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

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Part 160

Post by April » Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:58 pm

At least now they know that the spark is still there, always will be and they can take it from there. Slowly! I so want them to not EVER regret making love like that awful debacle that happened last time they did.
Yeah, that last time was so awful. They've got something to make up for now. ;)

Since you write relationships so well, I assume everything won't just be magically solved (which it may appear like at the moment), but you'll have them deal with the difficult parts as well.
Amy's arrival is going to bring them both back down to earth, especially Michael, and make it clear that, even though things are going well, it's still not perfect.

Glad they were interrupted. Never thought I would say it, but they were rushing things!
Yes, they were! If John and Sylvia hadn't shown up, it's no mystery what they would have ended up doing.

Life has been crazy sad and crazy mad busy but I am glad I could finally settle in for this.
Oh, no. That doesn't sound good. I hope things calm down for you soon. :)
I think it is great Michael's folks came before Amy. I can really picture the glow Maria must have had smoothly greeting his folks and just being her and them getting see and experience how far she has come.
It was definitely a nice moment for her. For Michael, too, but especially for her.

Thank you for the feedback! On we go!

Part 160

John and Sylvia did indeed rise early, and even though Maria hadn’t quite gotten as much sleep as she’d wanted, it didn’t seem right to not be awake when they were. So she forced herself out of bed and out of Michael’s arms and headed downstairs to help Sylvia with breakfast. Michael came down shortly after. And just like that, it was family breakfast. But John and Sylvia were obviously anxious for their granddaughter to get there.

“So even though I have to wait until next spring, it was just such a relief to know I’d get back in the program again,” Maria told Sylvia once they’d started talking about college to pass the time.

“Oh, I’ll bet,” Sylvia said. “So that’s when you’ll do your student teaching?”

“Yep. And then there’s the daunting task of finding a job.” She made a face, not looking forward to that.

“Oh, you’ll find one,” Sylvia assured her.

“I don’t know. Male high school English teachers are in high demand. Female elementary ones? Not so much.”

Sylvia shrugged, halfway in agreement, but kept on. “You’ll get a job,” she said. “I just know it.”

“Hmm, you sound so confident.”

“Well, that’s because I have a lot of confidence in you, Maria.” She smiled.

“We both do,” John added.

Hearing them say that sparked a little confidence in Maria, too. “Thanks.” It was nice to feel so supported.

“So, Son, speaking of the working world . . .” John took a bite of his French toast and asked between mouthfuls, “How’s the gallery going?”

“Good,” Michael replied. “We’re gonna have another Sex Sells auction.”

John nearly choked on his food, and Sylvia’s eyes practically bulged out of her head. “Sex Sells?” she shrieked.

“Yeah. We had one awhile back.” Michael glanced back and forth between his parents, shifting in his seat uncomfortably. “Didn’t I tell you about it?”

“No,” Sylvia answered swiftly.

“Oh.” Michael looked away from her and looked down at the kitchen table instead. Maria laughed inwardly.

“Well, it sounds interesting,” John said.

Before the conversation could go any farther (and probably much to Michael’s relief), the front door opened, and Tess and Kyle escorted Miley inside. “Honeys, she’s home,” Tess called.

“And she’s tired,” Kyle added. “We let her stay up way too late last night.” He stopped when he saw John and Sylvia and said, “Oh, hi, guys.”

“Oh, Miley, look who it is,” Tess said, pointing the grandparents out.

Miley yawned and rubbed her eyes, but when she saw John and Sylvia, she exclaimed, “Grandma! Grandpa!” and trotted forward as fast as she could to greet them.

“Oh, look at you!” Sylvia exclaimed, kneeling down on the floor. She swept Miley up in a hug the moment she could. “Look at you.”

John made his way toward them, smiled down at Miley adoringly for a moment, and remarked, “No more crutches.”

“Nope.” Michael smiled, too.

John looked . . . relieved. He bent down, lifted her in his arms, and said, “Come here, kiddo,” as he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Maria slipped away from the kitchen table and made her way over to Tess.

“I thought they weren’t coming ‘til later,” Tess said quietly.

“Oh, they’re full of surprises. Come with me for a minute.” She slinked upstairs, gesturing for her best friend to follow. Once they were in the privacy of the bedroom, she shut the door.

“So, how was date night?” Tess asked right away.

Maria leaned back against the door, grinning.

“Good?” Tess guessed.

She nodded.

“Really good?”

She nodded emphatically.

“Oh my god, did you guys have sex?” Tess blurted.


“But you did something. Spill.” She sat down on the foot of the bed and motioned for Maria to sit down beside her.

“Okay, so we ended up going to a frat party instead of a movie,” Maria revealed.

Tess made a face.

“I know, weird, but it ended up being, like, the perfect moment to recreate our first kiss. So I kissed him.”

You kissed him?”

“Yeah, I walked right up to him and just kissed him. And then we came home and we . . . well, we did a little more than kissing.” Even just thinking about it sent a pleasurable tingle up her spine.

Tess’s eyebrows shot upward, her interest obviously piqued.

“Not sex,” she reiterated. “But honestly, we were heading in that direction until his parent showed up.”

“Oh my god, Maria, this is a milestone,” Tess raved. “I’m so happy for you guys.”

“I know, I’m happy, too.” It had been a long time since she’d been able to say that and really, totally mean it. “It feels . . . right, you know? And it feels like . . . like it’s been a long time since I felt this way.”


Since his parents were completely absorbed in Miley’s adorableness, Michael took the opportunity to slip outside with Kyle. He shut the door firmly and leaned against the porch railing, trying not to sound like an overexcited, spastic moron when he revealed, “So, uh . . . Maria and I totally made out last night.”

Kyle made an incredulous face. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, is that so hard to believe?”

“Kind of.” Kyle thought about it a minute, then nodded his congratulations. “Nice. So, what, you just macked on her in the back of the movie theater or something?”

“No, we went to a party instead,” Michael informed him. “And she initiated it. She kissed me, and then we sort of just . . . kept kissing.”

“But no sex?”

“Not yet.” He grinned, not wanting to sound like he was bragging, but still . . . this was the most progress they’d made in months, and he was damn glad about it.

“Oh, you lucky bastard,” Kyle said.

“Wait, what do you mean by that?”

“No, I’m not saying . . .” Kyle quickly tried to backtrack. “It’s not that I wanna . . . with Maria. I just . . . I would think that everything feels . . . brand new for the two of you right now, and that’s gotta be pretty cool.”

“Yeah, it is,” Michael agreed, distracted by a car that was coasting down the road. He recognized it right away, and when it slowed and pulled up out front, he noticed Amy in the passenger’s seat and Ed on the driver’s side. “This is less cool,” he muttered, bracing himself. They, too, were here earlier than he’d expected. But they could have arrived a month from now, and it still would have put Michael on edge.

Amy stepped out of the car, a firm, stoic look on her face. “Kyle,” she greeted with no hint of warmth in her tone. But if possible, the tone got even colder when she said, “Michael.”

Michael just stood there, not sure what to say. Hi? He couldn’t possibly just say hi, could he? Not after everything that had happened. This woman hated him for what he’d done. ‘Hi’ just wouldn’t cut it.

Luckily, Kyle spoke up for the both of them, “Hey, Amy,” he said, but it was full of nervousness and quiet.

Ed got out of the car a moment later and gave both of them a friendly wave. Clearly the man was just along for the ride, literally, but he’d probably heard an earful from his wife all the way down.

“Is my daughter inside?” Amy asked as she approached the porch.

Michael nodded, noting the phrasing. Not just Maria, but my daughter. Very possessive.

Amy walked past them without another word, and Ed followed. Michael couldn’t seem to force the tenseness to leave his body, not even when it was just him and Kyle out there again.

“You know how I said you were lucky?” his friend said, staring at the closed front door. “I take that back.”

Michael was too worried to even laugh at that. He gripped the porch railing tighter as his stomach twisted into knots.


Maria was a mess of giggles as she and Tess treaded back downstairs. The Michael kissage talk had morphed into a Michael sex talk, and she knew they were going to have to put the brakes on that when the parents and kiddo were within earshot.

She froze on the second to bottom step when she noticed the addition of a few more parents in the room. Amy and Ed were standing by the door, and Miley was hugging Amy’s leg.

“Mom,” she managed to get out, suddenly very on edge. She’d known this was coming, the whole family together like this, but now that it was actually happening, she didn’t know what to do or say.

“Hi, honey,” her mother greeted, smiling gently at her. “I thought I’d get here early, but apparently I’m too late for that.” She motioned at John and Sylvia in the kitchen, and Maria knew she was seething inside that she hadn’t gotten there first. “Come here, honey,” she said, opening her arms up wide.

Maria slowly stepped down off the stairs and into her mom’s embrace. She hugged her, not completely upset to see her. It was just . . . nerve-wracking. Things had been so calm lately, but given all the animosity she knew her mom had stored up, it wasn’t likely to stay calm around there for long.

“Oh, you look beautiful,” Amy admired.

“Pretty sure I don’t,” Maria mumbled, pulling away.

“No, you do.” Her mom reached out and stroked her hair, tears sparkling in her eyes. Maria smiled self-consciously, able to understand where the tears were coming from. Her mom was happy to see her like this, because the last time she’d seen her, she’d been a depressed shell of herself at Cresthaven.

“What about me, Grandma?” Miley asked, tugging on her pants.

“Oh, you look beautiful, too,” Amy assured her, bending down to give her a big kiss on the cheek.

“Don’t say anything about the way I look,” Tess told her dad, coming into the living room so she could give him a big hug.

“Why not?” he asked. “You’re glowing.” He touched her rounded stomach momentarily, then shook his head in amazement.

Maria stared at them enviously, wishing she and her mom had an easy relationship like that. But they never had, and even though they’d gotten closer over the years, there was no naïve part of her that expected this weekend to be smooth sailing.

Silence settled upon all of them, but finally, Sylvia, still seated at the kitchen table, cleared her throat and said, “Um, would you two like to join us for breakfast?”

“We already ate,” Amy replied swiftly. Even though they were only three words, each of them was dripping with hostility.

Michael and Kyle came back inside a moment later, and Maria breathed in sharply, halfway expecting her mom to turn and rip Michael’s head off. But she didn’t even look at him, just remained standing there, nearly motionless.

“Whoa,” Michael said. “Packed house.”

“It sure is,” Amy agreed. “And Michael, since this is your house, maybe you can tell me what you have in mind for sleeping arrangements.”

Oh, crap, Maria thought. It was beginning. The passive-aggressive argument style Amy was so well-known for. Even if something didn’t seem like an insult, it probably was. Even if something didn’t seem like a big deal, she’d make it one.

“Well, uh, last night my parents slept down here,” Michael said. “We pulled out the couch bed.”

“Great,” Amy chirped, not at all cheerily. “So if they stayed here last night, Ed and I can stay tonight.”

“Well . . .” Michael backed up a few steps before saying, “We were kinda thinking you could stay with Tess, or Marty.”

Maria cringed. That wasn’t going to sit well.

“So they can stay here but I can’t?” Amy said, her voice rising in volume and intensity. “Am I not welcome here?”

“Mom, he didn’t say that,” Maria jumped in, unable to let it go on any longer. “It’s just that you have two kids who live in this town and a stepdaughter. It makes more sense.” She didn’t know why the hell she was even attempting to use logic, though. Her mom didn’t respond to logic, especially not when she was pissed off.

John cleared his throat and rose to his feet. “You know, if it’s too big of an issue, we can just get a hotel room,” he offered.

“No, John, you can stay here,” Maria assured him. Truth be told, she was much more receptive to the idea of John and Sylvia sleeping downstairs than her own mom. “It’s fine.”

“We can figure all this out later,” Michael mumbled.

Amy clearly wasn’t satisfied, but she clenched her mouth shut and said, “Right,” staring daggers at Michael all the while.


Words could not express the relief Maria felt when everyone went out back to play with Miley, leaving her alone with Michael inside. He was occupying himself with doing the breakfast dishes, but she stood at the window, looking out, watching her family around each other. Amy was mainly the only one playing with Miley now. She was swinging, holding Miley in her lap. Ed came over to push them once in awhile, but mostly, he just let them be. John and Sylvia stood off to the side with Tess and Kyle, talking, watching Amy with interest but not interacting with her.

“God, she is such a personality,” Maria practically lamented.

“Always has been,” Michael muttered, clanging pots and pans around as he tried to put everything away underneath the oven.

“I feel sorry for your parents. She’s, like, hogging Miley all to herself.” Part of her wanted to go out there and ask her mom to go on a walk with her, just so John and Sylvia could spend some quality time with Miley. But she didn’t do that, because she really didn’t want to be one-on-one with her mom. That would inevitably lead to an inquisition, a why-are-you-and-Michael-acting-so-cozy inquisition.

“It’s just awkward right now,” Michael said. “Nobody’s getting along.”

“We were getting along just fine until she got here,” Maria pointed out.

“Are you mad at her?”

Maria turned away from the window and folded her arms across her chest. “Kind of,” she admitted. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my mom . . . nowadays. But I hate that she just waltzed in here with such an attitude.”

He picked up a plate from the dry side of the sink and wiped it off with a towel. “Did you really expect anything else?”

“No. She’s just so dramatic, and that gets stressful.”

“Oh, believe me, I know.”

She sighed heavily, realizing it was probably hypocritical for her to be calling someone else dramatic when she managed to create her own fair share of drama, some of it good, some of it bad. “Right after I . . . when I first went to Cresthaven . . . was she totally unbearable?” she asked.

Michael didn’t look at her, just kept his eyes focused on the plate in his hand as he continued to dry it off. “She was angry,” he said. “And she had every right to be. She said . . .” He trailed off and shook his head, putting the plate away instead of answering.

“What?” she pressed.

He set the towel down on the counter and looked at her for a minute, very reluctant to answer. But finally, he did. “She said I’m no longer part of her family.”

Maria felt her heart go out to him. That had to be tough to hear, especially because Tess had been pretty upset with him at that point, too. “Michael . . .”

He glanced over her shoulder and out the window, and he must have seen something he didn’t like, because suddenly, it was as if he couldn’t get out of that kitchen fast enough. “I’m gonna take the dog out,” he said, bolting into the living room. He snatched Frank up and was out the front door in an instant.

Maria turned around and saw her mom coming back inside. She rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of it all, Michael having to feel uncomfortable in his own house.

“Hi, honey,” her mother said when she stepped back inside. “Whatcha doin’?”

Avoiding you, Maria thought and sort of wished she could say. “I don’t know.”

“Well, why don’t you come outside and join us?” She plastered a big smile on her face that wasn’t meant to be there.

“I will in a minute,” Maria assured her. “We both will.”

Immediately, Amy’s smile fell. “You and Michael?” she asked as though there were some other candidate.

“Yeah.” It really shouldn’t have been such a big deal. They shouldn’t have had to feel as though they were breaking any rules, because there were no rules. There was no law written that they couldn’t be back together again, despite how much one particular parent probably wished there were.

Amy must have felt like saying something, but she kept herself quiet, apparently resigned to spending family time with Michael included in that family, and she turned and went back outside again without another word.

Maria let out a heavy breath, raking her fingers through her hair. Her mother’s big personality seemed to be at an all-time record intensity, and that wasn’t good news for anyone.


“You disgust me; you sicken me.”

The words Amy had ground out to him months ago came flooding back to Michael as he stood outside, halfheartedly watching the dog run around, just biding his time until she wasn’t inside anymore.

“And as far as I’m concerned, you’re no longer a part of this family.”

It had hurt then, and it still hurt now, worse now that he was seeing her again. Although she was hardly seeing him. She’d barely looked at him since she’d shown up, and whenever she did, there was pure contempt in her eyes. It was as though she were looking at a cockroach, one she wanted to squash badly.

But that wasn’t even the worst part.

Isabel. His hands on her. Her mouth on his. The horrified whimper that escaped Maria’s lips as she stood in their bedroom doorway, watching them.

The worst part was that all of Amy’s anger, all of it directed towards him . . .

It was justified.

TBC . . .


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Part 161

Post by April » Sun May 05, 2013 1:35 pm

Thank you for the feedback:





I appreciate it as much as ever!

You might be interested to know, I am currently in the process of writing the final 7 scenes of this story. Not posting, but writing. It feels so strange.

Part 161

The day led into dinner, and dinner was just as awkward as the day had been. Marty conveniently had something going on, of course, so they still hadn’t talked to him about the sleeping arrangements. With that decision looming overhead, there wasn’t much conversation at the table, only the scraping of silverware against plates as they all polished off the food in front of them. Once in awhile, Tess’s stomach grumbled or Miley burped. But for the most part, it was silent. So silent, in fact, that when Kyle asked, “Will you pass the mashed potatoes?” Maria nearly jumped out of her skin. She lifted the half-empty bowl and held it across the table.

“Thanks,” he said, scooping a large spoonful out onto his plate. “These are really good.”

“Sylvia made them,” Maria informed him, happy to have something to talk about, even if it was just food.

“Oh, well, that explains it.” He smiled at her, and she smiled back.

“I like mine a little thicker,” Amy said, digging through her potatoes as if she were digging for gold. She’d hardly eaten any of them. She was sitting at one end of the table with Ed and Tess and Kyle. Michael and his parents were at the other, and Maria felt sandwiched in the middle.

“I like these,” Maria said, shooting her mother a pointed look. She didn’t want her to start up anything.

“Of course you do,” her mother mumbled, staring down at her plate.

Maria frowned, wondering what that was supposed to mean. She wasn’t about to ask, though. Maybe she’d ask her later. Maybe not.

“I made chocolate chip cookies, too, if anyone wants some for dessert,” Sylvia piped up.

“Mmm, cookies,” Michael said to Miley. “You want some, sweetie?”

“Yeah!” she exclaimed.

“I brought pie,” Amy mentioned.

Maria rolled her eyes, sensing that her mother was determined to make this dinner a competition. Which one of the two mothers brought the most, brought the best . . . that kind of thing.

“Hmm, tough choice then,” Michael said. “Cookies or pie. What do you want, Miley?”

She fell silent, lowering her head.


Poor little thing, Maria thought. Even she could probably sense the tension. “Just give her both,” she said. There. That would eliminate the drama.

Or at least it should have. But when Michael got up from the table to get the desserts out of the kitchen, Amy of course had to say something. “Michael, I don’t think you should let her have dessert yet,” she advised condescendingly. “She hasn’t even finished her dinner.”

“Yeah, but . . .” He gestured helplessly towards the green beans on her plate. “She won’t eat those.”

“You should try to get her to,” Amy suggested. “They’re healthy.”

“I have tried,” he assured her. “It doesn’t work.”

“I bet I could convince her,” Amy kept on. “Maybe you’re just not trying hard enough.”

“No, Mom, it’s fine,” Maria snapped, just about at the end of her rope with the woman. “She can have the cookies.”

Amy’s eyes bulged.

“And the pie,” Maria quickly added. Good God, this was ridiculous.

“I’m not hungry anymore,” Miley mumbled.

Michael sighed, setting both the desserts back down on the kitchen counter. The silence settled over them again, until, once again, Kyle broke it.

“I could take some pie.”

And suddenly, Amy just lost it. She slammed her silverware down on the table and said, “Okay, let’s not just sit here and pretend like we’re some happy family. Obviously it isn’t working.”

“Mom!” Maria hissed. This wasn’t the time or the place.

“Um, Miley, come with me and Uncle Kyle for awhile,” Tess said, hurriedly scooping her niece up from the table. “Let’s go play.” She rushed her upstairs before she could overhear anything more. Kyle quickly scurried after, and Ed rose from the table as well.

“I think I’ll go play, too,” he said, looking as though he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. And who could blame him? Who would want to stick around?

“I can’t believe you’re being like this,” Maria said, fighting to keep her voice down. “No, wait, actually I can. But in front of Miley?”

“Well, what did you expect?” Amy snapped. “For us to just sit here and join hands and sing kumbaya like everything’s alright?”

“No, but I didn’t expect you to be such a bitch.” No need to sugarcoat. That was what her mom was being, plain and simple.

“Amy,” Sylvia spoke up, still sounding incredibly calm despite the circumstances, “I think we were just hoping that we could all try to reconnect and overcome some of the divisions that formed between us.”

“Well, that’s easy for you to do,” Amy responded haughtily, “since your son’s the one who created those divisions.”

Maria glanced at Michael, still in the kitchen. He was facing away from them now, gripping the counter, staring down into the empty sink.

“And what about you, Michael?” Amy asked, practically taunted. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

He said nothing.

“How does it feel to know you’re the reason why this entire family fell apart?”

“Don’t talk to my son that way,” Sylvia said, a sort of quiet sternness in her voice.

“Oh, I could say a whole lot more.”

“You’re out of line, Amy,” John cautioned.

“No, I don’t think I am,” she argued persistently. “He doesn’t even deserve to be in the same room with Maria. Or Miley, for that matter. Not after what he did with that whore of his.”

And that did it. The arguing erupted into a shouting match with all three of the parents rising from their chairs, approaching each other so they could shout directly into each other’s faces. Maria just sat there, watching it all unfold, horrified, feeling powerless to stop it. She heard the backdoor open and watched Michael slip out, and all she wanted to do was go after him. So she did. The funny thing was that none of the parents seemed to notice they were gone, because none of them followed.

“Michael . . .” She tried to block out the sounds of shouting from inside. “Michael, are you okay?”

He just stood there with his back facing her, his hands in his pockets. “I’m fine,” he muttered, but he couldn’t have sounded less convincing if he’d tried.

“No, you’re not,” she said. “God, she’s being so unfair.”

“No, she’s not.”

“Yes, she is. She’s making you sound like you’re this horrible person.”

“Well, I am,” he said, spinning to face her. That look in his eyes . . . it was almost the same look of guilt she’d seen there when she’d found him with Isabel. “Or at least I was that night.”

The nighttime wind picked up, blowing a cold gust around her. “Well, you’re not the only one,” she pointed out. “I was pretty horrible that night, too.”

He shook his head, turning away from her again.

“Come on, Michael,” she said, reaching out to touch his arm. “Don’t let her blaming you turn into you blaming yourself.”

He jerked away from her, whirling around again. “But I’ll always blame myself Maria. I’ll never stop.” He narrowed his eyes at her and said, “Don’t you get it? She’s right.”

She shook her head, refusing to believe that.

“She might be completely insensitive about it, but she’s right,” he insisted. “This is all my fault. None of this would be happening if it wasn’t for me. They wouldn’t be standing in there fighting right now. And you never would’ve . . .” He trailed off, frowning as though it caused him physical pain to remember.

“I never would’ve gotten better,” she filled in, even though that wasn’t what he’d been about to say. “Look, I’m not saying I’m glad you cheated on me. And I’m definitely not glad I took all those pills. But it woke me up. It made me realize I couldn’t go on living life the way I was. So maybe it all happened for a reason.”

“So what if it did? It still happened. So I don’t deserve your concern right now,” he argued. “I don’t deserve you asking me if I’m okay. I don’t deserve to lie in bed next to you every night.” Tears sprung up into his eyes, and his voice wavered as he held them back. “And I sure as hell don’t deserve to be kissing you again.”

She stared at him in disbelief, so shocked that he could think that when even she didn’t. Without realizing it, she’d started to cry, and she couldn’t think of anything else to say. So instead of trying to find the words to make it better, she did the very thing he claimed he didn’t deserve: She rose up on her tiptoes, cupped his face in her hands, and kissed him. Nothing too forceful, nothing like last night. But enough to let him know that he did deserve it, because she still wanted it. She still wanted him.

Reluctantly, he kissed her back, and his hands found their way to her waist, pulling her close. She pulled back just slightly so she could rest her forehead against his, and she whispered hoarsely, “I love you.”

He didn’t say it back right away, but soon enough, he closed his eyes and replied, “I love you, too.”

She sniffed back the tears that hadn’t yet fallen and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tight. She rested her head against his chest, and he rested his chin atop her head, his warm breath rustling her hair more than the wind did. They stood there like that for a few seconds, and Maria wanted to stand there longer. But when she opened her eyes and saw the backdoor fling open, she knew it wouldn’t last. “No . . .” she whimpered as her mom came storming out, John and Sylvia scampering behind her.

“You get your hands off her!” Amy roared, and Michael immediately backed away.

“Amy, stop!” John called after her.

But she didn’t stop. In fact, she went right up to Michael and shoved him backward. “Get away from her!” she screamed. “She’s too good for you!”

“Don’t you dare touch my son,” Sylvia warned, stepping between the two of them.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do,” Amy shot back. “Maria . . .” All her bravado seemed to vanish in an instant, however, when she cast a glance at Maria. And it wasn’t hard to understand why. Maria knew she must have looked a mess. She was still crying, and she could barely even look at her mother because she was so upset with her.

“Come on, Maria, let’s go stay at your brother’s tonight,” Amy said, holding out her hand as though she actually expected Maria to go with her. But when she didn’t, Amy looked concerned. “Maria?”

“Mom . . .” She shook her head, barely able to get any words out. “Just go. Please.” She hated that she was having to do this, because she wished more than anything that it could be different. But apparently this had to be done. “Get out of my house.” She cringed as she spoke the order, but she was determined not to go back on it.

Amy just stared at her, shell-shocked, for a long time, as though she thought she might change her mind. But when it finally became clear to her that she wouldn’t, she glared at Michael, John, and Sylvia, shaking her head in disappointment. Maria thought she was going to have to tell her to leave again, but eventually, Amy turned and walked away without another word, towards the front of the house. Maria waited until she heard the sound of the car driving off to collapse into tears. It was Sylvia who scooped her up into a hug first and held her close while she cried.


Maria spent the rest of her night being sad upstairs in her bedroom. Michael was with her. John and Sylvia had taken to occupying their granddaughter and getting her ready for bed while Tess and Kyle brought Ed over to their house. Ed said Amy had called him and said she was going over to Marty’s. And that was all she’d said.

Maria lay on the bed, rehashing the entire evening over and over again in her mind, wondering if there was something she could have done or said to stop things from escalating to such a boiling point. Maybe she should have pulled her mom aside right when she’d first gotten there and explained that she wouldn’t tolerate her trying to rip Michael to shreds. Maybe if she’d laid down the law right from the start, it would have been different. Better.

Michael took a shower and came out of the bathroom, towel-drying his hair. He stood in the doorway and gazed at her for a moment, then dropped the towel and apologized, “I’m sorry.”

She frowned. “For what?”

He shrugged. “Everything.”

Slowly, she pushed herself up into a sitting position as he neared the bed. He sat down beside her, a look of sympathy in his eyes. “I feel like you had to choose between me and her tonight,” he said.

“No, I didn’t,” she assured him. “But if I did . . . I would choose you every time.” She suspected that was the reason why her mother had seemed so stunned out in the backyard, because she’d probably realized as much. As horrible as this fight was, though, Maria knew they could overcome it, and maybe it wouldn’t even be that difficult. But if things ever got to the point of no return . . . it was Michael. For her, it would always be Michael.

“If she never forgives you,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to forgive her.” This version of her mother just didn’t work for her life. Something had to change, and it had to change soon.

TBC . . .


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Part 162

Post by April » Sun May 12, 2013 1:46 pm

God, Maria caught in the middle was heart breaking! So proud of her for doing what she did though and I'm glad that she would choose Michael every time as well. That's the way it should be. Michael, Miley, and Maria are a family. Amy has no business trying to come between that.
That was not a good situation for Maria to be in at all, but at the end of the day, there's really no decision to be made when it comes to choosing Michael or choosing someone else. Even after everything, she's committed to making things work again with him. And Amy showing up and being so overtly hostile about it was just so unnecessary. If her goal was to make Michael look bad, she ended up making herself look worse.

I don't think I could get over cheating. I would have a hard time trusting that person, and if Isabel ever shows her face, I am not so certain that Michael wouldn't try to help her again.
Not that I'm trying to excuse or rationalize Michael's actions . . . because that's NOT what I'm trying to do . . . but I think it would be a totally different situation if he cheated just because he was bored or couldn't control his hormones or something. With everything else that had happened in his life at that point, there were some much more complex emotions and a much deeper turmoil that spurred him on. Still . . . not okay. But . . . I don't really know what I'm trying to say here.

But I think he's learned enough about both himself and Isabel from this gigantic mistake that, if she ever showed up again, he'd know enough to not get involved.

Maria's recovery has to come first. If this is what she needs to function I support her for standing by her man.

Through everything Michael has always been there.
Yes, that's really important to note, and something that Amy is just struggling to understand. In order to continue getting better, Maria needs Michael. He isn't giving up on her, and because of that, she's not giving up on him.

Thank you for the feedback!

Part 162

The next day, Maria overcame her nervousness and ventured over to her brother’s apartment, not sure whether it would be the mom she loved dearly or the mom who drove her out of her mind awaiting her. One thing was for sure: When Marty opened the door, he looked haggard.

“How is she?” Maria asked him outright.

“She was up all night crying,” he replied. “Fun night for me, therefore.” He rolled his eyes. “I knew there was a reason I avoided that family dinner like the plague.”

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, wishing he hadn’t gotten dragged into it. “Everyone together at once . . . it was a recipe for disaster.”

“And disaster struck.”

“Yep.” Her entire life seemed to have been a lightning rod for disaster ever since the start of the new year. But she wasn’t completely discouraged yet, because she was starting to see that things sometimes managed to work themselves out. “Is she mad at me?”

“No. She’s just sad,” Marty said.

Maria nodded, wishing she’d been able to keep her mom in line without making her feel bad in the process. “Can I . . . ?” She motioned inside.

“Yeah.” He stepped aside and allowed her to come in. “Take all the time you need.” He slipped on a pair of sandals, grabbed his car keys, and gave her an encouraging pat on the shoulder before he left.

“Thanks,” she whispered when he was already gone. She treaded down the hallway and pushed open the door to the guest bedroom. Her mother was just sitting there on the side of the bed, looking out the window with a glazed-over expression on her face. She must have heard Maria come in, but she didn’t budge.

“What’re you doing?” Maria asked her.

“Oh, nothing,” she answered. “Just trying to remember a time when you didn’t hate me.”

“I don’t hate you,” Maria assured her quickly. Sure, there had been a time when her mom had been one of her least favorite people on the planet, but it hadn’t been that way for years now.

Amy grunted and muttered, “Could’ve fooled me.”

“Mom . . .” If she was going to have this kind of attitude, this was going to be way harder than she’d hoped for. “Please don’t be like this.”

“Like what?” She finally tore her eyes away from the window and stared at Maria, almost accusingly. “Devastated?”

“Why are you devastated? You should feel relieved,” Maria suggested. “I almost died, twice. But I’m still here. And I’m doing better.”

For a moment, her mother’s expression softened. “Oh, honey . . .” she said. “I am relieved. I know I didn’t lose you.” She frowned and seemed to reconsider. “But in a way, I feel like I did. I feel like you don’t want anything to do with me. Yesterday, the whole time I was there . . . I felt like Michael’s parents were your parents, and I wasn’t part of that family.”

“You weren’t,” Maria confirmed simply. “Because everything you said to them was meant to be insulting.”

Amy opened her mouth to argue, but she must have realized Maria was right, because she quickly shut it again.

“I love John and Sylvia,” Maria said. “They’re good people. And let’s face it, they’re a lot more easy-going than you are. Which is why it’s easy for me to be around them. But you’re my mom. I love you. I want you to be able to spend time with me when I’m spending time with John and Sylvia. And Michael.”

Amy swallowed hard, shaking her head angrily.

“And we both know that’s who this is all about,” Maria said, cutting to the chase as she sat down next to her mom on the bed. “You may be a little jealous of Michael’s parents, but he’s the one you have the real problem with.”

“Of course I do. And honestly, I’m shocked that you don’t.”

Maria sighed heavily, trying to keep her cool since it was obvious her mom still didn’t have that ability. “It’s Michael,” she said emphatically.

“Right, the man who cheated on you with his ex-girlfriend and nearly drove you to kill yourself,” Amy snapped. “Or have you forgotten?”

“Have you forgotten he’s the man I have a daughter with,” she shot back, “the man I was engaged to?”

“Past tense,” Amy noted.

“Maybe future.” Maria shrugged. It was still too early to think about all that, but with the way things were going lately . . . every future she pictured for herself had Michael in it.

“Are you doing this for Miley?” Amy demanded shrilly. “Are you with him because you think that’s what’s best for her? Is that it?”

“No, I’m with him because I love him,” Maria answered swiftly. “I never stopped.”

Amy grunted. “Well, he must have. How else could he have cheated on you?”

Maria hesitated a moment, trying to plan out what she was saying before she actually said it. “Look, neither of us is ever gonna forget what he did, but we’re moving forward now,” she said slowly, “and I need you to do the same.”

Amy crossed her arms over her chest defiantly and asked, “What if I can’t?”

“Then you really will lose me,” Maria informed her. “And Miley.” She’d meant it last night when she’d told Michael who she would choose. At the end of the day, there was no choice to be made. “Come on, Mom, just help me out here.” She didn’t want to be put in that position. She didn’t want to have to break her mother’s heart in order to follow her own.

Amy sighed dramatically, shaking her head. “Maria, I survived breast cancer. Do you even remember that?”

“Of course. But what does that have to do with--”

“I have a hard time believing I survived that just so I could watch my daughter settle.”

“I’m not settling,” she argued. “Don’t you understand? This is what I want.”

“Why? Why would you want someone who treats you so badly?”

“Because he doesn’t treat me badly!” Maria rose to her feet, feeling her emotions rising a bit out of control. She turned away from her mom for a moment, steadying herself, then spun back around and spoke as calmly as she could. “Dad treated you badly, and that’s why you two couldn’t make it work. But Michael . . . you know how he feels about me. And you know what kind of man he is, even if you won’t admit it. He’s good and he’s smart and he’s kind. And he’s the one for me.”

Amy slouched as she seemed to be accepting the truth.

“I’m never gonna fall out of love with him, so if that’s what you’re hoping for, just forget it.”

“Oh, honey . . .” Her mother blinked back tears, shaking her head. “I just want what’s best for you.”

“This is what’s best for me,” Maria insisted. Why was it so hard for her to understand?


Michael was distracted. He was supposed to be playing with Miley outside, because it was a really nice, peaceful day out. But he was distracted by all the family drama, and instead of playing with her, he got out her sidewalk chalk and sat next to her while she drew pictures on the driveway.

“Daddy, look,” she chirped, tugging on his arm.

He glanced down, not quite sure whether she’d drawn a dog or a tree. But he complimented it anyway. “Wow, that’s nice,” he said. “You’re a great artist.”

“Better than you?” she asked as she wrote her name next to it.

“Better than me, yeah.” He hadn’t painted anything lately. But truth be told, prior to Amy’s arrival, he’d been feeling sort of . . . inspired.

As if on cue, her car rounded the street corner, and his entire body tensed up for the inevitable confrontation. “Hey, why don’t you go inside and help Grandma Sylvia make lunch?” he suggested, helping Miley up. “You can finish this later.”

“Okay,” she said, wiping her chalk-covered hands off on his jeans before heading inside. He breathed a sigh of relief once she was gone. At least his mom could keep her distracted while Maria’s mom tore him up.

She got out of the car, and everything about her looked . . . quieter, somehow. And when she spoke, her voice wasn’t filled with such obvious hostility. “Am I still allowed on the premises?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Sure.” Maybe he wasn’t part of her family anymore, but as far as he was concerned, she was still a part of his. “Maria’s takin’ a nap,” he told her. “She didn’t get much sleep last night.” Didn’t hurt to throw that in there, to let her know just how crushed Maria had been after everything that had happened.

“Neither did I,” Amy said, slowly approaching him. “Actually, it’s you I’m here to see. We need to talk.”

“Talk?” he echoed. “Or yell?”

“Talk,” she insisted. “I had some time to think things over, and Maria came to see me this morning. So I’m a little calmer now.”

He nodded, trying to act calm himself, even though, on the inside, he was shouting for joy. Calm Amy, even though she was still more dramatic than the average person, was way easier to deal with than Crazy Amy.

“I apologize for the way I acted last night,” she started in. “I never should have lashed out in front of Miley.”

He nodded in agreement.

“But do you understand why this isn’t easy for me?” she asked softly. “I trusted you with her. I trusted that you would take care of my daughter. But you betrayed her, and in a way, you betrayed me. Because you broke my trust.”

“I know.” Being a parent himself, it wasn’t hard to understand.

“I never thought you would . . . I just never thought you’d be the type to stray,” she admitted. “And Maria didn’t, either. I think that’s why she . . .” She trailed off, shuddering. “I can’t even say it.”

So he said it for her. “She tried to kill herself.” He’d learned that it didn’t help matters to pretend it hadn’t happened.

“Yeah.” She grimaced. “I know it wasn’t just your fault. It was a combination of things. But it’s just so hard for me to give you a second chance. I mean, you must be able to understand. You have a daughter. Imagine if she fell in love with someone and he--”

“I know,” he cut in. “I have imagined it. So trust me, I understand why you’ll never be able to forgive me or trust me again. But maybe . . .” He thought of Maria, of how hard that was going to be on her, and he wanted to do everything he could to make it easier, to make it so that she wouldn’t have to choose. “Maybe we could just try to get along when we’re around Miley and Maria.”

“No, that’s not what I want,” she dismissed quickly.

“You . . . don’t wanna try to get along?”

“No, I do,” she corrected, “but I would also like to be able to forgive you. Because clearly Maria has. Or at least she . . . is. I need to try to do the same.”

He stared at her, momentarily dumbfounded as he processed what she was saying. “Thank you.”

“It’s not gonna happen instantly, you know,” she cautioned. “It’ll take time and effort. I have to learn to trust you again, and that’s not easy. But I know you love her.”

He nodded. “I do.”

“And I hope you’ll never hurt her again.”

“I won’t.” He hated that he’d given Amy any reason to doubt him. “She means so much to me.”

“To me, too,” she said. “I can’t lose her.”

“You won’t,” he assured her. He’d make sure of that. No matter how hard it got, he would take care of her this time, even if she wasn’t able to take care of herself.

“But I almost did,” she reminded him. “Twice.” She sighed shakily and said, “But luckily, you saved her twice. And honestly, Michael, I think you saved her a long time ago. She used to be . . . heading somewhere in life I never wanted her to go, and I struggled to accept that about her. But then you came along, and all of a sudden she became the person I always wanted her to be, the kind of person I always knew she could be.” She smiled tearfully. “I guess what I’m trying to say is . . . you bring out the best in her, even though you brought out the worst in me. So I guess I should be grateful.”

“Well, give yourself some credit,” he urged. “I only met her in college, so you must’ve done something right when you were raising her.”

“You think so?”


She managed to laugh a little. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” He really didn’t hate Amy, not at all, not even after the anger she’d directed straight towards him. And even though this was just one small moment in a line of many moments to come, he hoped she could understand that.


Against all odds, they were able to have a family dinner that night. And—again, against all odds—it was . . . nice. A little awkward at times, but nice. No yelling. No arguing. Just light conversation, the occasional joke or two, and a seemingly unstated understanding that it was for the best if all the adults left a day early instead of staying one more day like they were supposed to.

Maria and Michael stood in the doorway with Miley, waving to his parents as they drove away. Amy and Ed left shortly after, and when they were all gone, Maria felt waves or relief ripple through her. They’d survived.

The weekend must have taken its toll on Miley, too, because she went to bed way earlier than she usually did. They tucked her in together, and she fell asleep in the middle of a bedtime story she’d begged Maria to tell her.

And once she was asleep, they were alone. And that was all Maria had wanted since the night of that frat party, since the night they’d kissed again: to be alone with Michael. So when they went into their bedroom, he had barely shut the door when she hurled herself against him, kissing him like there was no tomorrow. And he didn’t even hesitate to kiss her back. As exhausted as she was, it didn’t matter, because all that mattered was the way his hands were splayed against her back, inching up under her shirt to caress her skin as he maneuvered them up towards the bed.

She fell back on the mattress, savoring the sight of him crawling on top of her as his fingers expertly unbuttoned her shirt. He pulled it open on both sides, and she arched her back up off the bed, wordlessly begging him for more. She needed more.

He bent down and pressed a series of hot kisses to her cleavage, dragging his lips lower to lap at the skin of her stomach. He breathed hotly against her bellybutton, and all of her abdominal muscles fluttered in response. It wasn’t difficult to decide right then and there that she was fine with anything this amounted to.


Suddenly, he sat up, pulling her up with him. She quickly shrugged off her shirt and held onto his shoulders as he reached behind her to unclasp her bra. Her breasts fell free, and he immediately covered them with his hands, kneading her flesh insistently. She managed to occupy her own hands by reaching down to grab the bottom of his shirt. Reluctantly, he let go of her long enough to lift his arms over his head and assist her. Dropping his shirt to the floor, she took a moment to just sit there with him and take him all in. She grazed her hands over his chest, then lay back down, already panting for air.

He kept his eyes locked on hers as he slid his hands up her denim-clad legs, stopping at her zipper. He tugged down on it gently, then popped open the button. She squirmed, wishing she could do more to get them off, but he didn’t make her squirm for long. Easily, he lifted her hips off the bed with one hand, helping her slide her pants off with the other. He dropped them onto the floor on top of the rest of their clothes, and her heart rate sped up a few paces as he lay down on top of her again.

He kept himself propped up on his forearms just enough that he could control how his body settled in between her legs, just enough so that his groin barely came into contact with hers. He still had his jeans on, but that didn’t prevent her from feeling how hard he was. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind that he was going to get that thing out of there and use it to do some real good until he suddenly revealed, “We’re not gonna do this tonight.”

“We’re not?” she practically whimpered, unable to cover up her disappointment.

“No.” He captured her lips again, kissing her forcefully, and murmured, “We’re gonna do somethin’ else.” A gleam of mischief sparkled in his eye as he slid down her body a bit, stopping at her breasts. He palmed the left one with his hand, using his mouth to stimulate the other. He sucked hungrily on her flesh, twirling his tongue around her nipple.

“Uh . . .” she moaned, holding onto his arms tightly. Even if this was all they did, it was pretty remarkable in its own right. But she still wanted more, and judging by the way he suddenly tore his mouth away from her and kissed a path lower, so did he.

He made quick work of her stomach this time, inching his own body down to the foot of the bed as he reached his destination. Instinctively, she spread her legs open wider, and he reached out and touched her through the damp, silky fabric of her panties. Only using one finger, he stroked down the length of her folds, offering up the most torturous hint of what he was going to do.

She smiled dazedly, waiting for him to push her panties aside and slip that finger into her, but instead, he sat back up again, grabbed both of her legs in his hands, and urged them close together. She figured he knew what he was doing and followed his lead as he lifted her legs up to rest on his left shoulder. Again, he hoisted her hips up from the bed with one hand, effortlessly sliding her panties off with the other. He slid them agonizingly slowly over her thighs, knees, calves, and finally stopped them at her ankles. She waited for him to finish, but when he didn’t, she got frustrated and tried to send them flying with a flick of her ankles. Of course, she accidentally hit him in the head as she did so, but it worked. The panties were off.

She giggled her apologies, and he grinned mischievously, grabbing one ankle in each hand and spreading her legs wide again. She took in a shuddering breath as he slithered back down between her legs. If this was his version of payback for that little whack in the head, she was more than willing to accept it.

The thought crossed her mind to offer up some futile complaint about how he was still half-clothed while she was completely naked, but it vanished at once when he pressed his mouth to her core. Immediately, her hips arched up off the bed, and he had to place one hand on her waist to hold her down. He kissed her there again, letting his tongue dart out this time to caress her lower lips.

“Oh god, Michael . . .” She reached down and tangled one hand in his hair, loving the feeling. And if it was possible, she loved watching him do this to her just as much. For the most part, he kept his eyes closed, but every once in awhile, he opened them and looked up at her, almost as if he was gauging her reaction. He must have wanted to see more, because he slid the hand that was holding her hips down lower and stretched out his thumb to reach her clit.

She gasped immediately as he rubbed his thumb in little circles, methodically going in one direction for a few seconds before switching and going in the reverse. And all the while, he kept his head in between her legs, lapping at her like he just couldn’t get enough.

Her head started to go cloudy, and she had to grip the bed sheets, because she felt herself starting to fly apart beneath him and she didn’t want to fly too far. She gratefully surrendered herself to it, her entire body rocking against his talented mouth and hands as her orgasm built up. She could feel it somehow, swirling in her stomach; and when it finally did take over her, she tugged so hard on the sheets, they almost ripped. She clenched her legs around Michael’s body, but he tried to keep them spread apart as he drank from her greedily. She arched her back off the bed, feeling her toes and fingers go tingly for a moment as the sensations spread throughout her. All too soon, they subsided, and she lay back on the bed limply, feeling completely spent even though she hadn’t done anything.

He gave her a few more licks and kisses, then lifted his head and slowly crawled back up her body, hovering above her. “Was that alright?” he asked. As though he actually had to ask.

“Oh, that was so much better than alright,” she assured him, one word barely distinguishable from the next. “I swear, the things you do with your mouth should be illegal.”

“Maybe they are,” he teased playfully.

“You lawbreaker.” She found the strength to raise her head and kiss him. She loved kissing him after he did that for her, because she could taste herself there. And something about that was so strangely arousing.

“I’ll break the law for you any day,” he said, resting his forehead against hers.

“Mmm, good,” she murmured, rubbing her legs against his sides. It was still really bothering her that he had his pants on. “I feel like I should return the favor now.”

His entire body stilled atop her, and she could see the excitement at the prospect in his eyes. But still, he downplayed it and said, “You’re too tired.”

“No, I’m not.” She snaked one hand down in between them, stopping at his jeans. She hooked two fingers into his belt loops and pulled on them a little, trying to give him ideas. All sorts of dirty, glorious ideas.

He seemed like he was about to give in and go for it, but then there was a knock on the door. He frowned in utter confusion and sprang up from the bed, trying to pat his erection down . . . to no use, of course. Maria quickly darted into the bathroom and got a robe, tying it around her waist. She sat back down on the bed, opened a book, and tried to look studious and occupied while Michael opened the door. He made sure to stand halfway behind it, though, so as to conceal his hard-on.

Of course Miley was standing there. Who else would it have been? She had a blankie in one hand and a stuffed Koala Bear in the other. Frank was beside her, barely upright as he struggled to keep his eyes open.

“Miley,” Michael said. “Sweetheart. What’re you doin’?”

“Do you want me to check for monsters?” she asked, yawning.

“To check for . . .” He cast a glance back at Maria, and she laughed a little. “Uh, no,” he answered. “No, um . . . I think we’re okay. We already checked. Thank you, though.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll go back to bed now.” She turned and padded back down the hall.

“Okay. Goodnight.” He practically had to kick Frank to get him going again. “And thank you for knocking.” He shut the door, breathing a sigh of relief.

“She’s so cute,” Maria said, springing to her feet.

He leaned back against the door. “Kind of like you.”

“And you.” She untied the robe and let it drop to the floor, swaying towards him. “Are you sure you checked for monsters?” she asked. “Because I feel like a very, very hungry monster right now.” She pressed herself against him, immediately getting to work unfastening his jeans.

“You don’t have to,” he assured her, but his resistance was pointless.

“I know.” She didn’t mind at all. She was only doing the same thing he’d done for her. And with Michael . . . this didn’t seem like a chore or an obligation. She enjoyed giving him pleasure just as much as she enjoyed receiving it.

She pushed his pants and boxers down just enough to release his stiff length and took him in her hand, pumping him lightly. “I forgot how much fun this is,” she said.

“Oh, I didn’t.”

She laughed a little and got down on her knees, looking up at him as she continued to handle him gently. She squeezed his cock just a little bit, and he groaned, closing his eyes. Clearly his stamina was not at an all-time high tonight, which was fine. She’d tease the hell out of him anyway.

Grinning devilishly, she traced his cock along the lines of her mouth, probably just about driving him insane, and then pressed a feather-light kiss to the tip of it.

“Maria . . .” he moaned, shaking his head. “I can’t . . .”

“Shh,” she whispered, twirling her tongue around the head of it. She could taste the pre-cum gathered there already, and greed got the best of her. She wanted more, so she abandoned her slow ministrations and took him into her mouth. Holding him steady at the base, she bobbed her head up and down along his length, taking as much of him as she could, waiting for that inevitable moment when he would bury his hand in her hair and start gently thrusting into her mouth. Because he couldn’t not.

It didn’t take him long to start doing that, nor did it take her long to have to pull back so she could breathe. Mouth still open slightly, she stared up at him, waiting for him to open his eyes again. And when he did, he stared down at her with a look of pure astonishment in his eyes, like he couldn’t believe this was really happening but was so happy it was. Knowing that she could make him feel that way spurred her on, and she bent down further to trace her tongue along the underside of his cock, all the way from the base to the tip. He groaned again, clearly already a goner, and she took him back into her mouth, applying a bit more pressure this time. She got into an easy rhythm and grabbed hold of his balls as well, fondling them in an increased effort to get him off.

He placed his hands on her shoulders, trying uselessly to push her back, but she would have none of it. Eventually, he couldn’t hold out any longer, and he came hard as a litany of swears left his mouth. She swallowed down as much of him as she could, but some of it seeped out onto her chin. When she was sure he was done, she released him, sat back and used her middle finger to wipe up the mess he’d made. She put that finger into her mouth and cleaned off all the remnants, smirking at him as she did so.

“Holy shit,” he swore, sounding out of breath. “That should probably be illegal, too.”

She got back up to her feet, pressing herself against him again. “It is in some states.”

“Then I’m glad we’re not in those states.” He bent down and kissed her, and she knew he was now the one tasting himself there. So she kissed him back determinedly, wishing they never had to stop.

And maybe they wouldn’t. For tonight, at least. Full-blown sex might not have been on the menu, but if this was what they were going to do to pass the time, that was more than fine with her.

TBC . . .

-April :wink:

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Part 163

Post by April » Sun May 19, 2013 4:16 pm

Well, I think a huge thunderstorm is about to hit, so I have to make this quick!

Thank you for the feedback:




And on we go!

Part 163

“God, the whole weekend was, like, this big, gigantic stress-fest,” Tess lamented when she and Liz returned from their coffee-run the next morning. “My poor dad was just trying to hide out with me and Kyle the whole time. He didn’t want any part of it.” She sat down at her desk, even though she doubted any work was going to get done today.

Liz did the same. “Well, at least it all turned out well, by the sound of it,” she said.

“Yeah, Amy got her head out of her ass long enough for us to have a nice family dinner that actually didn’t involve a shouting match, and they all left a day early. Which was nice.”

“Yeah, parent drama’s the worst,” Liz empathized. “My parents still hate the fact that I’m with Max.”

“Well, that’s because Max is an ass, Liz.” There was no need to sugarcoat it. Everyone knew it was true. “I think Amy’s gonna give us space for awhile. Next time I see her and my dad, it’ll probably be when the baby’s born.” She patted her stomach, already anticipating it.

“Three months and counting, right?” Liz said.

“I can barely believe it.” Sometimes it seemed like she’d been pregnant for years, but in reality, time was flying by.

“It just looks like a perfect little basketball in there,” Liz remarked. “You’re so lucky you didn’t gain weight all over.”

Tess laughed at that. “Oh, I have, though. Kyle likes it. The other night, he said it gives him something to hold onto. And then I told him he’d better never say that again, otherwise all he’ll be holding onto is his own . . .” She trailed off and shrugged. “Well, you know.”

Liz laughed, but stopped abruptly when Maria came in.

“Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in,” Tess teased. And really, Maria did look like she’d been dragged in by a cat. Her hair was all over the place, and she looked like she’d just rolled out of bed. But . . . maybe that was a good thing. “I thought we were gonna go out for breakfast this morning,” Tess said.

“We were.” Maria pulled up a chair next to her desk, staring off into space, smiling dopily.

“Rough morning?” Tess guessed.

“Yes.” She grinned. “I’d tell you about it if Liz wasn’t here.”

“I can leave,” Liz offered.

“Please do.”

Liz quickly downed the remainder of her coffee, threw the container away, and skipped out the door.

“Well?” Tess urged, eager to find out if what she suspected to be true actually was true.

“Hmm,” Maria said, still off in la-la land. “Body parts are nice.”


Maybe it was a little immature to be so giddy just because he’d gotten some action last night, but quite frankly, Michael didn’t care. His head was going to be in the clouds all day; of this, he was certain. And he was fine with that. After everything he and Maria had been through, it felt good to feel this good.

He ended up getting to work a little later than he’d intended, because getting out of bed had almost been impossible. But once he did get there, he couldn’t wait to do the mid-twenties guy thing and brag his night up to his best friend. “Oh, man, Kyle,” he started in, “you’re never gonna believe what Maria and I did last night.”

Suddenly, Garret popped out from behind the counter, smiling. “Hi, Mr. Guerin,” he greeted.

“Garret.” Michael froze, searching around the gallery for some kind of adult. But there was just the little boy. “What’re you doin’ here?”

Garret pointed towards the back. The door was cracked open slightly, and Michael could make out Kyle sitting in his office alongside Max. “Oh, I see,” he said. Must have been working out auction stuff. “Don’t break anything,” he cautioned Garret as he went back to join the other two.

“I won’t,” he promised, eagerly using the big, open center of the gallery to skip and spin in circles.

Kyle was clearly frustrated, groaning and holding his head by the time Michael got back there. “For the last time,” he said sternly, “we are not having pole-dancers at my auction.”

Your action?” Max huffed. “I thought it was our auction.”

Relief washed over Kyle’s face when Michael cleared his throat, making his presence known. “Oh, Michael,” he sighed. “Thank God. Better late than never. Save me, please.”

“Well, Guerin, nice of you to join us,” Max grumbled. “So far we’ve accomplished . . . nothing.”

“ ‘Cause you’re a moron,” Kyle bit out.

“Oh, the insult.” Max pretended to recoil . “It burns.”

Kyle slammed his hands down on the table, clearly at the end of his rope with Cockadoodle-Doo’s new manager. “Would you tell him to shut up and let me do all the work?”

“Uh, no, Michael and I bonded a few months ago,” Max said.

“No, we didn’t,” Michael denied. A few honest conversations didn’t count as bonding.

“Yes, we did,” Max insisted. “Over the fact that we’re both horrible people.”

“Hey, now, you shouldn’t say that,” Kyle said. “Michael is not a horrible person.”

Michael crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall. “I think I’ll just hang back and supervise,” he decided. “There’s no part of me that wants to be a part of that.”

“You’re not gonna help me deal with him?” Kyle gasped, mouth agape in horror. “You’re horrible.”

Michael laughed a little. Even their bickering couldn’t damage his good mood. No, he was on an all-day orgasmic high. And hopefully so was Maria.

Garret joined them in the office a moment later, sauntering towards Max. “Whatcha doin’?” he asked shyly.

“Nothing much,” Max replied. “Just planning out the Sex Sells silent auction.”

Michael cringed. There it was, the word that always piqued a kid’s curiosity.

“What’s sex?” Garret asked.

“Hold on,” Kyle interjected, “I got this.” He leaned forward and looked right at the little boy when he said, “Garret, sex is a kind of cake.”

Max made a face. “No, it’s not,” he scoffed, pushing Kyle aside. “Amateur.” He rolled his eyes and started in calmly. “Garret, sex is when a man and a woman sort of . . . press together and move around a bit.” He demonstrated by pressing both his hands together and rubbing them back and forth. “And that’s how babies get made. Kyle here recently made a baby with his wife, and Michael . . .” He chuckled. “Well, Michael just does that as a hobby.”

Even though he wanted to spout of a comeback, Michael held back. No need to argue with Max while Garret was around.

Garret contemplated all the new information for a minute, then said, “Oh.” H nodded as though it all made perfect sense, then galloped back out into the gallery to run around some more.

“I can’t believe you just told him that,” Michael said disapprovingly.

“Why not?” Max spat. “Now I know he’s so grossed out, he won’t ask any more questions for at least two more years.”

Kyle wrinkled his forehead and said, “Huh,” nodding slowly as he considered it. “You know, he might actually be onto somethin’ here.”

Michael rolled his eyes. If Kyle wanted to model Max’s parenting form . . . well, it wasn’t recommended. Although . . . he was sort of envious that explaining that to Garret seemed so easy.

“Hey, speaking of baby-makin’ . . .” Max grinned. “Why were you so late to work today, Michael?”

“None of your business.”

“Ah, just as I suspected. You scoundrel. You got some.” Max chuckled, leaning back in his chair far enough that he could kick his feet up onto Kyle’s desk. Kyle immediately removed them, but Max just put them back up again. “Man, that it one slick operation you got goin’ there. Not that Maria’s particularly difficult to coerce.”

“Watch it,” Michael warned.

“No, I’m just sayin’, you cheated on the girl—with your psycho ex, no less—she nearly offs herself, and now she’s back in your bed, spreadin’ her legs?” He shook his head. “I don’t get it. But hats off to you. That takes skill.”

Michael narrowed his eyes at him, wishing Garret wasn’t there so he could just punch him or throw him out on the street on his ass or something. “Well, if I recall, Liz cheated on you once,” he pointed out, “but you took her back. And something tells me you didn’t exactly make her beg for it.”

Max shrugged, completely unashamed, of course.


Somewhere along the way, therapy sessions at Cresthaven had gone from being something Maria anticipated with mild dread to something she actually didn’t mind attending. The nervousness was gone, replaced by something very similar to eagerness. Because it was nice to be able to talk about how she was feeling about her life now, now that she wasn’t so unhappy anymore.

“Do you think we’re goin’ too fast?” Michael asked all of a sudden on the drive there.

“Speed limit’s 55,” she said.

“No, I mean us. Our relationship.”

“Oh.” That made much more sense. “No. I don’t know. I can’t help it. I’m just so horny.” She grinned, hoping to entice him into doing something naughty tonight.

“Keep talkin’ like that and I might have to pull over,” he warned.

“Please do.” It’d been a long time since they’d taken it outside the walls of their own house.

“Too late,” he said, pulling into the parking lot. “We’re already here.”

She pouted exaggeratedly, not at all embarrassed by how much she’d been craving him lately. It had as much to do with love as it did with lust.

Dr. Carlson’s prior session was running a bit late, but he finished up with it quickly enough that he was able to get them in just ten minutes after their scheduled appointment time. There was a good energy from the very start of the session. They started off by telling him about how Miley was doing, and then they got into the nuts and bolts of it.

“So how would you describe the progress you’ve made since you’ve last been here?” the doctor asked.

They exchanged a quick glance, and Michael echoed, “Describe?”

“You want details?” Maria asked.


“Like how many details?” She’d shared enough personal information with this man that, really, nothing was too personal. But still . . . “Do you want a comic strip or a graphic novel? Emphasis on the ‘graphic.’”

“Well, last I was aware, you were both waiting on a kiss to happen,” Dr. Carlson said. “And judging by your body language, it did.”

Maria smiled, unable to hide her blushing. “He was too chicken, so I had to do it.”

“I was biding my time,” Michael insisted.

“Whatever. We kissed, we survived a parental invasion, and now we’re taking things up a notch. It’s fun.”

“And by that, you mean you’re having sex again?” Dr. Carlson asked for clarification.

“Well . . .” She bit her bottom lip, pausing unsurely. “I feel like such a middle schooler asking this, but what exactly constitutes sex?”

Dr. Carlson nodded, laughing lightly. “I see.”

“You were wondering about that in middle school?” Michael asked in disbelief.

“Yeah, weren’t you?”

“No, I was too busy wondering if Santa was real.”

She gave him a look. Was he serious?

“What?” he said. “I was a hardcore believer.”

She rolled her eyes, shaking his head at his utter adorableness. “It’s been like this a lot lately,” she revealed. “We’re really just enjoying having each other around.”

“Do you think we’re taking things too fast, though?” Michael asked, suddenly serious.

“Well, there’s really no timeline,” Dr. Carlson said. “If you want my opinion, though, I think you’re both doing great. It’s nice to see you seem . . . excited about the future.”

It was even nicer to feel that way. “Yeah,” Maria said proudly, reaching over to squeeze Michael’s hand. “We are excited.”

He shifted in his seat and mumbled, “That’s ‘cause we’re gonna pull over somewhere on the drive back.”

“Michael!” she yelped, hitting his shoulder playfully. He just laughed.


Michael was just about to knock on the apartment door when it swung open. Marty stood on the other side, looking panicked. “We have a problem,” he immediately revealed, stepping aside.

Michael and Maria both peered inside, concerned that something had gone wrong during a routine day of babysitting. But Miley was just sitting there on the couch, and she looked perfectly fine. However, before Michael could ask Marty what was wrong, Miley blurted out, “Garret told me what sex is.”

And that was when his stomach knotted up.

They managed to skirt around the issue until they got home, even though Miley kept asking questions. Of course she wasn’t like Garret, who just accepted the sex explanation and didn’t say another word about it. No, that would have been too easy. Of course she had to know everything.

When it became clear that Miley wasn’t going to quit questioning, they sat her down in the kitchen for the talk. Michael happily let Maria do most of the talking, even though she wasn’t having much luck.

“Okay,” she said, “let’s recap: Sex is how babies are made. It happens between a man and a woman when they’re deeply in love. Only when they’re in love. Never anytime else. And only when they’re much, much older than you are.”

“Like you and Daddy?” Miley asked.

“Yes. Old like me and Daddy.”

She let out a heavy sigh, staring down at her lap. “I still don’t get it,” she mumbled.

Maria grunted, clearly feeling frustrated with telling her the same thing over and over again. “Well, what don’t you get?”

“All of it.”

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then started in again. “Okay, let’s take it from the top. Sex is how babies get made.”

“But how?” Miley wined.

Maria threw her hands up in the air. “Okay, I’m tapped out,” she said to Michael. “You explain it.”

“Me? Why me?”

She pulled him aside, whisper-yelling at him. “She’s your daughter with your brain, and she’s using it to ask all these questions.”

“Hey, you’re the one who wondered about sex at a young age,” he pointed out. “I was wondering about Santa, remember? Maybe all this curiosity comes from you.”

“Just fix this,” she begged.

He sighed, resigned to the torturous task, and joined his daughter in the kitchen again. “Alright, Miley, you wanna know how babies are made?” he said, pulling out a chair so he could sit right in front of her. “I’ll tell you how babies are made.” He opened his mouth, thinking that he would just give it to her straight, tell her every single detail just so she’d stop asking; but the minute he tried, his mouth felt dry, and no words came out.

She looked at him expectantly.

Say something, his mind screamed, but suddenly, it was as if he didn’t even know how sex worked. “It basically involves a lot of kissing and hugging between a man and a woman,” he summarized lamely.

“Uncle Marty kisses boys,” she quickly pointed out.

“Yes, because Uncle Marty is an interesting person.” No need to go into detail on that yet.

She slumped forward, obviously still unsatisfied with the explanation she was getting. “I saw you and Mama once,” she mumbled.

“Kissing?” he asked hopefully, even though he knew that wasn’t what she was talking about.


“Yes, thank you for bringing up that horrific memory.” He’d done his best to block that out.

“I still don’t get it,” she complained.

He really wanted her to go to bed that night with at least some general understanding, because if she didn’t, she’d just ask everyone about it, probably Kyle most of all, and who knew what he would tell her. “Okay, a guy’s parts are different than your parts down there,” he said, feeling increasingly awkward. “And what happens is he sticks his parts into . . .”

Her eyes grew fearfully wide.

“Okay, no, I’m scaring you,” he backtracked. “Um . . .” There had to be some more wholesome way to explain it. Desperately, he wracked his brain for an easy-to-understand comparison. “It’s like a garden, you see. A woman’s body is like a garden. And a man’s like a gardener. And when he goes into a woman’s garden, he plants a seed. A seed of love. And that seed of love just grows. Into a baby.”

Miley’s eyes were still wide, but instead of being filled with fear, they were filled with confusion now.

He glanced over his shoulder back at Maria. She was just shaking her head in disbelief.

He nodded, determined to stick with his explanation, even if it left a little—or a lot—to be desired. “Yep.”


“A seed of love?” Maria couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it.

“I was desperate,” Michael admitted, peeling back the bed covers. “But hey, I think I did pretty good. It got her to stop asking questions.”

“I think she finally just gave up ‘cause she got tired of our lame answers.” Maria crawled under the covers on her side, pulling them up under her arms.

“Oh god, that was awful,” he groaned, lying down beside her.

“We are gonna have to give her some better answers at some point, though,” she said, already thinking about how she could rope him into handling the majority of that talk. Or . . . all of it. This was definitely a Michael task.

“Do we have to?” he asked.

“Yes. Otherwise she’s gonna get on the computer, look up ‘sex,’ and stumble across some porn site. Oh, possibly of the kinky Japanese variety!” She really doubted Miley would be that curious about it, but it didn’t hurt to put the fear in Michael’s head. It would motivate him.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “You write out a script and I’ll read it to her. Deal?”

“Deal.” It wasn’t the explanation that was difficult, just the articulation of it.

“Come here,” he said, rolling over onto his side so he could kiss her. One kiss turned into a few, and soon enough, he was on top of her, his larger frame encompassing hers in a way that made her feel warmer than any of the blankets wrapped around her ever could.

She giggled and asked, “How are you possibly still in the mood after all that?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I guess I just wanna plant a seed of love.” He laughed a little, bending down to kiss her again, but her lips were still this time. In fact, everything about her stilled as she registered what he had just said, and what that possibly meant.

He realized it moments later, and he pulled back from the kiss, staring down at her worriedly. “I didn’t mean . . .” He shook his head, struggling to get words out. “That was stupid. I don’t know why I said that.”

“It’s okay,” she insisted, rubbing his sides. She didn’t want a little thing like this turn into a dramatic thing, so she tried to hide her own surprise and uncertainty.

“No, it’s not,” he said, sitting up. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, looking for a moment like he was going to get up, but he stayed seated there instead. “I freaked you out,” he said.

She hadn’t meant to make him feel bad, not when he’d just been joking around. “Hey,” she said, sitting up, scooting across the bed so she could be close to him. “I’m alright.” She wrapped her arms around his waist and sat beside him, resting her head against his back. “But maybe we should talk about that. I mean, how will we ever move forward unless we do?” They couldn’t very well progress to the point where they were having full-blown sex with something like this hanging over their heads.

He sighed heavily, and she felt that sigh go through his body. “Well, you know where I stand,” he said quietly.

“You want more kids.”

“Yeah. That hasn’t changed. So . . .” He sighed again. “I guess it’s up to you.”

She scooted forward, sitting beside him, her legs dangling over the side of the bed just like this. She couldn’t help but notice that he wouldn’t look at her, which probably meant that he was too nervous, too worried about what she was going to say. And who could blame him? Most of their last conversations about this particular issue had been arguments, and they’d been months ago.

“Right after Macy died,” she started in, “it was hard for me to even contemplate having another baby. It’s not like we could ever replace her.”

“No,” he agreed.

“And going through that miscarriage, too . . .” She shivered at the memory of him telling her she’d lost the baby, and the equally horrific memory of seeing her own bright red blood on the pale white sheets of her hospital bed. “It’s a lot,” she said. “I mean, it’s so much that I almost had a hysterectomy.”

“I remember.”

Even though he wasn’t looking at her, she could see the sadness in his eyes, and it made her feel horrible, knowing what she’d put him through during those first few weeks after the accident. He’d been dealing with everything she was dealing with, and she hadn’t even tried to be there for him. It made her feel incredibly selfish and mad at herself, even though she knew he didn’t blame her.

“I’m glad I didn’t,” she told him, “because now we still have options, you know?”

He nodded. “Yep.”

“I’m totally dancing around the question, aren’t I?”

“A little bit, yeah.” He finally looked at her and managed to smile a little. He and Miley looked just alike when they smiled.

“Michael?” she said, angling her body towards his. She drew it out for a minute, not because she was unsure of what she wanted to tell him, but because she wanted to take a moment to bask in the ability to honestly say it and want it. “I wanna have more kids with you.”

“You do?”

She nodded.

“Really?” His entire face lit up with excitement.

“Yeah. Someday,” she clarified. “Not, like, tomorrow or the next day.”

“Someday,” he echoed.

“Yeah.” The thought of it energized her. Not the being pregnant part, of course, because that was never fun. And definitely not the labor, because that was its own special kind of torture. But the end result of it all, the child itself, the child that would undoubtedly be just as incredible and brave as Miley was . . . who wouldn’t want that?

“Like how many?” he finally asked.

“Well, not ten, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“No, I can’t imagine having that sex talk ten times,” he said, laughing and shaking his head. “But it’s kinda nice to imagine a few other ‘seeds of love’ running around the house.”

“Okay, we’re not calling them that,” she informed him decidedly.

“Not to their faces.”

She laughed and leaned in, resting her head on his shoulder, feeling . . . lighter, somehow, now that they’d had this conversation.

This felt good. This felt so, so good.

TBC . . .


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Part 164

Post by April » Mon May 27, 2013 7:19 pm

Hey, guys! Sorry this one's a bit delayed. I went on a family vacation over the weekend and just got back. Much fun was had, but it's good to be home!

Thank you IMMENSELY for the feedback:






Really, I sound like a broken record, but after all this time, it means a lot that you guys are still reading and are interested in seeing how this turns out.

Part 164

By all accounts, Maria expected to have good dreams that night. It’d been a good day, and she hadn’t had nightmares for awhile. They used to have been a regular occurrence, but not lately. But they always started out the same.

She was walking along the empty highway, surrounded by darkness, her arms wrapped around herself to ward off the chilly winter wind. She heard the sounds of the flames before she saw them flickering, lapping away at the car as though it were a fresh meal. And when she got closer, she had to shield her eyes, because the fire was so bright. Even from a distance, she could feel its fatal heat. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that she could hear Macy, crying.

Maria woke up, not with a jolt the way she used to, because she was accustomed to that dream. Her eyes just snapped open. Every inch of her was instantly on edge, worried and utterly confused.

Wasn’t it supposed to be over?


“Ah, the neighborhood garage sale,” Michael remarked as they walked along the street adjacent to Alvarado. “The junk that time forgot.”

“Junk would be the key word,” Maria made sure to point out.

“I don’t know, we found some good stuff last year,” he reminded her. “That lamp, that picture frame . . .”

“And a bunch of other stuff we didn’t need.”

“Oh, well.” He reached down and found her hand, squeezing it gently in his. “It’s fun.”

It was. And it was helping her keep her mind off other things. Like the fact that, last year, they’d brought Macy along with them. Miley had been all excited to push her in her stroller for the first time.

“How much did we spend on that stuff?” she asked.

“I think it was about three bucks for the lamp,” he said, “fifty cents for the picture frame.”

“So we should have our own garage sale and sell the lamp for $3.50 and the picture frame for a dollar.”

“You’re so diabolical,” he remarked with a grin. “I like it.” He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it quickly. “What else would we sell, though?”

Before she could respond, a woman piped up with, “A baby crib?”

Maria tensed, and Michael immediately spun to face the woman. “What?”

The woman was standing behind a baby crib, showing it off as though it were precious merchandise. She’s trying to sell it, Maria registered. It’s just her garage sale. She must have been new to the neighborhood, because Maria didn’t recognize her. And if she was new, that meant she didn’t know the entire tragic tale of their lives. Yet.

“A young couple like you . . .” She smiled. “Surely you need a crib.”

Michael appeared a little taken aback, too. All he could say was, “Oh.”

“It’s practically brand new, hardly ever been used,” the woman continued, really trying her best to lure them in. “Perfect if you’re planning on starting a family.”

“Thanks,” Maria said, trying to be polite instead of just walking away like she wanted to, “but we already have one.”

“A crib?” the woman asked. “Or a family?”

“Both, actually.” Maria started to lead Michael away. “Have a nice day.”

The woman waved at them and immediately started scoping out her next potential customers.

“Wow, someone who doesn’t know us,” Michael mumbled.

“I know, it’s refreshing.” She wrapped both hands around his arm, holding him tightly. “We’re never selling Macy’s, by the way,” she said.

“No,” he agreed without hesitation.

Maria was thankful when Tess and Kyle came ambling down the sidewalk with Miley. Kyle had several paper sacks full of more items than anyone should reasonably purchase at a garage sale, and at the top of the fullest one was a stuffed giraffe. Hard to tell whether that was for himself or Miley.

“Hey, guys,” Michael said. “Oh, no, what’d you buy her?”

“Lots of stuff. Including . . .” Kyle set his sacks down and rummaged through one until he pulled out a board game. “Get a load of this,” he said, holding it up proudly. “Twenty-five cents. Bargain.”

“Sweet Valley High!” Miley exclaimed.

“Oh my god, I used to love that show!” Maria raved.

“And the book series,” Tess put in.

Maria made a face. “There was a book series?”

“Let me see that,” Michael said, grabbing the game from Kyle. “‘Sweet Valley High,’” he read off the front. “‘Can you find your boyfriend in time for the big date?’ Oh, well, that’s nice and cliché.” He handed it back to Kyle.

“Will you play it with me when we get home, Daddy?” Miley asked, giving him the pleading puppy dog look.

But it didn’t take much to convince him. “Yeah, sure.”

“It’s awesome,” Kyle said. “Part strategy, part memory. And like all good board games, mostly dumb luck.”

“Oh, then you must be really good at it,” Maria teased.

“Oh, I am,” Kyle confirmed. “Although I’m still better at Whack-a-Mole.”

“Oh!” Tess interrupted suddenly. “Oh, oh!”

“What?” Kyle asked, dropping the game with immediate concern.

“The baby’s kicking,” she said adoringly.

“Again? He’s active lately.” Kyle splayed his hand against her stomach and joked, “Man, it’s like a dance party in there.”

“Can I feel?” Miley asked.

“Sure. Just put your hand right there.” Tess lifted Miley’s hand and placed it for her. “You feel that?”

Miley’s eyes grew wide with amazement.

“He’s saying hi to you.”

“Hi, baby,” Miley cooed.

Maria watched her daughter, and she remembered what it was like to watch her with Macy. Casting a glance at Michael, she wondered if he was thinking about the same thing, or if he was looking ahead to the future and envisioning Miley doing this again. Because a part of her was envisioning, too.


After the garage sales, Tess and Kyle decided to hang out for awhile, with Kyle insisting, of course, that they break out Sweet Valley High so that he could prove what a champion he was. Maria and Tess left their boys and Miley to have at that, instead opting to spend some girl time together. Tess said she needed clothes for this particular trimester, and Maria had plenty, so they went upstairs and pulled open the closet.

“Thanks for letting me ransack your closet,” Tess said as she looked through the clothes hung towards the back.

“Well, just the maternity section,” Maria reminded her, not willing to surrender the better parts of her wardrobe.

“Today it dawned on me that I have absolutely nothing to wear. Nothing that fits, anyway.” Tess sighed dramatically. “Oh, it was getting dire. All my shirts have become midriffs. I was starting to look like one of those redneck hos from Teen Mom.

“Wouldn’t want that.” Maria sat down on the bed, ignoring the subtle pangs of jealousy in the pit of her stomach. Because she knew that, in a perfect world, she wouldn’t have been able to loan out those clothes because she would have been wearing them.

“Wow, Maria,” Tess said, holding up a particularly ugly brown frock. “Some of this stuff is really . . .”

“Hideous, I know,” Maria jumped in.

“Well, I was gonna lie and say cute, but . . .”

Maria shook her head. “Maternity clothes are just not fashionable. Well, there actually is some good stuff, but it’s so expensive. Not worth the cost if you’re only gonna wear it for a few months.”

Tess held the brown frock up to herself and made a face as she examined her reflection in the mirror. She immediately hung it back up and kept looking. “Kyle got me some nice stuff awhile back, but it’s too fancy,” she said. “It’s like, hello, I’m pregnant. I’m not looking for fancy; I’m looking for comfy.”

“Then my closet’s the place to be. Much elastic.”

“Good. This morning, I literally burst out of my pants. I was just sitting at the table, not even doing anything, and the button popped off my jeans.”

Maria smiled, able to relate. “Welcome to the world of being pregnant.”

“It hit Kyle in the eye! He could have retinal damage!”

Maria made a face. “Ew.”

Tess rolled her eyes. “Retinal damage, not rectal.”

“Oh.” That made so much more sense.

Tess laughed lightly. “Well, thanks again for this,” she said, removing a couple clothes from their hangers.

“No problem.” Maria watched as she took out her favorite maternity shirt. It said Number 2 on the way. Tess probably didn’t even realize that. She was just grabbing things randomly. But when Maria saw it, she couldn’t keep it in any longer. She’d been out of sorts since that dream last night.

“Hey, Tess, can I ask you something?”

“Go for it.”

“Even if it’s . . . personal?”

Tess kept her new array of shirts draped over her arm as she shut the closet door. “Maria, I’m your best friend. If you can’t ask me personal questions, who can you ask?”

Maria cringed. “I don’t know if I should, though.”

Tess crossed the room and laid the clothes down on the bed. “What’s wrong?” she asked, sitting beside her.

“Nothing,” Maria assured her quickly. This was just a little emotional baggage she was dealing with, nothing major. She was happier than she’d been in a long time, and nothing was going to change that. “I just . . .” She sighed, not even sure if it was worth delving into. But something told her she’d feel better if she did. “The other night, I had a dream about the car accident, and it’s . . . discouraging because I haven’t had one in awhile.”

Tess put her hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently.

“I was just wondering if you ever still have dreams—nightmares—about that night in your studio when Billy . . .” She saw Tess flinch, and she felt bad for bringing it up. “When he raped you.”

Tess waited a moment, her face taking on a pained expression. “Well, yeah, of course I do,” she said. Her eyes glazed over momentarily, and Maria knew enough to know that she was probably reliving it all over again, right there in that very moment. But then she snapped out of it, and she was herself again. “To tell you the truth, I think I always will,” she said. “But most nights, I have good dreams. Do you?”

She nodded. “Most nights, yeah.”

Tess shrugged. “Everyone has nightmares now and then, Maria.”

“But not like ours.”

Tess let out a heavy breath. “No,” she acknowledged. “Our nightmares are especially nightmarish.”

There was still a huge part of Maria that resented how horribly unfair it all was. She wasn’t a bad person, and neither was Tess. They didn’t deserve this.

“I remember, after it first happened . . . I dreamt about it every night,” Tess confessed. “I was so scared. And sad. But now . . . it’s less and less. Is it that way for you?”

“Yeah.” She was so glad to be able to say that. “I think I just had that dream because Michael and started talking about having more kids someday.”

“What?” Tess sputtered. “You started . . . where was I? When did this happen?”

“Recently,” Maria replied. “Like last night recently.

“So you guys are finally back on the same page about it, huh?”

“Yep.” Felt really good to be able to say that, too.

“So . . .” Tess grinned. “So this means, by the time I’m done with these maternity clothes, you might need them back again.”

“Okay, don’t jump the gun,” Maria said, accustomed to having to reign her best friend in like this. “It’s not like I’m getting knocked up tonight.”

“That you know of.”

Maria playfully swatted at her, shaking her head in amusement.


That night, Michael lay on top of Maria, kissing her slowly and deliberately. He seemed content to just do that, because his hands weren’t roaming, and no clothing had been removed. Luckily, Michael was a great kisser, so this was satisfying. But Maria couldn’t deny being greedy and wanting more.

He stopped without warning and just lay there, stroking her cheek.

“What?” she asked.


“Why’re you stopping?”

He bit his bottom lip for a moment, then admitted, “I’m kinda tired.”

“Seriously?” She couldn’t even remember the last time that’d stopped him.

“Yeah, aren’t you?”

“No.” She was ready and willing to go all night if he wanted to. But clearly he didn’t want to.

“Oh, come on, we haven’t exactly been using our nights for sleeping,” he pointed out.

“That’s fine with me.” She squirmed underneath him, hoping to somehow motivate him to continue, but it clearly wasn’t going to happen. “But you’re tired,” she relented. “And you have to work tomorrow. So we’ll just go to sleep.” She moved out from under him and turned over on her side, a bit bummed out that she was more in the mood than he was. That talk with Tess had really helped her overcome some of the anxiety that had been threatening to build back up, and now she just wanted to have some fun.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, spooning up behind her. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“You’d better,” she said, reaching over to turn the lamp off. “With multiple orgasms.”

“Hmm.” He laughed a little, leaned forward, and pressed a quick kiss to her cheek before settling in for the night.


“Look at all the sex up in here!” Kyle tore open the box of DVD’s, eagerly peering inside. “Oh . . .” he gasped, literally shaking with excitement.

“What?” Michael asked.

“This is a thing of beauty.”

Michael rolled his eyes, glad that no one else was in the gallery to hear this.

“I’m serious, man, these are classics,” Kyle insisted. “You can’t find these online.” He grabbed the first DVD and held it out in front of himself as if it were delicate, precious.

“I assume you’ve searched,” Michael said.

“Far and wide.”

“You’re disturbed, you know that?”

“I’m a healthy twenty-four year-old male,” Kyle countered. “What can I say, Michael? I like my sex.”

“That’s not even your sex. That’s . . .” Michael sized the movie from him and read the name of the ‘actress’ on the front. “Nina Swallows?”

Kyle grinned like an idiot and nodded.

Michael made a face. “That’s her sex.”

“Dude, she makes you feel like you’re right there.”

“When the hell was this even made?” Michael asked, surveying the back. “The Eighties? And—oh my god, are her tits real?”

Kyle seized the movie back from him. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s why it’s a classic.”

“Huh.” On some level, Michael supposed it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to watch. But he didn’t need to. His girlfriend was hotter than any porn star.

“See, you’re intrigued,” Kyle said.

“No, I’m not. Are those all for the auction?”

“Yep.” He hopped over the counter, bent down, and took out the portable DVD player he sometimes liked to utilize when there were no customers around. “I’m gonna burn a hole in my wallet biddin’ on ‘em.”

“And Tess is okay with this?”

Kyle plugged in the player and pressed the power button. “Hey, Tess loves me for who I am, okay? And this is who I am.”

“A pervert?”

“And proud of it.” He popped in the DVD and started tapping his hands on the counter impatiently as he waited for it to load. Before he could indulge, though, Marty came in, carrying something that looked suspiciously like a covered canvas.

“Hey, bitches,” he chirped, immediately spying the box. “Ooh, are these the movies for the auction?”

“Yeah, Max brought ‘em by this morning,” Michael replied.

“Anything I’d like?”

Kyle laughed, muting his DVD as it started to play. “Not unless you’ve had a personality transplant and suddenly like huge, squishy, natural breasts.”

“Ugh,” Marty grunted, making a face of disgust. “Seriously, no gay stuff?”

Michael shrugged. He wasn’t about to look through them all to find out.

“Well, that’s unacceptable,” Marty huffed. “That’s . . . discrimination is what that is. Sex is no longer so easily-defined and packaged. Luckily, I had a feeling you two would be in this predicament, so I took it upon myself to make a contribution to your little auction. Feast your eyes, fellas. Ta-da!” He ripped the covering off the canvas to reveal the painting underneath.

“Oh!” Michael gasped, too late to shield his eyes while Kyle started making gagging sounds. “God!”


“Oh, you poor thing,” Maria said, standing in the bathroom with Michael that night. “You’re all traumatized.” She was so sympathetic that she had even decided to shave his face for him, even though there were only a few days’ worth of stubble there and he could have easily done it itself. Nobody who had witnessed what he had witnessed should have to do anything. Plus, she was bored, and it gave her an excuse to touch him. Not that she needed an excuse.

“It was awful,” he said. “So awful. There was just . . . so much ass staring me in the face.”

She laughed, able to picture it pretty easily. He’d described it numerous times in horrific detail.

“And balls,” he added.

She carefully dragged the razor near his jawline and said, “Yeah, balls are not the most attractive physical feature.”

He gave her a look.

“Yours aren’t bad,” she assured him.

“The thing is, it wasn’t a bad painting,” he said, not seeming to realize that all his talking was making it very difficult for her to finish up what she was doing. “Marty’s not gonna have a career as an artist, and it’s not like I can really auction it off or anything. But I’ve seen worse.”

“Really? You’ve seen worse than the painting called Bareback Train?

“Technically.” He shrugged. “He had some good . . . shading.”

“You looked that closely?”

“I don’t know what was wrong with me, but I couldn’t look away. And now, thanks to your brother, I’m scarred for life.” He winced when she accidentally nicked him with the razor. “And thanks to you, too,” he teased.

“Sorry.” She wiped away the tiniest smear of blood, then rose up on her tiptoes and kissed the spot. “Okay, I think you’re done,” she announced.

“Let’s see, I gotta inspect.” He turned and looked at himself in the mirror, smoothing his hands over his face, tilting his head up and down to examine every angle way more thoroughly than he needed to. “Looks pretty good,” he announced. “I might have to have you do this every night.”

“No, only tonight. And only ‘cause I’m bored.” She grinned, snaking her arms around his waist suggestively. “Maybe you could entertain me.”

He turned back around, a glint of mischief in his eyes. “I can do that.” He bent down to capture her lips and wasted no time lifting her up, setting her down on the sink. She wrapped her legs around his waist to pull him in closer and trailed her hands in between them to bunch his shirt up in her hands. “Mmm,” she moaned, “take your pants off.” She hadn’t meant it to sound so blunt, but she was seriously craving.

But instead of doing what she’d told him to, he kept talking. “You really wanna do it tonight?”

“Uh, yeah.” She felt like they’d waited more than long enough.

“But what if Miley hears us?” he fretted.

“Well, considering the fact that she’s seen us, I think she’ll get over it.”

He shifted around unsurely. “I don’t know . . .”

“Oh, come on, we’ve done it plenty of times with her in the house. And she’s already asleep.”

“Yeah, but don’t you wanna be able to be as loud as you want?” He smirked, leaning in to whisper, “I fully intend to make you scream.”

Those words alone sent an anticipatory tingle up her spine. She could scream silently if that meant getting him underneath her. Or on top of her. Or behind. Or all of the above.

“Let’s just wait,” he suggested.

“Oh . . .” she groaned impatiently, “you always hold out on me.” It was like the first time all over again. But hell, she’d gotten him to cave back then. She could do it again. “I might have to do another sexy carwash to entice you.”

“The sexy carwash? Don’t tease me. That was a top ten moment in my life.”

She tossed her head back and laughed.

“Come on,” he said, holding out his hand to help her down from the counter.

She decided to let him have his way, even though she didn’t like his way, and followed him into the bedroom for another sleep-filled night.

TBC . . .


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Part 165

Post by April » Mon Jun 03, 2013 1:34 pm

Ah, it's Monday! I didn't realize that. I was supposed to update yesterday. See, this is what happens to me when I have the summers off. I lose track of what day it is. :roll: Idiot me.

Some of you already know that, having visited my author's thread, but I thought I'd share it with the rest of you. I can't believe it took me so long. But in a way I can.

Wow ... that nightmare came outta left field. But I'm glad that instead of sinking her into sadness and dispare, she was able to deal and talk about it. I'm so proud of Maria for her accomplishment - and this was a huge one!
And that was kind of the point of that whole scene, to show that, really, she'll never be completely past it. She'll have nightmares about it for the rest of her life, naturally. Not every night, but sometimes. And when she starts thinking about it or dreaming about it like that, she's now at the point where she knows how to handle it in a healthier way.
Glad to still be around as well April! i do admit, after the car accident, I was never going to finish this - sure that there was no way this story could have a happy ending. Oh how I was wrong! And no one is happier than me to admit how wrong my assumption was.
Aw, well, I'm really glad you stuck around. I know a lot of people didn't, but that makes me feel bad for them, because the last part they read was a horribly angsty one. So for them, the story didn't have a happy ending. :(

I am so happy to see Maria being able handle when these things come up like a nightmare and not let it set her back. I was impressed. Happy Tess was so open and it's good for her to talk about things too.
They've both come a long way. In a way, their journeys have been very similar. They've both gone through something unimaginably horrible, something no one should ever have to experience. And even though the tragedies of their lives really consumed and darkened them for awhile, they're emerging from them stronger than before.
Michael is like waiting for the perfect time, is there such a thing? I think it is cute and sweet. I hope he is not extra worried or something. I am sure once he gets over this first round since everything, he won't have any more hesitations. It's funny to see Maria back to what she was before.
It's definitely a little call-back to 521 here, with Maria being the one who's so eager to have sex and Michael being the one who's urging them to wait a bit.

I never thought there could be a happy ending either! Congrats April! You proved us all wrong!
You know, at one point, even I was doubting that there could be a happy ending. But I just kinda sat back and let the story tell itself, and it's getting there now. :)

Oh, let's get musical today: I loooooooooove this song called "All You Wanted" by Sounds Under Radio. One of many beautiful songs on the Vampire Diaries soundtrack. Here's a sampling of the lyrics:

But we still, hold on
Cause it was
All you wanted
And all I needed
But all I gave up, now
Could you hold me tighter
When worlds collide?
Just hold me down right now

Love it. Love it. Anyway, you can listen to it here or click on :) when you see it if you'd like.

Part 165

Feeling her body beneath his, sweat-soaked and moving in perfect tandem, spurred him on, made him move faster. With every thrust, he felt himself go deeper, get closer, but it wasn’t close enough.

He kept his head buried in the crook of her neck, breathing in her scent, and murmured, “I love you, Maria. I love you so much.” He lifted his head just as he was about to spend himself within her, because he wanted to see her release at the same time. But when he saw who was beneath him, he froze, mortified.

Isabel stared up at him, smirking devilishly. “Sucker.”

All of a sudden, he heard a bone-chilling scream. He looked to the bedroom door and saw Maria standing there, gazing at him in horror. Before he could say anything, she was engulfed in flames.


Michael awoke feeling breathless. His heart was pounding inside his chest, and it took a moment for it to slow down. Beside him, Maria appeared to be sleeping soundly, clothed only in one of his t-shirts. He took a moment to just stare at her and assure himself that she was okay. It was just a dream. He knew it was just a dream.

It was a dream that was going to keep him awake, though. He couldn’t go right back to sleep after that. He slowly got out of bed, careful not to disturb Maria, put on a white tank, and quietly made his way out of the room and downstairs. He poured himself a glass of water, hoping he would start to calm down, but . . . he was rattled, and there was no denying it.

A minute later, he heard Maria coming downstairs. “Michael?” she called out through the darkness.

“What’re you doing up?” he asked her.

“I was about to say the same thing.” She stopped in the kitchen and reached for the light, but she decided to leave it off. “You okay?”

No, he wasn’t. But he didn’t want her to worry about him. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Why not?”

He rubbed his forehead and set the glass of water down in the sink. “I don’t know, I just couldn’t.”

“Dreams?” she asked. “Or thinking about things?”

“Both, I guess.” He hoped that would suffice, but he saw it in her eyes that she wasn’t done asking questions, so he tried to think up a quick excuse. “It’s just this auction, you know? Planning it . . . it’s kinda stressful.”

It was a flimsy as hell excuse, and she saw through it right away. “You’re lying,” she said. Even in the dark, he could see her eyes narrowing at him. “You don’t stress about work. And Kyle’s doing most of it anyway.” She came closer to him, reaching out to touch his arm. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he said, taking a step back.

“Yes, clearly, you’re wide awake in the middle of the night because nothing’s wrong.”

He sighed, knowing it was useless to try to hide something from her. He’d never been good at hiding anything.

Except for the time he spent with Isabel, of course. The thought alone made him sick.


“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’ll upset you.” Hell, it was upsetting him.

“I can take it,” she assured him.

You shouldn’t have to. “Maria . . .”

“Did you dream about the accident?” she asked.

He’d dreamt about an accident. Did that count?

“Because the other night, I dreamt about it, too,” she confessed. “It’s weird how that just happens once in awhile. I wish it didn’t, but . . . if you wanna talk about it . . .”

“I just said I didn’t,” he cut her off.

“Why are you being so--”

“Because I was dreaming about Isabel,” he blurted, knowing it was useless to try to keep it in much longer.

Her eyes widened, and she fell silent.

“I thought I was having sex with you, but I looked down, and it was her. And then you were there, and it was happening all over again.” He wished he’d had some time to calm down before talking about it, but he hadn’t, and now he was just laying it all out there in a way she probably didn’t appreciate. “You still wanna talk about it?”

She lowered her head and mumbled, “I’m not sure.”

He felt horrible for blurting it out like this and even more horrible for dreaming about it in the first place. He suddenly felt the need to clarify. “It’s not like I want . . .” Plenty of guys probably dreamt about sex with Isabel, but in a much different context. “It wasn’t a fantasy; it was a nightmare.”

“I remember,” she said. “I lived it.”

And now he was causing her to relive it again. Great. Things had been so good lately. Why was this happening now?

“So this is why you won’t sleep with me again,” she concluded, “why you’ve been making excuses about being tired and worrying about Miley hearing us. You just don’t want to?”

“No, I want to, Maria,” he assured her. “More than anything in the world, I wanna make love to you.”

Her voice was barely above a whimper. “Then why--”

“Because I don’t deserve to.” He realized he was talking too loudly, running the risk of waking Miley, up, so he lowered his voice and said it again. “I don’t.”

She sighed, once again coming closer to him. “Michael, we’ve been through this. We’re moving on. I forgive you.” She tried to hold his hands in hers, but he jerked them away.

“Well, you shouldn’t.”

“I have. Look, that night . . . we were both really screwed up that night.”

“It wasn’t just that night that I fucked things up, Maria. It’s been the past seven years of my life.”

She frowned in confusion. “What?”

“Ever since I met her . . . it was just one mistake after another.” He shook his head, furious at himself for not making some better choices over the years. “I was so stupid. I was so stupid to ever fall for her. Why would I do that? Why would I let myself do that?”

“It’s not the kind of thing you can control.”

“But I should’ve controlled it. I should’ve sensed something. I should’ve known better.” Wasn’t he supposed to always know what was best? Wasn’t that his persona? “I was completely blinded. I had no idea . . .” He kept shaking his head, wishing he could shake away the past. “How could I be so wrong about somebody? I’m supposed to be smart, not pathetic.” It made him question his judgment, made him question whether or not he could even begin to live up to the image people had of him. “You knew she was no good, so how come I couldn’t see it?”

“Because . . .” She paused for a long time, then, with eyes cast downward, mumbled, “Because you loved her.”

“But why?” Was there something so dark in him that it was capable of loving someone as dark as her?

“You must’ve seen something in her the rest of us didn’t,” she rationalized. Maria was hardly ever rational.

“But even after I knew how bad she was . . .” He trailed off, wishing there were some easy answers to all the issues he was confronting.

“You still loved her?” she squeaked out.

“No.” There was absolutely no truth in that, and he didn’t want her believing it. There wasn’t one piece of his heart that belonged to Isabel anymore, because it all belonged to her. “But I didn’t push her far enough away. Because I felt obligated to help her. You were the one who needed my help. I should’ve tried harder with you and just cut her out of my life. It’s simple.”

She took in a shaky breath and said, “It’s easy to look back and pinpoint all the things you wish you’d done differently.”

“No, it was easy back then, too,” he insisted. “Because there’s right and there’s wrong, and I knew it was wrong. I knew it was wrong to talk to her almost every single day. Do you realize that, Maria? I talked to her that much. I talked to her about everything I was feeling, about you, about Macy. I talked to her more than I talked to you.”

Tears were glistening in her eyes, reflecting the moonlight from outside. But she wouldn’t let them fall. “You felt like you couldn’t talk to me.” She still wouldn’t look at him.

“So why her? Why did I go to her? I made the same mistakes all over again. And sure, it didn’t get physical until that night, but everything that led up to it . . . it’s almost worse. All the conversations, all the time I spent with her instead of you . . .”

She shut her eyes. “You were hurting.”

“So my solution was to hurt you?” He grunted, utterly exasperated with himself. “God, what was wrong with me?”

“You weren’t yourself.”

“Would you stop trying to make excuses for me?” He grabbed her shoulders and forced her to look at him. At once, her tears started to fall. “You can’t excuse what I did. I was myself, Maria. That was me. It was the worst version of me, but it was still me. No one forced me to do what I did; I did it all on my own. I just sat back and let her manipulate me.” He let go of her slowly, trying to sort through the various threads of self-hatred running through his veins. “So maybe, at the end of the day, I’m not this kind, smart, trustworthy person people think I am.” He thought back to that dream and swallowed the lump in his throat. “I’m just a sucker.”

She stared at him, and for the first time, she had no response, nothing to say to try to make him feel better. She didn’t look angry. She looked sad. And oddly enough, not sad for herself. She looked like she was feeling sorry for him, and that wasn’t what he wanted.

She wiped the tears from her cheeks and asked, “Why is it so hard for you to be like this? I mean, me . . . I cried and talked at Cresthaven for weeks. But you always hold things in. Why?”

“Because I . . .” He could trace it back to the accident, back when he’d been trying to take care of her. Trying and failing miserably to make her feel better and keep his family whole. “I wanna be strong for you.”

“Did you ever think that I could be strong for you, too?”

“You shouldn’t have to be.”

“I wanna be.” She took hold of his hands again, and this time, he let her. Because seeing her like this, seeing her as this strong woman who was doing her best, in this moment, to take care of him . . . it made him feel grateful. And if she was being so adamant about how he wasn’t a horrible person . . . then maybe he wasn’t.

“Michael, I will never forget what you did. Ever,” she admitted. “But I forgave you a long time ago.”

He remembered saying that exact same thing to Isabel. He didn’t want to be that person for her. “Fine, you forgive me,” he acknowledged. “But why would you still wanna be with me?”

She didn’t even hesitate. “Because you’re you.”

“And who am I?”

Smiling tearfully, she answered in a whisper. “A good man.”

On some level, he knew that was true, knew that he was a good man who’d made a horrible mistake. But maybe Maria deserved better than that.

“Do you wanna hear what my vows were gonna be?” she asked suddenly.

He frowned. “What?”

“My vows. On what was supposed to be our wedding night . . . I never got to say . . .” She let out a shaky breath.

“Maria . . .”

“I never got to say . . .” She squeezed his hands gently and started in. “Michael, I know everyone expects a lot from you. They expect you to be a caretaker and a provider and a protector. And truth be told, I’m one of those people. Because I know you, and I know that is you.”

When she said it . . . she had a way of making him believe it.

“But even though you are all those things, and so much more,” she continued on, “you’re not perfect. Like any other person on this planet, you have flaws and regrets. You just hide them better than most people do. But I know you well enough to understand that there are things in your life you wish had gone differently.”

He imagined standing with her in that small little church, with their family and friends, her in her white dress, saying this to him there. With their daughters.

“But it’s okay,” she said, “because you ended up here, and somehow I ended up here with you. And Miley and . . .” She hesitated momentarily. “And Macy . . . they ended up with us.” A few more tears leaked out, but she kept going, as if she were determined to have him hear all of it. “You are an amazing father, and I know you’ll be an incredible husband. Because you may not be perfect, but you make me feel perfectly content.” Her voice was staring to shake and waver so much that it was almost difficult to understand her. Yet he could understand everything. “You make me feel strong when I’m weak. You make feel safe when I’m panicked. You make me feel smart when I haven’t got a clue. And you make me feel beautiful, even when I look like a blimp.” She laughed a little. “So that’s why I wanna be with you for the rest of time: because of who you are, and because of who I am when I’m with you.”

He gazed down at her, completely amazed that she could say all this to him after what he’d done to her. More so, that she could say it and mean every word. Because he could tell that she did. She meant it. And the strange thing was . . . he felt like he could be saying the same thing to her.

( :) )

“Does that answer your question?” she asked quietly.

It really did.

He kissed her, and she didn’t hesitate to kiss him back. In that moment, he pushed all thoughts of deservedness out of his mind, because he wanted to be with her, and she wanted to be with him. And maybe that was all that mattered anymore. Maybe that was enough to overcome the rest.

He kept kissing her, more forcefully now, his tongue darting out to brush against hers, and she clamored for something to hold onto. She accidentally knocked over a bowl of fruit on the counter. It clanged as it fell on the floor. No. Too loud. Too noisy. They had to get upstairs. Now.

They stumbled up to the bedroom, still kissing, tripping over everything from the stairs to their own feet. It wasn’t graceful, but they made it inside and shut the door. Her hands tugged at his shirt insistently, finally able to get it up and over his head, and his found their way behind her to cup her naked backside. Every time she lifted her arms to loop around his neck, the oversized t-shirt she was wearing rode up on her, made it easier for him to touch her.

He wanted to touch every inch of her.

Had to get the clothes out of the way. Had to. He scrunched the t-shirt up and pulled it off of her, tossing it to the floor. Then her fingers were hooked into the waistline of his sweatpants, pulling them down. They pooled at his feet, and he stepped out of them, immediately scooping her up into his arms. She splayed her body against his, holding tightly to him as he maneuvered them towards the bed. Their bed.

He lay her down and greedily crawled on top of her, covering her smaller body with his larger one. She was so small. And her skin was so soft. And she was already breathing so hard.

Even though he wanted to keep kissing her, something in him just had to stop. Just had to. Because all he could do in that moment was lay there and admire her. He was terrified, practically trembling, but she didn’t look afraid at all.

He stared into her emerald eyes, eyes that had looked back at him for years, eyes that still saw the best in him. Eyes that looked sure.


Her mouth. Lips that had said his name countless times. Sometimes out of heartache or humor. Sometimes out of anger or frustration. Usually out of delight and always out of passion.

“I love you.”

She reached up to touch his face with hands that were impossibly warm.

Words were beyond him in that moment, but he wanted—needed—her to know he loved her, too. So he kissed her, a quiet kiss time, hoping it would speak volumes.

He felt her shudder beneath him and he knew it had.

He barely even noticed her reaching towards the bedside table, pulling open the drawer and taking out a condom. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her rip open the package. And that was when the significance of what they were doing really hit him. She was letting him back in. Into her body, and her heart. Sure, they had done this hundreds of times before, but . . . this was different.

Reaching down between them, she sheathed him quickly, without making it awkward, and spread her legs open wider. He moved forward the slightest bit, the tip of his erection brushing against her entrance, and even though instinct screamed at him to push in, he held back. Not like this. Not with him encompassing all of her, his weight bearing down on her.

He encircled his arms around her tiny frame and rolled over so that he was on his back, her on top of him. A pleasantly surprised smile found its way to her face, and she kissed him a few more times before sitting upright, straddling his hips.

She smoothed her hands up his chest, letting one stay at his shoulder while the other reached down to grip his length. She held him steady, her face a mixture of anticipation and concentration as her lower body hovered directly above his. She teased him for a moment of course, barely making contact before pulling away again, but finally, she gave in and guided him inside her, slowly.

A moan escaped her unusually quiet mouth, and she closed her eyes, taking a moment to just breathe as she reacquainted herself with the feel of it. Watching her was just as pleasurable as feeling himself within her. The way her eyebrows furrowed . . . the way her chest heaved with every intake of breath . . . the way she sank further down on top of him without even realizing it . . . it made him want to grab her, flip her back over, and thrash against her like an animal.

But he didn’t. Because he wanted her to have the control tonight. She deserved that much.

She started rolling her hips into his slowly, creating an easy, gently rhythm. She looked down, almost as if she wanted to watch it happening, and her hair fell in front of her face. With her free hand, she brushed it back, holding it in place, and she increased her pace settling into a full-on riding motion. Her eyes locked onto his, and she didn’t just look like his girlfriend anymore. She looked like his mate.

The moment that thought ran though his mind, he had to look down to watch her body accepting his, to see himself sliding in and out of her. It turned him on more than she would ever know.

“Uh . . .” she moaned, letting her hair curtain her face again as she reached out for his hand. He interlaced his fingers with hers, holding tightly, and used his free hand to reach down in between them and massage her clit with his thumb.

She gasped and actually stopped moving as he touched her. Eager to give her as much pleasure as possible, he thrust his hips up against her, replicating the same smooth motion she’d had going, and he kept touching her. He had a method: four small circles clockwise, then back the other way. And then back again. A pinch here and there. It always worked.

She squeezed his hand tighter, and at the same time, she squeezed the rest of him. He dug his head back into the pillow, worried that he was about to lose it right then and there.

“Oh, Michael,” she managed, slumping forward a bit. She tried to keep moving, but her body was starting to shake.

He sat up, careful to keep himself tucked inside her, and repositioned her so that she was more comfortably in his lap, able to lean against him and have some support. He liked being with her like this. He never felt closer than he did with one arm wrapped around her, holding her securely against him, the other still in between her legs, trying to get her to fall over that edge with him. Her breasts rubbed against his chest as her entire body slid against his, and her hands held tightly onto his shoulders. But his favorite was when she would curl them into fists and hit his chest just hard enough to let him know she was getting close.

He buried his face in her neck, breathing raggedly against her skin, increasing the frequency of his thrusts, pushing just the slightest bit harder, because he was close, too. Everything about her was intoxicating him in that moment. The sight of her head tossed back, her throat exposed. The sound of tiny moans of encouragement escaping it. The sound of her skin slapping against his. The feel of her muscles fluttering beneath his hands. The smell of her, of them.

She somehow managed to scream silently as she came, but he felt it ripple through her body, triggering his own release. With a few final thrusts, he let himself go, groaning as his orgasm worked its way through him. It felt like a never-ending high, like he would never come back down because he never wanted to.

Completely spent, she leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder as her breathing began to slow. He ran his hands up her back to play with the tips of her hair and did everything he could to stay upright. Falling back onto the mattress now would feel like agony, because every cell in his body was on high alert. Especially since he was still inside her.

Somehow, he could feel her lips curling into a smile, and he knew that she was happy, that he’d made her happy. And that put a smile on his face, too.

Slowly, she lifted her head and sat back a little to look at him. That same awe and admiration he felt for her . . . he saw it in her eyes. He felt it in the way she rubbed the back of his neck. And he heard it even though she didn’t say a word.

She was the love of his life.

Never one to be able to resist touching her, he brought one hand up to cup her cheek for a moment. Then he tucked a few stray strands of hair behind her ear.

Even if all they did for the rest of the night was just sit there on that bed and watch each other like this, that would be fine. Because it felt amazing. And it was perfect.

TBC . . .

-April :wink:

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Part 166

Post by April » Sun Jun 16, 2013 1:13 pm

Well, finally I'm back. I swear, you would think that, if I'm paying 97 bucks a month for cable/Internet access, I would actually be able to access the Internet. For more than five-minute spurts at a time, would be nice. :roll: Ugh.

And they finally talked about Nutbel. Whoa - that was some conversation.
Michael got a lot of things off his chest there, things that he really needed to say. And Maria's reaction was very comforting and reassuring to him.
I can't wait to read the end. On second thought, yes I can cause I really want to and then again, I really don't.
I've always felt that, with whatever I'm writing, whether it's a fic or . . . I don't know, even a research paper or something, the ending is always really difficult to write. But this ending came pretty naturally to me. The final scene in particular is something that I've had in my head just about since the beginning of this story, and honestly, I'm really happy with the way it turned out. :)

What a relief when you know your partner in life is okay with you being human and making mistakes. It's healthier that they are able to lean on each other and not just one having to be the strongest. I am glad Maria is strong enough to talk to Michael and be there for him now. This was exactly what I was hoping for many parts ago.
Yes, I think that, as strong of a relationship as Maria and Michael had during the beginning of this story, there was a certain . . . equality missing. There was always a lot of pressure on Michael to be the caretaker and the provider for everyone in the family, basically. Maria has really grown and evolved as a mother, significant other, and person in general, and now she's much more capable of giving him the same kind of strength and support he gives her.

I am glad they finally talked about Isawhore, and that Maria told Michael what her vows would have been, because he needed to hear that from her. I am also glad she made him open up to her, because if he continues to hold things inside, they will never make it as a couple. Tragedy can make or break a relationship and it all depends on the level of emotional intimacy imo!
It was quite the role reversal in that scene, with Michael being the one who was overcome by his emotions and Maria being the one to comfort him. But I agree, moments like that are really necessary to make a relationship work. Michael can't hold things in all the time. He needs to let other people help take care of him just as he takes care of other people.

So what's your favorite season of the Vampire Diaries? I'm doing a complete series re-watch right now and am about halfway through season 2. I swear, that season . . . I watched 15 episodes in one day once, barely taking a break in between. :lol:

Thanks for patiently waiting, guys! I'm glad you liked the artwork I dropped by. Like I said, complete waste of time, but oh well. I think they actually turned out pretty good, considering I really wasn't sure what I would come up with back when I started working on it. I'll be posting more mainps and other artwork on my author's thread periodically now, too.

Part 166

The sun peeked in through the blinds, rousing Maria from her slumber. It didn’t take long for her brain to start working, to start remembering what had happened last night, and when she did, her eyes snapped open and she rolled over onto her back. Michael lay on his side next to her, propped up on one arm, watching her.

“What?” he said. “Worried I wasn’t gonna be here?”

“No. Just relieved it wasn’t all a dream.” Waking up next to him like this . . . there was nowhere else in the world she would rather have been.

“Well, if it was, it was the best, most realistic dream ever,” he said. “All dreams should be like that.”

She curled up on her side, sliding her legs in closer so that they could intermingle with his. “Even when it was happening, I wasn’t sure if it was actually happening. You know?”

“Oh, it happened,” he assured her. “I’ve got the marks to prove it.”

“Sorry.” She was known to dig her fingernails into his back and shoulders a lot.

“No, it’s okay. You were just into it.”

“How could I not be? It was so . . .” She trailed off, unable to find the right word to describe it.

“Intense,” he filled in.

“Yeah.” But even that didn’t seem strong enough. “Michael, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think I’ve ever even come close to feeling what I felt with you last night.” It had been like the first time all over again, albeit with more mattress and less chlorine.

“I know exactly what you mean.” He smiled at her, then leaned in and pressed the softest kiss to her lips. Even that slightest contact made her toes tingle.

“Are you okay?” she asked him when he lay back again.

He frowned. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well . . . the sex wasn’t the only intense thing last night.”

“Are you referring to my meltdown?”

“Kind of.” She clutched the sheet to her chest, not even sure if she should bring it up. She didn’t want to ruin the mood, but it was kind of a big deal. He’d gotten a lot of stuff of his chest last night.

“Maria, I’m in a sex-induced euphoria right now,” he informed her. “It’s gonna last all day. So yes, I’m okay.”

“Good.” She liked that she was able to make him feel so much better. It was nice to be the one taking care of him, for once.

He reached over and stroked her hair, apparently for no particular reason at all, and that gesture alone made her heart speed up.

“Oh, I love how you do that,” she moaned.


“Play with my hair. You realize you do that every time we have sex, don’t you?”

“I do?”

“Yeah. During and after. Like, if it’s slow and tender love-making, you just touch it or twirl it around your fingers.”

“Like this?” he asked, spinning the tips of her strands around.

“Yeah. But if it’s a rough-and-tumble, you yank on it or mess it all up.”

“Like this?” He rubbed her head, sending her hair flying all about.

“Yes! Michael!” She quickly tried to smooth it back down in an effort to not look like a furry woodland creature in the morning.

“Well, you mess with my hair a lot, too,” he pointed out. “Like if I go like this . . .” He moved in close again, hiding his face in the crook of her neck. “. . . and nibble on you a little bit . . .” His warm breath tickled her skin as he bit down gently.

“I do this?” she guessed, tangling her hands in his wild mane of hair.

“Yeah.” He lifted his head up. “You do that a lot.”

“Well, you nibble on my neck a lot. You’re like a vampire,” she teased.

“As long as I’m sexier than that sparkly Cullen prick.”

She laughed. “Yes. Much sexier than him.”

“Good.” He lowered his head again, his mouth latching onto her neck so he could plant a few hot kisses there. “I like your neck,” he said.

“Is it your favorite part of me?”

“Well, that depends. What’s your favorite part of me?”

She studied him for a moment, wondering if she should joke around say the obvious dirty answer. But she decided to be truthful. “Your eyes,” she replied. “And your hands.” Michael had the hands of an artist, and when he touched her, she felt like a piece of artwork.

“I like your eyes and your hands, too,” he said, curling up right beside her. “And your lips. And your legs.” He hesitated a moment, sighed, and then added, “And I really like your ass.”

She giggled, loving that he made a list instead of just saying one thing. “But what’s your favorite?” she pressed.


He’d listed off most of the obvious choices. She didn’t think it was her breasts, but she pointed to those anyway.

He shook his head in response.

That pretty much left . . . She frowned unsurely and glanced downward.

“Oh, I like that, don’t get me wrong,” he confirmed. “But that’s not it.”

“I don’t know then. What is it?”

He tapped her head, right above her eyebrows.

“My forehead?” she asked, completely confused now.

He smiled. “Your mind.”

“My mind?” She never would have guessed that one. “Not exactly what I’m known for.”

“Doesn’t matter.” He gazed at her, and in all seriousness said, “I love the way you think.”

Oddly enough . . . that might have been one of the most romantic things anyone had ever said to her. Anyone could compliment your looks; it took a very special person to compliment your thoughts.

“Can you tell what I’m thinking right now?” she asked, rubbing her legs against his suggestively.

He grinned, pulling the blankets up over their heads.


“So we’ll start by clearing out all the non-auction paintings and putting them back in storage. Then we’ll hang up all the ones we’re gonna sell and set up the tables and bidding sheets underneath,” Kyle relayed, in full on businessman-mode instead of comic relief-mode for once.

Max wasn’t used to hanging back and following orders; he was used to giving them. “I don’t like this,” he said. “I still don’t think we should have it here. We should have it at the store.”

Kyle groaned in frustration. “We’ve been through this, Max. Your store’s not big enough.”

“And your gallery’s not slutty enough.”

“Max, the flyers are already out,” Liz reminded him. “And it was fine when they had it here last time. Just have someone reliable run the store that night. If anyone wants to make any additional purchases, they can just hop on over.”

“There, see? Simple,” Kyle said.

Max rolled his eyes, still not quite satisfied. Here he was, contributing an equal amount of merchandise for this thing, and the art gallery was going to get all the credit for hosting it.

“I don’t like this one,” Tess remarked as she strolled around the room, looking over the paintings. “It’s not realistic.”

Max tilted his head to the side and examined the painting she was referring to. It was of some knocked up chick getting her tits sucked by some dude.

“It was donated,” Kyle mumbled.

“Nobody wants some guy manhandling her boobs when she’s pregnant,” she said. “They’re too sore.”

“Oh, Tess, that reminds me, I’ve got something for you.” Max reached to the bottom of the box of DVDs and pulled out one that seemed especially appropriate for her. He tossed it to her, and she caught it.

Banging Pregnant Bimbos?” she read the title in horror. “This looks awful.”

He smirked, unable to resist a little insensitive teasing.

She flipped it over to the back and huffed, “Oh, listen to this. ‘Their best days may be behind them, but these plump girls are still desperately seeking dick.’” She made a face of disgust. “Seriously? Who writes that?”

“Let me see that,” Kyle said, taking it from her. He nodded appreciatively at the cover, then flipped it over to the back. “Huh.”

“What?” she barked.

“Nothing. It’s just . . .” He pointed out something and said, “You keep telling me that position’s uncomfortable. But she’s doing it.”

“She’s getting paid to do it,” Tess snapped, seizing the movie back from him. She chucked it at Max so hard that he had to duck. It hit the wall behind him.

“Wow, Tess,” he remarked, “you got a lot of rage in you.”

“Only when you’re around, Max,” she retorted.

He would have loved to have kept giving her a hard time, but an even more enjoyable target for ridicule came in in the form of Michael and Maria. “Oh, look who finally decided to join us,” he said.

Miley stepped out from behind her dad, immediately looking around, probably for Garret.

“And you brought the kid.” He scooped up the porn and put it back in the box, closing the flaps.

“Yeah, Marty was gonna watch her,” Michael said, “but he had a job interview, and—holy crap, you already have all the paintings out.” He immediately covered up Miley’s eyes.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he lied unconvincingly, keeping his hands in place.

“Here, I’ll take her back to your office,” Tess offered. “It’s not like I’m gonna be doing any heavy lifting anyway.” She took Miley’s hand, shielded her eyes, and quickly escorted her back to the office and away from all the nakedness.

“Well,” Max said, noticing how close Maria was standing to Michael, her entire body angled towards his, holding his hand. “You two look nauseatingly happy.”

“And you just look nauseating,” she shot back.

“Oh, great, this is gonna be fun,” Kyle muttered sarcastically. “Let’s just get started.” He picked up the pregnant tit-sucking painting and carried it over to the farthest corner of the display wall to hang it.

“Be nice,” Liz cautioned, sorting through a pile of bidding sheets Kyle had given her.

“I’m always nice.” Max picked up a particularly steamy painting of woman’s legs wrapped around a man’s waist as he carried her. There were no faces, but the red and black hues made it pretty damn erotic.

“What’s that one called?” Liz asked.

He turned it over where Kyle had scrawled the title on the back of the canvas. “Infidelity,” he replied. “Do you think Michael painted this one?”

“Stop it.”

“I’m just saying . . .” He glanced over at the disgustingly blissful couple, who seemed too busy flirting with each other to do any work.

Liz found the bidding sheet for Infidelity and handed it to Max. “Okay. Next.”

He set the first painting down and picked up another one. In stark contrast to the other one, this one was most pale hues, lots of white and peach and pink. It was of a man placing a wedding ring on a woman’s finger. The title was squeezed into the bottom right corner. “Love,” he read. “Oh, that’s original.”

“It’s pretty, though,” Liz remarked.

“Oh, yeah, you like it?” Personally, he thought it wasn’t dirty enough, had no place at an auction dubbed Sex Sells. But if Liz liked it . . . “I’ll get it for you.”

“No bidding,” she said. “We’re not rich anymore.”

“Oh, yeah, that sucks.” He sighed. “Well, there’s a porno called Love. I could get that.”

“There’s a porno called Love?” she echoed. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

“Don’t scoff. It’s all very stylized and female-friendly,” he informed her. “I think you’d like it.”

“Hmm, I’ll get back to you on that.” She found the Love bidding sheet and handed it to him. “Two down.”

“Plenty more to go.” He set Love down next to Infidelity, knowing they’d have to rearrange these. There was no way those two could go side by side. They were too different. He figured Michael could do that, come up with a new arrangement on the spot, but when he looked over again, Michael was still completely absorbed in Maria. Neither one of them had even lifted one painting.

“Are you gonna get your dick out of her ass long enough to help out around here?” Max demanded.

They both froze as if they’d just been caught in the act. Kyle’s mouth dropped open, and Liz lowered her head as if she were embarrassed. Tess even rolled Michael’s desk chair out from his office, a shocked look on her face.

Yeah, he’d said it. Didn’t these people know by now that he had no filter?

“Did Miley hear that?” Michael asked Tess.

“I don’t think so,” she replied.

“Then we’re good.” He picked up a painting, and he and Maria finally got to work.


After the auction set-up was mostly complete, Tess practically insisted that she and Maria have a girls’ afternoon. With that in mind, they of course invited Marty to swing by after his interview. They went to get manicures and pedicures, which Maria wasn’t particularly fond of, but it seemed to relax Tess, so she went with it. While there, Tess got her gossip on.

“So it happened?” she asked, on the edge of her seat.

“Oh, it more than happened,” Maria openly bragged.

“What does that mean?”

“It means it was good, Tess. It was really, really good.”

Tess clapped her hands excitedly. “Was it, like, planned out or spontaneous?”

“Spontaneous. He was actually really upset about some stuff, but then . . .”

“You made him feel better?”

“Precisely.” Truth be told, she wasn’t sure how either of them was even functioning today. “And he made me feel . . .” Once again, words failed her. “Oh, I can’t even describe it.”

“Like you were the only two people in the world?” Tess’s expression became wistful as a woman came over to work on her fingernails.

“The only two in the universe. My head’s still spinning.”

“It sounds so romantic.”

“It was.” She glanced up and saw her brother prancing into the boutique, all smiles. “Oh, no more. Marty’s here.”

“Hey, girls,” he chirped. “Oh my god, were you two talking about me?”

“Not even close,” Maria replied.

“Then what’s with the sudden silence? It makes a guy suspicious.”

“We were talking about sex,” Tess informed him.

“Oh, I love sex talks!” He squeezed in next to Maria and said, “I’m all ears.”

“Even if it’s about me and Michael?” she asked.

“Duh, we used to talk about sex all the time. And Michael . . . he’s my Big Boy.”

Maria gave him a look.

“Well, not my Big Boy,” he backtracked.

“But I know you’ve had your issues with him in the past.”

“The past has passed,” he proclaimed. “We’re cool now. And I’m happy for you. You’re, like, totally glowing right now.”

Maria’s eyes bulged.

“Not in a pregnant way,” he quickly assured her. “Seriously, though, I’m so proud of you. You’ve made so much progress.”

“Thanks.” It felt good to lift up people’s spirits again after so many months of putting them down in the dumps.

“And speaking of progress . . .” he segued. “You two girls get anything you want done today. It’s all on me. Why? Because I am Employment Man.” He stood up and proudly puffed his chest out.

“What? You got a job?” Maria asked.

“Yep. It’s very glamorous.”

“What is it?” Tess asked.

“Wait for it,” Marty said, drawing it out for the suspenseful effect. “I’m an actor now.”

“Wow.” Maria wasn’t sure what to say. “Awesome. Random, but awesome. And perfect for you. You can be so dramatic.”

“It’s actually a comedy,” he informed her.

“Also one of your skills.” In a weird way, this seemed destined for Marty. Why he hadn’t pursued it sooner, she’d never know.

“It’s just a local theater company,” he said, taking a seat again. “They had to recast a part, and I got it. I was stalking this really hot guy, and he went in there, so I went in there. The director took one look at me, realized how incredibly handsome I am, and I didn’t even have to audition.”

“Wow, lucky!” Maria exclaimed. “So do you have lines?”

“One. Wanna hear it?”

She nodded eagerly.

He cleared his throat, shook his shoulders, lowered his head, and fell silent for a moment. Then, he lifted his head and said, with all the expression in the world, “Don’t come near me! It’s contagious!”

Maria just stared at him, expecting more.

“Well, it’s a small part,” he acknowledged.

“That was riveting, though,” Tess said.

“Well, I gotta take what I can get, get my foot in the door.”

“Right,” Maria agreed. “You can work your way up.”

He grinned and snickered, “Hopefully I’ll have some scenes with that hot guy so I can start working my way down, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh, I do.”

“It’s been a freakin’ good week,” he said. “Got a job, did my painting. And I’ll get even more money from that. Hallelujah.”

“Oh . . .” Maria cringed. “Michael didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

She regretted saying anything. Now she was going to have to be the one to break the news. “They’re not auctioning it off.”

“What?” he spat, shooting to his feet. “Why the hell not? I worked hard on that thing!”

“Well . . . I don’t think they’re expecting a lot of gay people there.”

He grunted, “Maria, it’s an art auction. Half the people there will be gay.”

She shrugged. “They’re just not selling it. Sorry.”

“Well, that sucks.” He slumped down next to her again, his chipper mood replaced by a frustrated one. “I want more money. I really need someone to buy it. Now what am I gonna do?”

Maria patted his shoulder supportively, determined to fix this for him.


“I can’t believe you bought this.” Michael shook his head in disbelief, unable to tear his eyes away from Bareback Train. Stupid eyes.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “He looked so disappointed, and I felt bad.”

“What am I supposed to do with it?”

“I don’t know.”

He sighed, knowing they couldn’t keep it. For many reasons. First and foremost, he didn’t want to. Second, there was no good place to keep it. Maria had hauled it up to his art room, but that room was his sanctuary when he needed to just paint and be at ease. And that painting didn’t put him at ease at all. “I’ll just get rid of it,” he decided.

“No, you can’t,” she argued. “What if he comes over and wants to see that you still have it?”

“Then I’ll say, ‘I don’t still have it, Marty, because I’m a straight man.’”


“What if Miley sees it?” he argued in return. “She’ll have even more questions about sex than she does now.”

“Oh.” Maria grimaced. “Good point. Get rid of it.”

He smirked. A rare occasion: Argument won.


The next night at the auction, the C4 art gallery was overflowing. There were so many people there, in fact, that Max just had to usher some of them out and into his store. It was pretty easy to spot who was there for the porn and who was there for the artwork. Those for the artwork were dressed in formalwear, looking very snooty and high on themselves. Those for the porn were most just high, usually wearing some kind of torn denim and draped all over someone of the opposite gender. Max targeted those people and swiftly escorted them into Cockadoodle-Doo so that they didn’t have to stand outside in the blistering heat.

He returned to the auction after luring a very tipsy girl and her—boyfriend? Girlfriend? It was hard to tell sometimes—into his store and remarked, “Hmm, bargain,” as he bypassed a guy writing down a bid of thirty dollars for the Nina Swallows classic. Kyle was the only other bidder on that one so far.

He stayed out of the spotlight, preferring to let Kyle and Michael be the ones to entertain all the rich guests. Although he did spot a few men he’d done business with a few years back pointing at him and laughing amongst themselves. Getting a kick out of how the mighty had fallen, he supposed.

But then again, maybe he’d never been mighty.

Liz was standing by the refreshment table. In fact, she seemed to have permanently camped out there, so he went to join her.

“Do you think Tess is doing okay with Miley and Garret?” she asked, pouring herself a glass of champagne.

“I’m sure she’s fine.”

“But she’s so pregnant,” she fretted, “and they’re so rambunctious.”

“Just relax,” he told her. “Enjoy yourself.” But even he knew that was hard to do when no one there would even talk to you. It was the same old story: People loved Michael and Kyle. Everyone wanted to talk to them.

“You know, the last time I was at this auction, I felt like a complete outsider,” she confessed.

“And how do you feel now?” he asked.

“Still like an outsider.” She sighed heavily, pouring him a glass of champagne as well. “I just feel like we never fit in.” She handed it to him, but he shook his head and declined. No need to channel Alex, even if it was just one drink.

“It’s frustrating,” she lamented.

“I know,” he agreed. But it didn’t bother him the way it did her. If everyone there hated his guts, that was fine. As long as she didn’t hate him, and as long as Garret didn’t hate him, then he had all he needed.

“I just . . .” She trailed off and sighed, shaking her head.

“Oh, come on, you wanna fit in with them?” He gestured to Michael, shaking his head. The guy was engaged in a conversation with Marty DeLuca now, who, at this point, had to seriously be contemplating a sex change.

“Well, would that be so bad?” she asked in return. “Would it be so bad to be well-liked and respected?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I’ve never been either of those things.”

She rolled her eyes at that response.

He wasn’t going to joke his way out of this one. As much as he hated to admit it . . . “No,” he said, “it wouldn’t be so bad.”


“Nice seeing you again,” Maria said to a man she didn’t even recognize, but a man who had nevertheless talked her ear off for about fifteen minutes straight. She waved, keeping the smile on her face until she slipped away into the crowd and could roll her eyes at his annoyingness. It was an art auction, and all he and everyone else wanted to talk to her about was the car accident, and about how tragic it was, and about how inspirational it was to see her there, looking so full of hope and life.

God, when is this gonna be over? she wondered desperately, glancing up at the clock. Not soon enough. She realized this was a good money-maker for the gallery, and even better publicity, but it wasn’t the way she wanted to spend an evening. She wanted to spend time with Michael, but people were so busy talking his ear off that she couldn’t even get a word in.

She hid her face, trying to be invisible as she looked over some of the paintings. Someone had painted a picture of a young couple doing it doggy style and simply called it . . . Doggy Style. It was pretty good, though. Very . . . lifelike.

She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around with dread. But relief swept over her when she saw a familiar face. “Lucinda, hey!” she exclaimed, giving her friend from college an immediate hug. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m good,” Lucinda replied. “I heard this was going on, and I knew you’d be here, so I thought I’d pop in and say hey. I feel like I haven’t seen you in such a long time.”

“It has been a long time,” Maria agreed.

Lucinda nodded. “New Year’s.”

“Yeah.” New Year’s.

“How have you been since then?” Lucinda asked.

“Uh . . . horrible,” she answered honestly. “But things are a lot better now.”

“Oh, I’m so glad. I can only imagine . . .”

“No, don’t imagine,” Maria told her. “You don’t want to.” Lucinda had kids of her own, though, so if anyone could understand, she could.

“Well, you look good,” Lucinda complimented.

“Thanks. I feel good.” She cast a sideways glance at Michael, and he just happened to be casting a sideways glance at her. She met his eyes and smiled, then returned her attention to Lucinda. “How about you, though? You survived student teaching.”

“Yeah, I even got a job at the school.”


“Yeah, I’ll be teaching second grade in the fall.”

God, her life was so . . . perfectly structured and going according to plan. Maria couldn’t help but wonder if maybe she would have been able to say the same if . . .

Whatever. There was no point in wondering.

“Wow, that’s awesome,” she said. “I bet you’re excited.”

“I am. And student teaching was . . . an adventure.” Lucinda laughed a little. “I learned so much. Are you gonna do it in the fall?”

“No, I’m gonna sub in the fall and student teach in the spring.”

“Oh, that sounds like a really good plan.”

Maria nodded. It wasn’t the original plan. It certainly wasn’t the ideal plan, but at least it was a solid plan.

“So what else is new?” Lucinda asked. “Are you and Michael still gonna get married?”

Maria just smiled, suddenly speechless. What was she supposed to say to that? She didn’t know the answer, only what she wanted it to be.


“So what’d you do with it?”

Michael tore his attention away from Maria and brought it back to Marty. “I donated it,” he lied. “To . . . a hospital.”

“To a hospital?” Marty shrieked. “You donated Bareback Train to a hospital?”

“To a patient in the hospital,” Michael lied pathetically. “A gay one.”

Marty sighed frustratedly. “Which dumpster did you throw it in? I’ll go salvage it myself.”

“Um . . .” This wasn’t going to be pretty. “The garbage men picked it up this morning. I have no idea where it is now, or if it’s even in one piece.”

“Oh my god!” Marty wailed dramatically.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t know what to do with it.”

“Dammit, Michael,” Marty swore. “If you weren’t so damn attractive, I’d be so pissed at you right now. In fact, screw your attractiveness! I am pissed!”

“I’ll let you grab my ass if that means you won’t be mad at me,” he offered on the spot.

Marty’s eyes lit up. “Really?”

He nodded. He was willing to do anything—well, maybe not anything—to stay on Marty’s good side.

Marty wasn’t at all inconspicuous as he reached behind Michael, grabbed hold of a good chunk of his backside, and squeezed. “Oohoohooh!” he squealed like the Pillsbury doughboy before slinking off into the crowd, clearly not pissed anymore.

Michael shrugged. Whatever worked.

“What was that all about?” Maria asked, suddenly jumping in front of him.

“Don’t ask.” He placed his hands on her hips, unabashedly letting his eyes roam all over her. She looked so gorgeous tonight. She was wearing a long, gold dress that was just tight enough to show off her curves but just loose enough that he could imagine getting underneath it. And it was strapless, too, which meant that, with her smaller chest, it kept slipping down, and she kept having to pull it up.

“Hey, so I saw you talking to Lucinda over there,” he said. “Been awhile since you’ve seen her.”

“Yeah. She got a job.”

“Oh.” Still a sore subject. “That’s good.”

“Yeah. She invited me to come see her classroom sometime.” She forced a smile, but when she lowered her head, she mumbled, “I’m jealous.”

He rubbed her side, prepared to go into a long spiel about how he was so proud of her if that was what she needed to hear.

“Think you could slip away from this auction for a minute?” she asked, tilting her head up again. “Or maybe a few minutes. I really need you to take my mind off all this jealousy.”

Oh, that was his girl. She didn’t want to hear anything; she wanted to do something. He grinned, looking around the crowded gallery. “Where would we even go?”

“Well, last time I checked, your office wasn’t being utilized.” She smirked flirtatiously and slipped away from him into the crowd. She walked toward his office, casting a few glances back over her shoulder at him. And it didn’t take any more convincing than that. He followed her a few seconds later, trying not be obvious about it.

Once out of sight, they crashed into his office, practically mauling each other. He kissed her messily, grabbing at her roughly, and kicked the door shut. Her hands immediately dropped down to his pants, and she had them pulled down in record time. He grabbed her dress and hiked it up past her butt, so turned on when he saw that she wasn’t wearing any underwear.

“How you wanna do this?” he asked.

“However you want,” she replied, reaching down to stroke his cock.

It was so hard to choose. But in a way, for a semi-public quickie like this . . . it wasn’t. “Bend over,” he instructed.

She didn’t even hesitate. She quickly cleared a space on his desk and did as he asked, sticking her backside in the air. “Do you have a . . .”

“Yeah.” He already had the condom out and was opening it up. He tossed the wrapper in the trashcan next to his desk and slid it on quickly, positioning himself behind her, right at her entrance. “Sorry, this is gonna be quick.”

“That’s okay.”

He stroked himself along her folds only a few times, hoping she was as ready as he was, because he wasn’t in any position to draw this out. He entered her fully with one swift push. She gasped, her entire body tensing a moment before it relaxed again.

He started thrusting right away, holding her hips. The unmistakable noise of skin slapping against skin filled his ears, and he groaned.

“Oh, yeah,” she managed. “Michael . . .”

“Feeling better?” he asked, bending his knees a bit more to give his thrusts greater power.

She turned her head to watch him, a mischievous smile on her face. “Much.”


By the end of the night, every item at the auction had been sold. The lowest was a painting that went for thirty dollars, and the highest, oddly enough, was one of the videos, awarded to some crazy person with a five-hundred dollar bid.

Once everyone had cleared out, the cleanup process began. Michael and Kyle hauled the tables into their storage room while Max hung back and “supervised,” which pretty much just meant that he was totaling up his portion of the profits. That left Liz and Maria to clear and clean off the refreshment table.

“Hey, Maria, nice sex hair,” Max commented.

“Shove it,” she bit out, giving him the middle finger.

“Oh, I believe that’s what Michael just did.” He smirked annoyingly and went back to crunching his numbers.

“Is it really that obvious?” Maria asked Liz. She’d really tried to put herself back together after that little office rendezvous.

“Kind of,” Liz replied.

Maria reached up and touched her hair. Oh, yeah, it was like a lopsided lion’s mane.

“Plus, we could totally all hear you.”

“What? I was being quiet!” she insisted.

Liz shook her head. “No, you weren’t.”

She grunted, wishing she’d been a bit louder then. It was the Sex Sells auction, after all. Maybe her sound effects enticed more bids. “Well, whatever. I’m not ashamed of it. In fact, I’m proud. I’m proud that I got laid.”

“You’re starting to sound like the college you,” Liz remarked. She scrubbed at a spill that had made the refreshment table sticky, then randomly asked, “Do you think college seems like a long time ago, or like it was just yesterday?”

“I don’t know,” Maria answered with a quick shrug. “Both, I guess.”

Liz nodded contemplatively. “It was kind of dramatic sometimes. But it was fun sometimes, too. Don’t you think?”

“Where are you going with this, Liz?”

She sighed and slowly replied, “I was just thinking about how we used to be friends . . .”

“Oh, boy.” This was not a conversation she wanted to have.

“And I really regret that we’re not anymore. I mean, I don’t . . .” Liz lowered her head and mumbled. “I don’t really have any friends.”

“That’s probably because of your choice of husband.” If she was looking for sympathy, Maria wasn’t going to be the one to give it to her. You made your choices and you had to live with them. That was life.

“You can’t help who you love,” Liz said softly so that Max wouldn’t overhear. “Come on, Maria, you of all people should know that.”

Maria narrowed her eyes angrily. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, you still love Michael, even though he--”

“Don’t.” No way. No way was she having this conversation, not with Liz.

“I’m just saying . . .”

“Don’t say it,” she snapped. “Don’t talk to me about things you don’t understand.”

Liz flapped her arms against her side helplessly. “Okay, fine, forget I said anything. We won’t be friends. We’ll just be civil around our kids.”

“Kids?” Maria echoed, thoroughly furious now. “Wake up, Liz. You don’t even have one.” She stormed past her non-friend, catching Max’s curious glare on her way back to the storage room.

TBC . . .


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Part 167

Post by April » Sun Jun 23, 2013 2:16 pm

Whoa ... she was actually being serious? Granted, Michael was no saint, but all he did was cheat. Max raped how many women? Those two actions won't EVER cancel each other out. How dare Liz even compare them both just to make herself sympathetic as to what Maria went thru! Liz needs to grow the hell up. This is why I'll never like either Max or Liz.
While some people have warmed up to them (to Max, particularly), you're still President of the We Hate Them club. :lol: I don't blame you for never liking them. Max's past will always hang over his present, and his future. And Liz is, in a lot of ways, the most unlikable character in the story, even to me.

Oh my. Liz is so socially awkward. It doesn't seem like it will ever get better for her.
Socially awkward. That's a good way to put it. You'll see her venting her frustrations about that in this part.
Good to see Maria and Michael enjoying each other. It seems like they are back. It's good to read. It's nice to have a Michael to take your mind off things.
I wish I had a Michael to take my mind off things. ;)

I disagree with Maria about Liz not being Garret's mother. She is more of a mother to him than Isabel was. She is doing all the motherly things that Isabel should have been doing, and she really loves Garrett.
I totally agree.
I like that they are trying to be better people for Garret's sake. Liz is even trying harder than Max I have no edit button Evans!
:lol: Max really does have no edit button. That's probably why he's my favorite to write.

Pandas2001: Thanks for reading!

While Liz didn't go about it in the best way, and there is no comparing what Michael did to what Max did, I don't think she was out of line trying to make up with Maria. On the contrary, I think it was Maria who was being childish. Yes, Max is abhorrent, repugnant and loathsome. And yes, Liz has done some pretty contemptible things in the past, but she is trying to change. Tess has forgiven her (and Maria's biggest beef with Liz is the whole cheating thing, right?) So Maria needs to get over it too.
Given some of the things that Liz has done, such as being part of an affair twice now, and marrying a man she knew was a rapist, Maria understandably has issues with her. But . . . like you and others have said, Liz really is trying to change, and she is doing some wonderful things for Garret right now. There are some very good parts of her, even if they're hidden. So even though Maria's never going to be best friends with her, it'd be a positive step forward for both of them if they could tone down the hostility that emerged in the last part.

Thank you AS ALWAYS for the feedback!

This is hard to believe, but after you've read this part, there are only 87 pages left. :shock:

I started writing my next story this past week and am already on page 75.

Part 167

That night, Liz lay in bed, crying her eyes out, unable to stop. Max lay beside her, trying to comfort her, but that was hard to do when you yourself weren’t a very comforting person. He hated that she felt so bad sometimes, and he wished there was more he could do to help.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, her voice muffled as her face was buried in the pillow.

He rubbed her back and shoulders. “It’s okay.”

She lifted her head up, tear tracks covering her cheeks. “I just feel so frustrated. I feel like, whatever I do, it’s never enough.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I know the feeling.”

“But you just own it,” she said shakily. “You are who you are. But with me . . .” She kept breathing in sharply, clearly just on the edge of breaking into tears again. “It’s like I’m constantly right on the outside looking in. I’m an acquaintance, but not a friend. I’m an aunt, but not a mother. I’m a daughter, but an estranged one.”

He frowned and reminded her, “You’re my wife.”

“But one who had an affair.”

“Would you stop?” She was being so hard on herself, and as far as he was concerned, this wasn’t even her fault. “Don’t let that bitch get you all worked up like this.”

She wiped away some of her tears and said, “Max, you don’t have to call her that.”

“I want to. I’ve always called her that.” He wanted to shake Maria for even insinuating that Garret wasn’t Liz’s son. Because it became more and more apparent every day that, in every way that mattered, he absolutely was. “Don’t listen to her,” he told his dejected wife. “You’re more of a mother to Garret than Isabel ever was, and everybody knows it.”

She blinked back tears and nodded. But she probably still didn’t believe him.


Michael couldn’t imagine anything more peaceful and more content than lying next to Maria, her curled up against his side, her hand on his chest, fingers drumming lightly. He could have just fallen asleep right there, but there was clearly something on her mind, something she wasn’t saying. It took her a good deal of cuddling before she actually came out and said it.

“I think I said something mean tonight.”

“To who? Max?” he asked. “I wouldn’t lose sleep over that one.”

“No, to Liz.” She sat up a bit, resting her chin on his chest. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me tonight. Getting jealous of Lucinda, horny with you, snapping at Liz . . . my mood’s all over the place.”

“Maybe you’re already pregnant again,” he joked, and right away, he knew it was a bad joke.

“Don’t even say that,” she warned. “I am in no mood. Now I feel like ripping your face off.”

“If I don’t have a face, I can’t kiss you.” He grinned, hoping that little line was enough to get him back on her good side.

She pretended to think about it for a minute, then said, “Fine, I’ll leave your face intact.”

He chuckled.

“I’m serious, though, I feel really bad,” she kept on.

“What’d you say to her?”

“That she doesn’t have a kid.”

“Ooh.” He winced.

“Yeah. Bitch mode: engaged.”

“Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“But I’m a mom. I shouldn’t say that.” She sighed and rested her cheek on his chest again. “Now I’m gonna have to apologize. But I don’t think I’m gonna end up being friends with her again, do you?”

“That’s up to you.”

“Because I don’t like her, but I kinda . . . respect what she’s done for Garret.” She paused for a moment. “Ew. I have respect for Liz. When did that happen?”

He smiled, holding her closer. “You’re so cute right now.”

“Oh, you’re no help. You’re in a sex haze.”

That was true, and he wasn’t about to come out of it. “If you want, I could make things a little hazy for you,” he offered.

“Again? You are a machine tonight.”

He rubbed her back and said, “No, I’ll let you rest.”

“Okay.” She yawned, snuggling in closer still. “First jealous, then horny, then mean, now tired.”

“Always adorable, though.” He kissed the top of her head and prepared to watch her fall asleep.


Maria went to Tess’s studio the next day and found Liz hunched over her desk, doodling furiously on a sketchpad.

“Hey,” she said quietly.

Liz didn’t even glance up. “Tess isn’t here.”

“I know.” Tess wasn’t the one she’d come to see, for once.

“Well, if you’re here to insult me, do it fast, ‘cause I have work to do.”

“You actually work?”

Liz shot her an astonished look. “Yes! Is that so surprising?”

“Well, I kinda just thought you guys sat around and gossiped a lot.” She shrugged.

Liz rolled her eyes. “Well, sometimes we do, but now there’s this new client who wants her bedroom redesigned, but Tess is too pregnant to do any designing, so now I’m trying to do it, but I’m failing miserably, because I fail at everything.” She slammed her pencil down on the sketchpad and slouched back in her chair, pouting.

“Let me see that,” Maria said, holding out her hand.

Liz reluctantly handed over the drawing.

Maria surveyed it, unsure whether it was supposed to be a bedroom or a bathroom. It pretty much all hinged on whether that large object in the corner was a bed or a tub. “My boyfriend’s an artist,” she said.

“Thanks, rub it in.” Liz sounded on the verge of tears.

“No, I’m just saying, we could take it to him, and maybe he could help.”

Liz sniffled, wiping her nose with the back of her hand, and quietly asked, “Do you think he would?”

“Yeah.” Maria handed the drawing back to her, hoping she’d take her up on the offer.

Liz stared at her questioningly and asked, “Why are you being nice to me now? You made it pretty clear last night that you hate my guts.”

Maria sighed and gave in to admitting, “I feel bad for what I said.”

“So this is you alleviating your guilt?”

“I’m trying to say I’m sorry.” Part of her just wanted to shake Liz and say, Shut up and let me apologize, but that wasn’t the mature thing to do. And she wouldn’t feel right until she got this out. “When I said that Garret’s not your son, that was cruel and--”

“True,” Liz cut in sadly. “It was true.”

“No, not really. It takes more than DNA to be a mom. And when I’ve seen you with Garret, it’s clear that you really love him, and that’s the most important thing.”

Liz looked confused for a moment, as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Thanks,” she finally said. “Look, it’s okay if we’re not friends again, but . . . could you try to remember that I’m a human being? I have feelings, too. I don’t think I’m a monster like Isabel.”

Maria frowned. She didn’t think she was? As in, she wasn’t sure? She couldn’t imagine what it felt like to compare yourself to that woman and believe that there actually was something to compare. Suddenly, she felt the need to reassure her, so she did. “You’re nothing like her.”

Instantly, a look of relief swept across Liz’s face.


Michael’s brow was furrowed in concentration as he sketched out a quick drawing for Liz. Maria watched him intently, wishing they were alone so that he could just bend her over that counter in the art gallery and just . . .

Nope. Couldn’t have those thoughts right now. Not with Liz around.

“Okay,” he said, setting the drawing utensils aside, “keep in mind that I did this with my daughter’s colored pencils, so it’s probably not my best. But is this sorta what you had in mind?” He held it up for Liz to see.

Her face lit up as she seized the drawing. “Yes. Oh my god, Michael, this is exactly how I pictured it.” She smiled gratefully from ear to ear. “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Still looking giddy, she walked over to the window and held the drawing up to the light.

“Mmm,” Maria said, swaying her hips flirtatiously as she walked towards Michael, “I kinda want you to paint me now.”

“With or without clothing?” he asked.

“What do you think?” She grinned. Once Liz left, they were going to have to lock the doors, pull the blinds, and squeeze in some quality time, because lately, she just couldn’t get enough.

“Hey, Michael?” Liz said. “When I show this to Tess, can I tell her I did it?”

“Go ahead,” he replied.

“Thanks.” She glanced at the door, then back at them, and awkwardly said, “Well . . . see you later.”

Maria groaned inwardly, stopping her as she was about to leave. “Liz . . .” As much as she didn’t care to be friends with the girl again, it wouldn’t hurt to at least be friendly. “We’re gonna shoot off some fireworks tonight. For the Fourth of July. Obviously.” Here it goes. “You’re welcome to come by with Garret, if you want.” She purposefully left Max out of that invitation.

Liz seemed genuinely surprised, but that didn’t deter her from accepting. “Thanks,” she said. “I will.” She left the studio with a smile on her face and a bounce back in her step.

“Ugh!” Maria growled, hoping she didn’t regret this. “When did I get so nice?”


The weather that evening was perfect for the Fourth of July. Not so hot that it was unbearable, but warm enough that it actually felt like a typical New Mexico summer. As the sun was setting, there wasn’t a cloud in sight, so there was no threat of a summer rain ruining the plan to set off the fireworks.

Liz indeed brought Garret over as she said she would. It took a little convincing, but Tess finally persuaded her to let him get in her and Kyle’s pool. Miley had a spare pair of floaties, so they gave them to him, making sure she had hers on as well. Once in the pool, she and Garret splashed around like little guppies, all under Kyle’s and Maria’s watchful eyes. Liz sat out on the edge, dangling her legs in the water, and Tess sat beside her, grumbling about how she was too big to wear a bikini anymore. Michael hung back at the grill and watched them as he prepared the burgers they would soon be eating. Tess came to join him, naturally, when the burger aroma started to fill the backyard.

“How many of these do you want?” he asked, flipping the burgers over when they lifted easily from the grill.

“Oh, at least four,” she replied.


She giggled. “No, I’m just kidding. But I will take three.”


“Uh-huh.” She smiled proudly.

“Crazy pregnant person,” he mumbled.

“Hey, watch it,” she cautioned, whacking his arm. “Your girlfriend ate just as much when she was eating for two.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” He closed the grill and looked over at Maria as she helped Miley float on her back. “I remember catching her in the kitchen one night at 2:00 a.m.,” he said. “And she was just eating everything in sight. She went through three cartons of ice cream in ten minutes. I watched her.”

Tess laughed. “Was that when she was pregnant with Miley?”

“No, Macy.” He smiled sadly, wishing Macy were here to enjoy all this. But he wasn’t going to let that ruin the day. After everything they’d had to deal with, including everything he’d put them through, it was amazing that they were there right now, having a great time.

“Looks like Miley’s having fun,” Tess remarked.

Michael watched his adorable daughter as she gave up on floating and returned to just splashing aimlessly, a big, excited smile on her little face. “Yeah, she loves that pool.”

Tess shuddered. “Oh, every time she’s in there, though, I have flashbacks to when she fell in.”

“Yeah, Miley’s had a lot of close calls.” And sadly, that wasn’t even the most serious of them. Still, though, he wasn’t going to let himself get in a bad mood. This was a good night. “Hey, Kyle!” he called.

Kyle stopped splashing Miley and looked up at him.

“When are we doin’ the fireworks?”

Kyle threw his hands up in the air and said, “Whenever you get done with those burgers, slowpoke.”

Once the burgers were done and the kids were dried off, they moved around to the front of the house to set up in Tess and Kyle’s driveway. They got the lawn chairs out and settled in while Michael gave them all their burgers. Garret, especially, was eager to take his.

“Now what do you say?” Liz prompted.

“Thank you, Mr. Guerin,” he said politely.

“You’re welcome.” He noticed Miley already chowing down on hers and asked, “How is it? Is it good?”

She nodded emphatically, and that alone made him smile.

“Dude, let’s go,” Kyle urged. “I’m pumped.”

Maria rolled her eyes, wiping a dab of ketchup off Miley’s chin. “You guys are being such . . . guys right now.”

Michael chuckled and jogged out to the end of the driveway, where Kyle was practically dancing in place with excitement.

“Hey, you’re gonna come over tomorrow night so we can shoot off the real ones, right?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Michael replied. “Did you get some good ones?”

“Man, I got some illegal ones.”

“Nice.” Michael peeked into the bag at the array they were setting off tonight. “None of these are gonna scare her, right?” This was the first Fourth of July where they were including Miley with the fireworks. Even though she didn’t know what they were, she’d insisted.

“Nah, they’re all pretty tame.” Kyle rummaged through the bag for the first one to light off.

“I wanna do it!” Miley called.

Maria put her arm around her and said, “No, honey, we’re just gonna let Daddy and Uncle Kyle light ‘em off.”

Michael spotted a few yellow boxes of Snappers and took them out. “Here, you can do these, though, Miley,” he said, walking back towards her. He opened the box and took out one of the little white fireworks. They always reminded him of the cartoon sperm from the movies he’d had to watch in middle school sex education class, but . . . oh, well. “See, you just throw it down on the ground, and it’s gonna make a noise now. You ready?” he asked, poised to drop it.

Her eyes were a bit wide as though she were scared, but she nodded.

He dropped it on the ground, and it popped open, making a snapping sound. She jerked backward a little bit but remained calm. “See?” he said. “You try one.” He handed one of the Snaps to her.

Hesitantly, she held it up above the ground, giving him a questioning look.

“Yep, just throw it,” he instructed.

She let it drop and smiled a bit this time when it made the sound.

“Good job. Here you go.” He handed the whole box to her and gave the other one to Garret. “You, too, Garret. You have at it.” Now that they had something they could safely do, he went to rejoin Kyle. “Alright, what one should we do first?”

“Ah, just do one of these,” Kyle said, handing him a small, round blue smoke bomb and the lighter. “They’re lame, but . . .”

He shrugged. Whatever. This was really more for Miley and Garret anyway. “Alright, Miley,” he said, placing the smoke bomb at the foot of the driveway, “this one’s gonna be colorful.” He lit the wick and took a few steps back as it burnt down. It started to smoke, beginning as blue but quickly becoming purple.

“Oh, that’s pretty,” Tess remarked.

“Pretty lame,” Kyle mumbled.

“Well, don’t worry, Kyle, once us children and womenfolk are gone, you guys can shoot off your manly fireworks,” she assured him.

Michael cast a glance back at Miley to gauge her reaction. Her legs were curled up in her chair, and she was watching the smoke fly into the air intently. Even when it stopped, she wouldn’t look away.

“Is she okay?” he asked Maria.

“I don’t think she likes the smoke,” she replied.

“Okay, we won’t do any more of those,” he decided. Hell, though, if that one was making her uncomfortable, she couldn’t very well do the rest. There wasn’t anything too loud or too bright, but it was all a step up from the smoke bomb.

“Oh, this one’s cool,” Kyle said, taking out one of the Fountains.

“That’s not the kind that whistles, is it?” Michael asked. Miley was just too young for all of that.

“No, it doesn’t make noise,” Kyle said, taking the lighter from him. He put it down next to the used smoke bomb and lit it. They both backed up a few more paces this time as it started to emit its sparks. It didn’t go very high, but it was mostly red and orange.

After a few seconds of watching it, Miley started to scream.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Maria asked as Miley clung to her, closing her eyes.

“What happened?” Michael asked, rushing to her side as the firework began to die out.

“I don’t know, she just--”

“Fire!” Miley screamed, clamoring onto Maria’s lap, hiding her face in Maria’s hair. “Fire!”

Oh, crap. Too late, Michael realized why this was all a very bad idea.

“No, sweetie, there’s no fire,” Maria said, stroking her back. “It’s already out. See?”

Slowly, ever so reluctantly, Miley lifted her head and looked back over her shoulder at the now defunct firework. Even though it wasn’t emitting anymore sparks, though, she kept crying and clung to Maria even tighter.

Maria looked up at Michael with a horrified look in her eyes. He didn’t know what to say to make Miley feel better, but he knew exactly what she was picturing in her mind, because he was picturing it, too.


Maria sat out on the porch that night, watching as large fireworks shot into the sky in the distance. There were all sorts of different colors, but the purple and gold were her favorite.

She heard Michael come out to join her, but he didn’t sit down.

“Where are they setting those off?” she asked him.

It took him a moment to respond. “At that baseball field by the park.”

“Who does it?”

“Fire department, I think.” He groaned as he sat down beside her. “I went down to watch ‘em one year.”

“They’re pretty.” She wondered if they would ever be able to take Miley to something like that, or if it would always be too traumatizing. As it was now, it’d taken them nearly an hour to calm her down and get her to go to sleep. Maria shook her head, ashamed of herself for not even considering all of this sooner. “How stupid are we that we didn’t think about fireworks being disturbing to our little girl?”

Michael sighed, hanging his head. “She’s been so resilient. It’s easy to forget--”

“No,” she cut in, “we can’t forget. She saw everything we saw. She felt everything we felt. We can’t forget that. But it’s even worse because she’s three, and she’s too young to understand.” She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees as she raked her hands through her hair. “God, she’s too young for all of it.”

He waited a moment, then mumbled, “We all are.”

She kept shaking her head, so upset with herself for not having the foresight to know this would happen. “What would we do without her?” she wondered. “What if we’d lost her that night, too?”

“No, I can’t even think about that.”

She supposed she was used to thinking about that. Months of therapy had taught her to think and feel whatever she wanted without holding it in. But for him, it was different. He was a lot more open now, but there was probably still a lot of stuff he was holding in. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, “I’m not trying to depress you. I just feel bad for Miley.”

“I know.” He sounded remorseful. “There’s so much I wish I could protect her from. But I can’t. Just like I couldn’t protect Macy.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, grateful that she didn’t have that memory of watching that car burn. She’d been unconscious by then. But she didn’t need to remember it to picture it. “One of these days we’ll have to take Miley to her grave,” she noted.

“One of these days,” he agreed. “Not today.”

No. Miley had to be able to understand what was happening, and she was still too young. Way too young.

“God, this sounds horrible,” Michael said, “but I haven’t even hardly been out there since the funeral.” He swallowed hard. “I can’t bring myself to do it.”

She wasn’t sure whether or not she should say, “I did,” but the words came out all on their own.

“What?” he asked. “When?”

“Valentine’s Day. Her birthday,” she replied quietly. Of course, that wasn’t all that day had been. “After our fight. I was looking for you.” She cast a cautious glance towards him, worried she was upsetting him. “Neither one of you was there.”

He sat beside her, obviously tensed, but slowly, he relaxed again. “I went out that night, too,” he nearly whispered.

Had they just missed each other? Could everything that had happened that night been avoided if . . .

No. There was no point in thinking about that.

“We should go tomorrow,” she said, hoping he would agree to it. “Together. It’ll be easier that way.”

He stared at her momentarily, then nodded slowly. But she knew he was hesitant. Truth be told, she was, too. Because even if they went together, nothing could make a trip to their daughter’s grave easy. Nothing.


Michael opened the door to help her out of the car, and a cold wind slapped her in the face. Cold? In July? Or maybe it only seemed cold because they were at the cemetery. Clouds rumbled overhead, and she hoped it didn’t start raining. Because she wanted to stay there for a little while. Just a little while.

He shut the door, shaking nervously. She reached down and grabbed his hand, suddenly feeling like she needed to be the one to support him in this. It was weird, feeling strong, feeling ready, trying to help him feel the same.

When they neared her grave, he became visibly upset when he saw how it looked. The flowers that were set up on either side were wilted, dried, and dead. “No, that doesn’t look . . .” He let go of her hand and rushed forward to fix that as quickly as he could. He tossed all the dead flowers aside and put some new ones in the holders, arranging them so they looked just right. Maria just stood back and watched him.

He reached out and touched her name on the gravestone, tracing his fingers over the letters. “Hey, Macy,” he choked out, his voice barely above a whisper. “Daddy’s here.” His bottom lip trembled, his eyes flooding with tears, and it just got to the point where he couldn’t say anymore. “I can’t . . .” He rose to his feet and walked away, not too far, but just far enough that he could stand with his back to the grave and deal.

Slowly, Maria approached the headstone and sat down in front of it, her eyes fixated on the dates written there. February 14, 2012 – January 1, 2013.

Too short.

“Hi, Macy,” she said, smiling tearfully. “It’s me.” She hoped that somehow, some way, wherever Macy was, she could hear her. “I really miss you,” she whimpered, glancing over at Michael. He still wasn’t facing her, but his shoulders were slumped and he was shaking slightly, probably crying.

“Daddy misses you, too,” she said, because she knew he wouldn’t be able to say it. “So does Miley.” They all did. They all always would. Over time, maybe trips to the cemetery would become easier. But it would never just be easy.

“We love you so much,” she said, crying without even realizing it. “And we wish you were here.” She pressed two fingers to the cold, rough headstone and quickly drew them back again. “You should be here.” If she was, they never would have been there.


It didn’t matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get it quite right. Couldn’t get her quite right. A sketch wasn’t the real thing, wasn’t the real Macy. He erased when he wasn’t satisfied with what he’d drawn, but that only made it worse. He thought about starting all over, but what was the point? She wasn’t really there. It was just a picture.

He sat on the bed, examining what he’d done, knowing most people would look at it and say it was a great drawing. But to him, it wasn’t good enough.

He looked over at Maria. She was sitting by the dresser in a loose, white, silk nightgown, brushing her hair, watching him in the mirror. Her entire body stilled as their eyes met through the glass. She gazed at him with understanding and . . . compassion. And for the first time since that car accident, he felt like it was fine to be vulnerable, to not be in control. Because without saying a word, she was letting him know that he didn’t have to be.

He got to his feet and crossed the bedroom so that he was standing beside her. He set his drawing down on the dresser in front of her, giving her a moment to look at it before he sat down behind her, wrapping his legs around her, enveloping her within him. He smoothed his hands around her stomach and just sat there with her, watching her face in the mirror. She smiled a little, resting her head back against his shoulder. She looked so completely calm that it calmed him, too. All the pain he’d felt that day by going out to Macy’s grave started to melt away, and there was just her, her and the happiness she gave him.

He wanted to tell her that she made him happy, but he didn’t want words to ruin the moment. So he lowered his head and pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder instead. Slowly, he kissed his way up to her neck, and she tilted her head to the side to give him better access.

Even though it was tempting to just sit there like that and kiss her forever, when he opened his eyes and looked at her in the mirror, he had to stop. Because he was mesmerized by that look on her face. Eyes closed, mouth curved gently upward . . .

God, he loved his girl.

He lifted one hand and rested it on her left shoulder, slipping his fingers beneath the thin strap of her nightgown. The simple gesture got her attention, and her eyes fluttered back open. She watched him in the mirror for a moment, watching her, and then she turned her head to the side, meeting his eyes face on. Words weren’t necessary. He knew exactly what she was telling him to do.

She wanted him to make love to her. And there was nothing more he wanted to do in the world.

He hoisted her into his lap and lifted her up as he stood, cradling her against his chest as he carried her over to the bed. He lay her down and carefully crawled on top of her, his lips automatically seeking hers. She touched his cheek as they kissed, and her hand felt so soft.

For just a moment, he pulled away, just so that he could take a look at her. And when he did, he couldn’t look away. There was so much trust in her eyes. Even after everything, it was there.

Suddenly, even though neither one of them had said anything to get to this point, his mind was screaming at him, screaming so loudly, he couldn’t help but hear it.

I wanna marry her.

It wasn’t new knowledge by any means, but it was the first time he’d allowed himself to think about that for awhile.

“What?” she finally asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

As tempting as it was to just ask her right then and there, he held back. “Nothing,” he said, the words hovering on the tip of his tongue. He bent down and kissed her again so they stood no chance of sneaking out.

TBC . . .


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Part 168

Post by April » Sun Jun 30, 2013 1:36 pm

Wow ... you've actually done it. Made me feel sorry for that dirty mistress!
I didn't know that was possible!
Garrett in a lot of ways is better of having Liz being his mother than Nutbel. In a lot of ways, Liz has been Garrett's mother - and she should be treated as such. So I'm glad that Maria did apologize for what she said. Even though Liz was out of line, Maria was as well.
True, true. I totally agree.
I can't believe it ... we're nearing the finish line. And yet you've got a new story going. Anxious to read it, but not so much to see this one go.
You know, that's kind of how I felt as I was finishing up writing this one. Bittersweet feeling. But I have to say, this new fic has really swept me up. I'm really feeling what I'm writing and am currently on page 99. :)

I am on the fence about them getting married. I think they need more time together before taking that step!
Well, the nice thing about a proposal is that it doesn't mean you have to get married right away. You can wait however long you need/want to. And thats' sort of what Michael has in mind.

They need Theresa from Long Island Medium.
This just cracked me up. :lol:
Happy to know you have another story on deck. Always so organized.
I don't know if it has anything to do with being organized, actually. I just feel weird if I'm not writing anything. My mind starts running wild.
How many pages is one part generally? I wonder how long it will take to get to the end of this.
It depends, but usually my updates range from 8-12 pages. And you have about 86 pages left, so . . . I'm no mathematician, but that would be anywhere from 7-11 parts. Hard to believe.

Thank you as always for the feedback!

Part 168

Michael barged into Kyle’s house without even knocking the next day. He didn’t have the patience for that. Too much on his mind.

“Uh, yeah, it’s called knocking,” Kyle said. He was sitting on the couch, his feet kicked up on the coffee table, his laptop computer resting on his legs. “What if I was doin’ my wife?”

“Kyle, the only way you’re gonna be doin’ your wife this far into her pregnancy is if she’s tryin’ to induce,” Michael told him matter-of-factly. He knew from experience.

“Oh.” Kyle frowned. “Really?”

“Yeah. They get stingy at this point.”

“Damn.” Kyle shut his laptop and set it aside. “Well, at least I scored all those pornos at the auction then.”

Michael paced back and forth near the entrance, a lot of things on his chest that he needed to get out. “You got a second?” he asked his friend.

“Oh, I have a minute, even.” Kyle patted the empty cushion next to him.

“I need to talk to you,” Michael said, peering out into the kitchen as he sat down. “Where’s Tess?”

“Still sleeping,” Kyle replied.

“Good. I don’t want her to overhear.”

“What’s up? You look all . . .” Kyle whirled his hands around as he searched for the right word. “Spastic. Like me.”

“I need your advice.”

My advice?” He grinned like an idiot. “Okay, pride, pride . . .”

“Kyle, I’m bein’ serious,” Michael cut him off. “I got a lot on my mind right now, and I . . . need help.” It shouldn’t have come as any big shock. Kyle had been giving him advice for a long time now, pretty much ever since he’d made the mistake of straying from Maria in the first place.

“Dr. Valenti, at your service,” Kyle said grandly. “Lay it on me.”

“Okay.” He looked over his shoulder one more time to make sure Tess wasn’t eavesdropping before he started in. “Okay, so last night, Maria and I were about to . . . you know.”

Kyle’s eyes bulged. “My god, do you guys ever do anything else?”

“Not lately, no,” he admitted. “Anyway, we were about to do that—it’d been kind of an intense twenty-four hours and we wanted to let off some steam—and I just . . . had this thought.”

Kyle waited, but when Michael didn’t say anything, he prompted, “Care to fill me in?”

Thinking it was one thing. Saying it out loud made it even more real. “I wanna marry her.”

Kyle’s eyebrows arched upward, and he nodded slowly. “Wow. Not a small thought.”


“But not a new one, either,” Kyle pointed out. “You’ve been wantin’ to do that for years now.”

“Yeah, but I’m not technically engaged to her right now,” Michael reminded him, “and that scares the hell out of me.”

“Oh. I see.”

He sighed heavily, wishing that, for once, something in his life would just be simple. Or maybe it really was simple and he was just making it more complicated than it needed to be. Wouldn’t be the first time. “What if she doesn’t want what I want?” he couldn’t help but fret.

“Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

Michael stared at him for a moment, interpreting that as, “So you think I should propose to her?”

“Or talk to her about it first, find out where her head’s at,” Kyle suggested.

“Yeah, but that’s not the way I wanna do it. I don’t want her to know it’s coming.” He remembered what it had been like to propose to Maria for the first time, right there at Kyle and Tess’s wedding reception, right after she’d fought to catch that bouquet of flowers. She hadn’t known it was coming then. They’d talked about marriage, but she hadn’t known in that moment and in that place that he was going to get down on one knee and ask her to be his wife. And that was part of what it had made it special, special and hopefully amazing for her. He wanted to give her another moment like that.

“Well, it’s up to you,” Kyle said.

“Do you think she’d say yes?”

“That’s up to her. But she did before,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, but that was before . . .” He trailed off and swallowed hard. “That was before.” Things were different now. The tragedy they’d experienced, the drama they’d created . . . there was no guarantee that her response would be the same as it was last time. “I’m not saying I think we should get married tomorrow. I just want us to be engaged again.”

“Well, I don’t think she loves you any less now,” Kyle assured him. “And I think she’s learned to trust you again.”

Michael nodded, able to agree with that on some level. What he’d felt these past few months with Maria . . . it was real and it was undeniable, and it wasn’t downgraded in any way. But still . . . “I just . . . don’t want her to say no.”

“Well . . . what if she does?”

Michael tensed, imagining it, imagining how crushing that would be. “Then I’d wait,” he decided. “I’d wait until she’s ready to say yes.”

“See, that right there? That’s devotion.”

“But we’ve been waiting so long,” Michael groaned, frustrated. “I don’t wanna have to wait anymore.”

“Well, maybe you won’t have to,” Kyle said. “You still got the ring?”

“I wanna get a new one.” He had an idea in mind for it, something that would hopefully touch her. “So you think I should do this?” he concluded.

Kyle shrugged. “I can’t tell you what to do.”

“But I want your advice, remember?” Kyle had been married for two years now, and his marriage had survived its own fair share of obstacles and speed bumps. He had to have some kind of wisdom to impart.

“Michael,” he said, his voice carrying a rare tone of complete seriousness, “I think, if you love the girl this much and you wanna be with her . . . you gotta go for it, man.”

Michael thought about it for a moment and nodded. Just like that, his best friend had confirmed everything he’d already known to be true. But it was good to hear it from someone else.


For the next few days, Michael worked out the details in his mind. The when. The where. The how. The whats of what he would say. He even managed to sneak away and get the ring he wanted. He had it all planned out in his head, but in a way, that made it even harder. Because he knew he had to set the plan in motion, but one wrong move, one wrong word, and it would all fall apart.

On a completely unremarkable, uneventful night, he found himself sitting on the living room floor, halfheartedly picking up Miley’s toys while he watched her and Maria. Maria lay on the couch with Miley sitting atop her stomach, and they were . . . really just giggling a lot. But it was one of the most fascinating things Michael had ever seen.

“My god, you’re so cute,” Maria said, squeezing her daughter’s sides. “Why are you so cute?”

“I don’t know. I just am,” was Miley’s response.

Maria smiled. “That cute little nose . . .” She reached up and gently pinched Miley’s nose. “Ooh, I got it! I got your nose!” she exclaimed.

Miley laughed and turned her head away for a moment, but when she looked down at her mom again, Maria pinched her nose again, eliciting another giggle. “Got it again!” she proclaimed. “Can you get mine, too?”

Miley reached down and squeezed Maria’s nose.

“Oh, you got it!”

“I got Frankie’s nose,” she said, reaching towards the other end of the couch where Frank was curled up and dozing. She touched his nose for a moment, then made a face and retracted her hand. “It’s wet.”

“Yeah, dogs have weird, wet noses,” Maria agreed. She cast a quick glance over at Michael, then said quietly to Miley, “What about Daddy? Can you get Daddy’s nose?”

Miley excitedly clamored off the couch and scampered over to him, pouncing on him and squeezing his nose.

“Oh, you got me!” he hollered.

“I got you, Daddy.” She started to crawl all over him.

“Ah, help! I’m under attack!” he played. He pretended to not be strong enough to get up. “Look at you,” he said. “So strong.”

She sprawled out on his stomach, and he lifted her up into the air, making airplane sounds as he did so.

“And cute,” Maria added.

“Strong and cute. Sorta like your Mama.” He grinned at her, and she blushed.

He set Miley back down again and sat up. “Hey, why don’t you go play with Frank?” he suggested. “He’s fallin’ asleep.”

“Wake up, Frankie!” she yelled, running back over to her dog. She grabbed his collar and forced him down from the couch. He yawned, stretched out a bit, and then started nuzzling her.

Michael gathered up the rest of her toys, making a small pile near the coffee table, not quite in the mood to put them away. On all fours, he made his way over to the couch where Maria still lay and sat down in front of her on the floor. “I love seeing her like this,” he said.

“Yeah,” she agreed, “it’s fun to watch her have fun.”

Even though he could have spent all night watching Miley play with Frank, there were other things on his mind. Few things could have torn his eyes away from such a heartwarming scene, but Maria was one of them. He couldn’t help but turn his head to look at her.

“What?” she asked, clearly sensing something.

“What?” he echoed.

“You’re giving me a look.”


“Well, it’s not a bad look.” She rolled over onto her side, draping one arm down over his shoulder. “What’s on your mind?” she asked.

Loaded question. There was so much on his mind, so much that he wanted to say, but this wasn’t the time or the place he’d planned out. But maybe it was time to set the plan in motion. “I wanna spend the day with you tomorrow,” he revealed, “just you and me. Okay?”

Apparently, that was all she needed to hear, because she smiled and said, “Okay.”


Bright and early the next morning, Michael woke Maria up. He hadn’t meant to get such an early start on it, but his nervousness had transformed itself into a sort of nervous excitement, and he couldn’t wait any longer. By 8:00 a.m., he was already returning from Marty’s after dropping a sleepy Miley off for a day with her uncle. And Maria was ready to go. She must have sensed his excitement, and she seemed to be feeling excited, too, because it usually took her as long to get out of bed as it had taken her to get up, get dressed, fix her hair, and put on make-up. Not that she even needed any make-up. Not his girl.

“Michael, where are we going?” she asked eagerly as they clamored into the car.

“It’s a surprise.” He twisted the key in the ignition and grinned when the engine sprung to life. She giggled for no apparent reason as they backed out of the driveway.

The drive seemed to Michael that it took forever, but really, it wasn’t so long. He was just so anxious that it felt like it was taking longer than it really was. They were mostly silent on the way there. Words weren’t necessary. Michael kept his eyes concentrated on the road as he drove past his own art studio and the college campus where he’d spent four years of his life. But he couldn’t help but sneak a peek at Maria when they started to get to those old familiar streets, the ones that led them to the place where it had all begun for them. Streets he would never forget. And apparently she never would, either, because her eyes lit up when they drove into the parking lot. He found an empty spot, slowly pulled into it, and turned the car off. Right in front of them was the sign that said Welcome to Fairview Apartments.

Maria smiled unsurely and asked, “Michael, what’re we doing here?”

“Come on.” He got out of the car, and she scampered out after him.

He bypassed the elevator, even though it would have been faster than the stairs, and led Maria up to the fifth floor. Same old hallway. Setting foot back there again made him feel like he’d never left. Sure, Kyle and Tess had still lived there a year ago, but this was different. Because they weren’t visiting Kyle and Tess’s place this time. They were visiting theirs.

“Okay, déjà vu,” Maria said as they stopped in front of the door with 521 on the front of it. “What’s going on?”

Michael twisted the doorknob, but it wasn’t unlocked. “Nobody lives here right now,” he said, reaching into his pocket. He’d already asked the landlord about it. Apparently the last tenants had treated it like crap, and they’d just gotten done doing a huge fix-up.

“Yeah, but neither do we,” Maria pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter.” He pulled a small brass key out of his pocket, holding it up for her to see. “I still have a key from way back when.” He was really banking on the fact that it would still work. If it didn’t . . . well, then he was going to look ridiculous.

He stuck the key into the lock, turned it to the left, then, upon remember that it had to be turned to the right first, did just that and back again. There was a low click as the door opened. He removed the key and pushed it open farther. He held it open for her to walk inside.

“Oh my god,” she said, immediately sounding nostalgic.

“Oh, man, look at this place.” He just stood in the entryway for a minute, looking it over. There was nothing in there, of course. No furniture. The appliances in the kitchen were property of the complex, and these were clearly new. But other than a fridge and stove . . . there was nothing. It looked smaller than he remembered.

“They repainted it,” she said, pointing out the now darker brown living room walls. She walked over to the sliding door and looked out at the balcony. “Oh my god, this brings back memories.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” He shut the door, hoping no one would walk in and find them there. It was probably technically trespassing. But hell, it wasn’t his fault if the landlord had never asked to have that key back.

She scurried into the kitchen, smoothing her hands over the counter. “This is where we had our food fight on Thanksgiving,” she recalled. “And where I did my sexy stripper dance on your birthday.”

“Oh, that was awesome.” She’d done many similar dances for him since then, dances that he was happy to accelerate to the next level. But back then, he hadn’t been thinking about the next level. Not yet. Not like he was now.

She ran back into the living, motioning to where the couch had been. “And this is where you painted me for the first time. And where we practiced our salsa dancing.”

“Well . . .” He shrugged. “You practiced.”

“And where you helped me study,” she went on, the memories pouring out of her now. “And where we watched Family Guy at night. And where sometimes you’d let me put make-up on you, remember?”

“No,” he said, even though he did.

She scuttled back to him, grabbed his hand, and led him down the hallway. She stopped at the bathroom and reached in to turn on the light. “And this is where Marty and I spied on you while you were showering,” she said unabashedly. “And where you held my hair out of my face if I drank too much and puked.”

He nodded. “That was nice of me.”

She laughed and skipped down to the end of the hallway. The door was already open, so she strolled right in. “And this . . .” she said, stopping in the center of the room. She waited a minute, then turned around to smile at him. “Well, this is where we made Miley.”

He smiled back at her, remembering it well. At one time, that bedroom had been his favorite place in the whole world. Hers, too.

“God, I can still picture it exactly how it was,” she said, spinning around slowly. “The bed was right here.” She flopped down on the floor, laughing momentarily, then staring up at the ceiling wistfully. “Oh . . .” she moaned. “There were some days when we would barley even leave this room.”

He gazed at her for a moment, remembering what it was like to see her lying there covered only by a sheet. Or wearing one of his shirts. Or nothing at all.

He got down onto the floor with her. “We didn’t need to,” he said, lying down beside her. “We had everything we needed right here.”

She smiled fondly, inching her hand over to brush against his. “We had each other.”

“Yeah.” He linked his fingers with her, squeezing gently. “And we still do.”

She turned her head to the side, locking eyes with him. Maybe it was just because they were back in that apartment, but she looked so young, so much like that 21 year-old girl who’d tangled herself up with him, both literally and metaphorically. She had a piece of that innocence back, even though it would never be the same. She’d gone through too much for it to ever be the same—they both had. But what they had in that moment, lying on the floor of that empty bedroom, holding hands . . . it was good.

“Everything was so simple back then,” she said quietly.

He grunted. “Speak for yourself. It took me months of living with you just to realize I even liked you, let alone loved you.”

She laughed. “Yeah, same here. Well, I mean, I always liked you, but the love came later.”

Lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed the spot where he wanted an engagement ring to be. He rubbed her fingers with his, wondering if he should just ditch the traditional proposal stance and subtly slip that ring on her finger instead. But no. She needed to say yes. He needed to have her permission.

The more he fixated on her hand, the more she started to look confused, like she was about to ask him what he was doing, so he let go of her and sat up. “We made a lot of memories here, didn’t we?” he said, wondering if they were about to make one more.

“Yeah.” She sat up, too. “Made a baby here and everything.”

He laughed a little, forcing himself to stand up again. He turned his back to her, reached into the front pocket of his jeans, and took out the small box he was just barely managing to keep concealed. He opened it and stared down at the ring inside. It was nice. It was new.

“Michael?” She sounded . . . inquisitive. “This is really cool and all, but what exactly are we doing here?”

I’m asking you to marry me, he thought. Or at least I’m supposed to. But he had another idea, too, a second part of the plan that he hadn’t been sure if he’d wanted to go through with. But now that he was there with her right now, and now that it was so effortless like this . . .

He shut the box and quickly shoved it back in his pocket. He spun around to her and announced, “We’re gonna go somewhere else.”

“Okay,” she said, allowing him to help her up. “Where?”

He didn’t want to tell her where. Because if he told her, she might not want to go. “Do you trust me?” he asked, lowering his face so it was just inches from her own.

She looked inquisitive, but not unsure. “I trust you.”

“Good.” He kissed her lips quickly. “Then come with me.” He grabbed her hand, and together they scurried out of their old apartment.

TBC . . .


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Part 169

Post by April » Sun Jul 07, 2013 1:51 pm

I've always loved the relationship that Michael and Kyle have shared. It's nice that they seek advice from one another and can count on each other.
I've absolutely loved writing their little bromance. In many ways, it's been the only CONSTANT relationship throughout both 521 and 522. There has never been a moment where Michael and Kyle haven't been best friends, where they haven't had each other's backs no matter what. They just have that kind of bond that's never going to break.

Awww what sweet update. Michael is just a dream dude. How many guys you know talk about wanting to make another special moment for the woman he loves? I don't know any but I am sure they are some very few rare finds. I thought it was just beautiful. Listening to his mind set and having a glimpse of what this day will be like was lovely to read.
Despite the mistakes he's made, Michael is still a good man. And his love for Maria is a very rare thing indeed. It has to be to overcome everything it has.
I just love that they had that time in their lives to live carefree and innocent.Seeing Miley and Maria on couch giggling and laughing their asses off is a testimony that life can be happy and carefree again.
And that's really what that scene was all about, showing that life goes on and it can go on in a good way.

Kyle is such a pig, but he does give good advice!
And that's definitely a new role for him. In the past, particularly during the first half of this story, BEFORE the car accident, Kyle was the one who was SEEKING advice, mostly from Michael. But . . . now he's grown up a lot, and he's more of a man than he was before. And Michael's the one who needs advice now, and luckily Kyle's giving him some decent snippets of it.
Hopefully, now that they are happy, Nutbel doesn't show up to ruin things, but her appearance, and finding out that she covered for Alex may just give everyone closure!
That seems to be a question on a few people's minds as we're winding down here. Is she truly gone for good, or will she make one last cameo? Anything's possible.

Thank you for the feedback!

Hard to believe, but this is one of the last times I’ll drop by with any music, since we’re so close to the end of this. The song I’m suggesting is “For Blue Skies” by Strays Don’t Sleep. If you watch One Tree Hill, you’ve heard it before. One of their MANY epic coda songs. Anyway, the lyrics are just . . . I mean, come on, it could practically be this story’s theme song. Here’s a sample of them:

I’m under that night
I’m under those same stars
We’re in a red car
You asleep at my side
Going in and out of the headlights
Could I have saved you?
Would that’ve betrayed you?
I wanna burn this film
You alone with those pills
What you couldn’t do I will
I forgive you
I’ll forgive you
I’ll forgive you
I forgive you

Fitting, am I right? Anyway, you can listen to it here or click on :) when you see it if you’d like.

Part 169

They drove in mostly silence. The comfortable kind, not the awkward kind. But Maria was literally on the edge of her seat. The farther they drove, the more she leaned forward, her seatbelt pressing into her shoulder as she looked all around the world whirling past.

“Are we driving to Guatemala or something?” she joked.

He smirked. “Or something.” Truth be told, he was getting a little nervous, though. He was getting closer and closer to that right turn he had to take—had to take—if he wanted to get there.

And he wanted to get there.

When he did slow down and take the turn onto Highway 2, she sat back in her seat, tensing up immediately. “Michael . . .”

He gripped the steering wheel tightly, not allowing his eyes to leave the road in front of him for one instant. It was daytime. It wasn’t hard to see anything. There were no headlights coming at him, no vehicle in the wrong lane.

The farther out he drove on the highway, the less traffic there was. And somehow, that seemed to make Maria even more nervous. She gripped the handle on the passenger’s side, clutching one hand over her stomach. “Where are we going?” she fretted aloud.

He didn’t mean to worry her like this, but they had to get past it. Literally. “Do you still trust me?” he asked.

“Yeah, but . . .” She whimpered as they came upon the Sherwood campgrounds, the same campgrounds they’d just barely passed before getting into the fateful accident. “Michael, where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” he said, but she had to have a pretty good idea now.

She started to squirm. Her stomach must have been knotting up. “Michael, I--”

“Just trust me,” he said again, needing her to do that. After everything, he needed to know that she wasn’t just saying she trusted him, but that she really did. “We’ll be okay.”

She fell silent as it came into view. And what was it, really? It was nothing. It was a completely unremarkable part of the highway rising up over an embankment, over a deserted gravel road beneath. But the moment it came into view, Michael was sure neither one of them took a breath. He didn’t stop or even slow down. He just drove right past. And the minute it was behind them, he felt like he could breathe again. He actually heard her exhale, and her entire body relaxed.

“See?” he said. She’d trusted him. They’d driven past it. And it was fine.

It only took a few more minutes to get to the church. That knowledge tugged at his heartstrings. Just a few more minutes that night, just a few more minutes of driving . . . and they’d have been there. If they’d just left the house a few minutes earlier . . . or maybe later . . .

But they hadn’t. What good did it do to dwell on that?

He parked the car out front and pulled the key from the ignition. It took Maria a moment, but finally she asked, “Is this . . .?” But she couldn’t get the rest out.

“Yeah,” he replied, understanding the question anyway. “This is where we were gonna get married.” It was just a small church. He’d only been to it a few times to deliver some purchased artwork. But it was nice, and it had probably been even nicer with their family and friends in it.

“Why are we here?” she asked.

He wasn’t about to clue her in to that just yet. “Because we made it,” he replied simply, getting out of the car. Even though she still seemed a bit confused, she followed him. He took her hand and led her to the entrance.

“Are we allowed to just walk in?” she asked.

“I got a hold of the pastor earlier,” he informed her. “He knows.” He hadn’t been sure they’d show up—if it had felt perfectly right back in the apartment, he would have just done it right there. But this felt necessary.

“Was it . . . the same one who baptized Macy?” Maria asked.

“Yeah.” He smiled fondly, remembering that day. Different church . . . same Macy. “He says we’re welcome here anytime.” He held the door open from her, motioning her inside.

( :) )

She walked in slowly, slipping her hand from his so she could wrap her arms around herself. “I don’t know why,” she said quietly, “but I feel . . .” She trailed off.

“Sad?” he filled in.

“No. Nervous?”

He smiled, thinking to himself, Join the club, as he followed her inside. But he was nervous for a different reason, one she would understand soon enough. “Don’t be,” he told her. He peered down the hallway and noticed a light on in a small office. The pastor was there, working away on something. He glanced up when he saw them, waved, and Michael waved back. Then he took Maria’s hand and led her towards the sanctuary.

It was a small space, but it probably felt larger than it really was with nobody being there. It wasn’t Sunday, wasn’t even a weekend, so they had it all to themselves.

“Why did you bring me here?” she asked.

“Do you wanna leave?” If she said yes, he’d take her home and find some other place to propose to her. There had to be some other place that would feel perfect. Because she deserved perfect.

“No,” she replied. “I just . . . I feel like I have no idea what’s going on right now.” She laughed a little and joked, “It’s like college algebra all over again.”

He smiled at the joke, then slowly released her hand and walked forward without her, down the aisle, wooden pews bordering him on either side. “That’s how I felt that night,” he said, holding out his hand so it could brush past every row of pews on his way to the front, “like I didn’t know what was happening. Like it couldn’t happen, couldn’t be real.” He shook his head, still wishing it hadn’t been. “Not us. Not our family.” He stopped and stood at the front of the church, peering up at a gigantic cross. On either side of it were two small stained-glass windows, and within those windows were designs of angels. He stared at those angels and thought of Macy. Was that what she was now? Wherever she was . . . was that what she was? Did she have an appearance, or was she just a spirit? Would he ever be with her again?


He realized he’d been spacing off and turned around to face her. “Sorry,” he apologized, remembering what he’d been saying before he let his mind wander. “We were supposed to end up here,” he said. “You in your white dress.”

She gazed at him longingly for a moment, then lowered her head to stare at the floor. “I don’t even have that dress anymore,” she mumbled.

“There’s a lot we don’t have,” he pointed out. The dress and the ring and even the car itself . . . none of that mattered. But Macy . . . she would always matter. No matter how long she was gone, she would always be their baby girl. Nothing could ever replace her or make them forget the pain of losing her.

He sensed this whole excursion was making her sad, and that wasn’t what he wanted, so he quickly reminded her, “We still have each other, though. You know?”

Slowly, she lifted her head. When she met his eyes again, she managed a small smile. “Yeah.”

We’re still here, his mind screamed at him. There had to be a reason for that. There had to be a reason that he’d been thrown from that car, that he’d been able to run back to it and pull her out. And what he was about to do . . . that had to be just a small part of the reason.

“So what do you think it would’ve been like if we’d made it here that night?” he asked her.

She sighed. “Oh, you know . . . perfect.” She traipsed forward slowly, brushing her hands against the pews the same way he had. “Our family and friends would’ve been sitting right up there,” she said, pointing out the first couple of rows. “Your mom or my mom would’ve been holding Macy.” Her stare became dazed for a moment, and she sounded far-off when she said, “She’d be sleeping. It was late. She was tired.” She stared at the empty pews for a moment, then shook her head, and she was back again.

“I would’ve been standing right here,” he said, planting his feet in front of the altar. “Kyle would’ve been right beside me.”

“Miley would’ve walked in first, throwing flowers,” she said, sliding into one row. She took a seat momentarily, then got up and walked through the rest of the row. “And then Tess would go,” she said, obviously envisioning the whole thing in her head as she circled around to the back rows of the sanctuary again. “She still had dark hair back then.” She frowned momentarily, then shook her head again as if shaking away the knowledge of what had brought out that change in her.

“What next?” he prompted.

“Well, then I’d come in.” She stood back at the doors, flapping her hands against her sides. “I guess I’d start right back here.” Again she started walking forward, humming the wedding march just barely loud enough for him to hear.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“You’d be looking at me,” she went on, “kinda like you are right now.”

He smiled. Maria looked so pretty just now, just in her everyday clothes. He couldn’t even imagine how it would have taken his breath away if . . .

But maybe he wouldn’t have to imagine. Maybe, if this all went the way he wanted to, he’d have that moment. They’d have that moment.

“And I’d just keep walking forward,” she said, nearing him. “There’d be music.”

“My mom would be crying,” he supposed.

“So would my mom.” Just as she said that, he noticed a solitary tear spill over onto her cheek. “And so would I, apparently,” she added, quickly dabbing it away.

“Happy tears?”

“Happy tears.” She stepped up beside him, sighing contently. “And then we would’ve just . . . started in.”

He held out his hands, because he imagined that’s what he would have done that night, if they’d actually been there. Even though he would have been nervous as all get out and his palms probably would have been disgustingly sweaty, he would’ve held her hands for the entire wedding. Because he wanted to be touching her.

She looked at him expectantly, and it suddenly dawned on him that, despite the fact that he’d been building up to his moment all morning, he had no idea what to say. There they were, standing at the altar. And he was speechless.

“How does it start?” she asked him.

“Um . . .” He was drawing a blank. Everything was blank to him. “I don’t know.”

She nodded, apparently accepting that, and said, “The vows are the most important part.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. Even though the New Year’s wedding itself had been a spur of the moment idea, he’d worked on his vows for months.

“Do you still remember yours?” she asked.

And just like that, nothing was blank anymore. “Every word,” he replied as they raced through his mind. “They were all about how much I love you.”

“Mine were . . . well, you already heard mine,” she said. “So I guess I’ll have to come up with some new ones if we ever . . .” She trailed off suddenly, shaking her head as though she were embarrassed. “I probably shouldn’t get ahead of myself.”

“If we ever what?” he pressed, tracing his thumbs over her knuckles.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, removing her hands from his. She spun around, her back towards him. He seized the opportunity to reach into his pocket and take out the small black box.

“I’m not trying to . . . I don’t mean . . .” She was so flustered.

“If we ever get married again?” he said, quietly getting down on one knee.

“Married again?” she echoed. “That makes it sound like we managed to do it before . . .” She whirled around and abruptly quit talking when she saw him kneeling there. The box was open now, and the round purple gemstone was shining up at her.

Her face was a mixture of shock and awe as she asked, “What’re you doing?”

He let out a shaky breath, his trembling hands barely able to hold the box up. “After the vows—or maybe during—I would’ve put a wedding ring on your finger,” he said, trying to remain calm. “Now granted, this is an engagement ring, but . . .” He shrugged. “You get the point.”

She held one hand to her chest, and she sounded breathless when she said his name. “Michael . . .”

“I love you, Maria,” he told her, because he could never tell her enough. “I never stopped. And even after everything we’ve been through, I still wanna spend the rest of my life with you.”

Tears sprang up to her eyes, so many that he wondered if she could even still see him there.

“I know it probably seems like I’ve done this a dozen times before,” he acknowledged, “but I’ll do it ‘til the end of time, ‘cause there’s nothing I want more than to be your husband and give you everything you deserve.” He smiled, so incredibly happy—no, thrilled—to be there with her, saying those things to her, meaning every single one of them. Excitement got the best of him, and he couldn’t help but blurt out the obvious: “I wanna marry you.” Only one question remained. “Will you marry me?”

Immediately, the tears started to fall over. Her voice was a determined whisper when she answered, “Yes.”

“Yes?” He knew exactly what she’d said, but he just wanted to hear it again, just to make sure he’d heard it right.

“Yes!” She got down on her knees right in front of them, holding out her hand, all smiles as he slid the ring onto it. Perfect fit. It looked so right there. She’d wear it for awhile, and once they did get to the altar for real, she’d have another ring to go along with it. They’d put the two of them together. That was what she wanted.

“Oh my god,” she gasped, staring at it in amazement for a minute.

“Come here,” he said, leaning in to kiss her. Her lips tasted impossibly sweet, so sweet that he could barely get himself to stop. “I would’ve done that, too,” he said, “after everything.”

She giggled and looped her arms around his neck, pulling him in for another deep kiss.

He wrapped his arms around her, having to remind himself that they were in a church and they couldn’t get too carried away. But then again, they’d just gotten engaged. Again. Didn’t they deserve to get carried away?

“Oh my god, this is crazy,” she said in a rush, her breath mingling with his. “You planned this?”

“Yeah. You couldn’t tell it was coming?”

“No.” She held out her hand and looked down at the ring again, shaking her head as though she couldn’t believe this was real.

“Do you like it?” he asked her.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s so beautiful.”

He was glad she thought so, because there was more to it than just a pretty color. “It’s Macy’s birthstone,” he informed her, hoping that would make her love it even more.

And just like that, her facial expression changed from that of someone who was elated to that of someone who was both elated and touched. “Michael . . .” she moaned, moving in even closer to him. Practically sitting in his lap, she hugged him tightly. He buried his face in her hair, breathing in the scent of her, holding her tightly, knowing that this time, he would be smart enough to never let her go.

TBC . . .