Gold Diggers (Adult, AU, CC, Mature) Complete 09/22

Finished stories that feature the characters from the show, but there are no aliens. All fics completed on the main AU without Aliens board will eventually be moved here.

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nibbles2
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Gold Diggers - Chapter 45

Postby nibbles2 » Fri Jun 10, 2011 7:17 am

valentinebaby Yes, now that the truth is out, Michael and Alex’s relationship will change dramatically.

keepsmiling7 I had a shopping trolled in my first apartment. It served every function except as a bath, I think.

Earth2Mama It's true. If Michael had just talked to Alex, it might never have lead to Maddie and Maria. Sometimes, things work out for the best.

Alien_Friend Michael will find a way, eventually.

mddk98 Thank you.

Natalie36 Thanks

killjoy True. Michael's reasons are understandable. On the other hand...

Grace52373 You're right, Michael's actions were so wrong, and a lot of people are affected by what he did.

begonia9508 Yep, Michael needs to do a lot more than just say sorry. And he will. BTW, Alex was never in an orphanage. We'll get to that later.

mary mary Nope, Maria doesn't know that story, yet. Michael has told her some things, but at this point in their relationship, Maria doesn't believe a word he says, and why should she?

kay_b Yeah, Alex is great. I think he's in shock too though. The reality of what Michael was saying didn't really sink in yet.

Eva Good point, that fact that Michael sat down and talked to Alex is a pretty important moment for him.

sarammlover Nobody sets out to do the wrong thing deliberately, they always believe they're justified. Michael's not a bad person really, he's just messed up.

blxgyrl18 There's a chapter coming up, eventually, where Alex talks to his parents and we'll get a better insight into why the never told him the truth.

Maiqu No, Maria doesn't know. Yet.

mariegirl Yep, Alex is amazing.

big thanks to Michelle in LA for betaing this for me.



Gold Diggers –Chapter 45

Liz sank into the plush leather seat of the car Michael had hired for Maria and immediately felt out of place. She looked over at Maria who met her eyes and the two girls giggled at the absurdity of the situation. They quickly smothered their giggles when the driver climbed in.

When he was assured they were comfortable and ready to go, the driver started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. Behind them, the truck with all of Maria’s belongings followed.

Maria turned in her seat to look out the back window. “Bye apartment,” she said wistfully. The place had been her home for over a year and she was sad to be leaving it.

Liz laughed. “You’ll be back all the time to see me and Alex.”

“I hope so. I don’t think I would have seen you at all over the last few months if we weren’t living together.”

“I know, it’s been crazy,” Liz sighed. She brightened up. “My final exams start next week and once they’re out of the way, I’ll have a lot more free time. And now that you’re not working, you’ll have more free time too, so it’ll be easier.”

Maria reached across Maddie’s car seat and took Liz’s hand. “Let’s make a promise that we’ll find time for each other, no matter how busy we get.”

“I promise,” Liz said solemnly. “Don’t worry; I want to spend as much time as I can with my little niece.” She looked up at her friend and frowned. “Are you going to be ok, living with –” Liz glanced at the driver and lowered her voice. “Him.”

“It’ll be fine,” Maria assured her. “I can handle him. And besides, this is what’s best for Maddie. As long as I focus on her, it’ll be fine.”

Liz wondered if Maria really believed that or if she was just trying to convince herself it was true. She said nothing and the two girls lapsed into silence. Liz’s mind wandered to her grandmother. They had gone to see her the day before because Maria had wanted Claudia to meet Maddie. Liz smiled sadly. Claudia would have doted on Maddie and relished her role as great-grandmother. It hurt to think that she’d never really meet Maddie, or any of Liz’s children.

“What did you think of Grandma Claudia yesterday?” Liz asked.

Maria licked her lips nervously and worded her response carefully. “I thought she looked like very comfortable. They’re doing a great job taking care of her.”

“But, how do you think Grandma’s doing?”

“I…” Maria looked down at Maddie and sighed. “I think she’s starting to fail.”

Liz nodded. That’s what she had thought too. “In some ways, I kind of wish…” she trailed off, unable to finish her thoughts and feeling disgusted at herself for even thinking them.

Again, Maria took Liz’s hand and squeezed it gently. “It’s not wrong to think that, Liz. This isn’t what Claudia would have wanted for herself. But she’s being taken good care of and she’s being treated with dignity and respect there, and that would mean a lot to her, Liz.”

“I know.” Liz blinked back tears. “Thank you, Maria; I couldn’t have got through these past few months without you. I’m going to miss you so much.”

Maria smiled. “I’m only moving across town. I promise I’ll come see you all the time.”

Liz laughed and brushed her tears away.

“We’re here,” Maria said a few minutes later, pointing to the large apartment building.

“Wow,” Liz gasped. Even from the outside, the place looked impressive.

The car pulled to a stop in front of the building and doormen rushed out to open the door and help them out of the car. Liz had to bite her lips to stop an attack of the giggles. Maria refused to meet her eyes.

They traveled to the penthouse floor with the mover’s ‘Team Leader’.

A middle-aged woman with a mop of shocking red hair was waiting in the lobby when the elevator doors slid open. She welcomed them all inside warmly. “Come in, come in, I’m Oksana, Michael’s housekeeper. It’s so wonderful to meet you.”

“Uh, I’m Maria. This is my friend, Liz. This is Steve, from the moving company. And this is Maddie.”

Oksana almost wrenched the carrier seat from Maria’s hands as she cooed over Maddie. Maria handed it over and went to show Steve where the bedroom was and where she wanted everything to go.

When she came downstairs, Liz and Oksana were making faces at Maddie who regarded them with a bored expression. Maria laughed.

“She is so beautiful,” Oksana complimented. “What a little darling.”

“Thank you,” Maria smiled.

“Check out the presents,” Liz said excitedly.

Maria turned to where Liz was pointing and her eyes bugged. There was a mountain of gifts of all shapes and sizes piled neatly on a table and spilling over onto chairs and the floor beneath. “Are these for Maddie?”

Oksana nodded. “Yes. They’ve been arriving by the dozen since Friday.”

“Who are they from?” Maria asked. She picked up a basket wrapped in clear cellophane and peered inside.

“Business associates, people who’d like to be business associates, clients, employees, friends of the Evans’ family.”

“Friends of Michael?” Maria asked.

“I guess,” Oksana shrugged, not sounding convinced. “Michael left them for you to open.”

Maria clapped her hand excitedly and pulled Liz over to the presents. They surveyed the piled for a moment; neither of them had ever seen as many presents for one person in their lives.

Liz picked up a small box and handed it to Maria. “Start opening.”

Three hours later, Maria was bored of opening presents and she was only about half way through the pile.

She wished that she’d asked the movers to open them for her. They had been amazingly efficient and quick. Everything was unpacked and exactly where Maria wanted which was a new experience for her - when she’d moved into her last apartment it had taken her about four months to unpack everything.

Liz had gone to attend a group study session and Oksana had reluctantly dragged herself away and gone home. So Maria was alone in her new apartment for the very first time.

She eventually abandoned the present opening when Maddie woke up. Seeing Maddie in her new crib, surrounded by all the things Michael had bought her and in the room beautifully decorated just for her, brought tears to Maria’s eyes.

This is what made it all worthwhile. Maria could live in this new apartment with a man she hated and make it work, just to make sure that Maddie got the best life she could possibly have.

After putting Maddie down, Maria turned on the baby monitor and quietly left the nursery.

She paused in the hallway, staring at the closed door to Michael’s bedroom. She debated with herself for a minute before her innate curiosity got the better of her.

Maria carefully opened the door to the room, half expecting an alarm to go off or something. Her heart was beating in her chest for some reason and she quickly formulated an excuse, just in case she got caught – she’d gotten lost.

But no alarm went off, no cage fell from the ceiling, and nobody jumped out to stop her from entering.

The room was similar to the rest of the apartment: large and bright, furnished with the basic requirements and completely devoid of personality. It was spotlessly neat and clean, which probably had more to do with Oksana than Michael.

Maria was disappointed. She didn’t know what she’d been expecting but, she’d been hoping for something that would give her a clue about who the real Michael Evans was. Since the bedroom wasn’t going to give her any answers, Maria investigated the walk-in closet but that too turned out to be a bust; lots of expensive suits and shoes and a small amount of casual or sportswear. The bathroom didn’t yield anything either except the name of the cologne that Michael used. It wasn't a brand she'd heard of, but she really liked it on Michael.

Maria went back into the bedroom and sat on the bed, her hand poised on the nightstand drawer. Time to see what ‘reading material’ Michael took to bed at night. She pulled it open carefully.

Again she met with disappointment. There was a flashlight, tissues, a watch, and a packet of condoms, unopened and expired. She shoved the drawer closed, causing something inside to dislodge and roll forward.

Maria picked up the pill bottle and her mouth fell open in surprise. Viagra.

Why the hell did he have that? It wasn’t like he needed the help. Maybe he just used them recreationally; Maria had heard some people did that.

She was putting the bottle back in the drawer when something on the label caught her eye. They were for Michael Guerin.

Maria frowned, why would he get a prescription in his fake name? That was illegal.

She shook her head and returned the bottle to the drawer. She straightened out the cover on the bed so the telltale sign of an intruder was gone and left the room.

She’d just have to find another way to figure out who the real Michael Evans was.

***


Max sat on a stool in the stuffy stationary closet, half his mind on the task of counting pens and half his mind on trying to work out the risks of murdering Nancy.

He’d be arrested obviously. But a decent lawyer could argue justifiable homicide, or temporary insanity. The problem was that he wasn’t sure if his father would cough up for a decent lawyer and Max couldn’t afford even a half-decent lawyer. So he’d probably be facing life imprisonment. Bad as this job was, at least he got to go home at five o’clock.

“Max.”

He yelped and jumped off the seat at the sound of Nancy’s voice behind him, immediately wondering what he had done wrong this time.

“Your brother wants to see you in his office.”

Max breathed a sigh of relief. “I’ll just finish this and then I’ll go.” He counted the remainder of the pens, made a note in the ledger and left the confines of the office. He made his way slowly to the top floor where Tess waved him into Michael’s office.

“What’s up, bro? I came up here at lunch time but you were out.”

“I had a… meeting,” Michael said. “Were you looking for me for a reason?”

“No, just wanted to say hey.” Max waved his hand. “Hey.”

Michael grinned and returned the wave before turning serious. “Ok, I actually called you up here on a work-related matter. You know about our Junior Executive Training Program, right?”

Max shook his head, causing Michael to roll his eyes. “Right. It’s a training scheme where we take employees that show promise and potential and put them on an accelerated, intensive learning program. Different heads of departments nominate people for the program and they also act as mentors to one of the trainees.”

“And Nancy nominated me?” Max asked.

Michael laughed at the idea. “No. Nancy does not get to nominate anybody.” he pointed at himself. “I think it would be more beneficial to everybody if you’re on the program so I’ve decided to create a space on the program for you. It starts next week.”

“Does this mean that I wouldn’t be working for Nancy anymore?” he asked, not daring to believe it.

“Correct,” Michael confirmed. “Part of the program means that you’ll work in all departments, both here in the building and in some of our subsidiaries. You’ll be required to attend classes. It is pretty intensive. But we have a great success rate. It starts next week.”

Max was still so happy at the news that he’d be free of Nancy that he didn’t care how intensive the new program was going to be. Nothing could be worse. “I don’t suppose it comes with a pay raise?” he asked hopefully.

“Afraid not,” Michael said with a shake of his head. “There is a small expenses allowance, but… you’re kind of on shaky ground already, so if you’re going to use it, do so very, very carefully.”

Max nodded.

“And, I don’t think this needs to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you drop out of this, I don’t think that Dad will give you another chance, so before you accept, think about it very carefully. Read the literature a couple of times. I’ll give you the names of a couple of people who’ve completed the program, and you should talk to them. If you decide that it’s not for you, or you’re not ready for it yet, I won’t say anything about it to Dad. I think you’re ready for it, but it is a tough eight months.”

“Thank you.”

“But wait, there’s more,” Michael grinned. “If you decide that you don’t want to do it, for whatever reason, there’ll be fifteen vacant positions and I’ll move you into one of them. There’s a couple where I think you’d do really well.”

Max’s smile got even wider. He could taste freedom. “Man, I could kiss you.”

Michael scowled. “Ok, but no tongue.”

“Spoilsport,” Max laughed. “Seriously though, thank you for this! I really appreciate it. I was this close to strangling Nancy with my bare hands.”

“Think you can stick it out for four more days?”

Max checked his watch. “Four days, one hour and twenty-five minutes.” He sighed. “I will perservere.”

“Poor Nancy, she’s really enjoyed having an Evans to kick around,” Michael laughed.

Max didn’t feel quite as sympathetic.

“There’s another reason that I wanted to talk to you,” Michael said, serious again. “Isabel.”

“What about her?”

“I think that she’s using again.”

Max frowned, giving it some thought. He hadn’t seen a whole lot of Isabel recently so he really couldn’t say for sure, but she had seemed extra bitchy the few times that he had. “Are you sure?”

“Not completely sure,” Michael admitted. “I don’t think it’s as bad as the last time - yet. If we step in, hopefully we can prevent her from going that way again.”

“Great.” Max rubbed his face wearily. “Fucking Isabel. So, are we talking intervention?”

“I guess,” Michael sighed. “Or, we should try and figure out how bad it is first and decide where to go from there. I think that we should wait and see before we tell Mom and Dad. If it’s a matter of going to AA or whatever, then we can keep it between us. If it’s more severe and she needs to go to a treatment facility, then we’ll tell them.”

Max nodded. “Agreed.” He hesitated to broach the next subject because he hated talking about Carla in front of Michael. He was always afraid that he’d give something away and Michael would figure out what he’d done. He cleared his throat. “Ahem… uh… the last time… it was Carla who was supplying her with the pills.”

“I’ve already spoken to Carla. She’s leaving LA for good this week,” Michael informed him.

“Good,” Max sagged in relief. “Good.”

“So, when do you want to talk to Isabel?”

“I know this sounds bad, but I can’t make it tonight,” Max said guiltily. “I was asked to do a few extra hours at the home and I need the money, so I’m going there right after work.”

“It’s ok. I should go home too. Maria and Maddie are moving in today.”

“Oh… How’re things going with Maria?”

Michael sighed. “Who knows?”

His phone rang and Michael answered it, he covered the receiver with his hand. “I have to take this.”

Max stood up. “Ok, thanks man. I’ll let you know about the training thing.”

***

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nibbles2
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Gold Diggers - Chapter 46

Postby nibbles2 » Wed Jun 29, 2011 6:34 pm

Earth2Mama Yeah, Max and Michael are slowly finding their way back to being brothers again.

keepsmiling7 Well, The best way to get to know somebody is to live with them!

blxgyrl18 Way, way, way back in the beginning, it was revealed that Michael has a problem getting it up.

begonia9508 If Carla keeps things up, her highness could end up in the ground.

valentinebaby The Viagra pills didn't do Michael any favours.

Alien_Friend I don't think they're going to sit down and talk and get to know each other for a while yet. Maybe one day.

Gracce52373 Alex will be back in Isabel's story soon.

sarammlover Carla could still throw a spanner in the works.

mddk98 Glad to help. Boys suck.

mariegirl Definitely, the Nancy threat will light a fire under Max's ass.

Eva I’ve got a good feeling about Max too.

kay_b It was about time.

Maiqu I love your avi. The penguins rule.

Cardinal I guess people are too afraid of the secret coming out, so they're willing to do whatever she wants them to do. I guess Michael puts on a good show. It's easier to see Max and Isabel's problems while Michael just appears to work too hard.

zaneri1 If Max had to tell Michael, he would. It's not that he's too cowardly, he just knows how much it would hurt Michael and he's trying to protect him.



Gold Diggers – Chapter 46


Doctor Mark Holmes was distracted as he made his way to his car after completing his shift. He had a a young patient who had responded badly to a routine treatment and he was trying to figure out what alternative treatment he could pursue. He was so lost in thought that he never noticed the woman leaning against his Prius until he had reached the car.

When he looked up and spotted her, he swore under his breath. Why did she always catch him off guard? He steeled himself. He was not going to let her bully him as she usually did.

“What do you want?” he asked evenly, trying not to let her see the effect she had on him.

Carla smiled that knowing smile of hers. “Is that any way to treat a friend?”

“What do you want?” Mark repeated.

“I want another batch of those pills. Oh, and a hundred thousand dollars.”

Mark actually laughed, though it was without any humour. “Really? Well, I’m afraid that I can't help you with either of those.”

Carla sighed in boredom. “Why must we go through this every time? - I make a reasonable request. You refuse. I remind you why you have no choice but to give me what I want. You bluster around for a while until see sense in the end. So, let's just cut through the crap and give me what I want!”

Mark took a step closer. “Look. I can't give you what you want. The hospital knows that somebody has been taking those pills and they're on lock-down now. It's just physically impossible for me to get my hands on them. As for the money, I don't have a hundred thousand dollars.”

“Liar,” Carla smiled again. “I know you have it. I’m not asking for more than you can give.”

“It's not just my money. It belongs to my wife too. I can't just take it out of our account. What would I tell her?”

“I don't care,” Carla shrugged. “Tell her that you have a gambling problem. Tell her that you used it to buy medicine for orphaned African children. Tell her that you used it buy the silence of the girl you raped when she was a teenager in your care.”

“Shut up!” Mark hissed. He stepped closer again, intending to grab her and shake her but he stopped himself in time. There were cameras here and Carla would use them to her advantage.

Carla smiled again. She knew she had the upper hand now. “Look, doctor, I’m leaving town at the end of the week. So pay me the money and it'll be the last you'll hear of me. But if I don't get that money, you'll never hear the end of me.”

“That money is for my kids' future. It's their college fund. Have a heart!”

“Have a heart?” Carla repeated. Her mask dropped to reveal her fury. Mark stepped back, frightened. “I had a heart once. I had dreams and hopes. I trusted you once, because you were a doctor. I told you what my foster father was doing to me because I thought that you'd help me. But you then you drugged me so I couldn't fight back and you raped me. You killed whatever good was left inside me. So, don't tell me to have a heart.”

Mark looked around, terrified that somebody would overhear her. He swallowed. “Ok, fine. I’ll get you your money.”

“And the pills.”

“I really can't get those pills.”

“Just get me something round and pink. I don't care what they are,” Carla snapped. She handed him a card. “Have them couriered to this address as soon as possible.”

Mark took the card, cringing when their hands touched.

Carla spat at him, then walked away.

***


Michael took a deep breath before inserting his key in the apartment door. He had no idea what kind of reception to expect. Maria had been unpredictable, at best, lately. He let himself inside and bit down on the urge to yell, 'Honey, I’m home'.

Maria was in the living room feeding Maddie. She was wearing a pair of short shorts and a tight top. Michael groaned quietly. He hadn't considered that one of the consequences of living with Maria would be seeing her in various states of undress.

“Hi,” Michael said cautiously. He wondered if Alex had told her about their conversation and would it make any difference.

Maria barely looked up at him, shooting him a quick glare before turning all her attention back to Maddie.

Michael looked around the room and noticed all the small differences Maria had made. Small touches such as cushions and photographs that made the place look more homey. “Did everything go ok with the move today?”

“Yeah, fine,” Maria grunted. Then she sighed and looked up at him. “The movers were actually kind of incredible, and Oksana was great too.”

“Good.” Michael moved closer hesitantly and touched Maddie's hand. “How did Maddie take all the upheaval?

“It didn't seem to faze her at all,” Maria beamed proudly. “She's doing great.”

“Good,” Michael said again. He tore his gaze away from Maria's bare legs and spotted the still large pile of gifts on the table. “Uh, you didn't open the gifts?”

“I did,” Maria waved her hand in the direction of a stack of neatly folded clothes and boxes. “But I didn't get to open them all, and then more came.” She looked up at Michael. “Is it rude to give gifts away?”

Michael shrugged. “I don't know.”

Maria sighed. “We now have six of everything. There's no way that we're going to be able to even use half of it.”

“Well, decide what you want to keep, and we can give the rest to the foundation. They'll know who to give it to, I’m sure.

“Ok.” Maria took the bottle from Maddie and patted her back. “Oh, I called the social worker, and she'll be here tomorrow for the home inspection at ten. Will you be here for that?”

“Sure. What does it involve?”

“She'll look around and make sure that it's a suitable environment for Maddie to be in, that kind of stuff. I don't think we have anything to worry about.”

“Cool.” Michael's stomach rumbled. He stood up. “I'm going to have dinner. Have you eaten?”

Maria nodded. “Yeah, a while ago.”

Michael went into the kitchen. Like the living room, it too had been injected with Maria's personality and a lot of baby paraphernalia. Things had been moved around, he realized. He rummaged around trying to find his dinner. Usually Oksana made him dinner and left it for him in the oven or the microwave or somewhere but it wasn't in any of the usual places.

Finally he gave up and went back out to the living room. Maria had just finished feeding Maddie and was now burbing her.

“Where's my dinner?” Michael asked.

Maria's mouth dropped open before it snapped shut and a look of fury came over her face. She stood up to face Michael. “Let's get one thing straight. I am not here to cater to you, to do your housework or to make your meals. If you think for one second that -”

Michael interrupted her before she could continue. “Oksana usually makes my dinner and leaves it in the kitchen for me. It's what I pay her for.”

“Oh.” Realization dawned on Maria's face. “Ohh... sorry.” It really pained her to have to apologize. “I told Oksana that I’d make it myself and I guess she assumed that I’d make something for you too.”

“Right. I’ll just order something. Do you want anything?”

“No thanks, I’m good.”

Maria sighed. “Wait, I’ll make you something.”

Michael raised an eyebrow. “What about what you just said?”

“It's my fault, so I guess I can make you something,” Maria admitted grudgingly.

Michael knew he should probably tell her that he'd make it himself, but the look of annoyance on her face was so funny that he couldn't resist. “Thanks.”

Maria passed Maddie over to Michael. “Can you burp her.”

“Sure,” Michael felt the usual panic he felt whenever he had to hold Maddie, but it passed quickly. He was getting more slowly getting more confident with her. He held a towel under her chin and she burped loudly. He couldn't help but laugh. It was so cute.

She had put on a little weight since she'd been discharged from the hospital. Her cheeks were becoming pudgier and rosier. The gaunt look was gone from her and she simply looked healthy now.

It was amazing the difference that a few days in Maria's care had made, Michael thought. He just hoped that would be enough to appease Maria. Though judging by the loud banging sounds coming from the kitchen, it wouldn't be tonight.

He sighed again and jiggled Maddie on his knee then stopped quickly in case she threw up, but she seemed to like it so he jiggled her again. She reached up for his tie. Michael dangled it in front of her and laughed as she grabbed it.

Maria came back into the room and smiled at them, then remembered that she was mad at Michael so she scowled. “Your dinner is on the table, sir.”

“Thank you,” Michael said. He handed Maddie over.

He went to find his dinner which turned out to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of water. Michael tossed the water and poured himself a glass of milk before wolfing down the sandwich. He hadn't had one for years and had completely forgotten how good it tasted. It was so good, he made himself another one.

Maria came back into the kitchen to rinse Maddie's bottle as he was making a third one. “Everything ok?” she asked with false cheeriness.

“That was great,” Michael grinned. “Thanks.”

The look on Maria's face was priceless and he had to bite the inside of his cheeks from laughing. She slammed the empty bottle down on the sink and stormed out.

Michael waited until the door had closed behind her and laughed.

***


“You're doing that wrong.”

Max paused in the process of trying to shine the brass railings and looked up, expecting to find his boss Ruben standing over him. Instead he found himself looking at a wrinkled, shrunken old man with twinkling eyes.

“Oh, yeah? Think you can do better?” he challenged.

The old man raised an eyebrow at the not very shiny rails and scoffed. “Better than that?” He held his hand out.

Max handed over the cloth and tin of brass cleaner and stood back. He watched, impressed, as the man quickly made a rail shine as if new.

“That's not bad. Think you could show me once more?” he asked. “So, I can see how to do it.”

The man laughed. “This might surprise you, but I wasn't born yesterday.” He returned the cloth to Max and gestured for him to continue.

Max went back to polishing, and this time with more success. The older man, Henry, stood over him for a while offering advice and instructions. Eventually the conversation turned to other things, women and cars mostly. Henry was interesting and funny and seemed delighted to have somebody to talk to. For Max, it made the unpleasant task of polishing the brass a lot more enjoyable and an hour flew by.

By the time they had reached the corridor of Claudia Parker's room, they were discussing trains. Henry was an enthusiast and Max had been obsessed with trains when he was a kid so was fairly knowledgeable about them, too. He'd lost interest in them and moved onto cars when he was a teenager but they still held a fascination for him.

A door opened down the corridor causing Max to look up, just in time to see Liz emerge from her grandmother's room. He hadn't expected to see her there today, as he knew she as working.

“Liz.”

Liz approached them and smiled at Henry. “Hello.”

Henry grinned at her and excused himself to find a bathroom, but not before throwing a wink at Max.

“You're here early,” Liz commented

“Ruben offered me a few extra hours and I need the money,” Max shrugged. “You're not usually here at this hour, either.”

“We have no classes this week so I thought I’d drop in for a few minutes before work,” Liz said.

“How's your grandmother?”

Liz inhaled slowly and released the breath. “She's dying.”

Max dropped his cloth and took a step towards Liz, his arms open. “Liz, I’m so sorry.”

Liz took a step closer to him and threw herself into his arms and clung to him tightly. Max wrapped his arms around her tightly and rubbed her back. He buried his nose in her hair.

They stood like that for several minutes, Liz drawing strength from Max's comforting embrace.

Eventually she pulled away and smiled at him. “I have to go. Thanks, Max.”

She didn't leave though.

Max waited.

Liz rose up on her toes and kissed him, it was soft and chaste and barely lasted five seconds before she pulled away and left.

***

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nibbles2
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Gold Diggers - Chapter 47

Postby nibbles2 » Sat Jul 23, 2011 4:32 pm

Three weeks - not bad. For me.

As always, big thanks to Michelle in LA for betaing this for me.

keepsmiling7 Yep, Carla is like a wounded wild animal now which means she's at her most dangerous.

Cardinal In California, the statute of limitation on rape is eight years after the victim turns 18, Carla is 24 so she's still inside that. But, the victim also has a year after he/she first reports it to the police, no matter how many years after the rape. Even if there was no hard evidence, Carla has enough circumstantial evidence that it would destroy the doctor's reputation, his marriage and possibly cause him to loose his license.

Earth2Mama You don't have to feel bad for Carla, no matter what happened to her. I just wanted people to know that there's a reason Carla is the way she is. You don't know the full story yet, but it comes into play later on in the fic.

Killjoy Maria is going to find out about that chat with Alex, very soon.

Begonia9508 Carla was being sexually abused by her foster father, she tried to kill herself and ended up in the hospital and then told a doctor what was happening, believing that he'd help her. His response was to rape her too. So, that was the end of Carla putting her faith in men in authority to help her, including the police. After that, she decided to take care of herself.

Natalie36 As long as it's pink and round, Carla will give it to Isabel. She doesn't care. And that's the trouble with taking pills when you don't even know what they're called.

mariegirl Again, it hasn't even been a week since Maria found out that Michael lied to her, manipulated her and tricked her into marrying and sleeping with him. She's trying her best not to be angry at him but it's not always easy. There isn't a switch that she can flick.

Maiqu Somebody will tell Maria.

bluejanuar *roundsofapplause*

mddk98 Thank you.

zaneri1 Thanks!

valentinebaby Yes, totally evil.

Alien_Friend Lol, if anybody was going to feel sorry for Carla, I knew it was for you.

Rowedog If I focused on just one plot thread at a time, we would be here forever!!

kay_b I guess Carla feels that she's already paid her dues, and then some, and that the world owes her because her early life was such a hellish, shitty experience.



Gold Diggers – Chapter Forty-Seven

When Isabel answered her door the next morning and found Carla waiting outside, she was actually relieved. The night before had been hellish. She’d been unable to sleep as her body was wracked with pains. Her hands were shaking and she was a mess.

Carla smiled and strolled inside the apartment.

“Have you got the pills?” Isabel asked desperately. She didn’t care how needy and weak she sounded. She’d worry about that afterwards, she just needed her pills.

“Nope,” Carla smiled cheerfully. “I just came to tell you that I’m out of that business now. I’m leaving LA.”

“What?” Isabel felt the bottom drop out her stomach. She hated Carla and wanted nothing more than to break free of the hold Carla had over her. But she wasn’t ready yet. She needed Carla a while longer, needed the pills that only Carla could provide.

“I’ve decided to seek out greener pastures,” Carla said nonchalantly. She picked up a book and read the back cover before putting it back down again.

Isabel wanted to scream. She wanted to choke the life out of Carla. She wanted to beg her not to go.

“What about me?” she asked.

Carla shrugged. “What about you?”

“I need those pills, Carla,” Isabel begged. “I need them. You can’t just go away like that. What am I going to do? You have to give me the name of your supplier or something. Please. I’ll pay anything.”

“I don’t know… He doesn’t like to deal with people he doesn’t know.”

“Well, vouch for me; tell him that I’m good for the money. Tell him that I’m rich and I’ll pay anything.”

Carla mused on it for a while as Isabel waited on tenterhooks.

“I’ll see what I can do, but it will cost you,” Carla said at last.

Isabel had been resigned to that. “I know. How much do you want?”

“I want the tape.”

“No.”

“Fine.” Carla picked up her bag and made for the door. Isabel grabbed her arm to prevent her from leaving.

“There has to be something else,” Isabel pleaded.

“I want that tape or I’m not even going to call him,” Carla told her.

Isabel pulled Carla back towards the couch and pushed her into it. She paced in front of her. “Look, I can give you money. A lot of money.”

“Oh, you’re going to give me money, too. But I’m not giving you any more pills or the name of my contact until you have given me that tape back.”

“No,” Isabel shook her head vehemently. “I destroyed it.”

Carla laughed. “No, you didn’t.”

Isabel swore to herself. Why hadn’t she destroyed it? Why had she kept it? She had never intended to use it, despite what she told Max. But she liked having that power over him, so she’d kept it.

“Look, I don’t have time for this, I have a lot of packing to do and a lot of people to say goodbye to.” Carla stood up.

Isabel pushed her back down again. “How much money do you want? I’ll double it.”

“I want half a million.”

“Ok, I can give you a million dollars.” Isabel did a quick mental calculation. “Just give me a day or two.”

Carla smiled her sly smile. “Great. That’ll stop me selling the tape of you snorting cocaine. But I’m still not giving you the name of my contact.”

Furious, Isabel picked up a vase and hurled it at the wall across the room. She sank into an armchair, breathing hard. Her whole body was trembling.

She couldn’t give Carla that tape. It would destroy her family. Michael would be devastated. Her father would be furious, her mother heartbroken. Max would be ruined. Her part in the affair would undoubtedly come out because there was no way that Max would cover for her if he’d been exposed. They would all be humiliated. She just couldn’t do that.

But a little voice in her head told her that Max deserved it. He’d been the one to sleep with Michael’s fiancée. Why should Isabel be the one to suffer for that? Let Max deal with the consequences of his actions. And, Michael was a big boy. He’d never really been in love with Carla anyway, he’d get over it. Besides, he had moved on. He had a wife and kid now. Michael didn’t care about her, - why should she care about his feelings?

Carla could see the conflicting emotions race across Isabel’s face. Sometimes, it was too easy. She leaned forward, moderating her voice to sound friendly and sympathetic. “You know, I’m not going to go public with the tape. I’m not going to tell Michael. All I’m going to do is sell it to Max for a reasonable price. He’ll destroy it, I’ll be gone and this whole sorry mess will be behind us all, for good. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

It would be nice, Isabel agreed.

Sure, Max was whining about being broke at the moment, but seriously, how broke could he really be? There was no way he was stupid enough to have squandered all his money. Isabel had never been all that careful and she still had loads. Max had to have plenty stashed away.

He was probably just pretending to be penniless to make his father feel bad for him, or to look good, or something.

He was bound to have half a million somewhere. He was still living in that ridiculously overpriced apartment, after all.

“Max did a horrible thing, and he deserves to pay for it,” Carla said quietly. “I promise, that’s all I’m going to do. I would never release that tape to the public, it would kill Diane and I wouldn’t do that to her.”

Slowly, uncertainly, Isabel nodded.

Carla sat back in her seat and smiled smugly.

Isabel stood up. “Stay here, I’ll go get it.”

She retrieved the tape from her safe in her panic room and went back to Carla.

“What happens if Max doesn’t pay?” Isabel asked.

“He will,” Carla said confidently. She held her hand out for the tape.

Isabel stared at Carla’s hand for a long time, before slowly raising her own and giving her the tape.

“If this isn’t the right one, I’m releasing every video I have of you,” Carla warned.

“It’s the right one,” Isabel told her. She wanted to throw up.

Carla slipped the tape inside her bag.

“What about the pills?” Isabel asked.

“I’ll be in touch.” Carla pulled something from her bag and tossed it to Isabel. “This should hold you over.”

She let herself out.

Isabel opened her hand to reveal a small bag of cocaine. She sighed and closed her fist over it. It wasn’t what she wanted, but it would have to do for now.

***


Liz arrived home at lunch time after attending a study session that morning with some friends to find Alex stretched out on the couch in his underwear, almost catatonic. It was so out of character for him, even with everything that was going on, that Liz immediately called for reinforcements.

Maria showed up with Maddie and a pile of junk food an hour later.

Between the two of them, they managed to coax Alex into having a shower while they made him something to eat. He told them what Michael had said the day before as he ate his sandwich half-heartedly.

Neither Liz nor Maria knew what to say, they just looked at each other helplessly.

“So that’s it,” Alex said when the story was done. “The center’s gone. My money is gone. I’ve lost everything because I was chasing a ghost. I thought that if I carried on her good work, built a center in her name that I could make a connection with her somehow. I should have listened to my parents. I should have left her buried and forgotten.”

“Alex, are you sure he was telling the truth? This is Michael Evans we’re talking about; he’s not exactly been completely honest with us in the past,” Maria pointed out.

Alex shook his head. “He was telling the truth. I’ve heard so many kids tell me their stories, so many times that I know when they’re lying and when they’re being honest.”

“But, it’s just his side of the story, and he’s biased. There might be more to it than that,” Maria pressed. “He could be trying to screw with you. Again.”

“Max told me about it, too,” Liz confessed. “A couple of days ago. I didn’t know what to tell you, Alex, and it was -”

“It’s fine,” Alex said with a shake of his head. “I don’t care.”

Maria squeezed his hand. “You should at least talk to your parents about it. They might be able to shed more light on the story.”

“They’re not my parents,” Alex said automatically.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Maria pulled away angrily. “Yes they are. They raised you since you were a baby. They loved you, they fed you, they clothed you, they were there for you every step of the way. They’re your parents, just like Grandma Claudia is Liz’s, and I’m Maddie’s. Ok, they should never have lied to you about being your real parents. But they were just trying to protect you from the truth. Be mad at them for that, but don’t say that they aren’t your parents.”

Alex sighed, silently conceding Maria’s point.

“You need to talk to them,” Liz said gently. “Like Maria said, you need the whole story.”

“I don’t think I want to know more. Michael only told me about his parents, but who knows how many other girls she used and abused like that?” He shook his head. “I don’t know if I can take it.”

Liz relented. She could understand that.

“But maybe I will go see them,” Alex said after some silent contemplation. “I miss them.”

The girls smiled sympathetically at him.

“It will be good for you to go home for a few days, get away from everything for a while,” Maria said.

Liz nodded in agreement. “Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next?”

Alex shook his head. “Hopefully, this whole fiasco hasn’t ruined my reputation and I’ll be able to find a job with another organization. Maybe just as a counselor though; I don’t think I want to try management again. It’s too much stress.”

“Michael should repay all the money you lost because of him, so you can start again,” Maria stated emphatically.

“No, I don’t want that,” Alex said quietly. “That money was tainted, and I’m glad it’s gone.”

“But you were doing something really good with it,” Maria protested. “I can’t believe that he went ahead with his revenge even after he saw the amazing work you were doing. And how come you’re not furious with him?”

Alex sighed. “I don’t know. I’m just not. I think I understand where he’s coming from. He was angry at what happened and he lashed out. He’s no different from all the other kids I see everyday.”

“He’s a lot different. He’s not a kid for one thing,” Maria cried.

“I know. But, I’m not angry at him. I’m going to make damn sure that he does something to help the kids who are being affected by the center’s closure. But that’s all I want from him.”

“Unbelievable.” Maria shook her head. If she was in Alex’s position, she’d be out for blood.

“The thing is,” Alex explained. “Is that I could be angry like he was. I could look for revenge like he did. But what did it get him? Nothing! He told me himself, it didn’t bring him any closure or a sense of relief. It didn’t do him any good… It just takes too much energy to hate. It’s not for me.”

Maria shook her head in disgust. “So, he ruins your life and gets away with it?”

“Life at Casa Evans-Deluca must be fun,” Alex said in an abrupt change of subject.

Maria scowled, causing Alex to laugh.

“Oh, my God, you had the home inspection today,” Liz exclaimed. “How did that go?”

“It was fine,” Maria smiled. “Everything went well, so unless Maddie’s mother shows up suddenly, or I kill Michael, I don’t foresee any problems.”

Liz and Alex exchanged amused looks.

“That’s great,” Liz smiled. “See, your husband isn’t all bad.”

Maria scowled again.

***


Max didn’t have to be at the nursing home until his usual time that evening, so when he finished work that day he went back to his apartment. The night before, while cleaning one of the rec rooms, he had found a half-rotten apple stuck down the back of a radiator and it had given him an idea.

A few years previously, he had been a little smitten with an up-and-coming, painfully cool photographer. She’d had no interest in him and so in an effort to impress her, he’d bought several prints at one of her shows. They were weird, blurry pictures of rotten fruit and vegetables and just looking at them made his stomach turn, so he’d hidden them away as soon as they were delivered to his apartment.

Although the photographer had never managed to turn her up-and-coming status to anything more significant, her work was still considered good enough to command a decent figure. So Max had contacted a gallery owner friend of his who agreed to buy the prints from Max – at a greatly reduced price, of course.

When Max dug them out of their hiding place, he felt sick again. Not just because of the images themselves, but because of how much money he’d wasted on something that had done nothing but gathered dust on top of a wardrobe for three years, and hadn’t even managed to get him laid.

But he cheered up at the thought of the money he’d make from them. Even selling them at a knock down price, he’d make enough to pay off a couple of his most pressing bills and give him some breathing room.

Hearing the doorbell, Max hurried to answer it. He was expecting his friend, but when he threw the door open, it was Carla who was standing on the other side.

He tried to slam the door in her face, but she was too quick and managed to slither inside.

“What do you want?” Max asked through gritted teeth.

“I came to say goodbye,” Carla said sweetly.

“Goodbye?”

“Yes, goodbye. I’m leaving town.”

Max looked at her suspiciously. “Just like that.”

“Just like that,” Carla confirmed with a nod of her head.

“And you don’t want anything from me?” Max asked, knowing well that of course she wanted something.

“Well, I didn’t say that,” Carla smiled.

“What do you want?”

Carla smiled again. It made Max’s blood run cold the way she did that.

“I’m making a fresh start, you know? So, I’m getting rid of all my old things, including a certain tape that you might be interested in. I’m willing to sell it to you.”

Max exhaled slowly. He knew she was going to want a lot of money for it, and he didn’t have it. “How much do you want?”

“Half a million and it’s yours; the original tape. I made no copies.”

“Half a million?” Max repeated. He could feel his legs trembling so he sat down. If he could get the tape and destroy it, then this would all be over. He’d never have to worry about Michael finding out. Carla’s hold on him would be gone. He’d be free. He’d quite happily pay half a million for that. He’d have paid more.

If he had the money.

“When do you need it by?”

“The end of the week.”

Max tried desperately to think of a way to get his hands on that amount of cash. There had to be something that he hadn’t already tried. Some way.

“I’m having a cashflow problem at the moment,” he said at last. Carla raised an eyebrow. “My dad cut me off a while ago. I can get you the money, but it’s going to take longer than a few days.”

“No dice,” Carla said sharply. “I’m leaving town at the end of the week and I want to be done with your family for good. So, either you give me the money, or I’ll sell it to one of the tabloids.”

“Ok. Ok, I’ll get it for you. But you have to give me a couple of days.”

Carla stood up to leave. “You have until Friday. I’ll be in touch.”

Max buried his face in his hands. He didn’t know how on earth he was going to find that money, but he had to. He couldn’t let anybody else get their hands on that tape.

***

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nibbles2
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Gold Diggers - Chapter 48

Postby nibbles2 » Tue Aug 09, 2011 4:43 pm

cjeb Uh... thank you?

Natalie36 It would be so much easier for everybody, me included, if the siblings would just talk to each other. But they just won't. Stubborn idiots.

Alison In one way, Max would like the truth to come out so that he could be free of it, but on the other hand, if it comes out it will hurt Michael and destroy his relationship with his parents which is why he'll do anything to keep it secret, so I don't think he's an idiot, he's just caught in a very difficult situation.

Ellie Max was unaware that it was being filmed. The camera was hidden.

mddk98 Thank you. Feel free to harass me anytime.

Grace Thank you very much.

Alien_Friend Lol They're so used to lying and scheming that it's become second nature.

begonia9508 Well, Max slept with his brother's fiancee which is just as bad as what Carla did. They both betrayed him. The reason Max doesn't want Michael to find out is because he knows how much it would hurt Michael. It's not cowardliness, it's consideration.

mela3 Welcome, and thank you. One of those things will come true.

keepsmiling7 There is some good things happening in a few upcoming chapters, I promise.

Roswell_fan86 Another new reader! Hi! Thanks.

Maiqu Maria's trying, but she's very, very angry so it's hard.

sarammlover Carla will be dealt with, but I don't think it's going to be in the way that people hope.

secretk Good point – If Max and Isabel hadn't been so stupid then Carla would have nothing to blackmail them with. But, she did play a big part in both of them making the choices that got them into this position.

Kay_b Already, Max and Michael are becoming better people, we'll have to see about Isabel.

xmag I think Carla will get what she deserves, but what Karma thinks she deserves and what others think she deserves might differ wildly.

Eva Right now, Isabel is so dependent on those drugs that she'll do anything to get them, and that means doing some pretty stupid, selfish things.

Michelle in LA Thanks for betaing.

There's a line in this chapter from The Toyhouse episode which somebody over on FF helped me find, thank you kind person whose name I've forgotten :oops:

And on with the show...

Gold Diggers – Chapter forty-eight

Liz pressed a gentle kiss on her grandmother's forehead before leaving. At the door, she turned to take one last look, just in case it turned out to be the last time she'd get to see her alive. Liz had a feeling it wouldn't be too long.

She went looking for Max and found him buffing the floors on the second floor. He was in another world and didn't even notice her until she put her hand on his arm. He jumped in surprise.

“Liz! Hi. Sorry, I was miles away.”

“I noticed. Do you have time for a coffee?”

Max checked his watch. “Five minutes?”

“I'll see you there.”

Liz went downstairs and ordered coffee for the two of them and splurged on two cookies as well. Max joined her a couple of minutes later.

“How's your grandmother?” he asked.

“She's... her condition gets a little worse every day. I think it's just matter of time.”

“How long do you think...?” Max cringed. “Sorry, I shouldn't have asked.”

Liz gave him a small smile. “It's ok. The doctor thinks it's still a little way off, but... I know my grandmother. I think that she's decided it's her time and that's that. Want to hear something really selfish?”

“I'm sure it's not, but please do.”

“I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I get my finals finished before it happens. Isn't that awful?” She hung her head shamefully, feeling rotten for even saying it aloud.

Max shook his head. “I don't think so. Trust me, the very last thing that anybody would ever say about you, is that you're selfish.”

“Thanks, Max.” Liz smiled gratefully. She opened the cookie package and handed him one. “Can we talk about something else? What's up with you? You looked so distracted earlier.”

“Ugh,” Max groaned. “Well, it's nothing.”

“No, tell me, please,” Liz prodded.

Max sighed. It wasn't something he really wanted to talk to Liz about it because it would just remind her what a scumbag he had been in the past but he needed to talk to somebody and she was actually the only person who knew the truth. “Well, you know how I told you about Carla? Michael's fiancee?”

Liz nodded.

“She's going to leave Los Angeles this week. She says it's for good. And I guess she wants money to start her new life, wherever she's going, because she showed up at my apartment earlier tonight and demanded five hundred thousand dollars in exchange for the tape.”

Liz's mouth dropped open.

“I have to pay it by the end of the week or she's going to sell the tape to the tabloids.”

“Do you have that amount of money?”

Max laughed. “If I had, I would not be cleaning toilets and scrubbing floors. I have nothing. Every cent I make goes to paying rent and paying off my bills. If I had any money, I would have used it to clear my debts. I don't know what I’m going to do. But I have to get that tape from her.”

Liz opened her mouth to say something but thought better of it, and quickly closed it.

“What?” Max prompted.

“No, nothing.”

“Tell me.”

“I...” Liz shifted uncomfortably. “I know half a million is a lot of money. But you're Max Evans. Of The Evanses. Aren't you a celebrity? Can't you just...?” she shrugged. “I don't know... Make an appearance at a club? Or sell something? I mean, how can you have nothing?”

Max sighed and Liz felt bad.

“I'm sorry,” she said, blushing.

“No, it's a fair question. I had a fortune and I threw it away. Before, money meant absolutely nothing to me. I never had to worry about where it was coming from, so I never had to worry where it was going. I was just reckless and careless and very, very stupid. I spent like there was no tomorrow.

“You know what I dream about at night? I dream about having a time machine, traveling back to the past and fixing this whole mess.”

Liz pouted. “I was sure that you dreamed about me.”

Max grinned shyly. “Well, there's a stripper pole in the time machine.”

“Max!” Liz squealed and laughed loudly.

Max joined her, amazed at how therapeutic it was to laugh.

“Have you anything that you could use as collateral for a loan?” Liz asked, after she'd stopped laughing.

“No. I seem to have either paid ridiculous amounts renting things, or buying things of no great value. My apartment is rented, and everything in it came with it. I sold some photographs I had bought a few years ago, but that only got me about eight grand. I might have a few other things that I can sell, but it's not going to get me anywhere near that amount.”

“You don't have anything?” Liz asked. “No shares?”

Max shook his head immediately. “No way. I have a portion of shares in the company but they can't be sold to anybody outside the family and anyway, I can't touch them for another two years. My allowance was actually a portion of what those shares earned. My dad had the option of allowing Iz and me to take a small percentage of it while the rest goes into a trust so I’m actually still getting that money but it's all going into the trust fund now. In two years I’ll be a multi-millionaire but until then... I got nothing except my Granddad’s mistress, and I can't get a loan on that either.”

Liz looked at Max as if he'd sprouted an extra head. “Huh?”

Max laughed at her expression. “My Granddad’s car. It's this amazing Rolls Royce. It was built especially for him and imported from England. He loved it more than anything and when he died he left it to me. It's worth a couple of million. But I would never, ever consider selling it. My dad would have a stroke, for one thing. And, I just wouldn't. It's just outside the realm of possibility. No.”

“Ok, understood.” Liz bit her lip and considered his options. “Could you borrow against the shares, get enough to pay off Carla and clear your debts? You might be able to get them to agree to paying minimum amounts until you get your shares. Or, borrow against the car?”

Max shook his head. “But if I failed to make those repayments, I could lose them. I can't do that, Liz. I just can't.”

“What about asking your brother or sister for a loan?” Liz suggested.

“Well, tomorrow Michael and I are staging an intervention for Isabel so I don't think she'll be in the mood to give me a loan. And I can't ask Michael for money to pay off Carla.”

“You'd pay him back,” Liz pointed out. “He wouldn't be out of pocket.”

Max shook his head. “No. I can't ask Michael. Anyway, I don't think he'd give me the money.”

“Things are still bad between you two?”

“Well, they're improving. Yesterday we talked, and it was like having the old Michael back again. He offered me a place on this training program which means I wouldn't have to work with Nancy anymore, if I decide to take it.”

“That's good,” Liz said brightly. “I don't agree with a lot of his actions but he's been very generous to Maria and Maddie. He might help you out now. I think that you've proven that you've turned a new leaf.” She shrugged. “Might be worth a shot.”

“I don't know.”

“I know it's not ideal, asking Michael for the money. But think how much it will hurt him to find out the truth. Or how much it will hurt your parents.”

Max sighed. She made good points and it really did seem to be his only option. It might be able to get a loan from the bank but it would take a while to process and just couldn't run the risk of losing his grandfather's car or the company shares.

“I'll talk to him,” he said at last. “If that doesn't work out, I don't know what I’ll do. I’ll have to tell him because Carla will release the tape to the press.”

“How do you know that she won't do that even if you do get her the money?”

Max rubbed his face wearily. “I don't. I just have to trust that she won't.”

“Can you trust her?”

“No.”

Liz sighed. “That's quite a predicament you're in. Sounds like that might be a better use for your time machine.”

Max smiled wryly. “Tell me about it. There's not a day that goes by that I don't wish I could undo that.”

Liz reached across the table and held his hand. “You're a good guy, Max.”

“I'm trying to be.”

“No, I’m serious. I think you're a good guy, Max. I think what you've done, the way you've turned yourself around, has been remarkable.”

Max blushed. He was used to receiving compliments and praise, but nothing that had ever made him feel as proud as Liz's words. “Thank you. I think you're remarkable too.”

“I know,” Liz shrugged flippantly, causing Max to laugh again. “Have you been practicing for Saturday?”

“Ugh. Yes, when I can,” Max groaned. “I'm dreading it.”

“I won't be working on Saturday; My exams are starting next week so I’m taking some time off work. I can go with you, if you want.”

“That would be great!” Max exclaimed. “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Max narrowed his eyes. “I know what you're doing... You just want to get a look at the good stuff.”

Liz held up her hands in surrender. “You got me.”

Movement in the doorway caught Max's attention. His boss was standing there, tapping his watch impatiently. “I've got to go clean some toilets.”

“I've got to go hang off a pole.”

“We lead such crap lives,” Max grinned.

Liz smiled in agreement. “True. But when you're around, it doesn't feel so crappy.” She kissed his cheek and walked away quickly.

Max practically skipped the whole way back to work.

***


Maria was opening the last of the gifts when Michael got home from work. She didn't even look up at him when he greeted her.

“Is Maddie sleeping?” Michael asked.

“Yes,” Maria said shortly, still refusing to look at him.

Michael sighed and went to get something to eat. He was pleased to see that his dinner was waiting for him in its usual place. He ate it quickly and went back out to the sitting room, where Maria continued to ignore him.

“Mind if I turn on the TV?” he asked. After receiving no reply, he turned it on and sat down to watch a game.

However, his eyes kept drifting to Maria. She had finished opening all the gifts and was trying to sort them out. She had been wearing a demure dress that morning during the social worker's home visit, but she'd changed into shorts and a t-shirt that displayed a lot of skin. He wondered if she picked out her clothes with the express intent of torturing him.

He tried to focus on the game, but Maria kept distracting him. She was sorting through all the clothes that Maddie had received, trying to decide what to keep and what to give away. Evidently, it was proving to be a difficult task for her. She oohed and aahed at pretty much everything she picked up, agonized over which pile to put it in, and then changed her mind over half of them anyway.

It was far more entertaining than the game. He just wished that he could get her to drop the silent treatment.

It took him a little while before he spotted an opportunity to even start a conversation with her.

“Do you want me to get you a couple of boxes for those?” he asked. All the clothes were in piles on the floor and as far as he could see, she had nothing to put them in.

Maria glared at him, then looked at the clothes surrounding her and sighed. “Yes, please.”

Michael went to the storeroom where he knew Oksana kept a stack of flat packed boxes. He grabbed a handful, returned to the living room and unfolded them. “Want me to pack these things away?”

“Sure, everything on that side is going.” Maria cast a longing look at the clothes and shook her head. “Do it before I change my mind again.”

Michael grinned and started packing the folded clothes. They were pretty cute, he had to admit. He picked up an item and realized it was a tiny LA Kings jersey. “You have to keep this.”

Maria snapped the jersey from his hand and flung it at the 'keep' pile.

“Jesus,” Michael muttered under his breath.

“Don't Jesus me, you asshole,” Maria yelled suddenly. “Don't even talk to me.”

“Maria-”

“No. Don't. I don't want to hear a word from you.” Maria folded another sweater and threw it at the pile at his feet. “I went to see Alex today.”

“Oh.” That explained the cold shoulder.

“He's absolutely devastated.”

“I'm sorry.”

Maria talked over him as if he'd never spoken. “He's lost everything because of you. He's lost his home, his job, his business, all his money. He feels personally responsible for all those kids he can't help anymore, even though that's entirely your fault. And as if all that wasn't bad enough, you had to go and mess with his head even more by dropping that bombshell about his mother.”

“I wasn't messing with his head,” Michael protested. “He wanted an explanation and I gave it to him.”

Maria shook her head angrily. “You've been harassing him for months and right at the lowest point of his life, you come along and kick him some more.”

“I wasn't trying to kick him when he was down. He wanted to know and I just told him the truth,” he told her earnestly.

“Is it the truth, though? Or are you just lying again?”

“Why would I lie about that?” Michael asked, flabbergasted.

“You lie about everything, Mr. Guerin. You've been lying to me since the very first time we met. You tricked me into marrying you. You had sex with me under false pretenses. So why the hell should I ever believe anything you ever say?”

Michael hung his head, the truth of her words shaming him. “I'm sorry.”

By now Maria was just balling up the clothes and flinging them on the ground without even looking at them. “You know what I don't get? Why you kept going after Alex, even after you could see that he was doing something amazing with the money his mother left him. He was helping people like your mother, and people like you who didn't get adopted by millionaires. Why did you want to destroy that?”

Michael said nothing.

“Well?” Maria demanded furiously.

He shook his head. “I don't know,” Michael said quietly.

“You don't know?” Maria repeated. She grabbed her hair in frustration. “You destroyed Alex’s life and you don't know why? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“That's not what I meant,” Michael sighed. “It made sense at the time, to me at least.”

“Well, that's ok then,” Maria said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She gave up trying to sort the clothes and sank down into a seat. “You ruined his life, Michael. Alex is one of the best people I know and you ruined his life. Does that mean anything to you? Do you feel anything?”

“Yes, I feel like shit,” Michael admitted.

“Good.”

“Maria, I’m really sorry about Alex. I know this is hard to believe but I didn't mean to hurt anybody. I just wanted somebody to pay for what happened to my mother, and to me.”

“What did you think was going to happen?”

Michael shrugged. “I really don't know actually. I just thought it would help me somehow.”

“You know, you should get yourself massive doses of therapy, like immediately,” Maria suggested. To her surprise, Michael actually laughed. “I'm not joking.”

“I know,” Michael told her. He didn't really know why he'd laughed. “I never planned to sleep with you and I’m sorry about the way it happened, but you know what? I’m glad that I lied to you because if I hadn't, then Maddie wouldn't be here with us. She'd be stuck in some hellhole foster home. You would never have fought so hard to get me involved with Maddie if you knew who I really was. You'd never have agreed to this arrangement. So I’m not going to apologize for that.”

“That's such crap. You were lying to me long before you knew there was a reason to cover up your identity.”

Michael rubbed his face, wishing there was some way that he could find the right words to make Maria's anger go away. He was saved from having to say anything by the sound of the baby monitor crackling to life as Maddie woke up and began to cry.

Maria stomped past Michael to go upstairs. There was a delay before he heard her enter the room and speak cheerfully to Maddie. He guessed that she had taken the time to calm down.

He went outside onto the veranda and took a few deep breaths to get himself under control. But he just couldn't calm down. He could feel the shame spreading through his body. He hadn't considered the way his actions would affect people, he'd deliberately not thought about it. But Maria's words had pierced his armor in a way that Alex never could.

“Michael,” Maria's voice jolted him from his thoughts. She sounded calm now, almost friendly. Maddie was in her arms.

“Yeah?”

“Do you want to take Maddie for a while?”

“Sure.” He walked back inside and accepted Maddie from Maria. “Hey there.”

“I'm going to get her bottle ready,” Maria told him.

Michael carried Maddie over to the couch, talking to her and playing with her. It was amazing how a few minutes with her completely changed his mood. Maria came back out with a bottle which she handed to him.

“Will she drink all that?” Michael asked, holding up the bottle which was larger than the one Maria usually used.

“Probably not, but her appetite is growing, so I want her to have as much as she needs. She'll stop when she's had enough.”

“Cool.” Michael lowered the bottle to Maddie who was waiting eagerly. He smiled down at her proudly.

Maria sighed and sat down on the coffee table in front of them. “Michael, we decided to do this for Maddie's sake, because we thought it was what was best for her. But if we can't find a way to get along, then we're just going to hurt her. I’m really trying to get along with you. I’m trying not to be so angry with you all the time.”

Michael bit his tongue.

Maria continued. “Believe it or not, I do understand why you wanted revenge on the people that hurt you, and I’m sorry that you had to go through that. But Alex is my friend and he's a good person. He didn't deserve what you put him through and I can't just forget, especially when he's still suffering.”

“I'm sorry,” Michael said again.

Maria held up her hand to stall his apology. “I know, you already said that. Right now, they're just empty words. Prove that you're really sorry and maybe I’ll be able to let it go.”

“I will,” Michael promised.

“Ok. Good.” Maria stood up and stretched. “Alright, I’m going to take a shower.”

“Wait. What? You're going to leave me alone with Maddie?”

Maria rolled her eyes. “I'll be right upstairs. All you have to do is feed her and burp her.”

Michael gulped. He could do that, but he didn't like being left alone with Maddie. He was terrified that he'd drop her or crush her or something. “Can't you stay?”

“You'll be fine. You're good with her,” Maria smiled.

Michael smiled back at her, relived. If she could smile at him, then there was some hope.

***

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Gold Diggers - Chapter 49

Postby nibbles2 » Fri Oct 21, 2011 12:37 pm

YAY!! We're back. Missed you gal!!

To celebrate, a new part.

Gold Diggers – Chapter Forty-Nine

Michael looked pointedly at his watch as Max jogged towards him.

“Sorry,” Max panted. “I got held up.” He’d gone to the bank to see about getting a loan. He knew it was probably an exercise in futility but he had to give it a shot.

“It’s fine. I’m in no hurry to do this either,” Michael told him. “Everything ok?”

“Uh, yeah. I just had some errands to run and I never get the time anymore. I’m always working.” Max took a deep breath and looked up the apartment building in front of them. “Ready?”

“I guess,” Michael said reluctantly. He tossed the empty coffee cup he’d been drinking from and stood up. “Let’s get it over with.”

Max wished that he could find something to put this off but, unable to think of anything, he had no option but to follow Michael inside the building and up to Isabel’s apartment.

When Isabel opened the door and saw who was at the other side, she went pale with fright. “Is it Mom?”

“No, Mom is fine,” Michael told her.

Fear changed to realization then and Isabel rolled her eyes. “This should be good.” She trudged away and the two boys followed behind.

Isabel threw herself onto a couch and crossed her arms sullenly. She didn’t offer them anything, or tell them to sit down. “Well?”

Michael and Max exchanged looks, urging each other to go first.

“Iz, we just want to talk to you,” Max began, then threw a look to Michael telling him it was his turn to go.

“We’re concerned about you,” Michael said.

“There’s no need to be. I’m fine.”

Michael shook his head. “You don’t seem fine, Iz. Lately, you’ve been short-tempered, bitchy, angry. It’s not like you. You’re behaving a lot like you did the last time you were on those pills.”

“You’re such an ass, Michael. I’m angry and short tempered because while you two are off doing nothing, I’m the one who is at the hospital all the time with Mom. I’m the one taking care of her, looking after her, getting the house ready for when she gets home. It’s all on me. So, excuse me if I’m tired and stressed.”

“Dad is the one at the hospital taking care of Mom all the time. You just sit there reading magazines,” Max sniped. He immediately regretted it because they'd agreed not to enter into an argument with Isabel nor allow themselves to be distracted from their purpose.

“How would you know?” Isabel asked viciously. “You’re never there. You’re too busy hanging out at strip clubs and sleeping with strippers to even visit your mother in the hospital.”

Max had been expecting her to throw that in his face, so he just balled his fists and said nothing.

“This isn’t about Max,” Michael said calmly. “Look, we’re not here to attack you. We’re here because we’re worried about you and we want to make sure that you’re ok.… Are you using again?”

“No,” she stated emphatically.

“Carla has been hanging around,” Michael probed. “She has a way of getting to you.”

“Ugh.” Isabel stood up and paced the room.

She couldn't believe that after months of totally ignoring her, they were suddenly in her face and demanding to know what was going on. There were two ways this was going to go. One would involve a lot of yelling and arguing and who knows what would slip out in the heat of the argument. She chose the other way.

Isabel returned to her seat and spoke calmly. “Look, I appreciate the concern. You’re right, I haven’t been myself lately. I’m worried about Mom, and I guess the stress has caused my headaches to come back. I’ve been taking these new pills to deal with them, but they’re not very effective, and I’ve been reluctant to try anything stronger because I don’t want to go down that path again.

“I remember what I went through the last time and how hard it was to give them up. It was sheer hell. I don’t like what they did to me and I don’t want that to happen again. Trust me, I learned my lesson.”

Max and Michael exchanged looks, each wondering if the other believed Isabel’s sudden about-face.

“I’m sorry if I’ve been a bitch,” Isabel said with a smile. “I’ll try to be nicer.”

“I’m sorry that we haven’t been as supportive as we should have been,” Max told her. “We should have seen what this was doing to you. The way you’ve been acting lately isn’t the real you. We should have talked to you about this before. We’ve let you down.”

“Yeah,” Michael agreed. “We’ll do better from now on. We’re here for you, Isabel, and if you ever feel like you can’t cope or that you might be tempted to go back to drugs, give one of us a call.”

Isabel nodded and wiped away a fake tear. “Thank you,” she said in a choked voice.

“Maybe you should consider going to AA, or something,” Max suggested. “If you feel like you still have problems with drugs, it might help.”

“It’s worth considering,” Isabel agreed readily. She blew out a breath and smiled. “Thank you for coming to talk to me. I hadn’t realized how much I needed that until now.”

Her brothers smiled at her, glad to see her dealing with it so well. She almost laughed at them.

But she smothered her laughter and held out her arms for a hug. They were hesitant at first, but went to her slowly and wrapped their arms around her.

It had been a long time since they’d hugged like this and for a moment, Isabel was transported back to when she was young and would refuse to go to bed without a hug from her brothers. She wished she could go back to that time: To when her problems amounted to having to pick between ballet lessons or horse riding lessons and when her brothers were always around and actually cared about her, instead of just going through the motions, like now.

But those times were long gone.

She pulled away and smiled again. “God, I’ve been so wrapped up in myself that I haven’t even been to see Maddie. How’s she doing?”

Michael hesitated uncertainly before pulling out his phone to show them the pictures of Maddie that he’d taken over the last few days. They talked about Maddie for a while, their mother, and Max’s career prospects before the guys had to leave to get back to work.

They left with the promise that the three of them would get together more often.

“Do you believe her?” Max asked Michael as they rode the elevator down to the ground floor.

“I don’t think so,” Michael sighed. “But we made the first step and gave her something to think about.”

“Yeah,” Max agreed softly. “I don’t think she’s as bad as she was the last time and if we keep an eye on her, hopefully we’ll be able to stop her from making the same mistakes.”

Michael nodded in agreement. “Yeah.”

Isabel watched from her balcony as the boys emerged from the building and climbed into their cars and drove away. Only then did she let her mask drop.

Who did they think they were? They showed up and spent twenty minutes talking to her and that was supposed to make all her problems go away? Seriously?

She shook her head and smirked. It had almost been too easy.

***


Because the treatment that Maddie had undergone was still considered experimental, Maria was required to bring her to the hospital once a week so they could keep track of her progress and make sure there were no side effects.

Happily, she was doing very well and the check-up only lasted about five minutes. After that, Maria stopped by her old ward to see her old friends and work colleagues before heading downstairs to see Diane Evans.

Outside Diane’s room, Maria took a deep breath and tried to calm her nerves before knocking on the door.

Any doubts she had about what kind of reception she’d get instantly vanished when she stepped into the room. Diane almost leaped from the bed in excitement and Philip’s whole face lit up. They were both delighted to see her and expressed disappointment that she hadn’t been back before.

“Things have just been crazy,” Maria explained as she lifted Maddie from her seat and passed her into Diane’s arms. “But they’ve settled down now so we should be back more often.”

“I almost can’t believe that this is the same baby you had here a week ago,” Diane told her. “She’s gotten bigger. Just look at those chubby little cheeks. Obviously being with you and Michael is good for her.”

Maria smiled proudly. “Thank you. But we can’t take all the credit. Maddie is a little fighter. She’s doing so well. She’s eating well, sleeping well. Pooping well.”

Diane laughed. “She’s absolutely precious. Isn’t she, Philip?”

Philip beamed with grandfatherly pride. “She’s beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Maria smiled again.

“How’s Michael doing at being a dad?” Philip asked.

“Oh, he’s pretty good,” Maria told him. “He’s still pretty nervous but he's becoming more confident around her now and when he relaxes, he's great with her.”

Philip laughed. “He’s like me. I was absolutely terrified when Max was born. It took me weeks to stop thinking I was going to drop him. Remember?”

Diane nodded. “One time I went out to have dinner with a friend and left Max alone with Philip. When I came home I discovered that Philip had paid the housekeeper to babysit. Babysit himself, not Max,” she clarified.

Maria laughed. “What?”

“She wasn’t babysitting me, she was just watching to make sure that I didn’t do anything wrong,” Philip explained.

Diane shook her head. “Dolores still laughs about it.” She smiled at Maria. “And how are you finding parenthood?”

“I love it,” Maria enthused. “I thought I knew what it was like because I was a nurse, but I had no idea. It’s amazing. Scary, but amazing.”

“It’s the best and hardest thing you’ll ever do,” Philip told her. He looked at his wife. “Can I take her now?”

Very reluctantly Diane handed the baby over. Maria smiled, thrilled to see them doting over Maddie. “I brought you something; I thought you might like it.” She handed a small gift bag to Diane.

It was a photo frame, one of twelve that they’d received as a gift. Maria had put a picture of Maddie in one side and the picture of herself and Michael with Maddie that was taken on the day they’d taken her home from the hospital on the other side.

“Oh, thank you,” Diane gushed. “It’s lovely. Actually, I was going to ask about photographs. I have a good friend who is a photographer, and I was wondering if you’d like me to arrange to have Maddie’s picture taken professionally.”

“That would be great, thank you.”

“I also want to get a proper picture of you and Michael, for the papers.”

Maria frowned. “Um, why?”

“We’re going to put an official announcement of your marriage in the paper this weekend and I want a picture to go with it,” Diane explained.

“You don’t have to do that. I mean, it’s really just a marriage of convenience,” Maria said, flustered.

“I know that. But, Michael is the face of the family business now and that carries a certain weight of expectation. It’ll just be a short announcement and a picture. Do you have one of you two together?”

Maria searched through her phone and found the one she had taken on the balcony of their hotel room in Vegas. It was a nice shot, but she didn’t think it was right for the society pages of the LA times. Diane agreed. Instead, she decided to organize a meeting with her photographer friend. Her assistant was called into the room and tasked with organizing it, for as soon as possible.

“Have the police been able to find out anything about Maddie's birth mother?” Philip asked once all the arrangements for the pictures had been made.

“No. And to tell you the truth, I’m glad they haven't. I’m dreading the day they do in case it means that we have to give Maddie back,” Maria confessed. “That probably sounds really selfish.”

“Not at all. We understand that,” Philip assured her. “When we got Michael…. Do you know the story about Michael?”

Maria nodded.

“When we were fighting for custody of him, I think I actually prayed for his relatives to die,” Philip said.

Maria frowned. “Oh. I didn't realize he had other relatives.”

“On his mother's side. When she died, none of them would take him in. They all turned their backs on him. But when we came forward to get custody of him, suddenly there were relatives coming out of the woodwork. I think there were something like eight different claims. None of them wanted Michael; they just smelled an opportunity to make some cash.”

“There are a lot of advantages to being an Evans, but there are drawbacks, too. And one of them is that the world is full of gold diggers who would just love to get their hands on our money, and aren't above using innocent children to get it,” Diane said, a little angrily.

Maria hadn’t really considered that angle. She’d just been worried that Maddie’s mother would change her mind. That idea, that other people would try to get custody of Maddie just to make money, made her even more frightened about the prospect of losing her.

Diane sensed they’d upset her. “But don't worry, you're an Evans now. Anybody who tries to take her away will have a hell of a fight.”

“I just want what’s best for Maddie. If that means giving her back to her mother, then that’s what I’ll do,” Maria insisted. She meant it too; she just wasn’t going to go out of her way to find the missing mother.

“Nonsense. The best thing for Maddie is to be with you and Michael. Anybody with eyes can see that. You’re her mommy.”

Maria shook her head. “I.. I don’t use… I don’t call myself that.”

Diane raised an eyebrow.

“I’m afraid I’ll jinx it,” Maria admitted.

“But you want to be her mommy, don’t you?” Diane asked gently.

“More than anything.”

“Then embrace it. Be her mommy for as long as you can be. Even if it’s only for a few months, then make the best of those months for both your sakes. Don't hold back out of fear. Let Maddie experience the love of a mother for as long as she can.”

Maria nodded. She smiled at Maddie who looked perfectly content in her grandfather's arms. “To be honest, I’ve felt like she was mine since the first day she came into the hospital.”

“I understand,” Diane told her. “I felt the same way when I met Michael for the first time.”

“What happened?” Maria asked, seeing a chance to find out the truth about Michael. “I mean, he’s told me some stuff, but…”

“He doesn’t like to talk about it,” Philip finished for her. “It’s difficult for him.”

Maria nodded.

“Well, we didn’t even know about Michael’s existence until he was about six. And then it took us a long time to find him because...”

“Because of Lucinda Whitman?”

Philip nodded. “Yes.” Maria could see how angry her name made him. His whole demeanor changed. It pretty much confirmed that story for her.

“And we weren’t even sure he was really our nephew,” Diane added. “She wasn’t the most reliable source. So when we found him…” she stopped and shook her head at the memory. “He was in the hospital when we found him. His father had beaten him for spilling milk. He was so small that I didn’t even believe he was really six. He was the same size as Max. Malnourishment, you see.

“We went to see him at the hospital. He was so frightened of us. All I wanted to do was pick him up and carry him home with me, but he wouldn’t even let me hug him. Right there and then, I decided he was coming home with us, whether he was our nephew or not.

“But then of course, word got out, and all his other relatives started making noise about getting custody. So we had to go to court. I was terrified that we’d lose him. I was absolutely out of my mind with worry. I didn’t sleep for a month.”

“We bribed a nurse to get a blood sample from him so we could take a blood test before the judge ordered one,” Philip recalled. “We decided that if it came back that he wasn’t David’s son that we’d waive the right to one.”

“Fortunately he was David’s, so we didn’t have to do that,” Diane continued. “But that week was the scariest, longest week of my life. I never prayed so hard or so often.

“Oh, and then on the day of the hearing, Max fell off the swing and broke his arm so we had to go home and leave Marty there to represent us. I swear between the two of them, I aged thirty years that day alone.”

“But it all worked out,” Maria said.

Diane nodded. “Thank God, yes. The judge never had a doubt who should get custody of Michael, and that had nothing to do with our money or our family name. We were awarded custody of Michael because the judge knew that we’d give him a loving, stable home. And that’s what will happen if you and Michael have to go to court.”

“Of course, I’ll bribe the judge anyway,” Philip joked. Half joked.

“Philip,” Diane chided, though she was smiling.

“Was it difficult, with Michael?” Maria asked.

Diane nodded. “Very. He was a very hurt, angry little boy. He trusted nobody. He was terrified of us. It took a long, long time before he ever really settled in. Sometimes I think that if it hadn’t been for Max and Isabel, he never would have. They really took him under their wing. They just seemed to understand that he was scared. It was Max and Isabel who brought him out of his shell and helped him settle down with us.”

She sighed sadly. “They used to be so close, but they’ve drifted apart now. It breaks my heart.”

“Has Max seen Maddie?” Philip asked curiously.

“Yes, he came by our apartment on Saturday,” Maria told him. “He was pretty good with her. Really nervous, though.”

Philip laughed. “It does seem to be a family trait.”

Maria smiled. “How do you overcome it?”

“Time, and plenty of hands on experience,” Philip said.

“Yes, just give him the baby and disappear,” Diane suggested.

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Maria nodded.

Diane smiled. Michael had been so closed off ever since his split with Carla. Maddie and Maria could be so good for him. She really hoped that he opened up and allowed them both in. She had no doubt that Maria could make Michael happy again. That’s all she wanted for her son.

And if she could just find a nice girl for Max to put him on the straight and narrow; and a nice boy for Isabel to help steer her right, Diane would be a very happy lady.

***


Max wasn't really surprised when the bank called him to tell him that regretfully, they wouldn't be able to approve his loan. So, when his shift was finished, he gathered his stuff together and made his way to Michael's office. He mentally rehearsed his spiel in the elevator on the way up.

Tess waved him inside and he found Michael getting ready to leave.

“Have you got a minute?”

“Literally one minute,” Michael said. “I have to go get my picture taken.”

“Oh, what's that for?”

“Mom wants pictures of me and Maria and Maddie.” Michael scowled. “So, what's up?”

Max closed the office door and approached the desk. “I have to ask a huge favor.”

“Ok. Shoot.”

“Right,” Max swallowed nervously. “Ok. The thing is... I’ve been trying really hard to, um...”

“Max,” Michael said, waving his hand to tell him to hurry up

“I need to borrow money,” Max blurted out. Michael stopped what he was doing and gave Max his full attention. Max took a deep breath and carried on, calmer this time. “I'm doing what I can to clear my debts. I’ve taken on a second job. I’ve sold what I can. I’ve cut down way down on my expenses. I just about make the minimum payments but I can't make any headway. The interest is killing me.

I talked to a couple of people about the course. They all said that I would have to put in long hours, and that there are assignments and homework, too, which would mean that I’d have to give up the job at the nursing home. But if I give it up, then I’ll never be able to pay off my debts. So, it's either the job or the course.”

“I see. How much do you need?” Michael asked neutrally.

Max took a deep breath. “Eight hundred and fifty thousand.”

Michael's eyebrows shot up. “I didn't realize it was that much.”

“Yeah, I know it's a lot. And I swear that I’m not asking you just to slither out of paying my own way. I really am in a hole,” Max said. “I will pay you back, with interest.

“Look, I know that I’m not exactly a safe bet. Up until now, I have been really bad with money. But, I’ve learned my lesson and I’m never going to get into debt again. I’m not asking you to just hand over the money. I’m going to give you something in return to prove to you how serious I am about changing things.”

Max reached into the folder he had brought with him and pulled out a paper. “These are my shares. I’m going to sign them over to you for two years, until I get control of them. Everything I earn on these for the next two years will go to you. That should cover my debt and any interest I owe.”

Michael stared at the shares lying on his desk.

Ever since he'd found out about Max and Carla, Michael had been plotting revenge. It was simple really, let Max dig his own hole and give a helping hand whenever the opportunity arose. He knew that Max wouldn't be able to sustain his lifestyle and when that time came, Michael was ready to swoop in and convince Max to handing over his shares.

He couldn't believe that it had actually happened, that he'd had to do almost nothing to achieve it.

But now that the shares were almost within his grasp, Michael felt that same empty feeling he'd had when Alex’s center had shut down. There was no pleasure, no satisfaction, no closure.

In fact, it sucked. He hated that Max was driven to this point. Hated that he'd had a hand in it. Hated that he'd ever planned for this.

He just wanted the whole stupid mess to be over and done with, so he could forget all about Carla and everything that came with her. He was so sick of living in the past. He wanted to look to the future now.

“Michael,” Max prompted when Michael gave no sign of answering.

Michael shook himself out of his thoughts. “Max, that would pay me back about ten times what you borrowed.”

“Seriously? We make that much money.”

“Listen, I don't think that it would be a good idea to transfer the shares. I don't want to do anything irregular with them.”

Max's heart sank. He looked down into the folder and saw the only other thing of value that he possessed. “How about the mistress? You hold onto the deed until I can pay you back.”

Michael nodded. “Ok. Good.”

Max couldn't believe it was that easy. “Really, you'll lend me the money?”

“Yes.”

“That's... whew, that's such a relief.” Max took another deep breath and prepared to tell the lie he'd concocted earlier. “The thing is... I kind of need it right away. Not all of it, but I need half a million by the end of the week.”

“What's the rush?”

“You remember the yacht incident?”

Michael's lips curled into a smile, which he quickly covered. “Yes. I thought you'd paid that off.”

“No. I lied about it to get Dad off my back, but I’ve been paying it in installments and the last one is due this Friday. I’m sorry.”

Michael knew he was lying because he knew for a fact that Max had paid off the yacht club.

Which meant that Carla had ignored his warning to stay away from his family. He should have known.

Five hundred grand and Carla would be gone for good.

It was a small price to pay.

He turned to his computer and pulled up his bank account. “Do you know your bank account number?”

Max blinked in surprise. “Yes.”

“Enter it here.”

In a state of shock, Max rounded the desk so he could enter his account number. Michael pressed a few keys and then grinned. “Right, that should be in your account within the next twenty-four hours.”

“All of it?” Max was feeling lightheaded.

“Yep. We'll work out the exact details later,” Michael said as he stood up and pulled on his suit jacket. “I really have to go now.”

“Wait.” Max pulled out the deed to the Rolls Royce and handed them over. “This is yours now. Thank you, Michael. You don't know what this means to me.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Max grabbed his things and followed Michael out. In the elevator, Michael suddenly started to laugh.

“What?” Max asked.

Michael shook his head. “A week ago, I was a single man. Today I have a wife, and a mistress. You just never know how life is going to turn out.”

***
Last edited by nibbles2 on Sat Oct 22, 2011 6:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Gold Diggers - Chapter 50

Postby nibbles2 » Fri Nov 11, 2011 4:52 pm

Alien Friend Michael and Max have come along way since they beginning, and they really want to help Isabel, but Isabel has to want help and she's not really there yet.

Maipigen Yes, thank you for that kick, I’m doing a lot better now.

FSU/MSW-94 It would have solved so many problems if the siblings would just talk to each other, but they are going to get better at that.

xmag Michael is going to take action, but I don't think it can be classed as 'drastic'. I find it a satisfying conclusion to Carla's story, but others might disagree.

secretk Yes, Isabel has to accept that she has a problem before she can really accept help and she's not there yet.

sarammlover I like that, Come Clean and Get Clean. Sage advice. They'll get there.

Earth2Mama That was Carla's worst crime in my book, the way she tore the three of them apart.

begonia9508 But Max doesn't know that Michael already knows.

keepsmiling7 Max has been paying Carla off for a year now, so he's not going to suddenly stop.

zaneri1 Well, I don't think that Liz has been corrupted but just because her grandmother is dead won't solve Liz's financial problems. There are still hospital bills, funeral costs, college tuition, rent... Liz will have to really consider all her options.

dreambeliever Yep, for every step forward the boys take, Isabel takes a step backwards.

And as always, big thanks to my beta Michelle in LA

Hard to believe that this is the FIFTIETH chapter. It was supposed to be a big one to mark the occasion, but it didn't really fit, but there's still a couple of significant moments in the chapter. Enjoy.




Gold Diggers – Chapter Fifty

“Do you have any questions?”

Liz shook her head numbly.

The lady smiled politely and picked up her papers. “If you think of anything else, you can contact us at any time.”

“Ok,” Liz nodded.

The lady, Liz couldn't remember if she was a nurse or doctor, left the room, followed by two other members of her grandmother's 'care team'. One of them remained behind, the one who'd been holding the box of tissues and waiting for Liz to burst into tears.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” Tissues asked.

Liz shook her head and stood up. “No, thank you. I just want to get back to my Grandma.” She gathered up the pamphlets that she'd been given during the meeting and slipped out of the room.

Tissues followed. “If you need somebody to talk to, I’m here for you.”

“I'm fine,” Liz said again, firmly this time. “I just need to be alone.”

The other woman looked hurt that her services were being rebuffed, but she took the hint and left Liz alone.

Liz made it into her Grandmother's room and shut the door. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself before taking a seat beside the bed.

“Grandma, if you can hear me, please wake up,” Liz pleaded. “I need you to wake up. Please. Please. I miss you so much, and I love you so much. I’m not ready to say goodbye yet. Please come back to me.”

She waited, watching closely for some sort of sign, however faint, that her grandmother had heard and was listening. There was nothing. Her breath came normally, her heartbeat was steady.

Liz slumped in despair. She hadn't expected any reaction, but part of her had hoped. Her grandmother had never let her down before. For a moment she was angry that her grandmother was ignoring her. It passed and she was filled only with sadness.

The care team had explained to her that there was no coming back for Grandma, that it was only a matter of time. They'd wanted to discuss the situation with her. Liz had been aware of Claudia's deteriorating condition and knew that it was only a matter of time, but being confronted with it by doctors had been a body blow that she hadn't been expecting.

At times like this, her first reaction was always to turn to her grandmother for support and advice. It just brought home to her how huge the hole would be now that her grandmother was leaving.

She felt so alone.

Liz almost regretted sending Tissues away.

Instead she reached for her phone to call Maria. But her finger hovered over the call button for a moment before canceling. Maria would come and she'd be great, but right at that moment, Liz really wanted to see Max. So she called him instead. He promised to be there in half an hour.

It made Liz feel better just to know he was on the way.

***


Just a week after she'd stood in a luxury hotel suite getting ready to marry Michael, Maria found herself in another hotel room, dressed in another gorgeous dress, wondering how the hell she'd ended up there.

When Diane had first suggested the idea of photographs, Maria had assumed it would be a simple affair. But, no. As Maria was beginning to learn, nothing was simple where the Evanses were concerned.

After leaving the hospital, Maria had gone back to the apartment and changed into one of her nicer dresses, she'd applied her make-up carefully and styled her hair nicely. She'd dressed Maddie in an adorable little dress before they were whisked away to the IMM hotel where she was met by Fredrick, the photographer and his team. They were busy setting up for the shoot in the rooftop garden. To Maria it looked more like they were getting ready for a professional shoot instead of a couple of simple family photographs.

She'd been pulled into a suite where a stylist, Erin, was waiting with a rack of designer dresses and cases of make-up. It didn't even seem to dawn on Erin and her team that Maria was already dressed and ready to go. Her hair was styled again, her make-up completely redone, and she had to try on several dresses before finally putting on a very expensive cream silk dress. Maria was a little pissed at first but she decided to just go with it; it was nice to be pampered and to dress up. With all the worry over Claudia and then Maddie, it had been a long time since she'd really dressed up or given her appearance much thought.

She didn't recognize the woman staring back at her in the mirror. Her reflection looked elegant, chic, and sophisticated – qualities that she aspired to but didn't feel she really possessed.

Maria was just glad that nobody had suggested that Maddie wasn't photo-ready because she would have boxed the ears off anybody who did.

“We're ready for you now,” Erin said as she walked back into the room.

“Ok, thanks.” Maria checked her reflection one last time before picking Maddie up and following Erin up to the roof.

Michael was already there, talking to his father and another man. Maria was somewhat mollified to see that he had changed his clothes too and somebody had clearly done something with his hair. He looked really, really good.

Maria quickly stamped down on that train of thought.

Michael smiled tentatively as Maria approached them, probably wondering if she was blowing hot or cold today. She smiled back at him and he relaxed slightly. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Maria nodded.

“This is Marty Freeman, Dad's right hand man and PR guru extraordinaire,” Michael introduced. “Marty this is Maria....” he paused unsure whether to say Deluca or Evans before deciding to pass over it. “And Maddie.”

“Lovely to meet you both” Marty smiled. He shook Maria's hand then turned his attention to Maddie. “She's beautiful. I really think you should use a picture of the three of you for the papers. It's a wonderful story.”

“No,” Maria said at once.

Marty looked at Michael expecting him to back him up.

Michael shook his head. “No. I don't want this story getting out.”

“Fine,” Marty sighed. He clapped his hands together. “Let's get this started, shall we?”

Frederick stepped in then and took charge. He decided to take pictures of Maddie first while she was awake and happy. When they were taken, Michael and Maria joined Maddie in front of the camera to pose for pictures as a family.

Then Maria handed Maddie over to Philip to hold so that the photographer could take pictures of just Maria and Michael together. One of these would be released to the press.

“Ready,” Frederick commanded.

Maria and Michael stood beside each other stiffly, unsure what to do.

Frederick huffed. “Well, don't just stand there, put your arm around her.”

Michael awkwardly put his arm around Maria's shoulders as she shuffled a little closer.

“Not like that,” Frederick snapped. He marched over to them and grabbed Michael's arm and lowered it to Maria's waist. Then he pushed Maria against Michael's body and put her hand on his chest. He stepped back and nodded. “Better.”

“Wait,” Marty said just as Frederick took the next picture. “You're not wearing wedding rings.”

Maria glanced down at her bare ring finger. She hadn't given a ring any thought since the wedding in Vegas.

“We didn't use them,” Michael explained. “It's fine.”

“You need rings, Michael,” Marty said. He came closer to speak to them in a quiet voice. “I understand that this is a marriage of convenience, but if you want the world to believe that this is real, then you have to follow certain conventions. That means rings.”

Michael sighed. He wasn't exactly sure if they did want the world to believe it was a real marriage, but he just didn't want to go into it there and then. The whole thing was so complicated. “Fine. Got a pair of rings we can borrow?”

“I'll see what I can do.”

He asked around and came back a minute later with two rings. Philip had given his ring for Michael to wear and Erin had offered hers up for the cause. Marty held them out to Michael and Maria, who stared at them uncomfortably before hesitantly reaching for them and slipping them on their own fingers.

Maria stared at the ring on her finger. She'd been wearing pretend wedding rings on her finger since she was about five, but it was different now. She was really married, it was a real ring - even if it was just a loaner. She looked up at Michael and watched him slipping his own ring on. He met her gaze and grinned bashfully.

“Hard to believe it was only a week ago,” Michael commented.

“Tell me about it. It feels like it was two years ago,” Maria agreed.

Frederick sighed impatiently. “Are we ready now?”

This time, Maria and Michael were a little more relaxed and their pose was more natural. Michael put his arm around Maria's waist and pulled her closer. Maria leaned into him and smiled.

Frederick started snapping.

Michael's hold on Maria tightened as he drew her closer.

For a week, Maria had steadfastly and deliberately not thought about the night she'd spent with Michael. But now, with his arm around her, and pressed up against him, it all came flooding back.

It had been such a great night. It made her blush just to remember how Michael had looked at her, how hot her skin had felt wherever he touched her. But with those memories came the memories of the morning after too, of the shock and hurt at finding out that the man she had made love to had been lying to her since she met him.

“For goodness sake,” Frederick snapped, drawing her attention back to him. “Focus, please. It's like Michael is holding a plank of wood.”

Maria stiffened and glared at him. She tried to shake the stiffness away but she just felt awkward and rigid.

Michael was picking up on her discomfort and was withdrawing back to himself. “I think that's enough now,” he told the photographer.

Frederick protested but Maria bolted away from Michael before anybody could stop her. She practically grabbed Maddie from Philip. “I'll go change,” she announced and fled back to the suite.

In the privacy of the room, Maria let out a deep groan. She knew she was going to have to talk to Michael about that night.

***


Needing to get away from the stifling atmosphere of the nursing home for a while, Liz asked Max to meet her in the small Chinese restaurant down the block.

When he arrived, Liz noticed a spring in his step and he smiled brightly when he spotted her and weaved his way through the tables to where she was waiting. “Hey.”

“Hi. You look like you’re in a good mood,” Liz commented.

Max nodded. “Yes I am. I talked to Michael today, and he’s going to loan me enough money to pay off Carla and clear my debts.”

“That’s great,” Liz said with a small smile.

“I can’t believe it,” Max sighed. “I’ll be able to pay my rent and buy food. I won’t have to pick.”

“I hope Carla doesn’t look for more money.”

Max’s smiled faded a little. “I hope so too.” He brightened again. “She’ll be gone in a couple of days and I won’t have to worry about her anymore. I can’t tell you what a relief that is.”

Liz thought that was pretty naïve of Max, but she hoped he was right. “Are you going to quit your job at the nursing home?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Max said with a shake of his head. “I was going to, but I’ve been thinking about it and I thought it might be a good idea to keep it on for a while. You know, so I can save up some money. I am never going to get into debt again. I’ll see how it works out with the course I’m doing.”

Liz tilted her head and smiled. “I thought you’d be out the door so fast.,”

“Me too,” Max laughed. “But, the money is decent. And… I actually like working there.”

“Really?” Liz asked, sounding very surprised.

“Well, the work sucks. But, it’s not so bad when you get used to it. The people there are really cool though, the residents I mean. I like talking to them.”

Liz smiled softly again.

“So, how’s things with you?” Max asked.

“Not so good,” Liz told him. “I had a meeting with my grandmother’s care team today.”

Max reached across the table and took her hand. “What did they say?”

Liz shook her head. “They told me what I already knew. She’s dying. They suggested that I sign a DNR.”

“A DNR?”

“A Do Not Resuscitate order. You know, so if she has a heart attack or stops breathing, that they’ll let her die instead of resuscitating her.”

“Oh, God, Liz, I’m sorry.” Max felt horrible for talking about himself for so long instead of noticing that Liz was upset.

“Thanks,” Liz squeezed his hand. “I’m sorry for dragging you down here, but I needed to see you.”

“You don’t have to apologize for that, Liz,” Max admonished gently. “I’ll always be here for you.”

“Thanks, Max,” Liz said gratefully. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Did your Grandma ever talk to you about this?” Max asked.

Liz nodded. “Sort of. Not about her specifically, because I think we both thought she had years left in her. She was healthier than most women half her age. But some of her friends and her relatives, they got sick or passed away. We’d talk about it then. Her sister Justine has pretty severe Alzheimer’s and Grandma used to say that if she ever ended up like that, she wanted me to smother her with a pillow.

“This would have been her worst nightmare. She would have absolutely hated to know that she ended up in a coma, having to have everything done for her, having other people decide what happens to her. She hated to show any sign of weakness or dependence.

“But, I can’t just give up. She’s my Grandma! She’s the most important person in my life.! I can’t just… just kill her.”

“You wouldn’t be killing her, Liz,” Max said at once. “It’s her body. It failed. You’d just be letting nature take its course. If it’s her time to go…”

Liz nodded, blinking back tears. “I know. Logically I know all that. But… I just can’t help worrying that maybe there’s a chance she’ll wake up, and that if I don’t fight to keep her alive, that she won’t get the chance.”

Max had been keeping his ears open at work and he knew that the staff in the home didn’t think that there was any chance Claudia Parker would ever wake up. To them, it was just a matter of time before her body gave out completely and she would finally be at rest. “What did the doctors say?” he asked gently.

“They don’t think there’s any chance of it. And again, logically I know that too. But I still worry. It’s stupid.”

“You don’t want to give up hope,” Max corrected. “That’s not stupid. It’s completely understandable.”

“What do you think I should do?” Liz pleaded.

Max swallowed nervously. He knew what he thought she should do, but he didn’t want to say that. He didn’t know Claudia and he didn’t want to influence Liz to make a decision she might regret. He also didn’t think that it was really a matter of deciding what to do, she just needed time to come to terms with what she had to do. “I think… They’re not expecting you to sign it right away, are they?”

Liz shook her head.

“Then don’t rush it. Give it a while and the answer will come to you. Does she have any other siblings that you can talk to?”

“No. Just Aunt Justine.”

“Take your time. When you’re ready, you’ll know what to do.” He smiled sadly. “That’s not much help, I’m afraid.”

“No, you did help. I was panicking, thinking I had to decide right away. You’re right. I have time to think it over.” She slumped back in her chair. “This sucks.”

It really did, Max agreed. It was so unfair that Liz had to go through this and he wished there was something, anything, that he could do to help her.

The shared a plate of spring rolls. Liz said little over the meal and ate hardly anything. Max watched her helplessly, unable to think of anything to say that would help.

Afterwards, they walked hand in hand back to the nursing home.

“Thank you, Max. You’ve been so great,” Liz said as they stood in the entrance lobby preparing to go their separate ways - Max to work and Liz back to her grandmother’s room.

“I wish I could have done something to help,” Max told her.

Liz smiled at him. “You did. Just you being here with me means so much to me.”

Max’s watch beeped, telling him that he was now late. “Shit, I have to run.” He kissed Liz’s cheek. “Call me, whenever you need me.”

“I will.”

***


Michael stood outside the closed door of Maria’s room debating what to do.

Maria had been acting oddly since the photography session earlier that evening. She’d said nothing in the car on the way home, alternating between staring out the window and fussing over Maddie. As soon as they'd gotten home, she’d taken Maddie upstairs and he hadn’t seen either of them since.

He knew she’d been down while he’d gone for a swim because her dinner was eaten and one of Maddie’s bottles was in the draining rack by the sink.

Was she avoiding him? What had he done this time? Was she mad at him? It was always so hard to know, with Maria.

He was inclined to leave her alone if she was mad at him, but he didn’t think she was mad. Upset, maybe. And he wanted to say goodnight to Maddie.

So he knocked gently on the door. There was no answer, so he knocked a little louder. When there was still no answer, he decided to give up. No point in poking the bear.

He went downstairs to get himself a drink. As he was pouring a scotch, he heard a voice outside and realized that Maria was sitting out on the balcony, on the phone.

She looked up and caught him staring at her and raised an eyebrow in question.

“Do you want a drink?” he asked.

Maria lowered the phone and nodded. “I’d love a white wine please.”

“Sure.” Michael relaxed slightly; she didn’t appear to be mad at him. This time.

He went looking for the white wine, which he knew he had somewhere. It wasn’t in the bar, or in any of the cupboards in the kitchen. It wasn’t in the storeroom either. It was only when he was about to give up that he remembered that he had a wine cabinet in the kitchen.

Sure enough, it was full of bottles of wine. He wondered briefly where they’d come from, as he never drank wine unless it was served to him in a restaurant. There was a chance that Oksana had bought it, but the more likely person was Carla. It was probably the only thing that she’d brought into the apartment that he hadn’t thrown out when they split up.

He picked a bottle at random and hoped it would be ok. Carla had a taste for things expensive, so it was probably a good bottle. He poured a glass for Maria and took it outside to her.

She had finished her phone call and was staring into the night sky. She barely looked up when he handed her the wine.

Michael decided to stay so he took a seat opposite Maria.

She dipped a finger in the glass but didn’t drink from it. “My mom is going to come stay with us this weekend, if that’s ok?”

“Sure.” Michael took a sip of his drink. “Is Maddie sleeping?”

Maria nodded glumly.

“Is everything ok?”

“Liz called. She had a meeting with Grandma Claudia’s care team today and it upset her.” Maria took a sip of her wine. “It’s so sad. Claudia was such an amazing woman, it’s so sad to see her end up like this.”

“Can I ask? She’s not your grandmother, is she?”

“Technically not, no, but she always called me and Alex her honorary grandchildren.” Maria smiled at the memory but it faded. “She was more of a grandmother to me than my real one was.”

“You don’t get along with your grandmother.”

“Don’t get me started,” Maria groaned. She took another sip of the wine. “This is nice wine.”

Michael grinned. “Good.”

“She didn’t deserve this,” Maria sighed, back on the topic of Grandma Claudia. “Although, sometimes I’m kind of glad that she’s not conscious. It would completely destroy her if she knew that Liz was working as a stripper to pay the bills. She’d never forgive herself for that. I’m glad she doesn’t know.”

Of course, that explained why Liz worked at The Dangerzone, Michael realized, he'd wondered as she was the last person he'd ever have expected to work as a stripper. He looked at Maria, wondering whether to offer to help or not. Sometimes, Maria was offended when the issue of money arose. She probably thought he was trying to buy her forgiveness. Sometime it felt like he was. But money was all he had to offer in the way of help.

“If you want to help Liz out, financially, we can do that,” he offered.

Maria flinched. “I wasn’t trying to fish for money.”

Great, he had offended her.

“I know. I’m just offering. She’s Maddie’s honorary aunt, so she’s family.”

For a moment he thought she was going to throw the wine at him, but then she gave him a small smile. “Thank you. I’ll let Liz know.”

He nodded. “OK.”

They lapsed into silence then, each lost in their own thoughts.

Eventually Maria spoke. “Michael?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you sleep with me, that night in Vegas?”

Michael’s mouth fell open in shock. He had not been expecting that one. “Wha… What?”

Maria repeated the question. She sounded curious.

“Um…” Michael couldn’t formulate a thought, let alone articulate his reasons. “Why did you sleep with me?” he blurted out.

“Because I had feelings for you,” Maria said calmly.

Every part of Michael froze, except his heart which was now beating at three times its normal speed.

“So, I need to know why you slept with me,” Maria continued.

He wanted to tell her that he had feelings for her too. But nothing happened. His brain didn’t kick into gear, his mouth was clamped shut.

Maria sighed. “I trusted you, Michael. I gave up my apartment. I quit the job I’ve been dreaming about since I was eight. I gave away my car. I married a man that I barely knew. I made myself and Maddie completely dependent on you. I did all that because I really trusted you and because I really liked you.

“Afterwards, when you were asleep, I was lying there thinking about the future. I thought that we had a shot, you and I. That we could have a real relationship, a real marriage. That the three of us could be a real family. It was terrifying. But I thought it would be ok, because you were a good man and you wouldn’t hurt me. I thought that you felt the same way, because of how…” Maria blushed and diverted her gaze away from him. “Because of how you looked at me, how you touched me. Nobody has ever looked at me like that before.

“Then I woke up the next morning and found out that you’d been lying to me the whole time I knew you, that everything I’d believed about you was a lie. Do you have any idea how much that hurt me?”

Michael shook his head guiltily.

“So I need to know why you slept with me. Was it just to screw with Alex? Were you just horny and I was stupid enough to fall for you? Did you lure me to Vegas just to sleep with me? Did you care about me, at all?”

“Of course I did; I do,” he exclaimed.

Maria shook her head. “If you cared about me, you wouldn’t have lied to me all that time. You wouldn’t have slept with me under false pretenses. You wouldn’t have hurt me like that.”

“Maria, you are the last person that I ever want to hurt,” Michael told her vehemently. “I promise, on everything I have, that what happened between you and me had nothing to do with Alex.”

“I don't believe you.” She pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.

Michael swallowed. She looked so hurt and vulnerable and he hated himself for being the one to do that to her. He knew that as long as she believed he had used her, she'd never trust him. He had to make her see that it wasn't planned, but the only way to do that was to tell the truth even thought he would rather die than admit the truth to her. He cast another look at her and his stomach sank. The only way to ever win her trust was to be completely honest with her, and maybe by totally humiliating himself he could mend things between them.

He took a deep breath and began. “Maria, I wasn't planning to sleep with you that night because... because I didn't think I could.” Michael looked away, his gaze skywards. “Since Carla and I split, I’ve had some trouble in that department.”

He risked a glance in Maria's direction, but she just looked confused. He looked away again. “I... uh... I haven't been able to...” he groaned in frustration and dragged the words from himself. “I haven't been able to get it up.”

Maria scoffed. “Michael, here's a tip. If you're going to pull a 'Some Like It Hot' stunt, then try it on somebody who you haven't just slept with.”

“It's not a stunt. I swear... I haven't been able to maintain an erection with a woman since Carla. Until that night. Why would I say that if it wasn't true? It's the most humiliating thing I’ve ever had to admit to.”

“Is this why you have Viagra in you drawer?” Maria asked, though she didn't sound convinced.

“How did you know about that?” Michael asked.

For a moment Maria looked guilty, like she'd been caught with her hand in the cookie drawer, but then she glared at him. “I went through your things when I first moved in,” she stated baldly. “I had to. I had just learned that you're a manipulative liar and that I couldn't trust anything about you so I went through your things to find something true.”

“So there, you believe me?”

“Lots of men take ED drugs recreationally.”

“Well, I don't,” Michael said angrily. “I never needed to before.”

“Why were they prescribed to Michael Guerin?”

“Because it's embarrassing.”

Maria nodded. “Do they work?”

Michael could feel himself go red and he wished to god that he had never brought this up. “No,” he admitted meekly.

“What did the doctor say?”

Michael looked away again. “I went to more than one. They all said the same thing; Physically, there's nothing wrong me. It's all in my head. They recommended that I get counseling.”

Maria snorted. “Yet conveniently, you had no problem with me that night in Vegas.”

“I know!” Michael exclaimed.

“Guess they did work then,” Maria snarked. “Let me guess. You popped a couple of pills, took me on a roller-coaster ride while the kicked in and then took me back to the hotel... why? To prove to yourself that you can? To mess with Alex? Why?”

Michael dropped down on his knee in front of her and grabbed her hand. “Maria, a couple of months ago, I paid a doctor to prescribe them to me and I took out a lawyer I met at a meeting. It was before I even met you. They didn't work and I didn't try them again. You can go upstairs and count them if you want, there's only two missing. I didn't take them with me to Vegas and I didn't use them with you. I didn't go there with any intentions towards you except maybe buttering you up so you wouldn't hate me too much when I told you the truth.

“I can't explain why I was able to... get it up for you when I couldn't all year. The only difference that I can think of is that....” he broke off and looked away.


“What?” Maria prodded angrily.

“Never mind!”

“No, I want to know. At the very least, you owe me that much.”

“Because I’m in love with you,” Michael blurted out to his own surprise, and to Maria’s. “Because I wanted to be with you. Because I knew that once I told you the truth, you’d hate me and it was the only chance I’d ever get.”

Maria looked away from him, her hands clenched around the glass she was holding. Michael could see the sheen of tears in her eyes.

“I’m really sorry, Maria.”

She brushed her tears away angrily. “You ruined everything, Michael. We could have had something.”

“We still can,” he said, wincing at the begging tone he could hear in his own voice.

“How? How can I ever trust you again?” Maria asked. She shook her head. “No, it’s gone, Michael. We can be Maddie’s parents. And I hope we can go back to being friends, but nothing more is ever going to happen between us.” She stood up and put her glass down on the table. “I’m going to bed. Good night.”

“Maria…” he didn’t want to leave it like that.

She turned to him suddenly. “For the record, I agree with your doctors. You clearly have a lot of issues, Michael. Good night.” Then she turned and went inside.

Michael sat back in his chair and drained the last of his scotch, before hurling the empty glass at the wall.

He cursed loudly and went to find a dustpan to clean it up.

Part of him wished that Maria hadn’t told him she’d had feelings for him. He wished he didn’t know how close he’d come to having everything he wanted with her.

But he wasn’t giving up. He’d find a way to prove to Maria that she could trust him. He’d find a way to make her fall in love with him again. He’d be the husband and the father she wanted him to be. They could be a real family, the three of them.

He wasn’t giving up.

***


No matter what was going on, no matter how busy she was, for twenty three years, Claudia Parker had her nails done once a week. Usually it was at Betty’s Nail Salon a few minutes walk from her home but, when she was away, she always found somewhere to go.

Her nails were her pride and joy. She’d wear shirts with missing buttons, leave her roots showing for weeks, and never remember to polish her shoes; but she always, always got her nails done. She'd always said that the only disadvantage to be an archaeologist was that it was hell on her nails. She'd been a lot happier when she'd moved on to teaching.

Liz was shocked to realize that she’s completely forgotten that. Somebody had been keeping the nails cut. But they were misshapen and unpolished. Claudia would have had some choice words to say about that, if she’d been awake.

Liz ran her finger over the scar Claudia had gotten on barbed wire when she tried to steal a pumpkin from a neighbor when she was seven.

The burn mark from when she’d dropped a four hundred year old piece of pottery into a fire and had reached in to pull it out.

The nail on the pointer finger of her left hand that was impossible to shape right.

The wedding ring that her husband had given her when she was nineteen that had never been removed since.

The freckles on the back of her hand that Liz always though were shaped like Orion’s belt.

These were the hands that had held Liz, fed her, bathed her, brushed her hair, held her tight, pushed her gently on the swings and were always there for her.

But now when Liz squeezed, they didn’t squeeze back. The skin on them was so fine it was almost papery. They were cold because her circulation was so bad.

But it was the unkempt nails that got to Liz most. For some reason, seeing them like that brought it home to her in a way that nothing else had - Grandma Claudia was gone.

She wasn’t coming back.

So, Liz borrowed a manicure set and some nail polish from one of the nurses and spent an hour buffing, filing and painting Claudia’s fingernails until they were perfect.

When she was finished, she kissed her Grandmother’s forehead. “I love you Grandma.”

Then she went to find the nurse she had borrowed the manicure set from to give it back. She asked for the loan of a pen and signed the DNR order and handed that over, too. “Thank you,” she croaked.

Then she quickly went in search of Max. He was emptying trash cans in the residents lounge when she finally located him.

He dropped the plastic bag he was carrying as Liz flung herself into his arms, and held her as she sobbed against his chest. He stroked her hair gently and made soothing noises in her ear.

After a long time, Liz pulled away from him. He grabbed some tissues and handed them to her. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

“I signed the order.”

Max nodded. “I’m sorry.”

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

He nodded again. “Are you ok?”

Liz shook her head and laughed tearfully. “No. I don’t know... Max?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you want to go out sometime? On a date?”

Max’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“After my exams, and… everything,” Liz clarified. “I need something to look forward to.”

“I’d be delighted to. Just name the day and I’ll be there.” He stroked her cheek gently.

Liz beamed. “Great. Thank you.”

“Sure.”

For a moment, Liz just stared at him, then suddenly she grabbed him by the ears and pulled him down to her before crushing her lips to him. Max quickly wrapped his arms around her waist and held her tightly to him as they kissed. It was urgent and hard at first, but slowly Liz relaxed into it and it became softer and gentler.

When they broke apart, Max stroked her face gently and smiled. “I love you, Liz.” He immediately regretted saying it. It was far too soon. They hadn’t even been on a date. He would freak her out.

Liz was shocked at first, and a blush spread across her face. She smiled shyly. “I love you, too.”

Max smiled in delight and fireworks went off in his head. “Wow.”

“I have to go now,” Liz announced. “I’ll see you Saturday.”

Max nodded numbly. He was unable to think coherently.

Liz laughed at his dazed expression. She understood, she was feeling pretty amazed herself.

She kissed him again, soft and brief before pulling away. “Good night, Max.”

“Good night, Liz.”

***
Last edited by nibbles2 on Fri Nov 11, 2011 7:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Gold Diggers - Chapter 51

Postby nibbles2 » Sat Nov 26, 2011 4:08 pm

Alien_Friend Agreed, that was a very significant conversation for Michael and Maria because they were both very honest, probably their very first completely honest conversation. They have a long road to go though.

Earth2Mama There's a little Alex and decent amount of Isabel is this part. The problem is that I have so much plot to get through and I’m just not good at balancing it between the two couples, and unfortunately Alex and Isabel are the ones who lose out but there are significant developments for both of them in the next few chapters.

keepsmiling7 One thing Max is not, is naïve about Carla. He knows exactly what she's capable of and just how sneaky and manipulative she really is. But what can he do? He can pay Carla and prevent Michael being hurt, and his parents too; or he can call her bluff and have her destroy his relationship with his brother and possibly his parents. As far as he's concerned, it's a price he's willing to pay.

Natalie36 Thank you.

FSU/MSW-94 Thank you. Yes, Max has been changed by working in the nursing home and it will affect a lot of his choices. It was important to me to show that Max has changed outside of Liz's influence, even though obviously she was the catalyst and the inspiration.

secretk Thank you. You're right about Michael and Carla!

begonia9508 I don't know, Liz has had a shit year, but until now her life has been pretty good and that is entirely down to Grandma Claudia.

sarammlover Thank.

Xmag Right now Maria is feeling too angry and betrayed to be sympathetic towards Michael. She's been on an emotional rollercoaster ride lately so her emotions are all over the place.

As always, thanks to Michelle in LA for betaing this for me.



Gold Diggers – Chapter Fifty-One

Max found himself whistling as he steered the stationery cart around the building, delivering items and collecting orders.

He kept thinking of all the things on his to-do list for the day, and it caused him to break out in a smile or do a little skip.

He was getting a lot of strange looks.

Max didn’t care. Today was a good day.

Today he was going to inform Nancy that he was leaving her department. Today he was going to pay off his massive credit card bills and be debt free. Today he was going to get the Carla monkey off his back, forever.

Today, he was going call Liz and tell her once again that he loved her.

He laughed in delight at the thought, causing two men standing at a water cooler to stare at him. He just saluted them cheerfully and stepped into the elevator to the top floor.

After making his deliveries on the top floor, he stopped by Michael’s office.

“I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to do that course,” Max said.

“That’s great.” Michael grinned. “How did Nancy take the news?”

“I haven’t told her yet,” Max told him. “I’m building up to it. Who’s going to replace me?”

“There’s a guy on sixteenth who spends about four hours a day on Facebook who’s about to get a very unpleasant surprise.”

Max nodded. “Nancy will knock that right out of him.”

Michael chuckled and turned his attention to his computer at the sound of an incoming mail.

As Michael tapped out a reply to the email, Max stood up and wandered over to the window. There were two pictures on the sill that he’d never seen before. One was of Michael with Maria and Maddie, the other just Michael and Maria.

“Nice pictures,” Max told Michael.

“Mom arranged the whole thing,” Michael sighed. “She doesn’t seem to grasp that it’s just a marriage of convenience. She seems to think it’s real.”

Max examined the pictures. Michael looked happy in both of them. He was actually smiling what looked like a real smile. The three of them looked like a real family.

“Could it be real?” Max asked.

Michael frowned.

“You light up when you talk about Maddie. You seem to really like Maria,” Max pointed out. “The three of you are living together, acting like a real family. Why can’t you make it real?”

“Because I fucked up,” Michael sighed. “Maria doesn’t trust me and I can’t blame her for that. The fact that she’s even talking to me at all is a miracle.”

“She’ll get over it,” Max assured him.

Michael shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said sadly.

“I thought that I’d fucked things up with Liz, too. But we worked it out and now…” Max broke into a wide grin. “Now, it’s better than ever. Just hang in there and keep showing her that you’re a good guy. She’ll come around.”

“Thanks, Max,” Michael said, sounding surprised and pleased at his brother’s encouragement.

A thought entered Max’s mind that hadn’t dawned on him before. “How do you think Mom and Dad will take the news that I’m dating a stripper?”

Michael snickered. “Maybe you don’t have to mention that she’s a stripper.”

But they both knew it was pointless because Philip and Nancy would find out the truth somehow. They always did.

“They’ll never guess,” Michael continued. “Anyway, it’s not like you’re dating the one who sold the kiss and tell story. You’re dating a sensible, respectable, smart college student who had to work as a stripper to pay her grandmother’s hospital bills and who inspired you to settle down and grow up. They’ll be delighted with her.”

Max relaxed. “Yeah. That’s true. She’s great. They’ll love her.”

“So, it’s serious between you two?”

“Well, I’m not about to run to Vegas and marry her,” Max jibed. “But, I’m not altogether opposed to the idea, either.”

Michael raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“I should get back to work before Nancy comes looking for me,” Max sighed. “I’m still her slave for another six hours.”

“Don’t piss her off too badly, remember she has to do your evaluation form and that goes on your permanent record,” Michael called after Max as he left the office.

Max swore silently to himself and decided to scrap the part of the plan where he told Nancy to go fuck herself as he left the office.

***


Isabel checked her reflection in the large mirror in the lobby outside Michael’s door. She’d made more of an effort with her appearance than she had in a while before coming. Her hair was gleaming, her make-up perfect and her clothes were smart and effortlessly fashionable.

She’d show an interest in Maria, cuddle Maddie for a while, smile and be happy; and Michael would see that she was fine and he and Max would drop their stupid concerned act.

Isabel spritzed some perfume on her wrists and popped a Hepatrin before throwing her shoulders back, plastering on a fake smile, and knocking on the door.

Maria looked shocked when she answered the door to find Isabel on the other side.

“Hello, Maria,” Isabel smiled, planting an air kiss about three inches from Maria’s cheek and pushing her way inside. “You look wonderful.”

“Uh, hi, Isabel. What are you doing here?”

“I came to see my little niece, of course,” Isabel said breezily. “And to get to know my sister-in-law a little better. I know we didn’t get off to a good start the day we met. It was my fault; I had a terrible migraine headache. I was hoping we could start again.”

“Now’s not really a good time.”

Isabel ignored the hint and walked into the living room. She was stopped in her stride however when she saw who was there. “Alex.”

Alex was sitting on the couch, holding Maddie. He was the very last person that she’d expected to see in her brother’s apartment. Didn't Michael have some kind of vendetta against him? Why would he be here?

Alex glared at her. “What are you doing here?”

“This is my brother’s apartment,” Isabel retorted angrily. “If I want to stop by and see him, then I can. What are you doing here?”

“Michael’s not here right now. He’s at work. And he's got a late meeting tonight so he won’t be home until after nine,” Maria said, not answering Isabel’s question.

Isabel forced the smile back. “Well, in that case I’ll just spend some time with you and Maddie.” She smiled at Alex and held her hands out. “May I hold her?”

“No!”

Isabel flinched at the venom in Maria’s voice and swung around to stare at her.

Maria shook her head vehemently. “No,” she repeated. “As long as you’re using drugs, I don’t want you anywhere near Maddie.”

“I’m not using drugs,” Isabel gasped.

“You think we can’t tell when somebody is using?” Maria asked furiously. “Maddie has been through too much and I’m not going to let another drug addict near her.”

“I am not a drug addict!” Isabel yelled.

“You are,” Alex said calmly. He stood up and passed Maddie into Maria’s arms. “You have a problem with drugs, Isabel. If you want help, then we're here for you. But if you refuse to admit that you have a problem then you're going to have to respect Maria's wishes and leave.”

Isabel was beside herself with fury. “How dare you? This is my brother's apartment and you cannot tell me what to do. Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Alex laughed scornfully. “Don’t turn this around on me. I tried to help you, and you helped destroy everything I worked for. Michael’s not home. Maria doesn’t want you here, so leave before she calls security.”

Isabel stared at them in shock. She had never been spoken to like that before in her life and she couldn't believe that Michael's gold-digging hussy and a loser bleeding heart were treating her in this manner. It was shocking. She certainly wasn't going to stay there and take that abuse. She grabbed her bag, deliberately knocking it against a vase of flowers which fell and smashed on the ground.

She stormed out, slamming the door hard behind her.

She fumed as she rode the elevator back down to the ground floor, Occasionally she punched the wall or shrieked with rage as she recalled how they had spoken to her like she was some sort of crack whore.

How fucking dare they!

She was so furious that her head was already thumping in pain. She popped another Hepatrin as she waited for her car to be brought around.

***



About four o'clock, Nancy hauled Max into her office. Her face was bright red and her jaw clenched. She looked mad.

“Is there a problem?” Max asked nervously.

Nancy waved a sheet of papers in his face. Max spotted the words ‘Employee Evaluation’ on one of them, and bit his lip to stop from grinning.

“I’ve just been informed that you’re leaving this department,” she told him. She was so enraged that spit flew from her mouth as she spoke,

Max grimaced and took a step backwards. “That’s right. Today’s my last day. You’re getting a replacement on Monday. Is there a problem with that?”

“Goddam, yes there’s a problem,” Nancy yelled. She pounded the desk. “I didn’t authorize this.”

“The CEO of the company authorized it, so you’re just going to have to suck it.”

Nancy turned purple. Her mouth flapped open and closed but no words came out.

Max laughed internally. He knew why she was so pissed. She’d really enjoyed having an Evans under her thumb and at her beck and call. Going back to a regular, garden variety employee wasn’t going to be nearly as satisfying.

“If that’s all? I should go finish what I was doing,” he said lightly.

He left Nancy to fume and seethe while he went back into the closet to finish the task of counting envelopes.

At exactly two minutes to five, Max re-emerged from the closet, logged the numbers in the ledger.

When it was exactly five, he snapped the ledger shut and stood up. “I guess I’ll see you around, Nance.” He tipped an imaginary hat at her and sauntered out of the office.

Max knew he’d probably pay for it in his evaluation form. But he didn’t care.

After leaving Evans HQ, Max walked ten blocks to a small café where Carla was waiting for him. He was in a buoyant mood after finishing with Nancy and walked with a spring in his step, though his good mood faded the closer he got to where he was supposed to meet her.

He knew it was stupid to think that this would really be the last time she’d try to get money out of him. Why would she give it up when it was so easy?

Right there and then he decided that he was going to stand up to Carla. He wasn’t going to let her have her way any more.

Steeling himself, he pushed open the door of the café and went inside.

Carla was sitting in a booth in the corner. She smiled slyly as he approached. “Hi, Max.”

Max put the check down on the table but kept his finger on top of it. “Tape!” he demanded.

“It’s a DVD actually,” Carla corrected him. She pulled a small DVD jewel case from her bag and held it out to him.

Max took it from her and slid the check across the table. “This is the only copy?”

“Yes. It’s the only copy I made,” Carla shrugged flippantly.

“Right. So you’re going to hand over your cash cow and that’s it? Why do I have trouble believing that?”

Carla sneered. “I don’t care whether you believe it or not. I gave you the tape and I’m leaving LA. What more do you want?”

He wanted her to die a painful and horrible death.

“I want an assurance that you’re never going to use that tape to blackmail me again, or hurt my family, ever.”

“I’m done with all of you. You’re not going to hear from me again,” Carla said.

Max thought she sounded like she was telling the truth, but as he’d learned Carla was a master of manipulation and deceit. Her word wasn’t good enough.

He’d let her push him around before because he’d felt as he deserved it. He’d hated himself for what he’d done to Michael and felt that he deserved to be punished for that.

But Max was different now. His confidence in himself had been restored. He liked himself again. He felt that he’d been punished enough for what he’d done.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stick to your word because if you ever try this again, I’m going straight to the police. I have proof that you blackmailed me before. I’ll make sure that you go down for it.”

Carla sneered. “But then everybody will find out what you did to your own brother.”

“I don’t care. Michael won’t care. He’s got a wife and child now, and you’re just a bad memory for him. He’ll be pissed at me for a while and he’ll get over it. I did a horrible thing and I’m prepared to face up to that. So I’m done paying you off.” Max stood up. “Spend that money wisely, Carla, because you’re not getting another cent from me.”

He paused for a minute to enjoy the furious look on Carla’s face. It was priceless.

Then he turned his back and walked away from her.

***


Isabel was still seething from her encounter with Maria and Alex when she went to meet Carla that night to hand over the money and get the pills from her.

Her head was still pounding with a massive headache and she was close to exploding. The Hepatrin wasn’t helping at all. She needed those pills, badly.

When Carla finally showed up, she had a face like a thundercloud. “Where’s my money?” she snarled without preamble.

“Where are my pills?” Isabel countered.

Carla held up a plastic bag filled with pills and shook them. Isabel’s eyes widened. There must have been about a hundred of them in the bag, far more than Carla usually supplied.

“Wow, you are such a bitch,” Isabel spat. “This whole time you’ve been telling me that you could only get a few pills at a time. You’ve been stringing me along, making me beg for those things. And you had hundreds of them.

“Do you have any idea the hell I’ve been going through? You know how bad my headaches are and you made me suffer-”

“Shut up!, Just shut the fuck up!” Carla screamed. She threw her hands up in the air. “God, I am so fucking tired of listening to you bitch and whine! Since the first day I met you, you’ve done nothing but complain about how hard your life is.

‘Oh Carla, I’m so famous the press won’t leave me alone.’ ‘Oh Carla, people only want to be friends with me because of my money.’ ‘Oh Carla, the handsome actor that I fucked won’t take me to Cannes with him’. ‘Oh Carla, my headaches. My headaches!’

“You are so pathetic. You have everything that a person could possibly want. You have a great family, lots of money, everything. Everything is always so easy for you that you had to make up your stupid headaches just so you’d have something to complain about.

“You have no idea what a hard life really is, you worthless little bitch. I’ve been abandoned by my parents, abused, beaten, neglected, raped. I’ve never been given anything in my life. I’ve had to fight for everything I have. Do you ever hear me whining about it?

“You don’t deserve the life you have. You are a stupid, spoiled, pathetic, useless waste of oxygen!”

Isabel screamed and slapped Carla across the cheek as hard as she could. Carla’s head whipped to the side from the force of the blow.

She shook it off and returned the favor, pounding Isabel so hard that she was sent sprawling on the pavement. Her shoe came off her left foot and her purse landed three feet away.

When Isabel touched her face, she felt blood. She didn’t know if it was from her nose or her mouth.

Carla sneered at her and stepped over her. She grabbed Isabel’s bag and rifled through it until she found the cash that Isabel had brought with her. She pocketed the money and threw the bag forcefully at Isabel who was still lying on the ground, too dazed to stand up.

Then Carla picked up the plastic bag containing the little pink pills that Isabel desperately wanted. She ripped the bag in two and threw it in the air.

Pills rained down everywhere, landing on the street, rolling down drains, falling onto trash and dirt.

“Goodbye, Isabel,” Carla spat.

Isabel could do nothing but watch Carla walk away.

Finally her head stopped spinning and she was able to push herself onto her hands and knees. A couple of pills fell from her clothes onto the ground beneath her. She picked them up and brushed them off, before swallowing them dry.

Then she crawled around, searching for the remaining pills. She gathered as many as she could, wiping the dirt off them and shoving them into her purse.

***

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Gold Diggers - Chapter 52

Postby nibbles2 » Wed Dec 14, 2011 6:27 pm

Earth2Mama Isabel is at a really low point right now, but that might be a good thing. A lot of people don't get help until they feel they've reached rock bottom. Could this be Isabel's rock bottom or can she go lower?

mddk98 Yep, that was a tease. This chapter's much more meaty.

zaneri1 I’m glad you ask, Max's strip tease is in chapter 53 and it's one of my favourite chapters. BIG chapter for Max and Liz. I’ll post it during Christmas.

FSU/MSW-94 It's so true; Drug addicts are homeless, they steal and beg, they have no teeth and never shower. Isabel is none of those things. So it's easy for her to stay in denial.

keepsmiling7 Diane and Philip's reaction to Liz's job is going to be... surprising.

Alien_Friend There's always hope!

secretk Yeah, that bag of pills won't last forever. And then what?

Eva Yes, exactly, Max has his self esteem back. That's a huge development for him.

xmag Carla's a psycho bitch, but she's right about a few things.

Natalie36 Yes, a brand new low for Isabel.

begonia9508 Unfortunately, there were no paparazzi around to see Isabel picking pills from the ground. It's a pity, because those picture might have been the kick Isabel needed to accept that she has a problem.

Maiqu Thank you, I loved the scene between the brother's too.

This chapter was betaed by Michelle in LA, thanks Michelle.

On Sunday 18th, I’m going to hold an author's chat on the Candy is Dandy chatroom. It'll be at 7pm my time, which makes it about 2pm EST and 8pm European time. Do stop by if you're bored and online. There'll be chocolate and cake.


Gold Diggers – Chapter Fifty-Two

When Michael let himself back into the apartment after an early morning swim, he was met with the delicious smell of freshly cooked pancakes.

He went into the kitchen to investigate and found Amy Deluca there, finishing up her own breakfast.


“Good morning, Michael,” she greeted warmly. “Perfect timing. Would you like some pancakes?”

“Uh, yes please,” Michael nodded. He poured himself a cup of coffee and took a seat at the breakfast bar. He’d gotten back from a meeting pretty late the night before, so he’d only talked to Amy for a couple of minutes. “Did you sleep well?”

“Great, thank you. You have excellent taste in mattresses.”

“Thank you,” he grinned.

Amy laughed and poured batter into a pan. “I’m glad that you’re going to have wedding reception. I think it’s a lovely idea.”

“Huh?” Michael frowned in confusion, wondering where she got that idea from. He doubted that Maria had suggested it.

“It’s in the paper,” Amy said, waving her hand to where the newspaper lay open on the table.

Michael quickly flicked to the wedding announcements and groaned when he saw the size of the article devoted to his and Maria’s marriage. He’d been hoping for a small photograph and a couple of lines; instead, their picture dominated the page.

He scanned the article, which talked mostly about him and a little about Maria. Thankfully there was no mention of Maddie. It did however mention a small, intimate ceremony which caused Michael to snicker; and that the couple were planning to have a reception for friends and family at a later date. Although the article didn’t spell it out, it was implied that they’d decided to wait until Diane was out of the hospital and fully recovered from her injuries.

He wasn’t entirely pleased with it, but at the same time Michael acknowledged that it was a good article. He knew that at some stage, he and Maria would have to have some kind of formal event to mark their marriage, just to satisfy the important clients and associates of the company. And their mothers.

“It’s a lovely picture,” Amy commented.

“Yeah.” It was a lovely picture. Anybody looking at it would think they were really a couple in love. He felt a pang of regret once again.

Amy placed a plate of food in front of him. “Dig in.”

Michael ate as Amy washed up and they both read the papers in silence.

A few minutes later, Maria shuffled in with Maddie in her arms. She looked exhausted. “Morning,” she grumbled.

Amy jumped up to make her breakfast. Michael stood up and poured her a cup of coffee and then took Maddie from her.

“Rough night?” he said. He’d heard Maddie crying four or five times during the night, which was unusual.

“Somebody didn’t want to settle down,” Maria yawned. She took a sip of her coffee and sighed before heating up a bottle for Maddie.

“I’ll take her in my room tonight so you can get a full night’s sleep,” Amy offered. She knew that Maria liked having Maddie in her room with her at night, but the bags under Maria's eyes showed that she needed a full night's sleep.

“Mom, I’m not going to even pretend to argue. That would be great, thank you,” Maria said gratefully. She took the heated bottle and tested it before handing it to Michael.

“No problem, Baby.” Amy kissed the top of Maria’s head as she put a plate in front of her. She kissed Maddie then and messed Michael’s hair affectionately. “I’m going to test out the whirlpool in my bathtub.”

Michael wished she wasn’t going. Things had been frosty between himself and Maria since their talk the other night but, as Maria didn’t want Amy to know that, she was usually a lot nicer and friendlier to him when her mother was around. He pushed the newspaper towards Maria so she could read the article herself.

She read it with a frown. “What’s this about us having a reception?”

“Mom will probably want to have a party for us when she’s out of the hospital and Dad will want to have something we can invite important clients and associates to.”

“Oh.”

“They’re usually pretty awful affairs, but it’s only for a few hours,” Michael told her.

“Fine,” Maria shrugged.

Michael smiled down at Maddie who was guzzling away happily. He laughed. “She’s really enjoying this.”

Maria smiled fondly at them.

“Have you got plans with your mom today?” Michael asked.

“I’m going to take Mom over to Liz and Alex’s and let her mother them for a while. I think they could use it. What about you?”

“I have a problem to take care of,” he said grimly.

“Sound serious,” Maria commented.

Michael nodded. “Yeah, it’s been a very serious problem for a while. But after today, it’s not going to cause any more trouble - for anyone.”

***


Though it hadn't been her idea to leave LA, Carla had warmed up to the idea as the week progressed. By the time Saturday came, she was convinced it was the best thing for her.

There was nothing for her here, especially since whatever slim chance she'd had to fix things with Michael was gone. She'd spent the week getting ready to leave and making sure that she had everything she'd need to start her new life in Miami.

When she'd arrived in LA eight years earlier, she'd had literally nothing to her name. Now she was leaving by private plane, with suitcases full of jewelry and designer clothes, and a bank account seven figures into the black.

She flexed her right hand which was still sore from punching Isabel the night before. Two of her fingers were swollen. Carla smiled in satisfaction at the memory. She'd wanted to punch Isabel for a long time. Stupid, spoiled bitch.

The town car she was traveling in pulled smoothly to a stop in front of the small, private airport she would be flying from.

A porter materialized beside the car instantly and began loading her bags onto a baggage cart. Carla grabbed her carry-ons and her laptop and swept into the building.

An officious woman informed her that there was a delay with the airplane and directed her to a small room where she could wait in comfort until the flight was cleared.

Carla took a seat on one of the plastic chairs and picked up a paper to read to pass the time. She flicked past the boring news pages and went straight to the lifestyle section.

The first thing she saw was the picture of Michael and his new wife. Carla took the opportunity to examine the other woman closely. She wondered what it was that attracted Michael to this Maria girl. Sure, she was pretty, but she wasn't the model type that Michael usually went for. Carla's nose wrinkled in disgust as she read the accompanying article. A nurse? Wow, Michael had really married down. If he'd stuck with her, she would have made him the most powerful person in the world. What on earth could the nurse do for him?

She threw the paper away and paced the small room like a caged animal, desperate to get on the plane and away from California and her past.

Finally the woman came to find her and Carla was led outside to where her plane was waiting.

Carla climbed the steps with a satisfied smile on her face. She'd been on private planes before but that had been with Michael. This time, the flight had been chartered in her name. It gave her a heady feeling.

She stored her bag and took a seat, looking around in expectation of a flight attendant. She needed a drink.

After a moment, Carla heard the sound of footsteps on the plush carpet and she glanced up ready to order her drink.

Her mouth fell open in surprise. “Michael!”

“Carla,” Michael said grimly as he lowered himself into the seat opposite her. He was followed by another man and woman. The other man took a seat across the aisle from them.

The woman remained standing between the two tables. Carla knew her, she was Christine Chung, a private detective. They'd had a run-in once before when a man Carla had been extorting money from had hired Christine to make Carla back off. Not wanting the hassle, Carla had left him alone and moved on to other targets. She wondered how Christine had ended up in Michael's employ.

She eyed the other guy, trying to figure out if she knew him, too, but he didn't look familiar.

Carla turned her attention to Michael. “What are you doing here?”

“Did you think that I’d let you go without saying goodbye?” Michael asked. “You know, I seem to remember telling you to stay away from my family, and if you had, I’d have let you go. But you just couldn't stay away, could you?”

He was calmer than Carla would have guessed, but she could tell he was angry beneath his cool exterior. His demeanor worried her, though she didn't show it.

Christine grabbed Carla's laptop bag and handed it to the guy who quickly opened it up. “Password?” he said.

“Sure,” Carla sneered.

“Tell him your password,” Michael said. There was a dangerous tone in his voice.

Carla eyeballed him.

“He's going to figure it out in a few minutes anyway,” Michael told her. “If you tell him now, you can save us all a lot of time and you can be on your way to Miami sooner.”

“Fine.” Carla called out her password and sat back with her arms crossed and an indifferent expression on her face. Inside, she was quietly panicking. She had a lot to lose here.

Christine grabbed her other bag and emptied the contents out onto a seat. She picked up the bundle of cash that Carla had stashed in it and began counting. Computer guy tapped away at the laptop.

“There's a hundred grand here,” Christine said after she'd counted the money twice.

Computer Guy finished whatever he was doing. “Combined with the money in her bank accounts and the cash in her suitcases, that brings the total to just under four and a half million.”

Michael looked almost impressed. “Take four million even, leave her the rest.”

“That's my money,” Carla said through gritted teeth. “You can't just take it!”

Michael snorted. “That money is not yours. It will be returned to the people you blackmailed.”

“I didn't blackmail them. I made them pay for what they did to me.”

“It doesn't matter what you call it, Carla. I told you if you went near my family, that you'd regret it.”

Michael handed her a piece of paper with a list of names on it. Carla's eyes widened when she read it. It was a complete list of all the people she'd received payments from that week. How the hell had it got that?

“Write down the amounts each of those people paid you,” Michael instructed. He held out a pen for her to take.

“No.”

“Want me to smack her around for a while?” Chris asked cheerfully. She cracked her knuckles and stared menacingly at Carla.

Carla wasn't intimidated by the threat of physical violence. Been there, done that.

Michael waited, Carla stared back at him unblinking.

Finally Michael sighed and looked over at the computer guy. “Fine. Clear her account completely.”

“No. Wait.” Carla took the pen and wrote out the amounts she'd taken from each person on the list before handing it back to Michael.

He handed it to the computer guy.

As they waited, Chris went through the contents of Carla's bags and then searched the bags themselves. After a few minutes she located a memory stick and held it up triumphantly. “We'll be destroying this, of course,” Chris grinned. “Along with all the photographs, SD cards, discs and tapes and documents we found in your luggage.”

Carla didn't react.

Chris came closer and smiled slyly. “Doesn't seem to bother her,” she said as an aside to Michael.

“I guess she thinks we don't know about the external hard drive,” Michael shrugged.

Carla sucked in a breath as Christine held up an external hard drive that had been smashed to pieces. She recognized it as the one she'd couriered to her new address in Miami two days earlier. How they hell did it even end up in their hands? How could they have known about it?

She knew then that the game was up. Everything she'd gathered over the years, all the evidence, all the incriminating documentation was destroyed. She'd thought that she'd covered herself in case something went wrong, but she'd been outfoxed by Michael and Christine.

Carla leaned her head back against the headrest behind her and closed her eyes. The life she'd worked so hard for was now slipping through her grasp.

“That's done,” the computer guy said quietly.

“Great. Chris, can you walk him out to the car and make sure the laptop is destroyed?”

Chris looked like she wanted to protest, but she said nothing and indicated for the other guy to go ahead of her. She backed out of the plane, her eyes never leaving Carla until she had to turn around to step out of the plane.

Carla waited for Michael to speak.

“I didn't do this to hurt you, Carla,” Michael said. “I did it to stop you hurting other people. I know some of those people deserved everything you did to them, and probably more. If you'd just gone after them, then I’d have let you. But you went after innocent people, too. You went after my family and I wasn't going to let you hurt them anymore.

“So you're getting a clean slate. Do it right this time, Carla. Get a job, go back to college, do something that will make you happy.

“We'll be keeping an eye on you and if you try anything illegal again, we'll stop you - and the next time, we'll go to the police with our evidence. Keep your nose clean and you'll never hear from us. I don't ever want to hear from you again.”

Michael stood up. He looked down at Carla for a moment then walked out of the airplane.

Outside, he signaled to the ground staff that the plane could depart and made his way over to the car where Chris was waiting for him. They watched in silence as the plane taxied down the runway.

“How come you let her keep that money?” Chris asked.

Michael scratched his eyebrow. “I know you think she's evil and has no redeeming qualities, but that's not the whole story. She never had a chance, Chris. We had the same start in life you know, but she never had the chance that I had. She never got out. It broke her, destroyed her. She survived the only way she could. The only person she could rely on was herself and she took care of herself. She though that I was her chance but that didn't work out...” he watched the place roar into the sky. “She deserves a chance, that's all.”

Chris shook her head, not quite understanding Michael's decision. She climbed into the car.

Michael waited until the plane took off and was no longer visible in the sky before climbing in beside her and leaving the airport.

***

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nibbles2
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Gold Diggers - Chapter 53

Postby nibbles2 » Sat Dec 24, 2011 5:35 am

keepsmiling7 Well, it's big news in the society pages. Not so much the media itself, like it would have been if Max or Isabel had married.

Alien_Friend The Michael we met at the start of the fic wouldn't have given Carla a chance, and although I’m sure that there are a lot of people who don't really agree with letting her away, for me it was a real sign of progress on Michael's behalf. He knows that revenge gives you nothing.

Earth2Mama Michael knew Carla well enough that he knew she wouldn't go without trying something, so he had her watched. But it was Chris who did all the hard work and figuring out.

Roswell_Fan86 I think you're going to like what Max and Liz do next!

FSU/MSW-94 Her plane should be landing soon, so get thee to the airport!

Natalie36 Thank you.

begonia9508 Carla was pretty despicable and Michael could have had her arrested for any number of things, but Michael is giving her a chance, because she never had one before. If she pulls the same stunt again, she's going to prison. She only gets one chance.

mela3 I can't remember if I ever planned a Maria/Carla smackdown. It's very possible that I did. But I’ve been writing this fic for years and plotlines have been created and dropped a number of times over, so unfortunately there's not going to be a Maria/Carla smackdown. And after seeing what Carla did to Isabel, I think Maria's probably the lucky one.

killjoy It's ok, you can call Carla a bitch.

sarammlover Thank you, I was proud of Michael in that part too.

Helen of Roswell Welcome! To be honest, a small part of me was rooting for Carla too, because I created a whole backstory for her which I’ve really only touched upon during GD, it is pretty tragic, and I think makes her actions far more sympathetic and understandable. I understand why people hate her, that's what I wanted, but I feel sorry for her.

As always, big thanks to Michelle in LA for betaing this part for me.

And to Fehrbaby who made this banner for me when I first started writing this fic, back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. I’ve been planning this part for so long, right from the beginning and I’m so excited to finally, finally be posting it. I hope you enjoy it.

I had aimed to get Gold Diggers finished this year, but as you can see, that didn't work out so well. So it'll carry on until next year. Thanks for sticking it out all this time. Hope you all have a very merry Christmas.



Image



Gold Diggers – Chapter Fifty-Three


Liz stepped into the kitchen and inhaled deeply.

Chocolate.

“Mmm, that smells amazing. What are you making?”

“Chocolate cake,” Amy said. “I seem to remember it's your favorite.” When Amy had arrived that morning and found that the only food Liz and Alex had in the apartment was cereal and frozen dinners, she'd immediately gone to the nearest supermarket and returned with several bags of food. She'd spent the rest of the day cooking and baking in order to stock up the freezer so that Liz would have real food to eat while she was doing her exams.

“Thank you so much for doing all this, Amy,” Liz said gratefully. With everything that was going on in her life, Liz simply hadn't time to shop let alone cook. That, coupled with Alex’s inability to make anything more than a boiled egg meant that she'd been living on a diet that mainly consisted of Corn Flakes since Maria had moved out.

“It's no trouble, sweetie,” Amy said as she patted Liz's cheek, leaving a smudge of chocolate on Liz's face. “Do you want to lick the bowl when I’m done?”

Liz looked at it longingly. “I'd love to but I’ve got to go in a minute.”

Maria joined them in the kitchen then and stood with her hands on her hips and mock glared at her mother. “Hey, where's my chocolate cake?”

“Ask your maid to make one,” Amy said flippantly.

“Ha, ha,” Maria said dryly. “My maid's chocolate cake kicks your chocolate cake's ass.”

Amy flipped a spoon at Maria, spraying her with some of the mixture. Maria squealed, but wiped off the chocolate with her finger, then licked her finger. “Ok, your chocolate cake is pretty awesome.” She picked up a spoon and tried to dig into the bowl, which Amy was holding out of her reach.

Liz laughed at their antics.

She had really enjoyed having them around all day. She and Maria had played with Maddie and talked about Max. While Maria wasn't wholly on the Max bandwagon yet, she was happy that Liz was happy and even managed to sigh when Liz told her about Max's declaration of love. In the afternoon, Liz had sat down in the kitchen with Amy and they'd talked about Grandma Claudia.

It probably wasn't the best way to spend time two days before her finals, but Liz looked at it as a mental health day, which she'd badly needed.

Alex joined them in the kitchen. He grabbed the spoon from Maria and licked the chocolate from it. “So, guess where I’m off to now?”

“Tanning salon?” Liz guessed.

Alex cut his eyes in her direction. “I got a job.”

The three women exclaimed in surprise and delight.

“I know a guy who runs a residential center so he's giving me a few shifts until I figure out what I’m going to do next. And, I’m starting tonight.”

“Alex, that's great,” Liz said, leaning over to give him a hug.

“I'll make you some lunch,” Amy offered. “Or, midnight snack. What do you call it when you eat it in the middle of the night?”

“Food?” Alex guessed. “You don't have to. I’ll grab something there. But, uh... what time are you heading home on Monday?”

“After breakfast, I guess. Why?” Amy asked curiously.

“I was thinking that I’d go home and see my parents so I’ll catch a ride with you, if that's ok?”

Amy nodded. “Of course.”

Maria and Liz exchanged surprised looks before hugging Alex silently.

He grinned at them, silently acknowledging their support. “All right, I gotta go.”

“I’ll walk out with you,” Liz told him. She grabbed her backpack and kissed Amy’s cheek. “I'll see you tomorrow. Bye, Maria.”

“Bye, guys,” Maria called after them.

“I'm really glad you're going to see your parents, Alex,” Liz said as they walked down the steps to their cars.

“You were right, I should have talked to them a long time ago,” Alex sighed. “What are you doing tonight?”

“I'm helping Max out with... a thing,” Liz said. “I’ll catch you later.”

Alex waved at her as she climbed into the car and drove away.

***


Max had picked up an extra shift in the nursing home on Saturday afternoon so Liz had suggested that she'd meet him there. It gave her a chance to spend a little time with Grandma Claudia before Max was finished.

When it was time to go, Liz kissed her grandmother goodbye and went to meet Max. He had changed into his stripper outfit and was waiting for her beside her car. He smiled as he watched her approaching the car.

When they came face to face, they both hesitated uncertainly for a moment. Then Max caught Liz's hand and pulled her close to his body. “Hey,” he said softly before kissing her.

Liz pulled away reluctantly as the kiss grew more heated. “Hi. Are you ready?”

Max shook his head and groaned. “No. Do I have to do this?”

“I guess not, you don't need the money anymore. But there's going to be a very disappointed bride-to-be if you don't. You don't want to ruin her party, do you?”

“I guess not,” Max sighed. “Ok, let's get it over and done with.”

“Hop in.”

As Liz drove to the hotel where the bachelorette party was being held, she noticed that Max was growing more and more restless. His left knee was jiggling and he barely said a word.

“You're going to be great,” Liz tried to assure him. “Once the music starts, you'll get into it and you'll see that you've got nothing to worry about. Just have some fun.”

Max nodded but still said nothing. He went pale as the hotel came into view.

Liz bit back a giggle and led him inside. She went up to the reception desk to ask where the party was being held and to find a place where Max could get ready. She came to Max a minute later. He looked ready to bolt. She knew the feeling.

“The party is in the pool house out back. They're still eating dinner, so we have some time. The receptionist said that there's a suite of meeting rooms on the mezzanine level that aren't in use right now, but the rest rooms are open, so you'll have plenty of privacy to change there.”

“Ok.”

“This way,” Liz grabbed his hand and pulled him up the stairs and into the men's room. “Wow, I think this is the first time I’ve ever been in a men's room.” She looked at Max who was still looking pale. “Take off your shirt.”

Max looked surprised. “What?”

“Take off your shirt,” Liz repeated. Noting his reluctance, she grinned. “Come on, if you can't do it in front of me, how will you be able to do it in front of twenty-three screaming women?”

“Twenty-three?” Max asked hoarsely. “That's a lot.”

“Not really. Shirt.”

“Right.” Max pulled off his shirt and folded it neatly.

Liz wolf-whistled as he stripped, causing Max to blush. But once he was completely topless, Liz found herself staring at Max and his magnificent pecs. She bit her lip and got busy looking in her bag to stop herself from blatantly ogling Max. She found what she was looking for and pulled them out triumphantly. “Got it.”

“What's that?”

“Temporary tattoos. I thought that if you made a few changes to your appearance that it would be easier to convince them that you're a lookalike and not the real Max Evans.”

“Good thinking.”

“So, tribal design or Celtic cross?”

“Uh, I don't mind.”

“Maybe I’ll use both,” Liz thought aloud. She opened the pack and read the instructions. “All right. I’ll put the tribal design on your arm. Can you turn?”

Max aligned his body so that his left arm was facing Liz. She wet the piece of paper and placed it carefully on his arm. Then she rubbed it hard with the side of her fist. She concentrated solely on the tattoos and didn't allow herself to think about the fact that she had her hands on his bare skin.

Max grinned at the look of concentration on her face.

Liz noticed the grin. “What?”

“You're so cute.”

Liz blushed. “Thanks.” She motioned for him to turn again and went through the same procedure with the Celtic cross on his shoulder blade. When she was satisfied that they were ready, she carefully pulled away the paper and stood back to admire her handiwork. “There. I think it looks great.”

Max flexed his arm muscles and turned to look at his back in the mirror. “They look pretty real.”

“Yeah. But wait, there's more.” Liz reached into her bag again and pulled out a tube of hair gel. “Do something with your hair.”

Max applied the gel generously giving himself a slicked back, wet look. When he was done, Liz handed him a fake eyebrow stud.

“How does it look?” he asked.

“Hmm. Well, I don't think it would fool your mother, but I think that somebody who only knows you from photographs might be convinced that you're a fake.”

“You know what? I’m not that bothered one way or the other. If they figure it out, I’ll just say that I did it for a laugh. What's the worst that can happen?”

“Exactly,” Liz nodded. “Just have fun with it, Max. It's not demeaning or sleazy. It's harmless fun. Although, they might get a little handsy.”

Max took a deep breath and nodded, trying to psych himself up. “Ok. I’m ready. Let's do this.” He clapped his hands together and made for the door.

Liz blocked his path. “Wait, wait! You're not dressed. And you need to oil yourself up first..”

“Oil?”

“Oil.” Liz held up a bottle of baby oil. “Take off your pants.”

“Uh... why?”

“So I can put this on your legs.”

“Does it have to go on my legs?”

“Yes,” Liz said authoritatively. She spent so long getting ready to go on stage each night that she was enjoying having the boot on the other foot.

Max unbuttoned his pants and stepped out of them. He was very aware that he was standing in front of Liz in just a pair of boxers. He cleared his throat. He was nervous again, but it was a different kind of nervous this time. “Uh... Ready.”

Liz bit her lip. She hadn't thought this through. Max was practically naked in front of her, and she was going to have to rub oil all over him. She tried not to let him see how nervous it was making her.

She poured some of the oil onto her hands and stood behind Max. Her heart was racing as she began to massage the oil onto him. His skin was warm, his muscles hard. He smelled amazing, felt amazing. Slowly, she made her way around to his front. She paused to put more oil on her hands, then took a deep breath and began to slowly massage the oil onto his chest.

Liz was intensely aware of the feel of his skin beneath her hands. When her hands smoothed over his heart, she could feel it beating rapidly. His breathing was labored. She could feel him swallow nervously.

She looked up and met his molten gaze.

They reached for each other at the same time. Their lips met in a bruising kiss. They pressed together trying to get as close as they possibly could to each other. Max's hands roamed down Liz's back and under her shirt so that he could touch her skin. Liz tangled her fingers in his hair.

They fell backwards towards the sink and Max blindly lifted Liz up onto it, stepping into the space between her legs.

Liz moaned at the feel of his body pressing against her core. Her whole body was on fire with a desire for Max. She dragged her hands over his back, pulling him closer.

She'd never felt this way with any other guy. She wanted Max to take possession of her and she wanted to possess him.

Max pressed against Liz, pushing her back against the mirror behind her. The action caused the automatic tap to come on and Liz squealed in surprised at the feel of cold water on her butt.

They pulled apart, red-faced and breathing harshly.

Liz slipped down off the sink.

Max grabbed some paper-towels and handed them to her so she could pat herself dry. “I'm sorry about that.”

“It's fine,” Liz smiled with embarrassment. “It's probably a good thing. I don't want my first time to be in a men's room.”

“I'm sorry about that, too,” Max told her.

Liz grinned. “Don't be. It was fun. We should do it again some time.”

“Definitely,” Max nodded eagerly. He glanced down at Liz's top. “Sorry about your clothes.”

Liz looked down and realized that she'd gotten oil all over her white top during their make out session. She grimaced as it was one of her favorite shirts. “Crap.” She handed him the bottle of oil. “Why don't I go and see if they're ready for you while you finish doing this.”

Outside, Liz rushed straight into the ladies room next door and splashed cold water on her face as she tried to calm down. Her body felt overheated.

Liz had dated a number of different guys over the years, she'd even had a couple of fairly serious relationships. Although she'd never gone all the way, she'd had some pretty heavy-duty make out sessions in the past. There had been a few times when she'd wanted to take things to the next level because she liked the guy she was with, or just to get it over with.

But she'd never felt this way before. She'd never craved somebody in a physical way before. All she wanted to do was go back to Max and continue her exploration of his body until she knew every inch of it. She wanted to touch every inch, kiss every inch. She wanted him to do the same to her.

Finally, she felt under control and was able to leave the safety of the restroom though she found that her legs were still shaking as she walked down the stairs and her whole body was still humming.

Liz located the bachelorette party with ease. She just followed the sound of the raucous laughter. The meal had concluded and the party games portion of the evening had begun. Currently twenty-seven women were making bridal costumes out of toilet paper and laughing themselves silly at the results. She managed to find the party organizer and told her that Max was ready.

After receiving her instructions, Liz went back to get Max. She knocked loudly on the bathroom door and didn't enter until Max called her in. She didn't want to run the risk of seeing him undressed and having a repeat of earlier. Not then, anyway.

Max was dressed and back to looking nervous.

“It's just a few minutes, and then it's over,” Liz told him. “Have fun!”

“Ok,” Max told her, but he didn't even hear what she said.

“Let's go.”

Max followed her out hesitantly.

Heidi, the woman who had hired Max was waiting outside the pool house for them. She beamed when she saw Max. “Wow, the resemblance is uncanny,” she said in awe.

“I know, it's quite amazing,” Liz agreed with a straight face.

“Thank you so much for doing this,” Heidi said to Max. “My sister is going to be so thrilled!”

“It's no problem,” Max told her unconvincingly.

Heidi pulled an envelope full of cash out of her bag and handed it to Liz. Then she turned to Max. “Ready?”

Max took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Yes.”

“Follow me.”

Heidi opened the door and stepped inside. Liz could hear her call for silence before she excitedly announced that she'd met somebody who wanted to stop by and wish the bride-to-be congratulations.

That was Max's cue. He didn't move, however, but stood rooted to the spot. Liz gave him a not-so-gentle nudge, and he almost stumbled through the door.

The effect was instantaneous. There was a collective prolonged and eardrum shattering scream from all the women inside. Liz had to remind herself that the women present were in their thirties and forties and not teenyboppers.

She waited a minute until the music started before slipping into the room and standing by the door.

Max was standing in the center of what could only be described as a mob of women.

When Liz had been there earlier, all the women had been scattered in around small, elegantly dressed tables sipping champagne and delicately eating desserts. They were all dressed immaculately and groomed expensively. The room had reeked of class and sophistication. Now, chairs had been pushed over, shoes kicked off and decorum forgotten. They were all grouped around the small stage, grabbing each other, screaming and generally behaving like eleven-year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert where Robert Pattinson and the male cast of Glee had joined him on stage.

Max was standing on the stage in the middle of them, stiffly moving his hips and trying to remember the moves he had practiced all week. He wasn't having much success.

There was a look of shock combined with terror in his eyes. Liz had warned him it wouldn't be as civilized as the The Dangerzone, but clearly Max hadn't believed her. Now faced with twenty-seven women screaming themselves into a frenzy, Max had no idea what to do.

His eyes scanned the room, looking desperately for some sort of escape, and landed on Liz. She could see the relief on his face and the silent, desperate plea for help.

She gave him a big cheesy grin and two thumps up. Max just looked at her pitifully.

Liz realized that they had forgotten to bring any music with them and the classical music that was playing wasn't exactly setting the scene. Luckily, Heidi came to the same conclusion and quickly changed it from the CD to an R&B track that Liz didn't recognize. It was slower and more sensual than the cheesy music Max had practiced to but Liz doubted that he could hear it over the sounds of the screams anyway.

He was still moving stiffly and uncertainly, without the musical cues, he had no idea what to do. Again, his eyes met Liz in a silent plea for help. Liz started to sway her hips in time to the music and gestured for Max to join in. With his eyes locked on her, he began to imitate her moves.

She deepened the sway and slapped her ass. Max did the same. Around them the decibel levels doubled.

Liz put her hands behind her head and threw in a few pelvic thrusts. Max followed suit. She could see that he was starting to loosen up now. She flexed her arms and watched as Max did the same. Again the women screamed.

Max managed a faltering smile. He changed pose and flexed again to more screams. His smile grew wider. He still had a deer-caught-in-headlights look on his face but Liz could see that he was slowly relaxing into it and even beginning to enjoy himself.

Liz signaled him to make eye contact with the bride. He tore his gaze away from Liz and focused on the woman in front of him of who looked like she was about to die of excitement. He was growing more confident now, and was using the dance moves he'd learned. He kept darting looks over in Liz's direction but he was also giving more attention to the women around him.

Liz began to clap her hands and chant. “Off, off, off!”

The party-goers quickly joined in, clapping their hands and stomping their feet loudly.

Max opened the top button of his shirt and parted it to let them see the glimpse of skin beneath. He grinned a little shyly when he was met with wolf-whistles and screams. Bravely, he cupped one hand around his ears and again the chant grew. “Off, off, off!”

Slowly, and with a teasing grin, Max undid the next button.

The door to the pool house opened and a member of the hotel's security team poked his head in. He grinned when he realized what was causing the commotion and ducked out again.

When Liz turned back to Max, she found him encouraging the bride to open the next button. In fact, she didn't need much encouragement, and instead of opening just one button, she grabbed the two sides of the shirt and ripped the whole thing open.

Max looked stunned for a moment, before smiling again. He caught her hands and led them to his chest to allow her to feel his pecs.

Liz bit down on her jealousy.

Not wanting to be left out, the other women crowded closer to Max. They caressed his chest, squeezed his biceps and even pinched his ass.

Max's eyes widened in surprise and gulped visibly. He niftily dodged out of their reach and climbed onto a table. He wiggled his ass a little, then began to undo the buttons of his trousers.

Liz had to cover her ears to muffle the sounds of the screams as Max suddenly ripped the pants off. Unfortunately for him, the left leg didn't come apart the way it was supposed to and it was left dangling around his ankle. Not for long though. It was quickly ripped off him by one of the women, who held her trophy aloft. Three other women tried to wrestle her for it.

Max caught Liz's eye, unsure of what to do next. He had tighty-whities on under the heart-covered boxers he was currently wearing. He hadn't planned on removing the boxers, but one look at the feral crowd around him and he knew he wasn't getting out of there until the boxers were gone.

Liz grinned mischievously at him. “Off, off, off!”

Max shot her a murderous look. Liz didn't care. She wanted to see what was under the boxers just as much as the baying mob did. More, if possible.

Again the crowd took up her chant and soon the whole building was vibrating with the noise they had created.

Max did a little more shuffling on the spot in time to the music, but it was mostly thrusting and wiggling his ass. He played with the waistband of the boxers and even lifted the hem to expose his white thighs.

The stripper trousers lay discarded on the ground as everybody watched Max. Liz darted across the room and grabbed them before somebody else got them. She'd been warned to bring them back.

After a little more teasing, Max decided to take the band-aid approach and suddenly dropped the boxers to his ankles. He kicked them into the crowd, resulting in another scrimmage as women fought to get their hands on them.

Apart from a small pair of pants that left nothing to the imagination, Max was wearing nothing. Liz felt her mouth go dry as she stared at him in all his glory. He was magnificent. Every muscle was defined and bulging. Liz had never seen a better looking man's body. He looked so strong, so masculine, so sexy that she almost couldn't breathe. Her eyes were glued to him.

She wanted him so much.

At that point the music that had been playing came to an end. Sensing that was all they were going to see, the women groaned with disappointment but they showed their appreciation by clapping and whistling some more.

Heidi stepped up, brandishing a camera. “Will you pose for some photos?”

Max looked hesitant, but he agreed.

He spent the next twenty minutes having his picture taken with each member of the group. He found that there were two sorts of women. One who wanted a picture of him kissing their cheek or one who wanted a picture of herself fondling his ass. And one woman who posed while licking his chest.

When everybody had their picture taken, Liz waded in and grabbed Max. “I'm sorry, but we've got to go now.”

There was loud groans and even some boos as Liz hauled him outside. Max waved and blew kisses at the ladies.

“Thank you,” Max exclaimed as the door shut behind them. The ducked behind some bushes as he paused to put on his trousers and shirt. There had been no hope of retrieving the boxers he had tossed into the crowd.

“How was that?” Liz asked.

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had, and also the most humiliating at the same time,” Max told her truthfully. “At one stage, I really thought I was going to be gang-raped by thirty women.”

“Twenty-seven,” Liz corrected. “You were amazing, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Max blushed. “And thank you, I wouldn't have gotten through that if you weren't there.”

“Just returning the favor,” Liz told him simply. “Come on, let's get out of here, before they realize you're still here and drag you back inside for an encore.”

Max threw a terrified glance at the pool house and ran.

***


Liz grabbed a couple of glasses and plates from the kitchen and joined Max on the couch in her living room. “How are you doing?”

Max held out a hand demonstrating that it was still shaking. “As well as a man who was almost torn apart by twenty-seven screaming banshees can be.”

“Hungry?” Liz asked with a grin.

“Starving!”

“Good. You can't be that traumatized if you can still eat.” She lifted the lid of the pizza they'd gotten on the way home and handed him a slice. Max wolfed it down before Liz had even taken a bite of her own. She laughed at him.

Max grinned sheepishly. “So, I couldn't help but notice that you couldn't keep your eyes off me while I was up there.”

“Well, you're my student, I had to make sure you were doing a good job.”

“Think I could cut it as a stripper if the high-powered businessman thing doesn't work out?”

“Definitely,” Liz smiled. “With that body, and that smile, and those sexy moves, I can see a bright future for you in the clothes-removing industry.”

Max took Liz's slice of pizza from her and returned it to the box. Then he took her hands and pulled her gently to him. Liz went willingly, maneuvering herself onto his lap. Max slipped his hands beneath her t-shirt and rested on the small of her back. “The only person that I want to strip for is you... What I mean is, you're the only girl in my life, and that's the way I want it to be.”

Liz kissed him sweetly. “Ditto.” She slid her hands around his neck, then grimaced then pulled back. “You're all greasy.”

“Mind if I take a shower?” Max asked. “I think I’m covered in the saliva of twenty-seven women.”

Liz hooted with laughter. “Of course.” She stood up from his lap and pulled him to her bedroom. “Bathroom's through there and there are towels on the shelf beside it.”

She stepped out of the bathroom and went back to finish the slice of pizza. She mentally replayed the evening as she ate. Seeing Max dance like that had been enthralling, arousing even. He really was amazing looking. She'd really enjoyed seeing the fun side of him too.

The sound of the shower came on and she pictured him standing under the water as it ran down those bare pecs and over his incredible six pack. Liz rubbed her legs together. Ever since their encounter in the restroom, she'd been experiencing a hot, tingling sensation all over her body that seemed to be centered between her legs. Thinking of Max naked, and in her shower, was making her even hotter.

She licked her lips and tried to calm down. What she really wanted to do was strip off and join Max in the shower. But she couldn't do that. They'd hardly been officially dating for a week. It was too soon, too fast.

She should wait.

Thing was, she'd waited before. Usually, she waited too long and the relationship was over before she was ready. She suspected that her desire to wait was probably what had hastened the end of a few of her past relationships. Liz didn't think she had to worry about that with Max, she felt that he'd wait as long as he had to.

But, she didn't want to wait. She wanted to be with Max. Now.

Quickly, before she lost her nerve, Liz made her way to the bedroom undressing as she went. She stood at the door to the bathroom for a moment, her hand trembling nervously. The sound of Max singing to himself reached her ears, and Liz laughed before letting herself into the steamy bathroom. She could make out Max behind the frosted glass doors.

She exhaled shakily and pushed back the door and stepped inside.

Max stared at her in surprise.

“Hi,” Liz said shyly.

“Hi,” Max echoed.

Liz's eyes dropped south and she bit her lip. It was the first time she'd actually seen a man naked this close up. She looked back at Max's face and saw that he was inspecting her body.

She was used to men staring at her body now, but it felt different with Max, like this. She felt more vulnerable, but safer than she ever had before at the same time.

She took a step closer, pressing her breasts against Max's chest, skin to skin for the first time.

Slowly, Max came out of his stupor and his wrapped his arms around her and lowered his lips to her. Their kiss was slow and steamy. When they broke apart, Liz grabbed the loofah and began to wash Max. She did it slowly, taking her time to get to know every part of his body. When she was done, he took it from her and did the same to her.

Liz giggled when he slipped the loofah between her legs to caress her inner thighs. She squirmed at first but she relaxed and allowed Max to continue his ministrations. He dropped the loofah and caressed her gently with his hand. Liz threw back her head and moaned. Max pressed closer, causing Liz to bang against the door of the shower.

“It's kind of small in here, wanna take it somewhere a little more roomy?” he asked.

Liz nodded.

Max turned off the water as Liz stepped out and grabbed two towels. They wrapped them around their bodies and returned to the bedroom. Liz wished that she'd had a chance to tidy and make it a little more romantic.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Max pulled her gently onto the bed. Max's lips immediately found her own. The movements of their bodies against each other caused the towels to fall away and once again they were skin to skin. Liz moaned again as Max moved down to her breasts.

“Max,” she panted. “Max?”

“Mmm?”

“Have you got a condom?”

Max raised his head. “Uh, sure. Hang on.” He pulled away from her reluctantly and went in search of his pants.

Liz rolled onto her side and watched him. She was beginning to really enjoy the sight of Max's naked butt. She watched as he found his wallet and searched through it.

“Shit!” Max swore. “I don't have one.” He couldn't believe that tonight of all nights he didn't have one in his wallet. “Are you on the pill?”

Liz shook her head. She wasn't on the pill and even if she was, there was no way she was going to have unprotected sex with Max given his track record. Not until he'd been tested at least. “Alex might have one. I’ll go have a look.”

She hopped out of the bed and ran barefooted into Alex’s room. She couldn't help but laugh at the thought that once she'd never have left the sanctity of her room unclothed, but now it didn't even bother her in the slightest.

She looked around the room, wondering where Alex would keep condoms. Or even if he had any. Oh God, please let him have some!

“Max!” she called. “If you were a guy where would you keep your condoms?”

Max appeared in the door way and leaned against the jam. “Did you just ask if I was a guy?”

Liz reviewed what she'd just said and laughed. “Oops. Seriously, help me look.”

Max went into Alex’s bathroom while Liz searched the drawers in Alex’s dresser and nightstand.

“Nothing,” she sighed as Max came back into the room and shook his head. “Shit.”

Max hopped from foot to foot. “Fuck.”

Liz looked at the clock on Alex’s night-stand. “There's a seven-eleven around the corner. It might still be open.”

“I'm on it.” Max hurried back to collect his clothes. He shoved his feet into his shoes and ran out of the apartment while pulling his t-shirt on over his head.

At the exit of the apartment complex he looked both ways down the street and cursed. Which corner had Liz meant? He decided to go left and hurried down the street. Once he rounded the corner he realized it was a residential area and there was no store in sight. Cursing, he turned and jogged back in the opposite direction. As he rounded the corner, he saw the lights of the seven-eleven just as an employee shut the door.

Max sped up and threw himself at the entrance of the store. “Please, please,” he pleaded.

The store employee shook his head.

Max pulled a twenty out of his wallet and pressed it against the glass. “Please. I just need a packet of condoms. You can keep the change.”

The employee on the other side of the glass paused for a moment before disappearing. He came back a moment later with a packet of condoms and opened the door.

“Thank you,” Max exclaimed. “You are a kind and wonderful man and you will go to heaven for this.”

“Whatever,” the guy said, as he took the money from Max's hand.

Max kissed the packet in relief and raced back to Liz's apartment. He just hoped that she hadn't changed her mind while he was gone. He was panting from the exertion by the time he got back to the apartment.

Liz was dressed in a small silk robe when she opened the door to him. “Was it open?” she asked hopefully.

Max brandished the pack. “Bow chicka wow wow.”

Liz giggled. “Then get your cute ass in here.” She pulled him back to her bedroom and Max noticed that she'd used the time he was gone to create a romantic atmosphere. The lights were off and she'd lit lots of candles, soft music played and she'd even scattered rose petals on the bed.

“Cheesy, I know, but it's my first time so I thought that I’d make the effort,” Liz shrugged bashfully. “So...”

“So, where were we?” Max said. He paused, wondering how to go about recreating the mood. Slowly, he began to remove his clothes. At the party, he'd been cheesy-sexy, but now his movements where fluid and sensual. He kept his eyes on Liz the whole time, and watched with barely concealed delight at the way her breathing became shallow and her eyes darkened as he revealed more and more skin.

When he was naked, he took Liz in his arms and kissed her gently until she moaned in his mouth. Slowly, he undid the belt around Liz's dressing gown and let it drop to the floor. Then he lifted her up and carried her to the bed.

He took his time, slowly he caressed and kissed her body making sure that she was comfortable and ready for him. The sound of Liz's soft moans was music to his ears.

“Please, Max,” she breathed after a while.

He brushed her hair away from her face and cradled her cheek for a moment, staring deeply into her eyes before entering her as slowly and gently as he could.

Liz gasped and winced a little at first and Max waited until she nodded for him to continue.

He moved slowly, far more concerned with her pleasure than his own. “Are you all right?” he asked.

Liz nodded. “Yes, better than all right.”

As he neared his climax Max sped up a little, his thrusts becoming a little more forceful though he tried to hold back. He came with a groan. Liz gave a gentle cry of satisfaction as she experienced her own climax. It wasn't an orgasm, but it was a pleasant feeling of culmination.

Max moved gently off her. “It gets better, with practice.”

Liz smiled at him and caressed his cheek. “It was great, really.”

Max raised an eyebrow dubiously.

“You were perfect,” Liz continued. “You were gentle and sweet and it was lovely. I know it wasn't mind-blowing, but I really and truly couldn't have asked for anything more for my first time. And I’m really glad that I got to have this with you; that you were my first.”

“Me too. It means a lot to me that you trust me and love me enough to allow me to be your first,” Max told her. “And I just want you to know that I think you're perfect, too.”

He put his arm around her and pulled her closer to him. Max wiggled around trying to get comfortable. “Ugh.”

“What's wrong?” Liz asked.

“I think I have a rose petal in my ass.”

Liz laughed and snuggled closer to him. Liz kissed his cheek. “I love you so much, Max.”

“I love you too, Liz,” Max told her.

***

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nibbles2
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Gold Diggers - Chapter 54

Postby nibbles2 » Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:32 am

Eva Thank you.

Natalie36 Thanks

Earth2Mama I’m working on them!

Begonia9508 Liz knows about Max's past, so she's not going to find out anything that will disappoint her now.

Alien_Friend Thank you. I’m glad you thought it was imperfectly perfect, it's what I was going for.

FSU/MSW-94 Thank you.

mela3 Thanks for reading.

keepsmiling7 Thanks. I’ve had that picture on my computer for almost six years and I’ve been dying to post this part so I could use it.

AlysLuv Thanks.

Roswell_Fan86 Unfortunately, there's still bumps in the road ahead for Max and Liz, but they're together now, and they'll get through them together.

Fehrbaby Hi! I love, love, love that banner. So glad that I finally got to use it. Thank you.

killjoy Yes, breaking news. Women like watching men undress.

blxgyrl18 Thanks. You'll find an answer to your question in this very part.

zaneri1 It felt like the right time for Max and Liz.

sarammlover Thank you.

secretk I'm afraid that Michael and Maria are a long way off from that at the moment.

Ilonka.Green Hi Ilonka. Welcome to RF and GD. Glad to have you on board. Please hang on tightly to your seat, I’d hate for you to die waiting for me to update.


Today marks the 6th anniversary of the day I started posting Gold Diggers. Yes, that's right, 6 years. I know I said last year that it wouldn't reach six, but yeah, that didn't work out. But, I’m going on record to say now that it won't reach seven. (I’m so going to live to regret saying that, aren't I?)

In other news, I’ve started a short fic called Plus One. Do stop by and check it out. It's a fun, read.

This part is unbetaed, so apologies for the mess.



Gold Diggers – Fifty-Four

Max woke early the next morning and found himself wrapped around a very naked Liz Parker. He beamed in delight and mentally high-fived himself.

His first instinct was to wake her so they could have a repeat of last night, but as Liz looked dead to the world, he decided to let her sleep a little longer. With a little maneuvering, he lay on his side where he could watch her as she slept.

She was so beautiful that it took his breath away.

He reached for her reverently and pushed a tendril of hair away from her face. He stroked her cheek and smiled as she twitched her nose. When he did it again, she rolled onto her back.

And then Max learned a secret about Liz. She snored.

It wasn't loud but it was possibly the cutest sound that Max had ever heard. A thrill of delight ran through him at the thought that he was the only person in the world that possessed the knowledge that Liz Parker snored in her sleep. Just as he was the only way to know what it felt like to be inside her, to be part of her.

It was humbling.

Liz gave a loud sudden snort and moved onto her side again. Max had to bury his face in his pillow to muffle his laughter.

He couldn't remember the last time that he had watched a girl sleep. It had probably been his high school girlfriend, Megan.

They'd dated for two years, but once he reached college things had changed. Max had started working out, and had changed from being a scrawny kid with big ears to a handsome, chiseled man with a washboard stomach. That, coupled with his wealth and family name had made him hot man on campus and his fondness for Megan hadn't been enough to fight the temptation of college girls desperate to bed a millionaire. In the course of a semester he had gone from a monogamous, one-woman-man to a bed-hopping, different-woman-a-night jerk who used women for sex and then kicked them to the curb.

That had been bad enough.

But since Carla, the way he treated women had become even worse. He hooked up with random girls, kicked them out as soon as he'd gotten what he wanted and then felt sick and disgusted with himself. He didn't know why he did it. It certainly didn't make him feel better, he felt worse if anything. It appalled him to think that's how he might have treated Liz, if things had gone differently between them.

Waking up beside Liz, was the first time in a long time that Max wasn't filled with self-loathing over his actions.

What he and Liz had shared was special. It wasn't just about physical pleasure. Last night, they had connected in way that Max had never experienced with another woman before. He knew that their relationship had moved to another level. It was precious and wonderful and he was going to do everything in his power to make sure that they never lost it. Nothing was going to come between Liz and him again.

This was forever.

He knew it was way to early in their relationship to start thinking that way but Max already knew that he was never going to let Liz go. She was it for him.

His rumbling stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten anything more than a couple of bites of pizza the previous night. He was hungry now, and he figured Liz would be too when she work up. He slipped out of the bed gently so as not to wake Liz and pulled on a pair of trousers. He stood beside the bed for a moment watching Liz snore, then crept out of the room.

He searched the kitchen for something for breakfast. He had two options; make something from scratch which he wasn't able to do, or have cereal. While he was happy enough with cereal, he wanted to have something better to serve Liz. Something that encapsulated the momentousness of the occasion.

He grabbed a slice of cold pizza and Liz's keys and let himself out of the apartment. He had noticed a small bakery nearby while he'd been on the condom hunt the night before, so he crossed his fingers that it would be open now.

To his relief, he could smell the fresh bread before he rounded the corner signally that indeed the bakery was open. He purchased some pain au chocolate there then crossed the street to buy fresh strawberries and a single red rose from the seven eleven.

When he returned to the apartment building he followed a man up the steps to the apartment and was surprised when the man let himself into Liz's apartment.

“Uh, hi... Alex?” Max guessed before Alex could close the door on him.

Alex looked up him through heavily lidded eyes. “Yeah?”

Max held out his hands. “Hi, I’m Max Evans. Liz's boyfriend.” He couldn't help the proud smile that formed on his lips when he introduced himself. “I just went to the store to get breakfast.” He held up Liz's keys as proof of his right to enter.

Alex looked back and forth between Max and Liz's closed bedroom door, guessing what had happened the night before. He grunted and held the door open for Max to enter. “Just so you know, if you hurt Liz in any way, I’ll fucking kill you.”

“I'm not going to hurt her....” Max trailed off as Alex walked into his own bedroom and shut the door firmly.

Max blew out a breath and went into the kitchen to make coffee and set out the breakfast. The sound of bare feet on the linoleum told him that he wasn't alone and when he turned around, he was met with the sight of Liz.

He bit his lip and tried not to laugh at her hair, but it was difficult. He hadn't noticed how crazy it looked while she was lying down, upright however it was hard to look at anything else.

“I can't even get my brush through it,” Liz said by way of greeting, as she tried to comb her hair down with her fingers.

“You look incredibly beautiful,” Max told her truthfully. He wrapped his arms around her waist. “Why don't you go back to bed and I’ll bring this to you,” he murmured against her hair.

Liz pulled him towards her for a languid kiss. “Mmm. It's ok, I’ll have it here.”

“But I have a plan, Liz. And it involves us not leaving the bed all day.”

“Sounds great,” Liz sighed softly, leaning into him and nuzzling his neck. Then she pulled away. “But, I’m afraid that you have to leave, right after breakfast.”

Max laughed, then realized she was being serious. “Wait, what?”

Liz pouted. “I'm sorry, Max. Believe me, there's nothing I want more than to spend the day in bed with you, but I have an exam at nine tomorrow morning, I have to study. So, you have to go.”

“Really?” Max slumped in disappointment. “But, it's our first morning together.”

“I know, I’m sorry, I really am. But it's my finals, Max,” Liz sighed. She looked just as disappointed as Max felt. “I promise that as soon as I’m done, we'll be able to do this properly. Maybe we could both take a weekend and go somewhere nice. Romantic.”

Max sighed. “It sounds great, but I want to be with you. I’ll just hang out here and make you coffee.”

Liz shook her head. “You're far too distracting. I wouldn't be able to concentrate knowing that you're here.” She kissed his jaw. “Please don't be mad at me.”

“I'm not mad,” Max told her. “I'm just... I hate the thought of leaving you. How long do your finals last for?”

“Two weeks,” Liz said plaintively.

“Two weeks!” Max exclaimed. Two weeks until they could have their day together. It seemed so far off. “That sucks.”

“I know!” Liz said. “But as soon as they're over, there's not going to be any more interruptions.

“Alright,” Max accepted reluctantly. “At least, let's have breakfast together.”

Liz smiled. “Sure.”

“Do you know that you snore?” Max asked as they ate.

“Did Maria tell you to say that?” Liz asked, looking outraged.

Max smirked at the absurd thought of he and Maria conspiring together. “No.”

“I don't snore,” Liz protested.

“Ok, you don't snore,” Max said and patted her head patronizingly.

Liz huffed and turned her head away from him, until Max picked up the rose and used it to tickle her cheek. She turned back to him with a smile and leaned in for a kiss. Then her expression turned stern again. “Stop doing this to me. You really have to go.”

Max tried to linger, but Liz was mindful of the morning slowly ticking on hurried him out the door.

“I'll call you later,” Max said as he stood on the threshold. “To wish you luck for tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” Liz smiled. “And thank you for last night, Max. It was wonderful. I’ve waited a long time for my first time and it was definitely worth the wait.” She kissed him. “I'm sorry that you'll have to wait so long to do it again.”

Max smiled at her and pulled her close. “Don't worry about it, Liz. You're worth the wait.” He kissed her. “I love you.”

“ I love you too,” Liz said, the she pushed him gently out the door.

***


Michael reclined back on his elbows and stretched out his legs in front of him. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of the warm sun on his face and listened to the sounds of the waves breaking gently against the shore.

He couldn't remember how long it had been since he was at the beach. He was pretty sure that he'd gone to somebody's beach wedding when he and Carla had first started dating but apart from that, it must have been years.

When they were kids, Diane used to bring them to the beach all the time and he'd spent a lot of time there as a teenager and in college. He and Max used to go surfing together a lot. They would get up when it was still dark, load the car and drive down to be on the waves just as the sun rose. Then they'd have breakfast from a food truck and sit on the hood of the car talking. It used to be his favorite part of the week. When had they stopped doing that?

Probably around the time he'd started working at the company, Michael reflected. He'd become absorbed with work and he'd forgotten how to have fun and to relax. He stopped hanging out with Max, and his friends, stopped surfing and going to concerts, stopped sitting out and enjoying the sunshine. On the rare occasions that he went to games or played golf it was usually with corporate clients or business associates.

He hardly ever took a day off anymore. This was the first Sunday in so long that he hadn't spent in his office catching up on work or getting ready for the week ahead. And probably, this was the one Sunday when he really should have been at the office catching up on work. He had missed so much work over the past few weeks and he was behind on a couple of things. But when Maria had asked him if he wanted to come to the lunch by the beach with her, Amy and Maddie, he'd said yes without a moment's hesitation.

Maria was an entirely different person when her mother was around. She was nice and friendly, she smiled at him instead of scowling. They were able to talk without it descending into an argument. He was enjoying the ceasefire, temporary though he knew it was.

After lunch, they'd brought Maddie to the beach for the first time. Amy had been a lot more excited than Maddie and had ran towards the water, squealing with delight. Maddie had seemed content to sit in Maria's arms.

It would be fun to bring her to the beach when she was older and could enjoy it. They could build sandcastles with her, take her paddling in the sea, buy her ice-cream. Maybe they could take a vacation with her. Of course, they'd probably have to bring Amy along too just to make sure Maria didn't kill him. He didn't mind, Amy was a lot of fun.

Michael sat up and sought out Maria. She had taken Maddie down to the water's edge. He could see Amy splashing around in the surf with Maddie in her arms, but he wasn't able to see Maria.

As he was scanning the water, Maria dropped onto the blanket beside him and handed him an ice-cream cone. “Pistachio, that's your favorite, right?”

He didn't know what was more surprising; that she'd bought him ice-cream or that she'd remembered his favorite flavor. He nodded dumbly and accepted the cone from her. “Thanks.”

“Sure.” Maria licked her own chocolate ice-cream. Michael found himself staring at her. She was wearing a pair of shorts over a bikini. It made him think of the last time he's seen her in a swimming suit, at the hotel in Vegas right before they'd made love. He pushed the memory away.

Michael noticed that she hadn't got one for Amy. “What about your mom?”

“Mom doesn't eat ice-cream. She doesn't like the way it's cold.”

“Huh,” Michael grinned. “That's funny.”

“Why?”

“Because you stockpile it like there's going to be a zombie apocalypse.”

Maria smiled.

They sat in silence for a while, enjoying the ice-cream and watching Amy and Maddie playing in the water.

“My mother is such a child sometimes, hard to believe she's a grandmother,” Maria laughed as Amy jumped back to avoid a big wave.

Michael laughed along with her. “She certainly doesn't look old enough to be a grandmother.”

Maria nodded. “I guess that's the advantage of getting knocked up in high school.” She leaned back on the blanket and smiled. “It's been really nice having her here. It was nice to get a full's night sleep.”

“You can have her stay whenever you like, she's always welcome.”

“Thanks. Don't tell her that though. I like her small doses but I couldn't have her here all the time.”

“OK,” Michael laughed. “I know the feeling. I love my mother, but she drives me crazy.”

Maria made a face. “Just think, one day Maddie might say the same thing about me.”

Michael shook his head. “Maddie adores you.”

“Thanks.” Maria sighed as sat up again. “Michael, have you talked to Isabel this weekend?”

“No. Why?” Michael frowned at the unexpected change of subject.

“Well, she came by the apartment on Friday to see Maddie and me. Alex was there and...” Maria trailed off and waited to see if Michael had a reaction to Alex's presence in his apartment. He said nothing and waited for her to continue. “She was on something.”

“Drugs?”

Maria nodded. “Yeah. She wasn't high or out of it, but she was definitely on something. Alex and I could tell straight away. It's not the first time I've seen her that way either. She was on something that day in the hospital too.

“Anyway, I told her to leave. I don't want her around Maddie if she's on drugs. I know she's your sister, but as long as she's taking those pills, or whatever else she's on, then I don't want her to have anything to do with Maddie.”

“I completely agree,” Michael said. He rubbed his face wearily. “I'm sorry about Isabel. She... She had a problem before and she cleaned herself up but I guess she's slipped back into old habits. Max and I tried to talk to her about it, but she denied there was a problem.”

Isabel. Another thing to be ashamed of. She was his little sister and he had turned his back on her. When he'd found out that she was involved in Carla's scheme to blackmail Max, Michael had been furious and vowed to treat her with the same callousness that she had shown him. But he should have seen that she was under Carla's control, should have tried to rescue her from it rather than abandon her to it. He'd let Isabel down badly, and now he had to make it right.

“I'll talk to her again. Maybe if she realizes that we're serious about keeping her away from Maddie it might make her see how bad it's gotten.”

“I'm sorry,” Maria said.

“You've nothing to apologize for,” Michael assured her. “I should have noticed what was going on with her... I don't know how to help her though. I mean, if she won't accept she has a problem then I can't make her go to AA or rehab.”

“Yeah,” Maria sighed glumly. “But she did ask Alex for help not that long ago so maybe she'll be more open to intervention than you think.”

“She spoke to Alex? Do you think that he'd.... probably not, right? After everything I did.” Michael sighed.

Maria scoffed. “Once again, you underestimate Alex. If she needs help and he can help her, Alex will be there for her. No matter how angry he is at you, or her, he'd never turn his back on anybody who needed him.”

Michael scratched his eyebrow nervously. “I know I have no right to ask, but do you think he could try and talk to her? I don't know what else to do.”

“I'll ask, but he's going to be out of town for a few days. He's going to see his parents. He really needs to talk to them so I'm not going to ask him until he comes back.”

“OK.” Michael steeled himself for the conversation he knew he'd have to have with Isabel.

This time he wasn't going to let her down.

***


Isabel rolled her eyes when she opened the door to find Michael on the other side. “What?”

“You know what,” Michael said as she stepped around her and walked into the apartment. “Maria told me about Friday.”

“Really? She told you how she and her little friend were incredibly rude to me and kicked me out of my own brother's apartment?”

Michael shook his head. “You can't be around Maddie while you're on drugs, Isabel.”

“Wifey's already cracking the whip?” Isabel sneered.

“This isn't just Maria,” Michael told her. “I don't want you around her when you're under the influence of drugs.”

“I'm not on drugs,” Isabel gritted out. “Jesus Christ, I take a couple of pills to help with my headaches. How many times do I have to say this? It's not a big deal.”

“Isabel, my father started out taking painkillers. He died a heroin addict. My mother died of an overdose. Don't tell me it's not a big deal.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “Your father died of AIDS because he used dirty needles and slept with whores. Your mother was a hooker from a trailer park. I'm not like them. I'm not a loser drug addict. I take a couple of pills to help with my migraines.”

“Right. You've never touched hard drugs, like coke or ecstasy?” Michael said sarcastically.

“I've only used them a couple of times, recreationally,” Isabel argued. “Everybody does it. It's no big deal.”

“It is a big deal when you have an addictive personality, Isabel. Maria said that the pills you're taking were being stolen from the hospital. How are you going to get more once the supply runs out? What will you do if you can't get them?”

Isabel paled at Michael's words. It was something she was worried about. Now that Carla was gone, and without telling her the name of the supplier, Isabel had no way of getting her hands on any more of them. She didn't know what she was going to do when her current stash ran out. She didn't even know the name of the pills.

But, by the sound of it, Maria did.

How could she get the name of them from Maria? That sneaky bitch wouldn't just hand it over.

“Have you been to AA?” Michael asked, interrupting her thoughts.

“AA is for alcoholics,” Isabel said.

“Fine, Narcotics Anonymous then.”

“Yes,” Isabel lied.

“Really? How did it go?”

“It was pointless, because I don't have an addiction. I have a serious medical condition and nothing helps me. That's why I take those pills, Michael. I have to. It's not an addiction.”

“Right. The pills,” Michael nodded. “Except, according to Maria they're not for migraines at all. They're for spinal injuries.”

“What?” Isabel clenched her fists furiously. Carla had assured her that they were experimental migraine tablets. What was she really taking? Whatever, it didn't matter because they really did help with her headaches. She was always hearing about how new uses were being found for things that they were never intended for. And why was Maria interfering anyway?

She shook her head. “It doesn't matter what they were for. They help me. Nothing else works. My stupid doctor doesn't even believe that I get migraines. He thinks I'm making it up. I'm not, Michael. It's awful. You don't understand how much pain I'm in.”

Michael was quiet for a moment, then he walked over to Isabel and took her hand. He tugged her gently onto the couch. “OK, let's make a deal. I'll find you a specialist, the best in the world and you'll go see him. Or her. And if he tells you to stop taking those pills, then you stop. You'll join a support group, or you'll see a counselor. Maria said that you talked to Alex, would-”

“No, I don't want to talk to him,” Isabel said angrily.

“Alright, I'll find you somebody else,” Michael placated. “But the important thing is that we find somebody to help with your headaches and who'll give you the right treatment.”

Isabel was left flustered by Michael's suggestion. She hadn't expected it all. She'd thought he make the usual speech about needing to get clean and go to rehab. This was different. For the first time, somebody was really listening to her and was going to give her real help, not just talk about her feelings or crap like that.

Hope filled her. Maybe she wouldn't have to suffer anymore.

“I'm not stopping taking the pills until I see the specialist tells me to,” Isabel told Michael. “I need them. You don't understand how bad the pain is. I can't function with them.”

Michael exhaled slowly. “How many do you take a day.”

“Only one. Sometimes two, if it's really, really bad,” Isabel said. It wasn't true, lately she'd been taking four or five but she didn't want to tell him that she had to take more than that because he'd only take it as a sign that she was addicted.

Michael fell silent as she considered what to do. “This is what we'll do. I'll leave you three. That should be enough to get you by until I get an appointment for you. If it takes longer than that, I'll come by and give you more.”

This time Isabel went silent. She didn't want to give her pills to Michael because he'd probably flush them down a toilet or something. But she wanted to prove that she wasn't an addict. “What happens if it takes longer than three days to get me an appointment?”

“Then, I’ll come by everyday with one for you.”

She nodded. It was far from ideal, but she could do it. She had Hepatrin to supplement the pills. She could take that, and it would only be a couple of days. She was Isabel Evans, nobody made a member of the Evans family wait. “I'll go get them.”

Michael stood up and followed her.

“You don't trust me,” she accused.

“No, I'm sorry, but not about this.”

Isabel huffed but said nothing, she couldn't really say anything because she had been planning to keep back a few more than three. But she shook her head, and decided that she was glad that Michael was doing it this way. This would prove that she wasn't addicted to the pills.

She walked into her bedroom and picked up the bag of pills from her dresser and handed them over.

Michael's eyes widened when he saw how many she had. A bolt of fear ran through him at the thought of what could have happened to Isabel if she had taken them all.

“Is this them all?”

Isabel nodded.

He opened the bag and handed three back to her. “I'll get Tess to find you that specialist first thing Monday morning, I promise.”

“Thanks,” Isabel said weakly.

“Will you be OK?” Michael asked.

Isabel nodded again. “Yeah. I'll be fine.”

Michael turned to leave, and without even thinking about it, Isabel grabbed his arm. “Can you stay for a while, please. I could use the company.”

“Sure.”

“There's a game on tonight, right? We can watch it together.”

Michael smiled. “Sounds great.”

“Take a seat, I'll get you a drink,” Isabel told him.

She went into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge for Michael and poured herself a glass of wine. She peaked through the kitchen door to make sure that Michael was fully engrossed in the game, before opening a drawer and taking out a bottle of Hepatrin. They weren't as effective as the pink pills, but already she could feel the steady thump of a new headache building and with only three pink pills to ration out, she would need something else.

She popped four Hepatrins into her mouth and washed them down with a drink from her glass of wine before joining Michael in front of the TV.

***


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