is gonna work?” Liz kept on questioning. “Where’s Dylan gonna live? Where are you gonna live? And what about Michael? Do you just expect him to take Max’s place? And my god, Maria, what kind of damage is all of this gonna do to Dylan? You can’t just keep rotating dads in and out of his life and expect him to adjust to it.”

That’s not what I’m trying to do, Maria thought helplessly. That had never been her intention. None of this had been.

“You’d better figure it out,” Liz advised sternly, “because if you don’t, Dylan’s gonna be the one who suffers for it.”

Her stomach clenched, a worst fear vocalized by someone she still very much wanted to count as a friend. Dylan’s well-being was what mattered the most here, more than anything. More than the pain she was going to cause Max, more than the longing she felt for Michael. All of this anger and hurt and betrayal they were all feeling . . . she didn’t want her son to feel any of it. And if he did, she’d never forgive herself.

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

“She’s right,” Maria rambled anxiously as she accompanied Michael across campus that day, walking with him to his second to last final exam. “Everything’s gonna change, everything’s gonna be different, and we’ve barely even thought about it.”

“I’ve thought about it,” he claimed, pulling his backpack up higher on his shoulders.

“You have?”

“Yeah.”

She waited for more but didn’t get any. “And . . .?”

“Well, ideally, you and Dylan and I live happily ever after.”

Ideally, she noted. That wasn’t the same thing as realistically. “What about Max?” she asked.

“What about him?”

“He’s Dylan’s father.”

Michael snorted. “Biologically.”

“No, it’s more than that.” A few years ago, when Max had shown up in Roswell like a freight train, it’d been easy to dismiss him as an absentee parent who had earned no place whatsoever in Dylan’s life. But nowadays, he’d spent a longer time being Dad to Dylan than Michael had, and she was sure that just wasn’t something Michael wanted to contemplate. “He’s been a huge part of his life for two years,” she pointed out. “They have a really good father-son relationship.”

“Then how come Dylan still calls me Daddy?” he blurted. “He does it all the time.”

“He does?” It must have been happening at school then, because she didn’t hear it at home.

“What, do I not get to be his dad anymore now that Max finally decided to step up to the plate?” he demanded.

“No, of course not.” She knew they both cared about Dylan and . . . well,ideally, there existed some sort of future out there for them where they could both care about Dylan without it being such a competitive, combative thing. “God, I’ve made such a mess of things,” she groaned, digging her hands through her hair.

He stopped walking and stepped in front of her. “Okay, tell me, what do you think Max is gonna want?” he asked.

“Uh, nothing to do with me, that’s for sure.” The romance wasn’t the issue here; the parenting was. “But he won’t want anything to change with Dylan, either.”

“So you guys are gonna have to share custody then,” he concluded.

“I guess.” She frowned, not even sure what that would feel like. A few years ago, she would have dreaded that kind of arrangement and done anything to avoid it, but now . . . it only seemed fair. “But we could make that work,” she said. “I think.” Maybe it would feel weird at first, and maybe it would be weird for Dylan. But if that was what they had to do to make sure they both still got to be part of his life, then that was what they would do. “But I’m his mom, and I’ve always taken care of him, so . . . I mean, he’d still mostly live with me,” she said, thinking out loud, wondering. “Right?”

“And me,” he added.

She brushed the hair out of her eyes as the wind whipped past. “Is that what you want?”

“Yeah.”

She smiled just thinking about it. It warmed her heart to think that they might possibly get back to where they used to be, that they might be able to be a family again. “But your place isn’t really big enough for all three of us,” she pointed out. “And I can’t very well kick Max out of a house that’s in his name.”

“So we’ll get a new place,” he decided simply, “move in over the summer. There’s family housing right off campus. I can look into it.”

Family housing, she thought. A two-bedroom apartment, maybe. Just like the one they’d planned to get in Alabama.

“See?” he said, rubbing her shoulder. “We got a plan goin’ now.”

“Sort of,” she said, knowing it was a typical Michael plan at this point. Michael plans tended to be optimistic but vague, with plenty of room left to hammer out all the little details. “I don’t know, Michael, I just . . .” She sighed, wishing she could ease the anxiety, wishing his touch was enough to rid her body of its tension. “I get this weird feeling that telling Max the truth isn’t gonna be the end of this. In fact . . .” She frowned. “I think it’s just the beginning.”

He still didn’t look as worried as she felt. He never did.








TBC . . .

-April
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Re: Somewhere, Anywhere (M&M, CC/UC, AU, Adult) Part 79, 06/20/17

Postby keepsmiling7 » Wed Jun 21, 2017 1:05 pm

Now Tess is beginning to change her mind about Michael........not knowing how much he is screwing up right now.
And Liz is rightfully repulsed by Maria......and finally admitted her feelings to her.
She would never make a move on Max herself knowing he chose Maria...........all the time Maria really didn't care.
And now.....finally both Maria and Michael are thinking about Dylan.......and where they will live????
This mess just gets deeper and deeper!
Carolyn

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Part 80

Postby April » Mon Jun 26, 2017 1:26 pm

keepsmiling7 wrote:This mess just gets deeper and deeper!


Oh, and trust me when I say it's going to get deeper and even messier before we end.




Thanks for reading!








Part 80








Michael had another lousy test-taking experience that day, but the good news was that he only had one left. He promised himself he was going to study for this one, even if cramming at last minute wouldn’t do much good. But when he got home . . . he got distracted. This time it was an understandable distraction, though. He’d told Maria he would look into the family housing, so that was exactly what he did.

The apartments looked nice enough, and the rent would be plenty affordable with both of them pitching in on the income. There was probably a waiting list, but since the university technically managed the complex, he was pretty sure he could ask Brody to do him a favor and put his name at the top of the list.

A knock on his door broke him out of his reverie, and he closed his computer and set it aside on the couch. When he opened the door, there stood Kyle, dressed as if he were about to hit the gym.

“Hey,” Michael said, glad to see him after yesterday. “What’s up, man? Are we workin’ out today?”

“Nope, I’m takin’ Steve,” Kyle told him.

“Steve.” Michael nodded, figuring that was fine. It wasn’t like Kyle was going to replace him or anything. He was just pissed at him for now.

“You should study,” Kyle suggested.

“That’s what I’m doin’,” he lied.

Of course Kyle saw right through him, though. “No, you’re not.”

No, he thought, sighing. I’m not. But what good would it do at this point anyway? If he didn’t know his shit by now, he wouldn’t know it tomorrow.

“Listen, I just came by to let you know . . .” Kyle came inside and shut the door. “Tess changed her mind. She wants to let you be Hayden and Haley’s godfather after all.”

Whoa, curveball, Michael thought. As much as he’d been hoping for this, he hadn’t at all expected it. “Wow.”

“Yeah. Although she’ll probably reconsider when she finds out about . . .” Kyle just motioned to the bed. “You know. Anyway. So enjoy it while you can.”

Michael stuffed his hands in his pockets, his shoulders slumping. Dammit.

“Look, man . . . you gotta get your shit together,” Kyle told him, “figure stuff out once and for all.”

“I’m trying,” he insisted. That was why he’d just spent the past half an hour looking up this family housing. He wanted a plan for the future.

“Well, try harder,” Kyle suggested, “because I can’t keep defending you. I mean, I literally got into fights with my fiancée about you.”

That wasn’t what he wanted. At all. “You don’t have to defend me,” he said.

Kyle sighed, clasping his hands together for a minute, then unclasping them. “Here’s the thing: You’re my best friend, and you’re always gonna be my best friend,” he declared. “Nothing’s ever gonna change that. And I know best friends are supposed to have each other’s backs on everything, and I know I’ve had your back on everything for the past twenty-one years. But . . .” He hesitated, staring at Michael with a sort of resigned acceptance in his eyes. “I don’t have your back on this,” he confessed.

Michael swallowed hard. This was a definite first. But he understood. Kyle, despite his faults, was a prototypical good guy. He’d never stoop as low as Michael had.

“So whatever happens once this is all out in the open . . . it just happens,” Kyle said. “And even if it’s something bad . . . you probably deserve it.”

Michael lowered his head and nodded, letting that soak in. He couldn’t be mad at Kyle for saying it, not when it was true. Actions had consequences and all that, and his actions had been pretty bad. So he wasn’t naïve enough to think that the future was going to be a stroll through a park for him. But for Maria’s sake, and for Dylan’s sake . . . he hoped it wouldn’t be horrible.

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

“Here you go.” Jesse handed Isabel a tall glass of champagne and sat down next to her on the couch. “Cheers.”

“To what?” she asked, holding her glass back.

“To your . . . independence.” He smiled.

Well, that was something cheerful. She tapped her glass against his and took a drink. “Mmm,” she said. “Are we celebrating?”

“We sure are,” he said. “Last video’s goin’ up tomorrow. And then you’re done. Movin’ forward.”

“Moving forward.” She took another sip of her champagne feeling . . . truly happy for the first time in a long time. It’d been so long, in fact, that she’d almost forgotten what it felt like to feel this way.

“Thank you for being so understanding, Jesse,” she told him, moving a bit closer to him. “I really appreciate how you’ve been about all of this.”

“Of course,” he said, as if it were no big deal. “I love you, Isabel.”

She hadn’t said that much lately, just because she wasn’t sure that she’d felt it. But when Jesse was this version of himself, the nice version, it was hard not to love him. “I love you, too,” she said, leaning in for a kiss. But he stood up quickly and swooped her up with him.

“Let’s dance,” he said, swaying with her over to the stereo. He turned it on, and some ridiculous Latin music filled the house.

She threw her head back, laughing as he attempted some salsa footwork. She tried to mimic him but ended up tripping over his feet and collapsing against him.

“You alright?” he asked, chuckling.

She nodded and kept dancing, feeling more than alright. When was the last time she’d just danced for the fun of it? Not to entertain a customer, not to arouse someone, but just to let loose and feel free.

Free, she thought, raising her arms in the air as she shook her hair from side to side. She was finally free.

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

Even though she managed to get some sleep that night, Maria woke up pretty frequently. Beside her, Max was snoring lightly, his back to her, and she kept glancing over at him, wondering which one of them would be in that bed tomorrow night. Because it wouldn’t be both of them. Either she’d be sleeping somewhere else or he would. In fact, they’d probably never lie in that bed together again.

It was for the best, and she knew it was for the best. But she was still dreading it.

Whenever she woke up, she ran through what she planned to say in her mind. It wasn’t a word-for-word speech she’d planned out or anything, but there was a general outline, a certain structure she wanted to follow and probably wouldn’t be able to follow once she actually started talking to him. She’d forget everything she planned to say and have to improvise. He’d probably interrupt her and yell a lot, and that would be understandable.

Tomorrow, she was going to crush him. Tomorrow, he would be crushed. Tomorrow, his whole world was going to be turned upside down, and so was hers. But the difference was, she at least knew it was coming. He, however, would be blindsided. No idea.

It sure wasn’t easy to fall back asleep that night, knowing that, in twenty-four hours, their lives would be completely different.

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

The whole room felt like it was spinning as Isabel tried to wake up. She was scared to open her eyes because of how dizzy she felt even with them closed. When she did, everything looked sort of blurry at first, and she had to blink a few times and wait a minute for everything to snap back into focus.

Morning sunlight shone in through the window, practically blinding her, and she had to shield her face from its glare. She tried to sit up, but that made her stomach feel like it was doing backflips. So she stayed down for a few seconds, holding one hand to her stomach and the other against her throbbing head.

God, how much did we celebrate last night? she thought, groaning. This was like a whole new brand of hangover, one she’d never experienced before, and it wasn’t pleasant.

Somehow, she managed to sit up, slowly, careful not to dislodge the fragile contents of her stomach. She noticed Jesse sitting over at the desk, his eyes fixed on the computer. “Hey, you,” he said with barely a glance back over his shoulder.

She could barely croak out a response. “I feel awful.”

“Well, you had a lot to drink last night,” he said. “Don’t you remember?”

She tried to, but the last thing she remembered was dancing with him. “No,” she said. “I don’t remember . . . any of it.” The weird thing was, she didn’t even remember having that much to drink. Just a couple of glasses of champagne. “What happened to our room?” she asked, surveying the mess in front of her. The mattress was halfway hanging off the bed, and the covers were all torn off. She hadn’t even had her head on a pillow, because the pillows were all on the floor.

Jesse smirked. “We had fun.”

Maybe too much of it, she thought, scratching her head. She tried to thread her fingers through her hair, but it felt gross and snarly. In fact, her whole body felt gross. She was wearing an oversized t-shirt she didn’t even recognized, and it reeked.

“What’re you doing?” she asked her boyfriend, wishing he’d offer to go get her some medicine or cook her breakfast or something.

“Uploading a video,” he replied.

“The last one? Does it look good?” She tried to scoot over on the mattress, but a sharp stab of pain shot up from her thighs, like a pulled muscle. She glanced down to see bruises on her legs, her inner thighs. That definitely didn’t look good.

“You alright?” he asked, spinning around in his chair.

“No.” Her mind felt fuzzy and her body felt sore. Something wasn’t right.

Something wasn’t right with Jesse, either. He stayed in that chair, blocking most of the computer screen from her view.

“I wanna see,” she told him, managing to scoot towards the edge of the bed.

“You should rest,” he advised.

“No, I wanna see.” She got up, wincing as pain zinged up and down her legs.

He stood up, too, almost like a roadblock.

“Move, Jesse,” she told him. When he didn’t, she just pushed past him and sat down. He backed off.

She’d barely ever been on her own website, so it took her a minute to even locate the video he’d just uploaded. The thumbnail for it . . . didn’t look familiar, and the title definitely wasn’t what they’d agreed on. “Celebration?” she said, clicking on the thumbnail. It took a few seconds to load, and when it started playing . . . it wasn’t their video.

At first, she thought it was someone else, but when she peered closer . . . it was in fact her. She was in the living room in the same clothes she’d been wearing last night, still dancing, but not with Jesse this time. With some guy she didn’t recognize. And there were a lot of other guys there, too.

“What?” she said, confused. “What is this?” Had he accidentally recorded over their footage or something? This wasn’t what it was supposed to be.

When the video version of her started to fall down in the midst of her dancing, she grew worried; so she skipped ahead about ten minutes in the video, and what she saw then shocked and devastated her.

There she was, in the middle of a circle of pants-less men. She was on her knees, and her eyes kept drifting shut as they each took turns shoving their cocks in her mouth. At one point, she nearly tipped over, and one of them had to hold her up.

“What?” she gasped, her jaw trembling. “Oh my god.” It was so repulsive that she couldn’t even watch. She made the mistake of skipping ahead fifteen more minutes, though, and it was even worse. At that point, she was lying on the couch, and someone she didn’t know was crawling on top of her. He started fucking her while the other guys just stood around, stroking their dicks, watching, cheering him on.

“Oh my god,” she said again, gripped with fear. “Ugh . . .” She clicked towards the end of the video, and that was when she felt the closest to throwing up. An hour and a half into that whole fuck-fest, they’d moved her upstairs and used her even more, in ways she couldn’t even comprehend. They just kept shoving their way into her wherever they could. Three at one time, three people she didn’t even know.

“Oh my god,” she cried, needing to look away. She slammed the computer shut and shot to her feet, ignoring the stab of pain between her legs. “What did you do to me?” she demanded.

“We made a movie,” he answered simply.

“With all of them? Who were those guys, Jesse?” she shrieked. “How many of them were there?”

“Six,” he replied. “Not counting me and Eric.”

Her eyes grew wide in horror, and she whimpered at the thought. Eight. Eight different men had fucked her last night? While she lay there like a rag doll, limp and lifeless, just a thing for them to tear up? “Oh god,” she whispered, mortified. “Oh . . . I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“You did good, Isabel,” he complimented her, reaching out to place his hand on her arm. “You did really good.”

“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, swatting his hand away. “I hate you! I hate you, Jesse, I hate you!” She put both her hands on his chest and shoved him backward with what little strength she had left in her limbs. “I said I was done! I said I never wanted to do that! And you said it was okay.” She broke into tears, shaking her head, trying to rid her mind of the footage she’d just seen. “How could you do this to me?”

As emotionless as she’d ever seen him, he folded his arms and asserted, “It’s business, Isabel.”

“No, it’s not! It’s rape!” she roared. “You . . . oh god!” Her whole body started to crumble, and she had to reach down and hold onto the desk to keep from collapsing. Wailing, the reality of the situation crashed in on her. This wasn’t just a betrayal; it was a complete and utter violation, and he had the audacity to make it public for everyone to see.

“You were into it, babe,” he assured her. “Maybe you just had too much to drink.”

“No, no, there is no way I drank that much!” she yelled, pointing an accusatory finger at him. “I wouldn’t get so drunk that I would just let that happen. You . . . you did something to me!” She shuddered, struggling to breathe as she fought to comprehend that. This man, her boyfriend . . . he’d taken advantage of her, and he’d helped others do the same. “Oh . . . my god, you slipped me something, didn’t you? That’s why I don’t remember. That’s why I didn’t know what was going on.”

He didn’t deny it. In fact, all he said was, “Isabel, calm down.”

“Calm?” she echoed in distress. “Calm?! I was just gangbanged by eight different guys last night! Against my will! I’m not calm, Jesse!”

“You liked it,” he claimed.

She flung her hand out and slapped him hard across the face. “No,” she ground out. There was no way she had liked one part of that, and he knew that. Why else would he have drugged her? “That’s it, I am out of here,” she growled. “I’m taking Courtney and we are leaving.”

“She doesn’t wanna go,” he said, as if he had the authority to speak for her. This bastard . . .

“No, she does,” Isabel insisted. “You don’t even know her. She’s my friend. I’m not leaving her.” Hell, probably half of her gangbang videos were the result of something like this.

“Isabel . . .” He lifted the screen of their laptop again and pressed the play button. She forced herself to watch more, just because of who she now noticed in the background. There, standing next to Eric, naked as he was, was Courtney. She was doing nothing to stop it, nothing to help. In fact, she was encouraging it by saying things like, “Yeah, fuck her harder,” and “Don’t stop.”

Isabel whimpered, broken-hearted. No one in that house cared enough about her to help her. No one cared about her at all. She really was just a product to them, a thing. They weren’t friends, and they definitely weren’t family.

“She wants to be here,” Jesse reaffirmed, leaving the computer on as he turned and marched out of the bedroom.

A screaming cry rose up from her lungs once he was gone. She fumbled with the mouse, trying to exit out of the video, but her eyes were so clouded over with tears that she could barely see what she was doing. Finally, she just slammed the whole computer shut, unplugged it, and threw it at the wall. She heard something crack as it fell to the floor.

She fell to the floor right along with it, clutching at the carpet, sobbing. Surely they were all home, and surely they all heard her. But not one of them came to check and see if she was okay.

She wasn’t okay.

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

Maria was waiting for Michael outside of Burnett Hall when he got done with his final. Just seeing her there was like a breath of fresh air.

“So how’d it go?” she asked.

“Slightly better than the others, but that’s not sayin’ much.” He shrugged. Whatever. It was what it was at this point.

“We have to be more academic next semester,” she said.

“We will be.” Reaching down, he linked his hand with hers, knowing they weren’t technically supposed to be acting like a couple in public yet. But why not? In a few hours, they’d officially be one. “So today’s the day, huh?” he said, walking with her.

“Yep. My stomach’s in knots.”

He squeezed her hand supportively. “You got a plan for afterward?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Dylan and I might have to stay in a hotel tonight.”

“Ah, come on, stay with me.” He had plenty of time now that his finals were over; he could go home and straighten up, make sure those dishes finally got done. “You guys take the bed; I’ll take the couch.”

“Won’t that be weird for Dylan, though?” she asked.

“No weirder than sleepin’ in a hotel.” It’d be better this way. They could pop in a few movies for him or something, something to occupy him.

“I guess,” she said. “Well, it’ll be later, after Max gets home from work.”

“I’ll be at home,” he promised.

“Okay.” She sighed and slowed to a stop as they approached an intersection in the sidewalks. Apparently she didn’t have to go the same way he did, so this was it. Until later.

Screw it, he thought, leaning in for a kiss. He didn’t care who saw, or if anyone even saw at all. She was his girl, and he couldn’t resist kissing her.

“I love you,” she said when they broke apart.

“I love you, too.” No matter what happened today, that wouldn’t change. “See you later,” he said, reluctantly letting go of her hand.

She waved goodbye to him, and her long blonde hair dropped in front of her eyes as she turned and walked off.

He backed away, unable to take his eyes off of her for a few seconds. Smiling to himself, he finally turned around and walked off in the opposite direction. Today was the day.

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

It didn’t matter that she showered, didn’t matter that she got dressed in some actual clothes of her own. Isabel still felt filthy. Even though she couldn’t remember it happening, she kept imaging their hands all over her. All that imagining led to vomiting. Several times.

She stayed up in her room, curled up on an empty mattress, her knees up by her chest, her arms wrapped around her legs. She hadn’t eaten, nor did she want to. She hadn’t gone downstairs to get a drink, nor did she plan to. All she could do was just sit there. And wait. But she had no idea what she was waiting for.

For the most part, Jesse left her alone that day. She could hear him downstairs with Eric and Courtney, laughing, living it up like it was just a normal day. Like nothing was wrong. He came upstairs that afternoon to grab his keys and barely even glanced at her. “I think we’re gonna go out,” he mumbled. “Wanna come?”

She slowly lifted her head to look up at him, glaring. “Are you kidding me?” she growled. Did she want to hang out with the three of them right now? She wanted nothing to do with them.

“Just thought I’d ask,” he muttered, jingling his keys as he left the room.

She shook her head in dismay, amazed by his complete and utter lack of respect for her. She’d always sensed that he didn’t really love her as much as he claimed, but never had that been more apparent than today. He didn’t love her at all. He never really had. She’d always been something for him to use for his own satisfaction, his own benefit. There was no good in Jesse Ramirez. Any claim to the contrary was just a lie.

Everything was a lie, she thought morosely as she listened to the car pull out of the driveway. He’d never truly supported her decision to quit this industry. He’d never planned to let their romantic video actually be their last video. His plan was to keep her entrenched in all of this for as long as he possibly could, to keep using her until there was nothing left to use. He thought he owned her. But of course he did. She’d been nothing but an obedient little girlfriend for the past three years. Of course he was drunk off that power. He assumed it would never change.

No, she thought, determined. Something has to change.

She shot to her feet, nearly numb to her own aching muscles at this point, and raced downstairs into the bathroom. Purposefully not looking at her reflection, she opened the mirrored cabinet and frantically searched around inside for some of Courtney’s pills. But they weren’t there.

“Dammit,” she swore, slamming her fist down on the sink counter. She needed those pills. She needed something to just make this stop.

When she shut the cabinet and caught sight of herself, she was horrified. She looked awful. Not even like herself. People who’d known her back in high school wouldn’t even recognize her anymore.

She didn’t even recognize herself.

Who am I? she wondered, staring at her own reflection helplessly. She wasn’t the person she wanted to be, nor the person everyone had assumed she would be. She didn’t even have potential anymore. Jesse and Eric and all those other guys last night . . . they’d fucked it right out of her.

I’m no one, she decided. It was a dismal thought, one that filled her with a hopelessness unlike anything else she’d ever felt before. It was as if her life were a snow globe, and she was just trapped. Unable to get out, unable to breathe. And every once in a while, someone would come along and shake her whole world up, rattling her to the core. And then it wouldn’t stop snowing.

She sulked out of the bathroom, contemplating her options. And what few options there were. She could go back upstairs and sit and wait for her so-called ‘family’ to return, or . . . she could do something else.

Inspiration struck, just like it did for the chapters of her novel. The minute she remembered what was stashed away upstairs, the minute it seemed like the perfect thing to do.

She ran back upstairs and into her and Jesse’s room. Climbing over pillows and blankets, she got into the closet and pulled a string to turn on the overhead light. The light flickered on but then went out just as quickly. She pulled the string again, but it remained dark.

Didn’t matter. She bent down, reaching past pair after pair of shoes she owned, and fumbled with the lock for a small black safe. She had to squint in the darkness to see the numbers, but eventually, she heard it click, and the small door swung open.

She reached inside and took out the only object hidden away in there, an object that was hidden away for a reason.

A gun.








TBC . . .

-April
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Part 81

Postby April » Sun Jul 02, 2017 1:29 pm

Part 81








His place was looking good, or at least Michael thought it was looking good. He’d done more cleaning in the past four hours than he’d ever done in his life.

The dishes were done. The laundry was done. The sheets were changed and the bed was made. Hell, he’d even dusted and vacuumed. Now all that was left to do was wait for Dylan and Maria to show up. Maybe he could try to cook something before they showed up there.

“Watch out, buddy,” he said, stepping over Shango as he rearranged a few items on his coffee table. He’d gone ahead and checked out a whole bunch of movies from the front desk. Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story just to name a few. Some quality Pixar stuff Dylan would love watching, even if he’d already seen them a thousand times. And if he got bored with the movies, then he could play with the dog. He’d be just fine over there tonight, probably would end up tiring himself out.

He was just about to sit down with Shango and veg out for a while when there was a knock on the door. Definitely not a Kyle knock; way too soft for that. Maria couldn’t have been there already, right? It was too early.

He got up and answered the door, truly shell-shocked by who he saw standing on the other side. A lame “Hey,” was all he managed.

Sarah didn’t bother to say it back. She stared at him with a serious look in her eyes and said, “I need to talk to you.”

Oh, shit, he thought, fearing he already knew what this was about. Maybe Kyle or Liz had slipped up and said something. Maybe she’d seen him kiss Maria on campus today. Regardless of how she’d found out . . . she definitely knew.

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

Liz smiled at Max when he came into the bakery, but she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to lose count of where she was at with the register. She finished up counting the twenties and wrote the total down on a sticky note, closing the register drawer to finish up later.

“So I heard you’re giving Alan another shot,” he remarked.

“Yeah, well, he called the other day, and I kinda just said yes.” She shrugged, wishing now that she wouldn’t have. They were going to have to do an early dinner and just skip the movie tonight, because if Maria went through her plan to clue Max in, he was going to need some major emotional support tonight. “I doubt it’s gonna amount to anything,” she made sure to add, just so he knew that romance really wasn’t on the menu.

“He’s a nice guy,” Max noted.

“That’s why I don’t wanna lead him on. I think today I’m gonna have to clarify to him that we’re just gonna be friends.”

Max cocked his head to the side and asked, “You sure about that?” He leaned against the counter, his strong hands gripping the edge. “Sometimes two people can be friends with the potential to be a whole lot more.”

As much as she wanted to read into that, she’d learned not to. “That’s not me and Alan,” she said.

“Is it me and you?”

Her heart beat into overtime, shocked as all get out. “What?” He hadn’t really just said that . . . had he? Holy crap. “Max . . .” This really wasn’t the best time for him to be flirtatious. Knowing what she knew now, her resistance was less than what it had once been. She didn’t want to do or say anything she would regret. “Don’t say that,” she told him, figuring it was best to just not answer the question.

“Why not?” he pressed.

Oh my god, she thought, stunned by his seriousness. He wasn’t joking around here. “Look, I’m not saying there’s no . . .” She trailed off, trying to think of a way to respond that wasn’t an all-out refusal but also wasn’t an open invitation. “I mean, obviously there’s still a connection, but . . .” She felt herself becoming more and more frazzled the more she spoke. “Max, where is this coming from?”

He rested his arms on the counter, slumping over. “I’ve just been thinking about a lot of things lately,” he said. “All the mistakes I’ve made.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And I was one of them?”

“No,” he responded quickly. “But breaking up with you probably was.”

As if her heart wasn’t already beating fast enough, that made it beat even faster. What the hell was happening? She had dreams that started out like this, but it was never supposed to really happen.

“There’s something I need you to know, Liz,” he said, his eyes locked onto hers. “I didn’t choose Maria over you.”

Yes, you did, she thought. That’s why I didn’t fight for you.

“When I got clean, I realized I needed redemption,” he went on, “and I needed it the most with Dylan. So I had to be there for him. I wanted to be close to him. And to do that . . . well, I had to reconnect with Maria, too.”

She shook her head, not quite so eager to believe all of this. He was making it sound like Maria was just some chore, but she knew better than that. He really cared about her.

“I knew I could do things right with you and Scarlet, right from the start,” he said, “but I had to make things better with them. So that’s why I got back together with Maria. It wasn’t about her; it was about my family. And if it had just been about you and her . . .” He grinned at her, his eyes momentarily glancing down at her mouth. “Well, I think I would’ve made a different decision.”

She swallowed hard, shocked into silence. It still didn’t feel real that he was saying any of this, and while part of her was elated, another part was confused. What was impetus for this sudden confession? If Maria had already admitted all to him, then she really had to take everything he was saying with a grain of salt. Because he might not really mean it. It might have just been his emotions talking.

Skeptical as she was, she didn’t have it in her to protest when he leaned in, cupped her face, and pressed the softest of kisses to her forehead. It was so unbelievably tender and sweet that she didn’t even have it in her to doubt it. So she savored it instead.

Without another word, he turned around and headed out, leaving her with more questions than answers. She felt as hopeful as she did wary, wondering if maybe they were the type of friends who had the potential to be more. Not today, and not tomorrow, even. But someday.

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

It felt so fucking weird having Sarah back inside that apartment. Not bad, necessarily. Just . . . different. He was glad he’d cleaned up before she’d gotten there. Made him look more responsible than he’d actually been these past two months.

She surveyed the movies on the table and lifted up the top DVD case. “Monsters, Inc.?” she said.

“Yeah, it’s a . . . it’s a classic,” he claimed.

She gave him a confused look and set the movie back down on the top of the pile. Shango approached her and started pawing at her feet, and she smiled at him and squatted down to pet him. “Hey, Shango,” she said, scratching him behind the ears. He nuzzled his head eagerly against her hand, like he’d missed her or something.

Michael didn’t want to be rude, but he kind of wanted to cut to the chase here. If he and Sarah were going to hash this out, they had to do it before Maria and Dylan came by. So he decided to ditch the awkward, casual interaction and dive straight into it. “Alright, look, Sarah . . . I know what you’re gonna say to me, and I know you’re probably pissed and disappointed in me, and I know messed up. I know it was wrong.”

She stood up, giving him the kind of look you gave crazy rambling people who wouldn’t shut their mouths. “What’re you talking about?”

What? Were they not talking about the same thing? If she hadn’t come over there to confront him about his affair, then . . .

Well then, it was his lucky day. “Never mind. It’s not important,” he dismissed quickly. “What’re you doin’ here?”

She hooked her fingers together and glanced down at her hands, mumbling, “I told you, we need to talk.”

He’d had so many talks with so many people lately, he could barely distinguish one from the next. “Alright,” he urged. “About what?”

Slowly, as if she didn’t really want to say anything, she lifted her head and made eye contact with him again. When she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper, but he still heard her loud and clear.

“I think I might be pregnant.”

He stared at her in disbelief, hoping he’d misheard her. Knowing he hadn’t.

Words escaped him. Panic seized him. And only one thought crossed his mind: No.

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

“Mom, I’m gonna play outside,” Dylan announced as he skipped towards the door with a Nerf football in hand.

“Stay where I can see you, okay?” Maria reminded him as she finished putting all the freshly dried dishes away.

“Kay.” He even remembered to leave the front door propped open a bit as he went outside.

Maria sighed, washing off her hands, hating that scaly dishwater feeling. They never had gotten the dishwater fixed. In fact, there was a lot of stuff around that house that was sort of just . . . deteriorating.

She went into the living room and sat down on the couch, pulling the curtains back so she could peek outside at Dylan. He appeared to be attempting a game of catch . . . by himself. He’d throw the football across the yard and then go running for it, trying to get underneath it before it hit the ground. He wasn’t really having much success, though.

She yawned, lying down for a minute, shutting her eyes. The whole week seemed like it had just dragged on and on, probably because she’d been dreading the inevitable. The conversation. The one that should have happened months ago. Although it probably wouldn’t have been much easier then.

Just as she was about to doze off for a few minutes, Max came in the front door, heavy footsteps echoing with every step.

“You’re home early,” she said, sitting up.

He shrugged. “Normal time. You know Dylan’s out there, right?”

“Yeah.” She peeked out at him again, seeing that he’d started doing something different now. Now he was just tossing the football as high into the air as possible and catching it over and over again.

“Hey, so Luke’s mom called,” she told Max as he took off his shoes. “She said Luke wants Dylan to sleep over. I was thinking that might not be such a bad idea.”

“Hmm.” He grinned. “We could have a night alone then.”

That wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. She was more so thinking that it was a chance for Dylan to be away from everything tonight, off somewhere else having fun with his best friend, completely oblivious to all the drama back home. “Should I pack up his stuff?” she asked.

Max shrugged again. “Whatever you want.”

She wanted her son out of dodge for all of this, so she decided, “I’ll go do that,” and shot to her feet.

“Wait a minute,” Max said, grabbing her arm and pulling her back as she tried to ease past him. “Before you do . . .” He smiled, a heartbreaking gleam of excitement in his eyes. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

Ask me? she registered. Oh god.

Her worst fears became reality when he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small, sparkly object. A ring. He sank to one knee and held it out between his thumb and index finger, gazing up at her expectantly.

Oh no, she thought, heart thudding. No.

“Maria DeLuca . . .”

“Max, don’t,” she whimpered.

But it was like he didn’t even hear her. “Will you do me the honor . . .”

Her stomach clenched. This couldn’t be happening.

He paused for a second, and his eyes suddenly narrowed, and the smiling corners of his mouth dropped. “Of telling me how long you’ve been cheating on me?” he finished.

Her pounding heart just dropped, right down to the pit of her stomach. “What?” she gasped. How had he found out?

“Don’t pretend to be confused,” he said, standing back up. He put the ring back in his pocket and restated, “I wanna know how long.”

She was so flabbergasted, though, that she could barely comprehend his question, let alone answer it. “How did you . . . how do you know?” she sputtered. Surely Michael hadn’t said anything, and it was doubtful Kyle would have. That pretty much left one person. “Did Liz tell you?”

“Liz knows?” He laughed angrily. “Oh, great, it’s a fucking conspiracy.”

“She just found out the other day.”

“Well, I just found out a couple weeks ago.” Max took a few steps down the hall, stopping near the bathroom. “Yep, came home from Roswell a couple hours early, and there you two were, right in our bed.” He gestured sadly to their room. “Right there. Fast asleep.”

“Oh god,” she choked out. “I’m so sorry, Max.”

“Don’t apologize,” he snapped, stomping back towards her.

“But I am sorry.”

“I don’t wanna hear it!” he yelled. “I don’t fucking care. Now answer the question, Maria: How long has it been going on?”

Too long, she thought. She’d prepared herself for this part of the conversation last night, but not this way. In her head, she’d pictured Max being the one shocked into silence and herself doing most of the talking. “A while,” she finally responded.

“Before or after your lover boy broke up with Sarah?”

“Before . . .” She cringed. “. . . technically.”

“Oh, I get it,” he said, smiling as if he were amused. “So you laid out the welcome mat, and he laid her out to dry. Nice, Maria. Very classy.”

“It wasn’t like we planned it, okay?” Not that that made it better or anything.

“Well, hey, at least he broke up with her. I mean, I am by no means the guy’s biggest fan, but at least he didn’t drag it out and play her for a fool.”

It was a pretty obvious jab at her, and she felt compelled to at least try to explain herself. “That’s not what I was trying to do.”

“Then how come I feel foolish?” he countered.

“I was worried about you, Max. I didn’t know what would happen to you if we . . .” She trailed off, feeling as if nothing she could say would do any good.

“What, broke up?” he filled in. “Don’t flatter yourself, baby. You were never the one who made me a better guy. That was all Dylan.”

“Well, I was thinking about him, too. He’s already been through so much, and for the first time in his life, he has some actual stability. I really wanted us, our family, to work.”

“That’s a lie,” Max growled.

“No, it’s not!”

“Yes, it is!” he blasted. “If you really wanted us to work, you wouldn’t have kept on sleeping with that son of a bitch. But you did. You know why? Because you’re a liar and a cheater and a whore.” He pointed an accusatory finger at her and said it again. “You’re a whore. You’re his whore.”

She winced as so many painful memories from the past assaulted her mind when he said that word. “Please don’t call me that.”

“Why not? It’s what you are.” He moved in extraordinarily close to her, his breath seething into her ear. “And the only reason it bothers you so much is because you know I’m right.”

Shuddering, she closed her eyes, trying to convince herself that that wasn’t true, that it was just his anger talking. But maybe it wasn’t.

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

Michael’s head was spinning, but he was trying not to freak out. Inside . . . he was freaking out, though.

“What do you mean you might be?” he asked.

“I mean . . . I’m late,” Sarah clarified.

“Well, what does that mean?”

She shot him an annoyed look.

“No, I—I know what I means, but . . .” He stopped and took a breath. “How late?”

Shoving her hands in the front pockets of her jeans, she avoided all eye contact with him as she confessed, “I didn’t get my period last month.”

“Last month?” he echoed incredulously. Oh, shit, here he’d been expecting a week or two late, maybe, but . . . a whole fucking month? Great. “Okay,” he said, still fighting to keep it together. He was trying to do the math in his head, and he knew it was certainly possible. And he was pretty sure he hadn’t worn a condom, because . . . well, she was on the pill, and she was always really diligent about taking it.

There was something he had to know, and he felt like an ass for even considering the possibility. “Is it . . .” He wasn’t sure how to put it, so he just phrased it as delicately as he could. “I mean . . . would it be mine?”

“Of course!” she snapped. “God, you’re the only person I’ve ever been with.”

“Okay, I just . . .” He held his hands up non-confrontationally. “Just thought I’d ask.” He’d figured as much, though, so now he felt like an ass for asking. “Well, have you . . . have you taken a test or anything?”

“No,” she whimpered, blinking away tears. “I’ve been too scared.”

“Well, that’s what you gotta do then. We gotta know.” He gave himself a mental pat on the back for steering the situation in the logical direction and offered, “I’ll go out and buy one right now.”

“I already have one,” she revealed. “In my purse.”

He glanced down at the bag next to her feet. “Good,” he said, his stomach quenching with nervousness. “That’s good. So we can just . . .” He took a deep breath, trying to conceal just how panicked he was feeling. Because he knew she had to feel ten times worse, especially if she’d been keeping this in for a month now. “Let’s find out,” he said. “You can just do it right now, and I’ll wait with you.”

She nodded dazedly, bending down to pick up her purse. She flung the whole thing over her shoulder and staggered to the bathroom.

“Sarah,” he called.

Slowly, she turned back around.

“Everything’s gonna be fine,” he promised, hoping to reassure her, to make her feel better.

She didn’t nod or say anything to even acknowledge that. Instead, she just slipped into the bathroom and shut the door. He listened as the lock clicked into place, then let out the heavy, distressed sigh he’d been holding in. This couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t be.

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

“Why don’t you tell me, Maria?” Max ground out, his voice crackling with contempt as he circled around her like a vulture. “Tell me all the gritty details now so there aren’t any more surprises.”

“What do you mean?”

“Who’s on top more, huh?” he demanded. “Him or you?”

“What?” Why the hell would he want to know? “Max . . .”

“Him, right?” he guessed. “Does he make you cum?”

“Max, stop.” He was just making this even more uncomfortable than it already was.

“I wanna know,” he said, planting his feet directly in front of her, “does he make you cum?”

“Yes, alright? Now let it go.”

He didn’t let it go. He just kept pushing and pushing for more. “How often? Every single time?”

“Max!”

“I mean, is it just that good that he gets you off every single time?”

“Why are you doing this?” she wailed. Was he trying to make himself miserable?

“How many times did you do it here?” he questioned sternly.

She grunted, astounded by all of this. Of all the things she’d rehearsed in her mind last night, this hadn’t been one of them.

“Answer the question, Maria,” he commanded.

“I don’t know, okay?” Not as many times as they’d done it at his place, that was for sure.

“Do you suck him off, or do you let him cum inside you?”

“Stop!” He was totally crossing the line now.

“You let him fuck your ass?”

She couldn’t even manage a response for that one.

“Oh, you do, don’t you?” he concluded. “Do you like it?”

She rolled her eyes.

“I bet you do, you dirty girl.”

“Fine, I like it, okay?” she relented. Maybe if she just answered his stupid question, he’d quit asking them. “Now stop. Please, just stop!”

“I’ll stop bein’ a dick to you when you stop bein’ a bitch to me.”

“I’m not trying to be a bitch, Max!”

“Well, you are,” he accused. “I mean, were you even gonna tell me?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Tonight.”

“And then—let me guess—you were gonna run off to Michael’s to have some more butt sex.”

“God, I can’t—I can’t talk to you when you’re like this!” she screamed, throwing her hands up beside her head. “You’re making it really hard to feel bad for you right now.”

“I don’t want your sympathy!” he roared. “I don’t want anything from you, Maria!”

“Then stop asking about--”

“Mom?” a tiny voice squeaked out.

She fell abruptly silent when Dylan’s fearfully broke into their argument.

“Dad?” He stood in the doorway with his football in hand, his mouth downturned, eyes filled with concern.

Oh god, Maria thought, ashamed to even look at him. How could they be so careless to do this with him around?

“Why are you guys yelling?” he whimpered.

She imagined that this was what Michael would have been like at Dylan’s age overhearing his own parents’ arguments, and the thought of that broke her heart. “Um, Dylan, can you go back outside please?” she asked him kindly, her voice quivering with emotion.

As if he sensed that they shouldn’t be left alone together anymore, Dylan said, “Dad, come play with me.”

Maria cast a glance at Max, who seemed as horrified as she was that Dylan was a witness to this. “Not right now, kiddo,” he declined.

Pouting in disappointment, Dylan drooped his head and sulked back outside by himself.

“Oh god,” Maria scraped out. “He can’t be here for this.” She ran into the bedroom, grabbed her purse, and slammed right past Max on her way back out.

“Where are you taking him?” he demanded, grabbing her wrist hard.

“Somewhere where there’s not gonna be any yelling.” She jerked her arm free of his grasp and hurried outside to get her son and get out of there.

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

Keep it together, Michael kept telling himself as he paced back and forth through his living room. Sarah had been in that bathroom for a long time now, and he wasn’t sure why. Maybe she was struggling to go through with it, or maybe she had and she was going to look at the test results by herself. He thought about knocking on the door and checking up on her, but then he figured it might just be best to give her space.

Thoughts raced through his head as he feet burned holes in the floor. What if this was really happening? Sure, he’d pictured himself being a father someday, but . . . not like this. And not now. Not when every complicated thing in his life was finally starting to sort itself out.

His phone rang shrilly, and he stopped walking to peer down at the name on the screen. Fantastic. Maria.

Grimacing, he picked up the phone and answered it. “Hey, I can’t really talk right now.”

“Oh, Michael, it was awful,” she said, her voice low, quiet, like she didn’t want to be overheard. “He already knew.”

“What?” That didn’t make any sense. But then again, nothing made sense to him right now.

“I tried to talk to him, but he already knew. And he was so mad.” He heard her sniff back tears, and as much as he wanted to say something comforting . . . he just didn’t know what to say right now. Part of him was on the phone with her, and the other part was fixated on that closed bathroom door, waiting for Sarah to come out.

“Anyway, I’ve got Dylan in the car with me right now, so I can’t really say much,” she said, “but we’re on our way over.”

Oh, shit. She couldn’t come over right now. Any other time maybe, but not right now. “Actually, it’s not . . . now’s not really the best time,” he told her.

“What do you mean? I thought--”

“Yeah, I—listen, I can’t talk.” If Sarah came out to find him on the phone with her, it’d devastate her.

“You can’t talk? What’s going on?”

“I gotta go.”

“What? Michael--”

More abruptly than he would have liked, he ended the call and tossed his phone down on the couch. He groaned and rubbed his forehead, flopping down on the middle cushion, praying Maria listened to him and stayed away for a little while longer. He just needed a little time with Sarah to figure this all out.

As bad as it sounded, though . . . he hoped there wasn’t anything to figure out.

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

Maria grunted in disbelief, looking down at the call ended on her phone’s screen. Well, this was great. So nice of Michael to be such a big help.

She shoved her phone back in her purse, thinking quickly about what to do. She could go the hotel route, although she wasn’t exactly looking to spend the money. There was pretty much only one other option, and it wasn’t a guarantee.

“Where we going, Mommy?” Dylan asked from the backseat. He still had his Nerf football in hand, but he was pretty much just squeezing it like a stress ball now.

“We’re just . . .” I don’t know, she thought. Somewhere. Anywhere. “We’re just gonna go hang out for a little while, okay?” she told him vaguely, trying to make her voice sound as upbeat as possible.

“Where’s Dad?” he asked.

Oh god. Unable to even muster a response for that one, she pressed her elbow against the window and rubbed her temple with her fingers. This was a disaster.

She drove over to Liz’s apartment, hoping that at least Dylan could stay there tonight. If he had his little sister to play with, then that would keep his mind off of everything else. If that didn’t work, then she could always still drop him off at Luke’s.

“Come on, let’s go,” she said as she reached back to unhook his seatbelt.

“Is Scarlet home?” he asked, bounding out of the backseat.

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” she muttered, getting out of the car with much less enthusiasm. Liz wasn’t exactly going to be thrilled to see her, and things would probably feel weird now that Liz had made a confession of her own.

“Scarlet!” Dylan exclaimed, racing up the outside steps to the second floor. He was so excited that he tripped.

“You okay?” Maria called as she trudged after him.

“Yep!” he chirped, getting right back up. He hopped in front of the door and knocked loudly, still yelling for his sister. “Scarlet!”

Maria just got to the top of the steps when the door opened, but it wasn’t Liz on the other side, and it definitely wasn’t Scarlet.

“Oh, hey, Alex,” she greeted. “Is Liz home?”

“Uh, no,” he said as Dylan slipped right past him. “I’m supposed to babysit Scarlet while she goes out on a date, but . . . ah, maybe she’s not goin’.” He opened the door wider and invited, “Come in. Stay a while.”

“Yeah, we might,” she mumbled, easing her way past him.

“Scarlet!” Dylan kept hollering, running from one bedroom to the next.

“She’s not here, sweetie,” Maria informed him.

His shoulders slumped, and he threw his football down on the floor, clearly not a very happy camper right now.

“Is everything alright?” Alex inquired quietly.

“Yeah.” She rubbed her forehead again, hoping Liz had some pain relievers she could break into. “It’s just been a really hectic day.”

“Well, sit down,” Alex said, motioning towards the couch. “Do you want anything? I could make you some tea.”

And the award for nicest guy ever goes to . . . she thought, smiling at him appreciatively. “Sure. Thanks.” She made her way over to the couch and practically crashed, feeling the stress of the day weighing on her. Dylan climbed up next to her a minute later and snuggled up against her side. He looked way too tense for a little boy his age, probably because he knew something bad was going on, even if he didn’t understand the specifics.

As he was preparing her tea in the kitchen, Alex’s phone rang. Maria glanced back over her shoulder and saw him eyeing the screen intensely, as if he were debating whether or not to answer it.

“Is that Liz?” she asked.

“No. Isabel.”

She frowned, hoping—for his sake—that they weren’t back on friendly terms now. That girl was just bad news, and Alex deserved way better.

“I’ll call her back later,” he said, silencing the ringer.

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

Liz halfway sat/halfway lay in one of the booths at her bakery, typing out a text to Alan. She kept deleting it, though, right as she was about to send it, and then eventually ended up typing out the whole thing all over again. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings or anything, but clearly he liked her more than she liked him.

She finally settled on, change of plans. cant make it tonight. really sorry, and sent it before she had a moment to second-guess it. It was sort of brief and blunt, and he’d probably try to reschedule for tomorrow night or sometime next week. She’d have to let him down easy then.

Behind the counter, Scarlet was roaming around her playpen, squeezing a toy Max had given her, a pink duck that made the most annoying quacking sound of all time. She giggled adorably every time it did, though, so that made it hard to be irritated.

Her phone rang while the duck was in mid-quack, and she groaned, assuming it was Alan. But when she saw the name on the screen . . . well, she was still disappointed. Because it wasn’t Max. It was just Isabel.

No way could she deal with her right now. Isabel wasn’t a total bitch to her or anything, not like she was to Maria, but she was still very dramatic. And Liz already had enough to drama going on.

She pressed Ignore and set her phone aside on the table. Closing her eyes for just a moment, she let herself picture that look in Max’s eyes today, recall the conviction in his voice.

“I think I would’ve made a different decision.”

She couldn’t help but smile as she remembered the tender kiss he’d placed upon her forehead. No, it wasn’t a declaration of true love by any means, but . . . it gave her hope. Maybe, when all of this was said and done and he realized what a mismatch he and Maria truly were . . . maybe he’d give things a try with his other family.

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

Isabel’s whole body shook desperately with sobs as Liz’s voicemail kicked on.

“Hey, it’s Liz. You know what to do.”

She didn’t know what to do, though. She was still sitting in that dark, cramped closet with no idea. If she did anything . . . it might be the last thing she did.

She neglected to leave a voicemail, needing to hear someone’s voice. But either Alex and Liz couldn’t get to the phone right now, or they just didn’t care to answer. Either way, it felt like the world was closing in on her just a little bit more.

What’s happening? she wondered, looking down at her hands. Cell phone in the right, loaded gun in the left. How on earth had her life come to this? How had it been reduced to this?

She scrolled further down the contact list in her phone, figuring she probably only had one more phone call attempt left in her. After that, she was just done trying. After that, she was setting the phone down.

She stopped around the M names, her thumb hovering over her last resorts. Max. Michael. Would either of them pick up? Or would she just hear another voicemail kick on?

Tears kept pouring down her cheeks as her teeth chattered and her whole body shook. This was it. One shot, so to speak. Pivotal. Since this was the last call she was willing to make, she had to make sure she called the right person.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.


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