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

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April
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Part 150

Post by April » Sat Feb 16, 2013 2:37 pm

I really wanted to post this last week. I wanted to. I've decided to blame it on time (or lack thereof) and not on myself. :lol:


Ellie:
Loved that Maria's finally home. That song, just about blinded me with tears as I read that part. And Miley's reaction? OMG ... bucket o' tears here!
Happy tears, though, right? 'Cause it was a good thing.
I'm glad that it was understood that while Maria is home, Michael is not welcome in the bed & bedroom.
Yeah, he's gotta earn that that kind of privilege back.

Grace:
I loved the chapter too! Every bit was fun, sad, and realistic.
Well, it's been awhile since anyone was able to describe any part of this fic as "fun," so that's progress!

Novy:
I enjoyed how you had the contrast of everyone being there supporting her and like they were before and how different M/M's life together still is.
Yes, there is still a long way to go before (or if) they ever get back to the way it was. They've taken the first of many steps, but when the rest of the family leaves and it's just the two of them with Miley . . . it gets awkward.
Miley is an inspiring little girl. That walking to Maria moment was beautiful.
Maria is going to need to use that inspiration she provides to keep getting better.

fadedblue: Woohoo! A new reader! Welcome!
I've been away from roswell fanfic/fandom for a longgggg time but recently began a rewatch of season one and started to reread a bunch of my favorite fics from back in the day. I guess you can say I was/am a hardcore dreamer but man, my rewatch made me remember how good M/M were so I started to dig into more candy stuff. In that process I encountered your lovely stories and have, as of tonight, finished 521, up to the latest chapter of 522, and Passion :p. Thanks for giving me so much reading material the past few weeks!
Wow, that's a lot of reading! I hope you liked Passion and 521. And I'm glad you're caught up with this one. I'm nearing completion with it in terms of the actual writing, but in terms of posting, there is still a fair amount left to go.
Anyway, back to 522 -- this fic series is by far one of the best I've ever read. I typically read AU wo alien fics for the fluff factor but you've managed to create some real, tangible stakes in the lives of these characters and I find that absolutely rare and riveting.
Aw, thank you! You know, one of my big concerns when I first started conjuring up the ideas for this sequel was that it would get dramatic to the point where it seemed unrealistic. So the fact that it's pulled you in is very reassuring to me! Thank you!

Hope to see more of you around here!

Krista: KRISTA! I didn't even know you were still around, let alone still reading. *online hug* I've missed you!
What happened to once a week, April??
The youth wrestling tournament happened. :lol:


Thanks for the feedback!








Part 150








“Whoa, there.” Kyle couldn’t keep the admiration out of his voice as he stared at his wife’s chest. “Somebody’s Easter eggs aren’t hidden very well.” The top she was wearing wasn’t normally that low-cut, but with her boobs getting bigger and bigger every day, it sure as hell gave her a lot of cleavage.

“Easter eggs? Seriously, Kyle?” she whined.

“Well, yeah, it’s Easter. And they’re bustin’ out all over the place. It’s fascinating.”

Tess squeezed them momentarily, and that sight alone almost sent him into a frenzy. She pouted. “They hurt.”

“Oops, sorry,” he apologized.

“No, it’s nothing you did. That’s just how it goes.” She opened her purse and took out a tube of the tastiest pink lip gloss, spreading it across her lips. Kyle couldn’t help but stare at those, too. Lips, boobs . . . every inch of her was devourable.

“What’s in a boob?” he asked, letting his eyes roam down to her chest again.

“I don’t know. Like, fat,” she answered.

“So it’s not always milk?”

She put her lip gloss back in her purse, zipped it up, and slung it over her shoulder. “No, that’s just a pregnancy thing.”

“Huh.” The entire female body was mesmerizing as far as he was concerned. “Hey, remember when I accidentally drank Maria’s breast milk?” He laughed, embarrassed. “That was such a me thing to do.”

She rolled her eyes, smiling a little, and asked, “You ready to go?” as she started for the door.

He followed obediently, taking a little time to admire her backside, too. She’d always had curves, but pregnancy was exaggerating those curves and therefore driving him wild.

“So anyone can drink that stuff, though, right?” he asked as they slipped out the door together. “I mean, if it’s good enough for a baby, it’d be good enough for--”

“Kyle!” she hissed, cutting him off. “Whatever you’re about to say, just don’t, okay?”

He pulled their front door shut, and they started across the yard to Michael and Maria’s house. “No, I’m just saying, if I got up in there and something accidentally squirted out, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”

“Oh my god.”

“Could be kinda cool.”

She made a face and knocked on Michael and Maria’s front door. “You’re watching way too much porn.”

“It’s the Japanese stuff. They’re so crazy.”

Maria opened the door a few seconds later, smiling when she saw them. “Hey, guys.” But when neither of them said anything ,she seemed to sense that she’d interrupted an interesting conversation. “Were you two just talking about me?”

“No,” Kyle assured her, “we were talking about the Japanese.”

Maria seemed relieved. “Oh, yeah, they do crazy things with their porn. Come in.” She stepped aside, and they entered the house. Miley was on the living room floor, unwrapping some candy and digging through her Easter basket, and Michael was in the kitchen, drying off a few dishes.

“You guys want any breakfast before we go?” Maria asked.

“Kyle wants some milk,” Tess blurted in response.

“Oh my god, it was just a thought,” he said dramatically. “Was it so crazy?”

“Yes.”

“Okay . . . help yourselves,” Maria said confusedly. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom and then we can go.”

“Kay.” Tess sat down on the couch, tugging upward on her shirt. “She seems pretty upbeat,” she remarked.

“Yeah, she’s excited about Miley’s Easter egg hunt,” Michael said. “Hey, Miley, why don’t you show your aunt what the Easter bunny got you.”

“Yeah, I wanna see.” Tess got down on the floor, and Miley eagerly began to show her all the candy she’d gotten, even offering to share a few pieces.

Kyle sauntered into the kitchen, peering down at his nieces overflowing stash of candy loot as he did so. “Mmm, Cadbury eggs,” he said. “I got those, too.”

Michael put the last dish away, making a face. “Tess makes an Easter basket for you?”

“Oh, yeah, every year,” he replied without shame. He couldn’t help it that his wife was awesome like that. “She sets it out on the kitchen table. I see it when I walk out in the morning. It’s amazing.” He took a minute to watch her with Miley, and for the first time since he’d woken up that morning, he stopped being a completely horny guy; because he could tell what a good, involved mother she was going to be to their son, and that made him excited in a totally different way than her low-cut top did.

But speaking of that top . . . when she bent forward to retrieve an egg that was rolling away . . . damn, that did some wonderful things.

“Hey, can I ask you something personal?” he started in.

“Oh, god, please don’t,” Michael groaned.

“When Maria was breastfeeding and you two were gettin’ down, did you ever try to . . .” He trailed off, cupping invisible breasts to try to get his point across. “‘Cause it’s just milk, but . . .”

Michael gave him a speechless, horrified look.

“No?” he interpreted. “Okay, no, no, okay. Just checkin’.”

Maria came out of the bathroom shortly later, looking more lively than she had in months. “You guys ready to go?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Michael replied eagerly.

“Is Marty coming?” she asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Then can you drop me off at his place afterwards?”

“Sure,” he replied. “Let’s go.”

On their way out the door, Kyle hung back with Michael, letting the girls dote on Miley as they got her into the car. “Dude,” he said, “aren’t my wife’s tits massive?”

Even Michael couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re a spaz, you know that?”

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

The Easter egg hunt took place at the park. It happened every year, but this was the first year Michael and Maria were taking Miley. Lots of kids from the neighborhood were there, including several that Miley went to daycare with. The whole place was bustling with activity, especially when the Easter bunny—or more precisely, the poor soul who had to wear the Easter bunny costume—came out and took pictures with the kids. Miley got to go to the front of the line, because all the other parents told their kids to get out of the way for her.

“Holy crap, this looks awesome,” Kyle said, looking like a kid in a candy store as they walked through the park towards the course Miley was set to run. She was in her stroller for now, sleepy because the morning’s sugar rush had come and gone, and Maria was happily pushing her. Very happily. She knew now not to take moments like this for granted.

“Kyle, you’re a spectator,” Tess reminded him, “not a participant.”

“But I wanna participate.”

Michael shook his head, then turned to Maria and asked, “How you doin’ so far?”

“Good. I’m really glad I could be here for this.” Holidays were important, even ones like this that Miley would only vaguely remember a few years from now. She didn’t want to miss any of them.

“So which course is Miley gonna do?” Tess asked.

“That one,” Michael replied, pointing out a course marked 3 and under. It was just a flat course with eggs hidden in the grass. For the older age groups, the courses became a bit more challenging. Some had trees, and the course for the oldest kids in attendance was the actual playground itself.

“I wanna do that one,” Miley said, pointing to the playground.

“You can’t, sweetie,” Michael told her. “That one’s for the bigger kids.”

“Like me?” Kyle asked hopefully.

Michael sighed. “Sure, Kyle. Have at it.”

“Awesome!” He tried to take off, but Tess grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“That was a joke. You’re staying right here with me,” she said.

He frowned.

Maria gripped the handles of Miley’s stroller nervously as she surveyed some of the other kids in attendance. There were two little boys in particular who were rough-housing near the starting line of the 3 and under course. One of them looked like he weighed five times as much as Miley. “Okay, no way is that kid three or under,” she proclaimed. “He’s huge.”

“Childhood obesity,” Tess said. “It’s a tragedy.”

“No, that kid is unnatural.”

“He looks like he’s on steroids,” Michael said in agreement.

The big kid suddenly shoved the other kid.

“Oh, see, and there’s the ‘roid rage,” Michael added. “Where the hell are their parents?”

Apparently they were nowhere in sight, because the ‘roid rage kid suddenly lifted up the other kid, dropped him on the ground, and kicked him.

“Oh my god,” Maria gasped, even though both the boys were laughing. “Is this . . . safe?”

“Yeah . . .” Michael replied, sounding a bit worried himself. “I’m gonna go talk to someone, just to make sure.”

“Good idea.” Even though they wanted her to take part in all the things so-called normal kids got to do, Miley had some special circumstances to consider since the car accident.

“I’ve got ten bucks on the fat kid,” Kyle wagered as Michael trotted off to speak with an organizer.

Tess tore her eyes away from the boys and scanned the crowd. “Oh, look,” she pointed out, “there’s Garret.”

Maria followed her gaze and caught sight of Miley’s best friend. “With his new family,” she added, not used to seeing Max and Liz in such an environment.

“It was good of them to bring him here,” Tess said. “I’m sure Isabel never . . .” She trailed off suddenly. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Maria assured her. “You can say her name.” She didn’t want people thinking she was so fragile that even the smallest thing could break her. She returned her attention to Garret, Max, and Liz. “Is he gonna run a different course than Miley?”

“Yeah, he’ll do the 4-6 one.”

“Hmm.” She couldn’t help but notice that Max was even holding his nephew’s hand as they walked through the crowd. “I’d better not stare,” she said, tearing her eyes away from them. “I’ll look like a creeper.”

Tess laughed lightly.

When Michael returned, he looked relieved. “Okay, so I talked to the coordinator, and she says lots of parents run the course with their kids when they’re this little. So it’s no big deal.”

“Oh, so . . . so you’ll just carry her with you then,” Maria said.

“Uh, yeah, I could. Or . . . you could,” he pointed out, “if you want to.”

“Really?” She more than wanted to, especially after missing out on so much time with her lately. But Miley was a daddy’s girl, always had been. “She’d probably rather have you do it.”

“No, I don’t think so,” Michael said, sounding sure.

She knew what he was doing, giving her this opportunity to really be there for one of the fun moments, one of the moments that had been all too rare for the past few months. It was pretty sweet.

She knelt down in front of her daughter’s stroller, tapping her arm to keep her from dozing off. “Miley, Mama’s gonna carry you through the course,” she said. “Is that okay with you?”

Miley smiled a little and nodded.

Inside, she breathed a sigh of relief. “Good.”

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

Maria and Miley weren’t the most efficient Easter egg hunters. Maria wasn’t the fastest runner, and it was harder to carry Miley with her back brace. They sometimes got ahead of themselves and started taking off for one egg before they’d even collected the one closest to them. The ‘roid rage kid and his buddy were a lot more ruthless and dove in front of them a lot. But they were having a good time. They were both laughing. And smiling. And living. It filled Michael’s heart with joy just to stand back and watch them.

That was his whole world out there. He hoped they knew that.

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

“Excellent job!” the announcer called. “Let’s have a round of applause for all our hunters in the three and under division.”

Max grunted, neglecting to clap his hands. “Amateurs. You’re gonna show ‘em how it’s done, right, buddy?”

Garret nodded confidently.

“Of course you are.” He patted him on the shoulder and knelt down next to him. “Now you listen to me: All the other kids are gonna be stupid and start fighting over all these eggs up front. But do you see how many are hidden in the back?” He pointed them out, and Garret’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “If you just sprint back there, you can get all of ‘em with no problem at all.”

“Cool!” Garret exclaimed.

“I know, right? You go get ‘em, tiger.” He stood back as all the kids began to line up at the start.

“Were you really just coaching him?” Liz asked. “For an Easter egg hunt?”

“More like strategizing,” he admitted. “Believe it or not, my dad actually used to take me to this stupid thing when I was a kid.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it was like his one good fatherly deed ever. But he gave me the same advice I just gave Garret. Worked every time.”

“Hmm.” Liz wrapped her hands around his arm, standing close beside him. “Well, even though it’s kind of creepy to see you channeling your inner Phillip Evans, it was pretty cute to see you acting like a dad.”

Who was acting? As far as he was concerned, he was the only dad Garret had left.

“Oh, look, Maria’s back,” Liz commented suddenly.

Max had seen her earlier; he just hadn’t said anything. “Oh, joy,” he muttered sarcastically.

“Stop it. That’s good for their family.”

“Which we aren’t a part of,” he reminded her. “Thank God.”

“Well, we might be someday.” She motioned towards Garret, and Max understood what she was saying.

“Oh, great, that’ll be awkward. ‘Hey, Garret, you know your mother-in-law? Yeah, she annoys the hell out of me, too. That’s why I raped her.’”

Liz flinched. “Maybe that conversation doesn’t have to happen.”

“It will, though.” It was inevitable, and Max was dreading it. “Not every day’s gonna be as carefree as this one.”

Liz sighed, resting her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her closer. For now, he was just going to stand back and watch his son—nephew, whatever—dominate an Easter egg hunt. For now, this was good.

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

Maria knocked on the door to her brother’s apartment, and from the moment she heard him say, “Come in,” she knew he wasn’t going to be his usual energetic self. He just sounded . . . tired.

“Hey,” she said as she stepped in the door. He was sitting on his couch, sipping wine and browsing through a magazine that was probably intended for women in that it displayed a bunch of naked men.

“Hey,” he replied, setting the magazine and his drink aside. “You look cute.”

“Thanks.” She sat down beside him, plucking at the light blue baby tee she was wearing. “I got this from one of the drug addicts at rehab.”

“Heroin chic. I like it,” her brother proclaimed. “So did Miley do her Easter egg hunt today?”

“Yeah. I think she had fun.”

“Well, I would’ve been there, but I was just . . . freakin’ busy.”

“Looks like.” She wasn’t about to say anything out loud, but Marty’s apartment looked unusually cluttered and dirty. He was usually such a neat freak. Clearly he was just feeling out of sorts. “You didn’t wanna be around Michael, did you?” she guessed.

“Hey, I took a giant step forward when I hung out with all you guys yesterday,” he pointed out.

She sighed, hating that she was partially to blame for the estrangement. Marty would have been furious with Michael no matter what after learning he’d cheated on her, but the fact that she’d taken all those pills after finding out . . . maybe that was just too much for Marty to overcome.

“I hear you’re gonna have to close down your club,” she said, knowing that was probably another thing that was upsetting Marty lately. “And I hear you’re refusing Michael’s offer to help.”

“I don’t wanna owe him anything,” Marty said quickly.

“It wouldn’t be him; it’d be his parents.”

“Which, in some ways, is even weirder. No thanks,” he dismissed. “I just don’t know if I can ever truly forgive him for what he did to you, you know?”

“But that’s what I’m trying to do,” she pointed out. “Shouldn’t you be able to do the same thing?” She understood that people were still mad, but Tess seemed to have gotten over it, and that was for the best.

She stood up, turning to leave, but Marty stopped her.

“Maria?” he said. “I’ll try harder. For you, not for him, okay?”

She shrugged, not so concerned with his motivation as long as he was actually motivated. “Works for me.”

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

Audioslave. Weezer. Jack’s Mannequin. Maria hadn’t realized how much she’d missed music until she brought out the laptop and started looking through all the music she had stored there. At Cresthaven, there had mostly been silence. Silence and a lot of thought and reflection. She’d packed up and gone there in such a hurry that she hadn’t remembered to bring any music with her.

“What’re you doing?” Michael asked as he came downstairs after tucking Miley into bed for the night.

“Oh, just browsing through our music collection,” she replied. “You know, I have fantastic taste in tunes.”

He sat down beside her and asked, “What about me?”

She shrugged. “Eh.”

“What, just ‘eh?’”

“Well, most of it’s not horrible,” she acknowledged as she scrolled past an array of fabulous Metric and MGMT albums, “but some of it puts me to sleep.”

He feigned offense as he argued, “It’s mellow and relaxing.”

“It’s drowsy.”

“Not all of it. I got some Metallica in there,” he reminded her.

“And some acoustic covers of Metallica, which, by the way, are horrible.”

He laughed a little and admitted, “Yeah, they are pretty bad. Can I see that?”

She handed the computer over to him, and he started scrolling back up through the collection. “Man, I can’t even remember the last time I just sat and listened to music.”

“You haven’t had time.” She couldn’t even imagine how busy he’d been while she’d been away. He’d pretty much had to be a single dad for a month and a half. He’d had to work, pay the bills, run all the errands . . .

When she thought about it too much, she started to feel really guilty.

“You know, we could alternate,” she suggested suddenly.

He gave her a confused look. “What?”

“The bed and the couch,” she clarified. “We could switch back and forth. It’s just not really fair for you to have to sleep down here every night.”

He shook his head. “I don’t mind.”

“Michael—”

“Maria. I really don’t mind.”

Even though he didn’t sound like he was going to budge, she asked, “You sure?”

“Yeah.” He returned his attention to the laptop screen and said, “Here’s a good one. It’s an instrumental from Titanic.”

“What’s it called?” she asked, leaning over a bit to get a better look.

“The Portrait,” he replied, double clicking on it so it began to play. Soft, beautiful piano music. Very mellow and relaxing. “It’s the song that plays in my head whenever I paint you.” He turned his head to the side and just looked at her, and she just looked at him, too. But suddenly, she felt as if she were sitting closer, maybe even breathing harder; and in her mind, she remembered the first time she’d posed for a portrait for him, remembered that look of intense concentration in his eyes. Sort of like the one he had right now. When he looked at her like that, whether he was painting or just sitting beside her like he was now, it was like he was seeing every single inch of her. It made her whole body tingle.

“I think I’m gonna take a cue from some of your mellow, relaxing music and go to sleep,” she said, forcing herself to stand and head upstairs before something happened that she wasn’t ready for yet.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 151

Post by April » Sun Feb 24, 2013 10:37 am

Look at this! I'm doing it! A weekly update like I promised! I'm so proud! :lol:


Well . . . funny story. Not really that funny, but oh well. I woke up this morning to find that there is NO HEAT in my place. And we just had a freaking blizzard! So it's a bit cold in here. I feel like I'm bundled up like that kid in A Christmas Story right now. I even have gloves on, so I can barely even type.

Anyway, with that in mind, it's best to keep it short and sweet today. So THANK YOU IMMENSELY FOR THE FEEDBACK:


Ellie

Novy

Grace

Krista



And on we go!









Part 151








The horror . . . it was too much. Kyle sat on the edge of his bed, gripping his remote control tightly in his right hand, covering his mouth with his left as a video entitled The Miracle of Birth played out on the bedroom TV.

“At this time, the baby’s head should start to crown,” the narrator said in an almost creepily calm voice. “Hold your partner’s hand and make yourself readily available for emotional support. She’s going to need it.”

Kyle’s entire body clenched as the woman giving birth in the video screamed in sheer agony. What kind of miracle was this? It looked awful.

Suddenly, Tess came into the room. “Kyle, have you seen my--”

He jolted and quickly pressed the stop button, hoping she hadn’t seen what he was watching. But it was too late.

“What’re you doing?” she asked suspiciously.

“Nothing.”

“Are you watching Japanese porn again?”

“I wish.” There was nothing erotic about any of this.

She bent down and seized the remote control from him.

“No, don’t!”

She pressed play, and the video resumed with the woman making the same agonized sounds. The narrator’s voice came over again, this time stating the obvious: “Your partner will be in an incredible amount of pain.”

“Oh my god,” Tess gasped, her eyes locked on the TV. “Did you rent this?”

“I bought it online,” he revealed. “I thought it would be educational, but it’s . . . really just disturbing.” Yet he couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away.

The woman on the screen shouted out a few death threats to her husband, who looked a bit queasy, and Tess fearfully said, “I can’t watch anymore,” tossing the remote back to Kyle as she turned her back to the TV.

He quickly shut it off, trying to reassure her. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s not so bad.”

“Not so bad?” she shrieked, glaring at him the same way the wife in the film had glared at her husband. “Not so bad?! How the hell am I gonna get this thing out of my vagina?”

“You just . . . will,” he promised lamely.

She huffed, and then the emotions took over, the way they almost always did anymore. She started to cry, barely coherent when she said, “I just wish it would float out of my stomach!” She buried her head in her hands and ran into the bathroom, a mess of hormonal tears.

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

“He said it’s not so bad?” Maria laughed at the absurdity of that. “Oh, he’s so wrong.”

Tess flopped back on Maria’s new bed, staring up at the ceiling worriedly. “Thanks, that’s really comforting.”

“I’m just being honest with you,” Maria said, sitting down beside her. “It’s the most physically painful thing you’ll ever experience in your life. I mean, imagine the cramps you get during your period, multiplied by, like, a thousand. Or a hundred-thousand.”

Tess felt her stomach rumble with nervousness. That was not something she wanted to imagine. At all.

“That’s what it feels like.” Maria’s eyes widened, as though she were reliving the distress of it all herself. “And there’s so much pressure down there, that you kinda just feel like you’re taking a big shit; but the really gross thing is, you don’t even care if that happens, because you’re just so ready to get it done and over with. So ready.”

Tess sat up, clutching her hand to her stomach. “Maybe I could just have a C-section,” she proposed.

“No, you don’t wanna do that,” Maria assured her.

“Oh, I think I do.” Right now, that was sounding like the cushy altnerative.

“No, ‘cause then you’ll have a big scar and loose skin on the tummy, and it’ll take longer to recover,” Maria pointed out.

“That’s fine.”

“No, you’re just freaked out. Trust me, you’ll be alright,” Maria assured her. “If I can do it, so can you.”

She whimpered, still completely panicked at the thought of it. Now that she was halfway along, the reality of it all was setting in. “Oh god, what did I get myself into? My lady business is never gonna look the same after this. And poor Kyle, when he goes to . . . you know . . . it’ll be like throwing a jellybean down a hallway.”

Maria laughed. “Okay, you’re officially psyching yourself out.”

“I know. I’m just nervous.”

“I think that’s natural.” Maria stood up, but Tess grabbed her hand and pulled her back down.

“Will you be in the delivery room with me?” she practically begged.

“In the room?” Maria echoed. “Like actually in the room? Like while it’s happening?”

“Yeah. I mean, Kyle’s obviously gonna be in there, but he’ll probably faint, so . . .”

Maria smiled. “Yeah, I’ll be there,” she said.

Tess breathed a sigh of relief. “You have no idea how much better that makes me feel.” Just being with someone who’d gone through it, not only once, but twice, and knowing that that someone was her best friend . . . that lessened all the nerves by a whole lot. “Michael can’t be in there, though. If he looked down too far and saw some stuff he shouldn’t, our friendship would be so awkward.”

“Yeah,” Maria agreed, “awkward . . . sucks.”

“Hmm, speaking from experience?”

Maria shrugged. “A little. I mean, Michael and I have been getting along fine since I’ve been back. He’s really trying to help me settle into things again. But last night, we were just sitting together on the couch, talking, and it felt normal.”

“So what’s the problem?”

Maria smiled sadly. “It wasn’t normal. Because normally he would’ve put his arm around me or kissed me.”

“He just doesn’t wanna rush things,” Tess said.

“I know. And I don’t, either. I just wish it would be easy.”

“Well, I wish childbirth would be easy,” Tess said, laughing a little before she grew serious again. “To tell you the truth, though, I think we’ve already been through the hardest parts of our lives.”

Maria nodded solemnly in agreement.

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

The sound of falling pins rang out through the bowling alley, and Tess jumped up and down excitedly, clapping her hands. “Woohoohoo!” she exclaimed.

“Seriously, another spare?” Michael groaned, watching her total on the scoreboard increase.

“Baby, how’re you doin’ this?” Kyle asked in amazement.

“I don’t know, I’m just aiming blindly.” She sat back down beside him with a huge, happy smile on her face.

“You’re in second place now,” Michael pointed out.

“And of course you’re still in first.” She made a face of mock disgust.

“You know it,” he said proudly. “Alright, Miley, you’re up.”

Miley slid down off her seat and walked slowly towards the lane she was using with the rails set up along the sides to keep the ball from going in the gutter.

“Are you gonna let her win?” Maria asked, sort of wishing that she could use that lane, too.

“No, as long as she doesn’t come in last, she’ll be fine,” he said. “And with you playing, there’s no way she’ll be last.”

“Hey, I might stage a comeback. You never know.” She was so far behind, though, even she knew that wasn’t likely.

Michael looked over and saw Miley reaching for one of the heavy balls, so he quickly sprang up from his seat and said, “Oh, not that one sweete. That’s too heavy. Try this one.” He handed her a lightweight hot pink ball—couldn’t have been more than a few pounds—and said, “There you go.”

“It’s pretty,” she said, smiling up at him.

“Alright, now be careful.” He stood behind her as she took her place at her lane, ready to help her if she needed it. “Give it a good roll.”

She more or less dropped the ball onto the lane with a thud. It began to roll at a snail’s pace down the lane, and she turned around and started sulking back to her seat. When she wasn’t looking, Michael reached out and tapped the ball farther forward, sending it rolling down the lane a lot faster for her. “Hey, Miley, look!” he said. “Look at it go.”

She turned back around, and her face lit up when the ball knocked down seven of the pins. The ones left standing teetered, and eventually one of them fell down, taking out the other two as well.

“Oh, look at that!” Michael exclaimed.

“Good job, Miley,” Tess said, clapping her hands.

“Wow, somebody’s a good bowler.” Maria lifted her daughter up onto her lap.

“I’m gonna beat you, Mama,” she said.

“Yes, you are.”

“Look how high your score is now,” Michael said, pointing up at the screen as he sat down next to them again. Even though she was playing a little kid’s lane and getting a lot of help from Michael that she didn’t know about, Miley was edging ahead of Kyle.

“See, you’re doin’ good,” he said, nudging her supportively. “I think your mom could use a little help, though. Can you cheer her on?”

“Go, Mama!” Miley yelled.

“Okay, I’ll give it a shot.” Maria passed her daughter over to Michael and rose to her feet, hoping to at least get something this time. She’d taken three turns in a row now without knocking any pins down, and it was starting to get embarrassing.

Oh, well. It was totally worth it to be able to spend time like this with her family.

“Gutterball!” Kyle shouted.

Maria checked to make sure Miley wasn’t looking, then flipped him off. He just chuckled.

She picked up a purple ball that Tess seemed to be having pretty good luck with, slipped her fingers into the holes, and approached the lane with absolutely no confidence. She took a deep breath, then bent forward, swung her arm out, and released the ball, hoping to see it head straight down the lane for once. But instead, it veered off to the right and rolled into the gutter.

“Yes!” Kyle exclaimed.

She spun around, shoulders slumped, and asked Michael, “What am I doing wrong?”

“Uh, well . . . everything,” he replied. “Here.” He set Miley down beside him and got up to come help her. “Don’t let go of the ball with the palm of your hand facing down,” he said, correctly demonstrating the correct position. “It should be facing up, like this. I don’t know what you’re doin’. You got this weird raptor claw grip goin’ on.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I feel like my fingers are gonna fall off.”

“So try it the other way,” he suggested, handing her a heavier ball. “It’ll feel better, and you’ll have more control over the ball when you release it.”

“Hmm.” She slipped her fingers into the holes and joked, “You’ve never had a problem with my ball-handling technique before.”

He grinned, clearly a bit surprised that she’d said that, and said, “Just try it my way, see if it works.”

“Okay.” She turned back to the lane as he went to sit down again. She held the ball up at her shoulder, once again took a deep breath, and released it the way Michael had told her to. It looked good as it started off, heading straight down the lane, but towards the end, it veered to the right again. It didn’t go into the gutter this time, but it only managed to knock down the pin in the back right corner.

She spun back around and gave him a look.

“Well . . . that’s better,” he said.

“Good job, Mama,” Miley said.

“Thanks.” She sucked so bad at bowling, it wasn’t even funny. But at least it was fun.

As she returned to her seat, she caught sight of none other than Max and Liz and Garret up at the front, paying and receiving their bowling shoes. The owner pointed to the empty lane right next to them, and they saw her, too.

“Look behind you,” she said quietly to Michael as she sat down again.

He did, and he saw them immediately. “Great,” he muttered.

They came to their lane as Kyle was getting up to take his turn. The awkwardness settled in at once. “Hey, guys,” Liz said, breaking the silence.

“Hey,” Tess returned.

“Hi, Maria,” Liz added.

“Hi.” What the hell else was she supposed to say?

Miley tugged eagerly on Michael’s arm and asked, “Daddy, can Garret play with us?”

“Uh, no, ‘cause we already started our game,” he answered quietly. “They’re gonna play their own game.”

Miley frowned disappointedly, but when she looked back at Garret and waved, she was smiling again. He smiled and waved back at her as Max helped him get his shoes on.

Maria met Michael’s eyes, and she could tell he was thinking the same thing she was.

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

“So there’s just no way that’s not gonna happen, is there?” Maria said, scooping up one of the last bits of ice cream out of a carton that had been full just a couple days ago. She and Michael were up late that night, in the kitchen, lights out, enjoying a little midnight snack.

“Miley and Garret?” he said, taking one last bite of his Pistachio ice cream before he set that carton aside.

“Yeah.” She hopped up onto the counter, bumping her feet against the drawers.

“Seems kinda inevitable,” he agreed, standing across from her.

“And here we are, powerless to stop it.”

He shrugged. “Ah, maybe that’s alright, though. He’s not a bad kid.”

“Surprisingly.”

“And you should’ve seen them at his birthday party. He was like me, always trying to make sure she was careful and safe.”

“Aw.” She wished she could’ve been there. “That is kind of adorable. I just hate the thought of Max and Liz being a part of the family, though.”

“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he cautioned.

“You said it yourself: It’s inevitable. They’ll probably get married and have kids of their own someday.”

“Oh god, no,” Michael wailed, holding his head in his hands. “No, don’t say that.”

“Face it, she’s growing up. And someday she’s gonna start going out on dates and kissing and . . . doing more than kissing.”

“Ugh . . .” He shook his head dramatically. “No, no she’s not. Not if I put up an electric fence around our house.”

She laughed a little. “Oh, okay, so we’ll just imprison our daughter.”

“Until the end of time. Sounds good.”

She dipped her finger into the carton to scoop out one of the last globs of ice cream. “I love it when you shift into protective dad mode.”

“I can’t help it. You just filled my head with so many horrifying visuals.”

“Sorry.” They weren’t exactly comforting visuals for her, either, but it was cute to see how he freaked out at the mere thought of it. “Do you think this is what our parents felt like when we were growing up? I mean, do you think they worried about the same things?”

“Oh, I’m sure,” he said. “Especially your mom.”

“Yeah. Although sometimes I think she was too worried about Marty liking boys to worry about me liking them.”

He chuckled. “I think my parents had it pretty easy with me. I didn’t even start liking girls until the eighth grade.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. That’s when my dad accidentally left one of his Playboy magazines in the bathroom. So I just opened it up, and it was . . . life-changing.” His face took on a look of astonishment as he remembered.

“Well, while you were doing that, Randy Freeman and I were already going to second base in the backseat of his parents’ car,” she recalled.

“How romantic.”

“Yeah, really.” She shook her head, amazed that she’d been able to be so careless and get away with it. “You know, I really hope Miley doesn’t do what I did. I hope she waits, preferably until marriage, but at least until she’s in love, you know?” She lowered her head and mumbled, “Like you did.”

Michael stiffened a little. “Yeah.”

“I just want it to always mean something for her.”

He nodded in agreement, then managed to loosen up again. “Actually, I kinda hope she never has sex at all,” he admitted.

“But then how will we get grandchildren?”

“She can adopt.”

“Hmm, adoption and imprisonment. Sounds like you’ve got it all planned out.”

“Oh, yeah.” He sounded confident and even serious for a moment before he laughed again.

She finished out the ice cream carton and then said, “It’s empty.”

He gave her an incredulous look.

“What? I was hungry.”

He took the empty carton from her and set it aside. “Lucky for you,” he said, opening up the freezer, “I stocked up before you came home.”

“Is that what I think it is?”

He took out a brand new carton and held it up for her to see. “Chocolate chip cookie dough.”

“Oh, I’m so excited.” That was by far her favorite kind, and he knew it. He knew a lot of things about her.

He opened it up and handed it to her, sticking a new spoon in.

“Mmm,” she moaned, popping the first bite into her mouth, “so good.”

He smiled, his eyes staring at her mouth. “You have a little . . .” He motioned to his own mouth.

“What?”

“Right . . .” He reached out and used his thumb to brush a dab of ice cream off her bottom lip. “There.”

It was such a small touch, but in a way, it felt so much bigger than that. She sat there on the counter, suddenly unable to move or even to say anything as he gazed at her. And when he moved just a little bit closer, she didn’t stop him. When his eyes kept drifting down to her lips, her eyes did the same to his, and before she knew it, he was leaning forward. Closer. Closer.

She knew he wanted to kiss her, and part of her wanted the same thing.

“Uh . . .” She shifted, leaning back a bit to put some distance between the two of them. He seemed to get the message loud and clear.

“Sorry,” he apologized quickly.

“That’s okay.” She set the ice cream aside and slid down off the counter, feeling like she needed to get out of that kitchen as fast as she could.

“Maria . . .” He grabbed her arm, stopping her, but he quickly let go again, as though he weren’t sure if he should touch her at all. “I just don’t know how fast or slow we’re supposed to go,” he said.

It wasn’t as if she knew, either. “It’s okay, Michael,” she assured him, trying to smile as she turned and headed nervously towards the stairs.








TBC . . .

-April
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Part 152

Post by April » Sun Mar 03, 2013 3:43 pm

Ellie:
Awkward time and conversation back at Casa Deluca-Guerin. But I think these little moments are what they need to build up their trust in one another again.
Exactly! They need to get past the doom and gloom they've been shrouded in for the past few months and learn to talk with each other and joke with each other and just be around each other again.
Sorry to hear about your heat ... I remember when Sandy hit and I was out of heat and power for a month! I couldn't even stay in my apt. I had to move back home. I pray that it comes back on soon. Stay warm with layers!
Well, luckily mine wasn't that bad. (No heat and power for a month? Man, I knew it was bad, but I never knew it was that bad. Wow.) I ended up having my heat restored on Monday. And I was able to run this little electric heater, so I ended up being okay that day, too. Although, I did lose power for my entire building when I tried to blow-dry my hair while running the electric heater, my television, and my computer all at the same time. Not smart! :lol:

cjensen2:
While I'm happy that Maria is at home and seems to be doing better, her behavior and interactions with Michael seem pretty unrealistic and even unhealthy to me. I really don't see how Maria isn't more upset and uncomfortable with him and I think she would be having a lot harder time trusting him or wanting to be around him or being so jokey and friendly. They basically only really talked about the whole Isabel thing once in her counseling session and it was hinted at that Michael not only was about to sleep with her, but that he had also been having an emotional connection with her for a lot longer than Maria even knew. So I really don't understand how she just brushed that all aside, especially when it's obvious he was lying to and hiding a lot from her in regards to Isabel.
I don't think Maria is just brushing it all aside. But at some point . . . there just comes a time when, if you want to try to reconnect with a person, you have to start making that effort to remember what it is you appreciate about that person in the first place. And for Maria . . . it's larger than just her right now. It's about more than just her relationship with Michael, even. It's really about her entire family. That sense of family is more important than any sense of romance right now.
I've caught a romantic partner in a lie before that wasn't as bad as what Michael did and it shattered my trust in not only him but also myself and took a long time and lots of honest, brutal conversations and actions for me to move on and trust him again. I get that she wants to go on with life and not spend all her time being depressed and obsessing over Isabel and Michael, but their relationship seems really rushed to me.
Well . . . I think what makes this situation different from them is the fact that . . . it's not just the issue of Michael and Isabel that they're trying to overcome. At the root of this all is the fact that they've lost a child and their lives will never be the same because of it. On a scale of horror, losing Macy was, is, and always will be a greater tragedy than Michael's infidelity was. And that's not to say that infidelity isn't an issue . . . obviously it's a HUGE issue. But Michael and Maria have been soaked in despair ever since the night of that car accident, and they both put each other through more than their fair share. Their lives have been so dark for so long that they just need these moments of light right now. Sure, this isn't something that is going to be resolved fully for a long time, if ever.

The thing is, at the end of the day, these two still love each other. It's obvious that they have to learn to trust each other again. And I think the way they are going about it is . . . they're learning to like each other again.

Sonia:
There were so many lies and problems and things left unsaid even before the accident ! The most unhealty was Michael obssesion for Isabel, because let's face it, it wasn't only the other way around. I always thought, even in 521, that it wan't over between them. The sad part is that Michael is Maria's obsession!
This whole idea of love vs. obsession has really been present throughout both of these fics. It's perfectly clear that Isabel is obsessed with Michael, and it's up for debate whether that obsession actually stems from love or not. I wouldn't necessarily say that Maria is obsessed with Michael, though. She really truly loves him, but she's been very dependent on him over the years. And even now, she's having to depend on him to help her recover from all of this. So . . . I guess one could say that, in a way, she really . . . needs him. Which isn't exactly an empowering thought, but . . . it is what it is.

Grace:
I do agree with cjensen, but I also see that both are taking time to reconnect as a family, and maybe they can reconnect on another level later when they are both more comfortable, deal with their issues.
See, you summarized in one sentence what I'm really struggling to articulate. Even though they both feel these pangs of longing for each other right now, it's not about that yet. It's about reconnecting as a family, and maybe later they can reconnect in a different way.

That sounded a lot dirtier than I intended it to. :lol:

Novy:
I commend them for even going at any pace at all. They could easily just go their separate ways.
So true. After all the mistakes they have both made, they could just throw their hands up and say "I'm done," but neither one of them is even considering this. Because neither one of them wants to be done. They care about each other and their family too much.
Time moves forward but you can choose to participate in the drive or just sit in the back and pout. It's so easy to pout. But they are all drivers.
Hmm, that's an interesting and fitting analogy, considering the fact that it was a moment of reckless driving that really made their lives explode like this in the first place.



Thank you so much for the feedback! I really appreciate it as much as ever!








Part 152








“So . . . what, was there, like, a nose-graze?”

“No, no nose-graze.” Maria watched as Miley doodled on the sketchpad Tess had set out on her desk. She’d dragged Miley out of bed and to Tess’s studio that day just so she could have this conversation with her best friend face to face. “But there was a lot of intense staring and leaning inward.”

“But no nose-graze.”

“No.”

“So . . .” Tess smiled. “What’s so bad about that? I mean, if you feel rumblings and he feels rumblings, why not . . . rumble?”

“Because I don’t know if I’m ready to rumble.” Maria cringed after she said the words. “God, that phrase is never gonna be usable again, is it?”

“Nope.”

“You know what I mean, though? I’m scared.”

“Of Michael?” Tess asked.

“Of getting hurt again. Or of hurting him. Again.” As much as everyone wanted to point the finger at Michael and talk about what he had done wrong, she’d made plenty of mistakes, too, the biggest of which was taking all those pills and being such an idiot.

“Look,” Tess said quietly so that Miley couldn’t hear, “all I know is, Isabel’s gone, Alex is in jail, and Michael’s still here. And he’s still Michael.”

She was definitely right about that. Over the past few days that she’d been home, he’d been so wonderful, so himself. Granted, they hadn’t had many serious conversations. They were trying to keep things light and just enjoy time together and with their family. But it was nice.

“Look at you, all Team Michael,” she teased. “When I left, you wanted his head on a platter.”

“Well, now I just want his head near your head,” Tess said, “doing all sorts of nose-grazing.”

Maria smiled a little. That wasn’t going to happen today, or even tomorrow, but maybe someday . . .

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

Tess had a new client to design for, so Maria tried not to monopolize too much of her time that day. After leaving the studio, she took Miley out for some ice cream, then brought her by the art gallery to see her dad. The ice cream must have worn her out, though, because she’d fallen asleep by the time they got there.

Maria carried her in, stopping at the door when she saw Marty and Michael standing together at the counter. And they actually didn’t look like they were arguing.

“Hey,” she said. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Well, I promised I’d make an effort.” He reached out his arms, and Maria carefully handed Miley to him. Miley opened her eyes for a second, then rested her head on her uncle’s shoulder and closed them again.

“Marty and I were just talking about his club,” Michael said.

“Yeah, I decided I’m gonna close it.”

Maria frowned. “Marty . . .”

“I told Michael I appreciate him trying to help, but it’s just time to let it go.” He shrugged as well as he could while holding a three year-old.

“Are you sure?” She worried that would be a mistake.

But he didn’t seem quite as devastated as he could’ve been. “Yeah. I’ll start a new chapter of my life. Besides, I’m kinda tired of owning a business, so maybe . . . exotic dancer?”

She smiled, glad to have some of her brother’s trademark humor back. “Your true calling.”

“Well, I do have lots of rhythm.”

“You always said you regretted not going to college, though,” Michael reminded him. “Maybe you could take a few classes. You know, nowadays, you can take a lot online, and they’re cheaper and quicker.”

“Maybe I will,” Marty said, obviously not wanting to commit to any plan of action yet. “Studious Marty could be sexy.”

“Maybe we could motivate each other,” Maria suggested. “I wanna finish someday, too. I only had a semester left.”

Both Michael and Marty suddenly looked at her as though she’d said something amazing.

“What?” she asked.

“That’s just . . .” Michael smiled a little. “. . . really good to hear.”

Right, she realized, not that long ago, I never would have said that. It was going to be a process, though, if she decided to finish out her education degree. She’d dropped out of the program, which didn’t exactly reflect the best of her, but it had to be understandable. Hopefully she’d get a second chance.

“Well, this has been fun,” Marty said, rubbing Miley’s back as she began to drool on his shoulder, “but it’s not the only reason I stopped by. I, uh . . . well, I talked to Mom last night, and I kinda let it slip that you were home again. And then she started going off about how nobody ever tells her anything, and she’s always the last to know, and--”

“She’s coming here, isn’t she?” Maria cut in, her stomach already tightening up at the thought of it.

“She wants to, yeah. For a weekend.” Marty cringed.

She sighed, knowing she couldn’t let that happen. Not right now. Not yet. “Excuse me,” she said, taking out her cell phone as she slipped back outside. A minute later, she had her mom on the phone, and she was trying to calm her down. Her mom was claiming that Maria didn’t want her to come visit because she didn’t love her enough. Ridiculousness like that.

“No, Mom, of course I love you,” she insisted. “It has nothing to do with that.”

“Then why don’t you want me there?” Amy whimpered.

How could she get her to understand that these very hysterics were that reason? “It’s just not a good time,” she said, trying to phrase it delicately. “I’m still settling in.”

“But I could help you with that.”

“Mom . . .” She sat down on the sidewalk, pressing one hand to her forehead as the stress started to creep in already. “You know you’re a highly emotional person . . . and even that’s probably an understatement. I can’t really handle that right now, because I’m still trying to get a grip on my own emotions.” She just had to be selfish when it came to this and not worry too much about hurting her mom’s feelings.

“Maria—”

“And I know your opinion of Michael is extremely low right now,” she went on, “so I don’t wanna be caught in the middle of that. I don’t wanna feel pressured to take a side.”

“Honey, I wouldn’t—”

“Mom. Please try to understand. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but this is what’s best for me.” She wasn’t about to change her mind on this. Once she’d been back home for a little while longer, then she would see her mom again. Right now, Amy was still hysterical and pissed, and that was a dangerous combination.

It took a bit, but her mom finally relented. “Well, are you doing okay?” she inquired tearfully.

Maria breathed a small sigh of relief. “Yeah, I’m doing good. I feel so much better than I did the last time you saw me. I mean, I’m not perfect, but I’m . . . I’m actually laughing again. I’m actually smiling.” As if on cue, she felt the corners of her mouth pull upward. “I’m smiling right now.”

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

Marty put Miley down in Michael’s office so he could browse through a few of the artist portfolios that had recently been submitted to the gallery. He found one binder that was especially intriguing in that almost every painting or drawing contained a penis.

“Oh my god,” he gasped with intrigue, “so this is a college dude who paints these naked men? Hook me up with that. He could be the first paragraph of the new chapter of my life.” He glanced up at Michael, expecting some kind of reaction, but Michael’s eyes were glued on Maria as she sat outside the gallery on her phone.

“Are you even listening?” Marty asked, even though the answer was pretty obvious.

“Yeah,” Michael replied dazedly.

Marty knew he wasn’t, though, so he blurted, “I used to fantasize about having sex with you,” just to see if he’d get some sort of reaction.

“Okay,” Michael said, still watching Maria. A few seconds later, though, the words finally registered, and he gave Marty a confused look and said, “Wait, what?”

“Nothing,” Marty dismissed quickly. He closed the naked men portfolio and said it aside. “You really love her, don’t you?”

Once again, Michael fixated on Maria. “Yeah.” It was like he couldn’t see anything else.

Marty sighed, figuring it was time to get over his animosity once and for all. “I know that,” he confessed. “My mom probably even knows it, deep down, even if she won’t admit it.”

“Does Maria know it?” Michael said. “‘Cause, no offense, but that’s really all I care about.”

Marty smiled, happy to hear that. “I guess I’m not the only one starting a new chapter,” he said.

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

Maria stood in the doorway to Macy’s nursery, or at least the room that used to be her nursery. It didn’t look like much now. It was a lot bigger than she’d ever realized. Seeing it without the crib and the changing table and all the toys on the floor made it look . . . almost unlived in.

A shiver climbed up her spine as she stood there, just staring into the darkened room. In the back of her mind, she could hear Macy crying in the middle of the night. At the time, it had seemed like such a hassle, either her or Michael having to wake up and go in there to try to get her back to sleep or see if anything was wrong, but it hindsight, it’d all been a blessing, and she hated herself for ever taking it for granted.

She heard Michael come up behind her, but he didn’t say anything. So she eventually did. “I haven’t been able to look at this room since I’ve been back,” she confessed.

He leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms over his chest. “What made you decide to do it now?”

“I don’t know, I just realized . . . I can’t avoid it forever.” She wished she had a better answer than that, something more profound. But it was what it was.

She finally tore her eyes away from the room and leaned against the other side of the doorframe, surveying him. He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the room, either, even though he was more used to it than she was. Maybe they’d never really be used to it.

“It must’ve been really hard to take down her crib,” she empathized.

He lowered his head and nodded. “Yeah, it was.”

She couldn’t even imagine having to do that on her own, and knowing that he’d had to . . . it made her feel horrible. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to help,” she apologized.

“It’s okay,” he assured her quickly.

“No, it’s not,” she insisted. “I should’ve been here.” There were explanations but no excuses for what she’d done when she made the decision to take all those pills. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes.”

“Well, so have I, so . . .” He trailed off. For the first time since she’d been home, she saw tears show up in his eyes, but just as quickly as they were there, it was as though he pushed them away.

“I remember the first time I held her,” she said wistfully, looking into the empty room, “right after she was born. It was such a relief, because with Miley being premature, they just rushed her off, but with Macy . . .” She smiled, longing to hold her just one more time. “They just let me hold her.” She wished she could find the words to describe to Tess how worthwhile all the pain of labor was in the end, when you had that chance to hold someone that was literally a part of you. But there just weren’t words for that sort of thing.

“I remember cutting the umbilical cord,” Michael said with that same tone of longing in his voice. “I could barely see what I was doing, I was crying so hard.”

“And do you remember the first time we felt her kick when I was pregnant?”

He smiled, and she could tell that, in his mind, he was right back there, living that memory all over again. “Yeah, you woke me up in the middle of the night. You said she was gonna kick a hole through your stomach.”

“She was.”

“I couldn’t fall back asleep for the rest of the night.”

She laughed a little, but then her memories started to go elsewhere, to the last memories, the saddest ones, and her laughter died out quickly. “Do you remember the last thing she ever said?” she asked him quietly.

Everything about him froze, and a huge frown swept across his face as he struggled to remember. When he couldn’t, he looked devastated. “No.”

But she did. She didn’t know how or why, but she remembered. “It was Da-da,” she told him. “In the car, right as we were leaving. That was the last thing she ever . . .” She faded, swallowing back tears.

“And the first thing she ever said was Mama,” he reminded her.

Despite her best efforts to not let any tears fall, she blinked, and one fell out the corner of her right eye. She quickly closed the door to the former nursery, unable to take any more of it. She leaned back against the closed door and slid down to the floor. Michael sat down beside her, not too far away.

“Does it ever seem surreal to you that you’re somebody’s dad?” she asked him. “Because I don’t think I’ve ever truly been able to grasp the fact that I’m somebody’s mom.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

She sniffed back tears and nearly whispered, “Moms and dads aren’t supposed to outlive their kids.” She wished there was something she could have done that night, some maternal instinct that would have kicked in and allowed her to find some possible way to save Macy. But there was no saving Macy, and she knew that. She still wished, though.

“You know,” she said, “sometimes I wonder how I can be so young but feel so old. Like, I just feel like I’ve lived through so much already. You know?”

“I know,” he agreed. “It hasn’t all been bad, though.”

“No.” Sometimes she forgot that. Sometimes she forgot that there were some amazingly good things that had happened to her. Even though losing Macy had been unbearably painful, having her in the first place had been extraordinary. And she still had Miley, and Miley was the bravest, toughest little girl to ever live, as far as she was concerned. And apparently she still had Michael, because he seemed content to just sit there in the hallway with her all night if that was what she wanted.

“We are still just twenty-five, right?” she said. “Because sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.”

“Yeah, we’re still twenty-five,” he assured her. “And . . . we’re still somebody’s mom and dad.”

She managed to smile a little. Because she loved that somebody more than anything in the world, and she knew he did, too.








TBC . . .

-April
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Part 153

Post by April » Sun Mar 10, 2013 5:18 pm

Hey, guys! Took me a little longer to get this update out today. I swear, losing an hour on Daylight Savings Time crap really messes me up.

Anyway, I'd better make it quick, because I have a mountain of grading to do. And that's not a metaphor mountain. It's the real thing.


THANK YOU FOR THE FEEDBACK:

Ellie

Novy

Grace




And on we go!









Part 153








Over the course of the next week and a half, Michael and Maria got into a routine. A very dependable, easy-going routine. Michael worked during the day, and Maria stayed home with Miley. She took her to physical therapy about three times a week, and every time, she was astounded to see how much progress she was making. By the time they got home from those appointments, Michael was usually on his way home, too. They spent a lot of evenings with Tess and Kyle, and Marty stopped by now and again, too.

But at the end of the night, it was always the same. They put Miley to bed, sat together in the living room for awhile either talking or watching TV, and then when Maria got tired, she headed upstairs, waving goodnight. Waving. And Michael stayed downstairs. And that was always how it was.

The routine changed at the end of her second week back, because that was when they were scheduled to go back to Cresthaven for a quick check-up. They got there early and waited outside Dr. Carlson’s office. Michael felt a little nervous, but Maria looked relatively calm.

“Does it feel weird being back here?” he asked her.

“A little,” she admitted.

It had to be weirder than she was letting on. It felt weird even for him. “Do you think your friend Ivy’s still here?”

She shrugged. “I hope not.”

Dr. Carlson came out of his office a moment later, a friendly smile on his face. “Maria and Michael,” he said. “It’s so good to see you both again.”

“Hi, Dr. Carlson,” Maria said, getting to her feet.

He held the door to his office open as she slipped inside. “How have you been?”

“Good.”

Michael followed her, thinking about the last time they’d sat in there together, how intense and emotional it had gotten. He didn’t anticipate it being like that today, but he was still nervous. He didn’t want to say or do anything to upset her or make her cry.

“Hi, Michael,” Dr. Carlson said.

“Hi.” He and Maria sat down as the doctor shut the door.

“Thank you both for coming back in,” Dr. Carlson said as he sat down across from them. “I think it’s really important to continue counseling even after leaving the facility. I’m glad you’ve made that decision.”

“Well . . . so are we,” Maria said.

Michael nodded, hoping that was true, hoping this wouldn’t get too intense and derail them after all the progress they’d made. They were really moving forward now.

“So you’ve been home for two weeks,” Dr. Carlson said. “How’s that going?”

“Really good, actually,” Maria replied without hesitation. “I’m glad to be back.”

“Yeah, she’s doing great,” Michael agreed. “She’s like a different person than when she left.”

Dr. Carlson smiled. “Why do you think that is, Maria?”

She thought about it for a moment, then answered, “I just think it was really helpful for me to be here. I started a lot of healing on my own, and it made me ready to keep healing back at home.”

“And if you had to sum up your feelings about being back, what would you say they were?”

“Well . . . relief,” she replied, “because Miley doesn’t hate me for being away. And I guess . . . I guess I feel encouraged, because it’s been going so well and I feel so much better.”

Michael smiled inwardly. If the session kept going like this, maybe they wouldn’t even have to come back.

“But kinda guilty, too,” she added quietly, “because I know now I never should’ve done what I did.” She lowered her head and mumbled, “No matter how bad it got, I never should’ve tried to kill myself.”

Michael felt his entire body tighten, and he had to shift around a bit in his seat to try to cover it up; but Dr. Carlson noticed.

“Michael, you had a bit of reaction to that.”

“Yeah.” The words rang out in his head over and over again, louder and louder. Kill myself. Kill myself. KILL myself. “It’s just hard to hear her say that out loud.” He remembered the sight of her collapsed on their bed, unconscious. He remembered holding her in the shower, praying to get some sort of reaction.

“It’s even harder to say it,” Maria confessed. “I really wish I could go back in time and take back that decision.”

He sensed a chance to lighten the mood, so he turned to her and said, “Well, you’re in luck, ‘cause I built a time machine while you were gone.”

She smiled. “Did you now?”

“Oh, yeah. We can change a lot of things.”

“Hmm, we could even pop back to, I don’t know, like the 1700s and do the whole Civil War thing.”

“That was the 1800s,” he informed her.

“Same thing.”

“They’re two completely different centuries.”

“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes, still smiling, and then returned her focus to Dr. Carlson. “Sorry,” she apologized.

“No, that’s fine.” He was smiling, too. “In fact, I can see why you feel encouraged. I feel the same. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you two be lighthearted with one another.”

“Well, we’ve been trying to be like this more often,” Maria told him. “We’ve been trying to enjoy each other’s company and do fun stuff as a family.”

“But we’ve had some serious conversations, too,” Michael added, wanting to make sure the doctor understood that they were taking this seriously.

“Yeah, I think we’re doing a good job of balancing it out,” Maria summarized confidently.

“That’s great,” Dr. Carlson said. “I’m glad to hear that. But one thing I haven’t heard either of you mention is any physical intimacy. What’s the progress on that front?”

Even though they’d both been relatively talkative so far, suddenly, both Michael and Maria fell silent. Finally, Maria quietly asked, “You mean . . . sex?”

“No, not necessarily,” Dr. Carlson clarified, “although that’s certainly part of it. I’m wondering more about the small-scale intimacy. Do you hold each other’s hands? Have you kissed? Are you sharing a bed at night?”

Again, they just sat there, each of them knowing that the answer to those questions was no. Michael thought back to the past two weeks, trying to remember just one time that he’d held her hand, and he couldn’t. In fact, the closest they’d gotten was that night in the kitchen, and even then, one touch had practically sent her running upstairs.

Maria finally attempted to respond, but all she got out was, “Um . . .”

Michael figured he could talk his way around an actual answer to this question, but he, too, could only manage to get one word out: “Um . . .”

After the session was over and they were walking through the parking lot to their car, Maria still wasn’t over it. “Seriously, I’ve never felt like a bigger idiot,” she said, whirling her hands around dramatically in the air. “It was like college algebra all over again. I was just sitting there, and I had no idea what to say, so I just kept saying ‘um’ over and over again.”

“Yeah, that was awkward,” he agreed, happy to put it behind him if that was what she wanted. “I wish he hadn’t asked that.”

“It’s his job to ask that,” she said as they stopped next to the car. “And maybe it’s a good thing he did.”

“What do you mean?” He pulled the passenger side door open for her.

She turned to face him with a worried look in her eyes. “Maybe we’re not doing as good as we thought.”

No, he wanted to say. We’re doing fine. This wasn’t some huge reality check. They had a routine, and it was working. Things were getting better, and they were going to keep getting better. He was sure of it.

He wanted to be sure of it.

She slumped into the passenger’s seat, and he shut the door, feeling more than a little defeated himself.

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

“So, as you can see, we feel like we’re doing really well here,” Liz proclaimed as their social worker, the ever so cold and removed Valerie Melton, finished her inspection of the house. “Garret’s been really happy.”

“We’ve got the house looking nicer than it ever did when my sister lived here,” Max added as they walked out onto the porch. “And I fixed this broken step.” He stepped down on the plank that had fallen out from under everyone for as long as he could remember, and once again, it gave way. He stumbled downward and vowed, “I’ll fix it again.”

Valerie scribbled down a few notes, then looked around the yard, nodded her head in approval, and said, “Well, I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised.”

“You are?” Max couldn’t believe it. He’d been expecting her to say something bitchy.

“Yes. It seems as if you’re crafting a safe and stable environment for Garret.”

“We’re trying,” Liz said softly.

“Mr. Evans, are you still working as a sales clerk at the . . .” She made a face of disgust. “Cockadoodle-doo adult video store?”

He was actually ashamed to admit that, so he said, “Well, I’ll be moving up to management soon.”

“And Mrs. Evans, you’re still an assistant at a design studio?”

“Yes, but I have been staying home a lot with Garret lately,” she admitted.

Max shook his head vehemently and mouthed ‘no’ behind Valerie’s back. She must have sensed what he was doing, though, because she turned to look at him. He stopped what he was doing and smiled.

“I want him to feel nurtured,” Liz said. “He’s never really had that before.”

“Uh, I’m serious about the management thing,” Max piped up again, “so financially, we’ll be alright.”

“Well, I’d like an update on your job statuses when I come back in four months,” Valerie said. “For now, I’m pleased with what I see here, and I’d like to see it continue.”

Liz breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

“I’ll see you in four months.” She walked past Max and said, “Good luck with your movies, Mr. Evans.”

He tossed the broken step onto the lawn and climbed back onto the porch with Liz. “It’s not like I film them,” he called after her. “I just sell ‘em.” He leaned towards Liz and muttered, “And watch ‘em from time to time.” He waited until Valerie drove off to say, “Hey, that’s a good idea, though.”

“Directing porn?”

“Or starring in it.” He shrugged. “Whichever.”

She laughed a little, but when he gave her a serious look, her voice took on a tone of warning. “Max . . .”

“No, I’m not gonna,” he said, cracking a smile. Although he was feeling pretty good about the way this visit had gone, so if she wanted to break out the video camera and do a little celebrating tonight, he sure as hell wouldn’t be opposed to it.

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

Over at the Valenti household that evening, Michael and Kyle helped Miley swim around in the pool while Maria and Tess sat out in long deck chairs and watched. And talked. Well, Maria was aware that she was doing most of the talking and Tess was doing most of the listening, but ever since that counseling session, she’d had so much she needed to discuss with her best friend, so many concerns that she’d so conveniently been overlooking.

“So do you think I’m right to stress out over this?”

“Honestly?” Tess shook her head. “Not really. I don’t think your doctor was encouraging you guys to hop into bed again tonight. He just wanted to gauge where you were at.”

“I guess.” Maria fell silent for a few seconds, watching as Michael held his hands under Miley’s back, helping her float. They were adorable together. And it was good that Miley was in there with him, because as long as she was, Maria didn’t get distracted looking at his bare chest.

No, she barely even noticed that.

“It just threw me for a loop,” she said, tearing her eyes away. “Do you think we’re taking things too slow?”

“Not at all,” Tess said. “In fact, I’d be more worried if you were rushing things. It’s only been two weeks.”

“I know.” She watched him again, fixated on the way tiny droplets of water shone on his skin. Maybe this whole family pool night had been a bad idea.

“It’s tricky,” Tess acknowledged. “There’s no timeline.”

“I wish there was.”

“Hey,” Kyle called out, interrupting the conversation, “are you girls gonna get in or just sit there and be boring?”

“Uh, pregnancy belly,” Tess said, tapping her little rounded bump. “I don’t think so.”

“Oh, come on, I like it,” Kyle said.

Suddenly, Tess started to get tremendously teary-eyed. “That’s not what you’re supposed to say,” she whimpered. “You’re supposed to say I still look really skinny.” She sprang to her feet, a mess of tears in an instant, and ran inside, sobbing.

Kyle groaned, already getting out of the pool. “She’s crazy,” he muttered, following her inside.

Maria laughed a little, getting a kick out of Tess’s hormones. Once he was gone, though, it was just her and Michael and Miley. And Michael was still very shirtless.

“So are you gettin’ in?” he asked.

“Get in, Mama!” Miley exclaimed.

How was she supposed to say no to that? That cute little voice and that cute little face, and the cute little way she splashed around in the water . . . “Okay,” she relented, her stomach immediately clenching into knots at the thought of stripping down into her bathing suit. But it would just be even weirder if she got in with her clothes on. Maybe this would be a step closer to that physical intimacy Dr. Carlson had brought up.

She turned her back towards Michael, muttering, “Oh god, please,” under her breath as she peeled off her shirt. She wasn’t sure what she was pleading for, whether it was to still look good in her bikini or to not regret that she hadn’t worn a one-piece; but whatever it was, the plea came out. She slipped off her shorts quickly, cringing nervously. What if he just didn’t find her attractive after . . . everything?

It’s not a big deal, she tried to remind herself as she turned back around and headed for the pool. It’s more about just playing with Miley.

“Wow, Mama, you look really pretty,” Miley said.

“Thanks.” She sat down on the edge and slipped her feet in the water, casting a quick glance at Michael to see if she could read anything off his reaction. His eyes were looking at every inch of her but her face, so she supposed that was a good thing.

She slid into the water, surprised by how cold it felt even though it was relatively warm outside.

“It gets warm fast,” Michael assured her.

“It’d better.” She was already shivering.

Miley turned to her dad and said, “I wanna float again,” so he helped get her positioned on her back and once again held his hands beneath her to help her stay at the surface. She had the little floaties wrapped around her arms, too. So cute.

“So has she been swimming a lot?” Maria asked.

“Not really, but now that it’s getting warmer, her therapist says it’s good rehab. A lot of people do this for exercise when they’re recovering.”

“I just gotta be careful,” Miley chirped, sounding as though she were parroting what Michael must have said to her a thousand times.

“That’s right.” He smiled down at her, causing her to laugh when he tickled her stomach with his free hand.

“ ‘member when I falled in?” she asked.

“Yeah, I try to forget.”

The back door slid open, and Kyle came rushing out a moment later. “Uh, I think I need Miley,” he declared. “Tess is locked in the bathroom, inconsolable, and I think Miley’s the only one who can console her.”

“I got it, Uncle Kyle!” Miley exclaimed, turning over onto her stomach.

“Whoa, okay,” Michael said, lifting her out of the water. “There you go.” He lifted her up out of the pool, and Kyle came and grabbed her hand to help her walk inside.

“You’re a stud, you know that?” he said. She smiled and nodded.

And just like that, Maria became very aware that it was just her and Michael outside now. Any lingering shivers disappeared completely, and what Michael said would happen came true: it warmed up fast.

“Well, this takes me back,” he said, moving the water around with his hands.

It took her back, too, inevitably, to the first time they’d ever made love, in a pool, all alone. Sort of like this. At the time, it had been the most intense, heart-pounding night of her life, and even now, it could only be eclipsed by New Year’s. But that had been heart-pounding in a very different way.

“Wanna play Marco Polo?” she asked.

His eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Kidding.”

“Oh.” He tried to laugh it off, but she could tell that his mind was racing the same way hers was.

She moved to the side to find some deeper water so that she could sink down lower, all the way up to her chin. The water was like an extra layer of clothing. It calmed her nerves a little bit.

An undeniably awkward silence settled in for a bit, and that almost made her feel more uncomfortable than the skimpy swimming did. So she put an end to it by splashing some water towards him.

“Hey . . .” He gave her a warning look, then lifted his arm as though he were about to smack it down against the water and splash a huge wave at her.

“No, don’t,” she said, cowering with her hands over her face. “You’ll mess up my makeup.”

“Oh, you’ll look fine without it.” He splashed her anyway.

“Michael!” she yelped, pretending to be outraged, even though she was laughing. “God!”

“Okay, I’m sorry. Come here.”

She shook her head, backing up a bit.

“I’m not gonna splash you.”

Did he really think she was going to fall for that? She kept backing up.

“Maria . . .”

But just the way he said that . . . how was it possible to stay away? She waded towards him, and with every step closer, the more she started to feel like she was in a hot tub instead of just a pool.

“Hold out your hands,” he said when she was only a few feet away.

She gave him a confused look, then went along with it and lifted her hands so they were resting on the surface of the water.

He stepped even closer toward her, slowly raising his hands beneath the water, palms up until they finally touched hers. Slowly, he wrapped his fingers around hers, his thumbs grazing her knuckles. And before she knew it, his fingers were interlaced with hers, and he was just standing there, holding her hands.

This had definitely been missing from their routine.

“See?” he said, staring at her as though he were seeing deep into her eyes. “We’re not doing so bad.”

She stared back and him and shivered again, but not because she was cold this time.

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

Tess gasped happily as she watched Michael and Maria from the window. “I think they’re having a moment.” All they’d needed was some alone time.

Kyle watched from over her shoulder. “That was a brilliant plan.” They turned to Miley and both high-fived her, and she giggled excitedly as she high-fived them back.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 154

Post by April » Sun Mar 17, 2013 4:25 pm

Ellie:
They obviously love one another, but have they truly moved on? Has trust been given/received? Again, only Michael and Maria could answer those questions.
Oh, yeah, certainly there is no doubt that they still love each other. They do, and they always will. But it takes more than that to make a relationship work, especially when there's a kid involved. So the trust thing is still a work in progress, but . . . at least it's actually progressing now. :)

Novy:
That is tough, reconnecting on a more physical intimate level. I think the more confident they both become with themselves it can work out. If they trust themselves, they can trust each other to be human and make mistakes if they are confident they won't break a part over it.
That's a good point. It's not just all about trusting the other person. They're learning to trust themselves, too. They have to trust that they're worthy of a second chance, trust that they won't mess it up this time.

Grace:
I found it funny that when the doctor asked them if they were physically intimate, their minds went straight to sex!
Well . . . :mrgreen:
I am still not completly convinced that if Isabel came back, she wouldn't be able to get between them though and I would like to see him shut her out of his life. It seems like it is easy that she left.
I mean . . . yeah, there's no denying that her absence does make things easier on both Michael and Maria right now. Even if she was here . . . I don't think Michael would fall for her tricks again. But it would most certainly have both him and Maria on edge.


THANK YOU FOR THE FEEDBACK!

I'm dropping off some music today! This is a song I absolutely adore called "Close Your Eyes" by Jump, Little Children. You can listen to it here or click on :) when you see it if you'd like to listen. Seriously, every time I hear this, I melt.









Part 154








Walking into Cockadoodle-doo always made Kyle feel like a kid walking into a candy store. But as tempting as it was to spend hours browsing through the tantalizing selection of goodies, sometimes he was there to talk business.

“Hey, Ralph, how’s it goin’?” he greeted the manager.

“Good. How about you?”

“Pretty good.” Kyle glanced around, making a mental note to rent the next volume of MILF Squirters before he left, then leaned against the counter and cut to the chase. “Say, I was thinking, we always said we were gonna collaborate on another Sex Sells auction, but things got kinda busy, and we just never got around to it. You still interested?”

“Oh, yeah, I think it’s a great idea,” Ralph said eagerly. “You’ll have to talk it over with the new manager, though.

“What?”

“Yeah, I’m movin’ on up. Corporate offices had an open position, so they offered it to me.”

Kyle suddenly felt as if everything he’d ever thought he knew about this place just flew out the window. “Wait, Cocadoodle-doo has corporate offices? It’s . . . a corporation?”

“Oh, yeah. They have Cockadoodle-doo stores all over the country.”

“Huh. I always thought it was your own little perverted enterprise.” He chuckled. “That’s interesting. Well, congratulations, man.”

“Thanks.”

“So, uh, who’s the new manager?”

As if on cue, Max popped out of the back room, grinning smugly. “That’d be me.”

Kyle glanced back and forth from the two men, already sure of which one he really didn’t want to work with. “Oh, come on!”

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

“So now I have to work with the guy.” Kyle squeezed his stress ball as hard as he could.

On the couch beside him, in between shoving heaping spoonfuls of potato salad and macaroni salad into her mouth, Tess pointed out, “Well, you don’t have to.”

“But I kinda do if I wanna do another Sex Sells auction.”

“So do it alone,” she suggested, trying to shove such a big heap of potato salad into her mouth that it spilled onto her shirt. She picked it up with her hands and popped it into her mouth anyway. “Didn’t the artwork make more money than the porn anyway?”

“Yeah, but it was the porn that lured people there in the first place.”

“Well, all I know is you better get this out of your system now, because we can’t be auctioning off pornography when we have a child. It’s inappropriate.”

He watched in amazement as she continued to eat more than should have been humanly possible, even for a pregnant chick. “Oh, so I guess watching it would be pretty bad, too, huh?”

Her response was an emphatic one. “Definitely. In fact, once the baby’s born, our lives need to be completely non-sexual.”

“Completely?” he whimpered, gripping his stress ball tighter.

“Yeah. I don’t even know if we’ll ever have sex again. We have to set a good example for him, you know?”

That sounded . . . awful. “No, we don’t,” he insisted, feeling absolute dread at the thought of never getting laid again. “Oh my god, you’re just kidding right?”

“Yes!” She laughed.

“Oh, thank God. So we can still get down?”

“Yes, it was just a joke. See, we pregnant people like to make jokes sometimes.”

“Oh, really? I thought you liked to cry and complain.” He laughed at his own joke, but she didn’t. In fact, the glare she gave him was so furious, it actually almost scared him. He tried to backtrack immediately. “Oh, baby, I don’t mean that.” But it was too late. She shoved her nearly empty bowls of potato salad and macaroni salad at him and stormed upstairs.

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

“Are you seriously this hormonal, or are you just playing it up?”

Tess craned her head to the side, smiling. “What do you think?”

Maria paused a moment, then declared, “I think you’re playing it up a little bit just so you can drive Kyle crazy.”

“I’m really not,” Tess insisted as the dog boys, Frank and George, continued to lead the way through the park. “I mean, I did fake some tears to get you and Michael alone in the pool the other night . . .”

“What?”

“But other than that, it’s all real. I can literally go from sobbing train wreck to raging bitch in two seconds flat.” They stopped at a bush Frank just had to lift his leg and pee on, and the minute he was gone, George decided he was going to go there, too. But when Frank saw that, he wasn’t happening, so they started alternating. This happened at least twice during each walk.

“God, was I like this when I was pregnant?” Maria wondered aloud.

“Are you kidding? You were way worse.”

“Not possible.”

Tess laughed, finally pulling her dog away from the bush. Maria let Frank score the last pee, and then she led him over to a bench. She and Tess sat down, and the dogs sniffed around aimlessly in the grass.

“Oh, look at us,” Tess said, “walking our dogs, giggling and gabbing. This couldn’t have happened a month ago. You’ve come a long way.”

“So have you,” Maria pointed out. Even though it felt like a long time ago, it really hadn’t been that long since Tess had blackened her hair and walked around with a gun in her purse. But ever since the car accident, it was as though she’d made the decision to put all that behind her and never think twice about it.

“I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately,” Maria admitted.

“Why?”

“Because . . . I was so disconnected. I checked out on everyone who cared about me most, left you all to fend for yourselves.” She felt most guilty about checking out on Miley, but Michael and Tess and Kyle . . . she’d checked out on them, too.

Tess immediately rushed to her defense. “No, Maria, you were going through something unimaginable.”

“You went through it, too. Among other things.”

It didn’t take long for Tess to get it. She nodded solemnly and muttered, “Billy.”

Maria sighed, hoping that if she verbalized her apology, the guilt would start to fade. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve . . . I don’t know, I should’ve just been there for you more than I was. Somehow.” Especially having lived through a similar experience . . . she just felt like there was no excuse for not being a better best friend at a time like that. “It’s so unfair that that happened to you.”

“It didn’t just happen,” Tess corrected quickly. “He did it to me. I did some reading online awhile ago, and people say it’s important not to make it sound like an accidental occurrence. Put the blame where it belongs. Billy did it. He made it happen.”

“Well, he can rot in jail with Alex now.” She hoped he would stay there for a long time, but she knew the reality. He’d probably get out way too early.

“Actually, he’s, uh . . . rotting in hell,” Tess corrected. “I kinda forgot you didn’t know. Billy killed himself.”

“What?” She couldn’t contain the shock in her voice. “When?”

“Um . . . shortly before . . . before you . . .” Tess trailed off.

“Before I tried to?” Maria filled in, no longer so uncomfortable with saying it now that she’d said it in front of Michael.

“Yeah. He hung himself in his jail cell. Everything was so nuts at that time, so Kyle and I haven’t really made a big deal out of it.”

“Oh my god.” As much as he deserved it, and as much as she didn’t feel bad, it was a lot to take in. And at the end of the day, Billy was still an ex-boyfriend, so that added on another layer of disturbing-ness. “Does Michael know?” she asked. If he didn’t, he would want to.

“Yeah, he actually told me before the prison officials did.”

Maria frowned, confused. “How’d he find out?”

“Um . . .” Tess’s pause was as long and awkward as Maria’s pause at Dr. Carlson’s had been. “I think Isabel told him,” she finally replied.

“Oh.” Of course. Of course.

“Yeah. It was all just really crazy. But I feel relieved. And I don’t know if it’s ever okay to feel joy in someone else’s passing, but . . .” Tess shrugged. “That’s how I feel.”

“I think it’s fine,” Maria assured her. “And I think I would feel the same way.”

“You mean, if Max . . . ?”

“No,” she clarified, “if Alex.” Max had only hurt her, and she could get over that. But harming her children was something else entirely, something unforgiveable. And that was exactly what Alex had done, even if he hadn’t meant to.

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

“I went to see him.”

Maria sat with Michael outside on the porch that night, fireflies dancing around them. “Really?” The conversation hadn’t been about Alex when it had begun, but somehow it had morphed into one.

“Yeah. I don’t know why. One night, I just decided I needed to, so I did.” He shrugged. “Went to the prison, sat down across from him, said a few things.”

Maria hugged her knees to her chest, again feeling guilty, because that wasn’t something he should have had to do alone. Although, she wasn’t sure she would have been able to accompany him, even if she had been relatively healthy. “What’d you say?” she asked.

“I think I basically told him Garret’s a good kid.”

She frowned, confused. Out of all the things he could have said . . . that?

“Well, I figured, since he’s the reason we don’t get to see Macy grow up, it doesn’t hurt to remind him he can’t see Garret,” he explained. “I don’t know.”

She nodded, understanding. Michael always knew how to get his point across in more impactful ways. “So was it, like, a closure thing?”

“Maybe,” he replied unsurely. “I don’t know if I’ll ever really get closure, though.”

“I know I won’t.” She sighed, trying to fathom what it must have been like to sit down just a few feet from the man who had killed your daughter. It kind of made her skin crawl. “I don’t think I can ever go see him,” she admitted. “I’d just be too angry.” Maybe if he had at least stopped . . . if he’d just stopped and tried to help . . . then maybe she’d be able to go. But he hadn’t stopped. He probably hadn’t even slowed down. “He’s gonna be there for a long time, right?”

“I hope so,” Michael said. “I mean, he ended a life.”

She wrapped her right arm around her stomach and mumbled, “Actually, he ended two.” It was strange, because a year ago, she’d wanted so badly to shed the weight she’d gained during pregnancy. And now, she wished she were packing it on for the same experience.

“You know, it sounds horrible,” Michael said, looking at her with a gleam of sadness in his eyes, “but sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I focus so much on losing Macy that it doesn’t always sink in that we lost another child, too.”

“Yeah, I know.” Sometimes she couldn’t think about that, because thinking about Macy was all she could bear.

( :) )

“You really think it was gonna be a boy?” Michael asked quietly.

She nodded, picturing a son with hair just like his daddy. “Yeah. I just had a feeling.”

Michael smiled wistfully, and she knew he was picturing the same little boy.

“I should’ve told you I was pregnant,” she acknowledged. “I should’ve given you that chance to be happy about it.”

“Ah, maybe it’s better you didn’t,” he said. “Easier.”

“It could never be easy,” she whispered, not even sure if he could hear her. In fact, she wasn’t sure which was worse, getting that chance to be happy or having it taken away before you ever even knew you had it. “Just think, if I was still pregnant, I’d be . . . well, rounder for starters, and out of my mind like Tess.” She managed to laugh a little, knowing that two hormonal girls probably would have been too much for the boys of the family to handle.

“And craving applesauce,” Michael added with a grin.

She shook her head, smiling. “Yeah, I don’t know why—and it’s not just any applesauce. It’s rosy applesauce, and I don’t even like rosy applesauce that much, except when I’m pregnant. It’s so weird.”

“I still love you.”

The suddenness with which he said those words probably would have knocked her over if she’d been standing. But since she was sitting, all she could do was look over at him, her mouth hanging open, no words of her own coming out.

Where had that come from?

“I don’t mean to rush things or make you uncomfortable,” he assured her, “but I’ve been holding that in for awhile now, and I just need you to know.”

She felt like she was frozen, unable to move, barely even able to blink as she gazed at him with a mixture of confusion and surprise. But inside her chest, her heart was pounding a mile a minute. Here she was ranting about applesauce, and he was saying he loved her. And this was just a regular night. And they were just sitting there.

She didn’t understand.

She mumbled a few things, mostly “goodnight” and “okay,” and quickly headed upstairs to go to bed, still not understanding. But from the moment her head hit the pillow, she knew there was no way she was falling asleep. The words he’d said were still ringing out too loudly in her mind.

She rolled over onto her side, wishing she could shut all her thoughts off, and when she saw how empty his side of the bed looked . . . something clicked. And she understood. She understood why he’d just blurted it out. Because he couldn’t not say it any longer.

She tossed the covers back, sprang out of bed, and treaded downstairs, anticipation weaving its way into her stomach. Her heartbeat hadn’t slowed down much at all, and now, it was picking up the pace again.

He was on the couch, of course, barely visible in the dark living room. But it was clear he wasn’t asleep, either. When he heard her coming, he sat up a little, propping himself on his forearms, and managed to make a little room for her.

She sat down on the middle cushion, looking down at her lap instead of at him. He didn’t say anything, or do anything to try to get her to say something. Instead, he just waited, and when she felt it strongest, she looked at him and said, “I still love you, too.”

In the same way that she had, he just waited, didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything, just stared at her. But he didn’t look confused; he looked relieved.

It wasn’t until she’d said the words that she realized how badly she’d wanted to say them, that she understood she’d been holding it in the same way he had. And now that it was all out, she found herself wanting to say more.

“Will you come sleep next to me tonight?” She really wanted his side of the bed to not be empty.

A slow smile crept across his lips, and words weren’t necessary. She stood up, holding out her hand, and he took it, letting her lead him upstairs.

He got under the covers slowly, almost as if he was worried that she would change her mind. But she wouldn’t. There was nowhere else she wanted to be, and nowhere else she wanted him to be, either. So she curled up on her side, not right next to him, but close enough that she could reach out and touch him if she got cold during the night. Even with her eyes closed, she could sense that he was watching her, and that made her feel . . . safer, somehow. Cared for.

She felt happy.

She opened her eyes when she sensed he had stopped looking, and indeed, he looked as though he were asleep. He looked so boyish and young lying there, like someone who had never felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. Even though he had.

Goodnight, Michael, she thought, letting her eyes fall shut.








TBC . . .

-April
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Part 155

Post by April » Sun Mar 24, 2013 2:43 pm

Gah! I wish I didn't have to make this update so quick today, (especially since a few of you left a lot of feedback!) but I have to be somewhere in about 60 minutes and I need to hurry!

So thank you SO MUCH for the feedback:

cjensen2

Ellie

Novy

Grace

simplyshiny


It's really interesting seeing the different reactions to Michael and Maria getting closer again.



Now there's no actual music to go along with this part, although I did quote several lyrics to several songs, including "Walk on the Ocean" by Toad the Wet Sprocket and "Everything" by Lifehouse (which was a song I used in the first story).

I enjoyed writing this part. So enjoy reading it!









Part 155







Clearly barely able to stay awake, Michael pulled up outside the Cowboy Club, rubbing his eyes and groaning. “Just so you know,” he said, getting out of the car, “I only got about two hours of sleep last night.”

“Oh my god, me, too!” Maria exclaimed, shutting her door. “I thought it was just me.”

“No, my mind was racing.”

“Mine, too! And you were so sweaty.”

“I was nervous,” he explained, walking around to the other side of the car. “And you were like a brick wall laying there.”

“I was trying not to move. I didn’t wanna wake you up.”

“I wasn’t asleep.”

She laughed a little and joked, “Man, if I’d known, we could’ve stayed up and played Twenty Questions.”

“Ah, we’ll work on it,” he vowed, holding out his hand.

She took it, linking her fingers with his and proudly walked into the club with him, hand in hand. “It was nice, though.”

“Yeah, it was,” he agreed. He stopped when they entered what now looked like a sorry excuse for what used to be a bustling dance joint.

“Oh, Marty, it’s so bare and empty in here,” Maria remarked.

“I know.” He was at the counter, boxing up glasses. “It’s depressing, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

He surveyed them for a moment, and then his eyes lit up. “Oh, but you two aren’t.”

Maria grinned coyly, unable to hide how gleeful—literally gleeful—she was feeling at the moment. It was well worth the tiredness.

“You need some help?” Michael asked.

“Uh, sure,” Marty replied. “You can start unhooking some sound equipment up on the stage, if you want.”

Michael let go of Maria’s hand and headed that way.

“Thanks, Big Boy,” Marty chirped.

Michael turned back around for a minute, halfway cringing, and admitted, “I actually missed you calling me Big Boy,” before climbing up on the stage.

Marty chuckled, then lowered his voice and adamantly asked Maria, “Did you guys have sex last night?”

“No,” she informed him. “But we did sleep together.”

He scrunched up his face, confused. It took him a bit, but finally, he figured it out. “Oh, you mean . . .” He folded his hands by the side of his head, pretending to sleep. “With snoring.”

“I do not snore.”

“Bet you do.”

“No, I don’t,” she insisted. “Michael, do I snore?”

“Like a freight train,” he answered at once.

She huffed, just not willing to accept that. “Well, whatever, I didn’t snore last night because we didn’t even sleep.”

Again, Marty looked perplexed. “Wait a minute, I thought you said you didn’t have sex, though.”

“We didn’t.”

“So . . . you didn’t have sex, but you didn’t sleep. Did you just . . . lay there?”

“Yeah.” When he put it like that, it didn’t sound like much, but it was. It really, really was. “It was cute and romantic,” she insisted. She wanted more nights like the last one. But more than two hours of sleep would be an added bonus.

“Hey, Maria, remember when you forced me to sing karaoke up here?” Michael said as he wound up a long extension cord.

“Yeah, how could I possibly forget how off-key you were?” she shot back.

“Oh . . .” He pretended to look offended. “There it is.”

God, it felt good to banter again.

“Okay,” Marty said, “I’m gonna go . . . clean something.” He gave Maria a thumbs up, then quickly scampered off into the back.

“Was I really that off-key?” Michael asked, setting the extension cord aside.

“Oh, yeah. It was bad. But oh-so fun.” She climbed up on the stage with him, plucking the microphone from its stand. None of the equipment was turned on, but she sang into it anyway. “They say we’re young and we don’t know. We won’t find out until we grow.” She then thrust the microphone towards him, expecting him to do his part.

But he just stood there, a dumbfounded look on his face.

“You forgot the words?” she shrieked.

“I never knew the words. I just looked off the little screen the whole time.”

“This is devastating.” ‘I Got You Babe’ was a signature piece of their history together.

“Well, I remember one part,” he said, quickly seizing the microphone from her. He cleared his throat and sang out—badly—“So put your little hand in mine. There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”

That seemed appropriate.

She joined in on the chorus, accepting his hand when he held it out for her. “Babe. I got you, babe. I got you, babe.”

Michael tried to keep going with “I got you--” but she cut him off with a loud laugh.

“What?”

“Oh god,” she exclaimed, “you’re still so off key.”

“I try my best. Come on, how many guys would do this with you?”

“Hmm . . .” She pretended to think long and hard about it. “Not many, I suppose.”

“That’s right.”

“Let’s put you to the test, though. Can you sing my favorite song?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said confidently. “Can you sing mine?”

“For sure.” She grabbed the microphone from him, waited a moment, then broke out the signature strand of a Marvin Gaye classic. “Let’s get it on.” Complete with a little hip-shaking and all.

He chuckled, shaking his head. “That’s not my favorite.”

“No, I know. It’s . . .” It was pretty obvious, is what it was. “Somebody told me that this is the place where everything’s better and everything’s safe.”

He grinned, and she knew she had it right.

“And then it goes on to something else,” she said, not able to recall the rest of the lyrics, “about flying with the eagles or--”

“Walk on the ocean.”

“That’s it. Who even sings that?”

“Toad the Wet Sprocket.”

She stared at him in disbelief and thunderously echoed, “Toad the Wet Sprocket?” What the hell was a sprocket? And why was it wet? And where did the toad come in? “Seriously?”

He nodded.

“You’re a weird dude.”

“Oh, you like me that way,” he mumbled, once again taking the microphone back from her. He pressed it to his lips and sang low, “And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you? And you tell me how could it be any better than this?” He glanced away self-consciously for a moment, then kept going. “ ‘Cause you’re all I want. You’re all I need. You’re everything, everything.” He shrugged. “Somethin’ like that.”

“Lifehouse.” She felt excited little tingles all over, even though it wasn’t exactly the world’s best serenade. “How did you know that was my favorite?”

“I know a lot about you,” he replied simply. “I don’t know why that’s your favorite song, though.”

“It’s a good song.”

“Yeah, but why else?”

“Well . . .” She moved a little closer to him, closer than she had in awhile, and tilted her head back to look up at him. “You know how you said that Titanic song is the song that plays in your head whenever you paint me?”

He nodded.

“Well, this is the song that plays in my head whenever you kiss me.” She blushed right after she said the words, because it was sort of embarrassing to have that kind of song. Only sort of.

She hadn’t meant to set up the situation, but she realized she had when he started to lean in. And she felt herself leaning in, too. And in the back of her mind, the song started to play.

“Sorry,” Marty blurted suddenly, causing them both to separate immediately. He was standing below the stage, holding a glass of wine in his hand. “Didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Maria took a deep breath to steady herself. “No, you’re fine.” This was probably for the best. “Michael was just singing. And he was actually kind of on-key this time, so . . . wonders never cease.”

He laughed nervously, then asked Marty, “You need some help?”

“Uh . . . yeah.” Marty nearly winced, as though he felt bad for asking for it. “There’s a lot of heavy lifting, and I’m not strong; I’m just sexy.”

“I got it,” Michael said, hopping down off the stage. He disappeared into the back, and Maria watched him go, wondering how much longer they would or even could possibly prolong it until that song started up in her head again.

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

Maybe she should have been ready to go to bed after complaining all day about how tired she was, but Maria felt strangely awake that night after putting Miley to bed. Michael, too, seemed content to just stay awake and talk, so she went on a quick food run downstairs and came prancing back into the bedroom with sugary goodness.

“What’d you get?” he asked her.

“Pudding.” She held up to Snack Packs pudding cups excitedly.

“Wow. Fancy.”

“Pudding’s awesome and you know it.” She tossed one of the packs and a spoon at him, then hopped onto the bed, facing him and the headboard. She peeled off the lid to her pudding and dug her spoon in, taking a moment to savor the snack. “Mmm, mouthwatering,” she declared.

He laughed a little, dipping his spoon into his as well.

“So I was thinking, our little singing thing was fun today,” she said. “Wanna see what else we know about each other?”

“I know everything,” he claimed readily.

“Well, let’s test that theory.”

He thought about it for a minute, then grinned and said, “Alright.”

“You sure? ‘Cause I know you’re so tired and probably ready to go to sleep,” she teased.

“Nah, I’d rather stay up with you.”

She smiled, struggling to act calm, even though inside, she’d been praying he’d say that. “Okay. So we take turns coming up with categories, and we both have to answer. Got it?”

“Got it. You go first,” he urged.

“Okay, we’ll do . . .” She shrugged, figuring it was best to keep it easy to start out. “Favorite food.”

“Oh, you tried to throw me off with the pudding. Nice try. But it’s ice cream.”

“Yeah, that was kinda obvious,” she admitted. “Yours is . . . your mom’s meatloaf, and you wish she would make it more often.”

He nodded. “You’re good. My turn?”

“Yep.”

“Hmm, favorite . . . movie.”

She groaned. “Ugh, Braveheart.”

“That’s great cinema right there.”

She wasn’t about to get into a debate about the merits of that particular film. It didn’t matter how many times she saw it, she never got the appeal. But whenever it was on TV, he sat down on the couch and refused to do anything else. “I don’t know how many times you’ve made me watch that.”

“About half as many times as you’ve made me watch Clueless.”

Now that was some great cinema. “It’s so good,” she raved. “Tess and I used to pretend we were the characters. And we memorized the dialogue, so we’d act out the scenes while we watched.”

“So I’m right?” he concluded.

“You’re right. It’s Clueless.”

“Which is what you were in college algebra.”

“Hey!” She almost felt like flicking some pudding at him for that little remark, but it was too tasty. “Okay, yes, so true,” she acknowledged, shoveling a heaping spoonful of the chocolate-y goodness into her mouth. “Okay, um . . . favorite TV show?”

“This is too easy. Family Guy.”

“And yours is . . .” She trailed off abruptly, realizing that she wasn’t quite sure. “Crap, why did I pick this one?”

“A stumper, huh?” He finished off his pudding and set the container and spoon aside on the nightstand. Linking his hands behind his head, he grinned eagerly, as though he could sense that he was going to win this.

“Maybe . . . maybe that show with the guy with the hair, and he paints,” she guessed desperately. “And he’s always saying, ‘Paint a happy little tree. Paint a happy little tree right next to this friendly little lake.’” She cringed, knowing she wasn’t right.

“No,” he confirmed.

“I know, I was reaching.” As much as she hated to admit defeat, she knew she’d burned that guess. “What is it?”

Family Guy.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, you got me addicted to it back in college.”

“Oh, man, I really shot myself in the foot with that one.” She swirled her spoon around in her mouth, trying to get every last piece of food off. She couldn’t help but notice that Michael’s eyes drifted down to her lips for a moment, but he snapped himself out of it a moment later and returned to their little game.

“Okay, I got one,” he announced. “Favorite Family Guy character.”

She leaned towards him so she could set her empty pudding container aside next to his, and she decided to take the opportunity to scoot a little bit closer. Just a little bit. “Well, there are many good ones, but yours is definitely Brian.”

“Definitely,” he agreed. “And I know yours is Stewie.”

“Yeah, it’s, like, no contest.” Although the Greased-Up Deaf Guy never ceased to crack her up, either. “Hmm, favorite episode?”

“There’s, like, hundreds to choose from.”

“Yours is the one where Brian and Stewie go to college.” She smirked confidently, sensing that she was making a bit of a comeback now.

“How’d you know that?”

She shrugged. “I’m perceptive.” Even though he’d seen that episode dozens of times, it was like Braveheart to him. Whenever it was on, he had to stop whatever else he was doing and just sit down and watch.

“I think that’s your favorite, too,” he decided.

“Dammit!” How did he keep doing this? There had to be something she could use to stump him.

Although it was pretty adorable that he knew so much about her.

“I’m not gonna let you win,” he vowed.

“Well, I’m gonna find a way,” she promised in return.

Amusement gleamed in his eyes as he said, “Okay, uh . . . let’s see, I’m running out of favorites. Maybe . . . favorite book?”

She made a face. “Oh, Michael . . .”

“That’s right, you don’t have one,” he registered. “Do I get a point for knowing you don’t have one?”

“No.”

“Fine. Um . . . favorite sport? I don’t know.”

“Favorite sport?

“Yeah, you know, those physically active things you didn’t do in high school.”

“Neither did you,” she pointed out quickly. “Okay, well, I don’t know—I do know, actually. It’s women’s beach volleyball, because you like the skimpy outfits.”

“I do,” he confessed. “Good job. I’m gonna guess . . .” He hesitated, actually seeming unsure for the first time since they’d started. “Well, you like watching gymnastics during the Olympics, so I’ll go with that.”

“Ha, no!” she exclaimed triumphantly. “It’s ballroom dancing.”

“What? That’s not a sport.”

“Yes it is. A sport is anything physically active that involves competition. They show competitions on TV, and you know it’s physically active, on account of you sucking so bad at it when I made you do that salsa lesson years ago.” Didn’t hurt to rub a little salt in the wound.

“Man, you’re hard on me today,” he said. “Insulting my singing, my dance ability . . .”

“Or lack thereof.” She grinned teasingly.

“What about your lack of math ability?” he retorted.

“I so don’t care.” Who needed math in the real world anyway? That was what calculators were for.

“Alright, we’re tied,” he recapped. “Keep it goin’.”

“Hmm . . .” She was at a loss. Though there were certainly probably more favorites that they could have gone through, she couldn’t come up with any. Except one, but it wasn’t one if she was sure she should bring up. Still, with nothing coming to mind, she was left with no choice. She shrugged and just decided to go with it instead of overanalyzing whether or not it was appropriate to ask. “Okay, what the hell? Favorite sexual position.”

His eyebrows shot upward. Clearly, he hadn’t been expecting that one.

“I’ll go first, ‘cause it’s so easy,” she volunteered. “You’re such a guy: doggie style.”

“Well, you’re such a girl,” he said. “You on top.”

She nodded. Yep, that was it. Although when it came to Michael, any position was a good one.

It suddenly felt very hot in there.

“I guess we’re still tied,” she said, unable to look away from him, even though now she had sex memories racing through her mind.

His eyes were glued to hers more than they were ever glued to Braveheart. “We might have to play all night,” he warned.

She smiled, hoping they would.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 156

Post by April » Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:04 am

Ellie:
Love the sweet moments between Maria and Michael. Especially their spirited game of Who Knows Who Best they had in bed later that night.
Seems they both know each other pretty well. :)
Gotta leave it there, as I'm watching the miniseries The Bible with my Dad.
You know, I haven't been watching that, but I've heard all about "Hot Jesus." :lol:

Grace:
Back to the story, I loved the game and the lighthearted banter. They are regainin their friendship slowly but surely!
Gotta get that friendship back before you can get anything else back. And luckily for them, the friendship aspect of their relationship is coming back pretty naturally.

Novy:
The chemistry is great. It's like their courting each other again. Which I guess they are essentially, getting to know the person they are now with scars and uncovering the parts that never really left but hadn't had a chance to say hi until now.
What a great way to put it! I totally agree. It's like . . . it's like they have this opportunity to fall in love with each other all over again. Which is exciting for both of them and for everyone who cares about them.
Much respect to you April. You are amazing to be able to bring them here to this moment after everything you put them through. It makes you appreciate these moments even more.
Having gone through so much angst, I appreciate writing these small, lighthearted scenes even more, too. :)
Are we nearing the end?
Nearing the end but still not right at the end yet. There is still some stuff left to resolve.


Thank you for the feedback!








Part 156








“I don’t know how the hell this is happening, but I’m all for it. This is awesome.” Michael couldn’t even contain his excitement at work the next day. “This is, like, vintage Michael and Maria. We’re really reconnecting again.”

“You mean . . . reconnecting?” Kyle made a circle out of his left thumb and index finger and poked his right index finger inside.

“No. Not yet,” Michael said. “Whatever, man, don’t steal my thunder. I’m satisfied at the rate we’re goin’. Do you realize we just hung out last night—literally just hung out and talked like we did back in college?”

“You guys never just talked in college,” Kyle said.

“We did before we started screwing.” In some ways, those had been the easiest, most carefree days of his life. “And the thing is, we weren’t even talking about anything important, but it was great, and we stayed up for hours. I’ve gotten maybe five hours of sleep in the past two nights, and I’m not even tired. I feel . . . exuberant.”

“Exuberant?” Kyle laughed at the word choice.

“Yeah, exuberant.” It almost felt like there was some kind of new energy running all the way from the top of his head down to the tips of his toes. He felt excited about the future again, and it seemed like it’d been so long since he’d been able to feel that way.

“Well, I’ve probably gotten that same amount of sleep lately,” Kyle said. “Tess has been up all night, puking out her insides. Loudly.” A semi-crazed look swept over his face, as though he needed the sleep Michael didn’t care so much about. “It’s the morning sickness that can’t tell time, best friend of the hormones that can’t take a joke.”

Normally, Michael would have sympathized or offered some kind of advice, but he was too exuberant to do that right now. “Oh, joking. That’s another thing. She’s like old school, Maria; she’s making me laugh all the time. And I’m . . . making her blush. Dude, do you know how long it’s been since I’ve made that girl blush? And I don’t even really think I’m doing anything spectacular. I’m just tryin’ to be my normal self, and she’s just tryin’ to be her normal self, and something’s just clicking.” Maybe there was a better explanation he just wasn’t aware of, but as long as the clicking continued, he was happy. “It feels natural; it doesn’t feel forced. I mean, for the first time in a long time, I’m actually waking up and looking forward to the day ahead of me.”

Kyle chuckled, shaking his head. “Dude, you’re wired.”

“Oh, I know, there’s no way I’m goin’ to sleep tonight.”

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

Maria had to laugh at Michael as he lay asleep on the couch that night, sprawled out flat on his stomach, mouth hanging open as he snored gently. He’d nodded off shortly after dinner, despite promising Miley that he would play a game with her. Now Maria was the one playing the game, but it was Miley’s own made-up game involving rubber bands and pencils, and she had no idea how to play.

“Daddy’s tired,” Miley said, scooping up all the pencils in her hands. Then she dumped them all out on the floor. As far as Maria could tell, she was playing some kind of warped version of Pick-Up-Sticks where you could only use the rubber bands to grab the pencils.

“Yeah, he is,” she agreed, smiling at her daughter adoringly. She could spend every night like this, just watching her little girl.

“Not me!” Miley proclaimed proudly. “I wanna stay up all night.”

“Oh, no, you don’t.” Maria scooped her daughter up in her arms, so eager to be able to hold her close without that damn back brace in the way. “You wanna go to bed at a reasonable hour so Mama can get to sleep, too.”

Miley shook her head stubbornly. “Nuh-uh.”

“Yeah-huh.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Yeah-huh.”

“Nuh--”

“Yes you do, Miley,” Maria cut in before the endless debate could continue any further. “Trust me, you do. Ten more minutes, then you’re gettin’ dressed for bed.”

Miley pouted for a minute, but then she was over it. “I missed you, Mama,” she said, snuggling closer.

Maria stroked her hair, hair that was bound to be as wild as her dad’s, and rested her chin atop her head. “I missed you more than you’ll ever know,” she said.

Miley yawned, despite her proclamation a mere minute earlier that she would stay up all night, and mumbled, “Daddy was sad, too.”

Maria looked over at Michael again, and he looked so content as he slept. It was hard to think of what it had been like for him while she had been gone. “Was he?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Yeah.” Miley’s voice was getting softer now, too, a sure sign that she was also falling asleep. “But he’s happy now.”

Maria smiled, relieved that, even after everything, she could still bring that out in him. And apparently he still brought it out in her, because she felt happy, too.

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

Being on campus felt like being back in a different life. A simpler one. But somewhere in the back of her mind, Maria knew that the last time she’d been there was to drop out. It was sort of a nice feeling, knowing she was now here for the complete opposite reason.

She made the familiar trek to the building where she’d had most of her classes those past two years, then headed up to the third floor, where things were less familiar. She traipsed down the hall to where she thought she remembered her advisor’s office being—she’d hardly ever stopped by there, on account of not being the world’s most stellar student—but when she got there, two secretaries told her there was someone new doing the job. They sent her back to see her anyway.

Maria took a deep breath and knocked on the closed office door. There was no response so she slowly pushed it open and said, “Hello?”

“Yes?” an emotionless voice responded.

Maria pushed open the door further and came face to face—well, almost, face to face, because the woman’s face was glued to a stack of papers she was sorting through on her desk—with a grey-haired woman with pointy black-rimmed glasses. She had on a red turtleneck, even though turtleneck season was over, and she seemed impossibly tense.

For some reason, Maria felt her stomach knot up. “Hi,” she managed. “Are you my advisor?”

“Possibly,” the woman answered, still without looking up. “Elementary education?”

“Yeah. Last time I was here, I had a different advisor.”

“They fired her.”

“Oh. I see.” The last advisor had been way more friendly and approachable. Maria wasn’t even sure if she should sit down. “Well, I’m--”

“Do you have an appointment?” the woman cut in before she could even introduce herself.

“No. But they said you could squeeze me in.”

“Who said?”

“The ladies out front.”

Her advisor grunted, setting her huge stack of papers down on the floor. “That’s because they don’t know how busy I am.” Almost immediately, she picked up another stack and started rifling through them.

“I’m sure you are,” Maria said, “but I don’t make it to campus much anymore--”

“Don’t you attend class?”

“Well, I’m not taking any classes right now.”

Finally, the cranky old woman glanced up and made eye contact, but she just looked annoyed. “So you’re not even a student.”

“No, I am, I just--” Maria wrung her hands together frustratedly, feeling her chance at re-enrollment slipping through her grasp. “Okay, let’s start over,” she said, bravely sitting down in the empty chair across the desk. “I’m Maria, you’re my advisor, and I need advising. Here’s my situation: I was supposed to graduate this semester, but I’m not going to. My student teaching placement was all lined up, but I never went.”

Her advisor shrugged uncaringly. “That was your choice. If you’re looking for sympathy, you won’t find it here.”

Maria wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, Why the hell did they fire the old one and hire you? But she couldn’t do that. If there was any chance that she was going to get some help here, she needed to play nice. “You don’t understand,” she said, trying to remain calm. “My life got turned upside down, and I know you probably hear that all the time around here, but it’s not an overstatement. I’m trying to fix things, though, so I really wanna know if it’s possible for me to be readmitted into the program for the fall semester and do my student teaching then.”

The advisor sighed impatiently. “Melanie . . .”

“Maria.” Bitch.

“The elementary education program is competitive. You chose to drop out, thereby wasting a spot that could have been utilized by someone else.” She sat back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. “Now, I could pull a few strings and try to get you readmitted, but I’m not sure I feel inclined to.”

“Please,” Maria begged. “It would mean so much to me.” Just knowing that her life was actually getting back on track . . . it would help keep her going if she ever got sad again, and it would give her something to look forward to, something to work towards.

Her advisor seemed to seriously consider it for a moment, then said, “It depends.”

“On what?”

“On why you dropped out in the first place.”

Maria’s entire body tensed. That was . . . involved.

Her advisor nearly smiled, almost as if she were enjoying this. “This had better be one very good excuse.”

Maria shifted around nervously. An excuse? No. It was so much more than that.

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

“Ugh! I just wanted to punch her in her fat face!” Maria vented as she paced back and forth around the gallery that afternoon. “I mean, she wasn’t really fat, but . . . she was just a bitch! And she had a turtleneck on. Oh my god.”

“My advisor was hot,” Kyle piped up randomly, grinning like an idiot. “Selena.

Maria ignored him and kept ranting. “I hate people like her who just talk down to you like you’re some stupid, insignificant kid. She doesn’t even know me or anything I’ve been through.”

“Did you try explaining it to her?” Michael asked, hating that the whole thing had upset Maria like this.

“Not, like, in detail,” she admitted.

Michael gave her a look. No wonder she didn’t understand.

“No, I didn’t tell her what all happened, and I’m not going to, because she said I needed an excuse, and Macy . . .” She trailed off for a moment, a flash of sadness flying through her eyes as her frenetic pacing slowed. “She’s more than that.”

“That is the reason you dropped out, though,” Michael pointed out. “It’s not just an excuse. It’s something everyone with a heart can understand.”

“Oh, well, there’s the problem: She doesn’t have a heart. And even if she somehow did, I don’t think I could ever sit there and rehash the whole ordeal with someone as cold and emotionless as her.” Maria sighed, finally stopping her pacing altogether. She stuffed her hands in her pockets and looked down at her feet, looking sort of defeated. “I don’t know,” she mumbled, “maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Michael felt his heart go out to her, and he wanted to do something. Even if it wouldn’t work, he needed to try.

So that evening, he found himself on campus after telling a little white lie to Maria. He’d told her he was going to work a little late, even though he was on a mission to do what she just wasn’t able to. He owed her that much. After everything she’d been through, after everything he’d put her through, it was the least he could do.

He met up with her advisor just as she was getting ready to leave for the night.

“Hi,” he said, letting himself into her office. “I’m Michael.”

“I’m leaving,” she said quickly, slinging her purse over her shoulder, “so we’ll deal with whatever academic crisis you’re having tomorrow.”

“Actually, we’ll deal with it right now,” he corrected adamantly, already understanding why Maria had so disliked this woman. She radiated unpleasantness. “You might remember meeting a certain girl today: very blonde, very pretty, name’s Maria.”

“And you must be her knight in shining armor.” The advisor rolled her eyes. “I see about five of you per week.”

“Then that must mean you’re not very good at your job.”

“It’s not my job to coddle a girl who wasn’t tough enough for the rigors of our curriculum.”

He laughed at the ridiculousness of that. “Oh, you have no idea how tough she is.” He knew Maria was reluctant to divulge a whole lot of information, but he wasn’t, not if it would help her get what she wanted, what she deserved. “She’s only twenty-five and she’s almost died twice. And our youngest daughter, who wasn’t even a year old . . . she did die. Car accident, New Year’s, drunk driver, explosion. Maybe you heard about it.”

For the first time since he’d walked in there, the stern woman’s face changed from annoyance to . . . some kind of emotion. It was like a mixture of intrigue and the slightest bit of compassion. “You’re that family,” she realized.

“Yeah, we’re that family.” He wondered if that was how everyone thought of them. “And there’s a lot more she couldn’t tell you, because she’s still too uneasy to talk about it with someone like you; but I’ve got no problem bringing up the miscarriage, or the temporary paralysis, or, hell, even the infidelity, ‘cause it all happened, and she’s fighting through it.” He swallowed hard, hoping what he was saying was having at least some kind of effect, because it wasn’t easy on him, either. “So if anyone deserves a second chance in this program, it’s her without a doubt.”

The advisor didn’t immediately agree like he’d hoped she would. But she didn’t disagree, either.

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

“Mama’s sad again.”

Well, it was official. Even Miley noticed it. But then again, Miley noticed a lot.

“No, sweetie,” Michael assured her as he sat with her at the dinner table, trying to get her to eat her vegetables for the night. “She just had a bad day.”

Miley frowned, and Michael could tell she was worried. A little girl like Miley shouldn’t have known enough and experienced enough in life to worry like that.

“She’s gonna be fine,” he promised quietly, reaching over to stroke her hair.

Maria, meanwhile, sat in the living room, curled up on one end of the couch, her eyes fixated on whatever program was on TV, even though she clearly wasn’t watching. She’d joined them for dinner but hadn’t said much.

“Hi, Mama,” Miley chirped.

Maria tried to force a smile. “Hi, baby.” Moments later, her cell phone vibrated on the coffee table. She groaned and said, “Ugh, I don’t feel like talking to anyone.”

“You know if that’s your mom, she’ll worry if you don’t answer,” Michael pointed out.

“True.” She leaned forward, grabbed her phone, and answered it sluggishly. “Hello?”

Michael watched in interest as her facial expression suddenly shifted. It was as though something had woken her up.

“Yes, this is her. She. This is she.” She gave Michael an unsure look, and he nodded to let her know that ‘this is she’ was indeed right. She sat up straighter, gripping the phone tightly. “Really?” A smile found its way to her face. “Oh my god, yes. Yes, I’m interested.”

Michael felt himself start to sit up straighter, too. This sounded good, sounded like maybe his efforts that evening were paying off.

“Sure, I can do tomorrow,” she continued on eagerly. “10:00. Sounds good. Thank you.” She ended the call and set her phone down in her lap, holding both hands out in front of her. “Whoa.”

“You look shell-shocked,” he remarked.

“I am.” She rose to her feet, looking lighter than she had when she’d first gotten home. “That was he director of the Elementary Education program. He wants to interview me to see if I should be readmitted.”

“Maria, that’s great.”

“Good job, Mama,” Miley cooed.

“Thanks. He said my advisor talked to him about me.” She laughed excitedly. “You know, I thought I botched that meeting with her, but apparently I did something right.”

Michael smiled, not about to tell her he’d pull a few strings. This was all about her, not him. But it felt nice, after so many failed efforts to help her after the accident, to be able to do something good, something good for her.

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

Insomnia took hold of Maria that night after the initial rush of excitement died down. The nervousness kicked in, and she lay awake most of the night worrying about whether she could make the most of the opportunity given to her. This was potentially her one and only shot, and she didn’t want to blow it.

She met with the director of the program the next day, a little earlier than expected because she’d shown up early and he hadn’t had any other appointments. His name was Dr. Petrone, and he seemed to be the exact opposite of the stodgy advisor. He was young ,dressed casually, and didn’t intimidate her with abrasiveness. They sat down in his mess of an office where his Golden Retriever openly roamed around, and the tone of the interview got off to an immediately friendly start when, before asking her any questions, he offered her candy, which she, of course, gladly accepted and put in her purse to indulge in after the interview.

As their conversations progressed, though, the questions turned more serious. They became less about her teaching philosophies and more about her personal life.

“Maria,” Dr. Petrone said, “I would love to readmit you, but to do that, I think I need a full understanding of why you dropped out.”

She’d been prepared for this. Hell, the one nice thing about insomnia was that it gave you plenty of time to contemplate what you wanted to say. She took a calm, steadying breath and said, “Sure. Um . . . I’m not trying to make excuses, but things did get really intense for me. My whole life basically fell apart in an instant.” Saying it out loud made it sound like some over-dramatic movie, but it was all true. And it would always have some kind of effect on her.

“What exactly happened?” Dr. Petrone probed cautiously.

Again, she took a breath to calm her emotions. She wasn’t going to sit there and start crying. She wanted to be professional. “Well, at the start of the new year, I was on my way to marrying the man I love, and then we were hit by a drunk driver. Our ten month-old daughter died, I miscarried, and my three year-old daughter had to have spinal surgery just so she could walk again.”

Dr. Petrone didn’t say anything right away. He just looked at her sadly, then looked away, then looked at her again. “I don’t even know what to say,” he admitted. “I’m so sorry.”

Maria nodded, still feeling like she was in control of the situation and in control of all the feelings talking about it brought up in her. “I didn’t handle it well,” she confessed. “I just . . .” Well, there was no need to go into detail about all of that. “I didn’t handle it well,” she repeated, hoping that would be enough. “I was severely depressed. I had to seek treatment, and I’m still healing, but I’m doing so much better now. I just wanna be able to move on with my life.”

Dr. Petrone smiled supportively. “I’m glad to hear that. And I certainly think it’s understandable that college wouldn’t be so important in light of everything else you were dealing with. It’s commendable that you sought help with your grief and impressive that you’re here now.”

“Thank you.” It wasn’t very often she heard compliments like that.

Dr. Petrone leaned forward, taking a piece of candy out of his own candy dish. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, unwrapping it and popping it into his mouth. “I want to readmit you into the program. But all of our spots for the fall semester are already filled. I don’t think it would be a bad thing to wait until the spring semester. That’s when most of the jobs open up, and that would give you a little more time to heal further. You could even get your substitute teaching certification for the fall, take a few jobs, build up your resume.”

“But I’d for sure have a spot next spring?”

“For sure.”

That was still awhile to wait, but it was a guarantee; and in her life, where almost nothing seemed guaranteed anymore, it was exactly what she needed to hear. “That sounds perfect.”

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

“Woohoohoo!” Maria exclaimed as she jumped up and down on the bed like a hyper little kid. “I did it, I did it!” She hopped over Michael’s legs and nearly lost her footing, but she grabbed the headboard to steady herself. “Can you believe it, Michael?” She resumed her bouncing. “I’m college-bound again.”

He laughed as he watched her, pretty sure she was the most adorable person in the world right now. “I’m so proud of you. I knew you could do it.”

“And it’s gonna work out perfectly, ‘cause I’ll be a sub for a few months and get lots of experience, and then hopefully someone will wanna hire me next year at this time.” She was so excited that her entire sentence came out in a rush of breath, one word barely distinguishable from the rest.

“Oh, everyone will wanna hire you,” Michael assured her.

“You think?”

“Yeah. You’re so charming.”

“I’m charming again?” She giggled and took one more big bounce, then sat down beside him. “God, I’m so glad this is gonna happen,” she raved. “I used to hate school, but now it kinda feels like a privilege, you know?”

“You’re becoming a scholar,” he joked.

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But I guess I’m still becoming a teacher, so . . . that’s something.”

It was everything. As far as Michael was concerned, for Maria to take this step forward . . . it wasn’t even a step. It was a gigantic leap. “You seem happy,” he said.

“I am. It’s like . . . suddenly my life is my life again.”

Maria talking about her life. Maria talking about her future. Maria smiling. Maria laughing. Maria jumping on the bed.

Thank God. He’d missed all this.

“I gotta pee,” she announced suddenly, springing from the bed. She scurried into the bathroom, and when she was gone . . . it felt different. Not bad. Just . . . not quite as good as it could have been. Because despite all the smiles and the laughter and the bouncing, there was this nagging, lingering thought in the back of his mind. And that thought was in the drawer of the bedside table.

He reached over and pulled open the drawer. Hidden beneath a mountain of junk was something he didn’t want Maria to see again yet: a little black box with a small diamond ring inside. The one she’d given back to him when she’d left for Cresthaven months ago. He opened the box and stared at it for a moment, wondering if they would or even could get back to the point where he’d ever see it on her finger again.

Maybe her life was her life again, and maybe even his was, too. But they still had a long way to go.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 157

Post by April » Sun Apr 07, 2013 3:52 pm

Meant to crank this out a little earlier, but . . . well, it just took me forever to get up and around today.

THANK YOU IMMENSELY FOR THE FEEDBACK:

Ellie

Novy

Grace


And on we go!









Part 157







When so-called “real” life was going well, it almost felt weird to be back at Cresthaven, back with Dr. Carlson in one of his therapy sessions. But Maria knew she had to be there. It was for the best. And Michael was with her, so that was a bonus. But instead of doing a joint session with both of them together, Dr. Carlson told them he wanted to speak to them one-on-one.

“Why did you separate us?” Maria asked him. “Were we not talking well together?”

“Oh, no, you were doing fine,” Dr. Carlson assured her. “I just thought it would benefit both of you to have an individual session as well today.”

“Oh. Okay.” Maybe that meant they were making some progress. “Just like old times.”

Dr. Carlson laughed lightly. “So you’ve been home for nearly a month now,” he recapped. “How are you feeling about everything?”

About everything? How was she supposed to sum up how she was feeling about everything?

Even though she didn’t think she could do it, a small smile crept onto her lips, and one word found its way out of her mouth: “Hopeful.”

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

“Proud,” Michael answered. “Of Maria, you know? I thought I knew a lot about her, but I never knew how tough she could be. I mean, I’m not sayin’ she’s one-hundred percent healed, but she’s miles ahead of where she was when she first came here. And because she’s doing better, I’m doing better, too.”

“That’s great,” Dr. Carlson said. “That’s ultimately the goal, for the two of you to help each other get past all the trauma. Why do you think she’s doing better, though?”

Michael shrugged, wishing he could pinpoint one specific thing, wishing he could say that he’d done something miraculous. But he hadn’t. “I think she just got tired of being sad.”

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

Maria felt a stab of sadness when she thought of her daughter, and she suspected that would never go away. “I think about Macy every day,” she revealed. “I miss her. So of course I still get sad. But it’s not as overwhelming as it used to be. It’s not as debilitating.”

“Why not?”

“Because . . .” She wasn’t really sure how to explain it, so she took a moment to collect the words. “I lost one of the most important people in my life, and nothing’s ever gonna change that. But I still have a lot of really important people left, people who still love me and want me around, even though I almost left them for good. So even though I miss Macy every day, and even though nothing’s ever gonna be the same without her, I’m trying to focus on Miley, and Tess and Kyle and my future nephew. And my wacky brother and my even wackier mom.” Again, she smiled, because she could add one more person to that list. “And Michael.”

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

“I just want her to know I’ll never leave her again.”

“Again?” Dr. Carlson echoed.

Michael nodded solemnly. “Yeah. I already left her once.”

“When you cheated on her,” the doctor deduced.

“Yeah.” As far as he was concerned, he’d abandoned her physically and emotionally. Because even though he’d never stopped loving her, he’d let desperation move in front of love. And that never should have happened. “But I’m in it for the long haul,” he promised. “I’ll wait however long she needs me to.”

Dr. Carlson narrowed his eyes and asked, “What exactly are you waiting for?”

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

“I don’t know.” Maria frowned, wondering why she hadn’t asked herself that question. “I guess I want him to make the first move, you know? ‘Cause then I won’t have to do it.” She laughed a little, amazed by how juvenile her logic was. “It’s kinda nerve-wracking. I mean, we’re sharing a bed again, which is great. We’re getting closer, we’re spending a lot of time together; but there’s still some distance we can’t seem to close. We’re just both so hesitant.”

“Well, that’s certainly understandable,” Dr. Carlson said.

“I know. And I know I probably give him all sorts of confusing mixed signals, but . . .” She sighed, wishing the whole thing would simplify itself. “I just wonder if he’s gonna kiss me soon.”

“Do you want him to?” Dr. Carlson asked.

It felt good to answer the way she did. “Yeah.”

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

“I don’t want to scare her away,” Michael said, full of worry when he even considered pushing the relationship forward. “That’s my main thing: I don’t want to do anything to make her take a step back. ‘Cause I don’t even know if I have the right to make a move after everything I’ve done. I don’t know if she wants me to pick up the pace or keep things the way they are. I don’t know if it’ll feel different when we finally . . .” He trailed off, regretting that he sounded so completely clueless. Weren’t people in therapy supposed to have a clue? “I guess I just don’t know much of anything right now.”

“Tell me something you do know,” Dr. Carlson encouraged him.

He wasn’t a complete idiot. He knew plenty of things. And for some reason, the first one that came to mind . . . “I wanna kiss her.”

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

Tess and Kyle invited Michael, Maria, and Miley out to dinner that night, and for that, Maria was grateful. Had she stayed home, she would have been agonizing about whether or not she and Michael were going to get smooch-y again. This was a nice distraction. And it was good for Miley to get out of the house, especially since she wasn’t attending daycare that much anymore. She was even able to go out without her back brace now, which was probably the best part of the whole excursion.

“So did I miss anything today?” Michael asked Kyle as they waited for their food.

“Not really,” Kyle replied, fixated on a picture Miley was coloring at the table. “I sold a few paintings, got started on our next silent auction.”

“Oh, well, I can help out with that,” Michael offered.

“You want to?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“You wanna collaborate with Max?”

Suddenly, Michael was far less enthusiastic. “Wait, what?”

“Max is the new manager of the video store,” Tess revealed.

“Yeah, didn’t you notice Ralph’s gone?” Kyle asked.

“Huh.” Michael frowned. “Guess my mind’s been . . . elsewhere.” He glanced quickly at Maria when he said that.

“Well,” Tess said, “Kyle’s being really dramatic about it.”

“I’m not being dramatic!” Kyle wailed, whirling his hands about himself . . . dramatically. “He’s just really hard to work with, that’s all.”

“I don’t blame you, Kyle,” Maria empathized. “If I had to plan an auction with Max, I’d be dramatic, too.”

“Well, you’re always dramatic,” Kyle joked.

She reached across the table and playfully smacked him in the arm.

“Hey!” he yelped, pretending to be injured. “Oh, man, you guys should hear his ideas, too. They’re ridiculous. I mean, he wants to--”

“Should I cover her ears?” Maria asked, motioning to Miley.

“Yes.”

She quickly plastered her hands over her daughter’s ears so she wouldn’t hear a word.

“He wants to hire strippers for ‘entertainment’ during the auction,” Kyle divulged. “And he wants them to give the winners a lap dance.”

Michael shrugged. “Sounds like a good idea to me.”

Maria sent him a sharp look.

“I’m joking,” he assured her.

“Yeah, you’d better be.” She uncovered Miley’s ears and let her resume her coloring.

“I’ve got nothin’ against a good stripper,” Kyle said, “but we run a business, not a whorehouse, you know?”

“What’s a whore?” Miley immediately inquired.

Maria shot Kyle a wide-eyed accusatory look. God, he’d done it again! He always said stuff he shouldn’t around her. “He said door, honey,” she quickly covered.

Miley nodded.

“Let’s talk about something else,” Maria suggested quickly, not wanting her daughter to overhear anymore words she shouldn’t.

“Right,” Kyle said, reaching over to put his hand on Tess’s stomach. “So what’s up with my pregnant lady?”

“I’m uncomfortable,” she snapped.

He quickly withdrew his hand and asked Michael and Maria, “What about you guys?”

Maria cleared her throat. “Well, my mom was so happy when she found out I’d be going back to school next spring, she decided she’s gonna pay me a congratulatory visit.”

“She’s coming here?” Tess asked.

“Yeah. I think your dad might be coming, too.”

“Oh, but that’s only half of it,” Michael joined in. “My parents are also gonna visit.” He picked up a blue crayon and helped Miley color the sky on her picture. “On the same weekend.”

Tess’s eyes bulged. “What?”

“Yeah, don’t ask me why.”

“They’re all really stubborn,” Maria said, resigned to it by now. “They just get it in their heads that they’re gonna do something, and there’s no stopping them.” She knew Michael’s parents were most likely coming down because they were concerned about how Amy was going to treat their son, and she couldn’t blame them for that. She was looking forward to seeing them, and she was even somewhat looking forward to seeing her own mom. She just hoped her mom wouldn’t be crazy when she got here.

“So that’s this coming weekend?” Kyle asked.

“Yep. I probably won’t survive it,” Michael muttered drearily. “So it was nice knowing you.”

“Who’s being dramatic now?” Maria teased.

Tess suddenly groaned and demanded of a waiter as he walked by, “God, can we get some service? I’m starving here!”

“Well, apparently Tess is,” she said.

Kyle took a gurgling sip of his soda and said, “Hey, you know, you two should do something fun before then.”

“Such as?” Michael asked.

“I don’t know. Just put Tess and I on babysitting duty and spend a night alone.”

They each shot an alarmed look at each other. Was he insinuating . . .

“Well, I mean, like, go to a movie or something,” Kyle quickly clarified.

“Oh.” Maria felt like an idiot for even letting her mind go there.

“Right,” Michael said. Obviously his mind had been in the same place. “A movie could be nice.”

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

The days passed, and the weekend neared. On Friday night, Tess and Kyle took Miley off their hands, and Maria and Michael prepared for date night . . . although neither one of them was calling it date night. Still, it felt like a date, and that made Maria feel nervous. At 7:00, she still didn’t know what to wear. She tore through every shirt in her closet, trying to find just the right one to go with the jeans she’d managed to decide on. But nothing seemed right. She put on a form-fitting black Alanis Morisette t-shirt she hadn’t worn in years, then quickly tore it off, threw it to the floor, and kept searching.

It probably wasn’t a big deal. Or at least it shouldn’t have been.

“Maria, you ready?” Michael asked, opening the door.

She jumped back a little, startled, and tried to cover up her torso with her arms. There she was in just a bra and jeans, and that felt different than it once would have.

“Oh, sorry,” he apologized, immediately looking away.

“Sorry,” she apologized, too, quickly throwing on the first shirt she grabbed. It was a free, loose-fitting, grey t-shirt she’d received from her cell phone company a few years ago for sending out so many text messages. No way was she wearing that. “I can’t decide what to wear,” she lamented.

“We’re just goin’ to a movie,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, but . . . I wanna look nice.”

“You always look nice,” he assured her with a smile. He came further into the room and sat down on the bed, his back towards her. “I’ll wait.”

She turned back to her closet, only halfheartedly looking through her clothes now that Michael was in the room. “So did you decide what we’re gonna see?” she asked him.

He shrugged. “It’s up to you.”

“Nothing violent,” she said. “Nothing romantic. Nothing sad.”

“So I guess we’re watching something starring Adam Sandler again, huh?” he deduced.

“No, nothing with him. He’s obnoxious.” She stopped at her pink sweater. He liked that sweater. She’d been wearing it the first time he’d come to see her at Cresthaven. But it was April now. Not sweater weather. “Why don’t we just watch the newest Twilight movie?” she suggested. “It’s funny.”

He grunted. “According to who, people without a sense of humor?”

“No, I mean, it’s funny that it tries to be romantic and violent and sad, and really, it’s just stupid.”

He laughed lightly. “Okay, sounds like a plan.”

“Okay.” She removed the grey t-shirt and took a green Santa Fe University shirt off its hanger, quickly putting it on. “Alright, what do you think of this?” she asked, turning to face him.

He looked over at her, and for a moment, he didn’t say anything.

“I got it my freshman year of college,” she said, “so it probably doesn’t fit anymore.” It definitely wasn’t loose, but it wasn’t as though she couldn’t breathe in it.

“No, it fits,” he assured her, rising to his feet. “You look great.”

“I do?”

“Yeah.” He walked towards her, stopped in front of her, and reached out to stroke her hair. For no apparent reason at all. That gesture alone made her forget all about her clothes dilemma.

“Thanks,” she said, loving that her heart was beating a little faster. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah.” He held out his hand for her, and she took it, letting him lead her out of the room.

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

The movie theater was near campus, and campus was always crowded on a Friday night. Michael and Maria ended up parking blocks away in a parking garage and walking the rest of the way to the theater. On the way there, she couldn’t resist reminiscing.

“Do you remember that one night when we stayed up ‘til, like, 4:30 or 5:30 a.m. watching all the Rocky movies?” she asked, swinging their hands back and forth.

“Oh, that must’ve been before we had kids.”

“Yeah, it was junior year, right after we started dating. And every time Rocky said ‘Adrian!’ you gave me a kiss. Because you said I was like your Adrian.” She cringed inwardly. Was that too obvious of a hint?

Apparently not, because even though she sort of hoped he would say ‘Adrian’ himself and then lean down and plant a quick one on her . . . he didn’t.

“Do you seriously not remember that?” she asked.

“No, I remember,” he promised, and the way he said it made it sound like he remembered a lot of things. Probably even more than she did.

They rounded the corner and came upon the theater, which was overflowing with college students. People were literally hanging out the door.

“Oh, man, packed house,” Michael commented.

“Do you think we’re even gonna get in?”

“I don’t know. It’s not like it’s opening night.”

She rolled her eyes. “The Twi-hards are just being more obsessive than usual.”

“Yeah, let me go find out what’s goin’ on. You just stay here.”

“Okay.” Reluctantly, she let go of his hand and found a spot to stand near the door while he squirmed through the crowd and into the theater. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked around at all the people, wondering if she blended in with them or stuck out like a sore thumb. She was only a few years older, but she felt way older.

After a minute or so, a guy with slicked back hair and a Rolex on his wrist approached her and said, “Hey.”

“Hi,” she returned, hoping he wasn’t about to hit on her.

“So you wanna see the movie, too, huh?”

“That’s why I’m at the movie theater.” She recognized this type. He probably wasn’t a bad guy; he was the kind that thought he was super smooth, though, and was used to having girls respond to him.

“I’m Doug,” he introduced himself.

“I’m a mother,” she blurted, figuring that would be enough to drive him away.

He wrinkled his face in confusion. “What?”

“I have a three year-old kid.”

“Oh.” He tried to smile politely, but clearly, he was taken aback. “See ya,” he said, slinking away.

She waved and mumbled to herself, “Works like a charm.” Had she known what a turn-off that was for most men, she would have been using it years ago, back before she’d had kids, even.

Michael came back to her side a few seconds later. “Hey, was that guy bothering you?” he asked, obviously concerned.

“No,” she assured him.

“You sure?”

“Yes.” His protectiveness was adorable, though. “So what’s the deal with all this?”

“Well, the deal is that the movie theater is offering free screenings of any movie to the university students tonight. So basically every single theater’s full.”

“So what’re we gonna do?”

“Well, we could go to another theater.”

“Sure,” she chirped. “Or . . .” Come to think of it, what was the big appeal of a movie? You couldn’t even talk during it, and the previews were the only good part anyway. “We don’t even have to go see a movie, if you don’t want to,” she said. “We could just go for a walk, see where we end up.” She sort of loved that idea. Just the two of them, no real destination in mind . . . it sounded romantic. “Are you capable of being that spontaneous?”

He laughed. “I’m capable.”

“Okay, then. Let’s go.” She took his hand and led him away this time.








TBC . . .

-April
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Part 158

Post by April » Sun Apr 14, 2013 1:25 pm

THANK YOU FOR THE FEEDBACK:

Ellie

Grace

Novy


I'm bringing by a song today called "Don't Move" by Butch Walker. I think I actually might have made a Candy video to it at one time. Anyway, you can listen to it here or click on :) when you see it if you'd like to check it out.

Enjoy the update!









Part 158








Kyle wasn’t much help in the babysitting department that night, on account of falling asleep on the couch around 8:00, so Tess tried to entertain Miley on her own. As usual, though, the dogs were the biggest entertainment of all. She’d brought Frank over to play around with George.

“Go potty, Georgie,” she urged as she sat out in the front lawn with them that night. “Frank, go.”

The dogs wrestled around with each other in front of her, yipping, yapping, and play-biting and pawing at each other.

“They don’t listen, do they?” Tess said, arching her back as she sat on the porch and oversaw everything. She was very cramped up and uncomfortable that night, so she didn’t mind if the dogs tired Miley out like her uncle.

“No,” Miley grumbled. Finally, she flapped both her arms against her sides and shouted, “Guys!”

Both the dogs stopped what they were doing, looked at her, panting, and then ran towards her, jumping onto her lap. She giggled—and it was probably the most adorable giggle in the world—as they started to lick her.

Tess’s attention diverted as a black car pulled up in front of her house. She got to her feet, curious until she saw a familiar form in the backseat: Garret. Max got out of the driver’s seat, opened the back door, and got Garret out of his car seat. The moment his feet were on the ground, he was running forward, yelling, “Puppies!”

“Hi, Garret!” Miley chirped.

“Hi, Miley.” He smiled at her, then sat down beside her on the grass and reached out to pet Frank. Frank immediately crawled up onto his lap and started licking him.

“Sorry,” Max said, idling forward, “I was gonna drive on by, but he went nuts when he saw the dogs. We just had to stop.”

“It’s fine,” Tess assured him, watching Garret with interest. In a few short months, she was going to have a son like that. Hopefully just as cute and far less scarred for life. “You realize you’re gonna have to get him one now, right?” she asked.

“A dog?” Max grunted. “No way.” But even as he said that, he looked down at Garret and smiled adoringly. “So do you do this a lot?” he asked.

“What?”

“Look after the kid while Michael and Maria screw.”

“They’re not . . .” She cautiously glanced down at Miley, relieved that she hadn’t seemed to have heard that. “For your information,” she said, stepping closer and lowering her voice so the kids wouldn’t hear, “they’re on a date right now.”

Max rolled his eyes.

“What, does that annoy you?”

“I guess.”

“Why?”

He shrugged.

“Oh, whatever,” she dismissed, never really expecting that Max would be genuinely happy for anyone he disliked.

Max looked down at his nephew again, then asked, “Hey, Garret, you think you might wanna get a dog someday?”

“Yeah!” Garret exclaimed as Frank nuzzled against him.

“Okay, someday.”

Tess couldn’t help but smile. So much for no way on the dog issue. Max was actually sort of being a softie. Who could’ve known he had that in him? She’d surely never seen much of it. “Wow,” she finally said, unable to keep the astonishment out of her voice. “You know, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m kind of proud of you.”

“Yeah,” he said, halfway smirking, “I never thought I’d hear you say that, either.”

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

A gust of wind blew past, and Maria shivered. A New Mexico springtime wasn’t exactly anything to complain about, but there were a lot of wind tunnels on campus that were chillier than the surrounding area.

“You cold?” Michael asked her.

“A little,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself.

He took off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders.

“Thanks,” she said as they continued to walk along. She felt like a crushed out high schooler who’d just gotten her boyfriend’s letterman jacket. God. “That was so studly.”

He laughed a little, then sighed and said, “Oh, man, this takes me back.”

“What?”

He pointed up ahead and said, “That was the dorm I lived in my freshman year. That was my room right there, fourth one over, third one up.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, remembering going there on a few occasions for help with algebra. “I wonder who lives there now.”

“Probably someone whose life isn’t even half as dramatic as mine.”

“Hmm, I don’t know, college got pretty dramatic sometimes,” she said, even though it was statistically impossible to have any more drama than she and Michael had had in the past four months. That whole ordeal with Isabel coming back into town, claiming to be pregnant with Michael’s kid while Maria was in the midst of finding out she actually was pregnant with his kid . . . that was child’s play compared to . . . compared to everything else they’d been through since then.

“Sometimes,” he agreed, reaching over to rub her shoulder.

“But it was pretty fun sometimes, too,” she reminded him.

“Yeah, it was.”

She heard music coming from across the street, and when she spied about a dozen students flocking down the sidewalk towards the Sigma Chi frat house, she was struck with an idea. “Hey, speaking of fun . . .” she said, stepping in front of him. She motioned towards the house and asked, “Wanna crash a frat party?”

“Maria, I didn’t go to frat parties even when I was in school,” he pointed out. “You really think I wanna go now?”

“No, but I think you will,” she said, grinning hopefully. “For me.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, trying to look all reluctant, but she already knew he’d given in. “Why do you wanna go?” he asked.

“Hello, I used to own that scene,” she bragged. “Now I pretty much just wanna stand around and laugh at how ridiculous those people are.”

“Standing around,” he echoed. “Could be fun.”

As long as she was standing with him, she was sure it would be.

“Think anyone will know we’re crashing?” he asked.

“No,” she assured him readily, “we’ll fit right in.”

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

A girl in knee-high boots, a midriff, and panties danced around on top of a table, hollering with delight as frat guys and other male partygoers reached up to slap her ass and pour drinks on her. One of them gave her a cowboy hat to wear, and she put it on and started doing some kind of lasso move, gyrating her hips in time with the music to make it look like she was riding . . . something.

Maria stood a few feet away with Michael by her side near a table of food. He was being good and not really watching, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. She couldn’t help but picture herself up there on that table a few short years ago, because honestly, that was exactly where she would have been. How mortifying.

“We so don’t fit in here,” she confessed. She’d been very reluctant to admit it.

“Yeah, I never did,” Michael mumbled.

Maria watched in horror as the girl started to untie her top. “Oh god, did I really used to act like that?”

“Constantly,” Michael replied. “In fact, one of the highlights of my life was watching you do a similar dance on my birthday.”

“Oh, the birthday striptease. I forgot about that.”

He smirked. “No, you didn’t.”

“No, I didn’t.” The fact of the matter, though, was that she’d given Michael a number of strip teases over the years, hopefully all of which were more classy than what the girl on the table was doing right now. Maria had half the mind to yank her down and try to talk some sense into her, but . . . what the hell? The girl was just living her life. She’d probably look back on this and cringe, but maybe she’d learn from it.

A guy in red polka dot boxers stumbled past, his alcohol nearly sloshing out of his cup. He squinted at Michael, even though he was only a few feet away, pointed to his head, and remarked, “You’ve got great hair.” And then, just like that, he was on his way.

“Well, he speaks the truth,” Michael said.

Maria laughed a little. These people were out of their minds. She felt so much . . . older. She looked around the crowded space, trying to find someone else interesting to people-watch, and her eyes settled on a young couple standing close to each other, obviously flirting but not really touching. “Oh god, look at those two,” she said as the girl tilted her head to the side, smiling at her man. “That’s happening for sure.”

“Happening?” Michael echoed.

“You know.”

He studied them for a moment, then shook his head and concluded, “No way, not yet. He’s still trying to work up the nerve to tell her how he feels.”

“Well, he’d better work fast. She’s tired of waiting.”

Michael looked down at her, and for a moment, she wondered if that had been her subconscious talking, talking not about the random non-couple, but about the two of them.

Judging by that questioning look on Michael’s face, he was wondering the same thing.

Before either of them could say more, the polka dot boxers guy stumbled past again, bumping into Michael this time. “Oops, sorry,” he apologized, tilting over so far to the right, he almost fell. “Whoa . . .”

“Oh, wow, you are drunk,” Michael said, grabbing him by the shoulders. “Come here, buddy. Grab some couch.” He directed him towards the sofa and set him down. “There you go. Now just wait for things to stop spinning.”

“I gotta go home,” the guy said, still holding onto his red solo cup as he tried to get back up again.

Michael pressed one hand to his shoulder, keeping him down. “You drivin’?” he asked.

He nodded.

“No, you’re not. You need to call someone to pick you up. You got someone?”

Slowly, with an incredible lack of coordination and motor functions, the guy took his phone out of his pocket, stuttering, “My-my grandma.”

“Your grandma?” Michael spat.

“No, I mean my girlfriend.”

“Okay, call her. Tell her to come get you.” Michael shook his head and left him to it, turning to rejoin Maria.

“You’re such a dad,” she teased, glad that he was trying to keep that guy off the road.

“Well . . .” He shrugged.

A dark brunette girl in low-cut jeans and a tight, tummy-bearing halter cut into the conversation, saying, “Wait, did I hear that correctly? You’re a dad?” Her eyes roamed up and down Michael’s body before sparkling with delight. “That’s so hot.”

“What, what, what? Excuse me?” Maria interjected, positioning herself in between the two of them.

“Oh, sorry,” the girl said, “didn’t know he was taken.” She smiled at Michael, waved a little, and then slipped off into the crowd.

“What just happened?” Maria huffed.

“I think she was hitting on me,” Michael replied simply.

“Well, that’s just not right.”

“Jealous?” he asked.

“No.” She spun to face him. “I mean, yes.”

He gave her a look.

She rolled her eyes, knowing there was no competition. “I mean no. It’s just so not fair. There is such a double standard. Your being a dad turns her on, but my being a mom turns guys off?”

( :) )

He leaned forward and murmured low into her ear, “Not all guys.” He reached down and slipped his hands beneath hers as a new song came on. “Wanna dance?”

She was so surprised by the question, all she could do was stand there. “You hate dancing,” she said.

“Not when I do it with you.” He pulled her along with him as he headed away from the food table and further into the crowd. Immediately, her heart rate started to speed up. Just knowing that his hands were going to be on her and hers were going to be on him . . . no matter how innocent or harmless it was, it was exciting. She couldn’t help but feel that this was amounting to something. Something . . . bigger.

He put his arms around her waist, his hands resting comfortably in the small of her back, and she draped hers over his shoulders, linking them together behind his neck. He was so much taller than her that, in order to dance like this, they had to be close. And that was just fine with her.

She breathed in deeply, hoping to steady her nerves, and tried to strike up some casual conversation as they swayed together in time with the music—or actually, out of time with the music since Michael didn’t have much rhythm. “You know, I used to hate studying,” she said. “I sort of still do. But when I do it with you, it doesn’t seem so bad.”

“I used to hate Family Guy,” he reminded her.

“Well, then, you used to be insane.”

He laughed lightly, and she tilted her head back so she could look up into his eyes, warm brown eyes that had looked into hers for countless hours over the years. She saw herself reflected there, and she looked happy.

This couldn’t just be dancing.

“Michael?” she said softly, hopefully.

“Hmm?”

She wanted to just come right out and tell him to kiss her. But what she really wanted was for it to just happen, without any warning or request. Just like it had the first time.

“You okay?” he asked, reaching up to stroke his thumb across her cheek.

She nodded, trying to smile.

“You sure?”

She nodded again, purposefully down-casting her eyes.

He pressed his hands against her back a little bit, gently urging her closer. She turned her head to the side, resting it against his chest, listened intently for the sounds of his heartbeat, hoping that it was pounding as loudly and quickly as hers was. She couldn’t hear it over the music, but she could feel it thrumming beneath the surface, and it definitely wasn’t calm.

Good.

He rubbed her back, resting his chin atop her head, and his warm breath rustled her hair when he said, “I missed this.”

She held him a bit tighter, wondering how it must have felt for him to hold her unconscious body after she’d overdosed. Tears stung her eyes. “I missed it, too,” she practically whispered, wishing they’d held each other close like this after the accident, wishing that, through all the tears and the anger and the confusion, they’d just taken a moment to hold each other and be close.

She smiled softly, tears stinging her eyes for a different reason now. They were close again.

Slowly, she lifted her head to look up at him again. They weren’t even really dancing anymore. They were just standing still. She saw his eyes drift down to her lips, and he didn’t look away.

He started to lean forward. In anticipation, her eyelids fluttered closed, and she waited to feel his mouth on hers.

But she didn’t. Frowning, confused, she opened her eyes again, and he wasn’t even looking at her. He was glancing at something over her shoulder. She turned her head and saw the polka dot boxer guy, stumbling through the crowd, shouting for his girlfriend.

“Oh, that guy . . .” Michael groaned. “I should . . .”

“Yeah.” Maria quickly backed away from him, stuffing her hands in her jeans pockets. “Go ahead.”

He gazed at her apologetically for a moment, then slipped off to handle the drunken idiot. The drunken idiot that would be his excuse for the night. What would it be the next time they got close to kissing?

She turned her back to the scene, sighing frustratedly. A little over four years ago, they’d been at a party just like this, counting down to a new year when all of a sudden, he’d just overwhelmed her. All of a sudden, he’d kissed her harder than she’d ever been kissed in her life. All of a sudden, he’d turned her world upside down.

Determination rose up within her, and she turned back around, starting her own countdown.

“Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . .” She walked towards him, towards the other side of the room where he was trying to get that stupid guy to just sit down. “Seven, six, five . . .” The closer she got, the more determined she became. “Four, three . . .”

He didn’t see her coming up to him.

“Two, one . . .”

She grabbed his arm and pulled her to him without hesitation, rising up on her tiptoes so that her mouth could collide with his. He must have been shocked, but he didn’t hesitate to kiss her back. Their lips locked onto each other, finding that perfect rhythm that they always did, and everything else just faded away.

She scrunched his shirt up in her hands, clutching it tightly, pulling him closer, and he cupped her face with one hand. His other hand snaked down around her waist again, splaying against her back as his tongue brushed against her bottom lip.

She felt absolutely breathless.

The only reason she pulled away, reluctantly, of course, was so that she could actually try to breathe again, even though that was impossible. When she opened her eyes, he was staring at her with a look of pure surprise in his eyes. And maybe even a little bit of confusion. Because there was no way he’d expected her to do that.

She smiled, sort of loving this. The roles were reversed. Four years ago, she was the one who’d had that look. That look of not knowing what the hell had just happened but being indescribably thankful it had.

“Happy New Year,” she mimicked, knowing he’d get the joke. That was the first and only thing he’d said to her right after kissing her for the first time. And it’d driven her crazy.

She smirked, then slipped away from him, not even stopping to look back as she weaved her way through the crowd.







TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 159

Post by April » Sun Apr 21, 2013 1:16 pm

YAY! I was able to post a happy update for a change. ;)

Thanks for the feedback:

Grace

Lilah

Ellie









Part 159








Wow.

No matter how hard Michael tried to think a more profound thought, there was only one word that came to mind as he stood there, watching her disappear out of sight.

Wow.

It took him a few seconds to remind himself that that had actually happened, that it wasn’t just some crazy dream. It was actually the drunken guy who snapped him out of his dazed, shocked stupor when he staggered into him and groaned, “I feel like I’m gonna puke.”

“Huh?” Michael could barely even register words. His mind was still stuck on that kiss.

“Oh god, here it comes.” The guy held his hand to his stomach and hunched forward as though he were about to blow chunks.

Michael looked around frantically, grabbing hold of the first girl he saw and pulling her to him. “Is this your boyfriend?” he asked.

She made a face of disgust. “No.”

“Well, he is now.” Fed up with the idiot, Michael left him with the girl and squeezed his way through the crowd in the general direction Maria had gone. He’d lost sight of her near the front door, so he pushed past other partygoers and stepped outside, hoping to find her there.

It didn’t take long. She was sitting on the front porch, arms wrapped around herself, looking very small and nervous all of a sudden. But beautiful. And alive.

“Hey,” she said, barely glancing up at him.

“Hi.” He shut the door, grateful that it was just the two of them out there. Some noise still filtered out from inside, but for the most part, it was quiet.

“Sorry,” she apologized, “I just had to say the ‘Happy New Year’ thing. I mean, I know it’s not a new year, but you said that when you kissed me for the first time, and you made it sound all sexy so I would agonize about it. I just wanted to give you a taste of your own medicine.”

He smiled, finding her incredibly adorable in that moment.

“How’d I do?” she asked hopefully.

“Pretty sexy.” He sat down beside her, not even sure what to say. So he went back to his gut reaction. “Wow, Maria.”

“Wow?” she echoed unsurely.

Wow.

“Is that a good wow?”

“Oh, always.” Kissing her always had this effect on him. The way it made him feel . . . he had a hard time putting it into words.

“Good,” she said, breathing a small sigh of relief. “Because I thought it was good, but it’s been awhile, and it was totally unplanned, but maybe that’s why it was good, and maybe that’s why I’m rambling on and on like a total spaz right now, because it was . . . wow, and it was sudden.”

Wow and sudden? He really had no complaints about that. Somehow, this felt . . . right, like it was meant to all happen this way.

“I’m being spastic,” she mumbled, embarrassed.

“I think it’s cute,” he assured her. Not many people ever glimpsed this Maria anymore, the Maria who wasn’t so confident, the Maria who really had no idea what she was doing but just did it anyway. “You’re really something, you know that?”

She blushed a little, angling her body slightly more towards him, and asked, “What do you mean?”

“I just . . . didn’t picture you doing that tonight.”

“Well, neither did I. But I had to.”

“Why?”

“Because you weren’t going to.”

He’d never meant to give her that impression. He’d just been so nervous to make a move. “I was,” he insisted.

“When, a decade from now?”

He chuckled lightly. “Eventually. I just wasn’t sure if you wanted me to.”

“Seriously? I dropped hints.”

He scooted closer. “Yeah, but I’m a guy. I’m not allowed to pick up on those.”

She rolled her eyes, smiling anyway. “Is it okay that I did this, though? I just got tired of waiting.”

“Oh, it’s more than okay,” he assured her, happy that the pressure was off his shoulders now.

“Really?”

“Really. I like kissing you. Didn’t you know that?”

She tilted her head to the side flirtatiously and said, “Hmm, yeah, I kinda figured.”

“You kinda figured?” He leaned in, his mouth seeking out hers on its own accord. He kissed her this time, a soft, gentle kiss, hopefully with no pressure attached. She reached over and rested one hand on his knee as she kissed him back, all of her nervousness and spasticity suddenly gone. It felt natural. It felt completely natural.

It took a great deal of effort for him to even pull away. He could’ve stayed with her like that forever.

“So what happens now?” she inquired quietly.

“Well, there’s no rush,” he said, covering her hand with his. “We can just . . . take things slow.”

With her eyes locked onto his, she nodded halfheartedly. “Right.”

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

Throwing the door open, Michael and Maria tumbled inside. They were a mess of limbs as they grabbed desperately at each other, mouths still crushed together, unable to separate. They’d barely even managed to get out of the car, but now that they were vertical, Michael’s legs felt weak.

He slammed the front door shut and reached over, fumbling for the light switch. It took him a few seconds to find it, but when he did, he flipped it on so he could see what he was doing. Maria didn’t seem interested in seeing anything, though. She just kept kissing him.

He grabbed her waist and pushed her back against the wall a little more roughly than he’d intended to. She groaned, finally tearing her lips away from his. He didn’t want to stop kissing her, though, so he bent forward to suck on the tantalizingly soft flesh of her neck, lapping at her skin with his tongue.

“Uh . . .” she moaned, tangling one hand in his hair. “This doesn’t feel very slow.”

“I know,” he whispered hotly in her ear, capturing her lips in his again. He let his tongue dart into her mouth, and he couldn’t help but think of other parts of him going into other parts of her. She must have had the same idea, because suddenly, she was arching her back off the wall, pressing her hips into his. She had to have been able to feel how hard he was.

Take it easy, the last remaining logical part of his mind screamed at him. But his body would have none of it. His hands gripped her hips again so he could press against her firmly, insistently. They both wanted it.

“God, Michael,” she whispered, snaking her hands up his chest. She tugged on his shirt collar, then started to unbutton it as quickly as she could. Towards the bottom buttons, she seemed so fed up that she just tore it open instead. She splayed her hands against his chest, letting them venture low enough to tickle his abdomen. “Mmm,” she murmured, grinning mischievously. She hooked her fingers into his belt loops and pulled him in closer to her.

He pressed both hands against the wall on either side of her head, bending his head to kiss her deeply. In this position, he was struck by how much smaller she was than him, how he could practically cover up all of her. For some reason, that knowledge turned him on even more. Growling low in his throat, he hoisted her up in his arms.

“Oh!” she gasped, instinctively wrapping her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck. He hauled her upstairs as quickly as he could, nearly tripping over his own feet as he went, kicking open the bedroom door when they finally got there. He collapsed on top of her on the bed, kissing every inch of her he could get to. Mouth, cheeks, neck, collarbone . . . he’d have to get those damn clothes out of the way, though, because they were covering up all his favorite parts of her.

And speaking of clothes . . . his were making him feel like he was in a damn sauna. Or maybe that was just the sight of her wriggling around beneath him, trying to get situated so that her head was the pillow. Whichever it was, he couldn’t take it anymore, so he shrugged his shirt off onto the floor and crawled on top of her, enveloping her body with his. Once again, his mouth sought out hers while his hands started to venture all over the place. He made sure to keep one stroking her hair while the other slid down her side, rubbing her waist, urging her shirt up in the process.

“Oh, god,” she managed in between kisses. “Michael . . .”

Hearing her say his name like that, so passionately and sultrily . . . it made him want to abandon all common sense and just rip her clothes off and take her. He wasn’t usually like this, but he couldn’t stop. And judging by the way she was lifting her legs up to wrap around him and pull him closer, she couldn’t, either.

But all of a sudden, she did. “Wait,” she said, pushing him back slightly.

He frowned. “What?” Had he done something wrong? At the end of it all, was this just too fast for her?

“Did you hear that?” she asked, sounding nearly breathless.

He had no idea what she was talking about. “No,” he replied, bending to kiss her again. He got one more in before his brain faintly registered the sound of the doorbell.

She pushed him back again. “Someone’s at the door,” she said. “Who would that be?”

“I don’t know.” But whoever it was sure was a cock-block. “Marty?”

“Tess and Kyle?” she guessed, her eyes immediately widening in alarm. “What if something’s wrong with Miley?”

“No, I’m sure she’s fine,” he assured her, trying to think up some explanation so that they could keep going with this. “It’s probably just a girl scout selling cookies.”

“At midnight?”

“They’re dedicated, you know.”

She gave him a look.

He sighed in defeat, knowing he was reaching with that one.

“Just go check and see who it is,” she said. “Please?” She pouted over-exaggeratedly, and she just looked too cute to disobey.

“Fine,” he relented, forcing himself to get up off the bed. “You wait here. Don’t go anywhere.”

“I won’t.” She grinned teasingly as she traced her fingers down between her breasts. The shirt didn’t even have to be low-cut to turn him on. He groaned, forcing himself to leave the room, and made the agonizing trek downstairs. The sooner he got whatever this was over with, the sooner he could get back up there and get back to ravaging her.

A big dopey grin found its way to his face as he neared the front window. He couldn’t help it. He was ecstatic, his whole body still wired and tingling. If it was possible, he’d nearly forgotten how good it felt to kiss Maria DeLuca. And now this whole night was one gigantic reminder, plus some.

He pulled back the curtain and glanced outside, noting a familiar car. Too familiar. It was his parents’ car.

“Oh, shit,” he swore, immediately swinging the curtain back into place. He forgot all about his hormones as he scrambled around, trying to find something to wear. “Maria, throw me a shirt,” he called back upstairs, trying not to be too loud. His mom and dad were right on the other side of that door, and he didn’t really want them to hear him.

“A what?” she yelled back.

“A shirt!”

“What?”

The doorbell rang again. “Never mind,” he mumbled, figuring he could think up some excuse on the spot. He took a deep breath, tried to calm himself, and opened the front door. “Mom!” he greeted over-cheerily. “Dad!”

“Son,” his mom copied, giving him a confused look. “Shirtless.”

“Oh, well, I was . . . doing laundry.” He cringed inwardly. Really? That was the best he could come up with?

“At midnight?” she questioned.

“Yep.” Best to just stick with it at this point. “Well, come in,” he said, opening the door wider, stepping aside to allow them entry.

“Oh, hi, honey,” his mom said, stopping to give him a hug on the way. “It’s good to see you.”

“Yeah, you, too.” When his dad came in, they both started for a hug, then stopped, because that just felt weird when he didn’t have a shirt on. They shook hands instead. “Hey, Dad,” he said.

“How you been?”

“Better lately.”

His father smiled. “Good.”

His mother slipped off her shoes and set them by the door. “The house looks nice,” she remarked, glancing around quickly. “Where’s Maria?”

“Oh, she’s . . . upstairs.” Waiting for me, he thought, all hopes and dreams a romantic night crushed. “Maria! You wanna come down? My parents are here.”

“Your parents?” she shrieked from upstairs.

“Uh-huh.”

There was a definite hesitation as all her hopes and dreams for the night inevitably came crashing down, too. “Okay,” she said. “Be right down.”

Michael stuffed his hands in his pockets, hoping this didn’t all look too obvious. “She was . . . sleeping.” Sure, they were adults, but these people were still his parents, and they didn’t need to know what they had been up to before they’d arrived.

“I know it’s awfully late,” his mother said apologetically. “We would’ve gotten here sooner if your dad hadn’t had to work so late.”

“No, it’s fine,” Michael assured her. “Actually, I . . . I thought you weren’t gonna be here until tomorrow night, though.”

“Your mom decided she wanted to get here before Amy,” his father explained.

Michael nodded, understanding. And actually, he was pretty damn thrilled about that. Now at least he’d have some backup when she showed.

“I called you and left you voicemails earlier to let you know we were on our way,” Sylvia said.

“Oh, I must’ve left my phone at home.” He glanced over at the coffee table and noticed that, indeed, it was sitting there.

“Did you go out somewhere tonight?” his mother asked.

“Uh . . .” He didn’t exactly want to let her know they’d been at a frat party.

Suddenly, Maria was gliding down the stairs, doing all the explaining for him. “We went to a movie,” she said, sounding perfectly calm, looking perfectly put-together, even though he’d just had his hands all over her. “The new Twilight. So bad it was good. Hi, you guys.”

“Oh, Maria . . .” Sylvia smiled at her adoringly and opened her arms, pulling her in close for an embrace. “You look so good.”

“About half as good as you,” Maria said, hugging her back. Then she turned to his dad and said, “Hey, John.”

“Hi, Maria.” He hugged her, smiling the same way Sylvia had. It was almost as if they were both seeing her for the first time. Michael stood back, watching it unfold with pride. Because he was proud of Maria. She’d come a long way lately, and it was nice for his parents to be able to see this version of her, because this was who she was meant to be.

“Here you go,” she said, tossing him a shirt, not the same one he’d had on earlier.

“Oh, thanks,” he said. “How convenient.” He quickly put it on, grateful to no longer be so obvious. “So Maria, my parents decided to show up a day early.”

“That’s awesome,” she said without hesitation. “Now you guys can get settled in before Hurricane Amy gets here.”

“That’s sort of the idea,” Sylvia mumbled. “I assume Miley’s already asleep.”

“Actually, she’s spending the night with Tess and Kyle,” Michael told her.

“Because we went to the movie,” Maria added.

“Right.” They were such bad liars.

“Oh.” Sylvia sounded disappointed. “Well, we’ll just see her in the morning then.”

“Yeah, she’ll be excited to see you guys,” Maria said. “I’ll go ahead and pull out the couch bed for you guys and make you a midnight snack.”

“That’d be great.” Sylvia followed her into the kitchen, leaving Michael and his father alone in the living room.

“And I should just continue that . . . laundry thing,” Michael mumbled, determined to keep up the charade. He tried to slip away, but his father grabbed him by the arm.

“Son,” he said, smirking knowingly. “I can’t help but feel like we interrupted something.”

Again, the dopey happy grin came back to Michael’s face. If his dad was the only one that suspected anything, he could handle that. For some reason, that was way less awkward than his mom knowing.

He shrugged, deciding he wouldn’t deny it.

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

“Oh . . .” Michael groaned, shutting the lamp off as he crawled into bed. “What a day.”

Maria was already lying down on her side, all curled up, looking equally as tired. “You can say that again,” she mumbled.

He lay down beside her, pulling the covers up to waist level. “A good day, though.” As eager as he was to get some sleep, he was also totally looking forward to waking up in the morning, knowing that basically everything had changed at that party tonight. Changed for the better.

Even in the darkness of their bedroom, there was enough light shining in from outside for him to watch her eyes shut. He wondered if she was going to just drift off, but then she opened them again, smiling sleepily. “I’m so tired,” she murmured.

“And my parents are early risers,” he pointed out.

“So they’ll probably be up at, like, 7:00, huh?”

“Oh, at least.” He reached over and touched her cheek with the back of his hand, just because he wanted to. There were a lot of other things he wanted to do with her in that bed, too, but this clearly wasn’t the right night for them.

“Well, it’s probably a good thing they showed up,” she said. “We really weren’t taking things slow.”

“We really weren’t,” he agreed, laughing a little. Usually he had more self-control, but sometimes, when it came to Maria and when it came to the insane attraction he had to her, there was no controlling it. “Think you can keep your hands off me?” he teased.

My hands?” she echoed, pretending to sound all offended. “Your hands are the daring ones.”

“Your hands destroyed my shirt, so . . .” He grinned. “I rest my case.”

She huffed. “Well, I can settle for kissing as long as it involves cuddling.”

“Oh, I’m so cuddly.” He held out his arm, inviting her closer.

“Me, too!” she exclaimed, giggling as she shifted towards him. “Let’s go for it.” She settled against his side, curling up to him. Her hair splayed against his chest, and she draped her right leg over his legs beneath the sheets. “Mmm,” she murmured, sounding perfectly content.

“This is nice,” he said, circling his arm around her, stroking her back. “It feels good in here.”

He could feel her smile against his chest as she whispered, “It feels really good.”








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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