Disclaimer: Would I be writing fan fiction if I owned 'Roswell?' Nooo... (also, in part 15, there are some lines taken from the episode [or very similar] to the episode ‘285 South.’ Me no own!)
Dedication: To Nehal, for the awesome challenge; to all of my faithful readers who stuck with my through the thick and thin. Thanks so much, y'all. :)
Author's Note: This is a dark fic that gets lighter, then darker again. Mentions of suicide and somewhat vivid imagery, so if this stuff upsets you, don't read it. Also, there is vivid imagery in part 20 about rape and violence, so if it bothers you, don't read it and e-mail me to explain what happened. On a lighter note, what Maria reads in part 21 was written by me. :)
So with that said, pass go and read the fiction...
The night air was cold for New Mexico and he fought back the urge to turn around as he pulled his coat tighter around his slim body. He closed the door behind him without a sound, a skill that he had perfected, and slowly jogged across the patchy brown lawn to his rusted Maxima that was sitting in the driveway.
Once he had hopped in and closed the door, he fumbled with the keys, stuck them in the ignition, and revved the engine. A light switched on inside of the house and he saw the shadow of his sister cross the room through the thin curtains. Before she had seen him, he threw the tiny car into gear and backed down the driveway, heading down the street towards his final destiny.
He had never liked living in New Mexico. Actually, he just never liked living at all, but he especially hated squandering his away in New Mexico. It was either too hot or too cold; there was never a perfect medium. And it was completely nothing like New York. If you asked him, it was a tourist trap for crazed rednecks and psychiatric patients, for crying out loud!
They had moved to Roswell when he was ten years old, after his 'dad' had gotten laid off by a big law firm in New York City. Without consulting him, his two sisters, or his brother, their 'parents' made the decision that the family was going to move to Roswell, New Mexico to start a law firm of their own. They had been told that they were moving a week before they left; giving them just enough time to pack all of their belongings into boxes before they headed out west.
Their parents, who adopted the four of them when they were six, had always been nice, but distant at the same time. They truly were grateful that they found their adopted children wandering along the side of the road, but had never investigated their backgrounds before they became their 'own' kids, so to speak. Hell, he didn't even know where he came from. And maybe he wouldn't have cared, but right now, it really pissed him off that the people he called 'Mom' and 'Dad' didn't even take the time to find out what his life had been like before he met them.
So now, they were all high school seniors living in the dumbest town in the mid-west. Roswell, New Mexico, trap to thousands of UFO fanatics every year.
He sped up as he drove past the mall and scowled in dismay at the sight on the lawn. Reindeer pulling a jolly Santa Claus, who was seated in a sleigh, welcomed all the shoppers with their holiday spirit.
He hated the holidays.
Holidays were supposed to be about the family. About the people who cared about you and vice versa. Sure, he might live in a huge home with a seemingly happy family, but no one ever saw what went on inside of their home. They never saw how the Evans' were too involved in the law firm to actually pay attention to their kids and to actually know them. They didn't see that. No one did. His brother and sisters didn't even see it. They couldn't tell that their own family was falling apart from lack of communication and it was driving him to the point of insanity.
His brother and sisters, too, were pushing him to the edge. He loved them dearly, but he hated it that they could no longer talk with him about certain things. Isabel, the beauty queen, was the most popular girl in their class and Tess was her trusted sidekick, making sure to stir up trouble wherever she went. Max was a science geek, but the girls still loved him. And he... well, everyone thought that he was weird. His family, too, considered him the 'weird' one. He didn't care about his grades anymore. He used to try, but that changed when his parents lost their interest in him. Most thought that he was a big slacker, others just thought that he was an outcast or a loner. Enough said.
He glanced at the blaring clock on the radio. The fluorescent green letters illuminated the car.
Just a few more minutes and he wouldn't have to deal with his problems anymore. Just a few more minutes until he came to his end.
He never thought that it would end this way, though. Whenever he thought of death, he always thought of it as so far away... something that wouldn't happen until he was old and tired. Sometime when he actually wanted to leave this God-forsaken planet. But he'd never imagined it so soon.
It's not that he actually wanted to die, but there was nothing else left for him. He didn't think so, at least, and he wasn't willing to take the time to find it if it were there.
The 'Danger Ahead' signs were springing up on the side of the road like flowers growing in the springtime. But he didn't care anymore. He ignored all the warnings and floored it. He could almost see himself smashing into the craggy rocks below and his body shattered into millions of pieces. He smirked at the thought.
Life was almost at its end. He would no longer suffer.
The cliffs were getting nearer and nearer by the second and he pressed the gas pedal further down to the floor, if it was possible, awaiting the moment he went crashing through the guardrail, then sailing off the giant rock. He closed his eyes in anticipation, actually seeing the event occur countless times over and over in his head.
But unfortunately, that moment never came.
He felt his car stall and then, he felt the engine literally fall out of the hood of his crappy car, the heater instantly dying out and the tiny vehicle skidded to an abrupt stop.
His eyes snapped open and scowled at his discovery.
Here he was, a mere ten yards away from the end of his life and his car had to die on him first. Go figure.
"Dammit," he cursed under his breath as he swung the car door open and stepped into the frigid New Mexican night. He shivered as soon as the cool air hit his skin, but despite the cold, walked around to the front of his car and looked beneath the hood.
Sure enough, the engine was on the ground, steaming.
'Well, at least it'll keep me warm until I can find someone to help me,' he thought solemnly.
Maybe fate had to do something with this and that's why he didn't die. Maybe...
Whatever the case was, he knew that he sure as hell wasn't going to jump off that damn cliff. That would be way too obvious and it would hurt maybe a little too much for his likings. Sure, he could handle fires, but actually being cut into tiny pieces didn't appeal to him at the very moment.
His watch, all of a sudden, went crazy and he shook his head in defeat.
It was 2:30.
And he was still alive.
Michael glanced at his watch and the numbers laughed back in response to his questioning eyes.
A minute; a whole minute had passed since he was supposed to die.
But no! Here he was, standing in the freezing cold desert in the wee morning hours of Christmas Day since his shitty car had decided that it wanted to die before he did. What a joke!
How in the world was he going to explain this to his parents... siblings... classmates? He could see it now, 'No, mom and dad, really. I was just taking a joy ride out in the desert at 2:30 on Christmas Day. The car broke down and I promise that I wasn't about to drive over the cliffs before it did. Seriously.' Oh yeah - that would go over real well.
He pushed those thoughts from his mind and he rubbed his hands together, attempting to generate some heat from the pitiful action. He had no luck, however, and he reluctantly stepped closer to the engine of his car.
The engine was still smoking, so he at least had a source of heat, but the streams of steam were lessening in intensity by the minute. Pretty soon, he was going to have to crawl back into his broken car and huddle into the cheap felt seat until someone drove by who would give him a ride back to Roswell.
He sighed out loud and looked longingly at the cliff. The stars that were twinkling above it mocked him. They smirked and shone because he was still alive and was stranded, all alone, in the middle of the desert with no one in range for miles upon miles.
Why did all this shit have to happen to him, of all people?
Would he have to be dealing with this if he were dead? No...
He was so close, and yet so far from his end. It had to be that he was being laughed at by whatever higher power there was. Just ten yards...
His thoughts were interrupted, though, when a red car whizzed by on the highway. He jerked his head from viewing the craggy cliffs to see what direction it was going and if it's driver had seen him. Sure enough, the vehicle was slowing down, but for all the wrong reasons.
The car, which looked to be an old Jetta, began sputtering and making lots of unusual noises (ones that cars usually don't make) and then, it jolted to a complete stop on the side of the highway, a mere hundred yards from the final resting place of his old Maxima. The driver of the car got out, made her (he thought, at least) way around to the front of the car, opened the hood, and cursed a blue streak at her discovery.
For some reason, Michael felt pity for this other person who was now going to be stuck in the desert with him, so he decided to make sure that she was okay.
He, again, gazed at the cliffs. 'Why me?' he murmured silently as he made his way over to the other tattered car.
"Hey," he said quietly as he made his way around to the front of the car.
The girl (ha! He was right!), startled by his voice, jumped in surprise and turned around. She had been so involved in openly cursing the car that she hadn't even seen him approaching, let alone standing on the side of the road.
"Hi," she smiled uneasily at him, taking a cautious step back.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he stated calmly, his eyes raking over the girl's slim body. If he didn't know any better, he'd say that she was the kind of girl that he would go for - athletic built, blonde hair, green eyes, the perfect height.
The girl's eyes widened in terror. "No, no, no, no, no!" she cried softly, "This is so not happening to me."
"What isn't happening to you?"
She gave him a nasty look and he took a step back. She sighed, "It's a textbook example. Girl's car breaks down in the desert. Random boy, who suddenly appears out of the thin air, approaches her and tells her that he isn't going to hurt her. She feels more comfortable, asks him to look at her car, and somewhere along the way, she gets raped or killed... or both."
Michael's lips turned up in a slight smirk. "You actually believe in those stupid urban legends?"
The girl, slightly flustered, replied, "Well, uh… Don't you?"
There was a pause between the two bickering teenagers. The moment of silence, however, was interrupted by the howl of a hungry coyote in the distance.
She shivered at the approaching danger.
"You're scared of that coyote? You can’t even see it!"
"I'm not telling you anything," she snapped, looking off into the distance in the way where the mourning song had come.
"And you think that I'm going to rape you?"
"Why wouldn't you? I mean, isn't that the only thing that men are after these days, anyways?"
Michael couldn't hold it back any longer - he chuckled, attempting to disguise his laughter with an unconvincing cough.
"I suppose you think differently," she stated, matter-of-factly.
"Well, all that I know is that if I were to choose someone to rape, which is highly unlikely, it wouldn't happen to be some random girl with a broken car on the side of the highway."
"Yeah, well. Good."
Another silence enveloped the two. Michael just stared at this eccentric girl who he was finding oddly amusing and she stared off into the night sky, humming a silent song to herself.
The coyotes were singing their sad song now, closer to the cars, and the girl changed her gaze from the stars to the surrounding landscape, attempting to figure out where the rabid animals were and how much time she had left before they tore her into shreds.
"Do you want me to..." he motioned to her car, wanting to show the girl that he meant no harm and that he wanted to flee from the coyotes just as much as she did.
She nodded slowly. "Promise you won't rape or kill me?" she asked quietly, staring at the ground bashfully.
"I'll try not to," he stated, sarcasm evident in his voice.
"Okay. Can you fix my car?"
He came closer as she stepped out of the way. He looked down into the engine, fiddling with a few things inside, then removed his now greasy hand and shook his head negative. "You're gonna have to find a professional to fix this. I can't tell what the problem is."
"Will it still run?"
"The engine shorted out on you when you were driving. Do you think it'll run?" he raised an eyebrow.
"You know what?"
"What?" he challenged, staring defiantly into her dancing green eyes.
"Shut up and stop being a smart ass," she shot back, smirking.
"Look," Michael began, "I'm trying to be nice here. I promised that I wouldn't rape you. You can try to see if the car will work, for all I care. All that I know is that we don't know when someone is going to come by here next. It could be five minutes or five hours. And I don't know about you, but I do know that I am freezing."
She shivered when he mentioned that.
"Well, since you aren't out here to rape me or kill me..." she started, "What are you doing out in the desert? I mean, surely guys don't go around in the wee hours of Christmas Day, of all days, looking for women whose cars break down in the middle desert to help them or, in your case, make them feel lonely and scared and just wanting to go home. So what's the catch?"
"Yeah. Thanks," he replied as fought back the urge to chuckle at her comment. But instead, he stared her straight in the eyes and dead panned, "My car broke down, too."
"Seriously?" she asked in disbelief, her mouth forming a surprised 'o'.
He nodded slowly, "Would I lie to you?"
She turned her head slightly, a confused expression crossing her porcelain face, and laughed sardonically. "What are the chances of two people being stranded on the side of the road at the same time and in the same place?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. But it happened, didn't it?"
"I guess so," she sighed as she walked over to her car and opened the door that screeched as it swung slowly open. "You wanna at least try to get this damn engine going so that we won't have to stand out here for God knows how long in this freezing desert?"
"Sure. It's worth a try," he said as he sauntered around to the passenger door and after opening it, climbed into the car, slamming the door closed behind him in an attempt to keep the warmer air inside of the car.
The girl, who had also just climbed into the tiny car, was now attempting to turn the engine over. No such luck.
So she tried again. The engine spattered and ran for about half a second, then died out and the battery light flashed on and off, the orange colored section of the dashboard illuminating the car mockingly. They were going to freeze if someone didn't come soon, it smirked at the teenagers. The car's engine was officially dead.
"Dammit," she cursed, throwing her hands up in the air in anger and frustration, bringing them down to beat on the tattered steering wheel. "Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit!"
She glared at him, and then shook her head in defeat. "Nope. Looks like we're gonna freeze to death, after all," she commented as she laughed sardonically.
"I guess it's our lucky day, then."
They sat in an awkward silence.
Michael rubbed his hands together and blew his breath into them in an attempt to stay warm. However, the air was frosting as soon as it left his mouth, so it basically did no good whatsoever. But it was almost comforting to keep up the motion, so he kept on doing it, even though it was doing nothing to help him in his fight against the bitter cold.
The girl was also trying to stay warm, shifting her body position every few minutes. She would lean into the leather seat, somewhat duck under the steering wheel, fold up her knees, pull them towards her body, and press her head against her knees, then repeat the actions over and over again.
She turned to him a few minutes later, obviously tired of listening to the deafening silence that passed between them. "I'm Maria, by the way."
He looked up from his hand warming gestures and smirked at her. He had completely forgotten to ask her if she had a name.
"Nice to meet you," he said, sticking his glove-covered hand out, "The name's Michael. Good to know that the person that I'm going to freeze to death with has a name."
She laughed dryly as she took his hand with her smaller one that was so cold and dry. She wore no gloves and her hands were chapped from the cold.
"Nice to meet you, too, Michael."
He shivered as he looked outside. The clouds that had been covering the sky were gone and now the silver moon was shining down on the car, it's sparkling light mocking them in its psuedo-warmth.
"Why are you out here at this time of night?" he asked curiously, "I mean, you don't find many girls driving along the highway at 2 am in the morning on Christmas Day. Especially ones who fear that guys are going to either A) rape her, B) kill her, or C) all of the above."
She rolled her eyes. "You're never gonna let me live that down, are you?"
He shook his head and smirked.
"I didn't think so..."
"Why are you out here, Maria?" he asked, making a point to pronunciate every letter in her name.
Why was he doing this to her? Asking her all of these questions and making fun of her at the same time? Why, why, why? This incredibly hot, random guy whose car also broke down was sitting with her in her car, which was now dead. Since when did she have such good luck? Since when did really, really hot guys wander the roads in the middle of the night on Christmas? She was going to be thanking her lucky stars for quite a while - what a Christmas present!
"Thinking of your answer, Blondie? It isn't that challenging," he started.
She was broken out of her daze and shot him a look, "I was coming back from a party. And it's not strange, I mean, lots of girls are out on the roads at this time of night," she managed to get through her chattering teeth, which she was able to stop a second later.
He nodded, "Yeah… coming back from parties on Christmas Day?"
She frowned at him. "Where else would they be coming from?"
"I don't know. I just thought people spent time with families and friends on Christmas Day, not at parties and defiantly not on the highway, according to you like, five minutes ago."
She huffed. "Bite me."
"Don't even think about it. You lay one hand on me and you die," she threatened at the spiky haired young man as she shivered and instinctively wrapped her jacket closer to her body.
And they sat in another silence, both wondering what was going to happen next.
"It's cold," she pointed out as her teeth began chattering again. Except this time, she couldn't stop them.
"God, will you stop making snide comments about me?"
"I wasn't meaning to sound like I was making a snide comment," he said quietly.
"Yeah, whatever," she stated doubtfully and attempted to tuck her head into her jacket, where she could get some body heat and warm up a little.
Seeing this, Michael's body shook and he felt a strange sense of pity for the girl, "Do you want to go back to my car? I mean, the engine fell out and all, and it was steaming a few minutes ago. The steam was pretty warm when I came over here to help you. I might even have a blanket, if we look in the car, too."
She smiled weakly at him and nodded slowly. "That would be nice."
He grinned back at her.
Since when did he grin at girls? Since when was he nice to people he had never met before? Oh yeah, he was definitely becoming a softie, for some strange reason.
Maybe that cold was getting to him…
Michael and Maria tottered the hundred yards back to the broken Maxima, where she immediately sat down on the cool white sand and he made his way to the back of the car, opened the trunk, and rummaged around for a blanket of some sort.
Why was he being so nice to this eccentric girl? She thought that he was going to rape or kill her when she first saw him and he was still being kind to her? This was so not his style... what would he do if Izzy or Tess found out about this? He shuddered at that thought and commenced to searching through the car's trunk.
A few minutes later, he triumphantly grinned at the piece of cloth in his hands.
"Here we go," he called to the petite girl who was sitting near him on the ground, pulling out a fleece blanket, silently thanking Max and Liz for their 'stupid' picnics.
"You found something?" she asked weakly, not even turning her head to see what he had discovered.
"Yep," he smirked as he walked towards the small girl and tossed the excessively large blanket on top of her head.
A muffled "Thanks" came from under the blanket.
"Yeah, yeah. No problem," he joked as he sat down.
"You know what?" she said matter-of-factly, peering out from under the fuzzy blanket, wrapping the rest of it around her tiny body.
"What?" he challenged.
"I think that you need to learn some manners. I mean, were you raised by a pack of wolves or something?"
He just smirked at her.
She rolled her eyes. "I guess that would be a 'yes.'"
"You wouldn't even know the first thing about who I was raised by."
"Then who were you raised by?" she raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Give me some of that blanket. Its cold," he suddenly said, attempting to tear the cloth out of her hands.
"I don't think so, buddy," she glared. "You have to tell me about your family before you even get to touch this blanket."
"And what are you going to do about it?" he challenged, reaching out for the blanket.
She snapped her teeth, almost snagging a piece of his hand while doing so, and he pulled it back quickly, swearing softly.
"That's what I thought."
Maria met his eyes and was astounded by how deep they really were and how many emotions she could see through them. She guessed that he wouldn't want to know that she could see right through him with the glance of his eyes, though, so she held his gaze for a few more minutes and he eventually turned his head to look up at the stars and shivered.
"What do you want to know about my family?" he sighed in defeat, not daring to meet her eyes again.
She grinned. "Oh, you know. Anything, everything. Preferably something interesting and something long, very long, so that maybe by the time you're through, we can be driving home with someone who drives by on this damn road Christmas morning."
"You don't want to know about my family," he stated softly, turning his head to stare at the bright starry sky, unable to meet her surely prying eyes. She would make him tell everything that he didn't want to give away and that would make his night/morning/whatever it was even worse. He didn't want to go spilling his most intimate secrets to this girl that he met by accident when he was supposed to be dead, not sitting in the freezing desert on Christmas morning.
"Why wouldn't I want to know about your family? Are they dead or something?" she asked, her mouth falling open in shock when his features remained frozen and unaffected, "Oh God! I'm so sorry. Will you ever forgive me for asking? How can I make it up to you?" she cried, distressed, thinking that his family members had all passed away and that she had resurrected some memory that he wanted to stay buried.
He smirked at her, almost finding her distress amusing.
"So they aren't dead?" a flat response came when she saw the way that he looked at her like she was some sort of lunatic.
"They might as well be."
"And why is that, Michael? Why should all the people in your family be dead?"
"They shouldn't be dead. It's just… I don't know. They're..." he paused, collecting his thoughts while rubbing his hands together, trying to warm up, "Never there. Its like no one in the world has time to spend any time on anyone but themselves."
"I'm spending time with you right now," she said softly, gazing into his chocolate eyes.
"Yeah. I'm sure that you would be hanging out with me if you had the choice. Right," he shot back at her, sardonically.
She glared at him, disturbed that he had so little respect for himself as a person, as a human being. "Why do you put yourself down so much? Its not healthy."
It was his turn to narrow his eyes at the feisty girl sitting in front of him, "Because there's no one else here to do it for me."
"Seriously," she rolled her eyes. "Stop being such a smart ass."
"I'm not being a smart ass, Maria," he pronounced her name harshly, shivering as the wind whipped up and seemed to cut through his frame with the force of a thousand knives, "I'm just telling you the truth."
She looked deeply into his eyes, once again, and realization hit her hard. She now knew why he was out at this time of night. On Christmas Day, at that. He wanted to be alone - without the people who didn't seem to care about him - and it wasn't helping that she was inquiring him about his family like there was no tomorrow. Sympathy overcame her.
He, however, did not notice her sudden epiphany and the deep sorrow for him, and sighed loudly into the chilly night air.
"Well, I have a pretty interesting family," Maria began, changing the subject.
"And what makes them so interesting? Your daddy a millionaire?" Michael asked, a hint of sarcasm in his deep voice.
"Actually, my dad is a millionaire. But he no longer lives with me and my mom," she stared at him, her green eyes dancing, laughing. He just blinked, surprised that his remark was actually true, and then she continued. "My mom and I live in a small house and she makes alien toys for a living, while I add to the income by writing songs and music. And my dad helps out, when he can remember to send us some money every once in a while, seeing that he has such a busy life and all. But I have to admit that it's not a bad life for me."
"Seriously? Your mom makes those stupid alien dolls that they sell at all those overpriced tourist traps? Like, the ones that croak 'Taaake me to your Leeeeader?' You've got to be kidding me."
"Yep - they're my mom's creation. And they aren't stupid," she shot back at porcupine boy, "They're creative and surprisingly bring in a lot of income, seeing how many tourists are sucked into the alien theory when they visit the very strange town of Roswell, New Mexico."
He rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, yeah. I know. But seriously, it's not as funny as you think. But that's my mom - the one and only Amy DeLuca."
"That would be my last name," she smirked.
"Where do you go to school?"
"West Roswell High. Why? Are you planning to stalk me or something? Or maybe, since you promised not to rape and kill me here, you're going to find out where I go to school and murder and rape me on the campus? Oh, that would be great. Spending my last minutes on this earth at a place that I hate…" she droned on, lost in her thoughts, drowning in her words.
However, Michael heard nothing but the answer to his question. "Great. This just keeps getting better and better. Pretty soon, you'll be telling me all of your deepest secrets and we'll be chatting like we've been friends forever. God, could my life get any worse?" he mumbled, dropping his head in his hands and groaning loudly, expressing his discontent.
"What?" she asked, dumbfounded at his harangue, wondering exactly what he meant by it and why he was so unhappy.
"Huh?" she was still confused.
"I'm Michael Evans."
And her jaw dropped, realization slamming into her tiny body and she shivered, wrapping the blanket closer to her thin frame, attempting to warm up.
"You're Michael Evans?"
"The one and only," he replied sarcastically, almost sneering at Maria, who was completely thrown in a loop by knowing who he really was. Would she think anything different of him now? Probably so - most everyone did when they found out that he was the elusive Michael Evans. And she would especially think that something weird was going on, seeing that he was stranded on the side of the road on Christmas morning, by the largest and steepest cliff in Roswell. But, then again, something was going on with her, too. Not all girls his age were 'coming back from parties' on Christmas Day at 2 am in the morning, either.
"You know, I thought that you looked familiar. I just didn't know where to place the face."
"Yeah, well. A lot of people seem to recognize me and care about me."
"No, don't start. You wanted to know why I was out here?" he asked, narrowing his eyes in frustration at the pixie girl who went to his high school and even shared a class with him.
How could he have been so dumb as to not have recognized her? She was so full of life, even when they were in their boring English literature class… She didn't belong out here with him at this time of night. She deserved to be at home in her bed, fast asleep, dreaming perfect little dreams of Christmas fairies and happy endings.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. It doesn't matter, anyways. I mean, I never told you why I'm here at this time of morning on Christmas Day. It's okay. You don't have to say anything and we can sit here in silence, if you'd like," she stated softly, hoping that he wouldn't agree to her request of sitting in silence. She hated the peace and quiet. And she really desired to reach out and touch the young man sitting next to her who had experienced so much pain, just as she had, and wanted to know that she was there for him. That she didn't think any less of him and that she never viewed him as someone lower than herself.
"Well, I'm going to tell you anyways."
She nodded slightly, almost fearing what was to come.
"Its because I wanted to get away from my family, from the people who are supposed to care about me who surprisingly don't give me the time of the day. Even my own siblings are falling away from me and I cannot seem to grasp what is happening. One day, I go from being on top of the world to the next, where I have lost everything and everyone that has ever meant something to me!" he exclaimed, standing up as he ran his hands through his spiky hair, making it stand on end even more than it already was, and let out a loud sigh that echoed in the dry air.
He made his way to the cliffs and took one look at them before turning his back, nausea passing through his body and he gripped his stomach. God, he hated the holidays. He hated life. And most of all, he hated this Maria girl who was making him admit things about himself that he never even wanted to state to himself.
He gazed over to where she was seated and realized that she had not moved since he left her there after admitting any and every problem in his life. She just sat there, as still as a statue, staring towards the empty heavens, a slight frown playing across her soft features.
"Dammit," he cursed as he trudged back over to the place where his car rested and the girl waited.
Finally, she broke out of her daze and shifted her gaze to the distressed Michael Evans, who was standing in the middle of the desert with no where to go and nothing to say or do.
"C'mere," she motioned for him to sit down next to her, unwrapping the fleece blanket from her shoulders, spreading it over her legs and the white desert sand, patting it down.
He cautiously walked over and plopped down next to the tiny girl, somewhat embarrassed of his outburst, and pulled his portion of the blanket over his legs, which were blocks of ice now, seeing that he had been standing in the freezing cold. He shivered and turned to stare at the blonde who was silently resting next to him.
"I... umm..." he began, staring at the sand covered ground, but she cut him off, placing her finger on his chapped lips, hushing him.
"I understand," were the only two words that whispered into his ear as she wrapped her arm around his shuddering shoulders.
"How do you understand? How can you?" he asked softly, not daring to stare into her dark green eyes that were no doubt dancing. They danced whenever he looked into their depths.
"I just do."
"That's not an explanation."
"Yeah, well, I think it's one," she shot back at him, shivering and pulling the fleece closer to her body, emitting a groan from Michael. However, he did not try to take his side of the blanket back.
He sighed at her last comment, saying, "But it's not. How the hell can you even imagine what I'm going through right now?"
"Because I'm going through the same thing."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right."
"I'm serious," she stated, fire in her words. "Anyway, why would I lie to you?"
"To make me feel better. To make me feel not as stupid as I do right now. People always try to do that and it always makes me feel worse. So don't even start, okay?" he buried his head in his hands and sighed loudly, making her back off slightly and again, feel sympathy for the boy in front of her, but also for herself, because she had never admitted her problems aloud before. Funny, now that she did, the person listening to her didn't believe a single word that she said.
Upon realizing this fact, she blinked back the tears that came to her eyes, not even realizing that they had appeared until she did so.
He didn't believe her. He was being the same old Michael Evans and didn't realize that what she was telling him was true. The truth. Something that she rarely told anyone, not even herself or her best friends, let alone strangers.
But then again, would she believe someone who was also stranded on the side of the road with her at God-knows-when on Christmas morning? Would she even think that the person could possibly be going through the same thing that she was at the same time? Hell no.
She sniffled, wiping the single tear that fell down her porcelain cheek with her hand, leaning back and staring at the starry sky.
The stillness of the moment was interrupted by the wind that danced across the flat land and both teenagers unconsciously scooted back together, attempting to keep their little body warmth intact.
"God, I hope someone comes soon," he shivered, also lying on his back and gazing up at the heavens above.
"Yeah, tell me about it," came an almost angry reply.
He leaned on an elbow, and faced the pixie girl, "What's wrong with you?"
She narrowed her eyes, avoiding his, still looking at the sky that fascinated her so much, "You wouldn't understand."
"Oh, so that's how it's gonna be now, right?"
"How what's gonna be?"
"Whatever this is, you're just going to... God, I don't know. Be... angry about anything that I say or do, when I don't even realize it. Does it bother you that I'm sitting here under the same sky as you or something?"
"You know, it just might."
"And why would that be, Maria?" he said her name lightly, receiving a startled glance from the girl.
As she sat up next to him, things became clear. She had been crying. Her cheeks were decorated with their angry red tracks and she was sniffling, attempting to wipe away the evidence of her apparent emotions.
"You've been crying," he stated softly, gazing at her face with a look of concern etched across his face.
"Ding, ding, ding!" she cried sarcastically, turning her head from his heated stare, unable to take any more of it. "We've got a winner! Give the boy a prize."
"Seriously?" she snorted, slightly amused, spinning to be confronted by his questioning eyes. "How can we be serious when you don't believe a word that I say?"
"What?" he asked, dumbfounded.
"You know what I'm talking about."
"No, I don't."
"Well, lemme give you a clue. Then you can figure it out," she let out a long breath of air, "I quote, 'You wouldn't understand.'"
"What the hell?"
"Michael, I understand what you're going through."
His eyes widened in shock when he realized what she was speaking of.
"I know why you're out here at this time in the morning. I figured it out. I'm not stupid, you know, and I bet you want to know why I'm out here, too," she added, gazing at the stars again, running her hands through her long blonde hair and sighing.
"You don't have to tell me."
"But I'm going to, since you told me. It's the right thing to do," she forced a smile on her face, "Okay?"
"I wasn't coming home from a party."
"Yeah, well, I figured that," his tone was flat and almost harsh towards her.
"I left my house this morning. I got into a fight with my mom and things..." her voice droned off into the night air, "Well, things weren't good."
"What kind of things?"
She squeezed her eyes shut and took in a shuddering breath. This was really tough for her - she'd never told anyone, not even Lizzie, about this.
"Michael, my mother, she's different from other mom's. Instead of spending her time with me, she works. And on the weekends, she hangs out at clubs and with random guys who just want some. To top it all off, I just found out that she's an alcoholic, and that she's been abusing the bottle since my father left, almost eight years ago."
His mouth fell open, yet he did not utter a word.
"Yeah, I guess you could say so. I mean, I never thought that anyone else was having family problems. I just thought that it was me."
She stared directly into his hazel depths and stated quietly, "Michael, it's like I've woken up from some dream. I'm not in that perfect world anymore. And what I've realized is that life isn't fair. People aren't who you expect them to be. Most stories don't end with 'happily ever after' and if you want one of those, you have to work for it. You have to go out and search for yourself and once you have, you can truly be happy. I know that you're searching. God, I know that I am, for something, or anything, that can even help dig me out of this hole that I fell into. But I continue running into is the same old thing with almost every person that I meet along the way."
"What is this 'same old thing?'"
"People live in the past. They aren't looking for tomorrows. They don't live for their todays. They just dwell on their memories as they waste away into nothing."
"When did you discover this?"
"This morning, when I chose to leave my mother. I just, I couldn't take any more, so I took the car and drove as fast as I could to get out of there."
There was a silence between the two. The wind blew across the empty desert and the stars twinkled down on the people sitting under them, enduring the elements.
"You know, it's true."
"Yeah, I do," she let her eyes fall upon his body, "Thanks," she smiled.
He shifted uncomfortably under her gaze, but again, said nothing. Seemed commonplace of him not to speak after she poured out her heart.
She was freezing, she really was. No longer did she hear the hiss of the wind over the sand. Her body began to shake uncontrollably and her pearly white teeth chattered.
"Are you okay?" he asked with concern, shooting her a glance.
"Yeah," she whispered, still shaking, "It's just a tad bit chilly out here."
He scooted closer to her and slowly, almost like he was contemplating his movements while he was in the action, wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer to him.
"Maybe if we sit like this, we won't freeze to death," he said lightly as he felt her lean into his chest, sighing, which sounded like a sigh of contentment.
His action and her reaction kind of scared him, actually. First off, he had met this girl less than three hours ago and they were already breaking the touch barrier, something which he had trouble with for quite some time. Also, he wasn't like that. He never got all touchy-feely with any people, let alone people that he didn't know.
Especially girls with blonde hair. And shimmering green eyes. And luscious pouty lips that were almost begging to be kissed. And unbelievable stories that mirrored his own experiences…
"Thanks, Michael," she snuggled into him, tossing his half of the blanket back over his legs.
"Sure, anytime," he tried to act nonchalant, wrapping the fleece around his long legs, praying silently for someone to come and save him before it was too late.
God, someone had better come quick…
Her eyes drifted closed and she sighed silently, content.
But shortly after that moment of peace, a blaring light shone in her face and she awoke, startled.
"What the hell?" she mumbled, shielding her eyes from the blinding light.
"Thank God!" Michael cried, jumping off the sandy ground, letting her head fall unceremoniously to the ground. He sprinted to the roadside, flinging his arms in the air in an attempt to slow the oncoming traffic, "A car!"
"Great," she mumbled under her breath, wrapping Michael's now empty half of the blanket around the remainder of her uncovered body, feeling the warmth of where he had been.
By the time she was able to scramble to her feet, Michael had managed to flag down the speeding vehicle and was speaking with the driver.
He signaled to her when she started making her way over to the car, hoping that she would move a little faster than she was at that very moment.
“What’s the deal?” she asked, squeezing her eyes shut and praying that this person would unfortunately not be able to take them back to Roswell and that they would get to spend more time in the desert together, learning more about one another, despite how much talking about their lives would hurt. She didn’t want to go home. She couldn’t go back to Roswell and just act like another day had gone by. She couldn’t and she wouldn’t, if she had anything to do with it.
“This nice man, Ernie, is going to give us a ride back to town. Sound good to you?”
“Yeah, great,” she muttered as she reached Michael’s side and snuggled up close to him, burying her face in his warm chest. It was still cold in the desert and she shivered as a coyote howled somewhere near the ridge.
“You kids ready to go?” Ernie, the balding 40-something man behind the wheel, asked as they were climbing into the back seat of his old Buick.
“Oh yeah,” Michael replied, grinning, as he wrapped an arm around Maria, who had been silent for a few minutes.
“Yeah, ready to go,” she sighed, leaning into her newfound friend and falling asleep shortly after.
* * * * *
Maria felt like she was flying. Or at least she was dreaming that she was able to. But then, all of a sudden, she was broken out of her dreamland by being flung forward and felt a hand on her shoulder, almost forcing her to stand.
“What the hell…” her voice droned off as her eyes slowly opened.
“We’re at my house,” a warm voice answered.
“Your house?” she asked, finally realizing that the voice belonged to Michael.
“Well, yeah. Do I know where yours is?”
“Bite me, Desert Boy.”
Their argument was interrupted by a laugh from the front seat.
“You kids are a hoot,” Ernie cackled.
“Yeah, thanks,” Maria sighed sarcastically. “We work on it all the time.”
“Yeah, every day.”
Ernie just laughed and nodded as Michael and Maria both climbed out of the back seat of his car.
“See you later. Merry Christmas!”
“Thanks, Ernie. You, too,” Michael stated and they both waved as the man drove away into the sun that was rising above the desert that very moment.
“What the hell are you going to tell your parents?” Maria asked, curious. “And what am I going to do? Think one of your parents will drive me home or do I need to start walking?”
Michael ran a hand through his hair, “In answer to the first question, I have no idea what I’m going to say to the parents. But you’re going to stay here with me until you feel comfortable to go home. I think everyone in my family will pretty much accept you. My brother and sisters already know you. And, I mean, you’re normal compared to me and all…” his voice faded as he turned his gaze to the amazing sunrise.
“Michael…” she began, with the intentions of telling him that she was going to go back to her house, but he cut her off.
“Look, Maria,” he snapped, drawing her attention from nature back to his face, “Don’t you ‘Michael’ me. Don’t tell me to stop being sorry for myself. This is the way that I am. And if you don’t like it, then, well, too bad for you. Because I’m not changing.”
She sighed in defeat, “Forget it, then,” as he began walking towards the cozy little house.
She scampered behind him, hoping for the very best as he knocked on the door.
A few seconds later, the oak door was flung open and two blonde girls in their pajamas practically flew into Michael’s awaiting arms with excitement and joy of their brother’s return.
“Michael, we were so worried about you! I woke up this morning around two and found your bed empty. We’ve been sitting around and praying and hoping for you to come back ever since then!” one cried while the other buried her head in his shoulder and let a sob escape her tiny body.
“Mom! Dad! Max! Michael’s home,” the taller one yelled into the house.
With those words, three more people came charging out of the house and wrapped their arms around the lost boy, Michael, who looked pleasantly surprised at his arrival back to his house. His family cared… or at least they were acting like they did.
Maria felt completely out of place and as every second passed, she took one step backwards, away from the family reunion. She couldn’t stand just to be there and not take place in it. And besides, they didn’t know her anyways and would probably wonder why the hell Michael brought home some random girl with him on Christmas Day.
With each step she took away from the happy family, the closer she got to the giant willow tree that was planted in the middle of the Evans front yard. She reached it easily as the people in front of her were still celebrating the safe arrival of their son/brother back home, like they hadn’t seen him in years.
Then, Maria turned her back and she sprinted away from the happy homecoming, knowing that hers wouldn’t be quite as nice.
A single tear streaked down her cheek as she jogged into the sunrise, attempting to push the memories of the night before out of her mind as she slipped away.
Michael grinned as he returned his family’s embraces. It had been a long time since they had actually showed that they cared and he was surprised that they had missed him.
When he finally pulled out of the group hug, he said while flashing a toothy grin, “There’s someone that I want you all to meet,” while turning around to find his new friend had mysteriously disappeared without leaving a trace behind.
His smile fell into a frown as he spun back to face his family.
“Who did you want to introduce us to, Michael?” his adoptive father asked, staring at the yard with a confused look on his face.
“She was here a minute ago,” he whispered, almost trying to imagine what had happened. He wanted to know what had made her run away.
“Michael, are you okay?” Max asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Shit!” he cried, realizing the reason why Maria had fled.
“Michael Evans – how dare you speak like that in front of your mother,” the older man scolded.
Michael rolled his eyes.
“Izzy, Tess – did you see Maria?”
“Maria?” Isabel raised an eyebrow. “Maria…”
“What about her?”
Michael rolled his eyes, “Did you see where she went?”
Isabel shrugged and smugly stated, “Was she here? And do I look like I care?”
“Okay, okay,” Tess admitted, getting everyone’s attention, “I didn’t see her. But if I were to guess which way she ran, I’d say that way,” she completed, pointing in the direction of the rising sun.
Michael nodded his appreciation before he took off at a sprint, hearing all of his family members wondering aloud where in the world he was going.
But he didn’t care – he had to find Maria.
* * * * *
She had run for longer than her legs could carry her and when Maria reached the city park, she slowed her pace and plopped down on a snow-covered bench, sighing loudly.
‘Well, at least Michael’s happy,’ she thought, ‘At least he had a chance to make things better.’
She ran a hand through her blonde locks, staring up at the heavens and questioning why everything had to fall apart all of a sudden.
Things were great, until she found out about her mother’s problem. Then she realized that things were never going to be perfect and she tried to escape.
The key word was ‘tried’ and she hadn’t even told Michael about her bigger problem that she running from. She hadn’t told anyone – not even Lizzie or Alex.
She huffed aloud, shivering and wrapping her thin coat tighter around her tiny body, then buried her head in her freezing cold hands and let the sobs wrack her frame.
She sat there weeping for many minutes, not even noticing that dancing snowflakes were beginning to fall from the gray skies above.
Once Maria realized what the weather was conjuring up around her, she again stared into the snowy heavens, vision blurred, and asked, ‘Why the hell did everything wrong have to happen to her?’ before lightly stroking her bruised arm and crying softly to the snowy ground and surrounding willow trees.
Michael had been running around town for about half an hour, frantically searching for his lost friend in every plausible place that he could think of.
Surely the girl wouldn’t be that hard to find… but as it turned out, she was obviously practiced in her hiding skills and had eluded him thus far in his near-impossible quest. Or maybe he just wasn’t looking in the right place.
Either way, he hadn’t found her yet.
A fog of gray had enveloped the sun’s warming rays as he commenced his searching for Maria. The looming gray clouds were beginning to spit snow as he was sprinting through the town square, fully knowing that anyone who saw him at the moment would think that he had lost his mind.
‘How many people go for their early morning jog on Christmas Day, especially when it’s beginning to snow?’ he silently asked himself, chuckling at all of the responses that he could practically hear the citizens of Roswell stating to a news reporter about the kid who was sprinting through town on Christmas.
He didn’t care what they thought, though. He only cared about what happened to Maria and wherever the hell she was at the moment.
He veered left onto Main Street and followed the street, heading towards the desert. On the right side of the street was the city park and for some reason, Michael felt like he was being drawn in its direction.
So he crossed the empty street and made his way into the park, praying that he would find Maria somewhere in there.
* * * * *
Maria hadn’t moved from her bench since she had sat down and was extremely cold. She wore no gloves, her fingers were chapped, and her cheap jacket wasn’t much protection from the bitter cold air that was dancing around her body.
Her eyes fluttered closed and she remembered the good times of her life, before everything went awry, and sighed happily as the memories evaded her senses. They seemed like yesterday - the times when she had been able to talk about her problems, could always rely in her mother, and a warm mug of hot cocoa always made her feel better, no matter how bad the situation was.
However, those days were gone and things were no longer that easy. She couldn’t soothe her pain by a cup of hot chocolate anymore and she could no longer trust her mom. And she really hadn’t spoken of her problems to anyone but Michael, who had an odd quality of getting her to tell him things that she had never told anyone before.
Maria’s eyes flickered back open again and she was greeted by the monotonous white landscape of the park as she shivered and hoped that it would stop snowing sometime soon. She felt like she was becoming a human popsicle and if she was planning to stay in the leafy haven, she’d need weather to warm up a bit. Her coat wasn’t much protection against the cold and she wouldn’t last long without anything else.
She groaned as she lay her head down on the bench, the accumulated snowflakes painfully prickling her skin as another silent tear slipped down her cheek onto the icy wood below.
She stayed in that position for a few moments, enjoying the rare peace and the feel of the cushy snow under her head.
Suddenly, her reverie was interrupted. Hurried footsteps resounded throughout the park and she looked up in an attempt to find what had run through her asylum, only to be met by a pair of deep chocolate eyes filled with concern.
A shocked look crossed her face as her pouty mouth fell open.
“Maria…” he whispered, reaching out to the girl, taking a few steps closer.
“Michael?” she sounded surprised, pulling herself to her feet and walking towards her friend.
“Why’d you run?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer, as he wrapped the tiny girl in his arms.
She didn’t say anything and buried her face into his shoulder, letting out a heart-wrenching sob out as he held her in his arms.
“It’s going to be all right, Maria,” he whispered, running a hand through her blonde hair while his other hand was softly rested on her back. “It’s gonna be okay.”
She sniffled, “How do you know it’s going to be okay?” a silent tear streaking down her rosy cheek.
He studied her emerald eyes and stroked her cheek softly, unable to tear himself away from the ‘windows’ to her soul, according to some stupid book that he had read. Her sharp, high-pitched voice broke him out of his reverie.
“Why the hell do you think everything’s going to be okay, Michael? I really wanna hear this,” she huffed, backing away from his reach and slowly sat down on her bench.
“Maria…” he started, walking closer as a blast of frosty wind shook their bodies and more snow poured out of the gray skies.
She shook her head in warning. He stopped.
“It’s going to be all right.”
“How in the living hell do you think that you know everything is going to be all right?” she scoffed, tears running freely down her face. “You don’t even know me.”
“I do know you,” he retorted, noting her defensive posture and continued standing about three feet away from the bench. “We have the same problem, remember? Or something like it, at least. Do you remember last night, or do I need to refresh your memory?” he asked sarcastically.
“No, we don’t,” she stated coldly, refusing to meet his prying gaze.
“And why don’t we?”
“You have a family who cares about you. You have brothers and sisters who miss you. You don’t have parents dating. You live in a perfect household compared to mine.”
“No, I don’t,” he stated in a small voice.
“Lemme tell you what, Michael Evans. You do not, and will never know what is going on in my life. You wouldn’t want to know anything about it, either. Period. End of topic,” her voice rose out of anger and frustration with this spiky headed young man standing in front of her who just couldn’t get the picture, “Got it?”
“Okay. Good. I’m outta here,” she stated firmly and stood, fully intending to stalk out of the park and leave this boy in her dust and let him become another ghost of her past.
However, he had different plans. He wasn’t going to sit back and let her just walk out of his life.
“Maria, where the hell are you going?” he called after her.
“You would like to know,” she shot back and picked up her pace, not even looking back to see if he was still following her.
“You can’t do this, Maria,” he said, picking up his pace so that he was directly in line with her movements and shivered as the flurries swirled around them as he followed her strides.
“Leave me alone, Michael.”
“I can’t leave you alone.”
“And just why not?” she snorted.
“Because I care too much about you,” was his almost silent reply.
She stopped dead in her tracks and unknowingly, Michael ran straight into the petite girl.
“Hey, it’s not my fault.”
“Oh, so it’s all my fault now,” was his comeback, filled with fire and his eyes glinted with enthusiasm.
“Yeah,” she smirked and proceeded to ramble along to her point, “Because if you hadn’t been following me, you wouldn’t have run into me in the first place. Plus, if you hadn’t been following me, I wouldn’t have to be leaving that comfortable bench that I’d been sitting on for who knows how long. And…”
She was cut off when Michael’s lips crashed down on top of hers.
“What the…?" she exclaimed, trying in vain to pull out of his grasp, but failing miserably as his arms wrapped around her body more tightly than they were before and his lips met hers in another searing kiss that left both of them gasping for air.
But they didn't break physical contact after that earth-shattering event, letting their hands roam the other's body. Soon after both had caught a breath, their lips collided again, causing fireworks of sensation to explode as the kisses intensified.
Maria groaned in pleasure when she felt his tongue slipping over her lips and slowly into her mouth, soon claiming dominance over her own velvety tongue and the warm cavern it resided in.
Her hands ran through his spiky hair, making it stand on end even more than it usually did, as his were ravaging her body, melting her with his touch alone.
Michael let out a gasp when Maria's lips pulled away from his, but moaned in pleasure when she traveled downward with a sexy grin pasted across her face and attacked his neck with her ruby red mouth, leaving him breathless.
Before things got too intense, however, their moment was interrupted by a strong gust of wind that caused both teenagers, or specifically Michael, to stumble back into the slushy snow of the park, dragging Maria down on top of him as he fell haplessly into the grass.
"Michael," she moaned, her hands creeping up his jacket-clad chest to reach his face and rest them on his frost-painted cheeks, her eyes filled with question.
"Hmm?" he asked as he wrapped his arms around her petite waist.
"What the hell was that?" she whispered loudly, shock evident in her voice from what they had just done and unintentionally touching on the question of where they would have stopped if not for the wind.
"What the hell was what?" he tried to play it off cool.
"You know what I'm talking about," she deadpanned.
"God! You are so frustrating!" she cried, attempting to pull her body off his and regain balance on her own two feet instead of sitting ungracefully on top of him in the brown/white grass.
"God! You are so frustrating!" he mocked, a glint of mischief in his eyes.
She huffed and turned her nose up, but did not say a word.
"Cat got your tongue, Princess?" he taunted, smirking at the pixie girl whose face showed her evident distress and frustration.
"Well, not really," she raised her eyebrows, and resorted to the only comeback she could think of at the time, "But if you really want to know, I think that you did for a little while."
This time, he was speechless.
"So that's what you do when you want to get a girl's attention, Michael? You just make out with her until she's breathless or something? 'Cause I don't get it, to tell you the truth. I don't understand you. You are so damn confusing!" she exclaimed, once again attempting to flee from his grip, but failing for the third time in about five minutes.
"Ditto? Ditto, what? You think I randomly make out with guys when I can't find the words to say or better yet, when I don't want them to leave! Yeah, right, Michael!" she screamed out of frustration of his last words, "I may not have a good home life or a relationship with my mother or whatever, but at least I know that I don't have to resort to my kissing techniques to get some guy's attention!"
"Sure you didn't. You didn't mean to kiss me. You didn't mean to lead me on last night. You didn't mean to do a lot of things but you're about to get a rude awakening," she scoffed, "Open your eyes, Michael, and take a look around you! Don't you see what's happening?" she paused, waiting for his answer, but he was silently staring at the ground, so she continued her rant, "You don't play with others emotions just because you feel like it, or you're too incompetent to handle your own. I don't know what your problem is, but I know mine, and I seriously need to get the hell out of here because you are not making it any better. Okay?"
"You don't know a thing about me or what I do, and why I do what I do. You wouldn't even understand if I tried to explain it, either, so don't give me this shit about how I don't know how to deal with my own emotions!" he shouted, his tone equaling her own.
"And you don't know a thing about me. So we're even!"
"Yeah. Whatever," she snorted unpleasantly. "So why don't you let me go and we'll just pretend that this whole fiasco never happened, okay? I'll forget you and you forget me. It's easy. All right?"
But he didn't let go of her.
In fact, she noted that he pulled her closer to his body, if possible, and once again, his lips collided with hers and their tongues danced while they were engulfed by a new passion and understanding on the snowy grass of the park, that overcast Christmas Day.
“Dammit, Michael!” she screeched, yanking out of his arms, much to his surprise. She wiped her lips off as she spat, disgusted with him and everything else in her life, “We had a deal – leave me alone!”
“Leave you alone? You want me to leave you alone?!?” his voice rose incredulously.
Like he wanted to leave her alone and let her go along on her merry way. No, he wasn’t going to pull an Evans – he was going to be there with her as she encountered her problems. She was too good to have to go through them alone.
“Like hell I do!” she exclaimed, turning on her heel and stalking away from the young man as the snow flurries picked up again.
“Maria!” he called after her, “Maria! You can’t leave now,” as he jogged quickly to catch up with the fleeing girl.
She spun around, annoyance written all over her features, and tear tracks marring her beautiful face, “We’ve gone over this. We’re just gonna forget about each other. We both agreed to it. Remember? So do yourself a favor and go live your happily ever after!”
“My happily ever after?”
“Go be happy, for once,” she narrowed her eyes and her voice came out barely above a whisper, “Don’t you see that you’re being given the chance to have what you want?”
“Don’t you see that your family loves you and worried about you when you disappeared. Ten bucks says that my mother and her boyfriend didn’t even notice that I was gone.”
He just blinked and stared at her blankly.
“God, do you even have anything to say about it?” she huffed.
“Yeah, I do, as a matter of fact,” he began.
“What is it, then? Or are you gonna leave me standing here, wondering what the hell you want to say as I slowly freeze to death?”
He rolled his eyes.
“I don’t want that…” he stated slowly, softly as he ran a hand through his hair and looked up into the frosty winter sky.
“Well, then what do you want? Why don’t you want to live that happy ending you’ve been given?” she huffed, raising an eyebrow and tapping her foot impatiently.
“You. I want you,” the words slipped out of his mouth in a whisper and he dared to meet her emerald eyes.
And with those words, the blonde girl’s mouth fell open in shock and she shifted her gaze away from his. Then, she turned and sprinted as fast as she could away from him and everything that was associated with him. All of the feelings, all of the pleasure, all of the similarities – she let it fly out of her life as she ran away into the snowy morning.
And left the young man standing there in her dust.
Maria ran a hand through her hair and grabbed two textbooks from her locker, stuffing them into her backpack. She picked up the brown paper bag lunch that was sitting on the top shelf, also, and headed towards the quad, jacket and hat in hand.
When she reached the outdoor area and waltzed out of the double doors, she soon spotted her best friends, Alex and Liz, who were sitting at their usual table.
Something was different about it. But Maria couldn’t put her finger on it until she was upon at the table and its latest members had spotted her presence.
She looked at the faces of the people sitting at her table and almost turned on her heel and left them in her dust, that is, before Liz spoke.
“Maria, hey babe,” she waved and signaled her friend to come sit next to her.
Slowly, Maria approached the bench, tossed her bag on the ground, and frowned at the sight in front of her face.
Liz didn’t seem to notice and motioned to the new faces. “Maria, I’m sure that you’ve met my boyfriend, Max Evans.”
Max stuck out his hand and Maria haphazardly shook it, attempting to keep her mouth from falling to the cold ground. “I’ve seen you around.”
He nodded and turned to his left. “And I’m sure that you’ve met my sisters Tess and Isabel,” he said, motioning to the shorter blonde girl sitting next to him, than the taller who was across from the other.
They both plastered fake smiles on their faces, barely acknowledging her existence, and went back to their conversation, glaring a little at their brother as they did so.
Maria plopped down next to Alex, who was happily munching on his PB and J sandwich and enjoying his view of Isabel Evans.
As Maria was digging through her lunch, she heard a very familiar voice and her head shot up in surprise.
“Maxwell, I don’t believe you made me come to school this morning,” Michael said, storming up to the table, “That stupid geometry teacher…” his voice droned off as he looked back into Maria’s staring eyes.
“Mrs. Ragland?” Liz asked innocently, staring at Michael strangely, wondering why he looked so confused upon the sight of her best friend.
However, Maria interrupted Liz’s comment as she cried, “Oh my gosh, Liz!” she squealed at the sight of the unkempt, attractive boy who was obviously going to sit at their lunch table, “I totally forgot about this project that I have to do for theatre. I’m off to the library. I’ll talk to you later,” she finished as she jumped out of her seat, gathered her belongings, and sprinted out of the quad.
“Um, yeah. Actually, Maxwell, I’ve gotta go. See ya,” slipped out of his mouth before he turned on his heel and high-tailed it out of the sight.
“Well, that was weird,” Max commented upon seeing his brother and Liz’s best friend storm out of the lunch area at the same time.
Maria always hated her English classes. They were pointless. Frankly, why the hell did she need to learn all about the language if she could speak it?
But since her incident with Michael on Christmas morning, it was ten times worse than it used to be. Or at least it was when he was actually at school.
And today was no exception. The teacher, Mr. Blackwell, was droning on about some pointless project that they were going to have to do in groups. Oh yeah, and Michael was sitting in front of her since the seating chard had been changed after the break.
Needless to say, she was not a happy girl.
And her ears didn’t perk up until he stated that he was choosing their partners.
“Now, here are your groups. Remember, this counts for more than half of your midterm exam.”
A simultaneous groan echoed throughout the class, each student dreading the work that he was going to have to do the night before the due date.
Mr. Blackwell obviously didn’t hear the reluctance as he handed out the question packets, explaining, “Now, in each of these packets, you will find a set of questions to ask your partner.”
Maria grabbed her packet from Michael and handed the rest back, flipping through the pages carelessly.
She raised her hand, distressed upon seeing a few very personal questions, “Excuse me, Mr. Blackwell.”
He stopped his speech and stared at Maria, “Do you have personal commentary, Miss DeLuca?”
“Yeah, actually, I do. Don’t you think some of these questions are a bit *personal?*”
“That, Miss DeLuca, makes this project even more interesting. Look at it as some kind of,” he paused, searching for the right word, “interrogation of some sort. Some kind of personal profile,” and with that, he nodded, and continued his speech.
“Oh God,” she moaned quietly, “he’s trying to kill us of embarrassment.”
Kyle Valenti, who was sitting next to her, grunted his agreement, and they both went back to listening to their crazy English teacher lecture them, again.
“What I want you to do is to interview your partner, find out what makes them tick, their likes and dislikes, their best and worst moments. And this is all due in an investigative report a week from today, typed and double spaced.”
The piteous groan resounded throughout the classroom again and Mr. Blackwell ignored it, once more.
“Here are the groups,” he went on and the entire class listened, praying that they would be placed with someone they knew or liked.
However, that probably wasn’t going to be the case. Mr. Blackwell was known for randomly picking the worst pairings ever. There were practically novels written about how unfair his groupings were in the senior lockers.
“Valenti with Evans,” he called out and looked up, accounting for the students.
“Which Evans?” Michael’s annoying sister asked.
“T. Evans,” Mr. Blackwell said tersely as he continued reading the list, “Shores with Humbolt, Harding with Ramirez, DeLuca with M. Evans…”
“What?” Maria screeched, distressed by her luck.
“You’re going to be working with Michael Evans,” he sighed. He should have known better…
“That’s not acceptable.”
“And why is it not acceptable?” he smirked, wanting to know exactly what little miss DeLuca thought was not worthy of being paired with the one and only Michael Evans.
“Um… because… because…” she stuttered, praying for something, someone, anything, to save her from this fate that she was destined.
“Yeah,” Michael piped up, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I mean, I don’t want half of my midterm grade depending on her.”
“Well, well, Mr. Evans. I see. But I hate to burst your bubble – you and Miss DeLuca will be working on this project together, whether you like it or not. It’s just a mere fact of life. Deal with it.”
Michael slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes. Maria groaned, burying her head in her hands, muttering her mantra under her breath, “Put me out of my misery now… just kill me.”
* * * * *
The bell rang a few minutes later, with all of the teenagers setting up meeting times with their respective partners.
However, Michael decided that it would probably be best if he just made up the answers about Maria and high-tailed it towards the door.
Maria, however, took matters into her own hands, despite how much she hated it, and decided that her midterm grade was worth a little more than ignoring Michael Evans.
She stalked up behind his fleeting form and called his name, “Michael!”
He spun around and found himself staring into Maria DeLuca’s emerald green eyes.
“What the hell do you want?” he snapped.
He had places to go, people to see… things to do other than being cornered by one Maria DeLuca, who just happened to have run away from him and his feelings and he wasn’t sure if he could trust her. Not that he trusted her in the first place... but that was beside the point.
“Huh?” he tore his eyes from her.
“We have to do this freakin’ project for English. And you’re my partner. Remember?” she rolled her eyes and huffed. “You know, I don’t want to be doing this, either. But I’d rather pass my senior year by working with you on this stupid ‘Getting to Know You’ project, than by sitting on my ass and doing nothing while I let the time fly by and realize that I’m gonna be in the same English class next year if I fail.”
“Agreed,” he nodded, refusing to meet her eyes.
There was an awkward silence and each busied themselves, Michael staring at the ceiling as if it were the most interesting thing he had ever seen and Maria picking at her fingernails nervously.
“So I’ll see you at the Crashdown at 4:30?” she finally asked, but it was more like a statement.
And both confused teenagers parted their separate ways, wondering what just happened and fearing what was going to go down at the Crashdown at 4:30.
At exactly 4:30 pm that afternoon, a very disgruntled Michael Evans shuffled into the Crashdown Cafe with school supplies in hand for the project, worried about the next few minutes and what kind of an impact they would have on his life as he knew it.
He looked around and to his distress, Maria was nowhere to be seen.
So he made his way over to a booth and sat down. A flaky blonde waitress came over to take his order. Her nametag said ‘Courtney’ and he huffed, just wanting to be left alone.
“Hey handsome. Whaddya want?” she asked while doing a full body check, smacking her bubble gum loudly, and grinning down at him.
He didn’t answer, but instead scowled at the girl, and she immediately scampered off to service her other customers.
A few minutes later, still no Maria.
After scanning the restaurant once more and staring down at his hands, he was about to leave when someone plopped down on the opposite bench.
He looked up to find Maria sitting in front of him.
“Sorry I’m late,” she sheepishly grinned.
“Whatever,” he muttered as he ran a hand through his hair.
She frowned. “Let’s just get this damn project over with. Okay?”
He nodded his agreement as he watched the blonde pixie reach in her oversized purse and pull out the packet and a blue pen.
After she had placed it on the table in front of her and had signaled the bubble gum waitress to get her a coke, Michael a cherry coke, and some fries, she switched her gaze to Michael, who was staring intensly at her.
“Are you gonna get your survey out?”
“Uh, yeah,” he said quickly, fumbling through his backpack and pulling out the crinkled papers with a pencil that looked like it had seen better days.
Maria nodded and studied the questions in front of her, and she decided to go in numerical order, asking, “What’s your favorite color?”
“Should’ve know,” she mumbled under her breath.
“Nothing, Michael. Nothing at all.”
He scratched her answer on the page and before she could even ask the next question, he answered, “Pistachio. My favorite ice cream flavor is pistachio.”
“Mint chocolate chip with hot fudge and rainbow sprinkles.”
Just then, Courtney brought their drinks and fries, setting them down on the table.
She winked at Michael, “Here ya go,” as she leaned closer to him, whispering into his ear, “I wrote my number on the napkin. Call me sometime if you have a free minute or two.”
“Shoo, Courtney. Don’t you have other customers to take care of?” Maria scolded, her eyes blazing with anger at the other girl.
“Yeah, whatever Maria,” she said as she sauntered off.
Maria rolled her eyes and Michael shook his head, “So… favorite book?”
“James Joyce... Ulysses.”
“You can’t just make up answers. You have not read Ulysses.”
‘"What incensed him the most was the blatant jokes of the ones who pass it all off as a jest, pretending to understand everything and in reality not knowing their own minds." Page 655... Next question,” he stated, letting each word roll off his tongue as he smirked at the fuming girl in front of him.
“All right, if you’re so smart, how come you never come to school and when you do, you don’t even try?” she retaliated.
“What number is that?”
“It’s a personal question, okay?”
“I don’t answer personal questions, okay?”
She snorted. “Well. Maybe it’s the answer to number fifteen. What’s your greatest fear?”
“I am not discussing this with you.”
“Well, buddy, you are because I don’t want to fail school my senior year. So get over yourself and answer the damn questions.”
The look he shot back at her was so stony and cold that she backed off.
He turned back to his list and his lips curled up in something that appeared to be a grin, “So, Maria. Have you ever fallen in love?”
“Screw you, Michael Evans. I will answer any question but that one.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’ Oh, there’s more,” he smirked at the distressed girl across the table from him, absolutely loving that he was making her angry.
“And if so, with whom?”
Maria slowly stood up and got out of the booth, heading towards the backroom, hoping and praying that she could collect herself there, without Michael staring at her.
However, he was right on her heels when she swung open the door and once she was inside, she spun around violently to be face to face with the young man that she was falling for.
“I thought that I could trust you. I thought that you were worth something to me. Hell, I thought that I was worth something to you,” she screeched, poking her finger into his chest at bruising force.
He just stood there, unblinking, so she continued her harangue, gazing into her sparkling eyes.
“You, Michael Evans, have truly messed up my life. No one was supposed to know me secret. No one! And you just have to waltz into my life one night and suddenly, I spill my deepest, darkest secret to you. You told me yours, too, though. Or I guessed it. Then you took me home and forgot about me, then looked for me, then kissed me and confused me even more.”
She took a step backwards, shaking her head and running her hands through her curly blonde hair.
“And the most messed up thing about this whole predicament is that I miss you. After all you’ve put me through, all of the heartache and confusion and blinding attraction, I miss whatever it was that we had.”
Silence. But this time, Michael wouldn’t meet her sparkling emerald eyes.
“Let me tell you something, Michael, we’re in the same boat. We have the same problems and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that we needed each other. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I miss you. I do know that I am drawn to you and I can’t keep on ignoring you. And I do know that I’m sorry about leaving you,” she finished, a silent tear slipping down her rosy cheek.
Michael’s mouth fell open.
And he turned his back and walked out the back door, leaving a stunned Maria standing there, letting her have a taste of the loss that he had felt before and that he felt every time he saw her.
He was walking away from her. How dare he just up and leave her, especially after she had spilled all of her thoughts and feelings to him!
“Michael!” she yelled to him as his form loomed farther and farther in the distance.
He didn’t answer her call, though, and just kept on walking away from her and the place that her feet were planted, partially from shock and the other part from hurt.
Why the hell did she have to say the things that she just did?
Why did she have to miss him?
Why did she have to do this damn project with him? Especially after everything that happened. Why her?
Life just wasn’t fair and didn’t look like it was going to get any better as the gray clouds parted and the freezing cold rain water came crashing down on everything and everyone around as Michael kept running away from her.
Maria gathered her legs, took a deep breath, and sprinted towards the retreating male, careful not to step in the newly-formed puddles, in hopes of getting him to talk to her or just to say something, anything to her.
“Michael!” she screeched once more, catching up with him.
Again, he didn’t answer to her voice.
“Why are you running away from me?” she exclaimed, running a hand through her soaked hair. She was exasperated with his antics and to her surprise, he stopped in mid-stride, turned around, and stared her down, a scowl painted across his already stony face.
“You did the same to me. Why is it any different?”
“It’s different. You’re…” she started, but he cut her off harshly.
“I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear any of it.”
Her pouty lips fell open in surprise.
“What?” she gasped.
“You heard me. Whatever we had, whatever you thought happened between us is over now. You ran away from me first because you were scared. So don’t preach to me about running away from you because I damn well know how it feels, too. Maybe I’m running because of a different reason, but it’s just the same as you doing it to me.”
“And just what is your reason for escaping me this time?” she asked, raising an eyebrow when she hit the end of her question.
He smirked at her, but not a word escaped from his lips.
“Michael!” she exclaimed in frustration.
“Maria!” he mocked, rolling his eyes, but he stood perfectly still, as did she.
After a moment of stillness and listening to the constant patter of rain hitting the sidewalk and themselves, Maria reached out to Michael, but he backed away and shook his head, letting the raindrops that had been clinging to his hair fly.
“Please, Michael. Don’t let it be like this. I don’t want to just go back to the way things were before because they aren’t the same,” she pleaded, her emerald eyes filling with tears once again and she let the rain streak down her forehead and down her cheeks without wiping it off, mingling with the fresh tears that had began falling from her eyes.
He fought the urge to wrap her in his arms; hold onto her forever, and never let her go. Ever. But he quickly pushed it away and shook his head.
“Nothing will ever be the same, Maria. Don’t you see that?” he whispered, tearing himself away from her gaze.
And with his last words, he turned on his heel, leaving her to her own fate and successfully escaping the only girl in the world who had touched his heart in places he hadn’t even known were there.
Life surely wasn’t getting any easier, Maria DeLuca noted as she strolled down the hallway of West Roswell High School. She’d been avoiding Michael since the last time they had spoken at the Crashdown, right after they had been doing their stupid ‘getting-to-know-you’ papers.
She still had to do hers, needless to say, and she had no idea how she was going to present it.
Hell, she didn’t even have a clue of how she was going to write everything down that she knew about Michael. Things that she really knew about him.
He hadn’t shown up for school since their quarrel and it was now Friday, four days after they had spoken last, and she was almost positive that he wouldn’t grace her with his presence in English today, either. He was avoiding her, obviously.
Things weren’t on the up go and Maria didn’t expect them to be for quite some time, until she and Michael could figure out this funk they were going through.
It seemed like whenever she told him about how she felt, he’d run away. Talk about issues.
Maria sighed and went back to planning out when she could squeeze homework in between her work hours. She had the entire weekend to start writing her report for it to be turned in bright and early on Monday morning.
But then, a great idea popped into her mind and a grin spread slowly across her face. Shifting modes, she picked up her speed and high-tailed it to her English class, where she was going to present Mr. Blackwell with an interesting twist in their dumb project that he couldn’t turn down.
* * * * *
Michael looked up when she entered the room and he scowled. He hadn’t seen her in four days.
She seemed so full of life today, bubbling to the English teacher, who was obviously amused by her idea. And even though he didn’t have a clue what she was saying, it looked as if she was very excited about it.
Things could never be the same between them. He said that. And it was true, to an extent.
She had admitted her feelings for him. That she was sorry. And that she was attracted to him. She did it in a roundabout way, but she still did it and that took guts. He would never do that, not in a million years.
Not unless, of course, the girl happened to be a very unsuspecting Maria DeLuca.
He watched her as she turned to come back to her seat and she froze when she met his chocolate eyes. Her emeralds quickly fell to the ground and she slowly walked over to her desk, not letting her eyes leave the floor.
The bell rang as Maria plopped down into her chair and Mr. Blackwell stood at the front of the classroom, beginning his lecture about Victorian literature, or something to that sort.
Michael chose to ignore the speech and stared at the back of Maria’s head, wondering what had happened to him to make him feel this way and what was in store for him. He wanted to know how he could make things right between the two of them, but finally just pushed those thoughts away, knowing well that he would never try, even if he did come up with a brilliant plan.
* * * * *
Michael made his way through the crowded hallway and soon found himself at Max’s locker, waiting to leave school and to go home for his afternoon nap.
“Hey Michael,” Max said when he realized that his brother was standing beside him.
Michael just nodded.
“Have a good day?”
“Okay… I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’ Hey – do you have any plans tonight?”
This caused Michael to shoot Max a confused look and he ran his hand through his hair, making it stand on end even more than it already was.
“’Cause if you don’t, I have something that you can do.”
“Oh God, please let it be babysitting,” Michael quipped; crossing his fingers and closing his eyes, making his brother laugh in response.
“Actually, it has something to do with actual people our age.”
“Seriously?” Michael asked sarcastically.
Max rolled his eyes, “Yeah. Liz wanted us to come over to her home with Izzy and Tess to eat ice cream and to watch movies. A group bonding experience, she said. She mentioned her friend Alex was going to be there, too.”
“Sorry, Maxwell, I don’t do group bonding.”
“C’mon, Michael. It’s not that bad. I mean, I bet if you bring ‘Braveheart,’ they’ll let you watch it. After all, that is group bonding.”
“Really?” this time, the question wasn’t a rude remark. Michael was serious.
“Yeah, I’m sure that would be great. Liz had mentioned something about us bringing a movie or two to watch because she only had chick flicks. So we’ve got that covered with ‘Braveheart,’ ‘cause it is nothing like a chick flick. Those movies don’t have blood in them, at all. And Izzy and Tess both wanted to go, so we’ve got the whole group, if you decide to come.”
“Sure, whatever Maxwell. Just as long as it doesn’t cut into my afternoon nap.”
Max grinned at him and clapped him on the back.
“Liz said to be there around 7. So I’ll wake you up at about fifteen ‘til 7 and we can leave at ten ‘til. Sound good?”
Michael nodded slowly, wondering what he was getting himself into.
“Good. Now lets get out of this place!”
“Tell me about it,” Michael agreed as they made their way out of the school building.
* * * * *
“Maria!” a voice called from the end of the hallway and Maria looked up to find her best friends, Liz and Alex, dodging people as they made their way towards her.
“Hey guys,” she grinned and made her way over to the side of the hall, where it was less congested, and waited on her friends there.
When they made it to the spot, Liz was the first to speak.
“Maria, I have a really good idea for tonight.”
“What would that be?” Maria raised her eyebrow and looked from Liz to Alex and back again.
“Group bonding over a movie!”
“Group, as in the three of us, group?”
“No, as in a Max and Isabel and Tess and us group.”
“I think I might have other plans,” Maria began, but Liz would have none of it.
“Maria DeLuca! You are my best friend and I haven’t had any time to talk to you over the past week. This’ll be a great time for us to hang out and get to know the others. Besides, Max mentioned something about how his sisters wanted to meet you.”
“Yeah, and we’ll have sundaes,” Alex added.
Maria shrugged, “You’ve convinced me. What time and where? And what are we watching?”
“The Crashdown, 7 pm sharp, and we’re watching a chick flick,” Liz finished with a grin.
Alex just groaned at her last statement, knowing fully that there was absolutely nothing he could do to change his friend’s mind.
Both Liz and Maria giggled at his distress.
When their laughter died down, Maria exclaimed, “Sounds great!” and gave both of her friends a hug. “But I’ve gotta go now. I’ll see you tonight!”
And with that, walked triumphantly down the hallway.
Maybe things were getting a tad bit better.
Maria smiled as she walked to her best friend’s house, signing the song that she had heard on the radio before she left her house, reminiscing about past movie nights. No matter how much Alex complained about their movie choices, whenever he went to the video store, he was always kind enough to grab a “chick flick” to appease them. He was a great friend.
She noticed the Evans’ jeep when she reached the Crashdown and muttered under her breath about wanting to have the Jetta back. Even that P.O.S. car was better than walking.
It didn’t take Maria any time to make her way to the apartment above the restaurant and she was greeted with smiling faces as she opened the door.
“Hey Maria,” Liz waved.
Isabel and Tess ran up to her, grins spread across their faces.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Maria. I was wondering when it was going to happen. Max has told us so much about you,” Isabel stated, causing Maria to raise an eyebrow at Liz.
Liz shrugged her shoulders, but a smile slowly spread across her face.
“And I’m so excited that ya’ll invited us here for movie night!” Tess exclaimed.
“Hey, guys,” Maria was able to say as she moved over to the overstuffed couch and plopped down on it next to Liz.
“So, what are we watching?” she asked curiously.
At that moment, she heard someone walk through the door and say, “Braveheart.”
Maria spun around to find herself face to face with Michael Evans, her jaw dropping.
He looked equally surprised as his brother spoke, “Michael. So nice of you to join us.”
“Yeah,” was all that the spiky haired young man could say as he came further into the room, finally taking a seat on the floor next to Isabel before anyone spoke again.
Maria turned to Liz, “Didn’t you say something about us watching a girly movie?”
“Um, yes,” Liz started as she looked helplessly to Max for help.
He jumped right in, telling Maria, “I told Michael that he could bring ‘Braveheart’ so that he’d actually come. What about we compromise and do something in the middle of ‘Braveheart’ and that girly movie?” Max suggested, praying that a fight, or something bad, wouldn’t break out.
And to his surprise, it didn’t.
Maria just smiled at him and said, “You know what? It doesn’t really matter what we watch. I’m just gonna go get some of that ice cream that I was promised. We do have that, Liz, right?”
Liz nodded and with that, Maria jumped out of her seat and walked into the kitchen, leaving all the teenagers in the room stunned with her behavior.
“Does anyone want any ice cream?” Liz asked sheepishly before they all followed Maria’s suit and tromped into the kitchen for the awaiting goodness.
* * * * *
The group was still in the kitchen, eating ice cream and talking about their lives, in general thirty minutes later. Or, that is, most of the group.
Pretty much everyone was talking except Michael. It wasn’t a surprise to them, though. But the strange thing was that Maria was, for the most part, pretty calm. Only Liz and Alex noticed the change, though, and Liz made note to ask her friend about her sudden shyness.
“So you’re telling me that your favorite band is Counting Crows, too?” Max exclaimed as he shoveled another spoonful of chocolate chip and ice cream into his mouth, extremely happy to find a fellow fan.
“Yep. Maria, Liz, and I drove down to the concert in Albuquerque last year.”
Both Maria and Liz nodded their agreement while munching on their sundaes.
“Too bad we didn’t have as much fun on the drive back as we did at the concert,” Liz laughed.
“What happened on the way back?” Isabel was curious.
“Um, well,” Maria tried to start through her giggles, but wasn’t even able to understand what she was saying. Michael was staring at her with those intense eyes and they were weirding her out, again. But she kept on laughing as Liz explained.
“See, we took Alex’s mom’s car. We thought that it would be a good idea. I mean, his mom bought the car like, four years ago and it was running pretty nicely. So we’re driving home from the concert the next morning and all of a sudden, smoke starts coming from under the hood and it gets to the point where the driver, Alex, can’t see the road anymore. So he just stops,” she paused to catch her breath before she started cracking up again, “and when he opens the hood, there is so much smoke coming from the engine that he passes out. Maria and I had to hitchhike a ride to the nearest hospital to get him treated for some kind of poisoning of the lungs. Oh yeah,” she said sarcastically, “the ride home was almost as much fun as we had at the concert.”
“I resent that, you know.”
“You weren’t the one injured by the car that happened to have no oil!”
The others laughed as Maria and Alex bantered playfully. Even Michael did, but he didn’t take his eyes off Maria, who looked so full of life while she joined in the commotion.
“Yeah, I wanted to go to that concert,” Max started, shooting a look at his sisters who were giggling about something, “But Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me go because no one else in the family was willing to drive with me.”
Alex chuckled. “Too bad you didn’t come with us. Maybe you could have been the one knocked out,” he quipped as the others broke out in laughter once again.
“Hey, it’s not our fault, Max,” Isabel smirked at her brother.
“Yeah, I mean. Counting Crows are so…” Tess looked for the right word while she twirled a strand of hair around her pointer finger.
“Depressing?” Maria added quickly, muttering something under her breath at the same time, but no one seemed to notice, except for Michael, who looked at her strangely.
“Yeah,” Tess smiled broadly at the other blonde. “Thanks, Maria.”
“Are we going to watch a movie anytime tonight?” Michael asked impatiently from the counter.
“Well, I guess so. That is, if we all decide what to watch,” Liz finished.
“Braveheart,” Michael said.
Maria frowned at him and he raised an eyebrow back.
“Hey, Liz, can I talk to you for a quick second?” Maria stated as she grabbed her friend’s arm and pulled her into the dining room, which was located right off the kitchen.
“I need to go home,” Maria whispered, running a hand through her curled blonde hair.
“Why? I thought that you were going to stay for movie night.”
”I, ah, just remembered that I had to do something,” she lied, praying that her friend wouldn’t call her bluff.
“What do you have to do?”
“Uh, you know that stupid assignment that I have for English class?”
Liz motioned for her to go on as she nodded.
“Well, I just remembered that I needed to finish that tonight. See, I have to work tomorrow and Sunday. And we both know that after I work, I’m exhausted. I’m so sorry, but I’ve really, really got to go and get it done because if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.”
“Maria, is something wrong?”
“No, why?” she played dumb and acted like everything was peachy keen. And Liz seemed to buy it. Maybe she wasn’t a bad actress after all...
Liz’s voice was full of concern when she spoke, “Well, this past week, you’ve just seemed kind of distant. Do you want to talk about something that happened? Because you just haven’t been acting like, well, you.”
Maria smiled sadly at her friend, “I’m just tired and worried about the project. Really. I’m fine, Liz.”
“Are you one hundred percent sure?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just going to go home, finish the project, and go to sleep. And I’ll see you up here bright and early tomorrow morning for the breakfast shift that we both have to work. Have a good time tonight with the group.”
“Alright,” Liz said as she hugged her friend and took her hand as they both walked back into the kitchen, earning stares from everyone.
“I’m going home,” Maria announced. She turned to Liz and quickly stated, “I’ll call you when I get inside, okay?”
“Will you be okay walking home alone, Maria?” Max asked with concern. “It’s kinda late, you know.”
Maria grinned at him, “Yep. I’ll be just fine, Max. We’re in Roswell, you know.”
He nodded, “Goodnight. Be safe.”
“Goodnight, everyone,” she spoke as she turned and headed towards the door to let herself out of the house. She had a long walk ahead of her and she was certain that she could gather her thoughts in the empty night air.
“Night, Maria,” Alex called to her.
“Nice to meet you,” Isabel and Tess waved.
But Michael didn’t say anything and when Maria finally shut the door behind herself, he turned to Max.
“I need to leave.”
“Huh? We were just about to watch your movie, Michael. Why do you need to leave?”
“I just do, dammit.”
“Do you need the keys?”
Michael shook his head.
“Hey, let’s put in a movie,” Liz suggested as she waltzed into the den, Alex, Isabel, and Tess following closely on her heels.
“You’re leaving now?”
“Do I dare ask where you’re going?”
“Be safe, Michael.”
“You know that I always am.”
“Right,” Max quipped, “Always safe. Uh huh.”
The spiky haired brother glared at the dark haired one and he soon was quiet.
“Yeah, see ya later,” and with that, Michael opened the door and walked through silently, following the steps that Maria had taken minutes before.
Maria sighed as she walked out the door of the Crashdown onto the well-lit street. The stars were out tonight and were hauntingly similar to those that shone on Christmas Eve. She shuddered at the thought of that night and quickly pushed it from her mind.
Upon checking her watch, Maria noted that it was almost 10:30. It probably wasn’t the best idea to be walking home alone. Not that anything ever happened in Roswell. But still.
Whatever the case was, she didn’t care. She was too involved in her thoughts to care about danger or anything else that may appear in her path. The ideas were consuming her as she slowly trudged towards her home.
And as she was rounding the corner and drawing nearer to her house, her ponderings became words as she softly sang a new favorite song that mirrored her feelings on life at the moment.
"And I wanna believe you,
When you tell me that it'll be ok,
Yeah, I try to believe you,
But I don't.
When you say that it's gonna be,
It always turns out to be a different way,
I try to believe you,
Not today, today, today, today, today...”
She wanted everything to be okay, for once. She always wanted it to be okay.
But she didn’t believe Michael, or anyone else, for that matter, when they told her that it would be.
“I don't know how I feel,
I don't know what to say,
It is a different day.”
Yeah, she definitely wasn’t sure about tomorrow… or today, for that matter. But it was a different day and she would take it as it came. She had to. That was the way she always had and it was the way she always would, as far as she was concerned.
Tomorrow was definitely a different day.
But right now, she had to worry about getting home safely. She picked up her pace and wrapped her jacket around her slim body a little tighter as the wind began to blow.
“It's always been up to you,
It's turning around,
It's up to me,
I'm gonna do what I have to do.
Give me a little time,
Leave me alone a little while,
Maybe it's not too late,
Not today, today, today, today, today...”
The second verse brought her to tears. That was her problem. Her problem was sang by a random singer who knew nothing of her life. And she was crying over the harsh realization.
Everything was up to her to make it better.
She couldn’t control anyone else and what they did. But she could make it better for herself. Or at least she could try.
She was going to make it better for herself, she finally resolved as she hummed the rest of the song.
Breaking away from the song and her insights, Maria quickly realized that she was at her house. She walked up to her doorstep and silently let herself in while she whispered hopefully, “Tomorrow it may change…” as she took one glance back at the stars before letting the door close behind her.
Tomorrow it would change. She was sure of it.
* * * * *
Michael didn’t know what he was doing, or the direction he was heading.
Well, actually, he did have an idea. He actually knew where he was going, exactly. He just didn’t want to admit it to himself yet. He couldn’t admit it to himself. It would defeat everything and anything he ever believed/stood for.
Michael Evans did not follow girls home. Ever.
He shook his head, breaking away from his thoughts and shivered as the wind blasted through his coat.
What were Liz and Max trying to do to them? Were they intentionally trying to set them up or trying to make everyone else in the two groups form one posse?
And what the hell possessed them to have a movie night? Did other teenagers ever do that any more?
He shrugged and wrapped his coat tighter around his body. His breath was crystallizing in the air and his teeth were chattering the closer he got to his final destination.
He wondered about Maria.
Did she make it home okay?
He hoped so.
He was going to find out.
He had lied to her when he said on Christmas morning that he didn’t know where her house was. He knew where it was. The address and all the other jazz. But he didn’t want to sound like some kind of creepy stalker, so he just took her to his house instead, playing it safe.
He knew the way well. He’d walked it a few times before on his nightly strolls since he had a hard time getting to sleep most nights. And he always seemed to find himself sitting outside of Maria Deluca’s window, just checking to make sure that she was doing all right.
After all, he reasoned with himself, shivering again, that he didn’t have anything better to do.
* * * * *
Maria sat down at her desk, turned on the little bedside lamp that sat on top of it, and grabbed her diary and a pen, hoping to write something useful or insightful.
She didn’t know where to begin and tapped the tip of her pen on the empty piece of paper that stared menacingly back at her.
“Where to start,” she asked herself, hoping that an answer would come out of the air, or something.
Liz trying to set up group activities with Michael’s family and (hopefully) unintentionally trying to make her life even more miserable than it already was?
She didn’t know.
Maybe she would never know.
But her thoughts were interrupted by some garbled words outside of her bedroom door. She had forgotten to lock it when she came into the room earlier and instantly regretted her momentary lack of intelligence.
She shuddered inwardly and quickly clicked off the tiny lamp, silently praying that the person outside would think she had disappeared into thin air.
She took a few steps back into the darkest corner of her room and slumped as low to the ground as she could get. She prayed again to be left alone as a few fresh tears slipped from her emerald eyes that shone in fear.
However, her prayer was not answered as the door swung open violently. The smell of booze and sweat were overpowering as a burly figure lunged towards her hiding spot.
Michael continued walking at a steady pace down the abandoned street. It was strange, seeing that it was only ten o’clock, but he shrugged his thoughts off and let them drift to Maria.
Why was she so frustrating?
How in the world could he let her get to him the way she did?
And why the hell did she run away from him once she admitted her feelings, knowing full well that he felt the same way as she did?
He sighed out loud.
“Only one more block,” he told himself as he neared closer and closer to Maria’s home, turning the corner and making his way down her street.
After he checked on her, he was going to go home and was going to spend the rest of the night awake, no doubt, thinking about her and how peaceful she looks while sleeping.
* * * * *
Maria screamed in terror as the man lunged towards her, praying silently to a God she never believed in to rescue her from this terrible fate that was nearing closer on the horizon.
“You little bitch,” the man roared, towering over her cowering figure.
“What the hell have I done this time, Hank?” she screeched, attempting to keep it together, but failing miserably as a single tear slipped from her emerald eye onto her cheek.
“Where the hell were you tonight?”
She didn’t answer and kept her eyes trained on the ground.
“What, little Maria? Do I scare you?” he cackled, leaning closer and closer to her frail body.
She sniffled and leaned into the corner, refusing to feed to his drunken rage. Her tears would only incite him to do more.
“Do I make you want to run away?”
“Do I make you want to scream?” he bellowed, reaching down and squeezing her arm harshly with one hand while the other ripped her shirt, revealing her bruised torso to him.
He laughed drunkenly at his findings.
“Do you think you can hide from me, Maria? Do you really think that you can try to get away from me this time?” he asked, jerking her body off the ground and pulling her closer to his stingy, sweaty one.
“Stay away from me,” she spat in his face, never making eye contact with the monster, and struggled against his grip, only evoking laughter from him.
In turn, he gripped one of her arms even tighter and grabbed onto one of her bra-clad breasts forcefully, making her scream out loud and wince in pain.
“You thought you could keep me away from you so easily, Maria?” he questioned, twisting her breast once more and evoking a blood-curling cry from the helpless girl.
“I don’t think so, Maria. You can’t run from me. You can’t keep away from me. You’re mine, all mine,” he whispered loudly into her ear and she could hear his harsh intakes of breath. If only he would pass out.
She could smell the booze on his breath and prayed once again for a savoir.
Hank was going to finish what he started this time, if he, of course, didn’t pass out from his drinking binge.
“When Amy and I got together, it was great,” he slurred, “But you, Maria, were an added bonus. I get two Delucas, not just one. And I’m thinking that it’s my lucky night,” he finished, letting go of her chest and reaching down, unzipping his fly, “Right, baby?”
She shrieked as she felt his hands moved to the front of her pants, her knee jerking up automatically and hitting Hank squarely in the groin.
He doubled over in pain, letting go of her, and she attempted to flee the room, but before she could reach the door, he was blocking her path, panting and cackling at her.
“Shouldn’t have done that, Maria,” he approached her rapidly and smacked her across the face, causing her to stumble back a few steps in shock. “That was not a smart idea.”
Maria wailed as she felt Hank invade her space again and her body was pushed roughly against her bedroom wall. Her legs kicked outward to no avail, but it was useless. His hands were grasping at her pants again and despite her protests, he was not letting her go. She could feel her face already swelling from where he hit her.
This is it, she thought at she felt her pants carried down to the ground by gravity and a few more tears slid down her cheeks.
Her body was shaking in fear and shock as she tried to escape from his grasp once more. But this time, he caught her knee in mid air and shook his head, leaning closer to her face to where she could smell the alcohol he had consumed, and he gripped her bare hips, pinning her against the wall.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Hank gasped as he inched closer to her body.
And then, Maria heard a squeaking noise and her teary eyes flew to the window, where she saw a figure climbing in the opening to her rescue.
It was Michael!
Hank didn’t seem to notice another presence in the room, however, and kept inching towards his final goal.
But before he got the chance to do any more harm, Michael was behind Hank. He spun the drunken man around and punched him squarely in the nose, knocking him out and allowing Maria to slide down the wall and gather into a huddled ball on the floor, rocking back and forth and crying uncontrollably.
Michael sat down next to her on the ground as he wrapped a protective arm around her shuddering shoulders. Her tears were flowing freely down her cheeks and he wiped a few away.
“Shh,” he whispered to her, “it’s all going to be okay. I’m here, Maria, and there’s nothing to fear. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
And she cried into his strong chest while he stroked her back until her mother found the two teenagers there hours later.
He heard the bedroom door open and looked up to find himself face to face with a very confused Amy DeLuca.
Taking one look around the room, she raised an eyebrow at her boyfriend’s body on the floor knocked out cold and asked calmly, “What the hell happened here?”
He left his arm wrapped around the sleeping Maria while he spoke, “Maria came home tonight to a drunk Hank and he attacked her and tried to rape her.”
“Oh my God,” Amy gasped, looking from her comatose boyfriend to her daughter, who now had a giant bruise decorating her cheek.
“She’s sleeping now, I think, but she was pretty traumatized by the entire incident when she had sunken down the wall to this spot. I’ve been sitting with her ever since I knocked him out.”
Amy whispered something tearfully that was barely audible to Michael, “How could I let him do this to her? How could I not be here to protect my own daughter?”
“Mrs. DeLuca, it wasn’t really in your control and I’m just sorry that I wasn’t here sooner. If I hadn’t come to the movie tonight, she would have never been put in this position,” he answered softly, not really knowing what to say or do in the situation except feel the guilt of making her run away from him. He should have never come and shouldn’t have put her in such a position where she felt like she needed to avoid him at all costs.
She shook her head and looked into his deep brown eyes, “Don’t go blaming yourself now, um… I’m sure that without you coming to the rescue, my Maria would have been much more traumatized.”
“Michael,” he stuck out his hand and nodded. She took it immediately, “Michael Evans.”
“Thank you, Michael, for saving my daughter’s life.”
He nodded gratefully.
“Do you want me to move him out of her before she wakes up?”
“Yes, that would probably be good. I need to have a word with him, anyway,” Amy sighed. She knew that Hank was going to be trouble; she just never thought that he would go after her own daughter.
“I’ll go call the police while you drag his worthless carcass out of my daughter’s room,” she called over her shoulder as she marched into the hallway.
* * * * *
It wasn’t long before Michael had hauled Hank out of Maria’s bedroom, leaving Amy, who had already dialed the police, and Maria, who was still asleep, alone in the pink room. He struggled with the body that was much heavier than his own, but he somehow managed to drag it slowly into the living room.
He pushed the body onto the couch and looked down at the man in disgust.
“How could you ever think of doing such a thing?” his angry words fell out of his mouth at Hank’s sleeping form. He couldn’t help it. “How dare you touch her!”
Michael let out a sigh and ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end.
What had just happened and how the hell was he able to save Maria from this monster that weighed so much more than he did?
“I pray to God that you never come back here. That you get a nice, long sentence in the state penitentiary for what you’ve done and the pain that you have caused in Maria’s life. And if you do come back, and if you even touch Maria, I’ll come after you,” he finished, scowling at Hank’s body that was still lying limply on the couch.
That man disgusted him.
He shuddered and gave Hank one last look before he made his way back to Maria’s girly bedroom, making sure that he would do no more harm.
When he peered into the room, he found the mother and her daughter in an embrace. Not wanting to ruin the moment, he stayed in the shadow of the doorway, listening to the soft words spoken to Maria and to Maria, who was apparently awake, yet Amy didn’t notice yet.
“My God, Maria, I’m so sorry,” Amy whispered to her daughter, who had curled up in her lap. “How could I have let this happen to you? How could I be so stupid?”
Tears were streaming down Amy’s face as she continued to talk softly to her daughter, “Maria, never again will I let this happen to you. Never. I’m so sorry it had to happen and I cannot imagine how frightening it was for you. I’m so, so sorry, Maria. You have to believe me.”
Amy was startled when Maria answered – she had thought Maria was asleep.
“I was so scared, Mom. So, so scared,” Maria cried softly as she gazed up into her mother’s teary eyes.
“It’s all right, baby. I’m here now. And that monster will never hurt you again. I won’t allow it,” her mom said back softly, stroking her daughter’s back comfortingly.
Michael finally got up enough strength to separate himself from the private conversation and turned on his heel, heading to the door.
Did she not remember that he had saved her?
Hell, it shouldn’t even matter that he saved her. She was safe and that was all that mattered. The event was so traumatic that she had probably forgotten.
Or maybe she was trying to block the entire incident from her mind and, since he was a part of it, even though at the tail end, he had been forgotten, too.
He sighed out loud as the front door loomed closer and brushed a hand over his brow.
What was he thinking?
He needed to get home, anyway, because his family would be wondering where the hell he was and why he hadn’t come home at a reasonable hour.
However, he missed an important question that would have made him feel better about himself and his heroism in Maria’s hour of need.
“Mom, where’d Michael go?”
* * * * *
For the rest of the weekend, Maria found refuge in her friends and her mother, but Michael was never around.
She didn’t ask about him, although Isabel and Tess had both informed her that Michael had come home really early in the morning on Saturday, and has questioned his whereabouts, but Maria would not let out a word of his heroism before she personally thanked him.
She finally admitted to herself Sunday afternoon that missed his presence. It had been a long weekend without him and his smirking face and his stupid comebacks...
And she had something to say to him, which just made it even worse.
Probably the worst part about not seeing Michael was that her English project was due Monday and although she had an idea of what she wanted to do, she had no idea how she was going to read those words in front of everyone in her class. It was just too personal.
She shook off the fear though and bright Monday morning, she rolled out of bed with a smile on her face.
She was going to do it.
Yes, she was.
And she wasn’t going to get cold feet and chicken out.
* * * * *
Mr. Blackwell stood at the front of the English class and glanced at every one of his students with a smirk gracing his face. They all seemed to be cowering into their desks. Too bad no one wanted to share a report.
Darn, he was going to have to pick someone.
His smirk grew even larger, if that was possible. It was his day.
As he surveyed the classroom, he found one person sitting in her desk, acting like she was busy on some other schoolwork. Bingo.
She lifted her head from her work, her eyes shining like that of a deer caught in the headlights of a car.
“Do you have your report today?”
“Yes sir. Although you told me that I could do something like the report, but not really. Remember?”
“Oh, you wanted to write a sonnet, since you never got the chance to write one last year, correct?”
“Well, Ms. DeLuca, would you come to the front and share your work with the class?”
“Okay,” she said slowly, looking from side to side, then standing up, grabbing her notebook paper, and making her way to the front of the classroom.
“Here we go,” she whispered to herself and took a deep breath. “I wrote this sonnet over the weekend. Mr. Blackwell agreed to let me write a sonnet, if I put myself into it, or the person that I was supposed to be reporting on. I kinda came up with the idea over this weekend when something happened,” she paused, embarrassed, then quickly covered it by stating, “Um… so, here it is.”
Maria took another deep breath and glued her eyes on her paper as she began to read, not believing that she had actually written a sonnet about something so personal and close to her,
“When the white moon stood still, the lone wolf cried
The chill of absence set into my bones
And what was familiar had long since died
Left us together in darkness, alone
The stars mocked our pitiful existence
The stark sun rose as we got home – daybreak
So scared, I ran ‘way from you a distance
My flight ended; were you there for my sake?
Sympathy fell, we were covered in snow
Then I pushed back your care, your help, your warmth
You walked away, my lips turned icy cold
Oblivious to struggles under the shore,” Maria looked up and stared intently on Michael’s fixated face as she softly said the last lines of her poem,
“Out of the darkness, you were my rescue
‘Cause it wasn’t something that I could do.”
Michael’s eyes widened when he heard the ending lines of Maria’s poem and he gazed once more at her face, shocked by her honesty.
Tears were shimmering in her green eyes as she mouthed, ‘Thank you’ to him.
He couldn’t believe it.
“Good job, Maria,” Mr. Blackwell said from his desk. “Lovely sonnet. Would you mind sharing with us what it’s about?”
“Um, I think it’s kinda self-explanatory,” she stated, letting her eyes fall to the floor so that no one would see her tears that were threatening to fall at any moment. “May I go to the restroom? I don’t feel so well.”
Mr. Blackwell gave her a questioning look as she took the hall pass he handed to her hastily and ran out of the room.
As soon as Maria had sprinted out of the room, Michael got out of his desk quickly and ran out of the room after her, ignoring his teacher’s calls for him to get back into the classroom.
He had something more important to do and simply ignored Mr. Blackwell.
Mr. Blackwell turned back to the class, stunned, and shook his head.
The DeLuca-Evans team was bad news.
He knew it all along.
“Next project… Mr. Ramirez? Do you have yours ready?” he asked finally, completely ignoring the fact that two of his students were running the halls at the same moment, and turned his attention back to his confused class.
* * * * *
“Maria!” Michael called to her, sprinting to catch up with her. She was fast, although she was a lot shorter than he. “Please! Wait up! I need to speak to you!”
Suddenly, she halted and turned around.
Michael skidded to a stop in his tracks and gazed upon her rosy face.
Tears were streaking down her cheeks and she slowly approached him, taking one step at a time and keeping her eyes trained on the floor.
“What do you need to say?” she asked slowly.
“I… I…” he stuttered.
“Michael, shut up,” she finally cut him off, letting her eyes move from the floor to his face.
“I…” she began, at a loss for words, “I missed you this weekend. I missed your smirk. I missed your electrocuted hair. I missed your smart-ass comments. I missed you.”
“You didn’t need me there. Your mother and your friends took care of you after I left,” he stated unsurely, running a hand through his hair.
“Yes, I did need you there. It didn’t feel right without you. God, Michael. What would have happened if you hadn’t been there?”
Silence encompassed them.
“And I never got to say ‘thank you’ for everything you’ve done for me. I think that’s what I missed the most of not having you around this past weekend.”
With those words, she took another step towards the young man and wrapped an arm around his back, letting it snake up to his neck. At the same time, she leaned in, bringing him with her, and drew their lips together in a kiss.
They stood there, lips locked, in the middle of an empty school hallway, for quite a few minutes. His arms were around her waist, pulling her closer, and when she pulled back, he groaned and she chuckled to herself.
She grinned up at him and snuggled closer to his large body as he engulfed her in a hug.
And finally, she whispered into his chest softly, so that he could just barely hear her words, “So, thank you for saving me, Michael. Out of the darkness, you were my rescue ‘cause it wasn’t something that I could do.”