Passion (M&M & CC/UC, AU, Adult, ) (Complete)

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April
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Part 102

Post by April » Wed Sep 03, 2008 12:55 pm

chanks_girl:
it is interesting to see how Michael will react to finding his (still) girlfriend getting banged by his best friend.
Yeah, he's not going to be too happy about it.
Christina:
I am sort of disappointed in Max and Liz. But at the same time, I almost don't care. But that's mostly because in their minds, Michael and Maria already cheated. In their minds, they're no longer in relationships. Although, I do agree with you, at the same time, my disappointment lies in the possibility that this was simply a rebound kind of thing.
Yeah, that's right. In Liz and Max's minds, M+M had already cheated, and they were no longer in relationships with them. (Of course, in Michael's mind, he and Liz are still getting that apartment together, so that makes it a little more complicated.) And as for whether it was a rebound thing . . . maybe it was, to a degree. Or maybe that's how it just started out. But what started out as rebound sex quickly transformed into, like, the best and most fulfilling sex Max and Liz have ever had in their young lives. So . . . it didn't really end up being a rebound thing after all. ;)
Sylvia:
And I have this horrible feeling that Max is just going to forgive all because he's happy with Liz now. "You know Maria, if you hadn't done what you did, then I wouldn't have Liz now" or some stupid s**t like that.

Here's hoping that I'm wrong....
Rest assured, you're wrong. :lol: Max is still far from happy. He's very upset about everything that has happened between him and Maria. He's got two eight year friendships with M+M that are basically down the drain. And now he and Liz have gone and acted extremely impulsively. I keep saying that he's at a crossroads: he can either let his life suck beyond the telling of it, or he somehow make it into a better life. All these things that have been happening to him (having Maria reject his proposal, finding out about M+M, sleeping with Liz now, and even something like losing his valedictorian status) are opening up Max's eyes to . . . well, to reality.
behrbabe: New feedbacker, right? Awesome! Thanks.
Ashley: Yeah, like you said, now Liz and Max know what it feels like to be M+M, to act on impulse and not be able to keep their hands off each other. They never felt like that before.
Mag:
Max, Liz, what did you do? You had the sympathy capital, here and you wasted it! I mean, complain about being cheated on, and then cheating themselves? Max doing to Michael what he accused Michael of doing to him? Same for Liz?
Well, I mean, it all depends in how you look at it. Clearly what Michael and Maria did together was cheating. But did Max and Liz really cheat? Clearly they weren't thinking and they made a spontaneous decision to get it on, but is it okay? Are they allowed to do that since Michael and Maria cheated first? Are Liz and Michael even together at this point? They didn't officially break up, but she just found out the truth. Should Max and Liz feel guilty or hypocritcal? Tons of questions to ask. You know, it's just one of those grey area situations again where I'm not sure if there's any clear black and white answers.
Krista:
I think the thing to remember here is that in her mind, Liz is no longer with Michael. She's opened her eyes and realized that she was never really with Michael at all, and all they had was just... nothing.
Yep, exactly. That's what makes it kind of a tricky situation, because in Liz's mind, she and Michael were no longer together when she slept with Max. In Max's mind, even, they're no longer together. In Michael's mind on the other hand . . . yeah, they're still together. :?
Alien_Friend:
Awesome part! I love how you can still surprise me and fill me with passion about this story still at 101 parts.
Aw, thanks! I'm so glad I'm able to keep you and the rest of the readers interested after 101 parts. And as for surprises . . . well, this story still has yet to take one of its biggest turns.
CandyLand:
April, you are pure evil and not good for the soul.
:lol: I've been told that.
mrs_guerin: ha ha, no such thing as a lazy feedbacker!
Sara:
And I am sorry but Max and Liz were TOTALLY HOT!!!
Good, that's what I was going for! I think those kind of scenes are the hardest to write, too, so I'm glad you liked it.
killjoy:
I still hold to my guns that if Maria's secret.....that she was the one that set up Max into telling Liz.....well Michael will be pissed and a whole new fight will start.
It could. Right now, Maria is banking on a little more luck. If she can just luck out and Max and Liz don't start to question why they were in that locker room in the first place and Michael doesn't start to question why she wanted him to go there with her, then her secret will stay secretive.
Wendy:
Next is Maria and Michael's turn!
Yes, yes. Everyone else in this story has had a roll in the hay with each other, it seems. But not Michael and Maria! How weird is that?
Elle: Yes, I enjoy torturing people. ('Cause I'm a kinky mistress! :lol: )
twilight: Another new feedbacker? Be still my heart! :lol: Well, yes, Max and Liz are going to have some unavoidable awkwardness now. I mean, it's kind of inevitable.


Thanks for the AWESOME feedback, you guys! I told you that last part was a pivotal part! :D











Part 102










It didn’t take Maria long after getting out of the car to realize that Michael didn’t intend to go with her into that gymnasium, and she really wanted him to. There was no doubt in her manipulative mind that Liz knew the truth now, and there was also now doubt in her mind that she would be both devastated and furious, that when she saw Michael face to face, she would pretty much bitch-slap him. And that would be the end of that miserable relationship. Onto bigger and better things.

Maria gave him an expectant look, and finally he rolled down the window.

“Aren’t you coming with me?” she asked.

“Why would I do that?”

“Because . . . you never know who could be in that gym.” Max. Liz. “There could be a rapist in there or something. Or some other kind of predator.”

“Aren’t you always saying you can handle yourself?”

“I can, but . . .” She trailed off, trying to decide whether to push the issue or not. She didn’t want to sound too forceful. Liz could just as easily see Maria, maybe bitch-slap her, and then walk outside of the gym and slap Michael. Either way, her plan was coming to fruition.

Much to her surprise, she didn’t have to be forceful. Michael opened the door and got out of the car on his own accord. “You’re in a weird mood tonight,” he mumbled as he walked past her.

She grunted and walked fast to catch up with him as he made his way toward the door. “I’m in a weird mood? Have you looked in the mirror lately?”

“Every chance I get.”

She rolled her eyes as he opened the door and strode into the gym. “No, seriously,” she said as she followed him. “You won’t talk to me. You won’t even look at me.”

“Oh, I wonder why that is.”

“You’re sticking to this insane idea about getting an apartment with Liz . . .” But not for long, she thought as they neared the locker room. “I just don’t get why you have to choose now out of all the years of your life to be the good guy.”

He whirled around and asked, “What do you want from me, Maria?”

“I just—I want you to be my friend again. Is that so much to ask?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I wanna have sex with you!”

Maria didn’t have anything stored up to say to that. After their countertop activities the other night, she wasn’t really surprised, but still . . . just to hear him say it and to say it so loudly . . . oh, even if Max and Liz were still talking, even if Liz was wailing, she had to have heard him say that.

Good.

Maria just stood there and let that admission resonate some more while Michael walked away from her, threw his hands up in the air, and asked in exasperation, “Why the hell are we here again?”

To end your four-month relationship. “I think I left some stuff here,” she said. “Maybe in the locker room.”

He groaned and headed towards the locker room door. He tried to open it, but Maria knew it was locked.

“Locked,” he announced.

She took her keys out of her pockets, and suddenly, she felt unsure. It didn’t really matter now. If Max had told Liz and Liz knew the truth, then they were already done. But suddenly she felt as though she might have done something wrong by forcing the truth out rather than allowing it to come out on its own.

She stepped up beside him and looked through her keys. Her fingers were shaking a bit. It doesn’t matter now, she thought. What’s done is done. Now everybody knows. Now we can all just be honest and deal with the fallout.

Michael reached over and grabbed the keys out of her hands impatiently. “This one?” he asked, holding up the same long, brass key she had used to lock the door earlier.

She nodded mutely, and he inserted the key into the lock, turned it to the left, and pushed the door open. Even Maria wasn’t prepared to see the sight that greeted them.

Max and Liz, lying on the floor, him on top of her, both of them naked and covered only by the clothes draped over them as blankets. They were both so busy kissing that they didn’t even seem to notice that someone had unlocked the door for them.

Maria wanted to make a sound, but she couldn’t. She was too shocked. It was pretty obvious, what had happened, but not how it happened. Max and Liz were supposedly innocent, responsible people. Hooking up in a locker room wasn’t like them.

She really hadn’t expected this to happen.

Finally, as Liz turned her head to the side to give Max access to her neck, she opened her eyes and caught sight of the two spectators in the doorway. “Michael!” she squeaked out, immediately placing her hands on Max’s shoulders to push him away.

Max jerked his head around and laid eyes on Michael and Maria. He looked guilty for the first time Maria could ever remember. They both looked guilty. A minute ago, they had probably both been feeling on top of the world; now they had to be feeling guilty. Who wouldn’t be?

“Michael,” Liz said again, pressing her shirt against her chest to preserve whatever modesty she had left.

Oh my god, was all Maria could think as she surveyed the two of them. She hadn’t seen this coming in a million years. She looked up at Michael to try to gauge his reaction. He was just standing there and staring, looking more confused than shocked. His eyes kept darting back and forth between Liz and Max, and then he finally looked down at Maria.

I didn’t mean for this to happen, she thought, returning her gaze to the couple on the floor. Max and Liz had just gone and thrown more sex into the mix. That was the last thing any of them needed. It made everything so much more complicated.

“Michael, I . . .” Liz trailed off, apparently realizing that nothing she could say would have any effect.

Michael shook his head and laughed, sort of an angry laugh. He took one more look at Max and Liz and then walked away without saying one word to either of them.

Oh my god, Maria thought again, still standing there in a state of shock and disbelief. Oh my god. Max and Liz. Max and Liz?

Max and Liz.

“Maria . . .” Max tried.

She didn’t need to hear what he had to say; she didn’t need an explanation. He wasn’t her boyfriend anymore, and she really wasn’t jealous. But now Michael was enraged . . . and that never ended well.

She turned and ran after him whether he wanted to be alone or not.

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

“Oh my god,” Liz gasped as her mind tried to register everything that had just happened within the past hour. She had found out that her boyfriend had cheated on her with someone she had ironically been trying to rebuild a friendship with, and then she’d slept with that ex-best friend’s ex-boyfriend, and then her own boyfriend—no, ex-boyfriend now—and Max’s ex-girlfriend, her same ex-best friend, had discovered them together . . . too many exes. All her mind could do was scream at the top of its non-existent lungs . . .

What?!

“Liz . . .”

“Max.” She looked up at him in alarm, suddenly wondering why they had done what they just did. “What just happened?”

“What . . . well, uh . . . we . . .”

“No, I mean . . . oh my god, Max, what did we just do?” She slithered out from underneath him and scrambled to collect her clothes. “We shouldn’t have done that.”

Apparently he was still recovering from the act, because he looked a little dazed and wasn’t moving all that quickly to gather up his own clothing items.

“I think we made a huge mistake,” she said, yanking her jeans on.

“Yeah, and I’m just full of regret right now,” Max mumbled as he slowly worked his legs into his jeans.

“Is that sarcasm?” she asked, unsure. She couldn’t tell. Her brain was already on overload.

“Yeah,” Max admitted. “I mean . . . I’m sittin’ here feelin’ guilty. Why should I feel guilty? Why should you feel guilty? They cheated on us.”

“Yeah, but . . . Michael and I didn’t even get to talk, Max. I mean . . . I feel like I cheated on him, too.”

Max sighed as he wound his belt around his waist. “Yeah . . .” he confessed reluctantly. “I kinda feel like I cheated on Maria. Now how screwed up is that? We aren’t even together anymore.”

“It’s understandable, Max,” she assured him, pulling her shirt over her head. She felt so appalled with herself. She had just hopped into bed—no, there wasn’t even a bed involved!—with a guy whom she considered a really good friend. Maybe more than that now. What they had just done definitely changed things between them drastically.

She glanced up at the open door and pondered, “Should I go after him?”

“Michael?”

She nodded.

“He’s probably already gone,” Max said. “Maria, too.”

“I can’t believe they walked in on us. I can’t believe we even . . .” Liz pressed her face into her hands and raked her fingers back through her hair. “Oh my god, Max. What were we thinking?”

“We probably weren’t.”

“But . . . we’re supposed to be the smart people. We’re supposed to think. And now we just . . .” She trailed off and shook her head. She wanted so desperately to be able to explain her actions, but she couldn’t.

“I don’t think I’ve been very smart at all lately,” Max mumbled.

“Me, neither,” she whispered. “I don’t . . .” She felt tears stinging her eyes, but she didn’t even know if she deserved to cry anymore. “I don’t think I’m a good person, Max.”

“Liz . . .”

“No, I really don’t. I mean, what kind of person—what kind of girl just has sex with somebody right after finding out her boyfriend cheated on her?”

“Is that all it was to you?” he asked. “Revenge sex?”

“What? No. I don’t know. No, Max,” she stuttered. “It wasn’t. But . . . I don’t think it was a good idea, either.”

“Probably wasn’t,” he agreed, finally putting his shirt back on.

“I don’t get it, though,” she said. “I mean, I know why I . . . did what we just did. I’ve always had feelings for you. I never really gave them much thought, but they were always there. And I was hurt, and it just . . . felt good. But why did you? I mean, I thought you were in love with Maria.”

Max contemplated it for a moment, then shrugged and said, “I thought I was, too.”

Liz looked into her eyes and nodded in understanding. For the longest time, she had let herself believe she was in love with Michael, with this fantasy version of him that never truly existed. Now she and Max, of all people, the two people who had desperately deluded themselves for so long, were the ones who had produced a hurricane of controversy. Now they had to deal with the aftermath, and there was no way it would be easy on anyone.

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

“Michael!”

He stormed in the house like fury on two legs. Maria followed him inside, calling out to him. He wasn’t trying to give her the cold shoulder or anything. She had been begging him to say something on the ride home, but he was on a mission. Get pissed, get home, get beer, and get drunk. Sounded like a pretty bad good plan to him.

“Michael, wait!”

He didn’t wait. He opened up the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of beer, popping the cap off with his teeth. He spit the cap into the trash can and took a swig. Oh, it was going to take a lot more than just beer to get him drunk. He opened up the refrigerator again and peered inside. “We got any vodka left in here? Did you drink it all last time?”

“Michael, stop,” she said, trying to take the bottle out of his hand.

He held it just out of her reach on purpose.

“Come on, Michael.”

He feigned innocence. “What?”

“Just . . . stop!”

“Stop what?”

“I don’t know, just stop!” she yelled. “God, what is your problem? Are you really this mad?”

“Yeah.” He took another drink.

“Why?”

He coughed upon simultaneously swallowing and hearing that question. “Why?” he repeated, surprised that she even had to ask. “You have eyes, don’t you? You saw what I saw?”

“Yeah, Max and Liz.”

“Yeah. It’s not exactly the type of thing that puts a smile on my face.”

“Well, why are you so mad?” she elaborated. “I mean, it’s not like you were in love with her.” She paused after saying that, looked him in the eye worriedly and asked, “Were you?”

The fact that she even had to ask that spoke volumes about the miscommunication that had plagued their relationship over the past long week. “No,” he said. “No, I was never in love with her. And I was never gonna be, but I did care about her. You know? I dated the girl for four months. I’m not a complete jackass.”

“Well, that’s debatable.”

“No, I’m serious, Maria. Liz is . . . fine, you know. She’s not for me, but she’s a good girl.” He chuckled angrily, remembering the sight of her beneath one of his best friends and grumbled, “Or at least I thought she was.”

“People can surprise you,” she agreed.

“Yeah.” He brought his bottle up to his lips, but he really wasn’t motivated to drink it. Horrible taste and minimal usefulness. It wasn’t going to do any good. Acting on impulse, he hurled the bottle at the wall. It smashed into pieces. “Dammit!” he roared, causing Maria to jump back a bit. “I spent this whole week—every night since we kissed, I’ve been agonizing about this, tearing myself apart, beatin’ myself up, trying to do the right thing. Fuckin’ pointless.”

“Michael . . .”

“No, it’s fuckin’ pointless,” he insisted, reaching into the refrigerator for a can of beer this time. Maybe this would taste better. He popped the tab and took a sip. Nope, still horrible. “Aren’t you pissed?” he asked her. “Good old Maxie . . . just a couple days ago, he was down on one knee for you, wasn’t he? Now he’s on top of that bitch.”

“Michael!”

“What? She’s a bitch. I get it now. All of a sudden, it’s just-it’s obvious, you know? Liz is a bitch. She knows it.” He grunted. “Maxwell’s a little bitch, too.”

“Michael, just calm down.”

“Oh, what, calm down like you? Why the hell are you so calm, Maria? Did you want this to happen?”

“What?”

He shook his head. He didn’t know what he was saying. Random words were starting to spill out. Rage didn’t exactly lend itself to eloquence and rationality. “If you’re not gonna be pissed at Max, you should at least be pissed at Liz,” he suggested. “Me? I’m pissed at both of ‘em. They can fuck the rest of their days away for all I care. Fuck ‘em.” He took another sip of beer and cringed. “Man, this sucks.”

“I know, it’s a messy situation.”

“No, the beer.”

“Oh.” She sighed and took a step toward him, placing one hand on his arm. “Michael . . .”

“I don’t think you should touch me,” he suggested. “We might end up pullin’ a Max and Liz, find a locker room somewhere and just go at it.” He shrugged. “Although that could actually make me feel better.”

She retracted her hand and averted his eyes as she said, “We’re not gonna have sex tonight, Michael.”

“I know. You know how I know?” He grinned. “‘Cause we can stoop pretty low, Maria, but even we can’t stoop that low. But apparently Max and Liz can. Stoopers, don’t you think?”

“You’re really angry,” she commented.

“Hell yeah, I’m angry! You know why? ‘Cause all this time, I’ve been tryin’. Been workin’ my ass off trying to be there for Liz, trying to be a decent boyfriend, and I know sometimes I sucked at that—whatever—but I really did try. You know? I put in the effort.”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding, “but it seemed pretty effortless when you were kissing me.”

He sighed, frustrated. Everything about the amazing kisses he and Maria shared was natural. Hell, everything about him and Maria in general was natural. He realized now that he never should have started dating Liz from the beginning. Because God help him, it was always about Maria.

“It just pisses me off,” he went on.

“No shit?”

“No shit. I’m about the most uncommitted, self-righteous, sex-addicted guy on the planet, and I honestly tried to date Liz Parker. Who was supposed to be sweet and innocent. Well, what happened there, because that girl is not sweet and innocent.”

“I’m not, either,” Maria pointed out.

“No, but it’s different. It’s just different. You don’t go around pretending to be something you’re not. And neither do I. See, we just are who we are, Maria. That’s why people like us.”

“Max doesn’t like us anymore,” she pointed out. “Liz probably doesn’t like us right about now, either.”

“Good. We don’t like her.” He chugged down a large portion of the beer left in the can and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “My girlfriend cheated on me,” he said. “Did anyone see that coming? ‘Cause I sure as hell didn’t.”

“You cheated on her, too,” Maria quickly reminded him.

“Yeah, I know, but we didn’t sleep together, Maria. They did.”

“And the difference?”

“There’s a difference—oh, come on, you know there’s a difference!” he spat. “Sex is sex.”

“That’s right,” she said. “And love is love and passion’s passion. You and Liz didn’t have those things, so what the hell are you so distraught about?”

“I’m not distraught,” he insisted. “I told you, I’m just pissed.”

She clenched her jaw in frustration and ground out, “Michael, I swear to God . . . you are the most stubborn person I know.”

“Right back at you, baby.” He downed the rest of that beer and tossed it into the trash can. “Wanna hand me another one?” he asked her.

“No.” She stepped in front of the refrigerator, crossed her arms over her chest, and said, “It’s not gonna help, Michael. Trust me. Remember my little stint a few nights ago? Drunk Maria? Yeah, all she got accomplished was a killer hangover and a faint recollection of saying ‘I want you inside of me.’”

He waited a beat, then corrected her. “Need.”

“Whatever.”

“You still need that?” He grinned mischievously. “Oh, horny Michael. Love to hate him, hate to love him, he’s back. Full-force, baby. None of this anxiety bullshit. Nope, he just takes what he wants and has sex with it. That was the life.”

“It’s never gonna be that way again,” she informed him. “Both of us, Michael, we’ve done too much growing up over the past four months to ever go back to being the way we were.”

“You think?”

“Oh, yeah. I happen to know for a fact that I’ll never be able to have sex with random guys again. I just don’t want to.”

He chuckled. “That’s funny, ‘cause I could definitely go for some sex with a random girl right now.”

“No, you couldn’t,” she said matter-of-factly. “You’d be thinking about one certain girl. Me or Liz . . . it depends.”

“Oh, you,” he promised. “Always you, Maria. Did I ever tell you that? Even when I was with Liz . . . any girl, actually . . . I had to think of you to get off. ‘Cause, see, I’m a loser guy like that. I’m a cool guy, but I’m not a good guy. Who the hell cares, right?”

“Michael, do you even know what you’re saying at this point?”

“Oh, I know exactly what I’m saying,” he promised her, even though he sort of . . . didn’t. “I’m so pissed, I don’t even care if I’m freakin’ you out. The fact of the matter is, the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do in my life is bang the hell out of you.”

She didn’t look startled or alarmed. Just intrigued.

“Face it, Maria,” he said. “You’ve always been my dirty girl for a reason.”

“Michael, you’re insane,” she informed him.

“Am I?”

“Yeah, I actually truly think you’ve lost your mind.”

He grunted. “Good.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Good?”

He smiled. “Yeah, come here.” And without thinking, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her into him in one swift motion, crashing his lips down onto hers. She responded immediately; their fire ignited instantly. Oh yeah, this was it. Sex with any other girl couldn’t even compare to kissing Maria. She was the world’s greatest pleasure. Had to be.

“Mmm, Michael.”

He reached down and grabbed her shirt in his hands, pushing it up and over her head. She allowed him to at first, but when his lips sought out hers again, she backed far enough away, out of his reach and said sternly, “We’re not doing this.”

“Why not? We both want to.”

“Because you’re . . . so angry, and with all the Max and Liz stuff . . .”

“No, that doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter,” she insisted. “Like it or not, Michael, we used them. So if they wanna get back at us and have sex with each other . . . can you really blame them?”

“You think Max told her everything?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yeah. Why else would she sleep with him?”

“Oh, I’ll tell you why. B-I-T-C . . .”

“Okay, Michael, for the record, Liz is not a bitch. She’s a little girl trying to pretend she’s an adult. I’m a bitch.”

“And you’re proud of it.” He grinned.

“Not always,” she mumbled.

He gave her a questioning look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I do stuff I shouldn’t do, Michael,” she answered simply. “I do it all the time.”

“Yeah. Me, too,” he muttered. “Like dating Liz. Four fuckin’ months . . . man, that was a waste of time. Waste of my fuckin’ time and energy. I shouldn’t have done that.” He reached around her and pulled open the refrigerator one more time to take out another nasty beer that was probably too old to drink. She moved aside and let him do that this time, when his hand grazed her skin. “You know what, Maria?” he said, hoisting himself up onto the counter with his friendly alcohol in hand.

“What?” she asked.

He ran his hands over the marble countertop and said, “Oh, I like it up here. Good memories up here, huh?”

She rolled her eyes and bent down to finally pick up her shirt and put it back on. “You’re crazy.”

“Yeah, I know. But you know what?”

“What?”

He smiled despite all the anger he was feeling. “We are some fucked up people, you know that? All of us. We can’t do anything right. We suck at life. We’re screwed.”

“Wow, for a optimist, you’re pretty pessimistic,” she commented.

He shrugged. “I try.” He popped the cap of his second beer—third, counting the first one—and started to chug. Horrible. Absolutely horrible taste, but he drank it anyway. Why not?

“You’re really doing a good job feeling sorry for yourself,” she said, glaring at him.

He smiled. “Why, thank you.”

“It’s not a compliment.”

“I know it's not. I’m not stupid, Maria.”

“I never said you were.”

“I do stupid things, but I’m not stupid. You, too.” He chuckled and kept on drinking. “Wow,” he exclaimed. “What a night, huh? Sucks. I hate this; I fuckin’ hate this. I take the easy way out, you know? I always have. But this isn’t easy. This is all . . . dramatic. I may wanna be a director, but I don’t really like drama. Weird, isn’t it?” When she didn’t answer, he asked again. “Isn’t it?”

“Whatever.”

He laughed and chugged the rest of that beer without a problem, and then he crushed the can in his hand. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I’m the master. Aren’t I?”

“What?”

“I am.” He really had no idea what he was saying anymore.

“You’re already drunk, aren’t you?” she guessed.

“Almost, almost,” he said, dumping that crushed can into the trash. “Hey. Babe.”

She gave him an impatient look.

“What-what was it you said when you were drunk?” he sputtered. “Say it again.”

She sighed and reluctantly repeated the words. “I need you inside me.”

“Yeah, that.” He nodded and looked right into her eyes, her beautiful green eyes, and it occurred to him that he had never gotten lost in his bitch of an ex-girlfriend’s eyes like that before. Ever. Maybe he was already a little drunk, because he went ahead and said exactly what he wanted to. “I need to be inside you.”

Their gazes locked. Neither one of them was going to look away. Neither one was going to until . . .

The front door opened, and Tess and Kyle walked in. They were both laughing and already taking off each other’s clothes, but when they noticed Michael and Maria, they stopped. “Oh, hey, guys,” Kyle said.

“What up, Valenti?” Michael called.

Kyle gave him a confused look. “What up?

“Just ignore him. He’s lost his mind,” Maria informed them as she walked away from him.

“What happened?” Tess asked.

“Oh, you could ask Max when he gets home,” Michael suggested as he hopped down off the counter to reach into the refrigerator and get just one more beer. There was always one more. “If he has the balls to set foot in this house again. See, he fucked my bitch of a girlfriend. Oops, sorry, ex-girlfriend.”

Tess and Kyle exchanged shocked glances, and Tess spat incredulously, “Wait, Max Evans?

“Yep. Perfect Max Evans.” Michael shook his head and brought the can to his lips again. “Not so perfect,” he grumbled. He was already starting another chug-a-thon when he heard a door down the hallway shut. He turned, looked over his shoulder, and noticed that the door to Maria’s bedroom was closed. She’d gone away.

“Maria?”










TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 103

Post by April » Fri Sep 05, 2008 12:29 pm

Christina:
I liked that Maria was defending Liz every time Michael called her a bitch. I thought it was amusing. Of course, I think she mostly defended her because she was the reason Max and Liz were locked in a room together, and she was the reason Liz found out in the first place.
Yep, for sure. See, Maria is always going to carry around some guilt when it comes to Liz. She's always going to feel guilty for changing her from the nice, sweet girl into the popular, bitchy Michael-pleaser. (Even if Liz allowed herself to change, Maria facilitated the change.) And now with the whole manuevering her and Max into the locker room plot . . . yeah, Maria feels guilty about that, too. So when she defends Liz, guilt is a big part of the reason why.
Sara: Yes, Liz definitely crushed Michael's male ego when she slept with Max. And Michael's ego is a pretty vital part of his personality. Let's face it, it's a huge part of his personality. So seeing her with Max definitely pissed him off.
Ashley:
Poor Maria, Michael should be relived not upset. all the things that he's wanting have to be hard for her. Becase its not about her its about Michael wanting to feel good.
Yeah, like you said, it's about Michael wanting to feel good. He always wants to feel good, and right now, he's feeling pretty crappy. Hence the pissy attitude.
Alien_Friend: :lol: You always say, 'the poor dears!' :lol: It's funny, but I like that you seem to find a way to be sympathetic towards all of them.
lilah:
I feel awful for the "bad guys" of this story.
Bad guys meaning Michael and Maria? Or Liz and Max? I think the reason why you feel for the bad guys is that there aren't really any bad guys. There are just . . . people who make mistakes. :(
Krista:
Nah, I kinda figured he'd be upset. Here he is actually making an effort thinking that he's doing something right and decent, and he finds out his girlfriend cheated on him.
Yeah, that's a big part of it. He feels like he tried to be faithful to her (even though he wasn't very successful in that regard) and that she didn't even try to be faithful to him.
extingman:
Maybe Max will move in with Liz, cause I'm sure he won't be made to feel welcome with Michael and Maria and then they can all be like bunnies.
:lol: Bunnies are good. It is true that Max is going to have to move in somewhere else, though. He can't very well stay with M+M any longer.
singerchic4:
I still can't believe that Maria plotted that far. She may not have intended for that to happen, but intentionally locking them and then driving him there might have been a little unecessary. She could have waited for Liz to come confront Michael on her own, not show up on the scene.
Yeah, Maria really got addicted to all that plotting and scheming. She just couldn't stop. And really, she didn't expect for Max and Liz to actually do anything, so her scheming sort of took on a mind of its own there.
Sylvia:
And I know why Max and Liz feel guilty ( because they have a conscience), but they shouldn't, and I'm betting that as soon as all this comes to light, they won't anymore.
I tend to agree with you, that Max and Liz shouldn't really feel guilty. Michael and Maria still deserve to bear that guilt. Max and Liz should, however, realize that they acted impulsively and that their actions are going to have an effect on their relationship with each other and with Michael, specifically.
killjoy: Yeah, Max and Liz are still angry, but now that they've slept together, they're experiencing a whole range of other emotions as well.
Mercedes: The computer's holding up, huh? :lol: I'm glad you were able to feedback. And don't feel sad about the story ending, since it's not going to do that for awhile. ;)
twilight:
Damn! I didn't think Michael would get that pissed I mean he cheated on Liz too except maybe he didn't sleep with Maria but he was practically having another relationship with Maria while he was with Liz.
Yeah, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Michael has a different way of looking at things than anyone else does. So I think most (if not all) of us will agree that what M+M did with each other is actually worse than what L+M did.
spacegirl23: You were surprised by the Dreamer sex scene, huh? Good, I was hoping that would catch a couple of people off-guard!
chanks_girl:
I think the reason Michael is pissed about Liz' betrayal because she was the only pure and innocent thing in his life.
Hmm, that's an interesting way to look at it. I haven't thought about it like that before. Thanks, I'll mull it over!



Thanks everyone for the awesome feedback and for continuning to read after all this time!










Part 103









Alex waltzed into the living room of his apartment with a smile on his face and announced, “Dishes are done; I’m ready for lovin’.”

Isabel giggled as he lay down atop her on the couch and kissed her. Alex was amazing. She was happy to have found him with only a slight amount of drama involved.

“Mmm, which one are we doin’ tonight?” he asked her, grinning.

“Uh, let me see.” She reached her arm out to the side to grab the latest issues of Cosmopolitan off the coffee table. Alex made a trail of kisses down onto her neck as she flipped through the pages to the article she was looking for, the one with all the new, supposedly cool sexual positions. “I can’t read while you’re doing that,” she said.

“What’s my mouth have to do with your eyes?” he asked, his warm breath tickling her sensitive skin.

“It’s distracting,” she told him, smiling. “Okay, let’s see, which one are we on? Saturday night . . .” She made a face. “The Bucking Bronco? Ooh, I don’t know, Alex. That one looks kinda boring.” She tossed the magazine aside and hooked both her arms around his neck. “I think we should just invent our own,” she suggested.

“Oh, there’s an idea,” Alex said, seeming enthused. “And you know, the invention process . . . it’s kind of a long, process.”

“Very long,” she agreed. “One percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

He grinned. “Perspiration.”

She laughed. “Oh my god, what’re we talking about?”

“I don’t know. Why are we talking?”

“Yeah, let’s stop talking,” she agreed, smiling when their lips met again. They were just really starting to get into the kissing when there was a knock on the door. They reluctantly pulled their lips apart and groaned.

“Don’t answer it,” she said.

They waited a moment, but whoever was standing outside just knocked again.

“Dammit,” Alex swore, getting up off the couch. He made his way over to the door, saying, “If it’s another one of those girl scouts sellin’ cookies, I’m slammin’ the door in her face.” Then he opened the door and revealed Max standing on the other side. “Oh,” he said. “Not a girl scout.”

“Close, though,” Isabel joked. She smiled at her brother, but he didn’t look amused. “No offense, Max,” she quickly added.

“None taken,” he mumbled.

“Are you alright, Max?” Alex asked him.

“Not really,” he answered.

Isabel sat up and didn’t even bother to ask what was wrong with him. Wasn’t it obvious? He was still devastated about Maria.

“Actually, I was wondering if I could stay here tonight,” Max spoke up at last.

“Here?” Alex echoed. “With us. All night?”

Max nodded and apologized, “I’m sorry, I know I’m probably . . . interrupting something. But I can’t go home tonight.”

“Did things between you and Maria get worse?” Isabel asked, concerned for her brother.

“Everything got worse,” he muttered dejectedly. “I’d really appreciate it if I could just crash on the couch.”

“The couch.” Alex cast a glance at Isabel. “The couch that’s right next to the bedroom . . . where we will be sleeping. Not doing anything else.”

She sighed, a little disappointed but more than willing to help her poor, train wreck of a brother. “It’s fine, Max. No trouble at all.” She stood up and said, “Just make yourself comfy.”

“Thanks.” He walked in the door and immediately took off his shoes like any good houseguest would.

“So,” Alex said as he shut the door. “You up for some Playstation?”

Before Max could answer, Isabel heard her cell phone ring shrilly. “God, I’ve gotta change that ringer,” she said to herself as she walked over to the counter to answer it. “Hello?” she said.

“Isabel, it’s me.”

“Hey, Tess. What’s up? Do you miss me, roomy?”

“Oh, of course,” Tess said. “But that’s not why I called.”

Isabel frowned. “Okay. You sound serious . . .” That was never a good thing. Tess wasn’t a very serious person, most of the time.

“I am,” Tess assured her. “Something seriously screwed up went down tonight. And I mean probably literally went down.”

“Uh . . .” Isabel cringed. “Do I want to know what you’re talking about?”

“Maybe not, but I’m gonna tell you anyway.” Tess paused for a moment, then came out and told her, “Max and Liz had sex.”

The shock engulfed her so greatly and so suddenly that Isabel immediately dropped her phone down onto the kitchen’s tile floor. It broke. “Oh my god,” she gasped, sending Max a sharp look. “You slept with Liz?”

“What?!” Alex shrieked.

“Yeah, I told you I’m not alright,” he mumbled in response, sounding ashamed before adding in for Alex’s benefit, “and no, I’m not up for Playstation.”

“Max!” Isabel wasn’t sure what else to say. Max and Liz had effectively gone and done the impossible: made things between themselves and Michael and Maria even worse. It was as though all four of them were on some sort of self-destruct mission. This was an implosion.

All Alex could do was sputter. “What—what?

“What?” Isabel chimed in. “Max, what were you thinking? That’s Michael’s girlfriend.”

“I told her he cheated on her.”

“Okay, but still, it’s called a waiting period. You wait a week after the break-up, at least.”

“You and I didn’t wait,” Alex quietly reminded her.

“Yeah, but we’re a cute couple. We can get away with it. But Max . . .” She returned her gaze to her brother and shook her head in disbelief. “This is, like, the most random, huge thing you’ve ever done in your life!”

“Trust me, I know that,” he assured her. “Tonight showed me a side of myself I didn’t even know existed. Turns out I’m not a saint among college males like all these people think I am. I’m just a regular guy, and I can screw-up big-time just like everyone else.” He lay down on the couch then and covered his eyes with the back of his arm. He looked worn out. Probably because he'd just had a roll in the hay.

Isabel shifted her glance from her brother to her boyfriend, suddenly feeling very worried about the way this whole entangled love story was going to play out. Michael and Maria, Max and Liz. That was the way it was meant to go—that much was obvious. But all this cheating and lying wasn’t a good way to go about it.

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

Michael lay in bed staring up at the ceiling with his hands behind his head. He wasn’t happy. At all. All that beer hadn’t done its job. He was still sober as ever, still stuck with all these stupid thoughts and questions running through his mind. What happened to the days when all he had to do was think about sex? Now he was stuck dealing with all these messed up relationships, and he hated it.

So Liz cheated on him, slept with one of his best friends. Honestly . . . that bothered him, but not for the typical reasons. It wasn’t as though he were devastated that Liz had been unfaithful. No, devastation was Max’s thing. Besides, if Liz and Max wanted to get it on after learning that their significant others had almost gotten it on . . . no, that wasn’t what bothered him. He was pissed at Max for giving him that whole “we’re no longer brothers, we’re not even friends” speech and then turning around and doing something hypocritical, but even that wasn’t the main reason for his anger. Nope, he was pissed for selfish reasons. Liz had been such a waste of time, such a waste of his time.

He rehashed the situation in his head over and over again, trying to connect all the dots. From what he could gather, Max had caved in and told Liz the truth, and then he and Liz had engaged in some sort of revenge sex, probably. Sure, it was a little out of character, but everyone was prone to being that way from time to time.

The thing that didn’t make sense, however, or at least didn’t seem right, was the way he and Maria had discovered them. It seemed like a chance discovery, but at the same time, it was so over-the-top, so . . . calculated. Like a set-up.

Why were Liz and Max in that locker room of all places on earth? Wouldn’t it have been more likely for them to meet in her room or at the tutor center or something? And how had they managed to lock themselves in there? And how was it that Maria had conveniently left some of her things in there, but she hadn’t brought anything home with her after stopping by? And why was it that she had coerced him to come along for the drive when she could have just driven herself?

He let the scenario run through his mind some more, and gradually, a theory began to form.

“You alright?”

He’d asked Maria that simple question, because when he’d walked in the front door that night, she hadn’t looked alright. She’d looked upset about something, and he’d noticed it right away.

“I think I left some stuff . . . at the dance team gym awhile back.”

That didn’t seem like much to be upset about.

“Wanna come with me?”

Why would she even invite him?

“I don’t know where Max is.”

But maybe she’d lied. Wouldn’t be the first time.

“Aren’t you coming with me?”

Why had she been so adamant about him walking into that gym with her?

“Maybe the locker room.”

Coincidence? No such thing.

“You’re in a weird mood tonight.”

Yeah, he’d made that remark for a reason, because she had been acting weirder than usual. That meant something wasn’t right.

He frowned as it all started to come together.

“You alright?”

“I think I left some stuff at the dace team gym awhile back . . . wanna come with me? . . . I don’t know where Max is . . . aren’t you coming with me? . . . maybe the locker room . . .”

“You’re in a weird mood tonight.”


He sat up in his bed, disappointed if what he suspected had transpired turned out to be true. More than disappointed. Pissed off as hell. Even more pissed off than he was before.

He got out of his bed and paced around the room a bit, hoping that he was overanalyzing this. He didn’t use his brain very much. Maybe it was malfunctioning now that he was trying to put it to work. Maybe Maria really had left something in the locker room. Maybe walking in on Max and Liz really had been a chance discovery. Maybe somehow they had managed to lock themselves in there and . . .

He sighed heavily and raked one hand through his hair. As much as he wanted to convince himself that it was just a coincidence . . . he couldn’t. He had a gut feeling. Maria was a very manipulative person by nature. He couldn’t put anything past her, even though he wanted to.

He grabbed a shirt off the floor and tugged it on. (He had to be fully clothed around her nowadays; otherwise, there was no telling how naked he’d end up.) With anger in his veins, he walked down the hallway to Maria’s bedroom and pushed the door open slowly, peering inside. She was lying on her side on the bed, staring out the window. She looked deep in thought, too, nowhere near happy. When the door creaked, she jerked her head in his direction and immediately remarked, “You’re not drunk.”

He grunted and pushed the door open further. “I wish I was.”

She rolled over onto her back and mumbled, “Well, Max and Liz together . . . it’s kind of a sobering sight.”

“You think so?”

She gave him a confused look. “Yeah, don’t you?”

“Yeah, for sure.” He shut the door and locked his eyes with hers. “Something tells me it wasn’t quite as shocking for you as it was for me, though.”

Again, she gave him a confused look. “Okay, creepo, what’re you talking about?”

“You know, I’ve been layin’ there in bed, thinkin’, just doin’ all this thinkin’, and you know what I thought?”

“Nothing.”

He ignored that jab and came right out and told her his theory. “This whole thing just seems a little too convenient.”

“Convenient?” she echoed, sitting up slowly.

“Yeah. Like, oh, we just happened to be at that locker room the same time Max and Liz were. And why? ‘Cause you just happened to need something you left there.” He narrowed his eyes and asked, “Well, what’d you leave, Maria?”

“Excuse me?”

“What’d you leave? Clothes? Shoes? Condoms?”

“Clothes,” she said. “I thought so, anyway. I guess not.”

“Right, right. But you know what’s really funny? How you just happen to have a key to open up that locker room, and—oh, here’s the really big kicker—how Max and Liz just happened to lock themselves in there in the first place. That takes talent, doesn’t it?”

“Where are you going with this, Michael?”

“I don’t know. You tell me. This was your master plan, wasn’t it?”

She tossed her covers aside and got out of the bed, looking a little angry with him. “Alright, listen, buddy, if you wanna accuse me of something, don’t beat around the bush. Be a man. Just come out and say it.”

“Come out and say it, huh?” Alright, then he wasn’t going to hold back. “Alright, here’s what I think: I think you’re a crazy bitch, and I like that about you, but you took it to a new level tonight. You knew—you fuckin’ knew Max and Liz were gonna be in that locker room. In fact, I’m startin’ to think you put ‘em there.”

“Oh, and how did I do that?”

“I don’t know, but you did. And you got me there, too, ‘cause you wanted me to see ‘em like that. You wanted to put an end to me and Liz, and you found a way to do it. Manipulation at its best, right? You’re so damn good, Maria.”

She shifted uncomfortably and denied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He cocked his head and grinned. “Oh, come on, baby. You can lie better than that.”

“You’re the crazy one, Michael,” she insisted. “I’m not crazy. You’re fucking insane.”

“No, I’m fucking pissed, Maria!” he roared suddenly, surprising even himself with the volume of his voice. “Now admit it! Admit that you did something, ‘cause I know there’s no way all this happened by chance.”

“It did,” she insisted, but her voice wavered unconvincingly.

“It didn’t.”

“God, Michael, why are you trying to make me out to be the bad guy?”

“I’m not! Trust me, Maria, I would love nothing more than for you to tell me you had nothing to do with this, because that would mean my best friend didn’t lie to me, my best friend didn’t go behind my back.”

“Michael, I . . .” She trailed off and started over. “I didn’t know what to do.”

“So what did you do?”

She sighed in distress, swallowed hard, and then finally said the words he’d been attempting to get out of her, the words he wished she weren’t saying. “I might’ve . . . played a small part in Max and Liz hooking up tonight.”

“How small?”

She sighed again and ran one hand through her hair. “Michael, do we have to talk about this?”

“Maria . . .” He looked her right in the eye and gave her his answer without words. Yes.

“Oh my god,” she grumbled. “Fine. Fine! You wanna know what I did? You wanna know what I did?”

“Yeah, I wanna know what you did!”

“I got Max and Liz in that room together. I sent a few text messages. Big deal!”

“What the hell?”

“Yeah! I texted Max from Liz’s phone, said they needed to meet in the locker room to talk. Then I texted Max from Liz’s phone. Well, what do you know? They met and did a little more than talking. Bonus.”

Michael frowned, processing that. “So . . . so that was your master plan? Get Max and Liz together and . . . what, lock ‘em up?”

“In a nutshell.”

He grunted. “That’s lame.”

“Well, it worked, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, but . . . come on, there’s a million ways that could’ve gone wrong.”

“Yeah, but not one of those million ways came into play. See, I knew Liz had to find out, and I knew that Max wouldn’t be able to resist telling her if he was trapped in a room with her. So yeah, I did what I did. You know why? Because you’re too much of a coward to do it yourself!

Oh, that fire in her eyes when she yelled at him . . . it enticed him. But at the same time, he was too angry to do anything sexual. “Why the hell am I a coward?”

“Because you should’ve told Liz the truth, but you didn’t. I told Max.”

“Yeah, after he proposed to you! You know what, save it, Maria! You led that guy on for months, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”

“I didn’t want to.”

“But you did! And I at least tried with Liz.”

“Oh, great, so that automatically means you get a boyfriend of the year award?”

“What? No!”

“Seriously, Michael, I just—I’m not gonna let you blame this on me! I may have set it in motion, but Liz and Max were the ones that actually moved with it, so to speak.”

“Did you think they would? Is that why you brought me along with you to look for your ‘stuff?’ ‘Cause you had a feeling they’d be gettin’ it on?”

“No, I just thought . . . I don’t know, my mind was racing, like, a million miles a minute, Michael. I just kept picturing Liz seeing you and, like, slapping you and telling you she hated you, and then that would be the end of it. And then you wouldn’t move in with her, and then you wouldn’t keep lying to her, and then . . .” She trailed off.

“And then what?” he prompted. “Then I’d stay here? I’d stay in this house with you?”

“Well, why wouldn’t you?”

“No, I want to, but now I’m fuckin’ pissed!”

“Why? It’s just Liz! You weren’t in love with her. You knew that. I knew that. Hell, she probably knew that!”

“But you went behind my back, Maria! I told you I didn’t want Liz to know! I asked you not to tell her.”

“And I didn’t tell her!”

“But you manipulated it so Max would! Don’t you get it, Maria? Why can’t you just admit you’re wrong?”

“Why can’t you admit you’re wrong?” she roared. “God, Michael! You should’ve told her yourself!”

“Well, maybe I would’ve.”

“When?”

“I don’t know, eventually!”

“You’re such an asshole!” she shouted, looking as though she were either about to explode or already in the process of exploding. “I swear to God, you drive me up the fucking wall! Why do you insist on making such a big deal out of this?”

“Because it is a big deal! I dated Liz for four months; you dated Max just as long. Now they’re screwin’ each other, and where does that leave us?”

“I don’t know!”

“Exactly!” He lowered his voice then and repeated the word, softer this time. “Exactly.”

“Exactly what?”

“We’re fuckin’ ourselves up,” he explained. “I mean, look at us. This isn’t us. We don’t fight like this.”

“We fight all the time,” she reminded him.

“No, but not like this.” This was different. This wasn’t so good. “We argue, but we’re never really mad at each other.”

She lowered her head for a moment and whispered, “That’s our thing.” She looked up at him again then with sadness in her eyes but that same determination in her voice, “Look, Michael, I’m not mad at you. I’m just frustrated.”

“I’m kinda mad at you,” he mumbled.

She seemed to take offense at that, as she took a step back and immediately grew defensive. “Because I put an end to you and Liz? Oh my god, get over it. It’s not like you guys were going anywhere. Except to that big, fancy apartment where you could be miserable for the rest of your lives together.”

“This isn’t about Liz. It’s not even about Max. This is about you and me, Maria.”

She nodded slowly and said, “Right. You and me. Always has been. It’s always been about us, Michael. I get that now. We screwed countless people. We slept with ‘em and left ‘em a lot worse off than we found ‘em, but it was never about any of them. It was about Michael and Maria.”

She had that right. He hadn’t realized it at the time, but now, looking back . . . there were so many little hints, things he had thought and things he had said . . .

“You and me,” he echoed. “We’re supposed to be best friends, Maria.”

“We are best friends.”

“Oh, really? ‘Cause you just went behind my back. And you know what, Maria? I’m startin’ to think you’ve been manipulating everything this entire time. Everyone,” he concluded. “Is that the kind of thing a best friend does?”

That fire in her eyes gleamed as she walked toward him, pointing an accusing finger. “Oh, you wanna talk friendship, huh? ‘Cause it’s funny. You’re supposed to be my best friend, too, although you haven’t been a very good one lately. Unless you stand here and yell at your best friend. Unless you blame your best friend for ruining your crappy non-relationship. Unless you kiss your best friend and then say, ‘oops, sorry.’ For the love of God, Michael!”

“Here we go again,” he muttered.

“Unless you tell your best friend you’re moving in with another girl.”

“Who was my girlfriend!”

“Yeah, but you guys sucked together, just like Max and I sucked together!”

“Oh! Then . . . why did you and Max get together in the first place? Could it possibly be that . . . you lied to him?” He nodded. “Yeah. Oh, and so that means you lied to me. You said you had feelings for Max, I got you guys together, and you wanted something with me all along. Wow, that’s pretty fucked up, Maria.”

“Oh, don’t go and act like you didn’t want something with me!” she barked. “I am not Liz, Michael. I won’t let you dictate our relationship.”

“Oh, and that’s what you think I was with her, huh? A dictator?”

“Yeah. Think about it. You told her bend over, she did it. You told her to open up her mouth . . . oh, it was already opened before you got the sentence out. You were the dictator, and she was like your little puppy dog.”

“So basically I just screwed her up big-time.”

“Basically.”

He chuckled angrily. “Yeah, well, you certainly worked a number on Max.”

She looked at him in exasperation and yelled, “Fine! We both screwed up! We’re both losers! We’re stubborn and we’re stupid. Now how long are we gonna stand here and fight about nothing?”

“It’s not about nothing, Maria! It’s about right and wrong,” he snapped, “and we’ve done everything wrong.”

“What, and that suddenly means something to you?”

“Yes!”

She shook her head and said. “Oh my god. Oh my god, this is so hypocritical, it’s not even funny! You know, I find it both hilarious and ironic that you’re standing here giving me this huge morality lecture when you’re, like, the least moral person on the planet!”

“And you don’t think people can change?” he questioned.

“No, people can change, but you can’t,” she said cruelly. “Face it, Michael. You’re always gonna be the same arrogant, idiotic, delusional, non-committal guy incapable of thinking about anyone but himself.”

Those words cut deep. He suspected she knew just how deep they cut, and that’s why she’d said them. So he cut her right back. “And you’re always gonna be that kind of girl.”

Her face softened, and she looked a little hurt to hear him say that. He really didn’t want to hurt her, but . . . things were just escalating out of control.

“I’m gonna go try to get some sleep,” he said, “‘cause if we keep goin’ like this tonight, we’re gonna destroy our friendship.” And that was the last thing he wanted. He slowly turned and placed his hand on the doorknob, momentarily debating whether to walk out of that room and leave her angry for the rest of the night or go over to her and kiss her crazily. His body wanted to do the latter, but his mind told him to just stay away for awhile. They both needed to cool down.

He turned and left the room, conflicted, and slammed the door shut behind him. In a sense, he was glad that he had said some of the things he had said. They were getting rid of the lies now, and that was good, but he knew he could have gone about it in a better way.

Passionate people were bad news when they were enraged.

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

Tess and Kyle lay together downstairs, both of them listening to the sounds coming from upstairs. Yelling. Lots of yelling. And then a couple of door slams. Tess was just about to say something to Kyle when she heard a door click open and then slam almost immediately again. Once she was sure that that was the final door slam, she asked Kyle, “Have they ever fought like this before?”

“Nope,” Kyle replied. “Never.”

Tess sighed, cuddled up close to him, and murmured, “I don’t like it.”

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

Maria leaned back against her door, sank down onto the floor, and sighed in distress. What just happened? she wondered. It had all happened so fast. One minute, Michael had been standing in her doorway looking perfectly calm, and then the next, they’d been yelling at each other, just completely letting each other have it. She already regretted saying some of the things she did, and she was sure Michael did, too. Things had just gotten blown out of proportion . . .

Or maybe they were right in proportion, she thought. She could remind Michael that his relationship with Liz was a big nothing all she wanted to, but the fact of the matter was that she had indeed gone behind his back and done something he had asked her not to do. She had made sure that Liz found out the truth when she should have let him work up the courage and maturity to tell her himself. But that could have taken forever.

“Oh god,” she whispered, running her hands through her hair in a stressed out manner. She shook her head and forced herself to get back on her feet. She walked over to her bed and sat down, trying to think of a way to rectify things. Because she’d really gone and screwed it all up now. She could have been a little more patient, given it some time, and let Michael break up with Liz when he was ready to. Then Liz and Max would have gradually drifted together, and she and Michael would have finally gotten together. But now . . . now everyone was upset and everyone was hurting, and it was quite possible that no one would end up happy.

She reached over onto her bedside table and picked up a picture frame encasing a picture of herself and Michael from way back in high school. They looked so much younger, even more immature and irresponsible than they were now. He was behind her in the picture, his arms extended out over her shoulders, and he had taken the picture himself. They were both smiling, both happy.

“Dammit,” she cursed. Tears collected in her eyes as she looked at the picture. “Dammit.” She shook her head, angry, angry with herself, and then, on impulse, threw the metal picture frame forward. She threw it so hard that it crashed through the window. But she didn’t care.










TBC . . .

-April :?


(FYI: There WILL be a Sunday update. First time in a long time.) ;)
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 104

Post by April » Sun Sep 07, 2008 11:54 am

killjoy:
Michael saw himself taking a big step in growing up by actully being in a relationship.He was trying and for to have Maria come in and screw that up just becuase she thought 'it wasn't right' or 'it meant nothing' really pisses him off.
Yep, that's a great way to explain Michael's anger right now. Plus, the fact that it was Maria of all people who orchestrated his and Liz's break up, his best friend, the one person he trusts and cares for the most . . . oh, yeah, that pisses him off even more.
Christina:
what Michael and Maria should do is stop blaming each other and fess up to what they'd done.
Yeah, they're very immature young adults, so right now they're kind of stuck on this whole "It's your fault!" "No, it's yours!" blame game, and that's not getting them anywhere.
Alien_Friend:
I was presently surprised at Michael for even realizing Maria might have manipulated the situation in the first place.
:lol: Yeah, for once Michael used his brain and it came through for him!
Ashley: :lol: Don't go insane. Sunday update is here.
starcrazed: You'll get a glimpse into what is going on in Liz's head in this part.
spacegirl23:
But on a deeper level, Michael needs to see that Maria has always been the one hurting and pining, and that she did that because she wanted him.
Yes, I think Maria's reasons for doing what she did are understandable, but it's still no excuse. The best thing for Michael to do would be to stop blaming Maria and realize the part he played in all of this, and the best thing for Maria to do would be to stop blaming Michael and take responsibility for everything she's done. And stop being a a manipulative missy, too!
behrlyliz: Aw, thanks! I'm glad you love the fic, and hopefully it will just keep getting better and better. There is still a LOT of story left to tell! ;)
nibbles:
It kills me that somehow Michael has come through this without having to be honest or tell Liz the truth. As the person who was cheated on he can feel righteous anger and indignation with Liz and Maria and Max and still not have to face up to his own wrongdoings or the way he treats people.
First of all, it's great to have you back! I missed reading your feedback while you were gone. :) Second, I agree with you, it kills me, too, that Michael didn't have to be honest with Liz, that he kind of got left off the hook there. (And hell, I'm the one who wrote this!) He probably would have learned a lot more and grown more as a person if he'd had to tell her the truth himself.
Krista:
But Michael? He may have been clueless to the drama and to Maria's manipulations, but he was completely in control of his relationship with Liz, and he messed that up pretty badly too.
You know, that is so true. Even though I think Michael has the right to be upset with Maria, he's definitely no victim and, depending on how you look at it, could be the biggest bad guy out of all of them. And like you said, he was in complete control of his relationship with Liz and really screwed it up. He seems to be not recognizing the fact that he and Maria are both in the wrong here.


Thanks for the feedback, you guys! Can you believe that you are now on page 1,074 of this fic? :shock:









Part 104








“Well . . .” Kyle stared at the shattered window the next morning and didn’t say much. “I don’t know what to tell you, Maria.”

“You guys need better windows,” Tess commented.

“I don’t think I can fix that,” Kyle admitted.

Maria sighed, wishing she’d controlled herself last night instead of chucking that picture frame through the glass. “I’ll pay for it,” she told him. “I’m sorry, Kyle.”

“No, that’s okay. You gotta take out rage somehow. Although if I may suggest . . . boxing.”

“Oh, yeah, I did that last semester,” Tess said. “For a week. I sucked at it, but Kyle called me his ‘million dollar baby.’” She smiled.

Maria frowned and shook her head. “No, somehow, I don’t think boxing’s gonna make me feel better. I don’t think anything’s gonna make me feel better.” She sat down on the foot of her bed and stared down at her feet. “I feel like such a downer,” she mumbled, “like I’m sucking all the energy out of the room.”

“No, that would be Liz’s job,” Tess reminded her.

“You know, Liz used to be a nice girl. Back when I first met her, she was. She really was. She was nice and smart and sweet; I mean, a little overly innocent, but determined, you know. Really going somewhere in life. And then I just . . . changed her. I told her to be someone she’s not. And now look at her. And look at Max. I’m constantly screwing these people up, screwing myself up. Why am I always doing the wrong thing? Why can’t I just change?”

Tess glanced at Kyle and said, “Honey? Scoot your booty outta here. Maria needs a little girl time.”

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll go find some boards to board up the window.”

“Thanks, Kyle,” Maria said quietly as he left the room.

Tess shut the door once he was gone and sat down beside Maria on the bed. “Okay, listen to me, Maria,” she started. “You have changed. Trust me, I’ve seen it. You’ve gone from being the girl who was solely aware of herself physically to the girl who’s aware of herself emotionally, too. That’s, like, totally huge for you. For anyone.”

“I still screw up.”

“So you screw up. So what? Everyone does. I mean, look at Max and Liz. They screwed up last night, didn’t they? Their relationship with each other’s never gonna be the same again, and they were pretty good friends.”

“Yeah, but Michael and I were best friends and now . . .” She trailed off.

“Now you still are,” Tess assured her. “You’re just going through a rough spot. You’ll get past it.”

“I hope so.”

“Know so.” Tess sounded confident. “Come on, Maria. It’s you and Michael. You guys are, like, the couple, even though you’ve never really been a couple before. I mean . . . you guys are gonna graduate pretty soon here, and ten years from now, people are still gonna be talking about you around here.”

“Yeah, talking about what sluts we are.”

“Well, who cares what people say? Seriously. People may not be clamoring to be around you these days, but you’re still the most popular, well-known girl at this university, and you’re always gonna be the most popular girl. And, yeah, you’ve got a reputation, and it’s not exactly a clean reputation, but . . . it’s who you are, and I don’t think you should be ashamed of who you are. Like . . . okay, not to sound, like, cheesy or anything here, but you’re the most unique, hilarious, complex, sanely insane person I know.” Tess smiled. “And you’re perfect for Michael. It’s so obvious. One of these days, he’ll open up his eyes and see that. They’re finally starting to open, so that’s a good thing.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Maria agreed. “Although part of me . . .” She felt the tears springing up in her eyes again and immediately despised them. “God, I hate this,” she said. “I never used to cry, and now I feel like I’m crying all the time.”

“It’s okay. Crying can be good.”

“No, it sucks,” Maria informed her. “And I just . . . part of me just wants to go back to the way we were. You know, like Michael and I could just . . . we could do absolutely nothing and have the best time of our lives. We could talk for hours and feel like the time just flew by. We could . . . we could talk about anything. We could be yelling at each other one second and laughing the next. It was, like . . . it was this amazing thing, Tess; and sometimes I just wanna go back to that. But, I mean, it’s confusing, ‘cause I wanna keep on kissing, too. And I wanna do more than kissing. But how do we do that and not change the relationship we already have?”

“I don’t know,” Tess admitted, “but I’m sure you guys will figure it out.”

“And what about Max and Liz?”

Tess shrugged. “You’ll just have to let them deal with it however they need to. And then maybe they’ll be smart enough to get together. You know, get together without getting together in a locker room sense. I think they’d make each other happy.”

“I hope so.” Maria sighed, thought about all that Tess had just told her, and said, “You know what? Some people say Michael’s the coolest person on this campus, and they say Max is the smartest; but I say you, Tess. Seriously, you’ve got it all figured out.”

Tess nodded and said, “This is true.”

Maria smiled a little and made a silent vow to herself not to cry for the rest of the day.

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

Michael felt like a walking dead man that morning. He hadn’t gotten any sleep, and his head hurt from all the thinking. He wasn’t a thinker; he was a doer. But right now, he was stuck thinking about stuff all the time, and it was really taking its toll.

He sat at the kitchen counter, dazedly stirring his soggy cereal around with his spoon when Kyle sat down across from him and asked, “Dude, are you even alive?”

“I sure as hell don’t feel like it,” Michael muttered before yawning.

“Well, if it’s possible, Maria’s worse,” Kyle said. “I think your guys’ fight really worked a number on her.”

“Worked a number on me, too,” he said. “She went behind my back, man, manipulated everything.”

“And I can understand why that upsets you,” Kyle said, “but could you maybe end the fight on a lighter note next time? This house needs its windows.”

Michael yawned again. “I’m so fuckin’ tired.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Kyle agreed. “I’m gonna go out to the lumber yard, though, pick up some boards.”

Michael leaned back in his chair and groaned. “Man, I don’t know how you’ve put up with me and Maria for eight years. We’re crazy.”

“Well, I’ve managed,” Kyle said with a shrug. “Oh, hey, this came in the mail for you, by the way.” He slid a letter across the counter before grabbing the keys and heading for the door. “Later, man.”

“Later,” Michael echoed. His eyes were fixated on the return address in the top left-hand corner of the envelope. He knew that address. He’d received letters from that address before.

He leaned forward, pushed his cereal bowl aside, and picked up the letter. He opened it quickly, unfolded the letter, and began to read.

Mr. Michael Guerin:

Although we were disappointed in your decision to decline our offer to intern on Cameron Fleming’s next directorial film of genius, we would like to offer you one last invitation to learn, work, and challenge yourself in the arena of professional filmmaking.
Cum-Hungry Coeds is sure to become the most influential, talked-about adult film of the decade, and your participation would be both a great help to the Wicked Pictures film company and an honor for yourself. We urge you to reconsider your decision and let us know as soon as possible if you decide to intern at our Los Angeles location this summer. If you would like to contact us, you can do so by calling us at . . .

Michael stopped reading when the letter got boring, frowned, and thought about it. It was the one and only internship he had received out of all the ones he had applied for. And true, he had already declined it, but they were giving him one last chance to accept it . . .

It wasn’t going to be a great movie. It was a porno. Pointless. It wasn’t the kind of thing he, as a director, wanted to be involved with. But at the same time . . . what was he going to do if he didn’t take it? He didn’t have a plan, or at least not a good one. As of right now, he was going to stay in Santa Fe and try his hand at independent filmmaking, but . . . what use was that? The chances of that taking off and going somewhere were slim to none. Besides, the only reason why he really wanted to stay in Santa Fe was because of Maria, but now . . . things were different.

Things were fucked up.

He took his phone out of his pocket, flipped it open, and dialed the phone number printed on the letter.

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

Liz lay in bed until noon the next day, not leaving the safety and seclusion of her dorm room for anything except crossing the hallway to go to the bathroom. She curled up under the covers with the remote in her hand and tried to get invested in a History Channel documentary, but her mind was somewhere else. It was still in that locker room, and part of it was thinking about what Michael and Maria had done, and part of it was thinking about what she and Max had done.

She sighed, pointed the remote at the television, and flipped the channel. A marathon of America’s Next Top Model. Well, it wasn’t intellectual by any means, but at least it was addictive. That would keep her mind off other things.

No, it wouldn’t.

Just when she was about to flip the channel again, there was a knock on her door. She turned the television off and sat straight up in bed. Michael? she wondered. No, it wouldn’t be. He wouldn’t even want to see her. Max? Maybe.

She tossed the covers aside and hopped out of bed. She went over to her door and peered out the peephole. It was indeed Max.

Oh, shit, she thought, immediately surveying her appearance in her mirror. She didn’t look good and she knew it. No, she didn’t have any make-up, she was still wearing her pajamas, and her hair was up in a ponytail. She hadn’t looked this way since her first day on the Santa Fe campus.

She smoothed her hands over the sides of her head, trying to smooth down the flyaway strands of hair, and Max knocked again. Okay, calm down, she instructed herself. Max doesn’t care what you look like. Or did he? Now that they’d . . .

She took a deep breath and opened the door. “Max!” Her voice came out sounding way too high-pitched and forcefully cheery.

“Liz,” he said. “Hey.”

“Hey,” she echoed, feeling the strain of their actions impacting their conversation already. “Do you wanna . . .”

“Come in? Yeah,” he filled in.

“Or stay out there,” she said, wondering which was the better option. If he came in . . . her dorm room wasn’t big, and nowadays there was no telling what would happen between them in close quarters.

“You-you want me to stay out here?” he asked.

Well, now she felt rude. “No,” she said. “No, you can come in. Sorry, I-I don’t even know why I said that.” She opened the door wider and stepped back, giving him room to come inside. But not inside inside.

“Thanks,” he said, stepping into the room slowly, hesitantly.

Now what do I do? Liz wondered. Shut the door? Leave it open? She eventually decided to shut the door, since the conversation she and Max needed to have was not something that she wanted all the little gossip-mongers on her floor to hear.

“So,” she said, tugging down on her shirt. “How are you doing today, Max?”

“Good,” he replied. “Or, I mean . . . you know.”

“Yeah.” She knew. Her mouth felt very dry when she tried to talk to him again. “It’s a . . . nice day out, isn’t it?” As though she knew. She hadn’t even been outside.

“Yeah,” he said, “um . . .” He frowned and rubbed his forehead. “Liz.”

She sighed, giving up her feeble attempts at un-awkward conversation. “I know. The small-talk thing’s stupid. I’m just really dreading the big talk.”

“Me, too,” Max said, “but it has to happen.”

“Right.”

“And better now than later, right?”

She nodded in agreement. “Right.”

“So . . .” He trailed off and just looked at her, but she didn’t say anything to fill the verbal void. It was as though they were both waiting for each other to say something, but neither one of them could think of anything to say.

“Max.”

“Liz?”

She sighed, wishing that this wasn’t so hard. “Oh my god, Max, I hate this.”

“What?”

This. This whole awkward, unsure, wondering what we say to each other thing. I mean . . . we’ve never been like that before. We’re friends.”

“We are,” he agreed, “but we have to face the facts. Last night, we did something that was a little more than friendly.”

“A lot more,” she corrected. “I’m sorry, Max.”

“Liz, you weren’t the only one to . . . it wasn’t just you.”

“I know,” she acknowledged. “But I feel like I initiated it. Like one second I was sitting there crying, and the next I was all, ‘Oh, Max, by the way, I’ve always liked you.’ Which is true, by the way. I have. But . . . it was just this spur of the moment thing, you know? I was rebounding; you were rebounding. And it wasn’t just about rebounding. I want you to know that. I don’t want you to think it didn’t mean anything, and I don’t want you to think that I used you.” She lowered her voice then and looked down at her feet as she mumbled, “And I really don’t want you to think I’m a slut.”

“I don’t think of anyone like that, Liz,” he assured her.

“Well, that’s good,” she said, “because . . .” She frowned and admitted, “I kind of feel like one.” It wasn’t a pleasant admission, but it felt good to get it off her chest. “I mean, I found out my boyfriend cheated on me, and five seconds later I . . .” She trailed off, unsure of whether she had really cheated on Michael in return or not. She felt like she had. She’d had sex with Max before even talking to Michael, before even officially confirming that they were broken up. Hence feeling slutty and feeling guilty about feeling slutty.

“I understand,” Max said. “Trust me, I understand. I mean, Maria and I . . . we’re done. Done for all time. But still, when I saw her standing in that doorway . . .” He shook his head. “I felt like I’d done something wrong.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I don’t know if it’s just because we got caught, but . . . I don’t know, it just feels like it shouldn’t have happened. Like it was a bad idea or some horrible mistake.”

“Horrible mistake?” he echoed. “It was horrible?”

“Oh, no, not horrible,” she quickly assured him, seeing where he could get the wrong idea about what she meant. “Max, it was . . .” She blushed a little and told him, “It was great, believe me. I just meant horrible in that it probably made everything worse and made nothing better. That kind of horrible.”

“Oh, well, in that case, yeah, it was horrible,” Max readily agreed. “I just . . . I’m at a loss, Liz. I don’t know how to feel about anybody anymore. You, Maria, Michael . . . even myself. It’s like the boundary between black and white’s gotten so blurred and now it’s all just grey.”

All just grey. That was a good way to put it. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I know what you mean. I feel like I don’t even know who I am anymore. I know who I wanna be.”

“And who do you wanna be?”

“Well, not the popular but obedient girlfriend of Michael Guerin, that’s for sure. I wanna go back to being the girl I was before I met him, the girl who was driven and somewhat smart and studying to be a nurse.”

Max wrinkled his forehead in confusion. “You’re majoring in nursing?”

She nodded. “Mmm-hmm.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Most people don’t,” she said. “And even if somebody had asked me yesterday, ‘What do you want to be in life?’ I probably just would’ve told ‘em I wanna be with Michael. But not anymore. I’m not gonna be so naïve anymore. I’m tired of it.”

“Me, too,” Max said. “I’ve been spineless my whole life. It’s time I grow a backbone.”

He sounded as though he were upset with himself, so she quickly assured him, “Max, for what it’s worth, I think you’re a really nice guy. And, so what? You’re not the one for Maria. That doesn’t mean the right girl’s not out there somewhere.”

“Somewhere?” he echoed.

She felt her heart pound a bit. He looked right at her when he said that, and he looked good. Now that she and Max had . . . had sex, she was beginning to see him in that romantic light again, the light she had just barely allowed herself to see him in before she had started dating Michael.

“I think I need to talk to Michael,” she said. “Clear the air. Get some finality involved.”

“I’ll have to talk to him, too,” Max said. “And Maria.”

“Yeah, Maria.” Liz sighed heavily. She had a lot of conversations ahead of her that she was dreading but would have to deal with.

Suddenly, Max cleared his throat and declared, “I’m gonna be a better person, Liz.”

Better? “But you’re already a really good person, Max.”

“But I’m gonna be better. I’m gonna stand up for myself when I need to. I’m gonna be more aware. I’m gonna be smarter, and I’m gonna have fun once in awhile. I’m gonna live my life, not the way I thought I would, not with Maria, but I’m still gonna live it. And like you said, there’s a girl for me out there somewhere.”

Now it was her turn to echo the word. “Somewhere.” Her mind raced with the newfound possibilities, thoughts of what the relationship they might have together if they were ever to venture into that romantic/sexual territory again. Anything was possible.

They stared at each other for a few seconds until he suddenly lowered his gaze and mumbled, “I should be going.”

“Oh, right.”

“But I’m glad we talked.”

“Definitely.” Once the initial awkwardness had cleared, it had ended up being a pretty good talk. She opened the door for him, and he stepped out into the hallway. Before he left, though, he turned back to her and said, “Oh, by the way . . . thanks.”

Was she missing something? Because she didn’t get it. “For what?” she inquired, confused.

He smiled. “Last night.”

She raised her eyebrows in interest. “That good, huh?”

Max just kept smiling and then went on to say something she’d never anticipated him saying. “It was a revelation.”

A revelation? she thought breathlessly. Wow. But he was right, wasn’t he? After all, what was a revelation but some surprising information, some valuable new energy? She felt revitalized.

“Well, I gotta go,” he said again.

“Okay.” She stood in her doorway and watched him as he headed down the hall. “See you around!” she called after him.

“Bye.”

“Bye.” She shut the door into place and mentally cursed herself for being such a dork. “See you around?” She shook her head, wishing she could have ended it on something more enticing than that.

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

Prior to that afternoon, Maria couldn’t fathom thinking of work as a safe haven. Yet, that was exactly what it had become. She got out of the house, got busy teaching her group of girls their dance, and got to concentrate on something other than her own train wreck of a life. It was a distraction, and it was a good one. The only hard part was trying to act cheery and smiley around her students when she felt pretty horrible inside.

“Wow,” she said exaggeratedly. “Ladies, you’re doing so well.”

The girls giggled. They always did that when she called them ‘ladies.’

“Seriously,” she said, smiling and nodding. It still surprised her that these nine and ten year-old girls could catch onto a dance and perform it better than most of the girls on the dance team. Probably because they weren’t drunk and/or stoned. “You know what?” she said. “I think your parents are gonna be so proud of you guys when they see you at the recital. Your dance is gonna be the best one.”

“Really?” one girl exclaimed, her excited grin stretching from ear to ear.

“Oh, totally,” Maria assured her. “As far as I know, no one else is doing a hip hop dance, so . . .”

“Gangsta!” the girls screamed.

“That’s right, gangsta.” She laughed a little. These girls really did make her feel better. She liked them, in all honesty, and that surprised her. All these years, she’d figured she hated kids and kids hated her, but it turned out they actually had quite a nice dynamic going. Of course, these girls were sweethearts, though. Maria knew if she ever had a kid, it would be a spoiled brat, just like she’d been. Hopefully not as slutty . . .

“Alright, well, it looks like your parents are here,” she said when she caught sight of a couple of moms peeking in the doorway. “Go on. Go home. I’ll see you Tuesday.”

“Bye, Maria,” they chorused, each one coming up to give her a hug before they left.

“Bye.” One by one, they walked out with their moms until only one remained. It was Jamie, her favorite, the cutest, and the one who was by far the best dancer.

“Is your mom not here Jamie?” Maria asked her.

“My dad’s gonna come pick me up today,” Jamie said. “He usually shows up late.”

“Stupid dads,” Maria said. “Well, that’s okay. I’ll wait here with you until he gets here.” She sat down on the floor, grabbed her water bottle, and patted the space beside her. “Come sit down, gangsta girly.”

Jamie sulked over to her and sat down, looking sad. She’d looked sad during their whole session, actually. Maria had noticed it, but she hadn’t said anything while the other girls were around. But now they were gone, so she went ahead and asked, “You alright, Jamie?”

The little girl nodded unconvincingly and didn’t say anything.

“Really?”

Jamie nodded again.

“‘Cause you don’t seem alright.” This girl’s like a miniature me, she thought. Refusing to talk about her feelings or acknowledge she has any. Classic Maria DeLuca.

“I’m fine,” Jamie said, but she sounded sad, too.

“What’s wrong?” Maria asked. “Come on, tell me. Maybe I can help.” Though she doubted that. She couldn’t even help herself. “Or maybe not.”

“It’s nothing,” Jamie mumbled. “It’s just . . . there’s this boy.”

Maria sighed. “There always is, isn’t there? Okay, spill. What’s his name?”

Jamie kept her lips zipped.

“Come on,” Maria urged again. “If you’re not gonna tell me, who’re you gonna tell? Your parents? No, of course not. That’d be way too awkward. And they’re not as cool as me.”

Jamie smiled for the first time that day and agreed, “Yeah, you’re really cool, Maria.”

Feels good to hear that again, she thought. “You’re pretty cool, too, Jamie. So . . . boy name. Tell-time.”

“Well . . . his name’s Joey.”

“Joey and Jamie. Has a ring to it.”

“Yeah.”

“How old is he?”

“Nine.”

“Same age. Good thing. Now I gotta ask . . . is he cute?”

Jamie blushed and nodded eagerly.

“Well, that’s always a bonus,” Maria said. “So what’s the problem? He sounds perfect.”

“He is,” Jamie insisted, “but . . .”

“But?”

Jamie sighed and said, “He used to sit by me, but Friday Mrs. Jenkins switched our seats around, and now he’s sitting by Stacey.”

Maria made a face. “And Stacey’s a real bitch, huh?” She caught herself too late and wasn’t able to censor it. “Witch. Sorry.”

“No. She’s my friend,” Jamie said. “But she likes Joey, too.”

It’s like me and Michael and Liz, Maria thought. She cringed and said, “Stacey and Joey. Nah, that just doesn’t sound right.” Michael and Liz had never sounded right, either.

“I don’t know what to do,” Jamie said sadly.

Oh, poor thing, Maria thought. She’s got this much drama at the age of nine? If this was any indication, the rest of her life was going to be pretty damn dramatic.

“You want my advice?”

Jamie nodded eagerly.

“Okay. Now, be warned, I’m known for screwing up, so it might not be the best advice. But speaking from my own personal experience . . . you should just go for it.”

“Go for it?” Jamie echoed in confusion.

“Yeah.”

“How?”

“Well, for starters . . . does he know you like him?”

Jamie shook her head vigorously.

“Okay, so maybe you should tell him.”

“But what if he doesn’t like me?”

Maria grunted. “Honey, you’re blonde, pretty, and you’re a dancer. Trust me, everyone likes you.”

“They do?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s a winning combination. So, step one, you tell Joey. Step two, you see how he reacts. Now he might be freaked out at first, but give him time. Boys are stupid, and it takes them a little longer than girls to figure things out.”

Definitely,” Jamie agreed emphatically.

“And you and Stacey might fight a little bit, it might not be so fun for awhile; but that’s okay, because if you’re truly friends, you’ll find a way to stay friends somehow. Do you get what I’m saying?”

“I think so,” Jamie said.

“And don’t be afraid to plant one on him if you have to.”

Jamie laughed. “What?”

“Plant one,” Maria echoed. “Kiss him.”

Jamie made a face. “Ew! Gross.”

Maria laughed. I give it a year until she stops thinking kissing’s gross, she thought. “Boys like kissing, Jamie. And girls like it, too.” She realized that telling a little girl to kiss a little boy probably wasn’t the best idea in the world, though, so she said, “No, don’t do that. Yet.”

“So . . . I should just tell Joey I like him?”

“Exactly. Because if you don’t . . .” Maria shook her head, thinking of the current disaster that was her relationship with both Michael and Max. “If you just keep it inside and let it grow . . . one of these days, it’ll explode, and when it does, you’ll end up breaking someone’s heart and locking him in a locker room with that Stacey girl. And then they’ll hook up, and what’s Joey think about that? Oh, he’s just furious, and you can’t get through to him. You can’t get through that thick head of his, because he’s so stubborn. So you end up fighting with him, but at the same time wanting to kiss him, and all you really end up with is a broken heart and an even more broken window!” Her voice came out violently and shrilly at the end, and she knew she must be confusing the hell out of Jamie. “Sorry,” she said, looking at the girl apologetically. “Couldn’t help but relate.”

“Do you have a boyfriend, Maria?” Jamie asked her.

Had she ever? “No,” she said. “I mean . . . I dated this guy, but . . . I knew it wasn’t gonna work out. And he’s not very happy with me right now, because I lied to him, and that’s not cool.”

“But you’re cool, Maria.”

“Yeah, but what I did was uncool.” She sighed. “I don’t know. It’s complicated, but . . . to make a long story extremely short . . .” She smiled and said, “I’ve got boy problems, too.”

“But you’re blonde, pretty, and a dancer,” Jamie reminded her. “You said that was good.”

Maria smiled. “Well, it is good, but . . . I’ve done some kind of bad things, Jamie. And now I’m paying for them. And it’s not fun.”

“Does your boy like you, too?”

She smiled, thinking about those amazing kisses they’d shared, and she knew there was no way he could not like her. “I think so,” she said. “It’s really confusing, though. I don’t know what to do.”

“Tell him you like him,” Jamie suggested.

“He already knows.”

“Then plant one on him.”

Maria laughed. This girl was totally going to be the less slutty, much less bratty mini-DeLuca. “Yeah,” she said. “‘Cause that always ends well.”

“Boys like kissing, Maria.”

Maria laughed again. The girl was just too adorable. Cute as a button and smart, too. If she ever had to have a kid, she wanted one like this.

“Jamie!”

Maria looked up and saw a man standing outside the door.

“Daddy!” Jamie exclaimed, jumping to her feet and running towards him. He scooped her up in his arms and hugged her, and Maria pictured Michael doing that. Michael the father, Maria the mother . . .

Whoa, talk about jumping the gun, she thought. I’m only twenty-two. Besides, I doubt he’ll even speak to me right now, let alone conceive.

“Bye, Maria!” Jamie called, waving.

“Bye!” Maria called. “Good luck with Joey.”

Jamie blushed, and her dad smiled and asked, “Who’s Joey?” as they walked off.

Maria sighed as reality began to sink back in and her day of work came to an end. She was going home now, and Michael would probably be there. As strange as it was to get advice from a nine year-old . . . it was good advice. She and Michael couldn’t seem to figure their relationship out with words, but when they didn’t use their words . . . well, there was nothing hard to figure out about that.

Boys like kissing, Maria.

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

Michael sighed and traipsed into his bedroom. Today had been a rough day, he didn’t particularly like himself at the moment, and he didn’t particularly like Maria, either. But at the same time, he still couldn’t get enough of Maria. She was still his girl. Unless he’d gone and screwed it up for good, which he very well might have.

He sat down on his bed, holding the letter he had received from the Wicked Pictures film company that day. He’d called the number, spoken with the director himself. And now . . .

His thoughts cut off abruptly when he heard the front door open. His heart beat in anticipation. Maria. She’d been at work for a long time. Maybe that was a good thing. They were fighting too much lately.

He set the letter down on his bed and stood up. “Maria?” he said, walking out through the hallway into the living room. “Hey, we need to talk . . .”

He didn’t get to finish his sentence, as she was there in an instant, just there, right in front of him. Before he even knew what was going on, she had his face in her soft hands and was kissing him. His body couldn’t resist. Instinctively, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her up against him, letting her kiss him, kissing her in return. Their mouths moved in a natural rhythm. He didn’t want to stop . . .

But much to his surprise, she pulled away. “Michael,” she gasped.

He gazed down into her eyes, wondering what she was going to say. And then she said it.

“I’m tired of this. I’m tired of mixed signals and miscommunication. I’m tired of pretending I don’t have feelings for you, because I do. Strong feelings. And as much as I’d like them to go away . . . they’re not gonna do that. So I just don’t wanna fight anymore. I don’t wanna deal with all this drama. I just wanna try to . . . Michael, I just wanna be with you.”

Those words almost knocked him over. He’d never heard them spoken with sincerity before. Even when Liz had told him things like that, it hadn’t been genuine. Liz had probably wanted to be with him for selfish reasons, popularity and great sex and all that. Maria, on the other hand, just wanted him.

That was crazy knowledge. But . . .

She smiled a little and urged him, “Say something.”

I have to tell her, he thought, thinking about that letter lying on his bed. I have to tell her that . . .

“I’m goin’ to Los Angeles.”

Her smile quickly fell into a frown, and she gazed up at him with a look of sadness and confusion in her eyes. “What?” she choked out.

Oh, and he felt like an asshole. Like a bigger one than he already was. “I’m goin’ to Los Angeles,” he repeated, “to do a . . . a film internship.”

She took a few wary steps back from him and asked, “What internship?”

Dammit, he thought. He hadn’t been ready to tell her all these things yet. And his mind wasn’t functioning properly, in addition. He was still reeling from that incredible kiss.

“Michael, I swear to God, if you go all stonewall on me now, I’ll kick your ass right outta this house,” she ground out.

He knew he had no choice but to tell her what she wanted to know now. He’d gone and opened his big mouth. No turning back. “It’s . . . that one internship that I got. You remember?”

Her eyes bulged in shock. “What, that . . . that porn movie? The one you don’t even wanna do?”

“That’s the one.”

“But I thought you weren’t gonna do that. I mean, that’s what you said.”

“I know that’s what I said,” he mumbled, not able to look her in the eye.

Her voice wavered when she spoke again. “So then what . . . what changed?” She laughed at herself then, shaking her head angrily. “Stupid question. I can’t believe you, Michael. Liz cheats on you so your solution is to run away?”

“No, this has nothing to do with Liz,” he said, forcing himself to lift his gaze to lock with hers again.

Realization seemed to dawn on her, and her voice cracked. “Oh. Right. It’s all about you and me. So I did this.”

“You didn’t do anything.”

“Oh, well, clearly I did because you’ve moving to L.A., Michael!” she yelled suddenly. “I mean, was it . . . was it the way I manipulated Max and Liz to . . . because that all just got really out of hand. Or was it some of the things I said last night? ‘Cause newsflash, you said some pretty harsh things yourself.”

He winced, remembering.

“Oh my god,” she said. “I’m the ball and chain. I’m the paranoid girlfriend who’s not even really a girlfriend.” She shook her head, obviously fighting back tears, and whispered in a shuddering breath, “I hate this.”

He didn’t know what to say to make her feel better. All he knew was that he didn’t want to make her cry again. “Maria . . .”

“No, you know what, why don’t you just fucking tell me?” she screamed out of nowhere. “What the hell is your problem?

“My problem?” he echoed, unable to keep his voice from increasing in volume.

“Yeah!”

“My problem’s that you are a crazy, psychotic bitch who lied to me and who lied to everyone around her, and I still can’t fuckin’ get enough of you!” There it was. He had feelings for her, and he was admitting to them. And they weren’t just sexual feelings, either. That scared the hell out of him. “You’re my best friend, and I don’t . . . I don’t wanna think of you the way I’m thinkin’ of you right now. I don’t want to want you, but I can’t stop.”

She looked offended. “Oh, so I’m just so horrible that you can’t stand the thought of . . . anything between us?”

“I didn’t say that!” Why was she putting words in his mouth? Was she so determined to be angry at him?

“Then what the hell are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anyone else, Maria. Okay, trust me on that.”

“Oh, trust you?”

He rolled his eyes, fighting to hold onto what little calm he had left. It wasn’t easy, though; she was insisting on making this as difficult as possible. “Alright, you wanna know what I’m afraid of, Maria? You wanna know?”

“Yeah, I wanna know!”

“Alright, my number one fear above all else is that something bad happens to you. Like that night you drank too much, almost died. That something hurts you or . . .” He trailed off, unable to bear the thought of something really bad happening to her. “That’s my biggest fear, alright? That you get hurt or worse. But right after that, you know what it is? You know what else I’m afraid of?”

“Your own reflection.”

“Good one. No. I’m afraid of this, Maria.”

“What?”

“You and me, tearin’ apart our friendship. ‘Cause it’s gotten me through the past eight years and I really want it to get me through eight more. And even more than that.”

“Michael, if we were to . . . try something, try to be something . . . that doesn’t mean that we have to stop being friends.”

“Yeah, I know, but . . .” He ran one hand through his hair, feeling so stressed out. “I mean, look at us, Maria. This isn’t us. This isn’t what we do. You said it yourself, we’re fighting right now. And we’ve never fought before. Not really, you know? We’ve always been there for each other; we’ve had each other’s backs. And now we’re standin’ here, screamin’ and yellin’ at each other like there’s no tomorrow, doin’ exactly what we did last night. We’re fucking everything up!”

“What, and you think that moving to L.A. is somehow gonna fuck things up less?”

“I don’t know!” he admitted.

“You’re a fucking dumb-ass!”

“Yeah, I know, but . . . Maria, I don’t know what to do if I stay here.”

“We’ll figure it out!”

“But what if we don’t? Huh, did you ever think of that? And I mean . . . come on, in all reality, this is a good shot for me,” he said, trying to be logical. “I mean, what-what did I think I was gonna do if I stayed here? What, I was just gonna make some movie and it was gonna be a big hit and I was gonna be a famous director . . . from Santa Fe, New Mexico? No, that’s not gonna happen.”

“But you don’t even want to do this movie.”

“I told you, I want you.”

“Then how come you haven’t asked me to come with you?” she roared. There was a look of desperation in her eyes, one he wasn’t used to seeing. He was really breaking her heart along with his own. “It’s as simple as that,” she said. “All you have to do is ask.”

Why hadn’t he? L.A. would be a great place for an aspiring dancer, too. But for some reason, he had a feeling they would implode up there together. As much as he hated to admit it, maybe they just needed some time apart to think about things, figure some stuff out. “Maria . . .”

She seemed to sense what he was about to say juts by hearing his tone, because she held her hands up as though deflecting the unspoken words and shook her head. “No. No, just don’t even . . . I don’t even wanna go to L.A. with you. Don’t even ask.”

“I wasn’t going to.”

Tears sprung up in her eyes, and he felt horrible, but she didn’t back down just yet. “God, Michael,” she growled angrily. “You’re a fucking son of a bitch.”

He knew this.

“God, out of all the guys in the world, I had to pick you.”

No one else knows me the way you do, Maria.

“And I am done,” she went on. “I am done crying about you . . .”

No one else looks at me the way you do.

“. . . thinking about you . . .”

No one else smiles at me the way you do.

“. . . wanting you.”

You’ve always been my girl.

“I am just done. One-hundred percent done.”

Maria . . .

“You know why?” she asked, stepping in closer to him. “Because I don’t care anymore. I just don’t care. Do whatever you want; go wherever you want, screw whoever you want. I don’t care. I don’t care if you stay here with me or if you go suck at some stupid movie, because I’m just . . . I’m so beyond caring; I just . . . I don’t . . . I don’t care. I don’t fucking care!” She slapped him right in the face.

He just stood there and took it. Really hadn’t been expecting that, although maybe he should’ve.

She looked a little horrified with herself. Once in awhile, she hit him playfully, but this wasn’t playful. This was serious. She was pissed. He was pissed. They were passionate.

I want you so bad, Maria.

She turned to walk away, but he reached out, grabbed her arm, and stopped her. “Maria . . .”

He spun her around to face him and crashed his lips onto hers. It seemed as though this always happened. One of them initiated the kiss, and the other one couldn’t help but reciprocate. They couldn’t stop. They didn’t want to.

He clutched her small body in his arms and pressed her close to him, trying to feel every inch of her as they kissed. Her hands clawed at his back, urging his shirt up, up, further upward. He tore his mouth away from hers long enough to slip out of the shirt, and then he was right back against her, encompassing her entire body with his larger one. He mated his forehead against hers, slowly backing her up against the wall.

He felt something primal taking over.

“You wanna fuck?” he asked her; his voice sounded like a growl.

“Yeah,” she growled right back, no hesitation.

“Say it,” he urged. Some deeply horny part of him needed to hear her say it.

“I wanna fuck.”

He felt his cock twitch in anticipation. “I wanna fuck you.” He crushed her mouth with his again, shoving his tongue into her mouth, demonstrating with it what he wanted to do with his lower body. He nailed her back against the wall and pressed his jean-clad erection against her jean-clad heat.

She had him. Not just the sex-loving part of him, but all of him. Maybe she’d always been his girl, but he’d probably always been her guy, too.

“Oh, Michael,” she moaned as he kissed his way down to her neck. He sucked vigorously on the skin there, deliberately trying to leave a mark. A few random thoughts and concerns raced through his mind: What am I doing? She’s my best friend. I’m leaving for L.A. in a few days . . . stuff like that. But he mostly just ignored it, because all he could honestly think about was touching her.

“Oh, you bastard,” she whispered as he reached around behind her to cup her ass in hand. She clung to his shoulder with one hand while allowing the other to drop down in between their sweltering bodies and go exploring. Once she touched his erection through his jeans, though, she gasped, immediately pulled her hand away, and said, “No.”

He rubbed himself against her inner thigh. She wouldn’t stop this now, would she?

“No,” she said again, pushing him away slightly.

His hips instinctively thrust back forward to meet hers.

“No.” She pushed him with a bit more force. She was stopping this. “No.” The last time she pushed him away, her voice was stern and determined. He got himself under control enough to take a step back from her and take his hands off her. She had him so turned on; she had no idea.

She stared straight down and the floor and told him, “I’m not gonna be your goodbye fuck.”

He didn’t want her to just be that. As scary as it was, he wanted to allow himself to feel things with Maria. From what he had felt so far . . . it was turbulent, but incredible. “I told you I want you,” he reminded her.

“Yeah.” She still didn’t look at him when she said, “Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find a porno bimbo who wants you back.”

He frowned. What was she saying, that she didn’t want him anymore? No, that couldn’t be it. She was just furious with him, and she had the right to be.

Suddenly, she lifted her eyes to look straight into his and murmured, “I hate you.”

Now that was something that almost knocked him off his feet. What? What was he supposed to say to that? She didn’t really hate him . . . did she?

She barged past him, and he didn’t make a move to stop her this time. If it was possible, they’d just screwed their once perfect friendship up even more. And as crazy as it was . . .

. . . he still wanted her.










TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 105

Post by April » Tue Sep 09, 2008 11:23 am

nibbles:
Oh lordy. I'm going to be bald by the end of this fic.
Good. :lol:
Morgan8:
every time they take one step in the right direction of finally making things better between them. And they go and take 500 steps back, and it all blows up in their faces!!
That’s pretty much been the story this entire time, hasn’t it? One step forward, so many steps back. I intentionally wrote it that way because . . . well, because I’m evil.
pookie76:
Yay, I'm glad Maria gave Michael a brush-off. He's acting as if Maria is the only one who screwed up here, but he did some screwing up too and so far he didn't really have to pay the consequences.
Michael has definitely done his fair share of screwing up. A lot of his mistakes weren’t intentional, but he made them anyway.
Krista:
At least she knows not to chase a man who's going to put her through hell even though he loves her.
And what’s sad is that Maria wants to chase Michael. More than anything, she wants him to not go to L.A., to stay with her. But at the same time, she’s just so tired of chasing him. And let’s remember that she’s used to having guys chase her, so . . . yeah, it kind of sucks. But I agree with you on Tess being “the awesomeness.” Lol
Christina:
I'm still looking forward to the Liz/Michael talk and the Liz/Maria talk and Max/Michael talk.
I know you are, so know that they’re coming soon!
CandyLand:
I just want Michael/Maria to finish having sex when they start making out. Damn!
:lol: I know, they always do this thing where they start to get hot and heavy, and then one of them quits or they get interrupted, so they stop and get mad at each other, and then eventually they start the cycle all over again. Well, one of these days you know they’re going to start and not stop. ;)
Ashley: If you thought that part was hot, then . . . well, just you wait. ;)
lilah: Losing chunks of hair can be a good thing! Right? lol
Alien_Friend:
What hell is Michael thinking? Perhaps he's not thinking.
:lol: There we go! What’s Michael thinking? Oh, he’s not! Perfect! In fact, even Max and Liz weren’t “thinking” when they were in the locker room . . . at least not with their brains. The absence of thought = characters of this fic. lol
Sylvia:
Um...Maria should be the LAST person giving guy advice to a nine year old girl (well, besides Michael).
Yes, this is true!
killjoy:
Should you even give guy advice to a nine year old girl?
Probably not. :lol:
Sara:
Maybe this break to LA will be exactly what they need. It seems Maria has a really good thing going and she shouldn't leave.
Yeah, Maria really likes her job, so she doesn’t want to leave that behind, and she would really like to rectify things with Max, and she can’t very well do that in L.A. But if Michael asked her to go, as desperate as it sounds, she wouldn’t hesitate to go with him. She can’t stand the thought of being without him. As much as he frustrates her and annoys the hell out of her . . . he’s Michael. He’s her very best friend.










Part 105









Maria wasn’t sure how she ended up on campus that night. She just did. Her feet took her where they wanted to go, back to the place where she and Michael had first kissed only one short week ago. She sat down and took a moment to remember that night. She’d just been sitting there, much like she was right now, and the sprinklers had come on, and she and Michael had laughed and played around a bit, and then the next thing they knew . . .

She forced her tears to stay within. She wasn’t going to cry. No, no she’d made a vow earlier that day after her conversation with Tess that she wasn’t going to cry for the rest of the day. But it was hard not to when everything was going to hell.

Michael Guerin was the biggest paradox on the planet earth. Had to be. He said he wanted her, yet he didn’t want to live in the same state as her anymore. He said he was mad at her, but he sure seemed as though he liked her a lot when he was kissing her.

I’m probably just as confusing to him, she thought. They were perfectly compatible people who were so screwed up that they just couldn’t get it together. And now he’s leaving. She didn’t want him to leave.

A solitary tear spilled over onto her right cheek and drove her insane. God, she thought. I’m such a mess. She’d never not been a mess. She was practically pathological, destructive, manipulative. Even when she’d been just the crazy, popular, happy-go-lucky girl who liked sex and parties, she’d always been a lot more than that. She’d always been an internal disaster.

Maybe he won’t leave forever, she thought. Or maybe he won’t leave at all. She hung her head, refusing to become delusional. No, Michael was leaving. When he set his mind to something, he did it, one way or another. She doubted she could come up with a reason for him to stay. Although if anyone could, it would probably be her.

All of a sudden, in the midst of her sitting and moping, she heard the sprinklers kick on, and a moment later, she felt water spraying down atop her. She tensed for a moment, but she was already soaked once she had the notion to spring to her feet and run away. She didn’t really have any energy to run anyway, so she just sat there and took it.

“Dammit,” she cursed. What was this, some kind of prophetic sign? A huge reminder of her first and ever-so-fateful kiss with the most impossible guy on the planet? “Oh my god,” she groaned, “why? Why?” She threw her hands down on the ground in frustration and decided to let it all out. So much anger. “Why are the sprinklers going off?” she yelled. “They’re not supposed to go off until 11:30!” She remembered that from last time. “It’s not 11:30! Why are they going off? Why am I just sitting here? Why do the sprinklers hate me so much?!”

“Maria?”

She glanced out at the sidewalk once she was done yelling and noticed Max standing there, looking at her in confusion.

“Max?”

“What’re you doing?” he asked her.

What was she doing? Well . . . “I’m yelling at the sprinklers.”

“Oh,” he said, though he looked confused. “Well, I’m on my way home . . . I mean, to your house. Do you wanna walk with me?”

The invitation surprised her. “Do you want me to walk with you?”

“Yeah,” he said. “We need to talk.”

She sighed and hesitantly got to her feet. She stepped out of the spray of the sprinklers and fell in beside Max as they strode towards home. He didn’t speak for a long time, and she didn’t really want him to, because she had a feeling he wasn’t going to have nice things to say to her.

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

Michael sat down on the couch next to Kyle that night and slouched. Kyle was in the middle of watching a Playboy “documentary” on TV, but he managed to shift gears in attention and ask Michael, “What did you do now?”

“Why do you think I did something?” Michael asked in return.

“Uh, ‘cause it’s obvious.”

Michael sighed, feeling very . . . everything. And for a guy who had tried for years and years to feel basically nothing at all, feeling everything at once was a huge shock.

“Did you and Maria finally . . .” Kyle trailed off, and instead of saying words, used a gesture to indicate what he was talking about. He made a tiny circle with his left thumb and index finger and poked his right index finger through the circle, indicating sex.

“No,” Michael told him.

“No?”

“No.”

“Oh.” Kyle seemed surprised. “Well, you had to have done something. What’d you do?”

“Oh, you know. I told her I was moving to L.A. for a film internship, we yelled at each other, and then we said we wanted to fuck each other. And we probably would’ve right up against that wall if she hadn’t stopped me and told me she hated me, so . . .” He shrugged.

“Wait, you didn’t force yourself on her, did you?”

“No, I wouldn’t do that. But . . . I don’t know what happens when I’m around her, but I just . . . it’s like the normal hormonal version of myself times ten. I just can’t keep my hands off her anymore.”

“Hmm.”

“And you know how Maria is. Her hands are, you know, they’re goin’ to town, too. It’s like we keep doin’ this thing where one minute we’re fighting, and the next we’re all over each other, and it’s not getting us anywhere. I know that. But . . .” He closed his eyes and shook his head, remembering the feel of her beautiful body pressed up against his. “Everything’s fucked up, basically.”

“Yep,” Kyle said, “including Maria’s bedroom window.” He sighed and shook his head. “Well, I really don’t know what to tell you.”

“Thanks.”

“Well, what do you want me to say? This isn’t exactly my area of expertise. You know, threesome relationship, I’m right there, Mr. Knowledge. But this . . . man, I don’t even know what this is.”

“Neither do I.”

“Are you really goin’ to L.A., though?”

Michael nodded.

“When?”

“A couple of days.”

What?” Kyle spat. “Like after graduation?”

“Before.”

“What?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t wanna sit through that long-ass ceremony anyway.”

“Whoa, just, slow down a little,” Kyle advised. “Don’t you think this is a little rushed?”

“Probably.”

“Well, don’t you think you should slow down?”

“Probably.”

“Well, are you gonna?”

“Probably not.”

Kyle groaned and said, “Guerin . . . have you really thought about this? I mean, have you really sat down and weighed all the pros and cons and decided that L.A.’s the best option for you?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? Dude!” Kyle seemed exasperated. “Alright, think about it. You’re not with Liz anymore. Maria’s not with Max. Now would be the perfect time for fate to take its inevitable course. Liz and Max, you and Maria. I mean, unless . . .” Kyle made a face. “Unless you want Liz back. You don’t, do you? ‘Cause you guys weren’t a good match.”

“No, Liz and Max can be together if they want. I really don’t care,” he admitted.

“Okay, so this is a you and Maria thing. Great,” Kyle grumbled. “Nice and stubborn and complicated.”

“Hey, if you were in my position, you’d understand,” Michael assured him.

“Well, I’m not in your position, so explain it to me.”

“No, I don’t like this. I don’t like talking about my feelings.”

“Well, you’ve got ‘em, so you’re gonna have to talk about ‘em eventually.”

Michael rubbed his forehead in frustration and sighed. “Fine, it’s . . . it just kinda scares me, okay?” He made a face, not liking that word. Scares. Made him sound like a kid.

“Oh, yeah. A beautiful, dynamic girl wants to be with you. I can see how terrifying that would be.”

“No, it’s not that; it’s the fact that I wanna be with her,” Michael explained. “You know? I mean, it’s like . . . for eight years she’s been my best friend, more than anyone else. No offense, man.”

“No, no.”

“And then to suddenly see her in this completely different light, you know, to have all these fuckin’ feelings pile on me at once . . .”

“At once?” Kyle echoed. “Oh, Michael, you are a dumb-ass.” He chuckled. “Let me tell you, as someone who’s been a semi-outside observer for eight years, you’ve had a thing for that girl since the moment you met her.”

“You think?”

“Yeah. But like I said, you’re a dumb-ass.”

“Oh, well, that’s great.”

“Sorry, but it’s true. Come on, man. You and Maria are . . . you and Maria. It doesn’t matter where you go. You guys are gonna end up together, annoying the hell outta each other, maybe . . . you know . . .” He trailed off and made the same obscene gesture with his hands he’d made a minute ago. “Bangin’ the hell outta each other. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Why shouldn’t you?”

“I told you. She’s my best friend.”

“So?” Kyle chuckled. “Alright, look, I’m close to you and Max and Maria, but I got a best friend named Tess Harding.” He smiled. “You see where I’m goin’ with this?”

“Kind of.”

“One of these days, I’m gonna have a wife named Tess Harding. You following?”

“Did you pop the question?”

“No, not yet. But I’m gonna soon.”

“Huh. Well, here’s hoping it goes better for you than it went for Max.”

“I’m sure it will,” Kyle said. “But do you get my point?”

“You think I should be with Maria,” he concluded.

“Yeah. And sure, Max might be pissed. Liz might be pissed. You and Maria might have your ups and downs. But I just .. . I guess I just don’t see the point in you moving to L.A. That’s all.”

“Well . . .” Michael tried to come up with a reason for the move, and he ended up saying, “Logistically, it makes the most sense.”

Logistically?” Kyle echoed emphatically. “Since when have you thought in terms of logic?”

“Well, never,” he admitted. “I’ve always thought in terms of sex, but obviously that didn’t work, so . . .”

“But Michael, you are not a logical person. And that’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with that. That just means you have to follow your heart.”

Michael ran one hand through his hair and made another face. “My heart?”

“Yeah. I know it sounds cheesy, but it works. That’s what Tess and I did. That’s what Isabel and Alex did. In a weird and twisted way, that’s probably what Max and Liz did last night. So you and Maria just gotta . . .”

“Follow our hearts?” Michael filled in questioningly.

“Yeah. And stop being so stubborn.”

Michael chuckled and shook his head. He and Maria were always going to be stubborn no matter what. People could change, but people couldn’t change that much.

“Ah, you guys will be alright,” Kyle assured him.

Michael sure as hell hoped so, because where he and Maria were at in their relationship right now didn’t feel alright at all.

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

Maria and Max walked home mostly in silence that night. Uncomfortable silence. She kept waiting for him to say something, but he didn’t say anything at all until they rounded the corner of the street their house was on.

“So why are you so upset?” he asked.

Michael, she thought, but she wasn’t going to say that to her ex-boyfriend. “Oh, Max, I can’t really . . . I can’t really talk to you about this.”

“Who else are you gonna talk to?”

“Uh, Kyle. Tess. Other minimally-involved third parties.”

“Are you sure? ‘Cause I’m willing to listen.”

She didn’t understand that. “But I cheated on you.”

“Yep.” He nodded.

She sighed. “Max, I just . . . I can’t ask you to help me figure out my relationship with Michael.”

“So that’s why you’re upset? Michael,” he concluded.

Great, spilled the beans. “Yeah,” she confessed.

“What’s going on?”

“Oh, Max, you really don’t wanna know,” she assured her.

“No, I can take it,” he assured her. “I’m growing a backbone. It’s a new thing for me.”

“You were never spineless.”

“Yes, I was,” he insisted. “That’s why it was so easy for you to decieve me. I let myself be deceived.”

“But it’s not your fault.”

“It sort of is.”

She sighed heavily. She should have known that Max would be the great romantic hero until the end. He was taking the blame for something every other guy in the world would happily blame her for. “It’s my fault,” she kept insisting. “I’ll admit, you did let me walk all over you, but I was the one who actually . . . you know, walked.” She frowned, wondering if that made sense. “Look, Max, let’s just not rehash that.”

“Fine by me,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me what happened with Michael that got you so worked up.”

“No, I can’t. It’s too awkward, and I’d feel too horrible. Max, you have to face it. We’re not really . . . friends anymore.”

“That’s true; we’re not,” he admitted. “But if I grow a backbone and you grow a conscience, we might actually be able to be friends again someday.”

That was a hopeful thought, hopefully not too unrealistic. “You really wanna know?” she asked.

He nodded, seeming serious.

“Okay. Well, I’ll leave out the details. Basically, he and I have been fighting.”

“Why?”

“Just ‘cause . . . it’s complicated, but the point is, we’re fighting. He’s mad at me; now I’m sort of mad at him. But, still we have this . . .” She cast a quick glance up at him to make sure he was coping with the conversation so far and cringed. “God, I really hate saying this to you, but we have a passion, and we can’t seem to get around it. So apparently Michael’s way of getting around it is to move to Los Angeles. He’s taking a film internship he doesn’t even wanna take, and I think he’s doing it because he doesn’t wanna deal with all of this anymore.”

“Then he’s a coward,” Max concluded.

Michael Guerin, a coward? But he’d always been the bravest, most confident, assured person she knew, at least in some ways. “I guess,” she said unsurely. “I don’t know. I think he’s just confused like I am.”

“We’re all confused,” Max agreed. They walked up to the front porch of their house, but instead of going inside, he sat down on the outside steps. Maria wasn’t sure whether she should stay standing or sit down beside him, but she eventually decided to sit down, because she would have sat down if they’d still been friends.

“Why are you confused?” she asked him, taking a genuine interest.

“Oh, so many reasons,” he answered. “For the first time since I’ve known you, I’m entertaining the idea that I never really was in love with you.”

That took her aback a bit. It was sort of a relief, and also sort of a jab at the heart.

“You’re not a perfect person, Maria,” he went on to say, “and in my eyes, you always were. And I loved that person, but that person didn’t exist, so . . . how’s that work?”

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “What about Liz? Do you think she ever loved Michael?”

“No,” Max answered quickly. “She told me she didn’t. And I don’t blame her. It doesn’t seem like an easy thing to do.”

Tell me about it, Maria thought. “He’s insane,” she said. “So, if you don’t mind me asking . . . what exactly happened last night?”

He sighed. “Oh, last night.”

“How did you tell Liz?”

He shrugged. “I just told her.”

“Because you couldn’t lie to her?”

He nodded. “That’s right. I know what it’s like to be lied to, and I decided I didn’t want her to go through the same thing. And you were right; if it was up to Michael, she never would’ve found out, so someone had to tell her.”

“How’d she take it?”

“Well, she cried a lot.”

“And then you guys just . . .” She trailed off.

“Pretty much.” He shook his head, his eyes glazing over as he remembered. “I don’t even know . . . I’m not sure if I regret it or not.”

She wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Well, it was an impulsive decision. Liz and I are friends, and now we slept together. That changes everything between us. Sex changes things.” He glanced at her and said, “Obviously. Look how it changed us.”

“But you and Liz don’t have to lie to each other about anything,” she reminded him. “I lied to you. Things can be different with you and Liz.”

“They will be,” he said confidently. “I’m gonna be a different person.”

“Spiney person.”

“Yes, spiney.” He actually smiled a little, just a little. It wasn’t really a happy smile so much as a hopeful smile. “To tell you the truth, I’m not as worried about me and Liz as I am about me and you.”

“What?”

“Yeah. Because when you walked in last night and I saw that look on your face . . . you looked so disappointed.”

“It wasn’t disappointment; it was shock,” Maria informed him.

“Yeah, well, I shocked myself,” he assured her. “I found out some things about myself I didn’t know before.”

“Like what?”

“Like . . . I’m capable of doing something without analyzing it to death beforehand. I’m capable of sleeping with another man’s girlfriend, because I can try to spin it any way I want, but the fact of the matter is that Michael still thought of Liz as his girlfriend last night. So I guess I have a dark side just like everyone else.”

“Your dark side’s pretty light compared to mine,” she told him.

“Not really.”

“No, really.” There was still one more lie, one that was going to weigh on her until she told him the truth. “Look, Max, I have to tell you something, and you’re not gonna like it.”

He took a moment to study her expression, then winced and asked, “Oh, Maria, what did you do?”

“Did you ever wonder how you and Liz ended up in that locker room, or what you were there to talk about in the first place, or how that door got locked?”

He stared at her in confusion and didn’t say anything.

“I just-I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was . . . losing Michael, because he kept saying he was moving into this apartment with Liz. And—oh, irony—now he’s moving to California. But I just . . . I guess I just had some more manipulation left in me, ‘cause I got you guys in that room together and locked you in there and basically prayed that you’d tell her everything about Michael and me.” She cringed.

Max still looked confused. “How’d you ‘get us in there?’”

“I texted you from Liz’s phone and texted her from your phone.”

“Oh, Maria, why?”

“Because I was desperate, okay? I didn’t know what else to do. I knew this wasn’t exactly a master plan, but I did it anyway. But I just wanted you guys to talk. I didn’t know you were gonna . . . I didn’t know Michael and I were gonna walk in on what we did. I mean, that was never my intention.”

“Was it your intention to be the puppet master of everyone’s lives, Maria?” he came right out and asked. “Because you certainly are.”

She hated that that was true. Early on, she’d had the power to make everything work out right. She could have urged Liz and Max together easily, and she could have allowed her feelings for Michael develop and then pursued a relationship with him. But she didn’t do that, because she was a compulsive deceiver, and she despised that particular trait in herself.

“Max . . .”

“Maria, you have to stop this. If you and I are ever gonna be friends again . . . if you and Michael are ever gonna figure things out . . . you have to start being truthful about stuff.”

“I know. I know,” she said. “That’s why I’m being truthful with you now. Better late than never, right?”

“I guess so,” he said reluctantly.

“So I’m just-I’m not gonna lie anymore,” she promised. “I mean, maybe a little white lie here and there, but nothing so drastic that it’s gonna affect people’s lives. I mean . . .” She swallowed hard, determined to be honest with him and honest with herself. “I feel like I’ve single-handedly messed up so many people. You, Liz, Michael. Myself.” She felt the familiar tears stinging her eyes, but she held them in this time.

Max must have noticed the tears, because he said softly, “Don’t cry.”

“I don’t want to.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Why aren’t you mad at me?”

“I am,” he assured her.

“Then why aren’t you madder?”

“Why do you want me to be mad at you?”

“Because I feel like I deserve it.” Her voice was merely a whisper when she said that. “My mom was right when she told me I’m going to hell.”

“You’re not a bad person, Maria.”

“Well, I’m not a good person.”

“Really? Because the first day of high school, no one would sit by me on the bus. But you did. For years and years, no girls talked to me. But you did.”

“But I lied to you, Max. I cheated on you. I had sex with you when I shouldn’t have. I jeopardized our whole friendship, and I barely even thought twice about it. That kind of negates any good-doing on my part.” She was so frustrated with herself, and having him sitting next to her, being a nice guy, trying to make her feel better . . . it made her feel so guilty. Why was he doing this? He had no reason to care about her feelings anymore.

“You did bad things, but you are not a bad person,” he stated flat-out. “Now can you be a better person? Yeah. And I hope you will be.”

“I will be.”

“But know this, Maria: I don’t hate you. I never will. In fact, if anything, I feel like I understand you a lot better now.”

“What do you mean?”

He clasped his hands together and responded slowly, thoughtfully. “Last night, when I was with Liz . . . part of me knew we should slow down. I knew she and Michael hadn’t technically ended things yet. But I slept with her anyway. So I understand for the first time in my life how easy it is to do the wrong thing, and how hard it is to do the right thing sometimes.”

“It’s really hard,” she agreed.

“And I just . . . I worried, because I don’t want you to think of me differently now.”

“What?”

“Yeah, you know, I don’t want you to . . . to think that I’m the type of person who would use Liz to get back and you and Michael or just sleep with her to make myself feel better. It wasn’t like that. I’m not that kind of person.”

“I know you’re not, Max.”

“It did mean something,” he insisted. “I didn’t use her. I felt something.”

“Something?” she echoed questioningly.

“Something I’ve never felt before. Not even with you.”

“And what’s that?”

“I’m not sure . . .” He trailed off, furrowing his brow as he contemplated it. “I told Liz that it was a revelation. Because I really think it was.”

“A revelation?” That was quite a big, fancy word to use.

“Yeah. Have you ever felt like that when you were with someone? Like there’s just this . . . instance of clarity, and peace and happiness and comfort. And you feel like everything’s gonna be alright, like there’s still hope for you yet.”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Not during sex, I’ve never felt like that.” It sounded amazing, though. She wanted to feel that way.

“You need to,” he told her. “You need to feel like that, Maria. And if I can’t make you feel that way, then I don’t want you to be with me. Because I just want you to be happy. Even after everything . . .”

She smiled at him through tear-clouded eyes. If only she had romantic interest in him. She couldn’t fake the passion; it just wasn’t there. But he was still a really great guy.

He sighed. “Listen, Maria, I can never forget what you did. It hurt me. It hurt bad.” What he said next was the part that really surprised her. “But I can forgive you.”

He could?

“I forgive you.”

He did?

With that said, Max stood up and reached for the door.

“Max,” she said, stopping him. “Thank you.” That meant more than he could possibly know, the knowledge that the one person she had hurt most could forgive her . . . it didn’t make everything magically better, but it definitely geared her towards the light at the end of the very long, dark Max/Maria tunnel.

He just nodded, didn’t say another word, and entered the house. She decided she would sit out there for awhile longer, alone with her thoughts and feelings.

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

Michael was trying to relax and watch an episode of South Park with Kyle when the door opened and Max walked in. He cast a glance at the two of them only briefly, then lowered his head, effectively averting his eyes, and slinked into his bedroom.

Michael remembered opening that locker room door, walking in on Max and Liz together, and he felt angry. Not jealous, but just furious about the entire situation. He stood up and headed after Max.

“No, calm, calm,” Kyle said as he tagged along. “Michael, calm.”

He wasn’t calm. He couldn’t pretend to be. He stormed into his one-time friend’s room and shouted, “Max!” before curling his hand into a fist and swinging a heavy punch onto Max’s unsuspecting face.

Max toppled backward, barely able to remain standing upright.

Michael shook his fist out and growled, “That’s for sleeping with my girlfriend.”

Much to his surprise, though, Max had grown some balls. He retaliated by throwing a punch of his own, landing a good, hard hit on Michael’s face. “That’s for sleeping with mine,” he said.

Michael’s anger multiplied anymore after being accused of something he didn’t do. “I didn’t sleep with her!” he roared, hitting Max again.

“But you wanted to!” Max was about to swing again, but Kyle grabbed hold of his arm and stopped him.

“Alright, you idiots need to calm down!” he told them vehemently, strategically placing himself in between the two of them. “Now do I need to open up a can of whoop-ass? ‘Cause I’ll do it.”

Max and Michael reluctantly backed away from each other. Neither one looked calm, but the rage had already diminished notably for the both of them.

“Alright, now if you two girls can stop pulling each other’s hair and clawing each other’s eyes out long enough to have a civilized conversation . . . I think that’d be a good idea,” Kyle said.

“Not gonna happen,” Michael grumbled stubbornly.

“I just had one with Maria,” Max informed him.

“Yeah, and you just had an orgasm with Liz. Good for you, Max.”

“Well, why do you care?” Max asked. “Really. Obviously you weren’t in love with her. Obviously you didn’t care about her at all if you were able to cheat on her.”

Michael shrugged. Max was halfway right. He hadn’t loved her. But he was wrong when he said he didn’t care about her at all. He wasn’t that much of a bastard, and he was tired of people thinking he was. “I liked the girl alright,” he said.

“You liked the girl alright?” Max echoed in disbelief. “That’s how you felt about a girl you dated for four months?

“Hey, that’s a big step for me,” Michael reminded him. “I was tryin’ to do the right thing with her.”

“And you cheated on her.”

“Yeah, and you keep shoving that in my face!” Michael roared. Kyle had to push a hand against his chest to hold him back, as his body sort of automatically lunged forward. “Wasn’t it just yesterday you gave me that speech? ‘Oh, we’re no longer brothers. We’re not even friends.’ Well, screw you, man! You’re a fuckin’ hypocrite!”

“I’m not proud of what I did; I’ll admit that,” Max confessed. “I’m sorry you walked in and had to see what you did, but . . . well, then again, Maria played a role in that.”

Michael grunted, still pissed about Maria’s manipulation tactics, too. Just pissed about everything.

“Look, I’m not here to cause drama,” Max insisted.

“Oh, you’re not?”

“No, I just wanna pick up some clothes and things. I’m staying with Isabel and Alex right now.”

“Oh, I bet they love that,” Kyle muttered.

Max seemed significantly calmer now. He relaxed his body posture and remarked to Michael, “So I hear you’re not gonna stay here much longer. Goin’ to Los Angeles, huh?”

“Yeah, I bet you’re thrilled about that,” Michael grumbled. “With me outta the way, you can screw my ex-girlfriend and my ex-best friend. I bet you’re--” He stopped abruptly when Kyle hit him on the arm warningly. Confused, he looked up to find Maria standing in the doorway. Oh, shit.

She looked hurt. She’d obviously heard what he just said.

No, he thought. I didn’t mean it. “Maria--”

She ran out of the room with a mixture of anger and sadness blazing in her eyes. He heard the door to her bedroom slam a few seconds later, and he mentally kicked himself for being so stupid, for saying such a stupid thing.

“Wow,” Kyle said. “You know, you might wanna reconsider the director thing. I think you might be a better professional mistake-maker instead.”

Dammit, Michael thought. He thought about letting Max take a free swing at his face now. After calling Maria his ex-best friend, he certainly deserved it.









TBC . . .

-April :(
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 106

Post by April » Thu Sep 11, 2008 12:12 pm

nibbles:
Personaly I think that everybody Michael hurt should get a free shot at him
Aw, I’m not sure he’d survive it! That’d be a lot of free shots. :?
Alien_Friend: Michael and Liz are going to talk . . . I think it will be in one of next week’s updates, if I remember correctly. Of course, there talk is nothing like Max and Maria’s talk.
Kate: You’re a new feedbacker, right? With the way this thread gets pruned, I sometimes have a hard time of keeping track of everyone. ;) I know what you mean about the macho man thing. Sometimes it’s just necessary.
Sara: You’re right, Michael’s ex-best friend comment is going to take a huge toll on his relationship with Maria. Hearing that hurts her more than . . . well, more than anything, really. He didn’t even really mean to say it, but . . . he did. It sucks! The whole situation sucks!
killjoy:
Now on to Maria......and I can not believe I'm going to say this ...but that part where she was sitting by the sprinklers mad at herself for being manipulative actually made me like her...a little bit
Whoa, I can’t believe you’re saying that, either! :lol: But like you pointed out, Maria was very mad at herself in the last part for messing with people’s lives. She’s made mistakes, but at least she is realizing she’s made mistakes.
Krista: :lol: No, you can’t shoot him!
singerchic4:
April, can I just say how much I've enjoyed this fic so far! You're an amazingly fanastic updater, like the best I've ever seen!
Aw, thanks! I just feel bad if I don’t update, so I try to update frequently. Plus, I get really anxious to post new parts and hear what you guys have to say, so it’s hard for me to go without updating! lol
Mag:
Max is really amazing in this fic.
I’m glad you think that. You know, I have to say that Passion Max has become one of my favourite characters that I’ve ever written in any fic. I’ve just gotten to take him on this journey filled with good times and bad times, and . . . I don’t know, there’s just something about him that I love to write.
tequathisy:
Once again, Max shows that he's a thousand times more of a man than Michael is.
That’s true, he is. Michael is like a wild, hormonal boy who is trying to be a man, but it doesn’t come as naturally to him as it does to Max. And because Max is more of a man than Michael is, Maria would rather be in love with him. But she’s just not.
Christina:
maybe now he'll be the one chasing Maria instead of the other way around.
Be warned that Michael might get a little confusing in some parts to come. There might be some parts where it seems like he’s chasing Maria and other parts where he’s doing the complete opposite. He’s a complete mess.
Ashley: Oh, I think your angst tolerator can tolerate a little more! :lol:
lilah:
I'll admit I have no idea why I like Michael so much better than Max
You know what that means? You can relate to Maria in this fic. She has no idea why she . . . well, it’s not necessarily that she likes Michael better than Max, but that she has romantic feelings for him and only friendly feelings for Max. There is no rhyme or reason to the way she feels about him. It’s just that . . . he’s Michael. And as frustrating and dumb as he can be . . . he’s Michael. :?


Thanks for the great feedback, everyone! Now, I hate to do this, but I’m not going to be updating again until Sunday afternoon. :( Sorry about that, but I guess it’s only one extra day in between updates. Not too bad. :)

Couldn't resist including another song in this part. "Retour a Vega" by The Stills. It's in French, so I have no idea what it's saying. But you can find it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1crRWVjtLA&fmt=18 and listen to it when you see the 8) if you want.








Part 106








Liz walked out of the bathroom and crossed the hallway that evening only to find that someone had scrawled the word bitch on the whiteboard attached to her door. She was both shocked and appalled when she saw it. Usually people wrote greetings, something like ‘hey, Liz, tell Michael I said hi.’ Not this. Who would be so mean?

Her answer reared its ugly head in the form of her two neighbors, Claire and Carrie. They had idolized her for four months now, but when Carrie said, “The truth hurts, doesn’t it?” it was obvious that they no longer did.

Ignore them, Liz told herself as she slid her electronic room key into the lock and pushed open the door. Those two girls were nothing to her. Neighbors and annoyances, sure, but not friends. It didn’t matter what they thought. She retreated to the relative safety and seclusion of her room, but Claire and Carrie barged right in before the door shut and automatically locked again.

“Guys, can you maybe leave?” Liz asked as gently as she could. “I have one more final left to study for . . .”

“Aw, look at the dethroned queen running scared,” Claire taunted.

Liz frowned. What was this all about? Why did these girls seem to hate her all of a sudden? “I just think you should go,” she said quietly. “Last time you were in here, you brought alcohol and I got in trouble for it.”

“Serves you right for being such a selfish, whorish brat,” Carrie snapped.

“Excuse me?” Liz couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“You heard her,” Claire said.

I don’t like this, Liz thought. I don’t like this one bit. Claire and Carrie had started to circle around her like two vultures now. They were making her very uncomfortable. “Okay, can you guys just drop the mean girls routine, please? I’ve got enough on my mind right now.”

“Oh, and what do you think Michael has on his mind?” Carrie countered. “You broke his heart, you know.”

“Trust me, I didn’t.” Breaking his heart would have actually required her to hold a place in his heart, and she hadn’t.

“We heard about what happened,” Claire said smugly. “Everyone has by now.”

“How?” Liz asked.

“Word travels fast when you’re the campus queen. That is, former queen.”

“Fine, spread the gossip, chat about it over dinner. Whatever. I don’t care,” Liz said, and she honestly didn’t. This whole popularity thing was bogus anyway. “Just don’t assume you know the whole story, because you don’t.”

“Michael committed to you, and you betrayed him,” Carrie claimed vehemently. “You’re a little bitch.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The good news is, he’s back on the market.” Claire smiled.

“The bad news is,” Carrie added, “your dance team still sucks.”

Liz frowned, hurt by all of this regardless of the fact that she didn’t want to be. She wanted to say something more to stand up to them, but it was hard when it was two against one and when she suddenly felt so shy again.

“Maybe you should pack your bags and go back to Cornfield, Nebraska,” Claire suggested. “Nobody wants you here. Everybody hates you now. You’re a fugly slut who acts like she knows everything and, in reality, knows nothing.”

Liz held back tears at the insult and said, “Just get out of here. Both of you. I need to study.”

Claire and Carrie exchanged mischievous, calculating looks with each other, and in an instant, they had Liz’s textbooks in their hands and were tearing out pages.

“Stop!” Liz said, trying to seize them back. But Claire and Carrie darted around and kept them out of her reach, and all Liz could do was stand back and watch helplessly as pages and pages of information fell to the floor and the books were destroyed.

Claire and Carrie dropped the books onto the floor once they were done demolishing them, smiled at each other, and then smiled at Liz. “Have fun studying, nerd,” Carrie said, laughing as she and Claire walked out of the room.

Once the door slammed shut and Liz was alone again, she let her emotions reveal themselves. Breathing raggedly, she struggled to hold all the tears in. How could people be so mean? How could they go from loving you one day to hating you the next? Utterly hating you . . . all because you were no longer dating the same guy. Was this really the world girls lived in, a world where they were nothing more than girlfriends?

She bent down and picked up a few discarded pages of her textbook as a few tears leaked over. She didn’t want to cry over this. The whole popularity thing really was overrated. She disliked it more than she liked it most of the time, but to go back to being nerdy Liz Parker, to go back to being that girl who had no friends and no relationships with anyone . . .

Liz threw the pages back down onto the floor, grabbed her keys from atop her desk, and fled the room in a state of despair. She had to get out of there.

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

Michael tried to push open the door to Maria’s bedroom that night, but it was locked. Locked. Not a good sign. Maria had never tried to keep him out before.

“Maria,” he said, knocking on the door. “Maria, can I come in? Please?” He needed to talk to her. He’d said a stupid thing earlier, obviously really hurt her feelings. He doubted she would open that door for him.

But much to his surprise, she did. “Should we just skip straight to the making out?” she asked.

He gave her a confused look.

“It’s what we do,” she said. “Nowadays. We fight; we almost fuck. But we stop ourselves.”

He wasn’t sure what to say. She was . . . obviously going through something. Worse, he was obviously putting her through something. “Look, Maria . . .”

“Why don’t you just leave me alone?”

“‘Cause I don’t want to.”

She shook her head and walked back into her room, looking so sad but at the same time so fiery.

“Can we talk?” he asked her, starting to shut the door.

“Leave that open,” she instructed.

He sighed and did as she asked, leaving the door open just a crack. “Can we talk?” he asked again.

“No, in case you haven’t noticed, we can’t. Not anymore.”

He sighed and ran one hand through his hair, just as stressed out as she was. “Well, can we try?”

She grunted. “Whatever. I really don’t wanna hear what you have to say.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Oh.” She nodded in mock understanding. “So is that why you’re moving to L.A., because you don’t wanna upset me?” She grunted again, glaring at him. “You’re an ass.”

He didn’t want to be. He had spent four months trying not to be an ass with Liz, trying to be a decent boyfriend, trying to be good for her; and now when it came time to the one girl he truly cared about . . . he couldn’t stop being an ass.

He decided to try to approach her concern logically. Anything was worth a shot. “If you got invited to dance in some sold-out show up there, wouldn’t you do it?”

“No,” she replied too quickly.

“Yes, you would.”

She rolled her eyes and plopped back down on her bed. “Fine, but not if it was, like, country line-dancing or something!”

“What’s that supposed to be, an analogy?”

“Is it?”

“I’m asking you.”

She seemed confused. “Well, I-I don’t know. I don’t like English terminology, okay? But yeah, I guess it is. Line-dancing is to me as that freakin’ porno is to you. Meaningless. And apparently I’m meaningless to you, too.”

“Like hell you are!” he roared suddenly, offended that she would even think that. “Why would you say that?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe because you fucking said I’m not your friend anymore!”

“I didn’t mean it.”

“But you said it.”

“But I didn’t mean it.”

But you said it.”

He sighed in exasperation. How was he going to get through to her? She was just as stubborn as he was, maybe even more so.

“And I heard you!” she went on. “I heard you, Michael! Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?”

Not really, he thought. He was too busy trying to figure out his own tangled web of feelings to try to figure out all of hers as well. He knew he had hurt her, though, and that knowledge in enough itself made him sort of hate himself. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, not sure what else to say.

“Oh, you fucker, I can’t believe you’d have the nerve to say that word! Yet again! You know I hate that word!”

“Well, I can’t believe you’d have the nerve to screw with my life, lie your ass off to me, but hey, people can surprise you.” He regretted the words immediately after they came out of his mouth. Dammit.

“You’re unbelievable,” she said. “And you’re wrong. I couldn’t have screwed with your life if it wasn’t screwed up to begin with.”

“Maria . . .”

“The one thing you’re right about, the one thing . . . is that we’re not best friends anymore. Because you’ve screwed up my life more than I’ll ever screw up yours.”

Now he understood how hearing those words felt. Not just hearing those words, but hearing them from the one person who mattered most to you. It definitely sucked. “How did I do that?” he asked, confused. He hadn’t done anything, not consciously anyway.

“You just have,” she replied as though that explained everything. She was furious. So furious. “Just get out of here.” She pulled her sheets up to her shoulders and lay down on her side, facing away from him.

His body wanted to do what it had grown accustomed to doing after these fights: go to her and envelope her, touch her, taste her. But he couldn’t do that. Whatever part of his brain was still functioning told him to just walk out of that room, leave her alone for awhile, let her cool down.

But how could a girl cool down when she was so on fire?

“I’m serious, Michael, get the hell away from me,” she growled, not looking at him.

There was nothing more he could say, nothing that would get her to stop being mad at him. Well, there was one thing, but . . . no, he couldn’t say that. He’d never said that to anyone before.

Full of guilt, dissatisfaction, and regret, Michael left the room.

“Shut the door,” she said as he walked out.

He did that, too. He doubted he was going to get any sleep that night, so he figured he’d start . . . packing.

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

Liz went to the apartment that night, the one she and Michael had planned on sharing together. She was a mess of tears when she threw open the door and slammed it shut behind her. As the reality of her current life circumstances had come crashing down on her, she'd found her emotions unbearable, uncontrollable, and she’d just started to cry.

The popularity thing wasn’t that big of a deal, but it still hurt to have people making fun of her. But then again, it wasn’t completely out-of-the-blue. Maria had been the “queen” of campus for four years, and everyone had effectively managed to diss and dismiss her. Liz knew she should have seen it coming, should have known it wouldn’t last. Her brief reign at the top was over now, and she was back to being the nerdy shy girl no one wanted to talk to, the one who had no friends, no boyfriend, and nothing special to offer.

She cried some more as she walked around the apartment. She had been so completely ready to move in there with Michael, to really start a life with him, and he had just been going along with it out of guilt. He never really loved her, and the worst part was . . . she’d never really loved him, either. Everything they had done had been an absolute lie.

And then there was Maria, whom she honestly hadn’t given a lot of thought to. Ever. The girl had been her friend, been nothing but nice to her. And I shut her out, Liz thought. Treated her like everyone else, made her feel like she didn’t matter anymore. She wasn’t sure whether to be mad at Maria for taking Michael away or be sympathetic because she was obviously going through an emotional drama of her own.

And Max . . . as amazing as her night with him had been . . . it shouldn’t have happened. Too fast. Too impulsive. Too . . .

Slutty. It was really the only word that was coming to mind. She felt like a slut, like dirty somehow. Where was the girl who used to have ambitions, goals, virtues? Who was this person who had taken her place, this person who had sex at the drop of a hat and hadn’t thought twice about losing her virginity in the first place?

Liz sat down on the couch, her body still heaving with each and every heavy sob. She took out her cell phone and dialed the number of the only people she knew would love her no matter what: her mom and dad.

She tried to collect herself, get her wild emotions under control as the phone rang, but when she heard her mother’s voice say, “Hello?” after the second ring, she lost it again.

“Mom?” Her voice was so small, so high-pitched and weak.

“Lizzie? Honey, is that you?”

“Mom,” she said again, allowing her falling tears to be audible. “Is Daddy there?”

“He’s here. Honey, what’s wrong?”

Liz shook her head, unable to find a concrete answer to that question. “Everything,” she decided on. Me, Maria, Max, Michael . . . we’re all wrong, she thought.

“What happened?” her mother asked, sounding a bit panicked. “Are you okay? Is everything alright?”

“No, everything’s wrong,” Liz repeated. “Mommy . . .” All she wanted was to be back at home, hugging her parents, being a good girl again. “My life is falling apart.”

For the next half hour, Liz just sat on the phone and cried, listening to her mother and father’s voices and trying to convince herself that everything was going to be alright.

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

“Hello?”

Max gulped when he heard her voice answer the phone. “Mom.”

“Max?” she said in astonishment. Apparently she hadn’t expected to hear from him. “Phillip, Max is on the phone.”

“Let me talk to him,” Max heard his father say. Seconds later, his mom had passed the phone over to his dad. “Son,” he said evenly.

“Dad.” Max stood outside Alex’s apartment on the balcony, waiting for his father to say something else.

“Is everything okay?”

“No. Not really,” Max replied honestly. “Just tell mom . . . tell her you guys were right about me and Maria. And about Maria and Michael. And maybe even about me and Liz.” He smiled a little. “That remains to be seen.”

“Max--”

“And I wanted to let you know that from now on, I’m gonna be a different son. Not necessarily a better or worse son, but just different. Stronger. Smarter. More passionate.”

After a few seconds of silence, his father asked, “Max, are you smoking the weed?”

Max laughed a little at the idea. “No, I’m just . . . I’m making a change. And I’m apologizing for the way I treated you last time we were all together. I may not always agree with you, but you’re my parents, and I should respect you. And I do. I do respect you.”

“Well . . . thank you,” his father said unsurely. “We respect you, too, son. We just . . . go about things in the wrong way sometimes.”

“It’s okay.” Max was over the anger he had felt for them. That anger for them had been replaced by anger towards Maria and Michael, and now by some anger towards himself. “Look, I’m sorry I’m didn’t get valedictorian. I just didn’t work hard enough. Or maybe I worked too hard,” he pondered. Now that his days as an undergraduate were coming to an end, he couldn’t help but feel as though he’d . . . missed out somehow. Like maybe all that studying and thinking about his future with Maria had caused him to miss out on the present, like maybe being such a hard worker and being so future-oriented was what allowed him to settle in, be willingly blind to Maria’s non-feelings, and let himself get taken on a ride. Maybe he should have lived for the now. Maybe it wasn’t too late to start.

“Don’t worry about valedictorian,” Phillip said. “We’re over it, and you don’t need to dwell on it, either.”

“I’m not gonna,” Max decided. “But I am gonna dwell on it if you two don’t come to my graduation. I’d really like you to be there after all.”

Phillip breathed a sigh of relief, and Max could practically hear both his parents smiling. “Oh, son,” Phillip said, “we wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Max smiled. Everything else in his life was going wrong . . . but at least this was going right again.

It was a definite start.

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

For a person who requires a lot of sleep, I sure don’t get enough of it, Maria thought to herself frustratedly as she lay in bed wide awake that night, tossing and turning, hugging one pillow to her chest, trying to get comfortable. And failing. She was exhausted. Completely and utterly exhausted. Physically exhausted because of her recent bout of insomnia, mentally exhausted because of the finals week she had gone through, and emotionally exhausted because . . . well, obviously.

Who would’ve known I’d turn out to be so emotional, she thought, noting the irony as she closed her eyes and vowed not to move around anymore until she fell asleep. Me, the one girl on this campus who had absolutely no problem with casual sex, the one girl who had no problem being unattached and distant and . . .

Her eyes snapped open since her mind refused to calm down, and it dawned on her: Why couldn’t she just be that person again?

Maria shot up out of bed and wasted no time getting made up. She put on a short denim mini-skirt with a loose-fitting black halter and accessorized with gold high-hells and gold hoop earrings. She pulled her hair up into a high ponytail and finished off by putting on her make-up, eyeliner, mascara, and lip gloss especially.

She looked like a seductress.

Good, she thought as she gazed at herself in the mirror. Tonight’s mission: revert to form.

She quietly slipped out of the house and took off in the car.

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

Maria walked into The Lightning Strike late that night, disappointed. It was sort of deserted, although there were still some people there. The club had definitely gone downhill since she had stopped frequenting it. She wouldn’t doubt if business picked up again now that she was back. Not to sound like she was bragging, but . . .

No, on second thought, bragging’s fine, she decided. She was a confident girl. Most of the time. Why not make that obvious?

She headed straight over to the bar and sat down on one of the stools. The bartender did a double take when he saw her, almost as if he didn’t recognize her. But then he smiled at her, came up to her and asked, “What can I get you, sweet cheeks?”

“Just a beer,” she told him.

“You got it.”

She rested her elbow atop the counter and looked around while he poured her a glass. There was a guy in a black shirt and khakis coming towards her with obvious intent. He was good-looking enough, almost a little too clean-cut and chiseled for her, like a Ken doll. But he wasn’t ugly by any means.

But he wasn’t Michael, either.

Suck it up, she thought as the bartender slid her beer across her counter and Mr. Ken doll slid onto the stool beside her simultaneously.

“Hey,” he greeted. “I’m Eric.”

“I’m Maria,” she returned, wrapping her fingers around her glass.

“I know,” he said. “I remember you.”

Hmm, a little boost to the ego, she thought. That doesn’t hurt. “How do you remember me?” she asked.

“Well, I know you were on that dance team. And I know you were . . .” He trailed off.

“A big slut?” she filled in.

“Well, yeah.”

She frowned. That would have sounded a lot different coming from Michael.

“I graduated a couple years ago,” he said. “But yeah, I definitely remember you. Fancy runnin’ into you like this.”

She smiled a fake smile. “Fancy that.” Something about him . . . he really wasn’t turning her off so much as he really wasn’t turning her on.

“What kind of girl goes to a club alone at 3:00 in the morning?”

She thought about it and replied, “The wild kind.” Because she was wild. No one was going to tame her. Ever. There was nothing wrong with being immature and being crazy and being reckless. She had done it for eight years, and everything had worked out. Well, almost everything. Well . . . some things.

She looked down at the beer in front of her, and even though the Maria at the beginning of senior year would have chugged it without hesitating, the Maria at the end of senior year couldn’t do that. She could see it happening so easily. One drink, then another, then yet another, and next thing you know, she’d being telling some guy she needs him inside of her, and then she’d stop breathing while he’s taking advantage of her. She and alcohol didn’t mix anymore. Two un-mixy things.

She set her glass aside.

“So wild girls don’t drink?” Eric asked her, grinning.

She glanced at him and commented, “Wild boys don’t, either.”

He stared at her for a moment, then motioned for the bartender and said, “Vodka tonic.” He smiled at her then, seeming proud of himself.

Oh, you’re not wild, she thought surely. Michael’s wild. You’re pathetic.

“So what’re you doing tonight?” he asked her.

Boy, he was obvious. “I don’t know,” she answered cryptically.

He seemed intrigued, because he licked his lips and came right out and asked, “You got a boyfriend?”

No, she thought. I really don’t. Not Max. Not Michael. Hell, Max and Michael weren’t even boys who were friends anymore. They were . . . Max and Michael.

Michael . . .

8)

“No,” she replied finally. “No boyfriend.”

Eric seemed happy to hear that.

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

Man, I feel like a jackass, Michael thought self-loathingly as he packed up a suitcase full of clothes. He was supposed to be leaving town in a couple of days . . . but nothing was really set in stone yet. If he and Maria could get it together, get back to being the friends they’d always been, then he wouldn’t have to leave. He could just stay and they could keep on . . . keeping on the way they always had before.

Michael grunted and shook his head as he tossed his favorite t-shirt into the suitcase. He was kidding himself if he ever thought things between Maria and him would be the same again. They had feelings for each other; they wanted to have sex with each other. That was the bottom line. And while on the surface it seemed really simple to give into the feelings and let nature take its course . . . that thought was almost as terrifying as the thought of leaving her.

Dammit, he didn’t know what to do.

Fed up, he tossed some of his clothes across the room. Granted, it didn’t have the same effect as Maria tossing a picture frame through a window, but . . .

He sighed and sat down on his bed. He was tired and stressed and in an all-around confused mood. I used to be a simple guy, he thought, looking around his room. I used to be alright. Now he was constantly messing things up, making the one person he cared about more than anything feel as though she didn’t matter to him, when really, she was all that mattered to him.

He spied a familiar item lying atop his desk and went over to pick it up. It was the DVD he had made for Videology class, the movie that was all about Maria. Of course. Of course. Because . . . she was Maria. She was just as screwed up as he was, if not more, but she was incredible in her own crazy way.

He set the DVD down in the suitcase atop all his clothes. He was going to need that. If he no longer had daily face-to-face interaction with Maria . . . and it’s not like she’d want to talk to him on the phone . . . he was going to need that movie. He’d probably scratch the whole disc up in a week; he’d watch it so much.

Oh, fuck.

He walked out of his bedroom, wondering if he was making a huge mistake. It sort of felt like it, but whenever he tried to talk to her, he made more mistakes. He wasn’t a good guy. Not really. He could try to be—hell, he had tried to be with Liz—but there was only so much he could do. At the end of the day, he just was who he was. Nothing could change that.

He tapped the back of his hand against her closed bedroom door and said, “Maria?”

No answer.

He could have tried the doorknob—there was a chance it wasn’t locked. But he didn’t. If she wanted to talk to him, she would have told him to come in. Hell, she wouldn’t have had her door shut in the first place.

Things weren’t okay between the two of them. And a lot of that was his fault. But a lot of it was hers, too. Maybe he’d been a bastard, but she’d been a bitch. He wasn’t a good guy, and she wasn’t a good girl, either. She was his girl, the best girl, but not technically a good girl. It was part of her charm.

He sank down onto the floor, upset, and leaned back against the door. “Maria,” he said again, just for the sake of saying her name. Still no answer. Maybe she was already asleep. She had to be just as exhausted as he was.

His eyes fell shut, and in instants, he was asleep as well, sitting by her closed bedroom door.

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

Eric obviously liked to think he was a big man. He was trying to act macho, doing a few vodka shots, smiling at Maria all the while. Needless to say, she wasn’t impressed. “You do shots like a high-schooler,” she informed him.

“What does that mean?”

“It means you don’t do ‘em well,” she explained.

He grinned and slid a shot of tequila towards her. “Well, why don’t you show me how it’s done?” he suggested.

“No,” she said. “I’m not drinking tonight.” That was one area in which she was going to stand steadfast.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to,” she answered simply, more than a little annoyed with him, “and I do what I want. That’s who I am. I’m Maria DeLuca. I don’t let people tell me what to do; I don’t let people tell me who to be. I do whatever the hell I want and feel no shame for it, because that’s . . . just who I am.” It felt good to say those words out loud. Would’ve felt better if she’d actually believed it. She took shame in a lot of things she did. This simple conversation was one of those things.

“Oh, you’re gonna dominate me tonight, aren’t you?” Eric said.

“Excuse me?” She knew exactly what was on his mind—she’d known it from the second she laid eyes on him. But it had been a long time since someone had made her feel so easy.

“What do you wanna do, Maria?” he asked, leaning in closer to her. “You wanna get outta here?”

She lowered her head and mumbled, “I don’t know,” in response, because she really didn’t know. Hooking up with Eric would be a return to her old ways, her simpler self. But that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

“Come on,” he urged. “I just bought a house. We could lay out on the roof, look up at the stars.”

She gave him a skeptical look. “Look up at the stars?”

“Yeah. From what I remember, you’re really . . . experienced and eager when it comes to . . . stargazing.”

In other words, I’m the campus prostitute. She frowned. Or at least I used to be.

“So?” he said. “What do you say?”

Yeah, Maria, she thought. What do you say?









TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 107

Post by April » Sun Sep 14, 2008 3:53 pm

Christina:
And, as upset as I am with Michael at the moment, I do have to say that the image of him sitting outside Maria's bedroom door and falling asleep waiting for her nearly broke my heart.
I feel the same! :)
Alien_Friend:
They all just personify the word dysfunctional.
That's for sure!
Sara:
I think Maria is going to turn him down. She used to do what she wanted but really, she used to do what people expected of her.
That's so true! Maria gained a reputation as a party girl and slut, and she . . . well, she really lived up to those expectations.
nibbles:
I guess what the chapter did illustrate is that when the chips were down Max and Liz were able to pick up the phone and they had great, loving parents on the other end to lean on. Michael and Maria don't have that option.
Exactly. When Michael and Maria need someone to lean on, they lean on each other. And they can't do that right now, because they'll just make things worse.
spacegirl23:
Also, I think our little girl's growing up!
Let's hope, right?
Ashley: That's right; creepy boy. You gotta watch out for those.
tequathisy:
How did those two witches know anyway? The only peope who knew were Max, Liz, Michael, Maria, Kyle, Tess, Isabel and Alex. Would they have told anybody? What a shitty thing to do. And especially to make Liz look like the bad guy.
Word travels fast. Max, Liz, Michael, Maria, Kyle, Tess, Isabel, and Alex didn't tell anybody. All it takes is for them to be having a conversation about it and for somebody to overhear, and all of a sudden the gossip spreads like wildfire. :(
lilah: I'll join in with you: Don't do it, Maria!
Krista: Well, while you wait in the shadows, I'll post a new part. ;)
killjoy:
I don't think these two will ever get their act together
Well, they've made so many mistakes now that they've made getting their act together a million times harder on themselves. :?


Thanks for the feedback, everyone!









Part 107








Liz returned to her dorm late that night against her better judgment. She had tried to stay in the apartment, but it was just too hard, being there alone. It wasn’t even about not being with Michael; it was about not being with anyone. Maybe that was selfish but . . . she hated being alone, and she always ended up that way.

As she was walking down the hallway to her room, she passed a couple of open doors. For whatever reason, there was a group of girls up at 4:00 a.m. in Claire and Carrie’s room, apparently having a slumber party without the slumber. As she passed by that room, they all looked up and stopped talking. They ran out into the hallway a moment later and all stared at her as she opened the door to her room.

She thought about just going inside, going inside and slamming the door so they couldn’t get in, turning on the television and watching some trashy late night TV. Maybe Jerry Springer. That was a show where people had bigger problems than she did.

But those girls were still staring at her, and for once in her life, she wasn’t going to take it.

“God, what is wrong with you people?” she shouted, throwing her hands down at her sides in completely and utter exasperation. “Don’t you have anything better to do with your so-called lives than gossip about me and be mean to me? Uh, seriously!” She ran her hands through her hair, shook her head in disbelief of these pathetic girls, and then retreated to her room. She shut the door, feeling better after that small outburst. If provoked, she could deliver a larger one tomorrow. Not being the queen bee was fine with her; it was a relief, actually. But no one liked to be gossiped about.

She tossed her keys onto her bed and walked across the small room to turn on the TV. America’s Next Top Model again? Uh-uh. Michael and Maria had done modeling together. She flipped the channels until she landed on Jerry Springer. That was more like it. It was one of those ‘who’s my baby’s daddy?’ shows. Hopefully her life never got that dramatic.

She decided to change into her pajamas and crawl into bed for a couple hours of much-needed sleep. As she opened up her drawer and pulled out a red t-shirt, she mulled over the conversation she’d had with her mom and dad. They had done most of the talking. They had made her feel a little better. Just hearing their voices was a huge comfort.

She undressed to her underwear and slipped the t-shirt on over her head. When she cast a glance at her reflection in the mirror and noted which t-shirt she had grabbed, she couldn’t help but be curious as to why, exactly, she had grabbed it. It was a University of Nebraska t-shirt. She had gotten it during her first semester of college, her semester at home. The simpler, quieter, albeit loner, semester.

She remembered something her mother had said . . .

“Liz, honey, if you’ve got too much going on there . . . maybe you should think about coming home for awhile.”

She touched the lettering on her shirt and mulled the suggestion over for a moment. It wasn’t a bad suggestion. It wasn’t bad at all. She stared at her wrecked reflection and whispered, “Maybe I will.”

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

It was clear that Eric didn’t want to waste any time. The night wasn’t exactly young. People were already waking up and starting their next day. Eric walked through the parking lot so fast that Maria had to take two strides to keep up with one of his. She crossed her arms over her chest as the wind bit at her and asked him, “So which one’s your car?”

“Actually, we’re gonna have to take yours,” he said. “I only have a bike.”

“Oh, like a motorcycle?” That would be kind of sexy, she thought.

“No, actually just a bike,” he admitted, bursting her bubble. “Like . . . a bike.”

“A bike?” she echoed in utter disbelief. “Are you serious?”

He laughed, apparently embarrassed, and reminded her, “I just bought a house.”

She stopped, looked right at the idiot, and told him, “My friend Kyle paid for a house, a car, bills, my personal expenses, and his student loans all at once.”

“Well, maybe you should fuck Kyle tonight,” he suggested.

“No, he’s not the one I wanna fuck.” And you’re not either, she thought as Michael’s image flashed across her mind. This guy was really a loser. Not the sexy, irresistible kind of loser Michael was. This guy was a loser loser. No value or good qualities whatsoever. She couldn’t believe she couldn’t round up anybody better her first night back out on the slut circuit.

Eric grinned and moved in towards her. “You’re a dirty girl, aren’t you?” he said as he wrapped his hands around her arms and backed her up against the side of a car. She tensed upon feeling his grasp and hearing those words, and as he stood in front of her, gradually leaning in closer and closer, all she could do was think of Michael.

“Dirty girl.”

That was what he called her. No one else could call her that. And maybe she was dirty, to an extent. Maybe she always would be. But she didn’t want to be a slut again. She’d done it for eight years, and it hadn’t been very fun.

“Dirty girl.”

Michael . . . He was the only one she wanted.

“No, stop,” she said, pushing her hand gently against Eric’s chest, urging him back just slightly. There was no way she was having sex with him. She was too un-attracted to him and too attached to someone else. All in all, not a very sexual likelihood. She glanced up at the sky and said, “You know, there aren’t many stars out tonight, so maybe it’s not the best night for . . . stargazing.” She didn’t get any reaction to that, so she went on to say, “I’m gonna go home,” and slipped away from him.

But he grabbed her wrist and pulled her back. “Now wait a minute.”

“What’re you doing? Let me go,” she said, trying to pull her arm away from him.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked tauntingly.

“I told you, I’m going home. Let go of me.”

He didn’t. “You’re not going anywhere,” he growled as he pulled her back towards him. He pinned her back against the car again, hard this time.

“Ow!” she cried. “Let go! Stop!” She squirmed against him, trying to get free.

“What, you think you’re gonna leave me so unsatisfied?” He pressed his lower body into hers, and it felt like a violation.

“Stop it!” she cried.

He just smiled and seethed, “I’m gonna bend you over backwards, fuck your ass.” He enveloped her mouth with his before she could scream and kissed her roughly. She fought against it, hating it, and managed to tear her lips away. She made an angry sound low in her throat, brought her knee up, and kneed him in the groin.

“Oh!” he cried, holding his miniscule package in his hands as he fell to his knees in agony. “Bitch!”

“Satisfied?” She stepped over to him and took off running through the parking lot towards her car. She was never going to sleep with a guy like that again.

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

Even though a person wasn’t supposed to start dreaming until late into the sleeping process, Michael started dreaming nearly right away, right after falling asleep. It was a vivid dream. Not just a dream, but a memory, too. A really good memory . . .

Moving day. Maria stood outside, looking over the house while Max, Michael, and Kyle moved all their furniture and boxes inside. Nobody thought they would make it work. Nobody imagined the four of them would be able to live on their own and stay friends. But they were determined. And excited. They were freshmen.

Michael walked out of the house and smiled at Maria. She was so pretty, standing out there with her hair blowing in the wind, the sun shining down on her, wearing that tight pink dance team t-shirt. “Is the palace up to your standards?” he asked her.

“Palace?” she scoffed. “Please.”

He stood beside her and looked at the house. It wasn’t perfect, but it already felt like home. “Nicer than where I grew up,” he said.

“Me, too,” she agreed. “I think we’re gonna like it here, Michael. You better not turn it into a whore-house, though.”

“Ah, well, you’re living here,” he reminded her, “so it’s already a whore-house.”

She didn’t take offense at that. She never did. “Oh, that sense of humor. It’s so . . . humorous.”

“You know it.”

“I was being . . . sarcastic, you know?”

“No.”

She rolled her eyes in annoyance, but he knew she wasn’t really annoyed. “Okay, Michael, here’s the deal: one of these days, you’re gonna realize you’re not funny.”

“Oh, I’m not?”

“Yeah. Once you go out and meet some people--”

“I’ve already met people,” he cut in. “Fucked three junior girls this morning.”

Even she seemed shocked to hear that. “Seriously?”

“Yeah.” He wouldn’t lie to her.

“Two weeks and you’ve got the big syph,” she said. “Let’s bet on it.”

“One week and you’ve got it,” he bet.

“You’re on.”

They shook hands on it, and he chuckled. “Dammit, babe, just admit I’m funny.”

“No, what I was gonna say before you
rudely interrupted is that you’re not funny, and once the people on this campus get to know you and come to dislike you the way I do, you’ll realize that you’re not funny. You’re not cool. You will be a loser here.”

“Well, thanks for that vote of confidence.”

“It’s called realism, buddy. You’ve gotta face up to it: You may have been the prom king back at Roswell High, but here, you’re just another guy.”

“No, I’m
the guy,” he corrected. “And you’re the girl. Face up to this, Maria : You and I are gonna rule this place.”

She smiled. “You think?”

“I know,” he said confidently. “I’m all-knowing.”

“You’re stupid is what you are. Seriously.”

“Seriously,” he echoed.

“No, you’re really stupid.”

“No, you’re really stupid.”

“Oh my god, are you really gonna be Mr. Repeato? That’s so ninth grade, that’s like pre-ninth grade.”

“Bitch,” he grunted good-naturedly as Kyle and Max walked out of the house. “Hey, so are we gonna move the couch in?” he asked them.

“Yeah, just give me a minute,” Kyle said. “I feel like my arms are gonna fall off.”

“I would gladly help lift if I . . . felt like it,” Maria said, smirking.

“No, Maria, you don’t have to,” Max said quickly. “We’ve got it.”

Michael rolled his eyes. “You’re too nice, Maxwell.”

“Shut up,” Maria snapped. “Don’t listen to him, Max. Your niceness and Kyle’s money abilities are the only reasons why I’m
lowering myself to live with you three in the first place.”

Max smiled and blushed.

“And my sexiness,” Michael added. “She wants to live with the sexiness.”

“Oh, sick,” she said, covering her mouth with her hand. “You are like the least sexy person ever to me.”

“Right back at you,” he said, although that definitely wasn’t true.

“Hey, guys,” Kyle cut back in suddenly. “Take a second to think about this. This is the start of the rest of our lives right here. The four of us, this house, this college . . . we can do great things here. And stupid things. And fun things. I don’t know about all of you, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Oh, I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Maria said. “I’m
so over high school. Did you know I actually had to give Principal Forrester head to graduate?”

“No way, I thought that was just a rumor,” Michael said.

“No, it was fact. He wasn’t gonna let me graduate because I failed art. Ooh.”

Michael made a face. “How can you fail art?”

“I don’t know. How can you fail at life, Michael?” She shot back. “Somehow, you just do.”

“I don’t fail at life,” he said.

“Really? ‘Cause you don’t have goals. Like, I have goals.”

“Like what?”

“Uh, dance team, for starters. Accomplished. Next goal . . . captain. Gonna happen.”

“Director,” he reminded her. “That’s a goal. I don’t fail at life. And, uh . . . I wanna sleep with every girl on campus. That’s definitely my main goal.”

She raised an eyebrow.
“Every girl?”

“Every hot girl,” he amended, “which fortunately doesn’t include you.”

“Fucker,” she said. “Personally, I wouldn’t mind sleeping with every hot guy on campus.”

“Alright, that’s our cue,” Michael told Max and Kyle. “Let’s gangbang her, boys.”

“Ew, not you three,” she said. “Especially not you.” She pointed at Michael. “Never in my life would I ever . . . ew, it makes me puke just thinking about it.”

“You two are crazy,” Kyle remarked. “What about you, Max? You got a goal?”

“I’m sure he does,” Maria said. “He’s Max. He’s goal-licious.”

Max laughed lightly, looked down at his feet and said, “I guess I just wanna be valedictorian someday.”

“Well, you got that in the bag,” Michael said. “What about sex, man? A goal should always involve gettin’ laid.”

“Wise words, Michael. Bravo,” Maria said sarcastically.

“No, I don’t wanna
just get laid,” Max said.

“Oh, that’s right. This guy wants to fall in love,” Michael said. “But come on, man. You can’t leave college a virgin.”

“Well, we’re just starting college,” Max pointed out.

“Oh, don’t worry, Max,” Maria said. “You’ll lose the v-card eventually. There’s gotta be some girl who will take it from you.”

“Hmm.” He looked at his feet again.

“So what about you, Valenti?” Michael asked. “What’s your college goal?”

Kyle looked up at the sky, deep in thought for a moment, and replied in all seriousness, “Date two girls at once.”

Maria and Michael exchanged a look and burst out laughing. “Yeah, right!” Maria exclaimed. “Like that’s ever gonna happen.”

Kyle shrugged. “You never know.”

“I guess,” Michael agreed. “Should we move that couch in now or what?”

“Let’s move some more boxes first,” Kyle suggested. “My arms still feel paralyzed.”

“Alright.” Michael and Max and Kyle all made their way over to the U-Haul truck they had rented and lifted out some of the last remaining boxes.

“Where are the dishes?” Max said. “I’ll take those.”

Kyle handed him that box and picked up another. “What’s this one?” He read the side in confusion. “Maria’s underwear?”

“Oh, I’ll take that,” Michael said, seizing the box from him. “Thanks.” Grinning, he walked past Maria with the box in his hand.

“Just put that in my room, loser,” she called after him. “And don’t you
dare try to steal the master bedroom! That’s mine.”

He grinned as he walked into the house and called back, “Oh, baby, I wouldn’t dream of it.” But that was exactly what he planned to do.


Michael felt himself waking up from the dream all too soon. He didn’t want to, though, so he kept his eyes closed and tried to fall back asleep and dream the same dream, remember the same memory. But it was too late. That dream was gone.

He went back to sleep anyway, hoping it would come back.

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

It was strange: A little over an hour ago, Maria had been so eager to get out of that house, away from all the drama that resided there. Now she was relieved to get back to it. Her night had not gone as planned. Her whole day hadn’t gone as planned, come to think of it. It had pretty much been horrible. There’d been the constant exhaustion, the newfound knowledge that Michael was leaving, the impromptu sprinkler burst, two fights with Michael, another almost-fuck with Michael, and now sexual harassment. Just perfect.

She kicked off her shoes, feeling down in the dumps. The only good thing that had happened all day was her conversation with Max when he’d told her he forgave her. But even that could only go so far. As nice as it was to know that she and Max might possibly be able to reconcile someday, it couldn’t cover up the fact that Michael was moving to an entirely different state, that he was leaving. Really leaving.

She was torn. The majority of her didn’t want him to leave. She needed him, despite the fact that she didn’t want to; she wanted him despite the fact that she didn’t need to. If he left, then it would break her apart. But on the other hand, if he stayed . . . who was to say that wouldn’t break her apart as well? She felt like she might be screwed either way, and the ever-so stubborn part of her wanted to tell him to get the hell out, leave her alone because she just didn’t care anymore.

But she did care.

Swinging her purse dejectedly, she trudged through the living room. Night two without sleep. If she didn’t de-stress and get some rest soon, then she would probably faint again. And that was just embarrassing.

She stopped when she rounded the corner of the hallway and saw Michael slumped against her bedroom door, fast asleep. What exactly he was doing falling asleep in the hallway, she did not know, but he looked absolutely adorable, and for a moment, she forgot that she was mad at him and he was mad at her, and all she wanted was to be close to him.

She sat down on the floor beside him and sighed. They were really in a situation. A potentially life-altering situation at that. They were either going to be together forever or be apart forever; there was no grey area anymore, no “just friends” zone. The problem was, how did she ensure that they ended up together? Did she convince him to stay and risk fighting with him for the rest of time? Or did she let him leave and risk never seeing him again for the rest of time?

Too tired to give it much thought, she moved in closer and tilted her head down, resting it atop his shoulder. She closed her eyes and reveled in the warmth of his body. He radiated heat and energy all the time, even when he didn’t try to. He must have felt some heat coming off of her, because he shifted, still half asleep, and tried to put his arm around her waist.

“Maria,” he mumbled groggily.

She felt him trying to pull her closer, trying to embrace her, and she wanted to just give into it. But if she did and they woke up in the morning in each other’s arms . . . that would either be a very good thing or a very bad thing. And she couldn’t risk that it would be something bad.

As much as it pained her to do so, she stood up and slinked out of his hold. He reached out for her as she walked down the hallway, but he was too asleep to say or do anything coherent. She left him to sleep there and made her way out to the couch instead. She lay down, pulled a blanket up over herself, and forced all thoughts to leave her mind as she settled in for some much needed rest.

Michael . . .

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

Kyle woke up the next morning to the sound of . . . quiet. Some much needed quiet. The house had been so full of yelling and door-slamming the past couple of days. Quiet was necessary.

He slipped out of bed as Tess kept on sleeping and went upstairs to hit the head, shower, and fix some breakfast. When he stepped foot in the living room, the first thing he noticed was Maria asleep on the couch. She was dressed up, looked as though she had gone out. Must’ve been way later in the night, because he hadn’t heard her leave. Just the fact that she had come home alone and not with some random stranger spoke volumes about the intensity of her feelings for Michael.

And speaking of Michael . . . Kyle spotted him asleep in the hallway next to Maria’s bedroom door. He was sitting up, leaning over towards the right, mouth hanging open. Both of them looked completely and utterly exhausted. And hopeless. Clueless. Impossible.

Oh, those two, Kyle thought, shaking his head. He wanted nothing more than for Michael and Maria to get together, Max and Michael to reconcile, Max and Maria to reconcile, and for the four of them to be the best friends they always had been again. He wasn’t going to intervene, though. No, it wasn’t his place. He could do his best to urge them all in the right direction; but in the end, their problems were their problems, and it was up to them to sort them out.

He just hoped they figured everything out soon, because if they didn’t . . . well, he didn’t even want to think about that.









TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 108

Post by April » Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:38 am

Christina:
As for Liz, I can see why she'd want to go back home to Nebraska, it'd be so much easier than dealing with what's happened; but, if she does that, then she's giving up. She's running away just like Michael is. Odd, I thought they didn't have anything in common. But apparently, they do.
Well-said! I'm glad you noticed the parallel between Michael and Liz, both of them wanting to give up and run away from their problems right now. I was hoping someone would.
Alien_Friend:
I hope Maria tells Michael about that guy. I'm sure he would do worse to him than Maria did.
Michael would kick that guy's ass! But Maria's not going to tell him anything about her night's activities.
killjoy:
But what I've been saying is the fact that just because they share it doesen't mean they're right for one another or the best thing for them to do with their lifes is too get into a relationship.
This is a good point. Michael and Maria are both disasters right now, so the two of them together is an even BIGGER disaster. I honestly think they belong together (because let's be real here, no one else could ever put up with them), but right now, they're almost too screwed up to be together.
Krista: :lol: This fic does have soap-opera qualities to it, doesn't it?
Ashley: Thanks, hun!
Sara:
I am glad Maria didn't sleep with Eric. And I am glad she had the wits about her to knee him in the groin and get the fuck out of there.
:D Sometimes a girl just has to do what a girl has to do.
mrs_guerin:
i just cant wait to get SOME resolution on where michael/maria are going, this and a few other fics im reading are driving me nuts!
lol, that's the goal!
nibbles:
It was one of those ‘who’s my baby’s daddy?’ shows. Hopefully her life never got that dramatic.
Just promise that's not foreshadowing something. :lol:
Ha ha ha! Oh god no. That's not foreshadowing anything. I was just waiting for somebody to ask that, though!
tequathisy:
I miss the old Michael and Maria. It's so sad to see how the freindship between the four of them has disintegrated so badly.
I know, isn't it? That's precisely why I included the flashback scene (and will include a few more): to make you guys nostalgic. :wink:



Thanks for the great feedback as always, you guys! Did you guys know that you're now onto page 1,126? :shock: Crazy!


Lengthy update today. Enjoy!










Part 108









“So, how long is he gonna stay here?”

Isabel smiled at Alex, understanding his dissatisfaction with Max’s current choice of lodging. It wasn’t exactly like Alex’s apartment was huge. It didn’t have very thick walls, either . . .

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “We can’t very well kick him out, though. Look at him.” She glanced out the window and wrinkled her forehead in confusion when she laid eyes on her brother. “What’s he doing out there?” He was just standing on the balcony, staring up at the sky, sort of smiling, probably thinking.

“I think he’s meditating,” Alex replied.

“Meditating? Please. Even Kyle doesn’t meditate, and he’s Buddhist.”

“Kyle’s Buddhist?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Learn somethin’ new every day.”

Isabel returned her attention to her brother and concluded, “I think he’s changing. You know?”

“Kyle?”

“No, Max. Like, what’s that thing that butterflies go through? Like a transformation?”

“Metamorphosis?”

“Uh, yeah!” she exclaimed. “Alex! You’re so good with words.”

“Thank you.”

“I think that’s what he’s going through. Max is a butterfly.”

“A butterfly.”

“Mmm-hmm. And it’s only a matter of time until he flies away to his own apartment. He just needs to . . . spread his wings.” She lifted her arms up in the air to demonstrate and smiled at her boyfriend.

Alex smiled back at her. “You’re so cute, Isabel.”

She giggled and brought her arms down over his shoulders as he leaned in to kiss her. Oh god, getting together with Alex and letting Tess and Kyle be together on her own was the best thing she’d ever done.

“Mmm,” he moaned, breaking off the kiss to press his forehead against hers. “He needs to leave soon.”

“He’s only been here two days,” Isabel reminded him.

“Two days too long.”

She laughed and remarked, “You’re horny, Alex.”

“I was a twenty-two year old virgin and now I’m dating you, so . . . can you blame me?”

“No, I can’t.” She gave him a quick kiss again and said, “Seriously, though, tonight, we should just do it and be really quiet. He’ll never hear us.”

“I don’t know. Quiet really hasn’t been our style thus far.”

Thus far?”

“Thus far.” He chuckled. “Okay, I don’t mind if he stays a few more days, but you don’t think he’s gonna stay for a long time, do you?”

“What and freeload? No,” she said confidently. “That’s not like Max.”

“Well, I didn’t think it was like Max to sleep with a girl in a locker room, but apparently . . .” He trailed off.

“Ooh.” Isabel frowned. “I should go talk to him.”

“Alright, I’ll just go . . .”

“Be horny?” she filled in.

He nodded shamelessly. “Yes.”

She laughed, gave him one more kiss, and then headed outside to have a talk with her brother. Max just kept looking up at the sky and smiling. It was creepy.

“How can you be happy at a time like this?” she asked in disbelief.

He turned to her, still smiling, and told her, “I talked to Mom and Dad last night.”

“And that’s a happy thing?”

“No, I mean, not usually. But last night it was. We left things on a bad note the last time I saw ‘em on account of Maria and Michael and . . . me. But we worked things out over the phone last night. Now they’re comin’ to graduation, and I don’t think they’ll put so much academic pressure on me anymore.”

“Oh.” Isabel was surprised. “Well, wonders never cease.”

“That’s right,” Max agreed.

“Okay, so happiness on the parental front. But what about the Maria front? Isn’t that, like, perpetually unhappy now?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you were in love with her, Max. And she . . . you can’t just be over it already.”

“I’m not,” he said. “I’m never gonna be over it. It hurt like hell. It still hurts, but . . . I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t really in love with her.”

“What?” Isabel didn’t understand.

“Well, it’s like with you and Kyle,” he explained. “Were you in love with him?”

She gave it a moment’s contemplation, and she wasn’t quite sure. “Yeah,” she said skeptically. “I don’t know, kind of. I loved him; I did. But not like I love Alex.”

“Right. See?”

She smiled. “So Liz is like your Alex?”

“I didn’t say anything about Liz.”

“You didn’t have to.”

He blushed slightly and said, “I don’t know. She’s a nice girl. We have a lot in common.” He shrugged. “You never know.”

“You never do.”

“I think it’s a little too early to be thinking about that, though. Right now, I just wanna concentrate on myself.”

“Good for you, Max. It’s about time you be self-centered, quit thinking of everyone else.”

“No, I’m not gonna be self-centered.”

“No, you should be. You deserve it.”

“I just wanna . . . better myself,” he explained. “I’m not gonna be such a wimp anymore. I’m not gonna let people walk all over me.”

“Well, good for you,” she said, liking the sound of that. Her brother had always been a total sucker. Even back in high school, all anyone had ever had to do was ask him politely to do their homework, and he would oblige.

“I’m gonna start standing up for myself, standin’ up for what I want.”

“And what do you want?”

“Just somebody who wants me back,” he answered. “Think I can find that somewhere?”

“Somewhere. You know, contrary to what you might think, nice guys don’t always finish last.”

“I hope not. Because I’m always gonna be a nice guy.”

“I’m glad.”

“And I’m always gonna study—I know it’s not cool, but I can’t help myself. But I’m not gonna study so much. You know? I wasn’t really that great of a boyfriend to Maria sometimes. I studied through Valentine’s Day, studied right after she almost died that one night. I studied too much.”

“Live your life a little, Max,” she suggested. “Be a butterfly.”

He gave her a confused look. “A what?”

“A butterfly,” she repeated. “That’s what Alex and I decided you are.”

“Oh.” He wrinkled his forehead in confusion but didn’t ask questions. “Okay.”

“So . . . just out of curiosity, when are you gonna find a new, you know . . . cocoon?”

He chuckled. “Relax, I’ll be outta your hair soon.”

“No, it’s not like that, Max.”

“Trust me, I don’t wanna stay here. I heard what you and Alex were doing last night. It was really disturbing. At least when you were with Kyle, you were down in the basement. Muffled sounds.”

She laughed. “Max, did you just make a joke?”

“New thing for me, huh?”

She smiled excitedly. “I like this new brother of mine. I think he’s gonna do great things.”

“Do you think he’s gonna be alone?”

She shook her head, confidently in that knowledge. “No, he’s not. And whoever ends up with him is gonna be one lucky girl.”

“And whoever ends up with Maria . . .”

She sighed. “Whoever ends up with Maria is . . . gonna be Michael. You think you can handle that?”

He shrugged. “It’s not like I have a choice. Besides, I’d rather see them together than see them unhappy.”

“Oh, and the Nicest Guy of the Year award goes to . . .” She trailed off and patted her brother on the back. “You’re gonna be okay, Max.”

He nodded his head in agreement and said, “Yeah, I know.”

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

Liz took a deep breath to calm herself as she knocked on the door of the Valenti-Evans-DeLuca-Guerin household. Or possibly just the DeLuca-Guerin household now since it seemed unlikely that Max would still be staying there and Kyle was moving out.

The door opened, and Kyle was the one who greeted her. “Liz.” The tone of his voice alone was indication of his surprise at seeing her.

“Hi, Kyle,” she said.

“Hi.”

She just stood there for a moment, feeling awkward. Kyle had undoubtedly heard about her and Max. He was probably thinking she was a slut. That’s what everyone was thinking.

“Are you here to see Max?” Kyle asked. “‘Cause he’s not here.”

“Oh, no, I’m here to see Michael, actually,” she informed him.

“Michael?”

She nodded.

Kyle made a face and said, “Oh . . . kay. Well, just . . . brace yourself, alright? He’s in a bad mood.”

“How bad?” she asked. “Is he gonna talk to me?”

“Uh, well, lately he seems to be mostly yelling, but . . .” Kyle trailed off and shrugged. “Worth a shot, I guess.”

“Yeah. I need to talk to him,” she reminded herself. Had she been smart, she would have had a conversation with Michael prior to her rendezvous with Max. She would have cleared the air, figured everything out before further complicating the entire situation.

Kyle stepped back and allowed her into the house.

“Is he in his room?” Liz asked him.

“I think so.”

“Okay. Thanks, Kyle.”

“Good luck.”

Oh, I’m gonna need it, Liz thought warily as she made her way down to the end of the hallway. She knocked on the door to Michael’s room and got no response. She knocked again and quietly squeaked out, “Michael?” Still no response, so she gently pushed open the door.

He was standing next to his bed, staring down at an open suitcase. He looked really tired and really upset, and he didn’t even acknowledge her presence when she stepped into the room.

“Hi,” she said, shutting the door behind her. “I thought we should talk.”

She finally got a response out of him, but unfortunately it was only, “Whatever.”

She sighed, wishing she knew how to go about this. If there was a handbook on how to handle mutual infidelity, she would have read it cover to cover by now. “What’s that for?” she asked, motioning toward the suitcase. “Are you going somewhere?”

“L.A.”

“Oh. Just taking some time off?”

“Internship. I’m movin’ there.”

That shocked the hell out of her. “What?”

“Yep.”

“Oh. Right. ‘Cause . . . right.” That had definitely come out of the blue. She had to admit that she had never really known much about Michael’s directorial aspirations, but this was impulsive even for him. “Well, good,” she said. “Good for you. I’m glad you’re--”

“Why don’t we just cut to the chase?” he interrupted. “You want your stuff back, right? That’s why you’re here.”

“No, really, I just wanted to talk.”

“Well, really, I’m tired of your junk cluttering up my room, so . . .” He grabbed a box out from under the bed and shoved it into her arms.

She looked down at the lid and noticed that he had scrawled the word bitch on top of it, much like the girls had written the word on her door.

“Wow,” she said. “You know, this word has an entirely different connotation when you use it to refer to Maria.”

“Hey, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m an idiot,” he said. “I don’t know what that means.”

“It means when you call Maria a bitch it sounds a lot different than when you call me a bitch.”

“True,” he agreed. “Although these days they’re just one in the same.”

She wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “What do you mean?” She had been under the impression that now that she and Max were out of the picture, Michael and Maria would just . . .

“Fuck it. I don’t wanna talk about it,” he grumbled angrily. “Especially not with you.”

She sighed and set the box down on the floor next to her feet. “Alright, Michael, I understand why you’re mad at me.”

“I’m not mad.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, to tell you the truth, I’m relieved.”

She frowned, trying to figure that one out. “Relieved?”

“Yeah, now I don’t have to pretend I’m into you.”

Oh, that hurt. That stung. A lot.

“Oh, come on, Liz, you’re supposed to be smart,” he reminded her. “You should’ve known you were second best.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, you should’ve. How many times did I forget about you ‘cause I was hangin’ out with Maria? How many times would I flirt with her right in front of you? I mean, really, whenever I was doin’ you, you had to know I wished I was doin’ her. I imagined it was her.”

Liz took a step back, forcing her emotions to stay on the inside. But hearing that hurt a lot a lot. “That’s really harsh, Michael.”

He shrugged flippantly. “Just tryin’ to be honest. God knows we could use a little honesty in this house.”

She swallowed hard, keeping her tears quelled, and said, “Well, if we’re being so honest . . . you never made me happy. That’s the truth.”

“Great.”

“I’m serious. You were an okay boyfriend. Okay. You did what you were supposed to do, more or less; but I only ever felt like I mattered to you when we were having sex.”

“I’m a guy who likes sex. Big deal.”

“No, Michael, you don’t just like it. You live your life based on it. I mean, you have this twisted notion that being in a relationship and being committed means just having sex with one girl, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s the emotional stuff, too, and . . .”

“I don’t have emotions?”

“You hide them pretty well. Except you’re right. With Maria . . . it was obvious. It was obvious how you felt about her, and I should’ve known. I did know at one point, actually. I knew how you felt about her before we even started dating, but then . . .” She trailed off and shook her head. “I made a mistake.”

“So did I.”

“I just don’t understand how you can stand here and try to make me feel bad, try to make me feel like it’s all my fault.”

“What, you want me to coddle you, Liz? I know you’re childish, but this is extreme.”

“No, I just want you to take some responsibility. Is that too much to ask? I may have slept with Max, but you and Maria--”

“I didn’t sleep with Maria!”

“That really doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in your heart--”

“What heart? Apparently I don’t have one,” he cut in.

“No, in your heart, you were always with her; you were never with me. So you cheated on me.”

“Yeah, and technically you cheated on me, too. ‘Cause when I walked in and saw you and Max . . . in my mind, you were still my girlfriend. I was still gonna move into that apartment with you.”

“Yeah, out of guilt. Out of obligation.”

“Well, I was still gonna move in there. Doesn’t that count for something?”

“That just means you were gonna lie to me, Michael, lead me on, screw me up even more.”

He raked one hand through his hair and roared, “I was trying to do the right thing!”

“But you didn’t do the right thing!”

“Neither did you!”

“I know!”

He let out a sigh of exasperation and sat down on his bed. “What the hell do you want me to say? I’m sorry? ‘Cause I’m really good at saying that.”

“No, I don’t know what I want you to say.”

“Then why the hell did you come here?”

“Because I just wanted us to talk.”

“Well, we did. Sayonara.”

This is no use, she realized. He’s too high-strung right now. And to be quite honest, she felt rather high-strung herself. There wasn’t a chance in hell of them having a civilized conversation. “Maybe I should just go,” she pondered.

“Yeah, that’s why I said sayonara.”

She bent down and picked up the box. “So I guess it’s really over.”

“At last. We kinda sucked together, you know.”

She sighed and turned towards the door.

“Hey, wait,” he said suddenly.

She turned to face him impatiently. First he told her to go, now he was telling her to stay? Mixed signals much?

“You should talk to Maria, get her to tell you what she did.”

Liz wrinkled her forehead in confusion and echoed, “What she did?”

“Yeah.”

She still didn’t get it.

“Let’s just say, you and Max didn’t end up in that locker room by accident.”

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

Maria yawned as she exited the dance studio that afternoon after another day of work. She was going to go home and take a big, long, nice, relaxing . . .

“Liz?” She froze in her tracks when she saw Liz standing out in the parking lot. This was the one person she hadn’t expected to see.

“Hey,” Liz greeted.

“Hey.” Maria stared at her skeptically, trying to figure out why she would be there. A conversation, no doubt, but probably not a friendly one. “What’re you doing here?”

“Well, Kyle told me you worked out here, so I took a bus to the mall and walked the rest of the way here.”

“Okay. But why?”

Liz sighed. “Well, I already had the dreaded talk with Michael. Now I need to talk to you.”

“Not necessary. Really,” Maria assured her, cutting through the parking lot in the direction of her car. “I get it, Liz. Max is a guy. You’re a girl. You had that crush on him way back when. It makes sense.”

“Really? Because it doesn’t even make sense to me,” Liz admitted as she followed her through the lot. “I don’t know why I did what I did.”

“I never know why I do what I do. I just do it. And not knowing doesn’t stop me.”

“Maria, can you just . . . wait a minute,” Liz said, jumping in front of her to stop her from walking any farther. “I need to ask you something.”

“Well, can you make it quick? I’m extremely tired, and I really need to get home and get some sleep before I, you know, faint or freak out or . . . all of the above.”

Liz narrowed her eyes and asked, “Did you do something?”

“You mean did I do your boyfriend?” she asked for clarification. “Tempting, but no.”

“No, I know you and Michael didn’t . . . he told me you guys never took it that far, and I’m choosing to believe him.”

Maria made a face. “Why? He’s a liar just like me.”

“He’s in an honest mood right now,” Liz informed her.

“Tell me about it. Yesterday he actually had the guts to come out and say I’m no longer his best friend. Imagine that.”

“Well, today he basically told me he’s been using me this whole time, thinking of you.” Liz attempted to smile, but it wasn’t a cheerful one. “Sucks to be us, doesn’t it?”

Maria set aside her anger with Michael and tried to concentrate on Liz’s situation for a moment. The girl had her fair share of flaws, sure, but she was, at the end of the day, just a young, naïve person who, like any other person, didn’t want to make the mistakes she did.

“I’m sorry, Liz,” she apologized. “Not that I’m trying to give him any benefit of any doubt or anything like that, but you should know that he wasn’t intentionally using you. I know Michael, and I know that he genuinely liked you as a person. He didn’t wanna hurt you. In his own weird way, he was actually trying to make it work out.”

“Like you were trying to make it work with Max?”

Maria hung her head and leaned back against her car, feeling ashamed as she admitted, “No, not like that. I knew I was using Max and I just went ahead and did it. So that was . . . pretty crappy of me.”

“And you had feelings for Michael the whole time?”

She shrugged. “I guess. Probably. I don’t know; I didn’t give them any thought until you told me he’s in love with me, which clearly he’s not since he’s so eager to move to L.A.”

“Yeah, I heard about that,” Liz said. “I doubt it’ll happen, if that means anything. You and Michael are . . .” She shrugged. “You can’t break into that. I should know. I tried.”

“You did pretty well,” Maria informed her. “I was so jealous of you.”

“I was jealous of you, too,” Liz confessed. “I was never in love with Michael. I just wanted everything you had. I wanted your whole life.”

Maria made a face. “Why?” It wasn’t that great sometimes.

“I don’t know. You just made it seem so glamorous. But once I actually had it . . . you know, the popularity and the recognition . . . I realized what a burden it can be. And now, as much as I hate that it’s gone, I’m relieved that it’s gone. So relieved.”

“They’ve knocked you off your pedestal already, huh?” Maria guessed.

“Yeah. It took less than 24 hours for me to be ‘dethroned.’” Liz rolled her eyes and said, “Now I know how you felt when it happened to you.”

Maria shrugged. “You get over it. There’s more important things. I get that now.”

“More important things like what?”

“Like frustrating boys like Michael,” Maria replied. “Don’t let him blame the whole break-up on you. It’s just as much his fault as it is yours. And it’s my fault, too. I know that.”

“He says you did something,” Liz came out and said. “I guess I don’t really understand what he means . . .”

Maria sighed. “What exactly did he say?”

“Something about how it was no accident that Max and I ended up in that locker room.”

No point in denying it, Maria thought. Not now. “Well, that’s true,” she admitted. “You guys were there because . . . I put you there.”

Liz made a face of confusion and asked, “What?”

“Yeah. It wasn’t too hard. Remember that text message you got from Max, saying he wanted to meet you there?”

Liz nodded.

“I sent it. And remember that one he got from you?”

“I didn’t text him.”

“No, but I did. I just thought that if you two met somewhere and had to spend some time together that he’d tell you everything. So I locked you guys in there and hoped he’d spill the beans about Michael and me. And he did. I knew he would. He thinks too much of you to keep that a secret.”

“Wait a minute.” The wheels of Liz’s mind were almost visibly turning as she processed the knowledge. “So . . . so you knew that you and Michael were gonna walk in on me and Max like that?”

“Oh, god no, I had no idea you guys would screw each other. But people are full of surprises.”

Liz’s mental wheels slowly came to a halt. “Oh my god,” she realized. “You tricked me.”

“I tricked everyone.”

“Why?”

Maria shrugged. “Because I’m a bitch.”

“No, you’re not, Maria. Sure, you may get a little snippy sometimes, but you don’t mess with people’s lives like this. I mean . . . how could you?”

“I don’t know,” Maria admitted, “but I sure as hell did. The only reason you and Michael ever started dating is because I convinced him to go out with you. And the only reason I convinced him to go out with you is because I was going out with Max. And the only reason I ever went out with Max in the first place is because I was too lame to tell Michael how I felt about him. So there you go. I’m the puppet master, and everything that’s happened has been this whole tangled web of deception or whatever. I’ve had the power to set things straight this entire time, and I haven’t done it. You know why? Because I’m a bitch.”

Liz took a step back and said, “I’ve never known you to be this self-deprecating, Maria.”

“You’ve never known me, Liz,” Maria pointed out. “Not even when we were so-called ‘friends.’ Our friendship consisted of you asking me for help and me helping you.”

“I know,” Liz said. “And I’m not proud of that. But we were gonna start over, remember? Just the other day, we agreed to try to be friends again. What happened? What went wrong? Why did you have to go and manipulate everything?”

“I don’t know,” Maria answered honestly. “I just . . . god, I’m blaming it on, Michael, alright? The guy’s screwed me up big-time, made me feel things I never thought I would feel. So when he told me he was moving in with you . . . I panicked.”

“And the first thought that crossed your mind was, ‘oh, I have to get Liz and Max in that locker room together’?”

“No, that was just . . . a plan, okay? A stupid plan, a vindictive plan—big surprise.”

“But why did you do it? Why couldn’t you just tell me yourself?”

“Because I didn’t want Michael to get mad at me. And the irony is, he’s now furious.”

“Oh my god, Maria.”

“No, I just . . . I thought you should know the truth, Liz. I didn’t want Michael to lie to you and use you like I used Max. And yeah, there were selfish motives involved, too. I won’t deny it. I didn’t want Michael to move in with you. I wanted him to break up with you, and I just . . . I thought I could be the one to orchestrate it and not get caught, I guess. But obviously I got in way over my head this time, because you and Max did the bone dance, and Michael’s gonna be heading off to L.A. soon, and I just—I feel like everyone hates me, and I can’t blame them, because part of me hates myself and--”

“Okay, Maria, calm down,” Liz cut in. “I don’t hate you. I’m just really disappointed in you. I mean, do you realize how this changed my relationship with Max, too?”

“Liz, I honestly don’t care. I didn’t make you guys sleep with each other. You did that all on your own.”

“I know, but . . .” Liz trailed off and ran one hand through her hair. “No, I guess you’re right. If things go downhill with Max, that’s my fault.”

“I’d try to get ‘em uphill if I were you,” Maria suggested. “I know what it’s like to have Max in your life and not in your life, and trust me, it’s better when he’s in your life. He’s a really nice guy and a really good friend. And I stupidly tossed that all away.”

Liz took a step towards her again and asked in a low, even tone, “Would you ever wanna get back together with him? I mean, if he offered, would you--”

“No,” Maria cut in quickly. “I don’t have those kinds of feelings for Max; I never will. That’s just the way it is.”

“Yeah,” Liz agreed quietly. “That’s like me and Michael. I’m attracted to him, even now when he’s pissing me off, but I’m not in love with him. I never was.”

Interesting, Maria thought. Seems like I wasn’t the only girl doing a little lying. She sat down on the hood of her car and just breathed for a moment, trying to get calm and collected again.

Liz sat down beside her and said, “I think we may be a lot more alike than we think we are, Maria.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. We’re both making mistakes like they’re going out of style. We’re both dethroned queens. Michael’s mad at both of us.”

“God, he’s such an ass,” she grumbled. “What is it about him that makes him so . . .”

“Irresistible?” Liz filled in. “I don’t know. The whole bad boy thing, I guess.”

“Max is totally the easier option. Nice guy, solid guy, sweet guy.”

Liz smiled a little. “Max is easy.”

“Well, Michael is, too, but . . . in a different way.”

Liz laughed slightly, then quickly quieted down again and mumbled, “I feel kind of easy, too, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“It’s like . . . for the first time in my life, I really don’t like myself right now. And I don’t know what to do to make things better.”

Maria sighed and looked out at the stormy blue sky. “Well, in that case, we’re definitely a lot more alike than I ever thought.”

“Yep.” Liz tapped her heels against the front of the car and stated for clarification, “So you wanna be with Michael.”

Maria groaned. “Unfortunately yes. And you wanna be with . . . Max? Or Michael?”

“I think I just wanna be me again,” Liz muttered dejectedly. “That would be nice.”

“Yeah,” Maria agreed, feeling sorry for the younger girl. “Well . . . go for it. What’ve you got to lose?”

“Nothing,” Liz replied. “Absolutely nothing.”

“Yeah,” Maria agreed, thinking of everything she had lost in recent months. Her popularity, her dance team, her minute fraction of a relationship with her mother, Max, and now Michael. Or maybe she was still in the process of losing Michael. Either way, it sucked beyond words, and she had nothing to lose, either.

“Do you think we’ll ever be friends again after everything that’s happened now?” Liz asked hopefully.

“Why would you wanna be my friend, Liz? I basically stole your boyfriend.”

“Well, I slept with yours.”

“He was already an ex. It doesn’t count.”

“Well, the point is, everything’s really screwed up.”

“Yeah,” Maria agreed. “I don’t know, anything’s possible. But then again, I’m tending to lose all my friends, so . . . just proceed with caution, because you might get lost.”

“I’ll take that risk,” Liz said decidedly. “I’m just glad we’re not gonna catfight it out.”

“Me, too,” Maria said. “The last thing either of us needs is more drama in our lives.”

Liz nodded emphatically. “Right about that.”

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

After her surprisingly peaceful talk with Liz, Maria went home for the evening. This work schedule was sort of starting to kill her, but she wasn’t going to bail on it. It was her job, and strangely enough, it was about the only thing keeping her sane since Michael was effectively driving her insane.

She headed straight to her bedroom, hoping to crash and take a nap when her phone rang. She impatiently grabbed it out of her purse, saw that it was once again her mother trying to call her, and frowned. “Why do you keep calling me?” she mumbled, hitting the power button to turn the phone off. No way was she talking to that dreadful woman. That would only make her life worse, and worse was not what she needed right now. No, she needed better. Amy DeLuca was not better.

She tossed her phone onto her cluttered desk and jumped back in surprise when she heard Michael ask, “Who was that?’

She held her hand to her chest, startled, and turned to face him standing in the doorway. “My favorite kinky phone sex operator,” she lied.

Much to her surprise, the dumb-ass believed her. “Wait . . . why do you have a phone sex operator? Let alone a favorite!”

“It was a fucking joke, Michael. God, did you lose your sense of humor when you lost your girlfriend? Oh, wait, what sense of humor? Never mind.”

He waited for a few beats before quietly asking, “So . . . there’s no phone sex operator?”

“Oh my god, no.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Who was that then?”

She rolled in her eyes in annoyance and explained, “That was my mom. She keeps trying to call me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. My guess is, with graduation coming up, she wants to fix fences, but . . . as pleasant as she is, I’d rather not converse.”

He cleared his throat and again asked a quiet question. “Well, do you think you could talk to me?”

She studied him skeptically. “You wanna talk?”

“Yeah, do you think we can do that?”

She grunted in disbelief and shook her head.

“Why not?” he asked persistently.

Instead of answering him with words, she reached down, grabbed the bottom of her sweaty dance shirt and pulled it over her head. His eyes immediately grew wide and he began to shift in place when she stood before him in her bra and Capri pants.

“That’s why,” she stated. “Besides, what could we possibly have left to talk about?”

His eyes bore down into the floor, and it was obvious that he was doing everything in his power not to look at her when he mumbled, “Can you put a shirt on?”

“You don’t like this?”

“No, I do. That’s the problem.”

Problem. She let her mind mull over the word. Their physical attraction, as much as she reveled in it, was indeed proving to be a problem. It was hard to fix your very complicated issues with a person when all you really wanted to do was screw that said person’s brains out.

She opened up the top drawer of her dresser and pulled out a semi-long t-shirt. She put that on and he breathed a sigh of relief, but then she untied her pants and pushed them down to the floor just to make him suffer. Sure, the t-shirt was covering more than its fair share, but he obviously got turned on, and that was victory enough in itself. Michael with a burgeoning erection and no girlfriend to suck him off . . . ha, ha, ha. And ha.

“Sorry,” she said, “it’s just really hot in here. Don’t you think it’s hot in here?”

“It’s hot in here,” he agreed without hesitation. He was making no move to conceal the slight bulge in her pants. Well, at least he wanted her physically. She could take comfort in that. “Why you bein’ such a bitch, Maria?”

She shrugged. “It’s what I’m best at. What about you? Why are you being such a dumb-ass? Oh, I forgot. That’s what you’re best at.”

“Great,” he muttered. “You’re pissed. I’m pissed. Should make for a fun conversation.”

“What conversation?”

“The one we’re supposed to be having. Come on, Maria, quit acting like this. I really wanted to talk to you.”

“About what?” She took a few steps towards him, blazing with anger. “About how manipulative I am? About how un-cool it was for me to lie to you? About how I’m not your friend anymore? All of the above?”

“No, I just wanna ask you something.”

“You want a blow-job, don’t you?” She shook her head. “Not gonna happen.”

“Fuck, Maria, I just wanted to ask you . . . what you want.”

“A double penetration with two guys I just met. Now those were the days,” she answered quickly.

“Dammit, Maria, would you listen to me?” he suddenly shouted, causing her to fall silent. “What do you want? Do you want me to go to L.A.? ‘Cause I’m pretty much all packed, and as it is right now, I’m set to leave in a couple of days. Or do you want me to stay, ‘cause . . . I could do that, too.”

How did she answer that? How was she supposed to come up with an answer when she was so conflicted, when part of her hated him right now and the other part loved—

“No,” she said sternly. “I am not letting you put this on me.”

“Just answer the question.”

“No, Michael, it’s your crappy life. I’m not gonna decide it for you.”

“I’m asking. Just answer.”

She sighed heavily, knowing he wasn’t going to let her get away with not answering, and decided the best thing to do was to answer honestly. For once. “I want you to stay,” she told him. “But I don’t know if you should stay.”

“Great, that helps a ton,” he muttered sarcastically.

“Well!” She huffed. “I don’t know, Michael. I mean . . . do you know what would be nice?”

“What?”

“If you could just . . .” She took a few more steps closer to him so that she was standing right in front of him, staring up at him. “Could you just tell me how you feel about me and, like, put me out of my misery? Because seriously, I’ve had civilized conversations with Max and Liz now, and the only person I can’t seem to have a civilized conversation with is you, because--”

“Because we wanna fuck each other,” he filled in. “We already established that.”

“No—I mean, yeah, but also because you just . . . you’re so guarded when it comes to your feelings, Michael. Like completely guarded. So how am I supposed to . . .” She trailed off and hit her tiny fist against his chest in frustration. “How am I supposed to not be a bitch and not be defensive when I don’t even know how you feel about me?” She didn’t like the whining sound in her voice as she asked that question, but there wasn’t much she could do to control it.

“Ah, Maria . . .” His tone softened as reached up with one hand and tucked her hair behind her ear. Just the simple touch sent shivers up her spine. “I don’t know how I feel about you,” he admitted.

“How can you not know?”

“It’s just . . .” He seemed to be at a loss as to how to explain it. “I’ve never let myself feel anything for anyone before, and now that I am feeling stuff . . . for you of all people . . .”

“For me of all people?” she interrupted. “God, why do you make it sound like I’m so horrible?” She whirled around, prepared to stomp away from him, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her back to him.

“No, you’re not horrible, Maria. You’re beautiful, alright? There, I said it. You’re so . . . you’re so beautiful, and I usually don’t say that kind of thing, ‘cause I think it sounds cheesy, but . . . you just are. And you’re my friend, and I want you, but I don’t wanna want you because it’s screwing up everything we have, and I just . . . I don’t know what to do.”

His sudden rush of honesty diminished her anger just slightly, and she allowed him to envelope her in his arms, bring her in close, and press his forehead against his.

“Michael,” she whimpered, distressed. “Can’t we just . . . do it?”

He smiled. “You’re such a romantic.”

“No, I’m serious. Can’t we just do it and see where it goes?” She could feel his erection insistently pressing into her stomach. He was on fire for her. He really was.

“No,” he said. “‘Cause if we . . . then there’s no turning back.”

“I don’t wanna turn back,” she whispered, shaking her head forcefully. “I don’t wanna turn back, Michael.”

“Shh,” he soothed, smoothing his fingers over her hair. “Shh. It’s gonna be alright.”

A few tears spilled over as she stood there in front of him, desperately clinging to his strong shoulders, her forehead still pressed against his. “What if nothing’s gonna be alright?”

“No, it’ll all be fine,” he assured her. “Don’t cry, Maria. Please don’t. I don’t wanna make you cry.”

“You already have,” she informed him, balling his t-shirt up in her hands. She felt like a complete emotional wreck, nowhere near as sure and determined as she had been yesterday. Now, as his departure was drawing nearer, she couldn’t just be mad at him or just be sad. She had to be mad and sad and confused and attracted all at once. It was so unfair, but at the same time, she supposed she deserved it. “Michael?”

“Hmm?”

She frowned through her tears and confessed, “I’m scared.”

“Scared of what?” he asked.

Still frowning, she brought her head down to rest against his chest. “Of losing you,” she replied. “I’m scared that . . . that you’re already lost.”

“I’m not lost,” he assured her, stroking his hands up and down her spine.

“Then why does it feel like it?”

“It’s just ‘cause we’re fighting. That’s all.”

“Well, when are we gonna stop fighting?”

He sighed and rested his chin atop her head. “I don’t know.”

She groaned in distress and wrapped her arms around his neck, trying to pull him down closer to her. He obliged, burying his face in the side of her neck for a moment before suddenly reaching down and lifting her up into his arms. She wrapped her legs around his waist and held on tight as he carried her over to her bed and set her down. She thought he would leave, but he lay down beside her, still holding her. She curled up against him, crying lightly, and wet his t-shirt with her tears. He didn’t seem to mind.

How strange. She had started out the conversation cold-hearted and bitchy, and now she was lying in bed with him, crying, letting it all out, probably really embarrassing herself with how pathetic she was being, but . . . it really hurt. Everything really hurt.

“I don’t mean to hurt you, Maria,” he told her as if he’d read her mind. He stroked his warm, large hands over her hair and her shoulders, his touch making her feel just the slightest bit better. Just lying next to him and not yelling at him was a nice deviation from the nowaday norm.

“I know,” she assured him. “But Michael . . .” She gathered up all her courage as the realization dawned on her. “You can’t stay.” It hurt to say the words, but she said them anyway. Because she had to. “If we’re gonna keep going on like this . . . you can’t stay.”

She heard him swallow hard, and perhaps that meant he had wanted to hear something else. But maybe . . . maybe they needed some time apart from each other. Maybe that would be good for them.

Or maybe it would rip them apart forever. There was really no way to know.

“I can’t lose you, Michael. And if you stay . . .” Their current situation horrified her, and she wished more than anything else that she’d never let it get this bad. “I’m gonna lose you. I’m gonna lose you if you stay.”








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 109

Post by April » Thu Sep 18, 2008 11:58 am

nibbles:
For so long, I was dying for Michael to come out and say pretty much exactly what he said to Liz. And when he did, I thought he was a grade A ass.
I totally agree! I think Michael has the right to be angry, but he's wrong to make Liz out to be the bad guy when, really, there are no bad guys and his cheating is pretty obviously worse than hers.
Christina:
Aside from that, I was actually sort of giddy with excitement throughout and after the Maria and Liz convo. Finally, after 108 chapters, they're just now starting to form a real, solid friendship.
Yep. :D Maria and Liz have every reason to hate each other's guts right now, but like you said, they might for the first time be on their way to a real, solid friendship. They're actually very similar, so . . . I don't know, go figure.
Alien_Friend:
It's all just so sad. They just keep going around in circles and keep damaging their already fragile hearts.
Yeah, that's exactly what they're doing. They're not getting anything accomplished right now (or not much of anything, at least) because they're so busy trying to assign blame and accept blame and figure out the mess they're currently in . . . I think it's sad, too. At the end of the day, they're all just young people who are going through a very turbulent yet important time in their lives.
Ashley:
finaly there almost together?
Well, depends what you mean by "almost." ;)
Sara:
I want them to at least get send-off sex....I think those two owe us some action!
:lol: You know it's going to happen one of these days!
lilah:
That was so sad, you really know how to make your readers cry
Do I? Oh, that's good. :)
Mag:
Damn, Michael and Maria aren't going to work if he stays, and they aren't going to work if he leaves. What's going to happen then?
It's such a bad situtation. Like you pointed out, it's pretty much a lose-lose situation either way. :(
Krista:
As you can see, I've given this a lot of thought.
:lol: Yes, you have! And I enjoy your thoughts!
behrluv32: New feedbacker, right? (Sometimes I lose track with all the pruning that happens on this thread.) Well, I agree with you, especially when you said that they are all kids trying to act like adults and failing miserably. (Well, Max isn't failing so much anymore, but the other 3 . . .) And yeah, M+M could probably use a good therapist, but they'd never go for that.
killjoy:
Max and Liz are slowly getting their act together....Michael and Maria are still as messed up as normal
:lol: I know! They wouldn't be Passion Michael and Maria if they weren't seriously messed up, though!
CandyLand:
I don't know if I can make, April.
Oh, yes you can! You've made it this far! If you bail out now, you're going to miss the best part. ;) ;)
tequathisy:
They're breaking up and they've never even been together.
Oh my god! I have to bow down to you for phrasing it like that! Perfect way to describe what's happening.



Thanks for all the feedback! Now I have good news: There WILL be a Saturday update! :mrgreen:








Part 109







Kyle stepped up to the open door and stared into the bedroom at the oddly peaceful forms of Michael and Maria curled up together on Maria’s bed. Maria was asleep; Michael was watching her sleep, holding her, touching her hair, seeming as though he were about to doze off himself.

Oh, you two crazy kids, Kyle thought. You’re hopeless. But at the same time, as he stared at the two of them in that moment, he felt sort of hopeful.

Maybe Michael didn’t realize how attentive he was being, but as he leaned in and pressed a kiss to Maria’s forehead, it was clear to Kyle and would have been clear to any outside observer that there was only one crazy girl who the craziest guy in the world belonged with, one girl who really understood him and meshed with him, and she was lying right beside him. They were fated to be together whether they wanted to be or not.

Why didn’t they just figure that out?

Kyle cleared his throat, alerting Michael to his presence, and Michael glanced down at Maria again before gently untangling himself from her and slipping out of the bed. She moaned, frowned, and curled up with the pillow once he was gone.

“What’s up?” Michael asked as he joined Kyle in the doorway.

“You tell me,” was Kyle’s response. “I heard you guys yelling earlier. Now . . .” He trailed off and motioned toward the sleeping girl.

“Yeah.” Michael gazed at her with obvious longing in his eyes and spoke quietly when he said, “She told me to go.”

Kyle made a face of confusion. “What?”

“To L.A.,” he elaborated. “She told me to go to L.A.”

“Seriously?”

“Mmm-hmm. She told me to go.”

He kept saying that, but Kyle was suspicious of his motives. “Do you wanna go?” he asked. “‘Cause that’s really the question here.”

“I don’t know,” Michael admitted reluctantly. “I don’t wanna leave her. But . . . look at her.” He stared at her and shook his head sadly. “I’m messin’ her up, man. I’m messin’ her whole life up. If I stay, I’m just gonna keep hurting her, and I don’t wanna do that.”

“Well, do you wanna see her hook up with some other guy? ‘Cause that’s what’s gonna happen if you leave.” Kyle was sure of that much. As fiercely independent as Maria could be, she always had a man in her life in some way, shape, or form. Always.

“I saw her hook up with Max,” Michael pointed out. “Saw her hook up with every guy on campus.”

“And you never got jealous?”

“No. ‘Cause I knew she’d be hangin’ out with me at the end of the day.” He smiled a little as though he were reminiscing.

Kyle watched Maria for a moment as she stirred. She looked unhappy without Michael there, but at the same time too tired to wake up.

“She’s my best friend,” Michael stated simply, “and I wanna be with her. But I don’t wanna be with her if it’s gonna cost us our friendship.”

“And what makes you so sure it will?”

“Well, look at how she and Max turned out.”

“But that was all a lie,” Kyle pointed out. “You guys could try this little thing called honesty. All the cool kids are doing it.”

“Yeah, but . . .”

Kyle sighed in frustration, understanding his friend’s concerns as much as he didn’t understand them. “Alright, listen up. As much as I like you and Maria and Max, I got a best friend by the name of Tess Harding, alright? I've told you this. See, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

Michael just kept staring at Maria, seeming to give thought to that declaration.

“That’s your girl, man. Come on,” Kyle said emphatically. “So she told to go. So what? Since when have you ever listened to her?”

Michael smirked, and for a moment, Kyle thought he had gotten through to him. But as that smirk dissolved into a frown and Michael mumbled, “I don’t know,” in his ever-present state of confusion, Kyle reminded himself that he was talking to the most dense guy on the planet earth, that it had taken Michael and Maria eight years to progress this far towards a romantic relationship, and that it was going to take a lot more than one brief conversation to make it happen.

He obviously wanted to stay, but she told him to go, although she probably wanted him to stay, too. The solution was a simple one, but Kyle was beginning to wonder if Michael and Maria would ever figure it out. There was only so much he could do to help. In the end, it was up to them.

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

Max glanced across the street at the Fairview Apartment Complex. It looked really nice judging by the outside. If it was anything like the landlord promised, it would be nice on the inside, too.

Max crossed the street on the crosswalk, hoping that this apartment would be a lot better than the first two he’d looked at. The very first one he’d gone to see had been rat infested, and the second had had a community bathroom. He was going to have to find something that worked out for him soon, because he couldn’t crash with Isabel and Alex much longer. He felt as though he were intruding even after just a couple of days. Besides, a guy really didn’t need to listen to his little sister getting it on at night. It was all too disturbing.

Too bad Maria’s not here with me, he thought as he entered the building, but then he re-thought the thought. No, not too bad. It had all been a lie, and he was going to be better off without her. He only wished she hadn’t consciously used him and wreaked such havoc on their friendship in the process. Oh, if only she had been honest with him, and if only he had been honest with himself . . .

Determined not to dwell on it, Max glanced around the lobby for the woman he was supposed to meet, the landlord. “Hello?” he called but received no answer. It was technically dinner time, so he wouldn’t be surprised if she were running a bit late. Since she wasn’t down in the lobby, though, Max figured he would head on up to the apartment he had inquired about and see if she was waiting there for him. It was worth a shot.

He took the stairs up to the second floor and glanced down both directions of the hallway. “26B,” he mumbled. That was the apartment open for rent. He glanced at all the numbers on the doors, walking past 23B, 24B, and 25B before reaching 26B. Much to his surprise, the door was open. He peeked his head inside and saw someone very familiar carrying a stack of three boxes towards the door.

“Liz?”

She craned her neck to the side to peer around the boxes. “Max?”

“Hey.”

“Hey.” She came to the door, and he immediately took the boxes from her. “Thanks,” she said.

“No problem.” He glanced into the apartment again. This was 26B, wasn’t it? He glanced at the door. Oh, yeah.

“What’re you doing here?” she asked him.

“Funny, I was about to ask you the same thing.”

“Oh, well . . .” She shrugged and gestured inside the apartment. “This was it. This was the place Michael and I were gonna get together before . . . everything happened. Now, not so much.”

“Not so much,” he agreed. “So are you not staying here anymore, or . . .”

“Nope, I’m giving it up. I really like it, but five-hundred dollars is a kinda steep rent for one person.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, “it is.”

“So what’re you doing here?” she asked him again.

He chuckled a little. “Well, this is just a weird coincidence, I guess, but I’m actually thinking about renting.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He carefully set the boxes down on the floor, as they were very heavy, and added, “But like you said, the rent’s a little steep, so . . . I’m probably just looking.”

“Oh, but you could probably afford it better than me,” she said. “You’re actually employed, for one.”

“Ah, but still . . . five-hundred dollars . . .”

“Well, why don’t you come inside,” she said. “I’ll show you around.”

“Okay.” He smiled. “You’ll be my landlord?”

“I guess.”

“Good, ‘cause the real one’s nowhere to be found.” He stepped into the apartment, took off his shoes, and surveyed the environment. “Wow,” he remarked, mentally noting the marble countertops, leather couches, and brick fireplace. “At least they give you your money’s worth, huh?”

“Yeah, I was really excited to move in,” Liz said. “But there’s just no reason to now.”

“Well, I have to move out,” he said. “I can’t very well stay in that house any longer. Not after . . . everything.”

“Everything,” she echoed. “So Kyle’s moving out, you’re moving out, Michael’s moving to L.A. . . .”

“I forgot about that,” Max mumbled. “So Maria’s just gonna be living in that house all alone?”

“I guess,” Liz said. “That’s a weird thought, huh? That place has practically been like a hotel for so long now.”

“Yeah,” Max agreed, suddenly wondering if moving out was the right thing to do. “I can’t stay there,” he said.

Liz shook her head and agreed, “You really can’t. I mean, you could, but . . . I imagine that would be a little awkward.”

“Just a little.” Still, he didn’t like the thought of Maria living alone. “Ah, I feel kinda bad, though. I may not like Maria right now, but I don’t want her to end up alone.”

“I doubt she will,” Liz said. “She and Michael are . . . you know.”

He nodded silently. He knew. Michael and Maria always wound up together somehow, even when they were never really apart. “I just want her to be happy,” he said.

Liz looked him in the eye and smiled. “Wow. That’s so great of you, Max.”

He shrugged. “Despite everything she’s done, I look at her, and I still see that girl I saw on the first day of high school, you know? And I just wanna see that girl smile again.”

Liz smiled some more. “My god, Max, that’s so sweet. Most guys wouldn’t be so nice.”

“Well, you know me. Nice guy. Boring guy.”

“You’re not boring,” she assured him.

“Not anymore. It’s interesting, Liz. It’s like I’m on a new path or something, like I’m starting to go somewhere I’ve never gone before, be someone I’ve never been. It’s exciting.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” she said quietly. “Actually, you know what, Max? I’m really glad we bumped into each other here, because there’s something I wanna tell you.”

“Okay.” He couldn’t imagine what she might need to tell him that was accompanied by a preceding announcement.

“I might be on a new path of my own,” she said, “and . . . that path might lead me back to Nebraska.”

He frowned on instinct as he processed that. “Nebraska?”

“Yeah. You know, I talked to my mom and dad last night, and I realized how much I miss them and how much I miss my home, you know.”

Max had a feeling he knew what she was saying, but he stayed quiet in order to let her say it.

“Granted, Santa Fe is marginally more exciting than Nebraska, but . . .” She paused, looking a bit unsure. “I don’t know. I just feel like I don’t belong here, like I don’t even know who I am here. And I definitely don’t like who I am. So I’m starting to think that maybe it would be in my best interest to go back home, go back to my family, to the people who love me. You know, go back to being who I really am, no matter how unpopular and nerdy she may be.”

“Liz . . .” He wasn’t quite sure what to say, how to feel about this development. “Have you thought about this?” he asked her.

She nodded. “Yeah, I have.”

“How would you work that out with school and stuff?”

“Uh, well, I’d wanna go back to my old university, but it’s too late to apply for the fall semester, so I’d have to wait until spring. But that might not be such a bad idea. I could use the time off. Maybe I could get a job or take some classes at a community college or . . . you know, just whatever. I don’t know, it just feels like the best thing to do. I don’t think anybody’s gonna lose sleep if I go.”

“I’ll miss you,” he promised.

She smiled and tears came up in her eyes. “Oh, don’t make me cry, Max.”

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s, uh . . . yeah, I just—I don’t know. I just think I need to . . . go. Because I’m not doing so good here.”

He sighed. It was going to be tough to see her leave. He really liked Liz, really enjoyed getting to know her . . . and having that extra, newfound physical attraction didn’t hurt, either.

“But I’ll miss you, too, Max,” she promised. “Know that.”

That was nice to know. Very nice.

“But how ironic would that be if you got what was supposed to be my apartment?”

“Pretty ironic,” he agreed. He tried to smile, but it was hard. He was really sad to hear all this, to hear that she was leaving. Sure, her first semester in New Mexico hadn’t been perfect by any means, but still . . . she could learn from her mistakes. He was certainly learning from his. “When do you think you’re leaving?” he asked her.

“Well, I got through my last final today, so . . .” She shrugged. “As soon as possible?”

Just act happy for her, he told himself. It’s not like you two were involved. Just that one night. It doesn’t count as anything romantic. It was a thing and now it’s over, and that’s okay.

That’s okay.


“Well, just so long as you stay in touch,” he said, making his way towards her.

“I will,” she promised. “But probably just with you. You’re about the only friend I’ve got left.”

He took her into his arms and hugged her, and when he caught a whiff of her perfume, he flashed back to the locker room, to the feel and the smell of her, to the way she had made him come alive, ignited his passion. He did have passion, and he’d certainly had some with her. She wasn’t Maria by any means, but . . . she didn’t need to be.

“I’m really gonna miss you, Liz.”

She sounded more than a little sad when she said, “I’m really gonna miss you, too.”

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

Maria sat on her bed that evening with her (ugly as hell) graduation attire in her lap. In a week, college would be over. She would walk up on that stage, get that diploma, and then . . . it would be done. Just like that. The four wildest, craziest, most stressful and enjoyable years of her life would be over. And at this rate, so would her friendship with Michael. Great.

Downtrodden, she smoothed her hair down and put her graduation cap on her head. She couldn’t remember if the tassel was supposed to be on the left or the right pre-graduation, so she just put it on the right because it felt better. She wanted to smile and be happy about graduation, but how could she be when the future looked so . . . well, bleak?

“Blue-screen blue.”

She looked up and saw Kyle in the doorway. That poor guy, she thought. He’d always been the rock of their household, but being the rock meant that you had to hear everyone’s problems and deal with everyone’s drama. Still, she couldn’t refrain from commenting, “He’s not even gonna graduate with us. That’s kinda sad.”

“Well, at least he’s gonna graduate,” Kyle said.

“Yeah, but he’s not gonna be at that stupid, long-ass ceremony to keep me company. Back when we were freshman, we made this, like, drunk pact that we would go streaking through the commencement auditorium on graduation day.” She smiled a little, and then her smile immediately fell. “But he’ll be in L.A., so . . .” She trailed off and reached up to remove her hat. It really was the most horrible color of blue in the world, and she hated it.

“You told him you want him to go,” Kyle reminded her, moving forward so he could sit down beside her.

“I told him I want him to stay,” she corrected, “but I think he needs to leave.”

Kyle grunted. “Well, how’s that gonna help with anything? You’re just gonna be replacing emotional distance with physical distance.”

“Oh, no, we are not emotionally or physically distant right now,” she informed her friend. “That’s the problem. We’re on the verge of overthrowing an eight-year friendship for the sake of hormones. And as much as I would like to just . . .” She trailed off.

“Get sweaty?” Kyle filled in.

“Yeah. I’m not gonna do that. ‘Cause that would just cause more harm than good.”

“Or it could cause more good than harm,” Kyle pointed out.

“I can’t risk it.”

“What’s left to risk?” Kyle shrugged. “Sorry, but you gotta face the reality here. You and Michael . . . you guys are in fuckin’ shambles right now. Doesn’t mean you can’t rebuild. But sometimes you have to . . . get a little sweaty to rebuild.” He cringed. “That sounded a lot less weird in my head.”

“No, I get what you’re saying,” she said. “But I’m putting my foot down on this. Michael’s going to L.A., and I’m just gonna . . . I’m gonna sit here and try to figure myself out. And maybe after enough time’s passed . . .”

“Maria. Eight years. Eight years has passed,” he made sure to remind her.

“I know.” She frowned. Maybe she should have just hopped in bed with Michael right from the start, back during their first year of high school. That might have saved her a lot of trouble down the road, and it’s not as though he wouldn’t have gone for it.

“I’m just confused,” she came right out and admitted, “and so is Michael. And put us together and what do you get but this big, ugly ball of confusion.”

“Ugly ball of confusion?”

“Yes, ugly ball.”

He sighed. “Well, I wish I could do more to help you figure it out.”

“No, you’ve done enough,” she assured him. “Michael and I are just stupid and stubborn, and it’s not a good combination.”

Kyle smiled fondly and said, “I think you guys are a good combination.”

She smiled, too, thinking about it. “We kind of are, aren’t we?”

“Yeah.” He chuckled. “I mean, hell, you guys have kept me entertained for eight years.”

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

Max ducked upon opening the door to the house that night just in case Michael came out swinging again. Luckily, Michael was nowhere in sight. Maria was there, though, lying on the couch, asleep. She looked beautiful but sad, and Max felt bad for her. He wished he could do something to make her feel better, even though he probably should have still been furious at her for cheating on him. He couldn’t do anything for her, though. Not really. The only person who could really make her happier was the one person she was having serious problems with.

Dammit, Michael.

Max quietly made his way through the living room to his bedroom. He crept inside and quickly found what he was looking for: clothes. He was running really low on clean clothes, and B.O. wasn’t an attractive smell. Not that he was trying to attract anyone, especially now that Liz was going back home.

He draped some shirts and jeans over his arm and then did a sweep of the room, checking to see if there was anything he would absolutely need since he wouldn’t be coming back for awhile. Nope, nothing.

As he was stepping out of his room, he heard Maria stir and mumble barely audibly, “Michael?”

Of course it was kind of a knife in the heart to know that she was probably dreaming about him, but . . . it didn’t matter. Max was definitely moving on; he was on his new path and he was ready to get over his feelings for her. But still . . . he couldn’t help feeling bad. Maria DeLuca was far from a perfect person, but she was still a person, a person who had feelings no matter how hard she tried to deny them, a person who made mistakes just like any other person and struggled to learn from them. She was really going through something, and Michael, what with his ever-present stubbornness, wasn’t making it any easier on her.

On impulse, Max set his clothes down on the back of the chair and marched through the living room and down the hallway to Michael’s bedroom. The closer he got to the door, the louder the sounds of Metallica music became, and when he opened the door, it blasted into his ears.

“Michael!”

Michael was sitting on his bed, holding his forehead in his hands, eyes closed. He looked as though he were just as asleep as Maria was.

Max reached over to Michael’s CD player and hit the power button, shutting the music off. Strangely enough, the sudden silence was what woke Michael up. “Hey, what’re you doin’?” he asked groggily.

“How can you sleep to that?” Max asked.

“It’s a gift.” Michael pushed himself farther up into a sitting position and yawned. “What’re you doin’ here, Maxwell? Wanna get punched in the face again, ‘cause . . .” He curled his hand in a fist and pumped it in the air twice. “I’m ready to go.”

“I don’t understand how you can hate me when I don’t even hate you.”

“I don’t hate you, Max. Just pissed.”

“Seems to be the story of your life lately,” Max remarked. “And Maria . . . seems like she’s either pissed or sad 24/7 these days. I feel bad for her.”

“You do remember that she cheated on you, right? This is the one time where you can stop bein’ the nice guy and just be a dick.”

“I’m moving past it,” Max said decidedly. “I’m determined to be happy, and I want her to be happy, too. That’s all.”

“Yeah? Well, that’s noble, Max. Good job.”

Max rolled his eyes, annoyed with his friend. Michael was probably the most frustrating person on the planet. “Can you just listen to me?”

“Say something worthwhile and I will.”

Worthwhile, Max thought. Okay. “Are you definitely going to L.A.?”

Michael sighed heavily. Just the mere mention of that place seemed to stress him out. “I don’t know,” he admitted reluctantly.

“Well, do you want my advice?”

“No.”

He gave it to him anyway. “I think you should go.”

Michael grunted. “Yeah, of course you do. Eliminate the competition, that sort of thing.”

“I think you should go,” Max repeated, “and I think you should take Maria with you.”

Now that seemed to catch Michael’s attention, take him aback. “What?”

“Ask her to go with you. I’m sure she will. Los Angeles is a great place for aspiring dancers, too. Plus . . . she wants to be with you. I get that now. It’s obvious. It’s actually always been obvious; I just tried to convince myself she wanted to be with me, but . . .” He trailed off and shrugged. It was no use dwelling on the past. He wasn’t going to dwell, wasn’t going to be a dweller. “Look, you need to go to L.A., because—let’s be realistic here—Santa Fe isn’t exactly a hotbed for directing. And this internship, even though it’s not your ideal, it could be the springboard for the rest of your directing career. But, I mean, what’s more important to you in the long run, your directing career or Maria? And obviously . . . it’s Maria, so . . . you could just have both if you take her with you and . . .” This was very uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. “Look, it’s not fun for me to say this, alright? That’s probably why I’m stuttering over all my words. A couple of days ago, I was asking Maria to marry me. And now I’m telling you to be with her. And I’m not trying to be a martyr. I’m just trying to fix the situation. It’s . . . but I-I get it now; it’s like I see things clearly. And . . . I see it plain as day . . . she’s the one for you.” There it was out now; he’d said it. It kind of hurt, kind of burned a little, but at least the words were spoken. “And if you don’t get that, you’re stupider than I thought.”

Michael waited a moment, then corrected, “More stupid.”

Max chuckled a little. Well, wonders never ceased. Michael had just corrected him on something academically related. There was hope for him yet.

“Thanks, Max,” Michael muttered. He didn’t say it loudly, but he sounded sincere. So that was a good thing, too.

“No problem.”









TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 110

Post by April » Sat Sep 20, 2008 12:39 pm

nibbles:
Holy Shit - did Michael just show growth? And in true Michael form does that mean he's going to do something asinine now to counteract that? Or will he actually, you know, take a step forward. Am I prepared for that?
:lol: :lol:
Krista: You and Kyle do think alike.
Alien_Friend:
Are you going to jump a head in time or are these crazy kids going to figure it out before they leave?
Nope, there will be no time jumps, just a couple of flashbacks here and there. ;)
Sara: I super heart Max right now, too!
killjoy:
Was I the only one,while Max and Liz were talking in the apartment,going.........'look it's simple...just move in together and share the apartment!' ?
:lol: No, you weren't the only one thinking that.
Kate:
I was thinking the same thing; while rolling my eyes ticked that someone would give up on Uni so easily...
Oh, I know, I could never give up on college so easily.
singerchic4:
I think that when it FINALLY happens, I don't think that I'll believe it
Yeah, you might die of shock! :lol:
Sylvia:
Max is too nice. I love him, don't get me wrong, but I really wanted him to stay mad longer and he's just moved past it all and is fine now.
Well, I mean, Max isn't exactly fine. He has his eyes open and sees things for what they really are now, but it still hurts. Smackdown just isn't in his nature, I guess.
tequathisy:
He [Max] can still be a great guy and not get walked all over. If Liz has any brains she'll snap him up before anybody else does.
I know, if I were Liz I'd be all over him!
Christina:
God, the one time that Michael and Maria actually start using their heads is the one time that they should actually say "screw it" and go with their feelings instead.
:lol: Yep!
Elle:
since when did they become the version of Dawson's Creek??
Ha ha, yes they are a little Dawson's Creek right now!









Part 110









As Maria slept, she dreamt. It was a good dream. Vivid and happy. A memory . . .

The West Roswell High auditorium, filled with people, came alive (more or less) when the half-ass band started playing the graduation song.

“Pomp and Circumstance,” Michael said in his best British accent. “What is that, anyway? What does that mean? What’s pomp?”

“Pomp,” Maria echoed as though she knew. “It’s a . . . thing. And then circumstance is a stance that’s . . . circum.” She cringed. That was really stretching it a bit. She stood up on her tiptoes and peered over the heads of her fellow classmates into the auditorium. “Ugh, this is gonna take forever.”

“Tell me about it,” Kyle muttered. “At least you guys can get your diplomas and bolt if you want. My last name starts a V. How unfair is that?”

“Very unfair,” Maria agreed.

Kyle smiled at her as he walked out into the auditorium with Vickey Delaney when it was their turn. The whole graduation set-up was random (and therefore bound to be a disaster). They got to walk with whoever they wanted, didn’t have to be alphabetical. The only time that last names came into play was when it was actually time to get the diplomas.

“I can’t believe we have to sit in the back,” she grumbled. “Half the people here came to see us graduate. I swear, this school has, like, no sense of popularity.”

“Better put your hat on,” Michael suggested. “We’re almost up.”

She groaned and put the horrible hat on her head. “I hate this,” she complained. “It digs into my forehead.”

“Boo-hoo.”

“And it’s unfashionable. Seriously, who designed these stupid hats? I don’t wanna wear a fucking square on my head. I hate geometry as it is.” She peered up at him and asked, “How do I look?”

He smiled. “You look good.”

“You better not make me look bad out there.”

He smirked. “Oh, I’ll make me look better.”

“Yeah, right!” She slugged his shoulder playfully. “You’re an ass.” She tried not to smile at his arrogant sense of humor, but it was hard not to.

He held out his arm, and she reluctantly hooked her arm with his, rolling her eyes as they started out into the auditorium aisle. Everyone started cheering a little louder when they walked out.

“I’m totally a superstar,” she said while smiling.

“Actually, I think they’re cheering for me.”

“In your dreams, you stupid man.”

“Man on fire, baby.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“Where’s your pomp, Maria?”

“I don’t know, where the hell’s your circumstance?”

“Right up your ass.” He grinned at her and asked, “What the hell are we talkin’ about?”

“I have no idea,” she admitted, but it didn’t really matter. Somehow, they could manage to have an entire conversation about . . . nothing. “Oh, I can’t wait to get wasted tonight,” she said as they walked closer to the stage.

“Wasted and laid,” he added.

“Oh, yeah. I haven’t been fucked properly in two weeks.”

“Sucks to be you.”

“Oh, you have no idea . . .” She glanced up into the balcony seats then and saw her mother, not really cheering her on, but sort of just clapping and glaring disapprovingly.
Unbelievable, she thought. Even on the day of my high school graduation, I’m not good enough for her.

“That bitch,” Michael leaned over and whispered in her ear. He must have noticed the way she was looking at Amy.

“Where do you think your parents are?” she asked him.

“Bar. Brothel. Both.” He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

She wondered in that moment if it did matter, if maybe
everything mattered . . . but she pushed the thoughts aside. “Stop walking so fast,” she snapped.

“I’m not.”

“My strides are shorter than yours. Slow down. You’re making me look stupid.”

“Easy thing to do.”

She gasped in outrage and slammed her high-heeled foot down atop his foot.

“Shit!” he yelled out. “Alright, that’s it!”

“What?” Before she could react to what he was doing, he had grabbed her hat off her head and tossed it across the auditorium like a Frisbee. It went flying up into the balcony seats and hit Amy in the face.

“Ah!” she screamed, covering her face with her hands.

“Oh, sorry, Ms. DeLuca!” he called. “Not really, but . . .”

“Oh my god, what’d you do that for?” Maria demanded. “That is, like, the most childish—‘oh, I’m gonna throw Maria’s hat. I’m
so cool.’”

“I am cool,” he pointed out, “and I did you favor. You said you hated the hat.”

“Not enough for you to throw it!” She realized that since they had stopped walking, they had stopped the entire processional line, but she really didn’t care. Arguments with Michael were rarely planned and perfectly-timed. They happened when they happened, and once they started, they just had to play out. “Mom, can you throw my hat back down?” she called over the diminishing music.

“Can someone call the paramedics?” her mother wailed. “I’ve been hit!”

“Oh my god, this is so typical of her,” Maria muttered. “Mom, you’re fine, just throw the hat down.”

“You are a WRETCHED boy, Michael Guerin!” Amy shrieked. That was enough to get the band to cut off Pomp and Circumstance at once.

Michael just smiled and said, “Ha, ha.”

Maria huffed and placed her hands on her hips. “Alright, go get it back,” she told him.

“What?”

“Obviously these people are too lazy and/or worried about my drama queen mom to throw it down. Go up there and get it back. I can’t graduate without an ugly square hat.”

“What the hell? I’m not gettin’ your hat back.”

“You threw it!”

“Because you tried to sever my toes with your shoe!”

“Because you were being an idiot, you . . . idiot!”

Their shouting match was interrupted by their superintendent when she came up to them. She cleared her throat and gently said, “We do need to keep the processional moving, you two.”

Maria whirled to face her. “Uh, do you mind? We’re in the middle of an argument here.”

Michael smiled at the woman and licked his lips. “Mrs. Williamson, once I’ve graduated and am no longer a student at this beyond crappy school . . . could we get it on?”

Mrs. Williamson held a hand to her chest and gasped in outrage. “I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, you don’t have to beg for anything.” He grinned. “Unless you want to.”

“Ignore him. He’s a walking penis,” Maria informed her. “Michael. Seriously, get my damn hat back.”

“Get your own hat back.”

“Are you joking me? Oh my god, you know what?”

“What?”

“I’m gonna take your hat!” She reached up to pluck his hat off his head, but he leaned backward, causing her to not be able to reach. “Stay still!” she yelled, reaching desperately. She jumped up and down, trying to grab his hat off his head, but he just laughed at her attempts.

“If we could just keep the processional moving,” Mrs. Williamson said quietly.

When Maria jumped up once more, Michael surprised her by catching her and lifting her up over his shoulder. She literally screamed. “Ah, Michael! Put me down!” She pounded her fists against his back in protest as he hauled her towards the stage and everybody laughed. “Michael! Put me fucking down!”

He just laughed along with the rest of them, carried her up onto the stage and into their seats in the very back row.

“Michael!”

He set her down in her seat, and she glared at him. Her hair was now a mess . . . thanks to him! He was so obnoxious! He was so cocky! He was so . . . so . . .

Undeniably good-looking.

He smiled at her, and said innocently, “What? I kept the processional moving.”

She just kept glaring.

He laughed at her and surprised her by taking his graduation cap off his own head and putting it on hers instead. She couldn’t help but smile at that little move. “You better not have head lice,” she mumbled.

“Baby, you wish.”

She shook her head in dismay, wondering how he could possibly take that as some sort of compliment or praise, but . . . Michael was just crazy like that. Always had been. “You’re stupid,” she told him as the band began to play the Pomp and Circumstance march again. “You’re so stupid.”


Maria woke up suddenly, and reality came flooding back to her. It was all a dream. High school graduation had happened years ago. She was going to graduate college soon . . . but this time she’d get to keep her own hat since Michael wouldn’t be there to throw it away into the audience.

You’re so stupid, Michael, she thought as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. You’re so stupid, too, Maria. She squinted her eyes and looked around the room. The living room. She’d fallen asleep on the couch?

“It’s 10:30.”

She jerked her head around and found Kyle sitting at the counter, eating cereal and reading a newspaper.

“Do you have to work?” he asked her.

Dammit. She groaned, having really been hoping to go back to sleep and try to re-dream the same dream. Sometimes that worked. But since she had to work, she had to resign herself to not dreaming and dealing with reality instead.

Great . . .

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

“Maria, show us one of your dances.”

“One of my dances?”

The little girls smiled and nodded eagerly. “Yeah.”

Maria smiled back at them. Her work schedule was getting hectic as the Charisma Dance Studio’s summer recital approached, but she was actually thankful for it. The little girls she was teaching were the only things keeping her sane.

“I’ll show you a dance next time,” she promised them. “Your parents are here. It’s quittin’ time, ladies.”

They all giggled and hugged her around her waist and her legs. They hugged her so hard in fact that they picked her up and lifted her off her feet.

“Oh my god!” she shrieked, happy when they set her back down. “Okay, that was fun. Bye, now.”

“Bye, Maria!” they all chirped as they scurried off to meet their parents. Once again, though, Jamie stayed behind.

“Is your dad running late again?” Maria asked her.

“Yeah. Daddy can’t tell time,” Jamie said. “He’s late to everything.”

“Punctuality. It’s not an inborn DeLuca trait, either.”

“What’s punc-tu-al-i-ty?” Jamie asked, sounding the word out.

“It’s being on time to stuff,” Maria explained, reaching for her water bottle. “Don’t worry, there’s worse things than being late. Unless, of course, you’re late for that time in the month. Panic and badness if that happens.”

“What’s that time of the month?” Jamie asked.

“Uh . . . since I’m your dance teacher and not your sex ed teacher, I’m not gonna answer that,” Maria decided.

“Ew!” Jamie exclaimed. “My mommy told me about sex, and I think it sounds disgusting!”

Maria laughed a little. “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

“Maria?”

“Hmm?”

“Guess what?”

“What?” Maria handed the little girl her own water bottle.

Jamie took a big drink and then said, “I kissed Joey.”

“Joey,” Maria echoed. “Oh, Joey! Crush-boy!”

“Yeah.” Jamie made a face. “I don’t think I’m gonna kiss him again, though. It was yucky.”

“That bad, huh?” Maria shrugged. “Oh, well. You shouldn’t be kissing people anyway. You’re nine.”

“I’m grown up for my age.”

“And I don’t doubt that, but still . . . wait a few years before you kiss anybody again. It won’t be yucky once you’re older.”

“But Joey and Stacey are going out now.”

“Stacey.” Maria thought back. “Home-wrecker Stacey?”

“What’s--”

“Never mind. Why are they going out? That’s so wrong.”

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Jamie grumbled, kicking at the floor. “And, you know-you know what they’re doing?”

“What?”

“They’re going to a movie this weekend. Joey’s mom’s taking them.”

“Oh, well, that sounds romantic,” Maria mumbled sarcastically. “Don’t worry. Movies are stupid date locales. I mean, what’s the point of sitting in the dark and being quiet when you could be . . . doing other things?”

“Other things?”

Maria laughed nervously. She was really going to corrupt this little girl if she wasn’t careful. “Like eating,” she said. Technically, sex was eating when it was oral . . . She shook her head, getting her mind out of the gutter. “Look, don’t worry, Jamie. I’m sure Stacey’s, like, the less cool version of you. Joey will come around. He’s just a boy, and boys are dumb, you know?”

Yeah,” Jamie agreed emphatically.

“Really dumb. And years from now, when you kiss again, it’ll be, like, totally completely better.”

Jamie smiled and asked, “What about you, Maria? What happened with your Joey?”

“My Joey?” Maria sighed. “Long story short, he’s moving to Los Angeles. Do you know where Los Angeles is?”

Jamie nodded eagerly. “Uh-huh. We had to remember all the states for a test in school, and we had to remember the capitals and the abbreviations, too. And I know where Los Angeles is. It’s in California, and the capital of California is Sacramento, and the abbreviation’s CA.”

“Oh.” Maria was impressed. “Then you could definitely kick my ass in geography.” She realized what word she had let slip and quickly tried to correct. “Butt. Kick my . . . bottom.”

Jamie laughed. “You’re so weird, Maria!”

Maria nodded. “This is true.”

“I think that-that your boy is dumb, too.”

“Oh, he’s the worst.”

“But maybe if you lay off the kissing like I’m gonna do . . . you know?”

“Sound advice,” Maria agreed. These miniature make-outs with Michael, as steamy as intense as they were, were doing nothing but further complicate the situation.

“Oh, I have to go!” Jamie chirped suddenly. “My daddy’s here!”

God, I really do have a nine year old therapist, Maria realized, laughing at the thought. “Okay. Bye, Jamie.”

“Bye, Maria! I hope he doesn’t go away.”

Maria watched Jamie leave with her dad, and once she was left standing in the studio alone, she felt sad again.

“Dammit, Michael.”

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

Max knocked on the door to Liz’s dorm room that afternoon and waited for her to open up. She didn’t, so he knocked again. Frowning, he said, “Liz?” with a tone of question. He couldn’t exactly picture her being out and about if she didn’t have to be. She was definitely trying to lay low with all the scandalous love quadrangle stuff that was going on.

“Better watch out, Max. She doesn’t treat her boy-toys very well.”

Max glanced to his left and saw a girl poking her head out of the door of the adjacent room, one of Liz’s neighbors.

“Do you know where she is?” he asked her.

The girl shrugged. “Really not caring. But my guess is, she’s either at the airport or already on the plane.”

Max almost stumbled backwards upon hearing that. What?

“Yeah, now that she’s no longer popular, she’s bailing, you know,” the neighboring girl went on. “Not that she was ever really that popular. That little bitch was nothing more than a delusional hussy, and you might be the only one who’s sad to see her go. Personally, I say good riddance. She can slut up Nebraska for all I care, wherever that is.”

Max felt his heart start to pound nervously, and he wasn’t sure why. On impulse, he rushed down the hall. Before he and the neighbor girl were out of earshot, though, he made sure to turn around and warn her, “Don’t you ever talk about her like that again.”

The girl seemed surprised to hear him of all people say that. He realized he wasn’t well-known for being a great defender, but he’d already stood back and stupidly watched as people beat Maria down. He would be damned if he let them do the same to Liz.

He had to find her.

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

Liz sat at her flight’s gate, staring down at the ticket in her hand. This was most definitely a speedy departure. There was just no need to prolong it.

“At this time, we invite all passengers in Group 3 to board. All passengers in Group 3.”

That’s me. Liz stood up and made her way towards the ticket agent, rolling her carry-on suitcase behind her. She was just about to hand over her ticket when she heard a familiar voice shout her name.

“Liz!”

She whirled around and couldn’t contain her surprise when she saw him. “Max?” She got out of the line and made her way over towards him. “How’d you get past security?”

“I bought a ticket,” he admitted, holding it up for her to see. “I was worried I might have to fly all the way to Nebraska to see you.”

She gave him a confused look. “Why would you do that?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” he corrected.

She smiled and blushed a little. “Max, that’s really sweet, but . . .”

“You weren’t even gonna say goodbye?”

She sighed and admitted, “No, I wasn’t. I just thought it’d be easier this way. Me slipping away and nobody caring about it.”

“I care, Liz.”

“Yeah, but . . .” He’s a phenomenal guy, she thought. She would have been much better off dating him instead of dating Michael. Some people were just better suited for each other. She was quickly beginning to realize that she and Max meshed on some level she and Michael never had.

“Don’t you think you’re making an impulsive decision?”

“Seems to be my forte lately,” she mumbled, thinking about the locker room encounter. “Look, Max, I really appreciate you coming here to say goodbye, and . . . buying that ticket.” She laughed a little. “I’ll pay you back for that, I promise. But I just . . . have to go. Now. I really can’t stay here anymore.”

“Why not?”

That question took her by surprise a bit. “Because . . . I already told you, Max. I don’t like who I am here. I don’t like the things I’m doing. I need to go home and just calm my life down and figure out who I’m meant to be. Because I know I’m not meant to be this girl.”

“And you can’t figure that out here?” he asked.

“No, not really. I mean . . . this place is like Mecca for my mistakes. I can’t keep making mistakes, Max.”

“No, but you could learn from them.”

What was he getting at? Whatever it was, he had sparked her interest.

“That’s what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s not easy. I’m walkin’ around with a smile on my face, talkin’ about how everything’s gonna be okay . . . and I really think it is. But the fact still remains, I got my heart broken. Not fun. And as much as Maria’s to blame for that . . . I’m to blame, too. You’re not the only one who’s made mistakes, Liz. We all have. And now I’m just trying to learn from my mistakes so I don’t make them again. I’m trying to become more of an adult. And I’m gonna do it here, right in the midst of all this turmoil and confusion . . . I’m gonna learn and grow up. I’m gonna be the real Max Evans.”

She sighed shakily. Why was it so hard to leave him? Why were his words inspiring her so much?

“I guess I don’t understand why you can’t be the real Liz Parker here,” he said quietly. “If you ask me, you’re better off here. If you go back home, it may be easier, but it won’t necessarily be better in the long run. If you run away from all your problems, you run the risk of cutting yourself off from everything, Liz. I should know, I’ve done it my whole life. Why do you think I always shut myself away in my room and studied all the time? ‘Cause I didn’t wanna deal with the real world. Well, now I’m dealing. And you need to deal, too, whether you want to or not.”

“Max . . .” She really agreed with and believed in what he was saying, but it was different for him. Nobody hated him here. “Nobody likes me,” she said. “I know it sounds stupid to care what people on this campus think about me, but I do. And now they think I’m just some vindictive slut whose dance team sucks, and . . . well, my dance team does kinda suck, but I’m not what they think I am. I mean . . . I can’t be.”

“So stay and prove them wrong.”

“But how am I gonna do that?” She was desperate for him to have all the answers. In that moment, he seemed so strong, so sure, so stable. “I don’t even have a place to stay this summer, Max.”

“I do,” he said. “Fairview Apartment Complex. Sound familiar?”

She smiled fondly. “You got the apartment?”

“Yeah, I did. But like you said, rent’s a little high for one person. Might be easier to have a roommate.”

Her eyes bulged slightly as she registered the word. “A roommate?”

He smiled. “Yeah.”

She had to be sure she was understand this correctly. “Are you inviting me to . . .”

“Move in with me? Yeah,” he filled in.

Her heart leapt at the thought. Something about it seemed so . . . right. But there were aspects of the idea that worried her, too, and made her heart stop leaping. “I don’t know, Max. Things are . . . different between us now. We can’t very well pretend we didn’t . . . do what we did. Because we did it. And it changes things.”

He nodded slowly in agreement. “It does. But I’m not asking you to move in with me so we can . . .” He trailed off and shook her his head. “I’m asking you as a friend, Liz. I think I can help you, and I think you can help me. And I’ve come to realize I really don’t wanna see you go.”

She stared at him for a moment, then turned her head to look over her shoulder, out the window at the airplane. She could be home in a mere two hours and thirty-five minutes. Or she could stay.

“I’m easy to live with,” he assured her. “I don’t leave the toilet seat up, and I never drink milk right out of the carton. I’m not overly-addicted to sports, and—oh, occasionally I’ve been known to clean for fun.”

She laughed.

“I’ll be a good roommate, I promise,” he said. “So? What do you say?”

What else could she say? He’d convinced her well enough. “I’ll be a good roommate, too.”

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

Michael sprang off his bed and hurried out into the living room when he heard the front door open and close that night. Maria or Kyle . . . much to his delight, it was Maria. He was happy to see her. He had something to say.

“Hey, how’s my favorite roommate?”

She gave him a suspicious look. “What is this, a new tactic? Suck up to me so I’ll suck you off?”

“I just wondered how your day was.”

She shrugged. “Fine, I guess. I like my new job.”

“That’s good.” He rubbed his hands against his jeans, hating that his palms were sweaty. Since when did he get nervous when it came to girls?

“Hopefully you’ll like your internship,” she mumbled as she kicked off her shoes by the door.

He walked slowly towards her. “Maria.”

“You just have to go in with an open mind. Anything passes as art these days, even girls with . . . open legs.”

“Maria.”

“And you have to work hard. You can’t half-ass a job the way we half-assed college.”

“Maria.” Why wouldn’t she look at him?

“And you just have to . . . really invest yourself in the experience, or whatever.”

“Maria, shut up.” He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her, melding his lips to hers, noting how right it felt. It really did feel amazing. Whether he wanted to be feeling things or not . . . he did, and not just physical things. No, he had emotions coursing through every fiber of his being. It was sort of fucked up, but sort of exhilarating, too.

“No, Michael,” she whined, pulling away from the lip-lock. “I’m supposed to lay off the kissing, and you’re making that really hard.”

“Maria, come with me.”

That shut her up. She stared at him in confusion for a few moments before dazedly managing to ask, “What?”

“To L.A.,” he elaborated. “Come with me to L.A.”

She took a step back, pressing herself against the door.

“It makes sense,” he said, “as much as any of this does. I could start my career there; you could start your career there. And we could try to be together.”

“Together?” she echoed.

“Well, you know . . . we could see what happens.” He was ready for that, ready to stop being angry with Maria, ready to end the fighting and try something new. “Even if it doesn’t work out, at least we’ll know we tried.”

“Uh, no, actually, if it doesn’t work out, that’s an eight year friendship down the drain.”

“So?”

She gave him a horrified look. “So?

“No, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant . . .” He sighed and ran one hand through his hair, stressed. Why was this happening to him? He’d had this whole conversation planned out (and he had never been lame enough to plan conversations before). Only she wasn’t saying what she was supposed to. She was veering away from the script. She was supposed to have smiled and just agreed to go with him. The damn girl was so fucking stubborn, though . . .

“Michael.” She placed her hands over his chest, placed one right over his heart, and he wondered if she could feel how fast it was beating. She looked up at him with a mixture of seriousness and tears in her gorgeous green eyes, and she said, “You have to go to L.A.”

With you, he thought longingly.

“By yourself.”

No . . . this conversation definitely hadn’t gone as planned.

She slipped past him and headed down the hallway hurriedly, obviously trying to get away from him before she started crying again. He stood there in a stupor, not knowing what to do. He sort of felt like he was between a rock and a hard place. Whatever decision he made . . . it was bound to be the wrong one.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 111

Post by April » Mon Sep 22, 2008 12:36 pm

Christina:
I guess I'm confused as to why she wants him to go off alone. I mean, she was really pissed when he first wanted to leave. I just don't get her sometimes.
Then guess what? You can understand how Michael feels right now. He is completely and utterly confused by Maria. Maria isn't quite sure whether she wants Michael to stay or go, so she's sending him a lot of mixed messages.
Krista:
I think now's about the time when everyone stops focusing on Michael and Maria and how infuriating they are and everyone starts focusing on cutesy Max and Liz.
Yeah, Max and Liz are kinda cute. ;) Their budding relationship is such a stark contrast to Michael and Maria's relationship. Not that Michael and Maria aren't cute. They're just, like you said, infuriating right now.
killjoy:
I'm starting to think this Maria is just crazy in the head
:lol: She's just VERY confused. She doesn't know whether it's best for Michael to stay or go. She's telling him to go because she's thought about it and thinks that course of action might be a little bit better.
nibbles:
Once again - Love New Max.
Me, too! :D He became one of my favorite characters to write.
Ashley: Yes, so frustrating! Pretty new banner for your fic, by the way. ;)
Alien_Friend:
I loved the flash back. I missed their crazy bantering.
And that's precisely why I incorporated the flashbacks, to make you all you nostalgic.
spacegirl23:
Maria, honey, you gotta stop being stubborn. Run off with him. You know you want to.
:lol: I know I want to!
tequathisy: Now since when does Michael do anything right? :roll:
Sara:
awww, michael...dream guy!!
Really? Well, I suppose he's a very, very, VERY unconventional dream guy.



Thanks for the feedback, you guys! As always, I appreciate it.









Part 111








Liz ended up being on the phone with her parents for about a half an hour that night. Eventually, the news came on showing highlights from the Huskers spring game, so her father went to watch the coverage, but she and her mom stayed on the phone for a bit longer.

“Thank you so much for being so understanding,” Liz said. “I just really need to stay here and sort myself out. I promise I’ll pay you back for the plane ticket, though.”

“Oh, honey, don’t worry about that,” her mother said. “You just focus on what you need to focus on. And don’t worry about getting a job this summer, either. If you’ve got too much going on what with dance team and your personal life . . .”

“No, I have to get a job,” Liz said decidedly. “And I think I should take some online classes, too. I’ve really been slacking off.”

“Well, you’ll turn that around.”

“I kinda have to. I mean, there’s a rent to pay now.”

“And you’re sure about this boy, Max? You know him well enough to live with him?”

Liz cast a glance at Max. He was unpacking a box full of dishes, cups, and silverware.

“Yeah, I know him well,” she told her mom. Intimately, in fact, she thought to herself.

“And he’s . . . kind, safe, clean, all the things you’d want in a roommate?”

“Oh, yeah, he’s a really responsible guy.” Max seemed to realize that she was talking about him, because he glanced at her and smiled. She smiled back.

“That’s good to hear. And you two are . . .”

“Uh . . .” This was part of the conversation she couldn’t have while Max was in earshot, so she slipped into the bedroom and said, “We’re just friends, really.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” She peeked out into the living room again and watched as Max took a break from unpacking, sat down on the couch, and picked up the remote control. He was really good-looking. “I mean, I guess . . . I don’t know, there might be a spark there. But it’s too soon to . . . I mean, Michael and I just broke up, and he and Maria just broke up. We’re not gonna rush things by any means. But eventually . . . it could happen.”

“Just so long as he feels for you what you feel for him,” her mother said. “I’m still so disappointed in Michael. You know, I really liked him.”

“Yeah,” Liz said. “So did I. But I didn’t love him at all. I get that now. So you don’t have to feel too bad about it. Just know that . . . everything’s gonna be better from now on. I’m gonna be, like, the daughter you always wanted me to be.”

“Oh, honey, you already are,” her mother assured her. “Don’t ever feel like you’re not enough, okay?”

“Okay.”

“And just keep your head up, work hard. Good things will happen.”

“I know they will.” Liz smiled. For the first time in a long time, she felt hopeful. “Alright, I think I’m gonna go, but tell Daddy I love him. And I love you.”

“We love you, too, Liz.”

“Okay. Bye.” Liz ended the call and sighed contentedly. That was what it was all about, having a relationship with people who genuinely cared about her. Her mom and dad loved her no matter what. And Max . . . well, he seemed like he cared about her, too. Why else would he have come to that airport to get her to stay?

She walked out into the living room, and Max immediately looked up and inquired, “How’d they take it?”

“What, the news that I’m staying here? Fine. My parents are really cool. Much cooler than yours, no offense.”

He chuckled.

“And much, much cooler than Maria’s mom.” She shook her head, remembering that dreadful woman’s presence in Santa Fe. Looking back, though, even she had seen what Michael and Maria had. Should’ve listened to her, Liz thought regretfully.

“So, are they cool with us living together?” he asked her.

“Oh, yeah, I told them all about you. They give it the thumbs-up.”

All about me?” he echoed. “You didn’t tell them about the locker room thing, did you?”

“Oh, god no. They’re not that cool.”

“Oh, good, ‘cause I don’t want them to get the wrong impression of me.”

“Yeah, they’re never gonna hear a thing about that,” she assured him. “I don’t think they want to, actually. I always hate it when I have to think about them having sex, so I can only imagine how they hate thinking about me having it.”

Max nodded. “Good point.”

“Yep.” She glanced at the television screen and asked, “What’re you watching, Max?”

“Oh.” He blushed. “I was flipping through, saw this documentary on the Discovery Channel . . . about flatworms. It sounds boring, but . . . I like anything that relates to science.”

“Well, so do I,” she said, sitting down beside them. “I think we’re perfect roommates.”

“You really wanna watch a flatworms documentary with me?”

“I really do,” she said. “Knowledge is power . . . or so I’m told.”

He chuckled. “Wow. You know, Maria would never watch this stuff with me.”

“Michael would be asleep within the first two minutes.” She smiled up at him. “Good thing they aren’t here.”

Max smiled back at her and agreed, “Yeah, good thing.”

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

Maria didn’t have to work the next day, but she still felt as though she needed to be out of the house. Kyle was at work as usual, so it was just her and Michael there . . . couldn’t have that. Not right now. Not anymore. If it was just the two of them, something either argumentative or sexual was bound to happen (possibly both), so when Tess called and invited her to go see her and Kyle’s new house, Maria gladly accepted the invitation.

When she walked in through the front door, Maria was taken aback by how big and spacious it was. It was way bigger than their house now, and it probably could have swallowed Tess’s dorm room dozens of times over.

“Wow,” she remarked. “This is really nice.”

“And you were expecting what, a trailer park? I have my standards, you know.”

“No, I’m just being envious. I wish I was like you and Kyle. You guys are good at everything.”

“Heck yeah, we are,” Tess said unabashedly. “Oh, Maria, footprints, footprints. Take off your shoes.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Maria stepped out of her shoes and made her way into the living room. “Wow,” she said again, glancing up the stairs to the second floor. “Is it as nice up there as it is down here?”

“Nicer,” Tess said. “There’s a couple bedrooms—we’ll fill ‘em up with the kids someday. Like down the road someday, not tomorrow or anything. Way down the road. I mean, not way, but like a couple years probably.”

“What about the master bedroom?”

Tess grinned. “That was the main incentive for buying the house. King-sized bed.”

“Oh, you guys are such a horny couple.”

“Def. Oh, but there’s this other room upstairs . . . come on, I want you to see it.”

Maria followed her excited friend up the stairs, down the hallway, and into a small bedroom-sized room.

“It’s not fixed up yet, but it’s gonna be the new Boutique de la Tess. We’re gonna take out this wall and double the size of the room, and then we’re gonna scatter all my clothes about and make lots of money and it’s just gonna be heaven!” She clapped her hands together gleefully.

“Do I still get the good friend discount?”

“Either that or the broken-hearted discount,” Tess replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on, it’s obvious. Even if Kyle hadn’t told me about Michael’s internship thing, I would’ve known something was up. I am surprisingly smart like that.”

Maria sighed and flapped her arms against her sides. “It is what it is. Michael’s leaving.”

“Because you’re letting him.”

“You know, I seem to have a lot of people acting as my therapist lately. I’ve got Jamie--”

“Who’s Jamie?”

“This nine year old girl I teach dance to. I’ve got Jamie telling me to lay off the kissing, but I get the feeling that you’re about to tell me to lay on the kissing.”

“Hell yeah, lay on the kissing,” Tess suggested without restraint. “Lay on more than that. You and Michael are taking sexual frustration to a new level here. Hell, even I’m getting frustrated, and I’m just a third party.”

“Tess, it’s not that simple.”

“Sure it is. You want him, he wants you. Get together and bang it out!”

“Wait a minute, where is this coming from?”

“Uh, coming from the fact that, any day now, he’s gonna move to Cali. Cali, Maria. That’s, like, bikinis and beaches, okay? Now I’m not saying that he’ll hop into bed with a blonde girl who sort of resembles you, but . . . yeah, I could see him doing that. And then he’s back at square one, ‘cause he’ll start doing that whole use ‘em and lose ‘em thing he used to do with girls; and if he’s back at square one and you’re, like, up at square twelve, how are you supposed to . . . ‘cause the squares . . .”

Maria stared at her in disbelief and said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Tess groaned in exasperation and said, “I’m just to the point where if you two don’t get together, my head’s gonna explode. That’s all.”

“Well, boom,” Maria said. “Explodey. Michael and I aren’t getting together.”

“And why the hell not? Let’s rehash, shall we? You want him; he wants you. Get together and . . .”

“No, but we can’t just do that, Tess. See, like you and Kyle, you guys went straight from being strangers to having sex, right?”

Tess shrugged. “Well, basically. I mean, there was some small-talk in between, but . . .”

“Right, but Michael and I didn’t do that. We went from being strangers to being best friends for eight years. And as much as I cannot stand the guy, his friendship is the most important thing to me in the entire world. Like, I can’t not be his friend.”

“So you’d rather be his friend than . . . his lover?”

“I know, it sounds crazy. I mean, what I really want is to be both, but we can’t be both right now, because we’re so screwed up. So if I have to choose one over the other . . . yeah, I’d rather be his friend.”

“Amazing,” Tess said, seeming astonished for a moment before adding, “and terrible. In layman’s terms, Maria, friendship means talking; romance means sex. In the world of conversation versus cock, you always go with the cock.”

“My god, Tess, did you not get laid last night or something? You’re, like, more horny than usual.”

“For your information, I had a double-whammy orgasm last night, which you didn’t even!”

“Oh my god.”

“But if you and Michael ventured out of the friends zone for awhile, you could be looking at a triple-whammy.”

“No, but that’s the problem, Tess. We’re not even in the friends zone right now. Okay, it’s bad, and it scares me. So I just think he needs to leave so we can take some time apart from each other, and we’ll be better for it.”

“Or he could leave and never come back! Maria!”

“Tess!”

“Come on, seriously, why are you so confused? It’s not natural for a person to be this confused.”

Maria sighed heavily and reluctantly admitted, “Fine, I don’t want him to go. Obviously I’m gonna miss him and his stupid jokes and that crooked-ass smile. My heart wants him to stay. But my mind keeps telling me that he needs to go.”

“Your mind?” Tess echoed loudly. “Okay, Maria, no offense, I really don’t mean this in a bad way, but your mind is not exactly . . . I mean, you’re smart, but . . . and Michael’s even less smart. Seriously. But it’s part of what makes you two so perfect for each other. You’re not gonna have braniac kids or anything, but . . . ew, braniacs? No thanks.”

“Tess . . .”

“No, but come on, really, Maria . . . in the epic battle of heart versus mind, heart always wins out. You know that.”

Maria sighed again. That was true. Her heart had already won some small victories—kissing Michael, doing more than kissing, telling him how she felt . . . but it hadn’t won the war.

“God, Maria, you are a piece of work,” Tess remarked before changing the topic entirely. “You wanna go shopping?”

“Sure.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

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

Michael sat in the first floor lobby of the Fairview Apartment Complex that afternoon with the landlord, happily retracting his lease agreement. He only picked up the pen when he had to sign his name on a form. Otherwise, a cold Budweiser beer occupied his grasp. He’d gotten drunk last night while Maria was asleep, and he’d been drinking all morning, too. It wasn’t making him feel any better, but it was worth a shot.

“So, Mr. Guerin, am I to assume I’ll never see you at the Fairview Apartments anymore?”

“Assume your ass off, baby,” he slurred as he tilted the half-empty bottle back and took another drink.

“Well, you might reconsider. We’re looking at a decrease in rent around mid-June, and the addition of wireless Internet capabilities.”

“Save the sales pitch, will ya? I’m goin’ to L.A.”

“Oh, well, that’s interesting, because there’s an extension of the Fairview Apartments there, the Sunny Grove complex.”

“Sunny Grove?” he echoed. “Do I look sunny to you?”

“Well . . . not exactly.”

“No, I’m gonna-I’m gonna stay in a motel for awhile. Great plan, huh? Stay in a motel. Yeah, I suck.” He was just bringing the bottle back up to his mouth again when he heard familiar laughter coming from down the hallway. A few seconds later, two people who used to have a place in his life rounded the corner: Max and Liz.

“What the hell?” he spat. He knew he was drunk, but was he drunk enough to be seeing things?

Liz stopped dead in her tracks and exclaimed, “Michael!”

Max stopped, too, but he didn’t say anything.

“Screwin’ my leftovers, Max?” Michael asked drunkenly. “I taught her well, didn’t I?”

Max and Liz exchanged a silent look, must’ve had some wordless communication or something, because Michael didn’t know what on earth they were saying.

“What’re you doing here, Michael?” Max then asked rather calmly.

“Just signin’ over my lease,” he replied. “Thank God I never put any money into this place. Why, what’re you doin’? You still livin’ here, Liz? Huh? You still?”

“Yeah,” Liz replied. “Right in the apartment I was supposed to be sharing with you. Before you cheated on me.”

“Oh. Okay. Actually after I cheated on you, though. I kissed Maria, and then I said, ‘oh, hey, let’s move in together, Liz.’” He chuckled. “Yeah. All that time sequence, order of events stuff . . . gets confusing. But I’ll be heroic. I’ll take the blame,” he decided, bellowing out, “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault. Blame me, no one else. Thank you.”

“Are you drunk?” Liz asked him.

“Are you a whore?” He smiled in his drunken haze and said, “Yes.” He raised his bottle up into the air and exclaimed, “Cheers to that!” and then he drank again.

“Ignore him,” Max said quietly as he made his way over to Michael. “Did you take my advice,” he asked quietly, “about asking Maria to go with you?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“What’d she say?”

“Uh, she said no. Remind me to never take your advice again.”

Max seemed utterly confused. “What? But why . . . why would she say no?”

“‘Cause she’s a girl, Max, duh,” Michael explained quickly losing all lucidity. “And girls are complicated. And nobody really gets Maria, you know? They all think she’s a slut who dances. But she’s a lot more than that. You know? You know, Max?”

“I know.”

“She-she drives me crazy, you know.”

“I know.”

“Drives me to drink. Look at me. I’m drinkin’.”

“You most certainly are.” Max cast a look at the landlord and mouthed an apology for Michael’s behavior.

“Michael . . .”

He bristled when he heard Liz speak again, and something inside him snapped. “Oh, what’re you gonna try to do, bitch, huh?”

“Michael, stop,” Max said warningly.

“No, let me finish, man. What’re you tryin’ to do, Liz? Are you tryin’ to be friendly? Huh? ‘Cause we were never friends. Now Maria and me, we were friends. You and me, though . . . we don’t-we didn’t even know each other. But man, did we fuck. I deflowered you good, didn’t I? Took your virgin ass, took your virgin cunt . . .” He grinned.

“Alright, Michael, that’s enough,” Max cut in. “Let us take you home.”

“No, I’m not drunk,” he insisted, struggling to get to his feet. “I’ll drive myself home.”

“Max, we shouldn’t let him drive,” Liz said.

“Quit talkin’ about me like I’m a fuckin’ kid,” he shot back angrily as he stumbled towards the door. “You guys can just stay away from me, alright? Everyone can just stay away since I’m goin’ to L.A. To make a porn movie. Yeah!” He shook his head in distress. “Yeah.” He stumbled closer to the door.

“Michael, maybe you should sober up before you get behind the wheel,” Max advised.

“Nope. Not listenin’ to you again.”

Liz sighed. “Michael . . .”

“Bitch.”

A few seconds later, the landlord called out to him, “Uh, your lease on apartment 26B is no longer in effect, Mr. Guerin.” She seemed to be at a loss for anything else to say, so she simply said, “Enjoy L.A.”

Whatever, he thought as he staggered out the door. Right now, he was beyond caring how his life turned out.

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

Maria struggled through the front door that afternoon carrying bags and bags full of clothing, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories. She and Tess had really ransacked the mall on their shopping spree. That had taken a lot of money off her debit card. But oh well.

Her cell phone rang, and she groaned in exasperation. Why did the damn thing have to ring when she had her hands full? She set a few of the bags down on the couch, opened up her purse, and rummaged around a moment for her phone. Finally, she found it, flipped it open, and answered the call. “Hello?” Oh shit, didn’t check the Caller ID, she thought. If this is my mom again . . .

“Maria?”

“Yes?” She didn’t recognize the voice. It clearly belonged to a man.

“This is Dr. Wallace calling from--”

Dr. Wallace?” she echoed in horror. “You don’t work for the university, do you? Because whatever you’ve heard about me and my professors, it’s not true.”

“No, I’m calling from the emergency room.”

“Oh. That kind of doctor.” She breathed a sigh of relief until she registered what he’d said. “Wait, the emergency room?”

“Yes . . . there’s been an accident. A car accident. We have a friend of yours here.”

Panic engulfed her. A car accident? A friend? “Which one?” she asked.

“Michael Guerin.”

The panic exploded, and she dropped her phone onto the floor and ran out of the house.

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

Maria threw open the doors to the emergency room and ran inside. “Michael!” she shouted. She ran up towards the front desk and asked the woman sitting behind it, “Where’s Michael Guerin?”

“Who?”

“Michael Guerin,” she repeated impatiently. “They said he was in a car accident and he’s here . . .”

“Well, if he was in a car accident, he’s probably in Trauma 1. Let me check for you.”

Maria ran off down the hallway, in too much of a hurry to sit and wait while that woman checked her charts. She saw a sign plastered on a wall that said Trauma 1, and when she looked in the room, she saw a body on the operating table, bloodied so entirely that she couldn’t even see the face. The doctors were breaking out the electroshock panels, because the patient was coding.

“Oh my god, Michael!” she cried.

“I’m over here, Maria.”

She spun around when she heard his voice and saw him in the pit, sitting on a bed, looking perfectly fine. “Oh my god!” she said again as she rushed to his side. “I thought that was you in there!”

He groaned and rubbed his forehead with his hand.

“Oh my god, I thought you were, like, dying, Michael. You’re not dying, are you? You don’t look like you’re dying. Although you look a little dead. What happened? Why are you here?”

“Car accident,” he replied.

“Well, I know that. I thought it was, like, a major car accident, though. It wasn’t?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s good. What happened, though?”

He grimaced and said, “Could you . . . not talk so loud, please?”

She studied him for a moment after that request, studied his form and his expression, and the answer to her question became blatantly obvious. “Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me. Are you drunk?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Kinda?” she echoed in disbelief.

“I think it’s movin’ into the hangover phase.”

“Oh my god, just when I think you can’t get any stupider, you drink and drive?

“Yeah.”

“You’re such an idiot! Do you realize how bad this could’ve been? You could’ve been that guy across the hallway. He’s not lookin’ so good.”

“I’m alright.”

“Yeah, but you took, like, a totally unnecessary risk, Michael. Don’t you get it? You could’ve hit a semi-truck or a school bus or a school!”

“I hit a mailbox,” he told her. “Banged my head on the steering wheel.”

She grunted. “How macho.”

“Thanks for comin’, though,” he said. “I’m sorry. They told me I had to call someone.”

“No, I’m glad you called me, but . . . god, Michael. You practically gave me a heart attack.”

“Sorry about that, too. Now you know how I feel.”

They looked each other right in the eye for a moment, and Maria understood what he was saying. Usually she was the one in the hospital and he was the one worrying about her.

She sighed, and wove her hands through her hair. “So can you come home now?”

“Yeah, I just gotta wait for the doctor, they said.”

“Good. Then we’ll get outta here. I hate hospitals.”

“Yeah.” He made a face then and suddenly said, “Maria, go away.”

“What?” She was taken aback. “Are you joking me? I rushed all the way here, worried, hitchhiked because some drunk person had the car, and now you’re telling me to leave because you’re embarrassed to be seen drunk?”

“No, actually, I feel like I’m gonna puke.” He leaned over the side of the bed and launched the contents of his stomach onto the floor, just barely missing her shoes.

“Oh . . . my god,” she said as she jumped back and turned to face the other direction. “That’s the most unattractive thing you’ve done ever.”

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

Maria had to help Michael in the house that evening. He kept falling asleep and then waking back up again with absolutely no energy. She stood beneath his arm, supporting him with her arm wrapped around his waist. When she struggled in through the front door with him, she noticed Kyle standing in the kitchen making himself a sandwich. His back was to them, and he didn’t turn around when they entered.

“Hey, guess what? I made a spontaneous and smart decision today. I got myself a new car. Yes, siree, and it’s in good condition, only got about 40,000 miles on it, and it only cost me nine-hundred bucks. Don’t ask me how I do it, find all these lucky deals in life. Somehow, I just do.”

“That’s nice, Kyle,” Maria said.

Michael’s only response was a loud, hung-over groan.

Kyle turned around upon hearing that and, when he noticed Michael, spat, “What the hell? What’s wrong with him?”

Maria kicked the front door shut with her foot and explained, “He did some drunk driving today and ran into a mailbox. Capped it all off with a cameo in the emergency room.”

“What? That’s . . . so stupid!”

“Seriously,” she agreed.

“Is he alright?” Kyle asked. “Are you alright, man?”

“Fine,” Michael groaned. “Uh, my head.”

“Car’s alright, too,” Maria told him.

“Can’t say the same for the mailbox,” Michael mumbled.

Maria struggled under the weight of his larger frame and told Kyle, “I’m gonna get him into bed.”

Kyle raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

She rolled her eyes. “Not in the gutter-head way. Come on, Michael.”

“Sorry, Kyle,” Michael muttered as Maria practically dragged him down the hallway to his bedroom. She tossed him down into his bed, and he groaned yet again. She had never seen him so completely smashed before. He must have been drinking hardcore.

“Put the pussy on a pedestal,” he mumbled to himself.

She made a face. “What?”

“I-I don’t know,” he admitted through his haze. “You’re not gonna leave, are you? ‘Cause you don’t have to leave. You could stay here. Or I could.”

What was he talking about?

“I kinda wanna stay,” he said, sounding rather incoherent. “I don’t . . . oh, I don’t really wanna leave.”

He’s talking about the bigger picture, she realized, the L.A. thing. He was saying he didn’t really want to go to L.A.

She didn’t bother to say anything in response since he had already fallen asleep again. Instead she headed back out into the hallway, only stopping once in the doorway to turn around and look at him. He really was the most frustrating, pig-headed, self-righteous son-of-a-bitch-on the planet. Nothing was ever easy with him; nothing was ever simple. She would have loved to not have feelings for him, to not care about him at all, because he really was a mess of a man.

But . . . he was Michael Guerin.

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

Maria went to the dance team gym that night, hoping to get in some practice. She was feeling out of shape since all that she was doing was teaching a class to little girls. Luckily, her boss wanted her to teach an advanced jazz class during the summer, though, so she would get back in shape doing that.

When she walked into the gym, she was quite surprised to find that someone else apparently had the same idea she did. And not just anyone, but Liz. She was there by herself, obviously trying to teach herself how to do something: triple turns.

“Come on,” Maria heard her mumble to herself. She didn’t seem to notice that she wasn’t alone in the gym anymore. Maria watched as she spun around twice and couldn’t quite make it on the third.

“Dammit,” she cursed before trying again. This time, she spun around about two and half times. Still not a triple turn, but closer. “Dammit,” she cursed again, seemingly very frustrated with herself. She raked one hand through her hair and groaned, “I can’t do this.”

“You can do it; it just takes practice,” Maria blurted.

Liz jumped back in surprise and held her hand to her chest. “Oh, Maria.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “You scared me. I didn’t notice you were here.”

“Sorry.”

“No, that’s okay. Uh . . . what are you doing here?”

Maria shrugged. “Don’t you ever just feel like dancing to clear your head?”

Liz thought about it for a moment and replied, “No. But then again, dancing isn’t my life’s passion. I don’t think it’s supposed to clear my head.”

“True. But that’s what I’m doing here. My head is in need of some major clearing.”

“Same here,” Liz said.

Maria took off her coat, tossed it down atop the bleachers, and inquired, “So why are you here? You guys got a practice tonight or something?”

“Oh, no. This is just a practice for me, actually. I’m trying to get better.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I mean, I think I’ve done pretty well so far considering I’ve never danced prior to this team. But now that I’m on it and now that I’m leading it . . . I really do wanna see it succeed. I get why you were so invested in it.”

Maria nodded. “Just beware. It’s gonna sting like a bitch when you graduate and have to leave it behind.”

“Probably didn’t help that we kinda forced you out of it,” Liz acknowledged. “I’m really sorry, Maria, for ruining your dance team.”

As much as she hated to be nice to Liz, Maria couldn’t really help it. Hell, she’d made out with the girl’s boyfriend while they were still dating. She couldn’t very well be a self-righteous bitch in the face of that fact. “You didn’t ruin it,” she assured her. “You just changed it. That’s okay.”

“No, it’s not, though. It was a lot better when you were captain. The dances were harder, sure, but they were more impressive. And you didn’t let the other girls walk all over you. Sometimes I do that.”

“Yeah, but I just walked all over the other girls. I wasn’t some fantastic captain, Liz. I was just a good dancer.”

Liz grunted. “Which I’m not even.”

“Come on, you said it yourself. You’ve done well; you’ve never danced before.”

“But I can’t even do at triple turn.” Liz flapped her arms against her sides helplessly.

Maria shrugged. “So? It took me two years to learn how to do a triple turn.”

Liz seemed surprised to hear that. “Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” She smiled. “Well, that makes me feel a lot better.”

“Just don’t whirl yourself around so much,” Maria told her. “Like, I was watching you, and you were just really throwing yourself into the turn. You don’t need to do that. It gets you off balance. All you have to do is pull your body upward, raise your center of gravity, tighten those stomach muscles, and it’ll happen eventually.”

Liz shook her head vigorously. “I don’t have stomach muscles.”

“Everyone has stomach muscles. Here, watch.” Maria shook her legs out quickly, then executed a perfect triple turn using the techniques she had told Liz to use. She ended the move by stepping down softly at the right and fanning her arms up above her. “See?”

“You make it look so easy,” Liz said.

“It’s not. You’ll get it eventually. Don’t worry. And when you do, you can teach the rest of the team.”

“Yeah, and then we can screw it up during a performance.”

Maria sighed. “Liz, there’s this little thing called confidence. I think you could benefit from it. Come on, just be proud of yourself.”

“For what? Being a complete bitch to you? Subjecting myself to a loveless relationship with Michael? Sleeping with Max in the locker room? Losing my academic scholarship? Being stupid?!”

“You’re not stupid, Liz.” Maria frowned. “Wait, you lost a scholarship?”

“Yeah, I got a letter about it today. I was getting half of my oh-so-expensive out-of-state tuition paid, but I didn’t keep up my GPA, so now . . . no scholarship.”

“Wow,” Maria said, unsure how to react. “That sucks.”

“Yeah.”

“What GPA did you have to keep?”

“Just a 3.0,” Liz replied. “I got a 2.9.”

Maria sighed, hating that part of it was her fault. If she had never tried to make Liz be so different in the first place . . . “I’m sorry, Liz,” she said. “But if it’s any consolation, I got a 2.6 and it’s a new record high for me.”

“Well . . .”

“You’ll do better next semester,” Maria assured her. “You won’t have Michael distracting you, me trying to change you. You can just go back to being the old Liz Parker, only less naïve.”

“And less of a follower,” Liz added. “I’m a leader. I gotta lead the dance team.” She sighed. “I’ve got this crazy idea to choreograph a dance because . . . well, as simple as Pam’s dances are, they’re not very flashy.”

“What did you have in mind?” Maria asked, intrigued.

“I don’t know, just some of that cool hip-hop stuff you’re so good at. But I’ve already tried to choreograph something, and it was horrible.”

“I bet it wasn’t,” Maria said.

“No, it was. I just can’t dance like you.”

“Then dance like you.”

“But me looks like a dork doing hip hop.”

Suddenly feeling very determined, Maria took a ponytail holder out of her pocket and put her hair up. “Okay,” she said. “You got music?”

“Yeah.”

She snapped the holder around her hair and declared, “Let’s choreograph.”

Liz gave her a confused look. “But . . . I don’t understand. Why are you being so nice to me, Maria? I mean, why would you wanna help me? You don’t even like me.”

“I’ve never not liked you, Liz,” Maria told her. “I was just really disappointed in you. There are certain people I hate, and they know who they are. Pam Troy. Courtney Banks. Martha Stewart. Myself sometimes. You’re not on that list.”

“Are you sure?”

“Liz . . . let’s choreograph.”

Liz smiled eagerly and said, “Uh, okay. Yeah. Thanks, Maria.”

“No problem. There’s just one move we have to put in there for sure.”

“What’s that?”

Maria smiled. “A triple turn.”

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

Michael trudged out into the living room that evening, looking for Maria. All he found was Kyle sitting at the kitchen counter, flipping through the latest issue of Playboy. He was always doing that.

“Well, look who’s sobered up,” Kyle remarked without glancing up from the pages in front of him.

Yeah, he definitely wasn’t drunk anymore. His head hurt like hell, but he figured he deserved it. He was a dumb-ass for getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. He knew that.

“Is Maria here?” he asked.

“No, she went out earlier. I don’t know where she went.”

He could easily picture her out at a club, looking smoking hot, chatting up a guy, flirting with him, enticing him . . . the more vivid the imagery, the sharper the pangs of jealousy. He wasn’t used to feeling jealous; he was used to getting what he wanted with little effort. Now, the one thing in the world he really wanted was the one thing he just couldn’t seem to get . . .

Serves me right, I guess, he thought, rubbing his aching forehead. “Well, do you know when she’s gonna be back?”

“Nope,” Kyle replid. “Probably not for awhile. She looked pretty upset when she left.”

Upset, he registered. Because of me.

“You know, you should write a book,” Kyle suggested out of nowhere, finally lifting his eyes up from his magazine. “How to Screw Up Consistently or How to Make Simple Things Complicated. Something like that.”

Michael made a face. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“No. You screwed up big-time today, Guerin, although it could’ve been a lot worse. I just wanna make sure you don’t do it again.”

“I won’t,” Michael assured him. “Sorry about the car, by the way. I’ll fix the dent.”

“No, I don’t care about the car,” Kyle said. “I care about you and Maria. I just want you guys to be happy. But the only way you’re gonna be happy is if you’re together, and the only way you’re gonna get together . . .” He trailed off and shrugged helplessly. “Actually, I don’t know how you’re gonna get together now. And I’m all-knowing, man.”

“Yeah, you are.” Michael yawned and stretched his arms above his head. “Alright, I guess I’ll go back to bed then . . . if Maria’s not here.”

“She’s not, man. Write that book someday.”

“Okay, I will.” Michael trudged back down the hallway, feeling . . . like scum, pretty much. Somehow he’d managed to drive Maria away when all he’d ever wanted to do was keep her close.










TBC . . .

-April :(
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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