522 (CC/UC, AU, Adult, COMPLETE, 09/01/13)

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April
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Part 170

Postby April » Sun Jul 14, 2013 2:08 pm

Ellie:
The birthstone engagement ring was the cherry on top. Macy will always be with them both.


That was an idea that occured to me at the last minute when I was writing that scene, to have her birthstone be the ring. It just seemed appropriate.

editing to add in: Song sounds familiar. Could this have been playing during a 'Naley' scene?


Okay, I'm going to be such a OTH geek here: It's from episode 9 of Season 3, called "How a Ressurection Really Feels." It plays during a coda mainly consisting of Naley and Brucas scenes. Confessions of love and then sex, that's what happens during those scenes. :lol: It's also on the second of the show's 3 soundtracks, I believe.

Grace:
I think they are going to make it this time!


And there is definitely reason to think that. They've come very far.


Thank you for the feedback! I know I sound like a broken record here, but it's hard to believe we're so close to the end!








Part 170







It was hard for Maria to not just blurt out to Tess that she was engaged again. Following their little trip to the church, Tess and Kyle’s was the first place they stopped, and Maria could hardly wait for her best friend to find out. But she wanted to subtly hint at it before just telling her. It would be more fun that way.

“Hey, guys,” she said, managing to keep her voice calm when she and Michael walked into their friends’ house.

“Back already, huh?” Kyle asked, barely glancing up from the video game he was playing in the living room. He sneaked a quick peek at her hand and grinned, though. Maria realized Michael must have talked to him about it.

“Where’d you guys go?” Tess asked. She was in the kitchen, digging through the refrigerator and apparently devouring everything in sight. Because there was a big block of Velveeta cheese with multiple bite marks taken out of it.

“Oh, just out for a drive,” Michael replied. “What’re you guys doin’?”

“Not havin’ sex,” Kyle grumbled, “that’s for sure.”

“Ooh, somebody’s grapes are sour,” Maria teased.

He rolled his eyes, paused his video game, and set the control down on the arm of the couch.

“Kyle, I feel like I weigh three of me,” Tess lamented. “It’s just not gonna happen.”

“Until you wanna induce,” Maria pointed out.

“Until then,” Tess agreed, nodding affirmatively. “But Maria, you know how it is. When you’re pregnant, all you can do is . . . be pregnant. You don’t think about anything else, you don’t talk about anything else, you don’t notice anything else.”

“Really?” Maria sauntered into the kitchen, sensing a segue. “You don’t notice . . . anything?” She used her left hand to tuck her hair behind her ear, then scratched the side of her face, making sure the engagement ring was within perfect view.

Tess stared at her confusedly for a minute, but suddenly, she laid eyes on the ring and her eyes bulged. “Oh my god, are you . . .” Her mouth dropped open, and she screamed with delight. “Ahhh!”

Maria just smiled as her best friend through her arms around her and squeezed her tightly.

“Ohmygod, ohmygod!” Tess squealed, moving back only so she could grab Maria’s hand and get a closer look at the ring. Then she screamed and hugged Maria again.

“Congratulations,” Kyle said, getting up off the couch to shake Michael’s hand. Apparently that wasn’t enough, though, because they gave in and hugged, too.

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

It was late afternoon when Michael and Maria found themselves back at Cresthaven. They’d actually had an appointment the next day, but Maria had insisted on going in light of . . . recent developments. Developments she couldn’t wait to tell her doctor about. He just smiled as she described down to the last detail how Michael had proposed. She was so animated when she talked about it, so lively.

Michael smiled as he watched her. Lively.

“Well,” Dr. Carlson said when she was done, “sounds like you two had a pretty big day then.”

“I’d say so,” she agreed breathlessly. “I really hope you don’t mind us dropping in. I know we were supposed to come tomorrow, but . . . well, to be quite honest, we plan on having a lot of celebratory sex tomorrow.”

Michael chuckled.

“Is that an overshare?” she asked him quietly.

He just shrugged, not really caring what Dr. Carlson knew about their sex life since he knew so much about both of them already.

“Congratulations,” the doctor said warmly.

“Thank you,” Maria replied. Everything about her . . . her eyes, her smile, the sound of her voice . . . everything was just radiating. “And you should feel honored, because you’re one of the first to know.”

“About the engagement, not the sex,” Michael clarified.

“Right. The only other people we’ve told so far are Tess and Kyle and my brother Marty. I’m gonna call my mom tomorrow and clue her in. During a break in the sex.”

“Good luck. There’s not gonna be one.” Michael flashed her a grin, and she blushed.

“So have you told your daughter yet?” Dr. Carlson asked.

“No, we’ll tell her tonight,” Michael said, eagerly anticipating that conversation. “You know, I’ve had to have so many horrible conversations with her this past year. About her Grandma’s cancer, Macy’s death . . .”

“Me leaving,” Maria added quietly.

He nodded, silently acknowledging that had been one of them. “It’ll be nice to have this kind of conversation this time.”

“I’ll bet,” Dr. Carlson said, sounding both sympathetic and encouraged at the same time. “Maria, speaking of conversations . . . you and I have had quite a few.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, “and they’ve helped.”

“How much do you think they’ve helped?”

“I think . . .” Maria exhaled heavily, drawing it out. But when she spoke again, she spoke with conviction. “I think they’ve helped to the point where I probably don’t have to come here anymore.” Even though she sounded decided, she asked her doctor anyway, “Is that okay?”

“It’s up to you.”

She nodded, contemplative. “I think . . . I’m good. I’m not so depressed anymore.”

Michael saw a chance to jump in, to speak up on his own behalf. Clearing his throat nervously, he revealed, “I would like to keep coming, if that’s okay.” It made him uneasy to say the words, because he hated having to ask for help. But Dr. Carlson had been helping him for a long time now, and he and Maria had discussed things. They both agreed this was for the best. “Not because I’m depressed,” he quickly clarified. “Actually, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time. But I think I still have some issues with my past and my . . . past relationship that I wanna work through so I can be the best father and husband possible for my family.”

Maria reached over and lay her hand on top of his, squeezing supportively. Her touch was warm. Her touch alone was enough to reassure him that he was doing the right thing.

Dr. Carlson smiled at him and said, “You’re welcome here anytime.”

Even though he’d already known that was true, hearing it aloud made it so he was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

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

Evening fell, and Max sat outside on the porch, on the very step that used to be broken. He’d fixed it. It was solid now. No one could fall through.

Garret was busy chasing fireflies. The fun he was having made it difficult for Max to concentrate on what he was doing. He was looking through the latest budget report for the video store, trying to figure out just how much profit he’d made from the silent auction. But watching Garret was a lot more entertaining.

Garret had just lunged for a firefly and gone splat on the ground, a mess of giggles, when Liz burst out from inside the house with her cell phone in her hand. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed. “You’ll never believe what Tess just told me.”

“She’s giving birth to a baby rhinoceros,” Max guessed.

“No.”

“Hippo then.”

“Max!” she hissed. “Pretend to be interested.”

He rolled his eyes, feeling completely the opposite. But clearly his wife wasn’t going to let up until she told him, so he gave in. “Fine. What’d she say?”

“Michael and Maria are engaged again,” she revealed, sounding genuinely excited for them.

“Yippee,” he muttered, monotone.

“Max . . .”

“What? Why should I be excited for two people who I don’t even like, and who don’t particularly like me?”

“Because, our lives are, like, inevitably intertwined with theirs. And they’ve been through a lot.”

Well . . . it was hard to deny either one of those. “Fine,” he relented. “Joy, joy. Happy couple . . . yay.”

“Well, I’m happy for them,” she said steadfastly.

“That’s because you’re on the verge of a friendship,” he reasoned. “Me, on the other hand? Not so much. And I’m fine with that. I’m happily distant.” He tried to slip back into looking at his budget report, but still, his eyes glanced up at Garret on their own accord. He’d finally caught a firefly and was now busy examining it as it fluttered about in his cupped hands. “And speaking of distance . . .” His stomach clenched nervously. “Let’s hope Isabel keeps hers.”

Liz sat down beside him, giving him a confused look. “What do you mean?”

“She catches word of news like this? Could bring her out of hiding.”

“No,” Liz said quickly, though she shivered and scooted a bit closer to him. “She wouldn’t, right?”

“I hope not.” He sure as hell wasn’t going to contact her and tell her, and hopefully no one would. “The picture-perfect Guerins aren’t the only ones who have a good thing going now.” As much as he didn’t like Michael and Maria, he technically wouldn’t mind if their lives calmed down for awhile. And as much as he probably didn’t deserve it . . . he wouldn’t mind if his own life continued on like it was.

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

“And the girl and her . . .”

Michael waited a moment to see if Miley could sound out the word in the book she was reading, but when she couldn’t, he told it to her before she could get frustrated. “Prince.”

“. . . prince . . .” Again she trailed off, struggling to decipher what came next. She squirmed in his arms, a look of concentration on her precious face.

“Lived happily . . .” he hinted.

“Happy ever after.” She closed the book, and on the back cover was a picture of the prince and the princess standing atop their palace balcony, waving at the reader.

“Good job,” Michael said, squeezing her shoulders gently. “You’re a good reader.” He glanced up and noticed Maria standing in the doorway, her arms folded across her chest, just watching them. She looked like she’d been there for awhile, so she’d probably heard the entire story Miley had read. But then again, she’d heard it dozens of times before. Every time Miley either read it aloud or had it read to her, it was like she was hearing it for the first time.

“Do you think she and the prince got married?” he asked his daughter.

She nodded right away.

“You do? So do I.” He peeked up at Maria, smiling.

She took the hint to come into the room. “Got any room for me?” she asked.

“Hi, Mama.” Miley scooted over.

“Hi.” Maria squeezed into the small bed, settling comfortably on the other side of Miley.

“You think you can stay awake for a few more minutes?” Michael asked her, well aware that the conversation they were about to have totally defeated the purpose of a bedtime story. “Your mom and I have something to tell you.”

She tensed, a worried look sweeping onto her face. “What’s wrong?” she asked quietly.

His heart sank. The poor little thing. She’d been through so much, of course she would assume this was something bad.

“Oh, nothing’s wrong, sweetie,” Maria assured her quickly. “This is happy news.”

Immediately, Miley relaxed. “What?” she asked, looking up at her mom.

“Well . . . remember almost a year ago when you were the flower girl at Max and Liz’s wedding?”

She nodded.

“And remember how you were gonna be the flower girl for us, too?”

She lowered her head and mumbled sadly, “But you didn’t get married.” The way she pronounced the word made the double-r sound like a w.

“No, we didn’t,” Maria acknowledged quietly, her eyes glazing over for a bit. It was only for a moment, though, and then she was right back into the conversation again. “But we were sorta wondering if you would still be our flower girl. Because Daddy proposed to me again today, and I said yes. So we are gonna get married.”

Miley’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “Really?” she gasped.

“Yeah.”

“Cool!”

Maria laughed. “I know, it’s cool, right?” She stroked Miley’s hair, and Michael caught sight of the ring on her finger. It felt really good to see that there.

“So are you gonna be our flower girl?” he prompted.

“Yeah!” she exclaimed.

“Good. That’s good. ‘Cause we wouldn’t want it any other way.” There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that watching Miley walk down that aisle was going to be just as rewarding as watching Maria.

“When?” Miley asked.

“When? When are we gonna get married?” Michael asked in return.

“Well, we don’t know yet,” Maria replied. “But we just wanted to let you know it’s gonna happen. It will happen this time.” She looked Miley right in the eyes as she said it. She sounded . . . determined wasn’t even a strong enough word. Sure. Absolutely, positively sure.

“I love you, Mama,” Miley said, shifting a bit so she could sit up on her knees and hug her mom.

“Oh . . .” Maria wrapped her arms around her, holding her close. “I love you, too, Miley.” There was a look of complete joy on her face. And Michael couldn’t tear his eyes away from either of them.

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

“Okay, Kyle, do me a favor and run downstairs and get the company plates.”

Kyle stopped just as he set foot in the kitchen, his towel in his hand. “But I was gonna go swim,” he protested.

“It’ll take you, like, two seconds.”

“Well, why do we need ‘em?”

“Because we are gonna have a magnificent feast.” Tess laid her recipe book out on the counter and flipped it open to a random page, deciding that whatever she landed on was going to be the first item she would make. Quesadillas, as it turned out. She could do that.

“Magnificent, huh?” Kyle said skeptically.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because Michael and Maria just got re-engaged, and we need to celebrate.”

“Honey, I think they’re . . . celebrating all on their own today,” he informed her, as if she didn’t already know.

“Exactly,” she said. “After all that sex, they’re gonna be starving. Ergo, magnificent feast. It’s like the first of many wedding presents.”

“How many?”

“Kyle, would you just go and get the plates?” She was starting to get impatient. “I wanna cook up a storm here.”

“But why do we need the company plates? Michael and Maria aren’t company. They’re here all the time.”

“We have to use the company plates,” she insisted.

“Why?”

Because it’s a magnificent feast.”

He groaned, giving in, and teased, “Well, with logic like that . . .” He grinned, relenting to her request as he set his towel down on the counter and headed downstairs.

What a good husband, she thought, looking down at her recipe book again. This was her mom’s quesadilla recipe. If done right, it turned out in such a way that it was spicy enough for those with adventurous tastes but tame enough for those who couldn’t handle it as well. She’d only tried making them a few times, but even though they were always good, they never seemed to turn out just right.

Oh, well. It was a challenge then. She had nothing better to do all day. She’d make several batches of quesadillas if that was what it took to get them right.

She held her right hand to her side as she skimmed the ingredients list, feeling the familiar strain of cramps around her midsection. They hurt most around her back. She’d gained thirty-one pounds by now, and lugging it around all day was really starting to take its toll.

“Here they are,” Kyle announced when he came back upstairs, carrying a box of not only the company plates, but the company silverware and glasses as well. He set the box down on the kitchen table and asked, “Happy?”

“Very. Thank you.” She went over to him, rose up on her tiptoes, and gave him a quick kiss. He snuck another one in there and brushed his thumb across her cheek. “Anything else you need?” he asked.

“Nope.” She arched her back, grimacing slightly.

“Uncomfortable today?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Maybe you should stay off your feet,” he suggested, “let me cook.”

“You can’t cook.”

“Yes, I can,” he insisted halfheartedly. “I can make . . . Hot Pockets.”

“Hot Pockets aren’t magnificent.” She smiled, shaking her head. “Go swim.”

“You sure?” he asked, already picking up his towel.

“Yes.” Summertime was in full swing, and Kyle loved being outdoors. She wasn’t going to deprive him of that just because she was a little cramped up.

He opened the sliding door and went outside. She watched as he set his towel down by the side of the pool, kicked off his sandals, and then lifted his shirt above his head. He took one glance back over his shoulder, grinned at her, over-exaggeratedly showed off his muscles for a moment, and then jumped in the water, creating a big old splash.

As tempting as it was to watch him frolic for awhile, she knew she had things to do, so she forced herself to tear her eyes away and focus on the food situation again. She wasn’t sure she was feeling in the mood for quesadillas, though, so she flipped to a macaroni and corn casserole instead. They’d had it before, and she knew for a fact that Michael in particular really liked it. “Okay, two sticks of margarine,” she read aloud. “Two full sticks?” She glanced down at her feet, where her dog was looking up at her expectantly, his ears perked up and his tongue out as he panted lightly. “That doesn’t sound healthy, does it, George?”

He gave a little yip in response.

She smiled at him, feeling that they were truly communicating somehow. “Maybe if there’s extra, I can mix a little in with your dog food. Wouldn’t that be tasty? A little feast of your own.” She reached up into the cupboards and took out an 8x11 casserole dish that would hopefully be big enough. Glancing out at Kyle again, she saw that he had found some of Miley’s floaties and was now trying to fit one onto his own arm.

She shook her head, still speaking to her dog. “He’s like a big kid, isn’t he?”

George pawed at her foot.

“Hey, now speaking of kids . . .” She opened the refrigerator and took out the required two sticks of margarine, setting them right beside the casserole dish. “You’re gonna be nice to the baby, right?”

Excitedly, George stood up on his back two feet, pressing his front paws against her leg to keep his balance.

“Yeah, you will be,” she said, reaching down to pet his head. “Because you’re a nice dog. Yes, you are. You’re a nice dog. You know that?” All of a sudden, she felt a sharp stab of pain in side. “Uh . . .” she groaned, pressing her hands to her waist, bending towards the right. For a few seconds, it felt like it was fading, going away. But then all of a sudden, she felt another wave of pain, and she bent over farther, crouching forward this time. “Ah . . .” She’d never felt anything like it before. It was like a normal cramp multiplied by a thousand. It felt like someone was squeezing her midsection so hard that her insides were about to pop out. And it wasn’t letting up.

Just breathe, she told herself, trying to stay calm. This would pass. This had to pass.

But it wasn’t.

She tried to stand up straight again, but the pain made it unbearable to do so. She stayed bent over, nearly halfway over, breathing in and out raggedly.

And then she felt it: a little trickle of liquid running down the insides of her legs. She stood there and watched it go, knowing exactly what was happening.

Her water had just broken.

“Oh . . .” The nerves kicked in, and the pain in her abdomen intensified. She crumpled to the floor, knowing that this was not normal. To be in this much pain, to have her water break this early . . . something had to be very wrong.

“Kyle . . .” she whimpered, one hand braced against her back as the other wrapped around her round belly. George, thinking that she was getting down on the floor to play, tried to crawl up onto her and lick her, but she pushed him away.

She looked outside where he was still swimming, completely unaware that anything was going on. His back was to her now. He couldn’t see her.

“Kyle!” she yelled, but it still wasn’t loud enough. He didn’t hear her. She tried to move, to crawl towards the door, but she only got a few inches. Her entire body was in agony.

Apparently sensing now that something was wrong, the dog ran to the back door and started to bark as loudly as it could. Tess started to cry.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Joined: Tue Sep 28, 2004 9:32 am
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Part 171

Postby April » Sun Jul 21, 2013 1:48 pm

I have to make this super quick today because my Internet keeps going in and out about every 10 minutes. Can't believe I'm even paying for this shit. :roll:

Thank you for the feedback:

Lilah

Ellie

Claire

Grace









Part 171







Michael groaned as he pushed himself into Maria one last time. Maria held onto his arms tightly as his orgasm washed over him. She’d already experienced one and was dangerously close to another. Alas, she’d have to wait a little longer, though, because his body still, and he exhaled heavily, momentarily spent.

“Wow,” he managed to gasp.

“Yeah,” she agreed breathlessly. Her body was so tuned in to everything that she could literally feel the drops of sweat on his chest trickling down between her breasts. Every inch of his skin was plastered to hers, and it felt amazing. They’d have to hit the showers soon, though. At this point, her hair was already a mass of tangles, and his was sticking to his forehead.

“That was . . .”

“Magnificent,” she filled in.

He chuckled. “Nice word choice.”

“You got somethin’ better?”

He captured her bottom lip in between his and offered up, “Exhilarating.”

“Splendiferous.”

“Oh, well, now that you pulled out ‘splendiferous’ . . .” He finally withdrew from her and slinked down on the bed. “I can’t top that.” He didn’t go far, stopping when his head was near her breasts. He took one pillow up from the headboard, placed it atop her chest, and rested his chin there, smiling at her. He had that giddy look in his eyes, the same look that was often there right after they made love. It made him look like the college boy version of himself again. So young, so carefree.

“You look so good right now,” she told him, brushing his hair out of his eyes.

“So do you,” he said. “You’re all shiny.”

“It’s called sweat.”

“No, you’re just . . . basking in the afterglow.”

Either he was way too smart of his own good, or the sex-induced euphoria had caused him to say that. “Uh, again, it’s called sweat,” she informed him.

He grinned. “I make you work up a sweat?”

“Always.” Even when she was on the bottom and all she had to do was lay there like she’d just done . . . Michael found a way to get her going. He always knew exactly what things to do to her, for her, with her.

“You think we can stay here all day?” she asked, glancing at the clock. It was already almost 11:00.

“Oh, I know we can,” he said confidently. “If you want to.”

“I want to.” This was pretty much the reason why they had dropped Miley off at Marty’s early that morning, so they could have this time to themselves. “Do you?”

“Yeah.” He lazily traced his fingers over her collarbone, looking her right in the eye as he said, “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than right here with you right now.”

She smiled. Good. Because she felt the same. Their bed, their room, their house, their life . . . it was good again.

“As far as I’m concerned, the rest of the world doesn’t exist anymore,” he claimed. But right after the words left his mouth, his cell phone vibrated on the bedside table.

“Uh-oh,” she teased. “I think you just angered the rest of the world.”

“Crap,” he muttered, reaching over to glance at the caller ID. “Oh, it’s just Kyle,” he said, quickly setting it back down again. “I’ll call him back later.”

“You sure?” As much as she didn’t want to stop, a phone call would at least give him the time to work up his energy again.

“Yeah. He probably just wants to know if I feel like headin’ in to work today.”

“Uh, let me answer that for you: No.”

“My day off,” he agreed, a glint of mischief in his eyes. “And on.”

“On what?” she asked.

“On you.” He propped himself up on his forearms and leaned up to kiss her again, sliding the pillow between them out of the way.

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

Tess sat up in her hospital bed, eyes closed, breathing in deeply and steadily. Her mouth kept forming a perfect little ‘o’ shape as she let the air out. It was almost as if she’d practiced it. She hadn’t groaned or cringed or cried in about ten minutes now. That was a good sign.

Kyle felt like a helpless, clueless idiot as he stood by her hospital bed, just watching her. “Are you calm?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she answered quickly.

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

He didn’t buy it. How could she possibly be calm given everything that was happening? “ ‘Cause I could try to calm you down if you’re not--”

“Kyle, I’m as calm as I can possibly be,” she snapped, her eyelids flipping open. “Just . . . quit asking, okay?”

He nodded, regretting that all he’d accomplished there was getting her agitated. “Okay.” His stomach muscles clenched with nervousness. On the one hand, this was all happening so fast. One second, he’d been swimming, enjoying a perfectly normal summer afternoon. And then the next second, his yappy little dog was getting his attention so he could help Tess up from the floor and get her to the hospital. But on the other hand, things felt like they were taking forever. They’d been there for a good forty-five minutes now, and even though the doctor had checked in a few times, they still had yet to confirm that she was in labor.

But her water had broken. Didn’t that mean . . .? Wasn’t it just sort of . . . inevitable?

“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I don’t mean to snap at you.”

“It’s okay,” he assured her, noticing that her hospital gown had come untied in the back. He reached back to tie it up again without her even noticing. “You’re entitled to it right now.”

She took a few more deep breaths, nodding in agreement. “Did you try Michael again?” she asked.

“Yeah. Still not picking up.” He was having flashbacks to the night of New Year’s, because he’d been trying and trying to get a hold of Michael that night, too. Of course, Michael and Maria weren’t crashing a car right now so much as they were just . . . crashing into each other, most likely, completely unaware that this was going on.

“What about Maria?” Tess asked desperately.

“Straight to voicemail.”

She whimpered, holding out her hand.

He placed his hand in hers, shaking his head, frustrated with himself. “I should’ve just swung by real quick on our way here, let ‘em know what was going on.” He’d just been in such a hurry to get Tess there.

“But we don’t even know what’s going on,” she reminded him. “It could be nothing. It could just be . . .” She trailed off, and her face contorted as she squeezed tighter on his hand. Kyle knew she was having another contraction.

This was definitely not nothing.

He waited until she started to loosen her grip once again to ask, “Do you think this is really happening?” It was a question neither one of them wanted to contemplate, but they had to.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I just wish Maria was here. I really need her here.”

“I’ll keep calling,” he promised. “Don’t worry, okay?”

“Kyle . . .” She looked up at him with tears glimmering in her eyes. “I’m so worried.”

A lump in his throat prevented him from saying anything. So he just stood there and kept holding her hand, making sure his own tears stayed down where they belonged.

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

Arms and legs giving out on him, Michael slumped forward, his full weight pressing against Maria. She sprawled out on the floor, and he fell on top of her, pressing his face against her back, in between her shoulder blades. Breathing in the scent of their lovemaking, he felt like he could barely move. Though he knew he really should. He was a lot heavier than her.

“We missed the bed that time,” she said, tugging lightly on the sheets, sheets that were crumpled up and strewn everywhere by now.

“Yeah.” Her skin was so hot, it practically burned his cheek as he rested against her. He didn’t want to move a muscle, but he had to. He didn’t want to crush her. Reluctantly, he lifted his hips, slipping out of her and rolled over onto his back, closing his eyes as the sensations continued to wash over him. The things this girl could do . . . even the small things . . . even just the way she pressed her backside towards him when he was moving behind her and tossed her head back so he could grab onto her hair . . . she drove him wild, made him forget about everything else in the world.

“Oh . . .” he groaned. “I think I threw my back out.”

She curled up on her side, snuggling up right against him. “Old,” she teased.

“Older,” he teased back since it was technically true.

“Oldest.”

“What?”

“I don’t know.” She laughed dazedly, drumming her fingertips lightly against his chest. “Are you gonna be able to go again?”

“Oh, yeah,” he promised. “Just give me five minutes.” It was probably going to take a little longer than that, but . . . not much longer.

“Okay. You recuperate,” she said. “I’m gonna go downstairs and get some food.” She sat up, turning back over so she was on all fours again.

“Your legs still workin’?” he asked.

She grabbed onto the bed to help her up. “Barely,” she said, looking slightly unsteady as she scampered out of the room naked.

He chuckled, feeling a sense of pride that he could give her such a workout, too. Still, she always managed to recover faster than he did. If it was up to her, they wouldn’t even have to stop in between. But he was feeling spent, and there was no doubt that, after another round of it, he was going to have to cuddle up with her for about an hour just to sleep. But an hour was enough. After that, he’d be raring to go again. There were plenty of hours left in the day and plenty of rooms left in their house to do it in. They didn’t just have to confine themselves to the bedroom.

He forced himself up, wincing because he really had pulled some kind of muscle during this latest round of it. He managed to get himself up onto the bed and just sat there for a moment, contemplating how best to do it next. It seemed best to let her get on top and take control, and that way, he could just take it easy. And watch her. Watch and enjoy.

He reached for a tissue and removed the condom he had on, tossing it into the trash can next to their bed. Opening up the nightstand drawer, he checked to see how many were left. Plenty, it seemed, but they’d definitely have to stock up again within the next few days.

In the back of his mind, he knew there would be a day when she told him not to wear those anymore, a day when he agreed, and then . . .

Well, then, anything could happen.

Still only halfway functioning, he picked up his phone again, remembering that Kyle had called him. That damn thing kept vibrating, too, so either someone else was calling, or Kyle wasn’t getting the hint that he didn’t want to be bothered. He checked his missed calls and was surprised to see that he had seven. He didn’t remember it vibrating that much. But then again, his mind hadn’t exactly been focused on that.

There were a few voicemails, so he held his phone up to his ear and played the first one. It only took a few seconds of listening to the panicked sound of his friend’s voice for him to know that something was very wrong. And when Kyle actually came right out and said what was happening and where he and Tess were, he understood exactly where that panic was coming from.

“Oh, Michael . . .” Maria’s voice rang out in a songlike tone as she came back upstairs with a can in each hand. “I brought up some whipped cream!”

He sprang up from the bed, phone still in his hand, and revealed, “We gotta go.”

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

Once in the hospital, it didn’t take Michael and Maria long to find Kyle. They’d spent a lot of time there over the past four years, for both good experiences and bad.

Kyle was pacing in the hallway, near but not directly outside Tess’s room. He looked like a bundle of nerves, like he was struggling to hold it all together.

“Kyle!” Maria exclaimed, rushing towards him. She threw her arms around him and hugged him.

“Oh, thank God, you guys are here,” he said, hugging her back before he hugged Michael. “I called so many times.

“Sorry,” Michael apologized, relieved that they at least weren’t too late to be there for him, for both of them. Still, he felt silly for not getting there sooner. “We were busy . . . cooking.”

“Sleeping,” Maria blurted at the same time. Uh-oh.

“And sleeping, while we were cooking,” Michael attempted to lie.

Maria gave him a befuddled look.

“I know what you guys were doing. It’s fine,” Kyle said.

“No, it’s not.” Michael couldn’t help but notice that his best friend’s eyes were puffy. He’d probably slipped out of the room to cry where Tess couldn’t see or hear him. “We should’ve been here sooner.”

“What’s going on?” Maria asked. “She can’t be in labor, right? I mean . . . it’s too soon.”

Don’t say that, Michael thought. It was too soon, but Kyle didn’t need to hear that.

“Well, apparently it’s not,” Kyle choked out, “because she is. The doctor just came and talked to us. This baby’s on its way.”

Maria looked horrified, but she tried to contain it. “Oh.” Even though she sounded calm, her eyes were wide. “Wow.”

Oh, please let it be okay, Michael thought. This wasn’t normal. Sure, it happened, but it wasn’t normal. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

“I guess your son’s full of surprises,” Maria said, trying to lighten the mood.

Kyle nodded wordlessly, obviously fighting to keep it together.

“Kyle . . .” She hugged him again. Kyle locked eyes with Michael over her shoulder, and Michael could see the understanding there, the realization that this might turn out a lot differently than any of them thought it would. Of course no one was going to voice that kind of concern out loud, but Kyle wasn’t an idiot. He knew it was a possibility that this really was just too soon.

Surely Maria understood it better than anyone, but as she released him from her embrace, she reassured him, “It’s gonna be okay.”

He managed to smile a little and said, “I know.”

It can be, Michael reminded himself. Even though it wasn’t typical to go into labor this early, it did happen, and it did turn out okay more often than not.

“How’s she holdin’ up?” he asked.

“Uh, she’s scared, but tryin’ not to show it,” Kyle replied.

“Can I go see her?” Maria asked.

“Yeah, you should.” He pointed down the hall and said, “Right over there.”

“Okay.” Maria squeezed his hand quickly, then headed towards Tess’s room.

When she was out of earshot, Michael asked his friend, “How about you, man? Hangin’ in there?”

Kyle exhaled heavily, shakily. “I’m scared, too,” he admitted.

“Because it’s early?”

Kyle hesitated a moment, then said, “Because it’s a baby. I’m about to be a dad.”

Michael smiled, understanding, remembering how it felt to feel that way for the first time.

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

Maria slowly opened the door to Tess’s hospital room and peeked inside. Her best friend was shifting around, eyes squeezed shut, trying to get comfortable.

“Hey,” she said quietly.

Tess’s eyes immediately shot open. “Hey!” She sounded so relieved, like she’d been waiting and praying for her to show up for a while now.

Maria rushed to her side and leaned down to hug her.

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here,” Tess said tearfully.

“I’m sorry it took me so long.” She wished she hadn’t been so wrapped up in her own thing that day. She should have been there from the start of it.

“You’re here now,” Tess said. “That’s all that matters.”

Better late than never, she supposed. But now that she was there . . . she wasn’t sure what to do or say. What were you supposed to do or say in this kind of situation? Just be supportive and encouraging no matter what?

“So I hear this is . . . actually happening,” she said.

“Yep.” Tess tried to hold back her tears, but a few spilled over.

“Why?” Maria asked.

Tess shrugged. “It just is. There’s no . . . real reason. It’s not some special medical condition. It’s just . . . happening.”

Maria nodded, taking that in. Maybe that was a good thing. If the baby was coming early because of something medical, that would be worse. But if it was just ready, if it was just time . . . maybe it was the right time.

“I should’ve known it wouldn’t go according to plan,” Tess lamented. “Nothing ever does.”

Maria sat down on the edge of the bed, deciding that, yes, it was best to be supportive and encouraging no matter what right now. “But it’s okay,” she insisted. “Babies are born early all the time. Miley was, remember?”

“That was four weeks early,” Tess pointed out. “This is seven weeks.”

Maria felt a knot in her stomach. She’d been terrified going into labor when Miley was still one month premature, so she could only imagine how terrified Tess was right now. “But . . . this happens,” she kept saying. “And it’s gonna be okay.”

Tess’s body shook, and she started crying harder.

Maria scooped her hand up and held it tightly in both of her own. “Look, I get why you’re scared,” she empathized. “You weren’t expecting this. But don’t let it overwhelm you. You gotta stay strong right now. Your baby needs you to be strong.”

Tess took a few deep breaths and nodded as though she were understanding.

“And I’m here now, so I’ll help you however I can.”

She smiled tearfully. “You’ll help me stay strong?”

“Yeah. If I can.” Tess had done so much for her over the years. This was the least she could do.

“You can,” Tess said. “You definitely can.” She wiped her tears away with her free hand and started to shift around uncomfortably again. “God, I feel like I’m being cut in half,” she groaned.

“Yeah, it’s painful,” Maria agreed.

“This sucks.”

Maria laughed a little. “It really does. But just remember, it’ll be worth it in the end.” All the pain and all the pushing and all the exhaustion . . . it was all gone by the time you held that beautiful baby. And sometimes you got to hold them right after they came out, like she’d gotten to with Macy. And other times, they had to take them away at once to get some more care. And for her, that had been Miley.

But Tess would get to hold her son at some point. If not right away, then later on, when he was stronger.

Maria felt sure of it.








TBC . . .

-April
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Part 172

Postby April » Sun Jul 28, 2013 1:49 pm

Ellie:
Poor Tess & Kyle. It always seems to them that even the best laid plans never work out no matter how much planning they put into it. But I have a feeling this time, it will be o.k. They just need to have faith and lean on each other right now.


Things have been going so well for them lately. It really sucks that this has now happened.

I'm thinking of going to DirectTV or DISH


Might be a good idea. I’ve been considering that, too.

Claire:
Fingers crossed for the baby. I am inclined to think he will be okay in the end but you're very much keeping us in suspense.


Oh, you know me. I’m a big fan of the suspense. ;)

Novy: Did you enjoy your time away?

What about text messaging? That would have popped up right on the screen.


:lol: Guess I didn’t think about that.

I am proud of Michael to know he needs help and not be afraid to admit it.


It was an important decision for Michael to continue going to therapy. After spending the entire story feeling like he needs to be the strong one for everyone else, it’s a big step for him to accept help.

Grace:
It looks like hot times in Casa Guerin got rudely interrupted by real life!


*sigh* Real life tends to do that, doesn’t it?

Krista:
I totally get how scary it must be for Tess because I'm at 34 weeks now and I'm freaking out.


Girl, I still can’t believe you’re having a baby! I haven’t been through that yet (and at this rate, I won’t be for a looooong time), but I imagine it must be terribly nerve-wracking and exciting all at the same time. Wishing you ALL THE GOOD LUCK IN THE WORLD as you near the end!

How many parts do we have left? I hope I get to finish reading this fic as you post it, but I'm not sure how well I'll remember to check once the baby gets here lol.


Yes, that baby will keep you busy!

There are only a few parts left, but I think your kid might get here before the end of the fic does!


THANK YOU AS ALWAYS FOR THE FEEDBACK!








Part 172








It was weird to see Kyle so . . . silent. Usually he talked all the time. But as Michael sat out in the waiting room with him, he wondered if he would say anything at all. He seemed very much up in his own head, occupied with his thoughts. And that was fine. Michael was willing to sit there in silence with him for as long as he needed to.

Much to his surprise, Kyle cleared his throat out of the blue and mumbled, “Man, I don’t know how you did this when you were twenty-one. I would’ve been freakin’ out.”

“I was,” Michael informed him. He’d kept his panic hidden pretty well from almost everyone, because Maria had been a nervous wreck. But inside, he’d been the exact same thing. “You know, having Miley and Macy were the best things that ever happened to me,” he said, even though it was obvious. “And this is gonna be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

Kyle nodded. “I know. My kid could never let me down.” He sighed shakily, glancing up at the clock, and pondered, “But what if I let him down? He’s gonna be so small. So small. And he’s gonna need me to know things and be able to take care of him. But what if I don’t know how?”

Michael smiled, hearing a lot of himself in Kyle’s words. “You will,” he assured him.

“How?”

“You’ll just know.” There were certain things that he couldn’t explain, certain things that Kyle and Tess were both just going to have to experience to understand.

Kyle grunted. “Easy for you to say. You were, like, born to do this.”

“No, I figured it out as I went along,” he admitted, knowing there were still so many things he was going to have to learn about parenthood. “I’m still figuring it out. I probably always will be.”

Kyle sighed shakily and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Then I will be, too,” he said.

“We’ll figure it out together,” Michael promised. It was going to be nice to be able to relate with Kyle on this level. He didn’t know many other fathers. Now his best friend was going to be one.

“I just can’t stop worrying . . .” Kyle fretted. “Wondering . . .” He trailed off, shaking his head.

“What?” Michael prompted.

“Just . . . what if I’m not good enough?”

Michael stared at him wordlessly for a moment, thinking back to the day when he’d been wondering the same thing.

****

Pacing back and forth, Michael couldn’t stand still. He whirled his hands about dramatically, hoping no one else came into the waiting room to witness his freak out. “Dad, what was I thinking?” he wailed. “Aren’t I supposed to be smart? ‘Cause if that’s the case, how did I get myself into this situation?”

“You had unprotected sex, Son,” his father replied. “It’s a little late to talk about the bird and the bees.”

“Well, how am I supposed to do this? Huh?” He felt like a volcano about to erupt with stress. “Any minute now, I’m gonna have a baby. I’m gonna be somebody’s
dad. And I—I haven’t even finished college yet! I work at an art museum for crappy pay. The only reason I have a house right now is ‘cause of you and Mom. And Maria and I haven’t even been together a year yet. This is crazy!”

“It is,” his father agreed, smiling slightly. “It always is. But you’ll be fine. It wasn’t all that long ago I was in the same position you are now. And I made it through.”

Still, Michael kept pacing. “Yeah, but you’re you.”

“And you’re you.” John put his hand on Michael’s shoulder, forcing him to stop going back and forth. “You’re my son,” he said, looking him right in the eye. “I love you, and I’m so proud of you.”

Michael grunted, wondering if all dads were required to say stuff like that on days like this. “You’re proud of me? For being this irresponsible?”

“You’re taking responsibility now. That’s all that matters.”

“No, that baby matters, more than anything.” Michael glanced down the hallway, knowing he had to pull himself together so he could get back into that room and stand there by Maria’s side. She needed him. His daughter needed him. “I feel like my whole world’s about to change,” he admitted.

“It is.”

He’d read the baby books. He’d attended the birthing and parenting classes. He’d asked advice from everyone who was in a position to give it. So why didn’t he feel more sure? “What if I can’t cut it?” he worried. “What if I’m not good enough?”

His father laughed lightly and said, “You wanna know a secret?”

Michael nodded eagerly. A secret? Yes, please. Maybe his dad could tell him something right at the buzzer here, something that would make this whole parenting thing a hell of a lot easier.

“You’ll never feel like you’re good enough.”

His shoulders slumped. That was it? That was the big secret?

“You’ll always feel like there’s something you could do better. And truthfully, there probably always is. Nobody’s a perfect dad, just like nobody’s a perfect person.” His father patted him on the shoulder and said, “But you’re a really good person, and that’s how I know you’ll be a really good dad.”

And just like that, for the first time since Maria had gone into labor seven hours earlier, Michael felt like he was able to take a breath. It wasn’t much of a secret, but for some reason, hearing that and hearing it from the man who had influenced him more than anyone else in the world . . . it made him feel like everything was going to be fine.


****

Michael smiled a little, sensing an opportunity to help Kyle catch a breath, too. “Wanna know a secret?” he asked.

“Please,” Kyle begged.

It almost felt weird, having the roles reversed like this, being the one giving the advice instead of receiving it. But even though he hadn’t been a parent as long as his own father had been, it felt natural to be telling Kyle the same thing he’d heard nearly four years ago. “You’ll never feel like you’re good enough,” he revealed.

“Never?” Kyle whined.

“No.” He knew he was a good dad, but he always wanted to try harder. “Honestly, there’s always stuff you can do to learn more and do better. But you can’t expect to be perfect, ‘cause nobody’s perfect. Right?”

Kyle nodded. “Right.”

“But Kyle . . . you’re a really good person. And that’s how I know you’re gonna be a really good dad.”

Kyle just sat there for a moment, letting that sink in. And then he took a deep breath, and he seemed . . . different. Not completely at ease. No, that was impossible, especially given the circumstances. But Michael could see it in his eyes: He had some kind of faith in himself, because he knew that someone else had faith in him.

“That was . . . you should consider a career as a motivational speaker,” Kyle suggested. “That was great.”

“It was plagiarized,” Michael informed him. “Got it from my dad.”

“Oh. So I can use it on my son someday?”

Michael chuckled. “Be my guest.”

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

Tess’s eyelashes curled upward as Maria pressed the mascara brush against them. She was trying really hard not to mess up, because she didn’t want to have to start all over.

“Thanks for doing this,” Tess said.

“No problem. Every girl deserves to look glamorous when she gives birth.” Maria dabbed at a speck of mascara gone astray, then sat back and held up the mirror.

“It helps me keep my mind off it,” Tess said, opening her eyes. She smiled and gave Maria a thumb’s up when she saw her reflection.

Maria set the mirror aside, rummaging around in her purse for more makeup. “Remember when we were little and we used to sneak into my mom’s room and put on her makeup?” she recalled, locating a tube of lipstick.

Tess giggled. “And that one time Marty caught us, but then he just joined right in.”

“Yeah, we’re all so girly.” Maria leaned in and quickly swiped the lipstick tube against Tess’s lower lip.

“Right now, I hate being girly,” Tess lamented, smacking her bottom lip against her top. She started to grimace, slowly at first, as though she were trying not to, but eventually, she had to give in and moan. “Oh, god . . .”

“Are you gonna get an epidural?” Maria asked, holding out her hand.

Tess immediately squeezed her hand tightly. “No,” she replied decisively. “I think the fact that this is happening so early is a sign that it’s supposed to be the natural way.” Her entire body tensed, and she sat up straighter as the contraction wound its way through her. “I just want one thing about this to be natural,” she groaned through gritted teeth.

Maria nodded, wishing she could take away some of the pain. “I get that,” she said. “But it’s agony. You know that, right? You could be at this for hours.”

“I know,” Tess said, loosening her grip, able to relax a little. “But I can do it.”

Maria kept her hand held out, even as Tess slowly released it. Because she would need to squeeze it again. “Yeah, you can.”

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

Michael could hear his daughter’s little footsteps approaching before he even saw her. One second, it was just him and Kyle in that waiting room, and the next, she was there, lighting everything up the way she always did. “Daddy!” she exclaimed, scampering towards him.

“Oh, hey, sweetie,” he said as she jumped up onto his lap.

Marty trailed after her, looking out of breath as though he’d been running to stay with her. “Thanks for calling,” he said. “I didn’t wanna miss this.” He squealed excitedly and bent down to hug Kyle. “Oh, Kylie . . . so exciting! You’re about to have a baby. Can you believe it?”

“Not really,” Kyle confessed. “Hey, thanks for comin’.”

“Of course.”

“Uncle Kyle!” Miley squirmed out of Michael’s lap and onto her uncle’s. “Is the baby here yet?”

“That’s all she could talk about on the drive here,” Marty said, taking a seat next to Michael.

“Uh, not yet,” Kyle told her. “It might still take awhile.”

Miley frowned disappointedly. “How long?” she asked.

“I don’t know. But can you handle the wait? ‘Cause I really want you here.”

She thought about it for a minute, then said to him, “I waited for Macy.”

Macy. It was hard not to think of her on a day like today. “You don’t really remember her being born, do you?” Michael asked.

She shook her head. “Nope. But Uncle Marty said I waited.”

“So you can wait for Tyler, too,” Kyle said.

“That his name?”

“Yeah. Tyler James Valenti.” Kyle smiled proudly as he said the words.

“Can I hold him?” Miley inquired eagerly.

“Yeah. Maybe not right away, ‘cause he’s gonna be really small. But eventually, you can.”

“How small?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.

Kyle sighed, lowering his head. Clearly the fact that this birth was happening so early was still the biggest concern for him.

“Hey, Miley, you know, you were pretty small when you were born,” Michael jumped in, trying to get her talking about something else. “They wouldn’t even let us hold you that first day. But then we got to. You know who held you first?”

“You!” she exclaimed.

“Yeah. And then Mama. And then do you know who it was?”

She glanced at both her uncles before guessing, “Uncle Kyle?”

“That’s right. Uncle Kyle.”

“I even have a picture of it,” Kyle said, scooping his wallet out of his back pocket. He opened it up and took out a folded in half picture of him holding Miley for the first time. It was one of the first photos ever taken of her. “Look,” he said, holding it up for her to see.

She made a face. “That’s me?”

“Yeah, you look a lot different, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” She took the picture from him and started to smooth out the fold in it. “I was cute,” she decided.

“Still are,” Kyle said, nudging her side.

She giggled, flipping the photo around in her hands. “I bet Tyler’s cute, too.”

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

Maria glanced up at the clock. It was comfortably afternoon now, and Tess would probably be going through this all evening, possibly even into the a.m. hours. It was hard to say.

“You think are parents are gonna get here on time?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Tess replied. “Kyle called my dad right after we got here. I guess it just depends how long it takes.”

On the one hand, Maria was hoping for Tess’s sake that it wouldn’t take long, even if that meant Amy and Ed weren’t there. But on the other hand, she knew Tess probably really wanted her dad to be there, to be a part of it.

“Is Kyle’s dad coming?” she asked.

Tess shook her head. “He’s vacationing in Puerto Vallarta with some new lady friend. So I doubt he’s gonna be able to be here.”

“That’s too bad,” Maria said, amazed that a Valenti man could be such a ladies man. “Well, I’m here.”

“Thank God,” Tess said. “I’d be a nervous wreck without you, Maria.”

Maria smiled, happy to be of some assistance.

There was a light tap on the door, followed by Kyle poking his head inside and saying, “Knock, knock. You up for another visitor?”

“Who?” Tess asked.

Miley squeezed in beneath Kyle, grinning timidly. She wasn’t a shy child by any means, so Maria took it to mean that she was a little unsure of what to do now that she was back in the room.

“Hi, Aunt Tess,” she mumbled quietly.

“Miley!” Tess exclaimed, holding open her arms. “Come here.”

Miley scurried forward, trying to get up on the bed. Maria bent down and lifted her up, and she immediately snuggled in right next to Tess.

“Oh, I’m so glad you came,” Tess said, hugging her. “You didn’t have to.”

“She’s really excited,” Kyle said, treading into the room.

“I get to—to hold Tyler when he’s bigger,” she babbled. “ ‘Cause I holded Macy. ‘Member, Mama?”

Maria’s heart warmed just remembering what it was like to see Miley hold her little sister for the first time. “I remember.” She’d been so small herself and so uncertain about what she was doing that Michael had had to help her a lot. They had a picture of it somewhere. And a video.

“Hey, why don’t you hang out with your aunt and uncle for a while?” she suggested, needing to get up and walk around a bit. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah, she’ll distract me from the pain,” Tess said. “Won’t you, Miley?”

“Yeah.” Miley reached up and touched her aunt’s hair, which was curlier now that Maria had done some work on it. “I like your hair, Aunt Tess.”

“Thanks. I like yours, too.”

Maria got up and slipped off to the side for a moment with Kyle. “I think I got her feeling pretty calm,” she said. “You know, as calm as she can be.”

“Yeah, Michael made me feel a little better, too,” Kyle said. “Thanks, Maria. For everything.”

“No problem.” She really didn’t feel like she’d done much. There was really only so much she or Michael could do. Tess and Kyle—or any expectant parents, for that matter—were never going to be completely calm. There was no possible way to be completely calm about this. “Just keep breathing, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Kay.” She gave him a quick hug, then exited the room, hoping that some time alone with Miley would help them out most of all. She was the symbol of what this whole pregnancy thing was all about. She was the end result. She was the miracle.

She walked out to the waiting room and peered around the corner. Michael was there talking to Marty. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Marty was making several obscene gestures and Michael looked uncomfortable, so Maria figured it was some gay sex thing. As entertaining as it probably was to hear Marty reminisce over a typical weekend, she felt some kind of inward tug, a pull to go somewhere else.

It wasn’t hard to find. She’d been there plenty of times. The hospital nursery was in the same place it had always been. And just like it always was, it was full of babies. Small babies, bigger babies. Boy babies, girl babies. Each was tucked in, wrapped up in blankets in its own little crib. The girls had on little pink hats, while the boys wore blue ones. Their names were written on likewise-colored tags taped to the back of their holders.

Maria stood outside, peering through the window at them. They all looked so delicate, and absolutely precious. She remembered seeing Macy in there, but only once or twice. Mostly, she’d gotten to stay in the room with Maria. Miley had had to stay in the intensive care unit for a few weeks.

One of the girl babies started to squirm around a bit. Her eyes remained closed, but she lifted her arm, and for a second, it looked like she was waving. Maria almost waved back.

Déjà vu, huh?”

She glanced up at Michael as he approached her. “Yeah,” she said. “This really brings back memories.”

“Good ones?” he asked, stopping beside her.

“Very.” As ridiculous as it sounded, part of her expected to look in there and see her own child staring back at her. “Look at that one,” she said, pointing to an exceptionally rowdy bow who wouldn’t stop kicking his pudgy legs. “Isn’t he cute?”

“Yeah,” Michael agreed. “Rock star lungs, though.”

She laughed. Yes, he was definitely a crybaby.

“That one looks like he’s gonna be a livewire, too,” Michael said, pointing out another of the boys.

“Definitely.” He was getting so rambunctious that a nurse even had to slip into the room to pick him up and try to burp him. “Look at that one way over there,” she said, pointing to a little girl in the corner. She wasn’t crying, but she was reach her hands out and trying to open her eyes. “Doesn’t she remind you of Macy?”

Michael fell silent for a minute, just gazing at her. After a moment, he mumbled, “Kind of, yeah.”

Kind of. Because it wasn’t her. It never would be. “They’re all so little,” she said, “so young. Just starting out in the world.” Would the world be kind to them? Would the world give them a chance? “They’ve got their whole lives ahead of them,” she said, remembering the day when Macy had had her whole life ahead of her. “Hopefully.” She tore her eyes away from the newborns, turning to face Michael. “Sorry,” she apologized. This was supposed to be a happy day, a birthday.

“It’s okay,” he said. “You can be sad.”

“No, I’m not sad,” she insisted. “Really, I’m . . . excited for Tess and Kyle. I just . . .” She took one more glance back at the baby who looked like Macy, and it tugged at her heartstrings. “I just wish Macy was here.”

He reached out and smoothed her hair back over her shoulders. “Me, too,” he said, bringing her in close. Encircling his arms around her, he pulled her to him, holding her as he pressed a gentle kiss to the top of her head. She rested her cheek against his chest, again looking in at the newborns, wondering if—no, when—she would look in and see another child of theirs safely at rest there.








TBC . . .

-April
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Part 173

Postby April » Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:19 pm

Ellie:
Miley is such a big, little girl, get what I mean? She is so sensitive to other's feelings and the undercurrent of emotions surrounding her. She is one special kid. Makes me hope that someday I will have a Miley of my own.


Writing this story really made me realize how much I’d like to have a kid someday. (Although coaching a cheerleading squad made me realize how much I might like to have a son instead of a daughter. :lol: )

I agree, Miley is a big little girl. She was a smart little thing to begin with, but after everything she’s been through . . . she’s already grown up a lot, even though she’s not even four years old yet.

Grace:
Tess and Kyle are lucky to have such good friends


They absolutely are. Their friends are their family, and I’ve absolutely loved writing those dynamics.

gnrkrystle: Hey you! I’ve missed seeing you around here!

I feel the need to tell you, what while I have not read this story yet, you have pulled me back into the Roswell Fandom! I was a writer/reader about 5 years ago and sort of fell out of things due to lack of new material. I always LOVED your stories though. So a few days ago, I was all, "YOu know, I haven't read 'Stimulation' in a long time. I'm gonna find it." ...After some stalking, I found it, and your page at Candy Is Dandy, and now I realize you've been continuing with writing! YAY! Win for me. So i'm going to start 521 tonight. But i couldn't wait to tell you how much i'm stoked you are still writing. YAY!


Well, I take that all as a huge compliment! Thank you!

Yes, I’ve continued writing. And honestly, I think I’ve improved a lot as the years have gone by. Both 521 and 522 are MASSIVE stories just in terms of length and the amount of storylines they encompass. But I think they could be something you enjoy.

Hope to hear from you again soon!

Novy:
I love that tradition that the fathers have started. It was really sweet and cute.


It’s good for Kyle to have a best friend who knows exactly what he’s going through right now.

I feel for them and them missing Macy. I love that they can talk about her now.


That’s a very important thing for M+M, being able to have those open, honest conversations with each other, as well as being able to just . . . feel whatever they’re feeling whenever they feel it.



Thank you for the feedback!

And now the end creeps further near . . .









Part 173








“Oh, god, it hurts.”

Kyle took a step back, trying to stay out of his wife’s way as she hobbled around the hospital room. She’d decided right after Miley left that she could no longer lie in that bed and had been on her feet ever since. Kyle didn’t understand it. How was walking around more comfortable than lying in a bed? An adjustable bed that was entertaining as hell when you fiddled with it, no less? But then again, he wasn’t pregnant. He wasn’t supposed to understand.

“I’m sorry, baby,” he sympathized, feeling strangely . . . guilty. Because it was just as much his child as it was hers, but he wasn’t going through nearly as much agony to bring it into the world. “I wish it didn’t hurt so much.”

“I wish men had the babies,” she ground out, clutching the bed sheets tightly as she hunched over. “This isn’t fair.”

“No, it really isn’t,” he agreed, debating whether or not to go up to her and rub her back. He started forward, but then she started walking again, so he decided against it. “Sure you don’t wanna lie down again?” he asked.

“I’m sure,” she said, gripping her side as she bent to the right. “It’s better standing.”

Could’ve fooled him. It looked equally painful no matter what.

“God, why was I ever so obsessed with getting pregnant?” she practically shouted.

He laughed a little, cautiously approaching her. “You’re gonna be a good mom, you know,” he said.

“I hope so.” She grimaced and became a little unsteady, and Kyle reached out to hold her upright.

“Okay, maybe standing wasn’t such a good idea after all,” he said, bracing her against him.

She rested her head against his chest, clearly exhausted, and murmured, “You always catch me.”

Carefully, he led her back to the bed, sitting her down whether she wanted to be standing or not. She seemed content to just rest against him. And he was perfectly content to just sit beside her and let her.

“Tell me a story,” she requested softly.

He ran his hand up and down her back, trying to ease some of the tension there. “About what?”

“Anything.”

Well, that really narrowed it down. He thought about telling her a warped version of the three little pigs, a version his dad used to tell him because it was a hell of a lot funnier than the original, but she probably wasn’t in the mood. “Okay,” he said, quickly thinking of a topic. “Once there was a boy who fell in love with this girl the moment he saw her.” He glanced down quickly, noting a small smile on her face, so he continued. “But she didn’t even really notice him. And he did a whole bunch of dorky stuff. Like this one time, Halloween, he attempted to have a conversation with her wearing a man-eating shark costume. Lame, right?”

She laughed lightly. “I forgot about that.”

“But eventually, she got to know him, and she fell for him, too. So she ditched her loser boyfriend and climbed into the pillow fort with this better guy. One wedding and multiple Britney Spears songs later, they found themselves in the hospital, about to have a baby.”

She curled up against him, getting as close as her belly would allow, and said, “That’s a very good story.”

He rubbed her side and pointed out, “It has a happy ending.”

She sighed, sounding tired. Maybe she would even be able to get a little sleep. Thirty minutes, twenty minutes . . . something. “That’s what I want,” she said, her voice merely a whisper now. “Kyle . . .”

He closed his eyes, loving the sound of his name on her lips.

“. . . I really just want us all to be happy.”

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

Ed and Amy got there with time to spare. It was plain to see that, even though he was happy to be there for his grandson’s birth, Ed almost wished he’d missed it, because that would mean that Tess was done, that she was resting. But she still had miles to go before she slept.

“Well, I’m glad we got here in time,” Amy said, sounding downright chipper. “Ed broke a few speed limits. We got pulled over three times, but I talked my way out of every ticket.”

“Smooth, Mom,” Maria said while they all hugged each other in the waiting room.

“Well, cops are surprisingly understanding when it comes to a grandchild’s birth.” She fell silent when she laid eyes on Michael. She greeted him with a pleasant enough, “Hi, Michael,” but that was it. They weren’t in hug territory again yet.

“Hi,” he returned, managing a genuine smile for her.

“Oh, and speaking of grandchild . . .” Amy quickly shifted her attention to Miley, who was asleep with her head in her Uncle Marty’s lap. Amy knelt down in front of her and admired her quietly. “Look at her. The little angel.” She softly stroked her hair and noticed, “No back brace?”

“No,” Michael said proudly. “Not anymore.”

“She was pretty hyper earlier, but she crashed out an hour ago,” Maria said, sitting down again.

“So don’t yap so much that you wake her up,” Marty warned in a hushed tone.

“Good to see you, too, Son,” Amy said, sitting in between her kids. Michael stayed standing. It was hard not to notice.

“So how are they?” Ed asked, peering down the hall.

“Freaked out, naturally,” Maria answered, “but I think we got ‘em a little calmer.”

Ed held his hand over his mouth and shook his head in dismay, muttering, “I can’t believe this is already happening.”

“I think that’s what has them most freaked out of all,” Maria said. If this were happening seven weeks from now, they might have been perfectly calm. Although . . . Kyle was never perfectly calm; he was always a spaz. So scratch that theory.

“Am I able to go see her?” Ed asked.

“Yeah,” Maria said. “She’ll be glad you’re here.” She hoped that Tess was still up to visitors. She would be. She’d be up to seeing her own dad, at least.

“Okay,” Ed said, wiping his hands on his pants as though he were nervous. He took a few steadying breaths, then traipsed out of the waiting room and down the hall.

“How much longer do you think it’ll take?” Amy asked.

“I don’t know,” Maria replied. “Two hours, three maybe. Her contractions are getting closer together, so you guys probably got here right on time.”

“Maria?” Suddenly, Amy’s voice was filled with alarm. “What is that?”

“What?” Maria looked at her questioningly, following her gaze. It didn’t take long to realize that she’d spotted the engagement ring on her left hand.

Oh, crap.

“Can I talk to you outside?” Amy said, sounding calm even though her facial expression seemed to signal that she was about to be in full-on freak-out mode. She stood up, not even waiting for a response, and headed out of the waiting room.

Maria looked up at Michael, who was just standing there, wordless, looking at the floor. Naturally, she was on her own for this one, so she followed her mom outside.

Outside turned out to be the literal outdoors, not just outside the waiting room. They sat down on a bench outside the hospital, but Amy only stayed seated for a few seconds before she got to her feet and started pacing back and forth. She didn’t say anything, but she was biting her nails furiously. It seemed as if she were trying to contain the freak-out, almost as if she were a volcano trying to contain its lava.

“When?” she finally asked.

“Yesterday,” Maria replied. “He brought me to the church where we were gonna get married before, and we stood up at the altar, and he asked me to marry him.” She smiled a little, hoping her own mother could find some possible way to be happy for her. “It was really romantic.” Truthfully, it was more than that, but she could rave about it to Tess. Not her mom.

“I’m sure it was,” Amy said. “When were you gonna tell me?”

“Soon,” she answered vaguely, not exactly sure herself. “Honestly, today Michael and I were really busy . . . being busy.” She cringed, worrying that her mom knew exactly what they’d been up to. Not that it was any shock, but . . . it was just weird. The whole thing, her being there, her knowing already . . . weirdness. “And then this whole baby thing . . .” She trailed off, sighing frustratedly. “I wasn’t planning on telling you today, right now, no,” she admitted. “But I’m glad you found out. And I hope you can be happy for me.”

“Oh, honey . . .” Her mother finally stopped pacing and just looked down at her. “I am,” she insisted. “Because I know this is what you want.”

Maria nodded, sensing a hidden message in that. “But it’s not what you want.”

Amy flapped her arms against her sides, sitting down beside her. “It doesn’t matter what I want,” she said. She reached over and placed her hand on Maria’s leg. “I just don’t want you to get hurt again.”

“I won’t.” She wasn’t naïve enough to think that she and Michael would never argue, that they would never have disagreements, that they would never have bad days. But she just sensed that the majority of them would be good ones. “Mom, I—I can’t explain it, but I just know . . . it’s all gonna work out this time.” She thought of their future, and she thought about more than just a wedding. She thought about watching Miley grow, and someday adding more kids to their family. Not as a way to replace Macy, but . . .

“I love him so much,” she blurted, truly feeling that those simple words could sum it all up for her.

“I know you do.”

“And he loves me. I know he made a mistake. He knows he made a mistake. We all know he made a mistake,” she acknowledged. “But what we have . . . it overcomes that. I mean, if you could just see the way he looks at me when no one else is around, or if you could just feel the way I feel whenever he touches my hair . . .” She closed her eyes, wishing he was touching it right now. “You’d understand.”

“Oh, Maria, I do understand,” Amy promised. “He’s the one for you. I get that. That’s why I’m learning to trust him again.”

Maria nodded, registering that word. Learning. She was an education major, so she knew as well as anyone that learning took time.

Luckily, they had time.

“Can I see the ring again?” Amy asked, sounding truly . . . enthused. Or was that just Maria’s imagination?

Nope. Not her imagination. When she lifted her hand, her mother held it, peering closer at the gemstone. “Oh, that’s pretty,” she said. “Purple, huh?”

“The birthstone for February,” Maria informed her.

“Oh . . .” Amy’s face lit up with a mixture of fondness and sadness. “Macy’s.”

Maria nodded. Macy’s.

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

Maria and Amy had been outside for fifteen minutes now. Michael wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, more time together meant more time to talk. On the other hand, more time together meant more time for Amy to yell and lecture.

But . . . come on. Her one and only daughter was engaged again. Was she really going to throw a temper tantrum about that?

Michael kept his eyes glued to the clock until Ed came back. “How’s she doin’ now?” he asked.

“Seems like she’s really in the thick of it,” Ed said, sitting down. “I just wanted to let her know I’m here and then give her and Kyle some space.”

“Is it weird that your baby’s having a baby?” Marty asked.

“Oh, yeah. She’ll be a great mom, though.”

“Yeah,” Marty agreed.

“Definitely,” Michael added. He glanced over at Miley, who was still snoozing on Marty’s lap, and he wondered if, twenty or twenty five years from now, she’d be in the same situation Tess was now in.

Oh, no. Too weird to think about. He shook his head to rid himself of the thoughts. Sure he wanted grandchildren someday, but not any day soon.

“Congratulations, by the way,” Ed said.

“What?” Michael asked.

Ed smiled. “I saw the ring, too, first thing when I got here. Looks good on her.”

“Yeah,” Michael agreed.

“So congratulations.”

“Thanks.” It was nice to not have to deal with any judgment. When he told his parents, they’d be thrilled, too. It was just Amy that reacted differently than everyone else. But that was understandable. At the end of the day, he really did understand. “Pretty sure Amy’s not congratulating Maria right now,” he mumbled.

“Oh, you might be surprised,” Ed said. “Amy’s had some time to reflect and grow since you last saw her. I think she’s really committed to moving forward with this family instead of dwelling on the past.”

“Hmm. Family that’s about to get a little bigger,” Michael pointed out.

“Yes.” Ed sighed heavily. “Oh, I just hope that little baby’s okay.”

“Yeah.” He and Maria weren’t going to get to have their baby, the one she should have been carrying right at that very moment. Tess and Kyle deserved theirs, and the baby itself deserved parents like Tess and Kyle.

All of a sudden, Maria scampered back in the waiting room, Amy close behind her. “Did she have the baby yet?” she asked hurriedly.

“You were only out there for fifteen minutes,” Michael reminded her.

“So that’s a no?”

“That’s a no.” He laughed a little at how animated she was. Must’ve meant the conversation with Amy hadn’t been horrible, otherwise she would’ve been sulking back inside.

“Gives me some time to chat with my other child,” Amy said, plopping down beside her son. “What’s new, sweetie?” she asked, reaching out to fix his hair.

He gently swatted her hand away and revealed, “I found the love of my life.”

Her face lit up. “Really?”

He gestured grandly to nothing in particular and revealed, “The stage.”

“Oh.” She frowned.

Maria sat down next to Michael, so he leaned over and quietly asked, “How’d it go?”

All she said was, “Good,” but that was all he needed to hear. She leaned in, her eyes closed and lips poised for a quick kiss, so he bent down and gave that to her. He glanced at Amy quickly afterward, and she gave him the smallest of smiles before returning her attention to Marty again.

Michael found Maria’s hand and wrapped his own around it, squeezing gently. But Maria let go of it and shot to her feet the second Kyle staggered into the waiting room. “Kyle?” she asked.

He looked terrified, almost as if he weren’t breathing. The only word he got out was, “Soon.”

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

The doctor said that Tess was dilated far enough that the baby could be born at any time, so Maria and Kyle needed to get dressed in the hospital robes and masks so that they were prepared. He sent them to a room behind the delivery room where the supplies were plentiful. Maria got herself ready pretty easily, but Kyle was so nervous that he couldn’t get his robe tied and Maria had to do it for him. Then he put his mask on wrong, so Maria had to fix it. At last, though, he was ready to go.

“I’m nervous,” she revealed, lowering the mask down below her chin.

“What? No!” he yelped. “I’m supposed to be nervous and you’re supposed to be reassuring about it.”

“Oops. Sorry.” She knew that, yet as the clock was counting down to baby Tyler’s time of birth, she was feeling the butterflies in her stomach, too.

“No, that’s okay,” he said, looking out into the delivery room. They were going to be wheeling Tess in there shortly. “I just don’t want anything to go wrong.”

“It won’t,” Maria said. “Tess is strong. She can do this. Especially when she’s got us at her side.” She smiled, slugging him on the shoulder playfully. “See? I can reassure.”

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

Tess went into full-fledged delivery—the screaming, pushing kind—at exactly 9:34 p.m. For the first ten minutes, Michael did nothing but watch the clock. He was figuring that baby Tyler would be born around 10:00. When Maria had given birth to Miley, she’d pushed for about thirty minutes. But with Macy, it hadn’t taken as long. He remembered the doctor saying that it usually took longer for first-time moms, and Tess was a first-time mom, so . . .

But by 9:45, he was starting to get anxious. So were Ed and Amy. Luckily, Miley woke up enough to entertain them all with a dance. It was the first time any of them had seen her dance in a long time, so it was a treat. Michael made a mental note to get her enrolled in dance lessons in the fall. That had been the plan prior to the accident, and now that she was doing better, there was no reason for her not to be there.

After that, they played card games. And then charades, although Miley and Marty were the only ones playing. By 10:10, Ed couldn’t sit there any longer and headed off to the vending machine to stock up on junk food for everyone.

“Daddy, when’s the baby gonna get here?” Miley inquired impatiently.

“Probably pretty soon, I think,” he said, glancing up at the clock again. The more time ticked by, the more concerned he became. Wasn’t this a little abnormally long?

“How soon?” Miley asked.

“I’m not sure.” He wished he could give her a more concrete answer. This was a long time to expect a little girl to wait.

She rested her head against his shoulder, and he put his arm around her, leaning his head back against the wall. She closed her eyes to go to sleep, and even though he didn’t want to, he did the same. There was something so exhausting about just sitting there, not knowing, just waiting.

He didn’t fall asleep, though, because he sensed Maria coming back into the waiting room. When he opened her eyes, there she was, still in her hospital gown, the mask dangling around her neck. Her mouth was partially open, and there were tears in her eyes.

Michael detached himself from Miley and stood up, glad that Ed wasn’t back yet. Because Maria looked as if she could say . . . anything.

“Well?” he asked.

She stared straight at him, twin rivers now cascading down her cheeks. Tears. So many tears. But he couldn’t for the life of him tell if they were happy ones or sad ones.

“Michael . . .”








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 174

Postby April » Sun Aug 11, 2013 4:44 pm

Sorry this update is a bit late today. It took me awhile to post all this new artwork on my author's thread.

And I know that was horrible of me to leave off where I did. You guys know me and my cliffhanger endings to chapters.

I can now officially inform you that there are 4 parts left, including this one. Let's jump right in.
:)








Part 174







1 year later

It was time. Maria DeLuca was so glad it was time to do this.

She treaded downstairs, bending to pet Frank at the bottom stair. “Miley, you ready to go?” she called into the kitchen.

“Almost,” Miley replied. She sitting on her knees at the kitchen table, pouring herself a heaping bowl of Frosted Flakes.

“Almost?” Maria echoed, sauntering towards her. “You were almost ready to go ten minutes ago.” She frowned, pulling out the chair next to her. “Are you having a second breakfast?”

“Yep.”

Because she just couldn’t help it, Maria smiled. “It’s unbelievable. You’re even hungrier than me right now.” And that was saying something. “But you gotta eat fast.” She reached over and stole one of the flakes, popping it into her mouth, savoring her favorite cereal. “We gotta go.”

“Just a minute.” Miley pushed her now overflowing bowl aside and reached for another, still pouring.

“You’re not even eating,” Maria realized. “You’re just looking for the prize at the bottom.”

Miley didn’t deny it. In fact, a look of pure concentration swept across her face. She shook the box almost furiously, trying to get all the cereal out. Finally, she gave up and grumbled, “Not in here.”

Maria took the box from her, reaching inside. She felt around a bit, and there it was, buried way down in one of the bottom corners. She pulled it out. A little purple bracelet that really wasn’t more than string with a smiley face attached to it.

Perfect.

“Hey!” Miley yelped.

“It’s mine now,” Maria said, slipping the bracelet onto her wrist. Miley, pouted, though, at first just a normal pout and then an exaggeratedly sad one. Maria rolled her eyes and gave in, taking the bracelet off. “It’s yours,” she said, holding it out.

Miley seized it eagerly and put it on. “Thanks, Mom.”

“You’re welcome.” It would be the perfect little accessory for her to wear today. “Now come on,” she said, still trying to urge her daughter to get a move on. “We’ve got a big day ahead of us.” She got back up and petted Frank again when he approached her, then headed to the door to slip her shoes on.

“Mom?” Miley said, reaching for her overflowing bowl as though she did actually intend to shovel in more food now. “I miss Daddy.”

Maria sighed, knowing he would have been able to convince her to leave that breakfast behind and walk out the door. “I know,” she said. “So do I.”

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

Kyle yawned and padded into the living room. “Well, I thought we’d never make it, but here we are,” he said groggily. “The big day. Long time comin’ if you ask me.” He sat down on the couch and asked, “So how’s it feel?”

Michael leaned forward, yawning in the same way his friend just had. “I miss Maria.”

“Yeah, you’ve mentioned that about a thousand times.”

“I’m serious.” He glanced towards the door of Tess and Kyle’s house, wishing Maria would just walk into it. “This whole no-seeing-each-other for forty eight hours before the wedding has been torture. And difficult. I mean, she’s right next door. I just wanna go over there and--”

“Save it for the honeymoon,” Kyle cut in.

“Oh, don’t worry, I wasn’t gonna say anything graphic,” Michael assured him, even though he was, at that very moment, imagining the feel of his fiancée’s beautiful, soft skin beneath his fingertips. “I wouldn’t say that kind of thing in front of him.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Kyle said, bending down to lift his son out of his playpen. “He’s heard me say plenty.” He set him down on his lap, bouncing him up and down lightly on his knee. “Haven’t you, Tyler?”

Tyler’s pacifier popped out of his mouth, and he stared and pointed at it as it rolled onto the floor.

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

“So how is he?” Maria asked, watching intently in the mirror as her look for her special day started to take shape. “Miserable without me?”

“Oh, totally,” Tess answered emphatically, carefully rolling one of the back sections of Maria’s hair around the curling iron. “You should hear him. Every other word out of his mouth is ‘Maria this’ or ‘Miley that.’” She held Maria’s hair in place for about ten seconds, then let it go smoothly. It fell in with the other waves, much to Maria’s delight. Her hair wasn’t thick enough to hold much curl, but waves it could do just fine.

“I do feel kinda bad for keeping her away from him these past two days,” she admitted. “But she’s the flower girl. She’s on my side.”

“Side?” Tess laughed. “There are sides now? This is your wedding, not a war.”

“But it’s still a battle,” Maria insisted. “Of endurance. Who can withstand the agony of this pre-wedding apart time the best? Clearly it’s me.”

“Clearly,” Tess agreed, spiraling another section of Maria’s hair. “Well, he’s gonna lose it when he sees you walk down the aisle.”

“He’d better.” She’d pictured the moment a thousand times, locking eyes with him, getting closer and closer, unable to do anything but smile and be deafened by the sound of her own pulsating heartbeat. “Oh, speaking of walking . . .” She sighed wistfully. “If only Tyler was old enough. He would’ve made an adorable ring bearer.”

“I know,” Tess agreed, releasing more of hair from the curling iron. “But at least you found one with prior ring-bearing experience.”

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

Garret practically bounded through the pews, a gleam of excitement in his eyes. “Uncle Max!” he exclaimed. “Look!” He held out a purple rose.

Max gave his nephew a confused look, not quite sure what the hell to think. “Oh, that’s . . .” Reluctantly, he took the rose from him. “Thanks, buddy. Just what I’ve always wanted.”

Garret quickly snatched it back, though. “Not for you,” he said, almost scoldingly.

“Oh, is it for . . .” He motioned right beside him to Liz, who was busy people-watching as the first few guests arrived.

“No,” Garret said. He looked down at the flower, smiling proudly, and announced, “It’s for Miley.”

Oh.” Max nodded. “I see.” That made all the sense in the world. Even at five, Garret was already such a hopeless romantic. Though he’d branched out and made a few more friends during preschool last year, Miley was still the only one he liked quite this much.

Max leaned over, nudging his wife. “Hey, did you hear that?” he asked quietly.

“What?” she asked.

“He wants to give that flower to Miley.”

Liz took one look at the flower, then smiled and cooed, “Aw . . . it’s cute.”

“It’s inevitable,” Max mumbled, returning his attention to Garret. The fact that it was so inevitable was probably one of the main reasons Michael and Maria had asked Garret to be a part of their wedding. That and the fact that they actually genuinely seemed to like him. “Well, let’s hope she appreciates it then.”

“She will,” Garret said confidently, gently putting the rose in the inside pocket of his jacket. Luckily it didn’t have any thorns. “Can I go play some more?” he asked.

“Sure,” Max replied. “Stay where I can see you.”

He immediately took off into the aisle again. Darting into pew after pew, he made animal sounds, pretending to prowl as if her were a tiger or something. The kid still had a knack for entertaining himself, but thankfully he’d moved past the stage of playing with a stick.

“Look at him,” Liz said, tugging up on the top of her dress as her gaze followed him. “So cute in his little tux.”

Just about the only thing that could have torn his eyes away from his nephew being young and carefree was the sight of his wife trying to keep her cleavage from spilling out of a dress that had clearly needed to be resized up top. “Look at you,” he returned, his eyes roaming all over her. “So hot in that dress.” Sure, she looked best in nothing at all, but this whole amethyst theme Michael and Maria had going on really worked well on her.

“Shocking, right?” she said. “Bridesmaid’s dresses are supposed to be ugly.”

He wanted to tell her that nothing would look ugly on her. But that was just a bit too cheesy. “I still can’t believe you’re a bridesmaid,” he said, shaking his head.

“Maria was one for me,” she reminded him. “I’m just returning the favor. Besides, we’ve gotten along pretty well this year. I think you could even call us friends.”

“Ugh,” Max groaned. “Well, if that’s what you want.”

She gave him a look. “Max. Don’t pretend to be all grumpy. Face it: Deep down, you’re happy for Michael and Maria today.”

“No, I’m not,” he denied quickly.

She waited a moment, casting a quick glance at Garret, who was trying to sneak off behind the altar, and then said, “I don’t believe you,” before she got up to chase after him.

Max sighed, crossing his arms over his chest and kicking his feet up onto the pew in front of him. Hmm. Maybe he’d denied that a little too quickly.

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

Michael stood in front of the mirror, adjusting the sleeves of his tuxedo jacket. “Alright, how do I look?” he asked.

Kyle stepped up behind him, grinning. “Like you didn’t sleep a wink last night. How do you feel?”

Michael shook out his shoulders as if he were a boxer preparing for a match. “Exuberant.”

“Well, whenever you toss around that word, I know it’s gonna be a good day.” Kyle patted him on the shoulder, then bent down to momentarily tickle his son, who was busy playing with a set of blocks. “So what do you wanna do while we wait?” he asked. “Play with Tyler? Or . . . just a thought . . . I brought Whack-a-Mole. Or we could always just go spy on the girls.”

“No, no spying,” Michael answered swiftly. “If they catch us, there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Alright.” Kyle sat down next to Tyler, watching him for a moment. Then suddenly, his face lit up with inspiration. “Hey, I know!” he exclaimed. “You could practice your vows. We’ll be your captive audience.” He lifted Tyler up and set him in his lap.

“I don’t have any written,” Michael admitted.

“What?” Kyle shrieked. “I thought you guys were writin’ your own.”

“We are.”

“And you don’t have yours written yet?” Holding Tyler, Kyle got to his feet, rushing back over to the mirror, a look of astonishment on his face. “What the hell, man? What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. I just thought I’d leave it ‘til the last minute.” Michael leaned in, peering closer at his reflection. No way. Had he seriously cut himself shaving? On his wedding day of all days?

Kyle shook his head in disbelief. If his hands had been free, he’d probably have been whirling them around dramatically all over the place. “What?” he screeched. “That’s not like you. You’re the guy who writes essays two weeks before they’re due.”

“Three, if possible,” Michael corrected, well aware that this wasn’t the typical thing he would do. “I don’t know, I just feel like I wanna come up with my vows when I’m actually standing up there with Maria, you know? Right there in the moment.”

“You sure?” Kyle questioned.

“Yeah. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. I’m good at coming up with stuff on the spot.”

Kyle grunted. “Oh, really?”

“Yeah.”

Kyle rolled his eyes.

“Shut up, I’m a lot better at it than you are,” Michael claimed. “Mr. Sex-is-a-cake.”

“Hey, hey, hey . . .” Kyle shielded Tyler and warned, “Watch it. It’s a fish now. Keep up with the times, man.”

Michael laughed lightly.

Suddenly, Tess opened the door, saying, “Knock, knock,” as she did so.

“Hey, no fair!” Kyle yelped in outrage. “Why is it okay for you to barge into our space but we can’t barge into yours?”

“Uh, ‘cause Maria’s getting ready,” she replied.

“So is this guy.”

“But on a day like today, it’s all about the bride.” Tess smirked, clearly having just won that argument. “And the flower girl,” she made sure to add. “Miley has requested Tyler. She wants to play with him. Give him here.” She held out her arms, and Kyle reluctantly handed him over.

“Well, then what’re Michael and I supposed to do?” he groaned as she turned to leave.

She shrugged and said, “Play with yourselves.” She took two steps toward the door, then turned back around, cringing. “That’s not what I meant.”

Kyle smiled, shaking his head. She was almost out the door when he told her, “You look lovely, baby.”

She locked eyes and smiled back at him, saying, “Thanks,” as she slipped back out into the hall.

“Ooh,” Michael said, imitating Tess’s voice with a high-pitched, “Thanks,” of his own. “So I guess you two are finally makin’ time for each other again, huh?”

“Yeah, well, Tyler’s finally sleepin’ through the night, so . . .” Kyle trailed off and shrugged. ‘I’m not sleepin’ on my back every night. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah.”

“ ‘cause I’m on top of--”

“Kyle, I got it.”

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

Maria watched in interest as Marty carefully painted her left pinky fingernail with light blue polish. The rest were painted with lavender. But it was wedding day tradition. Something blue.

“I’m really sorry I can’t be there for your big debut,” she apologized.

“Oh, girl, your honeymoon’s a totally legit excuse to miss it,” he assured her.

“Yeah, but it’s your first time in a lead role,” she pointed out.

He shrugged it off. “There will be other performances.” He set the nail polish aside and fanned his hand above her nails to get them dry faster.

“Think you can get someone to film it for me?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah,” he answered confidently. “Francis can film it. He’ll be there.”

Interesting. “And what about Jimmy?”

Marty grinned mischievously. “He’ll be there, too.”

Maria raised an eyebrow, intrigued to find out how that was going to play out.

Marty giggled excitedly. “Oh, the possibilities for naughtiness are endless.”

Maria laughed along with him. Yeah, his current dating situation was a little strange, but . . . whatever. It seemed to be working for him. For all of them, actually.

Her eyes shot to the door when it opened, for she was very worried that Michael or Kyle was going to sneak in. Luckily, it was just Tess, and she had her son with her.

“Look who I brought in!” Tess exclaimed.

“Tyler!” Miley reached her arms up. She’d been preoccupied with her Barbies for awhile now, but Maria was happy that she’d now have someone else to play with. She was starting to have those Barbies kiss each other more and more often, and that was just disturbing for a mother to see.

“He’s a little tired,” Tess said, setting him down on the floor next to her niece, “but I bet he’ll play with you.”

“Hi, Tyler,” Miley said, pushing her dolls aside. She reached out to touch his hair, thought there still wasn’t a whole lot of it on his head. Similarly, he reached up to touch hers, but he got his finger tangled.

“Tyler!” she yelped, getting it out for him.

“Oh my god,” Marty said to Tess as she approached them, “just when I think he can’t get any cuter, he does!”

“Oh, just wait ‘til you see him do his little army crawl. Cutest thing ever,” Tess claimed. She glanced down at Maria’s newly done nails and remarked, “Hey, those look nice.”

“Yeah,” Maria agreed, fanning out her fingers. “I think Marty was a manicurist in a former life.”

“Oh, please,” he scoffed. “I was an exotic dancer. And also president.”

“Look.” Maria held up her left pinky for Tess to see. “Something blue.”

“Excellent. Something old?” Tess asked.

“These earrings.” She lifted up her hair just enough for Tess to get a glimpse of those, too. “I borrowed them from Michael’s mom.”

“Something new?”

“The dress, obviously.”

“Something borrowed?”

Maria held out her wrist and jangled the rhinestone bracelet she was wearing.

Tess beamed. “Courtesy of me. And then your something blue. Perfect. You’ve got all your somethings.”

“Now you just need your vows,” Marty mumbled, inspecting his own fingernails.

Tess’s eyes bulged, and her voice immediately ratcheted up a few notches. “What?” she hollered. “Maria! I thought you said you were gonna write ‘em last night! I know you procrastinate on school work and stuff, but this is ridiculous!”

“It’s fine,” Maria insisted. “I’ll just say what comes to mind.”

“What if your mind goes blank?” Tess asked.

“Uh . . .” She couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Like right now!”

“It won’t,” Maria assured her. “I’ll just know what to say.”

“Oh my god.” Tess started to pace around the room, shaking her head in disbelief. “I can’t even handle this. This is so . . . like you.”

“Exactly.” Maria shrugged innocently. “What else would you expect?”

“Some—I don’t know—preparation!” Tess shrieked. “You’re marrying Michael, for God’s sake. I’m sure he’s had his vows written for months.”

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

Michael shuffled downstairs, mumbling a few words and phrases under his breath as he neared the actual chapel part of the church.

“Got anything yet?” Kyle asked.

“Nah, I’m still brainstorming.”

“Well, your brain better start storming a little more ferociously,” Kyle warned. “You’re gonna be up at the altar before you know it.”

“Don’t stress me out, man,” Michael said, catching sight of all the guests in attendance as he rounded the corner. “I’m calm.”

“You’re calm?” Kyle echoed incredulously. “I think it’s statistically impossible to be calm on your wedding day.”

“Well, I am,” Michael kept on. “Time to meet and greet.”

They slid into the crowd, shaking hands and saying hellos. There were a lot of people there, including some that Michael hadn’t seen for a long time. Mr. Buckley, his old boss from the art museum he’d worked at on campus, had shown up. He said that he liked to believe he played some small part in the wedding since, after all, he was the one who’d given Maria a job at that very same art museum. Michael didn’t bother telling him that he and Maria had done it in that very museum numerous times.

Lucinda, Maria’s college friend, was there with her husband. Both of Marty’s boyfriends showed up. Pam from Happy Hearts daycare said she couldn’t wait to see Miley as the flower girl. A few artists and photographers who had their work on display at the C4 gallery offered to document the day for Michael either on canvas or on film. And even Dr. Carlson was there. Michael made it a special point to talk to him.

“Dr. Carlson,” he said, shaking his hand.

“Michael.” The doctor smiled and said, “Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” It’d been a few months since Michael had seen him, because he wasn’t needing to go to therapy anymore. It was nice to see him out of the Cresthaven offices for once. “I’m so glad you could make it,” he said.

“Well, I know how important this day is to you and Maria,” Dr. Carlson said. “It’s a privilege to be here to witness it.”

Michael nodded. It was a privilege even for him to be there, after everything.

Of course, not everyone in attendance was someone he wanted to see. Max was there, pouring himself some punch while he waited. Michael went up to him only because he had to.

“Hey, is Garret ready to go?” he asked.

Max’s mouth gaped. “Oh, shit,” he swore, “I left him at home.”

What?” Michael barked.

Max gave him a look. “Of course he’s ready. He was born ready.”

“Oh.” Michael breathed a sigh of relief, embarrassed that he’d fallen for that one. “Thank God.”

“I thought you were calm,” Kyle reminded him.

“I am.”

“Good, ‘cause here comes someone who’s less calm.” He pointed out Amy as she made her way through the crowd with Ed by her side. Max immediately slinked away.

“Oh my god, Michael!” Amy squealed, waddling towards him in her too-high high heels. “I’m so excited!” She threw her arms around him and hugged him. “It’s finally happening!”

“Yeah, this guy’s finally making an honest woman out of your daughter,” Kyle joked.

“I like how you guys are emphasizing ‘finally,’” Michael said.

“Well, it deserves emphasis,” Ed said. “You two fought hard to get here.”

Michael nodded, even though that was probably an understatement. “Yeah, we did.”

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

Maria stepped in front of full length mirror in her dressing room, surveying herself for a moment before clutching one hand to her stomach. “Ugh,” she groaned, making a face. “I feel like I’m gonna throw up.”

Tess, who had finally stopped ranting about the lack of vow preparedness, approached her slowly, asking, “Oh, is it . . .?”

“No. I’m nervous.” For some reason, she felt the need to clarify, so she added, “Not about the wedding. About the dress.” She turned to the side, inspecting herself in profile view, and asked, “What if it doesn’t fit anymore?”

“Of course it fits,” Tess promised readily. “You tried it on last week.”

“What if I’ve grown since then?”

“Oh, Maria . . .”

Before Maria could fret any further, her mother came skipping into the room, nearly tripping over her own floor-length purple dress. “There she is!” she exclaimed like a child on Christmas morning. “The beautiful bride!” She ran up to Maria and hugged her excitedly. Noticing Tess, she made sure to add, “And beautiful maid of honor.”

“Thanks, Amy,” Tess said.

“You look nice, too, Mom,” Maria told her. She knew purple wasn’t her mom’s favorite color, but it was part of the color theme for the wedding. And that color theme was in line with her engagement ring. And that engagement ring was in honor of Macy.

Amy brushed the compliment off. “Oh, not really,” she said, looking around. “Where’s Miley?”

“Marty took her and Tyler downstairs,” Maria replied.

“Oh.” She frowned, clearly wishing to see her granddaughter before she flower-girled her way down the aisle.

“You know,” Tess said, already shuffling towards the door, “that’s a lot of cuteness for one person to handle, so I’m gonna go help him out.” She waved on her way out.

Left alone with her mom, Maria wasn’t quite sure what to say. Amy’s opinion about this wedding had changed drastically over the past year. She had gone from being wary and skeptical to completely overjoyed. But what if she was now so overjoyed that she started crying? And what if that made Maria start to cry, too? She couldn’t afford to do that, not with her makeup already done.

“Well, here we are,” Amy said, flapping her hands against her sides.

Maria turned back to the mirror, peering at her and her mother’s reflections. “And there we are,” she said, knowing she probably wouldn’t be able to breathe when she actually got into that white dress. Not because it would be tight—it would fit fine and she knew it—but because . . . she would just be breathless.

“How are you feeling?” her mother inquired.

Happy was an understatement. Nervous wasn’t quite right. Thankful came pretty close. “I can’t even put it into words,” she admitted, a dreamy smile appearing on her face. “I stopped by my classroom the other day just to get some stuff set up, and outside my door, it said, ‘Mrs. Guerin.’” She’d even called Michael and told him to swing by after work, just so he could see it, too. “That’s what the kids are gonna call me. That’s who I’ll be.”

Amy put one hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. Supportively. “That’s who you’ve been for a long time. This just makes it official.”

If that was the case, maybe it wasn’t such a big deal.

Oh, but it felt like a big deal. It was. It was big. It was the culmination of six years together, and of a friendship that went beyond that. It was the celebration of triumph in the face of what had once seemed to be insurmountable tragedy.

They’d made it to this day.

Amy sniffed back tears, clearly getting emotional as similar thoughts wound their way through her head. “Um, I have something for you,” she announced, reaching into the small purse she’d brought along. She took out a small black box and opened it, revealing a necklace of diamonds that probably weren’t nearly as expensive as they looked. But nevertheless, it was stunning.

“Oh, Mom, it’s so pretty.”

“It’s good luck.” Amy lifted up the necklace and set the box aside. “I wore it for my wedding,” she revealed, holding it out for Maria to see. As if to assure her, she quickly added, “The one to Ed, not to your father.”

“Good.” Because that would have been bad luck. Maria carefully moved her hair to the side, allowing her mother to hook the necklace around her neck. It hung down to just below her collarbone and would look perfect with her strapless wedding dress.

“You don’t need luck, though,” Amy said, cuddling up behind her. “You have Michael. He may not be perfect, but he’s perfect for you.” She smiled. “I get that now.”

Even though she’d known that the hatchet had long since been buried, it was good to hear that aloud. Maria turned around and hugged her mom, hugged the woman who drove her crazy sometimes, the woman who was strong and tough enough to kick cancer’s ass, the woman who was fiercely protective at all times, and the woman who, at the end of the day, had given birth to her, just as Maria herself had given birth to Miley. “I love you, Mom,” she said, truly meaning it. Hopefully Miley would someday have a day just like this, and hopefully she would say the same thing.

“Oh, sweetie . . .” Amy paused as she started to cry. Maria could hear the tears in her voice. “I love you, too.”

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

As nice as it was to have so many people show up, really, there were only a handful of people Michael needed to be there. Miley. Tess and Kyle and Tyler. Marty. Ed and Amy. And his own two parents. Everyone else was just icing on the cake.

Even though he still felt reasonably confident about his on-the-spot vow plan, he wanted to get his father’s opinion on it. This was the guy who’d raised him, who’d probably had a bigger influence on him and was more responsible for making him the man he was today than any other person. Who else’s advice would he possibly want?

“So do you think it’s a bad idea?” he asked after explaining all his reasoning.

“No, I think it’s great,” John replied right away. “You’ll be able to say what you feel.” He tapped the side of his head and said, “It’s all up here, right?”

“Well, actually, it’s all in here . . .” Michael placed one hand over his heart. “So . . .”

“Well, then you can’t go wrong,” his father assured him.

Michael nodded, feeling even more confident now. If his dad, his hero, his absolute role model in life, said it was a good idea, then it had to be the right thing to do.

“Son?” John said suddenly, looking very nearly teary-eyed. “I’m proud to be your dad.”

He knew that. He’d always known. Even in the darkest days, his parents had never stopped believing in him. He wanted to be that kind of parent to Miley. To her, to the next one . . .

“Well, I’m blessed to be your son,” he returned, and he meant every word of it. “So . . .”

Before the moment could get to sappy, his mother wove her way through the crowd, sidling up next to him. “My dear, sweet baby boy, what is this I hear about you not having your vows written yet?” she demanded, sounding stern even though she had a smile on her face.

He laughed a little and pressed his hand to his heart again. “It’s all in here. Relax, Mom, I got it covered.”








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 175

Postby April » Sun Aug 18, 2013 12:17 pm

Ellie: 3 more parts left now, including this one. Hard to believe, I know.

lilah: I actually did consider making a 523 for awhile there, but . . . now I've decided to move on to something new instead. :)

Grace: I've only been a bridesmaid once, but it was for this girl I really didn't like most of the time. Sort of like Liz and Maria here. ;)


Thanks for the feedback!







Part 175









What was taking so long? The line of people shuffling into the church seemed to have come to a standstill. Probably waiting on some little old lady who couldn’t get the wheels of her walker to roll.

Waiting was uncomfortable.

Time, time. Everything took time. But she didn’t have time. This was going to be far too quick to be satisfying, but that was the way it had to be.

Isabel tapped her heels against the pavement in nervous anticipation, rolling her eyes as the people in front of her inched forward, then stopped to talk to each other. No one could see the look of agitation behind her sunglasses, but finally, she got so fed up that she slipped in between a couple in front of her, squeezing towards the front of the line. She stepped foot in the church and took her sunglasses off, not wanting to draw attention to herself, and looked around. She saw Tess busy mingling with people, holding a little boy, and Kyle was right by her side. But their backs were to her, so they didn’t see her.

She lowered her eyes, determined not to look around anymore. There was only one person she wanted to see.

She sneaked past the guestbook, because she certainly was only a guest of the uninvited variety. No one had to know she was there. She would just pop in, see what she wanted to see, and leave.

She had somewhere to be.

Trying very hard to blend in with the rest of the guests, she peeked in to the actual chapel part of the small church, which was decorated with purple and white flowers. An organist was playing background music, and ushers were directing people to their seats.

Isabel scanned the crowd, and it didn’t take her long to find him.

Garret.

He was jumping on one of the pews, but Max was right there beside him. The instant he told him to stop, he did. But instead of sitting down, he climbed into his uncle’s lap and hugged him. Max smiled and hugged him back before passing him on over to Liz. Liz kissed the top of his head, then stroked his hair and started talking to him.

Longing filled Isabel’s heart, contrary to the popular belief that she didn’t even have one. She longed to go up to him, to just say hi, to tell him she missed him. To tell him she loved him. But that would do more harm than good.

He had his whole life ahead of him.

And she had what was left of hers.

She wanted to stay, to just stand there and watch him for as long as she could. Because he looked so cute in his little suit. And his hair was bouncier and curlier than ever. And he was smiling more than she’d ever seen him smile. And his laugh . . . she could hear it even from the distance she was at.

But she wasn’t a part of it. She never would be. And that was what was best for him.

He had real parents now.

Goodbye, she thought, turning to leave. She walked out of the church as unnoticed as she’d walked in. No fanfare. No eyes on her. Nothing. It was as if she’d never even been there.

Good. She hoped her son would never remember her being anywhere in his life. But when the nights were long and she was alone, she would remember him. Because he was the one and only good part of her to ever exist.

She started to walk faster when she was in the parking lot, away from the crowd. Her breathing came heavier, because she was pretty sure she’d been holding her breath since she got there. Holding her breath and wondering if he was okay. Holding her breath and wondering if someone would see her. Holding her breath and wondering if she’d have the willpower to not look around for anyone else . . .

“Isabel.”

She stopped at once, and the breath that had just returned to her caught in her chest.

It was him.

His voice . . . her name said by his voice . . . she’d never forget that sound.

Her car was only a row of vehicles away. Part of her considered sprinting towards it and just taking off. But that would leave him confused and concerned. So she turned around.

There he was, standing just feet from her. A safe distance away, of course, but not far. After over a year of being across the country, now he was right there. And she couldn’t help it: When she looked at him, that desire to get lost in him came flooding back. That dream of begging him to save her rematerialized in her mind, and it only took an instant.

“Hi, Michael,” she said, trying to keep from smiling. He looked . . . good. Really good. But really not happy to see her.

“What’re you doin’ here?” he demanded.

She forced herself to take a step backward instead of taking one forward. “Leaving.”

He shook his head, his jaw clenched tightly shut. “You shouldn’t have come,” he muttered.

“Had to.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Not for you,” she quickly clarified.

He grunted. “You really expect me to believe that?”

“No.” Though she couldn’t deny that seeing him right now was the most exquisite kind of torture for her, this wasn’t what had lured her back to town after discovering that he was to be married. It wasn’t all about him anymore. But of course he wouldn’t believe that. How could he? After all the manipulation she’d done, after all the lies she’d told . . .

All the lies.

“You look good,” she said, eyeing his tux. He looked like every girl’s idea of Prince Charming.

“Don’t,” he snapped.

“I’m not--”

“Don’t think you can just show up here and ruin this day for me,” he growled, pointing an accusatory finger at her. “You’re not a part of my life anymore, and you haven’t been for a long time.”

“I know.” It didn’t matter how much she’d reflected and grown, though. She’d always want to be.

“I’m not gonna be the guy to save you, or give you another chance, or even care at all anymore,” he said. And the way he said it . . . he wasn’t just saying it. He felt it. She knew it was coming, so it wasn’t a surprise to hear it. He didn’t have to explain it to her. But she sensed that just saying it at all was some kind of vindication for him, or closure. So she let him keep going.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t care about your problems. I don’t care if it hurts your feelings to hear this, ‘cause at this point, I really doubt you have any. I don’t care if you need help, ‘cause you need more than I can give you.”

She’d already gotten help. Now she needed—no, deserved—something else.

“So here’s what you’re gonna do,” he told her decisively. “You’re gonna leave, and you’re not ever gonna come back.”

“Michael . . .”

“Because I don’t want you here.”

And just like that, she felt . . . very far away. Like he’d just made it perfectly clear for once and for all that he was never going to have anything to do with her ever again.

Good for him.

“I’m already gone,” she told him, her voice barely above a whisper. She wanted to turn and walk away, but somewhere deep inside, she just still . . . couldn’t. It was hard, walking away from someone so good, heading towards something so horrible.

But it was what she deserved. She knew it was what she deserved.

Obviously it wasn’t so difficult for him. He was in the opposite situation, walking away from something horrible, heading towards something wonderful, something he’d always wanted. Something he deserved.

He’d only taken a few steps back towards the church when she stopped him.

“Michael?”

He kept walking for a moment, then slowly turned back around, looking more impatient than anything else.

She wasn’t even sure what she wanted to say until she said it. “I’m so sorry.” The words came out on their own accord. She hadn’t planned this. Nothing ever went according to plan.

“Just get out of here,” he said.

“No, I need you to know . . .” She walked forward a bit, then stopped, careful not to get too close to him. “I’m so sorry.” There was way too much to apologize for. But one thing was clearly above all the others. “It was so much worse than you knew,” she said, shaking her head as she looked down at the pavement. Just ordinary pavement. Like the kind Alex had been driving on. “Because I knew,” she choked out. “I knew it all along.”

He looked at her as though she were crazy and asked, “Isabel, what’re you talking about?”

She shook her head, not about to go into detail. Not now. Not on his wedding day. “You don’t understand it now,” she said. “But you will. And when you do . . . you’ll hate me.” She couldn’t keep the tears from stinging her eyes, but she could keep them from falling over. “You’ll hate me more than you already do.” Accepting that fact was even more difficult than walking away from him. Knowing that she would forever be a monster in his life and he would be a symbol of hope and a reminder of happiness in hers . . .

“But that’s okay,” she said, forcing the tears down where they belonged. “I get it. I understand.”

Clearly he didn’t, though, because he just shook his head in . . . annoyance? That’s all it was. She meant so little to him now that he wasn’t even upset by her. He was just annoyed.

“Michael?” She managed a shaky smile as she said, “I really am glad you’re happy.”

He didn’t say he didn’t believe her, so that was good. But he didn’t say thanks, either. Of course not. Why would he after she’d done so many things to make her miserable?

He didn’t say anything at all. He just turned around and walked away from her. What he’d once been incapable of doing . . . he was doing it now. And that left her with no choice but to watch him go, then turn around and walk away from him, too.

This wasn’t the place for her.

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

There was no way Michael could just continue to stand around and talk to wedding guests after that. No way. Seeing Isabel had been . . . unexpected. Not all bad, though, because it had given him the chance to stand up to her, to send her on her way, to make it clear that he didn’t want anything to do with her anymore.

Still, though . . . it was Isabel. Not exactly the ideal wedding guest, even if she wasn’t staying.

Kyle intercepted him when he came back into the church. “Hey, is everything . . .?”

“Yeah,” Michael replied, looking around for Tess and Amy. He spotted them with Ed and Tyler. So that meant Maria was alone.

“And you’re . . .?” Kyle trailed off, leaving the unasked question lingering in the air.

“I’m fine.” And the nice part was . . . that was true. He really was fine. But he knew what he needed to do now. He needed to go tell his bride and make sure she was fine, too. “I think I need to see Maria,” he said.

“Right.” Kyle nodded, then switched abruptly to shaking his head. “Wrong. You can’t. Twenty more minutes.”

Part of Michael just wanted to forget the not-seeing-the-bride tradition, but he knew how determined Maria was to uphold it, and he didn’t want to ruin it for her. “Then I just need to talk to her,” he said, heading towards the stairs. A few guests called out his name and tried to stop and talk to him, but he excused himself as politely as he could and hurried upstairs to his girl.

The door to the room she was utilizing for changing was still closed, but he knew that if he were to open it, he’d see her inside, wearing the dress that she’d kept hidden from him for months now. And that sight alone . . . that would leave him breathless.

Despite how tempted he was to twist the doorknob, he knocked on the door instead. “Maria?”

“Michael?” her voice rang out from inside the room. “No, don’t come in.”

“I won’t,” he promised. “Are you dressed?”

“Yeah.”

He grinned. “Darn.” As beautiful as she’d look in that dress . . .

“That’s why you can’t see me.”

“I know. Don’t worry, I’ll stay out here.” He leaned back against the door, not quite sure how he was going to approach this. He couldn’t just casually mention that Isabel had shown up. It wasn’t a casual circumstance. But Maria needed to know. If there was one thing all his mistakes had taught him, it was that he had to be completely and totally honest with her no matter what.

“What’re you doing here?” she asked.

“Getting married.”

He heard her laugh, and it was a beautiful sound. “No, I mean . . . right here. I thought you were hanging out . . . out there.”

“I was.” He took off his tuxedo jacket and draped it over his arm, then sat down on the floor, still leaning back against the door.

“Is everyone here?” she asked.

“Yep.” Plus some.

He heard the train of her dress making a soft sound as it slid behind her against the carpeted floor. Her voice was nearer, yet softer, when she asked, “Is everything okay?”

He sighed. “Yeah, I think so.”

After a beat, he felt her lean against the other side of the door. “Oh, no,” she said, sliding down in the same way he had. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just . . .” He cringed, trying to find a way to word it. “You need to know . . .” But in the end, there was no good way to word it, so he just came right out and told her, “Isabel was here.”

Even though they were separated by two thick inches of mahogany, he could almost feel her tense. “What? Why?”

“I don’t know.” He’d been too irritated with her to listen to half of what she’d said, and the other half he couldn’t even make sense of. “She didn’t really seem like she wanted to cause any problems. Imagine that. She just . . . showed up. Just now.”

She groaned, and he knew she was probably fearing the worst, fearing that this would somehow mess up her perfect day.

“I got rid of her,” he told her, hoping to convince her that the day was still perfect. “She’s gone now.”

She was quiet for a moment, then asked quietly, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I told her there’s no place for her here. I told her I want her gone, that I don’t care about her anymore.” Saying it to Isabel’s face and relaying it all to Maria again . . . it actually made him feel pretty good. Strong. Stronger than he’d been before.

“You think she believes you?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” As far as he was concerned, he’d wasted enough of his life wondering why Isabel believed and thought and felt the way she did. He wasn’t going to waste anymore. “But it’s true.”

Even though he couldn’t see her, he knew that made her smile.

“I know.”

He heard her shift around a bit, and in his head, he pictured her turning towards the door, so he angled himself likewise. “Why did she come?” she asked. “Did she just wanna ruin it?”

“I don’t . . . really know,” he admitted, tracing his hands along the groove and indentations on the door. “She wasn’t makin’ a whole lot of sense. But Kyle saw her first and he told me she was looking in at Garret. So . . . it’s hard to say.” Maybe she’d wanted to see her son, or maybe she’d wanted to see him. Or maybe she just wanted to make one last cameo before she left for good. Whatever the motivation, he didn’t really care. “Hey,” he said, pressing his hand flat against the door, sensing that she was somehow doing the same. “I love you.”

“Michael, I know.”

“I just wanna make sure you really know.” He couldn’t emphasize that to her enough. No matter how many times he said it . . . it would never be enough, never be enough to express how strong his feelings actually were. What he felt for her was stronger than ever; it was something he couldn’t put into words, something he couldn’t even wrap his mind around. “And I wanna make sure you know that I saw her, and I talked to her,” he went on. “And she’s gone. And I’m glad.”

“And I’m glad you told me,” she returned.

“You’re not mad?”

“No. I’m proud of you. Sounds like you stood up to her.”

He laughed a little. “About time, huh?”

“Ah, better late than never. Got some closure?”

He thought about it for a moment, letting the word roll around in his head. “Yeah, I think I do.” Closure. Yeah, that was a good word for it. “Wanna talk about something else?” There was no point in wasting any more breath on Isabel.

“I have to finish getting ready,” she said.

“Just talk to me a little bit more,” he begged. “Please.” He just wanted to hear her voice. He hadn’t heard it for two days thanks to her self-imposed pre-wedding separation. It comforted him to be talking to her right now; it energized him.

“What do you want me to say?”

“Anything.” Anything she said would sound like the best thing in the world. Because she was the best thing.

She waited a moment, then spoke quietly when she said, “ I can’t wait for you to see me in my dress.”

“Hmm,” he smiled, picturing it for himself. “I can’t wait to see you out of it.”

She laughed and then reminded him, “Oh, but you’re gonna have to. We’ve got an entire reception to get through. We won’t be in Tahiti until way later tonight.”

“Oh, but once we get there . . .” He had visions of it, each one better than the next. “Can you imagine how fun it’s gonna be? Just you and me.”

“Let’s not even leave the hotel room,” she suggested.

“Oh, but we have to.”

“Why?”

“Well, we have to go down to the beach,” he told her, “and swim in the ocean. When no one else is around.”

“Mmm.” Judging by the wistful, dreamy sound of her voice, she was picturing it now, too. “Sounds like the perfect spot for a game of Marco Polo.”

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

Isabel sat on the visitor’s side of the glass, wondering why she couldn’t just sit in the room for visitors. No glass there, just plenty of guards. Of course, they hovered around here, too. Still . . . she didn’t want to have to pick up that stupid phone and talk to her ex-husband that way. But it was her only option.

She waited for at least five minutes before he came shuffling out. His hands were cuffed in front of him, and his face was bruised and swollen. He sat down sullenly, and the guard accompanying him unlocked the cuffs, then took only a few steps back as Alex reached for the phone. Isabel reached for hers, too, contemplating asking him what had happened, who he’d gotten in a fight with. But she decided not to because, truthfully, she just didn’t care.

She never had cared about Alex. Or maybe she had, once, in some way. But not the way he cared about her.

He was the first to speak. “Didn’t think I’d see you around here again.”

The old Isabel would have had some witty comeback, but all she could muster was, “Sorry to disappoint.”

“No, it’s . . .” He looked away and muttered, “it’s not a disappointment.”

She studied him intently, noting that look of shame on his face. What he felt for her, what he still felt . . . it was hardly different than what she felt for Michael. A love that bordered on obsession. A relationship that would never be what he needed it to be, or what he wanted it to be. Because she was just far too damaged, and so was he.

“So how long are you back for?” he asked, managing to sound as if he were just making small-talk when, deep down, he probably really wanted to know.

“I’m not back,” she replied.

“But you’re here.”

She shook her head. “Not really.” There was a difference.

He narrowed his eyes at her confusedly, then slowly asked, “Why’d you decide to . . . stop by then?”

Truth be told, she wasn’t even sure if she knew the answer to that question. “It’s complicated.”

“Always is with us.”

“It has nothing to do with us,” she snapped quickly, but then reconsidered. “Or . . .” She frowned, picturing Garret, and then picturing Michael’s kid, the one that was in the ground. “Actually, I guess it does. It has everything to do with us.”

He actually managed a smile, a smile that was . . . oddly affectionate, in its own way. “You know you’re not makin’ a whole lot of sense,” he said.

“I know.” It all made sense to her. It would make sense to everyone else in a short amount of time. “I saw Garret,” she revealed, knowing that would startle him.

Indeed, it did. His eyes immediately flooded with tears, and he had to fight to keep them down. “How is he?” he asked, sounding desperate to know.

She nodded. “Good. I didn’t talk to him; I just saw him. He didn’t even know I was there.” She paused for a moment, getting lost in her own thoughts. Had she ever really been there? Had she ever really been a part of his life? Or was she just a figment, something he would only faintly remember when someone asked him about his childhood? “But he seems good.” That was all that mattered.

Alex smiled shakily, then used the sleeve of his prison clothes to wipe away the tears that had spilled over on their own accord. “Max doesn’t come around here as much anymore,” he said, “so I haven’t really . . .” He trailed off, swallowing hard, nodding continuously. “Good. It’s good that he’s good.”

“Yeah.” Everything about him . . . was good. And hopefully always would be. “I guess he has real parents now,” she said, feeling a bit resentful of that fact, even though she was eternally grateful for what her brother and even Liz had done.

No, especially Liz.

“That little boy’s the one good thing we ever did together,” Alex said sadly.

“The one good thing,” she agreed emphatically. Everything else . . . it was all so horrible on so many levels. She hadn’t known at the time how horrible it was. But now she knew. And though no one would ever believe her, now she even felt bad.

“Do you regret it?” he asked, leaning closer to the glass.

“What?”

He shrugged, wincing slightly as he moved his right shoulder. “All of it.”

She clutched the phone tightly, so tightly that her fingers hurt.

Everything hurt.

“Every single second,” she answered honestly. As pathetic as it was, there wasn’t one choice, one decision she could look back on in life and say she felt proud of.

Well . . . there was one thing. Knowing when to let him go, knowing it was in his best interest, knowing he was the best thing to ever happen to her and she would be the worst thing to ever happen to him if she stayed in his life . . . knowing that she had to give him up to give him anything at all . . . that she felt proud of.

She smiled, picturing his face. Oh, Garret . . .

“Me, too,” Alex said, looking her right in the eye. “So I guess we finally have something in common.”

Finally? Oh, they had a lot more in common than that. Didn’t he know that much by now? Didn’t he know her? Didn’t he know himself?

“I have to go,” she said suddenly, scooting her chair back.

“Where?” he asked.

It was a good question: Where was she going? Really, just where was she going in life?

The answer was obvious. “Nowhere.” She hung up the phone and stood up, turning away from a man who stared at her with wide, pleading eyes, a man who didn’t want her to go.

But she had to walk away.

Because she had somewhere to be.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 176

Postby April » Sun Aug 25, 2013 2:52 pm

Oh my goodness, here we go: The second-to-last part EVER of this story. So freaking hard to believe after all this time.

I’ve been so eager to post this part for such a long time.
:)

Ellie:
So, Isabel came back. And she came back for ... Garrett? I can see it, but not quite sure I believe it.


Even though, deep down, she probably did long to see Michael again, Garret was her main motivation for showing up there. The only person she loves as much as she loves Michael is her son, and she wanted to make sure he was doing okay.

In any case, her confrontation, if you can call it that, with Michael was a LONG time coming. I'm so proud of how Michael handled it as well ... and even to an extent, Isabel as well. Weird, right? I know!


I get that. It was actually a very tough scene to write, and when I originally plotted out the story, I didn’t think I’d include a scene like that. But around the part where Michael cheated with Isabel, I realized that there was going to have to be a scene like that in order for any of these characters (and for my faithful readers!) to have some closure to that situation.

But now I have lingering questions ... such as, Why did she come back?. Is she going to turn herself in for her role in covering up Macy's death?. Is that why was she adamant that Michael would hate her in the days to come?


We shall see. ;)

Sounds to me as if Isabel has been therapy of some kind.


Definitely.

I hope she got the help she needed for the trauma she suffered at her father's hands. It would appear that she has come to regret her past actions from what she and Alex said to one another. Jury's still out as to whether it was sincere or not.


I think Isabel’s come to regret a lot of things, and in my view, what she said to Alex and to Michael in that last part was all actually very sincere. The girl who spent the majority of the story lying to everyone around her now really has nothing to lose by being completely honest.

Grace:
Well, I am glad that Michael told her off


It was long overdue!

I always felt bad for Alex though being obsessed with Isabel like that. She treated him horribly and I hope she does regret treating him that way!


Alex is . . . hopeless. It doesn’t matter what Isabel does or how long they’ll apart: He’ll never get over her.

I never got her obsession with Michael. He isn't all that great, but who understands obsession anyway.


Well, I guess when every other man in your life ends up either hurting you or disappointing you, a guy like Michael becomes the guy you pin all your hopes and dreams on.

I always hope Alex finds some peace in this. Sorry if people disagree with me, but that is the way I feel. I think Isabel to should find some peace as well.


I don’t think it’s wrong to think that. Sure, Alex and Isabel are the easiest “villains” to pinpoint in the story, but . . . I don’t think it’s so easy to lump people into the good guy / bad guy categories. Especially not when almost every character in this story has made some major mistakes.


Thanks for the feedback!

Even though we’re so close to the end, I’ll still drop by some music: The first is a song called “Wedding Dress” by Matt Nathanson. I really don’t like most of his songs, but I liked this one ever since I heard it on One Tree Hill. You can listen to it here or click on :D when you see it if you’d like to listen.

ALSO: I made some banners and videos as I approached the end of this story, sort of just to help me reflect back on it. I posted them on my author’s thread, which you can view here. Click on the banners to watch the videos if you’d like. Probably nothing special, but . . . ah, what the heck? Just thought I’d post ‘em.


Anyway . . . enjoy this part.
:)








Part 176








Stepping up to the altar, Michael was a bundle of excitement. Every inch of his body was tingling with the anticipation of watching his bride walk down that aisle. He’d waited for this for a long time. They both had.

Beside him, Kyle leaned over and quietly asked, “You ready?”

Was he ready? It wasn’t even a question in his mind. “Oh, yeah.”

Music began to swell from the orchestra. Canon in D or something like that. At the same moment, the ushers opened up the doors at the back of the church, and there was the processional. Liz strode in first, and Michael gave her a grateful smile, glad that their families were in a good enough place that she could be a bridesmaid without it being too awkward.

Tess glided down the aisle next, a slightly larger bouquet in her hand to signify that she was the maid of honor. She and Kyle exchanged coy smiles a lot, probably reminiscing about their own wedding day a few years ago. In the front row, perched comfortably in Grandpa Ed’s lap, Tyler reached out his hands for his mom but didn’t make a sound as she walked by. After stopping to give Michael a quick hug and kiss on the cheek, Tess stood on one side of the altar with Liz, mirroring Kyle and Marty on the other side.

A few adoring coos of delight came from the guests when Miley stepped through the door and began to skitter down the aisle. She was wearing a sleeveless white dress and tights, and her hair was pulled back in a half ponytail. Small flowers were clipped into the strands, and a huge and happy smile was etched onto her face. The more steps she took, the more confident she became, until she was nearly bounding down the aisle, plucking up light purple petals out of her white wicker basket, tossing them into the air with a beautifully innocent abandon.

Michael watched his little girl adoringly. She looked like an angel.

That made him think of Macy, so he glanced up quickly, and even though all he could see was the ceiling, he wondered if she was seeing him, seeing her mom and dad get married today.

Also trotting down the aisle, Garret tried to keep up with Miley while holding the rings steady on a little pillow in front of him. He had a look of concentration on his face and seemed very determined to not mess up as he put one foot in front of the other, his eyes never leaving the rings. He veered off course a bit, and Max had to reach his hand out into the aisle to get him back on the right track. That got everyone to chuckle lightly, but Garret didn’t seem to notice. He tried to go stand by Liz, but Michael redirected him towards the groomsman side and told him to stand in front of Kyle.

“Hi, Daddy,” Miley greeted sweetly, releasing the last of her flower petals into the air right in front of him. She blew on it to get it to float higher into the air.

“Hi, sweetie.” He bent down and kissed the top of her head, and then she obediently walked over to her godmother. Tess draped her arms over her shoulders and told her she’d done a good job.

Michael took a deep breath as the music shifted, changing into the unmistakable melody of the wedding march. The guests all rose from their seats and turned to face the back of the church, and slowly, Maria came in.

She looked . . . breathtaking. So breathtaking, in fact, that he was sure his breath had actually been taken away from him and he wasn’t breathing anymore.

The first thing he noticed were her eyes. Green as ever, sparkling with liveliness, hope, and possibility. They met with his right away.

The next thing he noticed was her hair. Oh, how he loved to touch that hair. Whether it was pulled up in a casual ponytail, soaked in chlorine, or bouncing in loose curls atop her shoulders like it was now, he loved the feel of it beneath his fingertips.

And then he noticed the dress. The most perfect, unblemished white he had ever seen, it looked almost as soft as her skin. Strapless, it was scrunched up slightly at the top, embellished with some sort of rhinestones. Nothing too overdone. On the bottom, it was looser, but it just had a small train. Nothing over the top, but she looked overwhelmingly gorgeous in it. It fitted her as if it were made for her, made solely for the curves of her hips, for her long legs. On anyone else, it would have just been a dress, but on her, it was something he couldn’t even put into words.

It dawned on him as she was swaying down the aisle that he had just fallen in love with her all over again. This was the woman he had spent years with, the woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with, and he felt as if he’d just seen her for the first time.

Marty and Amy were already crying by the time she took her place at the front of the church with Michael and the rest of the wedding party. The music came to an end, and all the guests took their seats. Maria turned and handed her bouquet to Tess, then linked hands with Michael. She just smiled at him, and he smiled back. For a moment, all he could hear was the sound of his own heart beating, but then he heard the pastor start in.

“We have come together in the presence of God to witness the joining together of this man and this woman in the bond of marriage.”

Man and woman, Michael thought. He was a good man. And she was an incredible woman, better than he would ever feel he deserved, better than she would ever believe she was.

“The sacred relationship of marriage was established by God in the time of creation, and it is commanded to be held in the utmost honor by all people. It is at once both a person’s greatest blessing and also the most tremendous responsibility. Marriage is not to be entered into lightly, but rather thoughtfully and deliberately, in reverent respect of God and each other. It is truly a special day. Michael and Maria, thank you for allowing us to share in this day with you.” The pastor smiled at both of them, not the smile of a rehearsed professional who had done this dozens of times, but the smile of someone who was genuinely happy to see two people happy together. Then, he turned to the guests and asked, “Who is giving these two hearts to be married?”

On Maria’s side of the altar, Amy and Ed rose, Ed still holding his grandson. Michael’s own parents got to their feet on the other side.

“We are,” Amy said.

“And so are we,” John added. Michael couldn’t be sure, but he thought he glimpsed a few tears in his dad’s eyes. His mom, of course, was openly crying. But happy tears. All the tears today were happy.

“A marriage is not only the joining together of two individuals; it is also a joining together of two families,” the pastor continued on. “The care, support, and nurture which have been extended to Michael and Maria is as important now as it has ever been. It now extends to include another person as both families make the steadfast commitment to support both partners of this union.” He turned to Michael’s parents and spoke directly to them. “John and Sylvia, you are not losing a son, but rather you are gaining a daughter. Do you promise to love and encourage Maria as your own? If so, answer, ‘We will.’”

“We will,” John and Sylvia replied without hesitation.

The pastor then turned to Amy and Ed and repeated the dialogue. “Amy and Ed, you are not losing a daughter, but rather you are gaining a son. Do you promise to love and encourage Michael as you would your own? If so, answer, ‘We will.’”

“We will,” they echoed. And again, there was no hesitation. Amy glanced at Michael, nodding her head discreetly. And somehow, he knew that was a signal of her approval. Things had been good between them for a while now, and from here on out, it would only get better. Of that much, he felt sure. He felt confident.

“You may be seated,” the pastor told the parents, and they complied. He then cleared his throat and kept going. “Michael and Maria, the last time I stood up in front of a church with the two of you, it was to baptize your beautiful daughter Macy.”

Macy.

“I know that you both requested a moment of silence on her behalf, so let’s devote this time to her now.”

Michael squeezed Maria’s hands tighter, letting his own eyes fall closed. He pictured himself cradling Macy on the couch late at night when she refused to fall asleep. He let himself hear her call him Dada. He remembered what it was like to watch her play with Frank and Miley. He recalled holding her in his arms for the first time.

When he opened his eyes again, Maria’s were still closed. Her lips were moving just slightly, as if she were mouthing something but not saying it out loud.

He squeezed her hands gently, and her eyes slowly opened. Still green. Still lively. Still hopeful. Still only the happy tears.

“It’s been a long road to arrive here today, but you are here,” the pastor said, gathering everyone’s attention again. “I know I echo the sentiments of all your family and friends in attendance when I tell you how honored we are to be here with you.”

Honor. He kept using that word. “Thank you,” Michael told him.

“You’re not supposed to say anything,” Maria teased.

“I’m not?” He grinned sheepishly. “Sorry.”

The pastor chuckled. “You’re alright,” he said, and a few of the guests laughed a little, too. Maria just couldn’t stop smiling.

He hoped Maria would never stop smiling. She had an amazing smile.

“Michael, do you intend to take this woman, whose hand you hold, to be your lawful wedded wife?” the pastor asked. “And do you pledge to love, honor, and protect her through sunshine and shadow alike, keeping yourself unto her alone until death shall separate you? If so, answer, ‘I do.’”

“I do.” His voice was full of conviction, because he knew the importance of what he was promising. These weren’t just words. These were feelings, complete and utter devotions from the bottom of his heart. His life had had plenty of shadow, but thankfully, plenty of sunshine, too. He knew how bad things could get, and he knew how unbelievably great they could be. But most importantly, he knew that, no matter how dark the shadows got, nothing would ever tear him apart from Maria ever again. Nothing.

“And Maria, do you intend to take this man, whose hand you hold, to be your lawful wedded husband? And do you pledge to be a loving and true wife through sunshine and shadow alike, keeping yourself unto him alone until death shall separate you? If so, answer, ‘I do.’”

“I do.” She sounded so calm, so sure. Everything about her was so . . . certain. There wasn’t one part of her that doubted this or wondered if it would work out. She was absolutely positive that it would. And so was he. It felt incredible to have that kind of love for someone else, and to receive it in return brought it all to another level.

“Michael and Maria have chosen to write their own vows,” the pastor revealed. “So at this time, Michael, please address your bride.”

Here we go, he thought, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. Because if he just started talking, his vows would be all over the place. Because his thoughts were all over the place. All over the place but all about the girl in front of him. She was everything.

“Okay, well . . . you’re probably not gonna believe me, but I didn’t write these out in advance,” he cautioned.

Maria’s eyes bulged, and Tess even gasped.

“I know, that’s not like me,” he acknowledged. “But it’s not because I didn’t know what to say. It’s because I have too much to say. And how am I supposed to narrow it down, you know?”

Maria’s look of surprise turned to one of understanding. Maybe she had a lot to say, too.

“But now I guess I’m gonna have to narrow it down,” he said, “because we can’t stay here all day. Or, we could, but . . .” He made a face and shook his head, thinking of their evening plans. “No, we can’t. We got a honeymoon to get to.”

Everyone laughed at that, including Maria. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his mom cover up her face and shake her head.

“Oh, sorry, inappropriate,” he said, glad to be able to inject some humor into an otherwise serious occasion. “See, I should’ve had these written out. Oh, well.”

“Oh, well,” Maria echoed.

“Maria . . .” He trailed off, because his mind was telling him to do one thing.

Look at her.

So he did. His eyes locked onto hers, he just stared, and he remembered another time she’d been standing right in front of him. Not in a white dress, of course. Not in a church. Not with a daughter a few feet behind her. A time before all of that.

“Standing here right now, you look exactly like you did when you stood outside my apartment all those years ago, asking me if you could stay with me,” he started in. “You look . . . so alive. And hopeful. And completely irresistible.” He grinned, leaning in closer, fighting the urge to kiss her. “I can’t resist now, and I couldn’t resist then. That’s probably why I let you stay. And you know what? That’s the smartest thing I ever did, lettin’ you stay. Because we got so close so fast. And you made me realize what it’s like to be truly happy, because before you, I didn’t know. But now I do. Being up here with you right now . . . this is one of the three happiest days of my life. And you know what the other two are.”

She nodded. She knew.

“And you know . . . what’s so amazing is that, even after everything we’ve been through, I just know we have more days like this ahead of us. I mean, not more wedding days, obviously, but just . . . good ones. So I’m glad I couldn’t resist you the day you came knockin’ on my door, and I’m glad I can’t resist you right now. Because I get to spend the rest of my life with you. And if I can make you even half as happy as you’ve made me, I’ll know I’ve been a good husband. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she whispered.

It felt so good to say, he had to say it again. “I love you.” So there it was. His vows. Not as eloquent as they could have been, not something that was going to get him a job as a speech writer or anything like that, but they came from the heart. He felt everything he’d just said. “Hey, not bad for on-the-spot, huh?” he said.

She laughed a little, lowering her head for a moment. When she lifted it again, she said, “Well, it’s funny that you weren’t prepared, because I also am not prepared, and I’m gonna do this on the spot, too.”

“Slacker,” Kyle teased.

She rolled her eyes at him, smiling and shaking her head. “Okay, I probably won’t be as good at it, but . . .” She let out a heavy breath. “Here we go. Um . . . Michael, you—you kept talking about when I moved in with you, and I think that sort of inspired me. It got me thinking . . . it wasn’t staying in your apartment that was so great. I mean, sure, I needed a place to stay, but really, that was just a roof over my head. And you can find that anywhere. It was staying with you that made it so amazing. And now . . . I get to stay. I get to stay with you forever.”

Forever. He liked the sound of that.

“But it’s because of you, Michael,” she went on. “It’s because of you that I get to stay . . . anywhere. At all.” Her eyes shimmered with tears. Not exactly just happy ones this time, but . . . grateful. She seemed like she might start crying because she was grateful and relieved.

“You saved me,” she told him, “in some obvious ways, and some less obvious ones. Of course I love you—everyone knows that. But I also . . . thank you. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for you. You saved my life. In fact, you risked your own life to save mine. And you did. You did save me.”

He inhaled shakily, because there had been so much to save her from. But in the end, when it really mattered, she’d saved herself. She’d gotten the help that she needed, and that had helped them both.

“And you didn’t give up on me,” she kept on. “You could’ve, and most other people would have. But not you. And Michael . . . honestly, you saved me and believed in me long before that. Back when I was just some wacky college girl not really going anywhere in life . . . you saw something worthwhile in me, and that helped me see something more in myself. So you say I’ve given you happiness, but Michael . . . you’ve given me so much more.”

More? He hadn’t even known that was possible. But then again . . . of course it was. Every single day, she made him feel something that was beyond happiness. Beyond love, even. It was . . .

It was . . .

There really just weren’t words for whatever it was.

“I wanna kiss you so bad right now,” he mumbled.

“Now hold on, Michael,” the pastor joked with him. “We’re almost to that point. Do we have the rings?”

Garret held up the pillow. Kyle plucked the rings off of them and handed them to the pastor. He held them both up for the guests to see, one in each hand, and said, “Michael and Maria, you have chosen to seal your vows by the giving and receiving of rings. The ring forms a perfect circle, without a beginning or end, and is thereby a symbol of eternity, of the duration of the commitment you are making to each other. Let us now exchange the rings.” He handed the first golden band to Michael. He hated having to let go of her hand to receive it. “Michael, you have the privilege of placing this ring on Maria’s finger to signify the relationship you hold so dear. Repeat after me: I give you this ring . . .”

“I give you this ring . . .”

“. . . as a symbol of my devotion.”

“. . . as a symbol of my devotion.” He held her hand steady, holding the ring poised at her left ring finger.

“With all that I am and all that I have . . .”

“With all that I am and all that I have . . .” He slowly slid it on.

“. . . I will honor and love you always.”

“. . . I will honor and love you always.” He made sure to emphasize that last part because . . . well, it deserved emphasis.

“Now Maria, you have the privilege of placing this ring on Michael’s finger to signify the relationship you hold so dear.” The pastor handed the larger masculine band to her and again instructed, “Repeat after me: I give you this ring . . .”

The serious tone of her vows was replaced with a bubbliness now. “I give you this ring . . .”

“. . . as a symbol of my devotion.”

“. . . as a symbol of my devotion.”

“With all that I am and all that I have . . .”

“With all that I am and all that I have . . .”

“. . . I will honor and love you always.”

“. . . I will honor and love you.” She quickly slid the ring on, giving him the cutest smile as she added quietly, “Always.”

His heart started to thrum faster in his chest as he sensed the end approaching. Their families had given them away. They’d said the vows. They’d exchanged the rings. There was really only one thing left to do, one act that would seal it.

The pastor raised his hands and grandly announced, “And now, by the authority invested in me as a minister of the Gospel, and in accordance with the laws of the State of New Mexico, I now pronounce you, Michael and Maria, husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

Finally.

( :D )

He enveloped her in his arms and pulled her to him, finding her mouth with his at once. All their guests erupted in applause and cheers, but he could barely even hear them. But he could hear her happy moan, and he could feel her hands against his chest, and her body fitted perfectly with his. He could taste her lips and feel the brush of her hair against the side of his face.

Years ago, he’d worked up the nerve to kiss her at a party. And now, he was fairly certain he could kiss his wife forever.

When they did finally have to stop, neither one went far. He pressed his forehead against hers, and she rubbed her nose against his, giggling. He captured her lips a few times quickly again, just not able to get enough. He’d never be able to get enough of her.

He felt a pat on his back and forced himself to turn around. Kyle was the first one to congratulate him by giving him a huge hug. Tess was already doing the same for Maria. Marty was crying so hard that he couldn’t even say anything, but he grabbed Michael and embraced him with surprising strength. By that time, all the other guests were standing up and clapping.

Michael reached out for Maria’s hand, linking her fingers with his. Together, they stood up front and looked out at the crowd of people who were all there for them. She twisted from side to side a bit, then leaned in to Michael, squeezing his arm. Again, he leaned down to kiss her.

Miley tapped him on the leg, so he bent down and hoisted her up with one arm. He told her he loved her and kissed her cheek. Then, all together, the three of them walked back down the aisle. Tess and Kyle linked arms and followed behind, and then Liz, Garret, and Marty went. Nobody in that church stopped applauding. Many people started or at least continued crying. Michael could hear his mom saying how happy she was, and when he glanced back, he saw his father wiping tears off his cheeks.

He knew he would watch Miley get married someday. And he would cry, too. He would get to do a lot of things, and so would Maria. They were only twenty-six. Really, these big, momentous events in their lives had only just begun.

****

Michael glanced at the clock radio on the nightstand. 5:21 p.m. One more minute.

“Déjà vu,” Maria remarked as she paced nervously throughout the bedroom. “I feel like I’m always doing this.”

Michael grunted. “Speak for yourself. I only sat and waited it out once before.”

“I’ve done it four times,” she informed him.

Four. That was . . . wow. “Is it better with me here?” he asked.

Her answer was a swift one. “Yes.”

He grinned, reaching out for her. “Come here.” He grabbed her hands and pulled her down atop his lap, letting his eyes roam all over her.

“Mmm . . . Tess thinks I am,” she revealed, looping her arms around his neck and shoulders.

“Kyle thinks you are, too.”

“Oh, well, if the Great Kyle thinks so . . .” She trailed off and laughed, then got serious again. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

“What are you hoping for?”

“Ah, you know what I’m hoping for.” It was obvious. He was as anxious as she was, even though he’d just been sitting on the bed and not pacing for the last several minutes. “Hey . . .” He tucked her hair behind her ear, using the gesture to stroke his thumb across her cheek, too. “However this turns out, you know it’s gonna be okay, right? Because we’ll be married before you know it, and you already graduated and got your job. Everything’s gonna be fine.”

She pressed her cheek into his palm, smiling softly. “I know,” she said. “But it’s nice to hear you say that.”

It wasn’t hard to say. He knew it was true. Everything was going to be just fine. Better than fine, really. Everything would work out the way it was supposed to. He knew that now.

“Is it time?” she asked.

He glanced at the clock again. The bright red digits showcased 5:22 p.m. now.

“Yeah, it’s time,” he replied. “Let’s go look.” He loved carrying her, so he stood up, lifting her with him, and she clung to him tightly as he carried her into the bathroom. He set her down gently, but she didn’t turn away from him. If anything, she huddled even closer, burying her face against his chest.

“Do you wanna look or should I?” he asked.

“You can.”

“Okay.” He reached behind her and picked up the thin strip, careful to keep the result window facing down. “You ready?” he asked.

“I love you,” she whispered, snuggling closer still.

He peered over her shoulder and said, “Count me down.”

“Three, two, one . . .”

He flipped over the test.


****

How they managed to slip away from everyone else was a mystery, but Michael was so glad they did. They staggered into the room where she’d gotten ready, kissing again, neither one of them really aware of where they were going as they bumped into chairs and tables and tripped over clothes that were lying on the floor. He cupped her face in his hands, and she moaned in between kisses.

Oh, he was going to kiss her so much later. Later, when it was really just the two of them, when they were in their hotel room, or on a beach, or just . . . anywhere . . . he was going to kiss every inch of her. And he was going to make sure his hands touched every inch of her. Because every inch of her deserved to be touched.

He was her husband now, and he was going to give her everything she deserved.

He tore his mouth away from hers so he could just breathe her in for a minute. Literally just breathe her in.

She breathed in a sharp breath, too, and only one word escaped her mouth: “Finally.”








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 177

Postby April » Sun Sep 01, 2013 10:38 am

Well . . . here we are.

I’ve had the very last scene of this story planned out from the moment I started writing the first scene. ;)

It felt strange to me when I wrote the last scenes of this story. It felt even stranger when I re-read the whole thing. Still, it feels the strangest right now, preparing to post the last part of a story that I have worked on for 4 years and been posting for 3 and a half years.

I’ve been saying all along that I know this was not a fic for the masses. There were a lot of people who started reading this who weren’t able to finish, either because it got too angsty, maybe just too long and drawn-out, or maybe they just lost interest. But that’s okay, because for the people who did stick with this . . . I hope you feel that it was something worth reading, and I hope you’re glad you invested all the time you did in it. (At a total of 1,893 pages, it was DEFINITELY a lot of time!)

This story pushed me to a new level as a writer. I don’t think I’ll ever write something with quite this much . . . meat to it, I guess you could say—quite this much substance—ever again. What started out as a simple, comedic story about 2 people living together morphed into this gigantic lens that I tried to use to examine so many of the deepest, darkest issues that people face in life. The end result was a lot of very uncomfortable scenes, scenes that made me squirm even as I was writing them. And a lot of very emotional scenes, scenes that actually made me cry as I was writing them.

As I approached the end of this story, I felt as though a weight were being lifted off my shoulders, just as it was being lifted off the characters’ shoulders. It was an odd feeling, being so invested in something that I was writing. Because as much as I love to write, and even though I have written quite a lot over the years, I don’t think anything pulled me in as much as this story did.

I cared about my characters. Like actually, truly cared about them as if they were real people. But that didn’t stop me from putting them through the ringer, of course. I found the utmost enjoyment in my villains, of all people. And I put together an ensemble piece that, I must say, I am quite proud of. While it may not be the best Roswell fanfiction ever written, I do believe it is the best fanfiction I have ever written, and it has inspired me to keep writing, even though this show we all love has been off the air for quite some time now.

THANK YOU TO ALL MY READERS, whether you read one scene and checked out or made it through the entire thing. Your feedback has meant so much to me. There is no such thing as writing without reading, so I would not be feeling all the wonderful and strange things I’m feeling right now without you.

I’ve posted one last 522 video, viewable here, set to the song “When Love and Death Embrace” by H.I.M. The lyrics to this angsty, dramatic, but beautiful song are on the banner I made for this fic years ago, and I still think of it as the theme song to the story.

I would appreciate your thoughts on the end of this story and on the story whole. Thank you once again!

Oh, and I have posted a little goodie at the end of this that will let you know what to expect from me next.

Enjoy the final part!









Part 177 (of a story which, including the original, 521, spans a whopping 3,210 pages)








Pulling the car to a slow stop outside the large building looming at the end of the street, Isabel expected her breathing to become heavy, ragged, labored. But if anything, it steadied out, became quieter, calmer. Hands still gripping the steering wheel, she stared at the building, watching as a few people in uniform came out, and a few more went in.

For a split second, she wondered if she was meant to end up there, if it had been inevitable, fate, bound to happen no matter what choices she’d made. Or maybe she could’ve been somewhere else. Maybe she could’ve been someone else.

Didn’t matter, though. She was who she was and she’d done what she had done. So now she was here. For the first time in her life, there was a place where she belonged.

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

The banquet hall where the reception was being held was just across the street from the church. It had high ceilings, floor-length glass windows, and a ballroom dance floor surrounded by dining tables. The centerpiece of each table was a small portrait Michael had done of either Miley or Maria. Even though Max hated to give the guy any credit whatsoever, it was a pretty original concept that worked well.

He made sure to stay out of the way for the most part, standing in the corners with his champagne glass, not talking to anyone, not even really making eye contact. Most of the people there were family members of Michael and Maria who didn’t even know who he was. And that was just fine with him. Anonymity was nice. He was only there because Garret and Liz were anyway. They mingled a lot more than he did. Lots of people were telling Garret what a good job he had done as the ring-bearer, and many more were complimenting Liz’s dress.

Once she finally found her way back to him, she sounded chipper, as if she were having a pretty decent time. “What’re you doing?” she asked him.

He took a sip of his champagne and shrugged. “Just lookin’ around. You know, I was thinking about buying this building once. Back when I was a millionaire.”

“Were you gonna turn it into a hotel?” she asked.

“No, actually, I was gonna make a restaurant.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, that was always the plan: branch off Evans Hotels into Evans Restaurants.” He downed the rest of his drink, setting the empty glass down on the table beside him. “Now I manage an adult video store for unbelievably low pay.”

She smiled a little. “Plans change.”

“Yep.” He glanced out at the dance floor, trying to locate his nephew again. He was bouncing around all over the place, more energetic than Max had ever seen him. But then again, Miley was bouncing around all over the place, too—girl loved to dance—so he was mostly just following her.

“You know what, though?” he said, finally finding the little boy. “I’m glad they did.” He laughed inwardly as Garret did a dance move that looked like some warped version of the Cat Daddy. “I’m happier now than I ever was back then.”

Liz thought about it for a moment, then decided, “Yeah, me, too.” She followed his gaze out onto the dance floor and watched Garret with him for a moment, then decided, “Okay, I’m gonna go try to teach him how to dance.”

“Good luck,” he mumbled as she walked off. Garret might not have been his biological child, but he’d inherited his outstanding lack of rhythm. And good looks, of course.

“Hey,” he called to Liz suddenly, stopping her in her tracks.

She spun back around.

“Save a dance for me.”

She smiled and promised, “I will,” before turning and heading back out to get Garret under control.

Max leaned back against the wall, watching in interest as she grabbed his hand, knelt down in front of him, and started saying something. He nodded as if he understood, and then she stood back up and started stepping left to right, trying to demonstrate some easy moves that he could do. Garret’s steps were too big, though, his dancing once again leaving a little to be desired.

Max shook his head and chuckled. At least they were having fun, even if they did look ridiculous.

The vibration of his cell phone in his pocket distracted him. He took it out and looked at a new text message he’d received. From someone he hadn’t heard anything from in a long time.

Thanks was all it said. And it was from Isabel.

He stared at the tiny word on the tiny screen, frowning, curious. Had she sent that out to the wrong person? Or was she seriously, genuinely thanking him? After a lifetime of hatred and jealousy, was it possible that his sister had found something in herself capable of expressing actual gratitude?

The realist in him tended to doubt it, but still . . . maybe . . .

He deleted the message and put his phone away again, looking back out at the dance floor, returning his attention to the very thing she was probably thanking him for.

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

Maria kept her cheek pressed to Michael’s chest as they swayed together in time with the music. It was one of those songs that wasn’t really slow or fast, just sort of in between; but since they were newlyweds now, she didn’t want to let him go. So they held each other as if it were a slow song.

It was too loud to hear his heart beating, but she could feel it, drumming away against the side of her face.

“How you holdin’ up?” he asked, sliding his hands up and down her back.

“Good.” She tilted her head back to gaze at him. He really looked like a prince from one of Miley’s many Disney movies. He didn’t wear tuxedos often, but when he did, he wore it like no one else.

“I can’t believe we’re married,” she said for probably the sixteenth time already since the ceremony. “We’re really actually married.”

“Been a long time in the making.”

“Oh, yeah,” she agreed emphatically, squeezing the muscles of his back gently. “I’m Maria Guerin now.”

He smiled down at her. “You’ve been Maria Guerin to me for a long time.”

True. In a way, not much had changed. But in another way . . . everything had changed.

He bent down and kissed her again, and she kissed him back eagerly. They just couldn’t seem to stop.

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

It was heartwarming for Tess to watch Michael and Maria out on the dance floor. They were so totally absorbed in each other. There were other people on the dance floor, but they weren’t taking their eyes off each other. They’d done the whole dancing with the parents thing, but it was all about the two of them now. They weren’t going to let go of each other for the rest of the night.

“They look so happy,” she remarked, trying to think back to that first year of college when they’d met Michael. She had to admit, she hadn’t seen it coming, her best friend’s relationship with this guy. But once it had started, it was just so clear that there was no denying it.

“They are so happy,” Kyle said. He was sitting beside her at the head table, bouncing Tyler up and down on his knee. Their little boy looked like he could barely keep his eyes open, though. He’d had a long day. This was a big departure from his normal routine of eating, sleeping, pooping, and playing.

“I’m so glad they’re finally married,” she said. “They deserve this.”

Kyle lifted Tyler into the air, holding him up for a few seconds while making airplane sounds, then set him back down and started bouncing him again. “Think they’ll enjoy married life as much as we do?” he wondered.

“They already know what married life is like,” she pointed out.

“Yeah, but now it’s official.”

“Hmm, true.” She glanced back out at them again. Kissing some more. They were barely coming up for air anymore. “I think they’ll enjoy it. Maria’s probably gonna squeal every time she, like, writes out a check and signs her new last name. I know I did.”

Kyle laughed a little, tickling his son’s sides. “Hey, do you think, if I were to request a Britney Spears song, Marty would actually play it?”

“Probably,” she replied. “He’s a gay, gay man. What one are you gonna request?”

“I don’t know.” He pondered it for a moment, then proposed, “Maybe ‘You Drive Me Crazy.’”

“Why? Is that what I do to you?”

“Sometimes,” he teased. “Or I could do ‘. . . Baby One More Time.’ That’s appropriate.”

“Or ‘Oops, I Did It Again,’” she suggested.

“Yes, I like the way you think.” He handed Tyler over to her, then sat back for a moment, sighing contentedly. “Hey, you know how happy they are right now?” he said, gesturing to Michael and Maria. “That’s how happy you make me every day.”

She smiled, shaking her head. “I don’t know why. I’m nothing special.”

“Yeah, you are.” He got to his feet, stopped before her, and bent down to kiss her forehead. Just a small kiss. Nothing nearly as extravagant as what Michael and Maria were doing. But it made her feel just as loved all the same.

She watched him traipse across the dance floor on his way to Marty’s DJ booth, and she held their son close.

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

A shiver traversed Isabel’s spine as she strode into the station. There weren’t many people there. A few officers were standing at the copy machine, talking and holding up the good old stereotype of cops eating donuts. Another was ushering a young woman back into the office, and one was sitting at the front desk, talking on the phone. Isabel overheard fragments of the conversation and registered that it was something about a cat being stuck up a tree.

Dire.

Isabel approached the counter, gripping the edge of it tightly. She opened her mouth to say something, but the officer held up his finger to signal that he’d be with her in a moment. She rolled her eyes impatiently, wanting to get this over with.

“Okay, ma’am, we’ll send somebody over right away,” he said to the person on the other end of the line. “Yep, thank you.” He hung up the phone, sighing exasperatedly, and looked up at Isabel with a look of . . . something in his eyes. Boredom, maybe? She laughed inwardly, knowing she was about to make his day a hell of a lot more exciting.

“What can I do for you?” he asked, sounding rehearsed.

She took a deep breath and started in. “My name is Isabel Evans.” She’d rehearsed, too, even though there wasn’t much to say.

But before she could get another word out, the phone rang again. “One minute,” the officer said, again holding up a finger to delay her. He picked up the phone and answered, “Santa Fe Police Department.”

No, her mind screamed. She wasn’t going to just stand there.

“I helped cover up a murder,” she blurted, knowing that would get his attention. And indeed it did. He stared at her blankly for a moment, slowly pulling the phone away from his ear.

It felt good to finally get that off her chest. But she wasn’t an idiot, and she knew it wasn’t as simple as just confessing. “I need to be locked away for a long time.”

The police officer continued to stare at her, almost as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

She breathed a sigh of relief.

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

There was a pool outside that Maria so badly wanted to jump into. Preferably with Michael. Preferably without clothing. That was, after all, sort of their thing. But since they were in the middle of their wedding reception, that wasn’t exactly an option. Still, when the opportunity presented itself, they slipped outside for a little more private make-out. There was a slight breeze, which was a nice contrast to how warm it felt inside with all those other people around.

“I just had to get you alone for a minute,” he mumbled in between kisses, cupping his face with her hands as they clamored dangerously close to the edge of the pool. If they weren’t careful, they were going to fall in.

“Mmm, can we be on our honeymoon yet?” she purred, gripping his tuxedo jacket tightly, pulling him closer.

“Almost.” He pressed his forehead against hers and put his hands on her hips, guiding her away from the water a bit. A gust of wind blew past, lifting her hair up from her shoulders. He leaned back then, and slid one hand up to her bare back. For no apparent reason, he laughed.

“What?” she asked.

“Oh, I was just thinking . . . when I was a nineteen year-old college freshman, if someone had told me we were gonna end up getting married, I would’ve told ‘em they were crazy.”

She gave him a look and pretended to be offended. “Gee, thanks.”

“Well, we were so different. It took awhile for us to come together.”

She trailed her hand down to the waistline of his pants, letting it hover there seductively. “Oh, we’ve definitely done our fair share of coming together over the years.”

He grinned. “Keep talking like that and we’ll have to start the honeymoon early.”

“Fine by me.” She rose up on her tiptoes, seeking out his mouth for yet another kiss. As nice as it was to have all these family and friends around, she wanted it to just be the two of them.

He wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her off the ground momentarily, then set her back down on her own two feet. He pulled back again and started playing with her hair, the way he always did. He twisted a few strands around his index finger, then released them and did the same thing again on the other side of her face.

“So when did you know that you loved me?” she asked outright, smirking flirtatiously.

“Right after I kissed you,” he replied without pause.

“And when did you know that you wanted to marry me?”

He let go of her hair, put his hands back on her hips, and thought about it for a moment. “There was this one night during the summer when you were pregnant with Miley,” he recalled. “Back when we were still in the apartment. We were just lying on the couch, watching TV. I was behind you, and I had my hand on your stomach.” Demonstrating, he placed his right hand atop her stomach, splaying out his fingers. “Like this. And Miley started kicking. You didn’t say anything; you just put your hand on top of mine, and we just laid there, feeling her kick for about five minutes.” He smiled fondly, his eyes glazing over a bit as he got lost in the memory. “That was when I knew. I knew someday I’d propose, and I knew someday we’d end up here.”

She faintly remembered the instance, too, though nowhere near as vividly as he did. She put her hand atop his just as she had that night, and bravely asked, “Did you ever doubt it?”

He nodded slowly, admitting, “Yeah.”

“So did I.” There had been a time when getting back to this place in their relationship and in her life had seemed impossible. But that felt like a long time ago. “I don’t doubt anything anymore,” she made sure to tell him.

He smiled, rubbing her stomach with the hand that still rested there. “Do you think it’s time?” he asked. “Do you wanna tell ‘em?”

She glanced back inside. She could see her mom dancing with Ed, and there were sounds of laughter and conversation coming from nearly all their guests. “Yeah,” she replied. “Might as well do it while everyone’s here.”

He nodded in agreement. “Do you think they’re gonna be surprised?”

She grunted. “No. Come on, seriously . . . it’s you and me.”

He smiled warmly, echoing, “You and me.”

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

Miley stood next to Uncle Marty’s DJ booth, watching as both sets of her grandparents danced. Grandpa John started out with Grandma Sylvia, and Grandma Amy started out with Grandpa Ed, of course, but eventually, they all got so close together that they just linked arms and made a big group. Her grandmas were way better dancers than her grandpas were, but they all kind of looked funny.

“I’m not trying to sound over-confident or anything,” Uncle Marty was saying as he switched up the song. “I recognize there’s a fine line between confident and cocky—but I’ve so got this bouquet-toss in the bag.”

Miley frowned, confused, and peered up at him. “Huh?”

“Your mom has to toss her bouquet of flowers,” he explained. “All the girls try to catch it. Whoever does is supposed to be the next to get married. So I’m gonna catch it.”

“But you’re not a girl, Uncle Marty,” she pointed out.

“Well, I might as well be,” he muttered.

“What happens if I catch it?” She was fast, and she could jump high. She knew she could catch it.

He thought about it for a minute, then concluded, “That would mean you’ll be the next to get married, and that would probably be enough to give your daddy a panic attack. And we don’t want that. So just let me catch it, okay?”

“Okay,” she agreed. She didn’t want to get married anyway. Not for at least three more years.

“Hey, why don’t you got out there and dance some more?” her uncle suggested. “Show me some of those dance moves you’re learning in your jazz class.”

She giggled and skipped back out onto the dance floor. She’d tried teaching Grandpa John some of the moves from her recital routine a few days ago, but he kept tripping over his own feet.

There were so many people out on the dance floor, though, that she couldn’t find the person she wanted to dance with. She looked all around but didn’t see him. He’d been following her around earlier.

The crowd parted, and she spotted her Uncle Kyle and Aunt Tess with their arms around each other, moving back and forth in time with the music. Seeing them piqued her interest. She wanted to dance like that. She’d done her dance class moves dozens of times already.

Still glancing around, she spotted her mom and dad coming back inside. Her mom looked so pretty. And her dad wouldn’t let go of her hand. They walked together up to Marty’s DJ booth and said something to him, and he cut the music and picked up a microphone.

“Alright, if everyone could turn their attention up here, the bride and groom have an announcement,” Uncle Marty said.

Miley watched as her dad took the microphone and cleared his throat. “Hey, you guys, I hope you’re having a good time,” he said. “I just wanted to personally thank you for being here to celebrate with us today. It means so much.” He glanced down at Mommy, and she nodded in agreement. “But, um . . . actually, there’s only a handful of you out there who know that we’re not only celebrating a wedding today. We’re celebrating something else, too, something even more important and exciting for us.” He smiled, and Miley noticed everyone fall silent as he revealed, “You see, Maria and I recently found out that we’re . . .”

Miley could barely even hear the last word, because her Grandma Amy screamed out happily and rushed forward. Grandma Sylvia was close behind, holding one hand over her mouth, and her Grandpas were close behind. Everyone started hollering and clapping and crowding around her parents, saying things like “Congratulations” and “We had a feeling.” Miley didn’t have to go be a part of that. She already knew, and so did Uncle Kyle and Aunt Tess and Uncle Marty, which was probably why they hung back and snapped some pictures instead.

With everyone circling her mom and dad, that left the rest of the room a little empty, and that made it easier for Miley to find who she was looking for. He was looking out the window, up at the sky. She walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned around.

“Hi, Garret,” she greeted.

“Hi, Miley.” He lowered his head, looking down at his feet as he mumbled, “I like your dress.”

“Thanks.” She twirled back and forth a bit, liking how it floated when she moved. She glanced back up at her parents again, and she could barely see them now because there were so many people around. “Did you hear what they said?” she asked her friend.

“Yeah,” he replied.

She shook her head. “Sex is not a cake.”

With wide eyes, he agreed adamantly, “No.

She sighed, shuffling back and forth on her feet, wishing Uncle Marty would start playing music again. “Will you dance with me later?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Okay.”

“Kay.” She wasn’t really sure how much later it would be.

She turned slowly and took a few steps in the opposite direction, wondering, pondering . . .

She stopped right at the edge of the dance floor and looked over at Uncle Kyle and Aunt Tess. They were watching Mommy and Daddy. And Mommy and Daddy were so busy talking to both grandpas and grandmas to notice anything she was doing.

Glancing back over her shoulder, she watched as Garret tried to readjust the bowtie he was wearing. He wasn’t looking at her, and she wanted his attention.

So she scurried up to him, grabbed his shoulders, and kissed him on the lips.








THE END








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