Prince Charming (AU, Teen, M&M) Complete 04/27

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nibbles2
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Prince Charming (AU, Teen, M&M) Complete 04/27

Postby nibbles2 » Tue Mar 22, 2011 8:19 am

TITLE Prince Charming
RATING Probably child, but to be on the safe side, I'll go with Teen.
PAIRING Michael and Maria.
DISCLAIMER I don't own Roswell or the characters, they belong to Jason Katims et al.

SUMMARY Maria is tired of kissing frogs, so she enlists some help in her quest to find Prince Charming.

This may come across as a little man-bashing, but it's all in fun. The guys Maria dates are caricatures.

This is too embarrassing to admit, but over a year ago, Sarah won me in the Support Stacie auction. I tried posting a fic called The Frog Prince but I couldn't get past chapter two, so I've scrapped it and this is my second attempt to finally complete the auction fic. Sarah, if you're around anymore, I'm so sorry about the delay.

And Novy, I'll get your one done next.

Thanks to Alison for betaing this for me and Chad for the awesome banner


Image




PRINCE CHARMING


Prologue

It didn't take a genius to figure out that Maria Deluca was in a bad mood when she stormed into the Crashdown Cafe. It radiated from every pore. Anger flashed in her eyes.

Most of the people there stared for a second then averted their eyes afraid to draw her ire.

Only one person dared to speak to her. Michael Guerin, naturally.

“That time of the month, Deluca?” He smirked.

Maria turned to him, her teeth gritted and fire in her yes. “Fuck you, Guerin,” she spat. She swiveled back onto her original path and tripped over the pair of crutches lying on the ground by Michael's booth and went sprawling.

There was a collective intake of breath from all the other cafe patrons as Maria pushed herself back onto her feet, picked up the offending crutches and slowly faced Michael.

“You dick, watch where you leave these stupid things or I’ll break your other leg and you'll need a wheelchair.” She thrust the crutches at him forcefully. “And stop smirking.”

Michael just smirked again, ratcheting up Maria's fury. She growled at him and turned on her heel, stomping through the staff door and up the stairs to the apartment above.

Inside she screamed and flung her bag at the couch. It landed with a thud against the plump cushions which was most unsatisfactory. She wanted to break something. Smash something.

The sounds of three pairs of feet thudded up the stairs and the door flew open, admitting Liz Evans, Isabel Whitman and Tess Harding – Her three best friends and co-owners of the Crashdown cafe and bakery.

“What's wrong?” Liz asked.

“So, you know how Billy canceled our date tonight because he had to work late? Well, I stopped by the hospital to say hi and they told me that he'd left and five. So I went over to his apartment, the door was unlocked so I let myself in and walked into his bedroom. Guess what I found?”

The three girls could guess, but none of them dared voice it aloud.

It didn't matter, Maria told them before they could have answered anyway. “I found him and that stupid bitch Sophie Morgan screwing each other.”

Her revelation was met with sympathetic but not surprised looks.

“None of you look surprised. Did you guys know about this?” Maria demanded.

“NO. Of course not,” Liz insisted. “If we'd known, we would have told you, you know that. But... no, we're not surprised. Billy is a prick. We...” she bit her lip, cutting off the 'told you so'. “I'm so sorry, Maria.” She stepped closer and placed a comforting hand on Maria's arm.

Maria immediately deflated, her fury gone as she dissolved into tears. Liz wrapped her arms around Maria and maneuvered her onto the couch as Maria's body heaved with sobs. Isabel took the seat on the other side of Maria, rubbing her arm gently and Tess sat on the coffee table, one hand on Maria's knee and the other holding a box of tissues.

It was another ten minutes before Maria calmed down and her sobs turned into sniffles. The others waited patiently, making soothing sounds and waiting for Maria to talk.

Eventually Maria raised her head. “I'm so sick of this. Why is it that every guy I date turns out to be such a prick?” She didn't notice the looks that passed between the other three girls. “It's not fair. I’ve been dating since I was fourteen years old and every one of them has been a huge let down. I’m tired of frogs. I want to find my Prince Charming.”

“He'll come,” Liz said gently.

Maria shook her head. “My Mom's in her forties and she's still single. What if I’m doomed to be just like her? What if I end up alone too? What if I go through my life like she has and only date losers and bastards?”

“You won't, Maria,” Tess assured her. “You're smart and funny and so pretty. You're amazing and there's an amazing guy out there for you too.”

“My mom is all those things and she's still single,” Maria reminded her.

“You just have to believe and be patient. You're only twenty-six, you're still young,” Isabel pointed out.

Maria snorted. “Easy for you to say. You guys have all found your Prince Charmings. Liz found hers on the first go. You and Tess found yours in college. Where's mine? What am I doing wrong?”

Her question was met with silence. Maria looked up, searching her friends faces. Liz was biting her lip, the other two were averting their gaze.

“Well?” Maria pressed. “Seriously, tell me.”

Liz, Isabel and Tess exchanged looks again, silently urging the others to answer.

It was Tess who spoke up. “You make bad decisions, Maria.”

“What?”

Isabel nodded. “Yeah, you always pick the wrong one. I’ve seen you turn down dates with really great guys in the past. Lovely, sweet, wonderful guys. You turned down Alex. I mean, I’m really glad that you did, but still he was a wonderful, amazing guy and you turned him down. But a guy with a motor bike and a bad attitude looks at you and you swoon.”

“It's like with Billy,” Liz elaborated. “We knew he wasn't a good guy. We told you so at the time. But there's something in you that's attracted to guys like Billy. You have to learn to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad ones.”

“How? How do I learn?” Maria asked. “Teach me.”

Liz shook her head. “I don't know. I guess, you should listen to us when we try to tell you when a guy is going to end up breaking your heart.”

“You're right,” Maria nodded. “You're so right. I should listen to you guys. Clearly, I don't know anything. If I want to find my Prince Charming then I should listen to you because you've all actually found your Prince Charming.”

“Right,” Isabel nodded. “We'll steer you right.”

“No, I need more than that,” Maria corrected her. “In future, when it comes to men, I’m going to let you make all my decisions. You're going to tell me what guys I should date and what guys I should avoid like the plague.”

“What? Maria, you can't be serious,” Liz interjected.

Maria nodded her head vigorously. “Yes, I’m totally serious. From now on, when it comes to men, you three are making all my decisions.”

Liz, Isabel and Tess exchanged looks, smiles growing on their faces. They turned to Maria and beamed, “We're in.”


***
Last edited by nibbles2 on Wed Apr 27, 2011 4:49 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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nibbles2
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Bradley Howard, The Third

Postby nibbles2 » Mon Mar 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Earth2Mama I don't think it hurts to listen to the advice of others, especially people who know you well. Maria knows she makes bad decisions and in making those decisions, she has often ignored the advice of Liz, Isabel and Tess so now what she's really doing is listening to their advice and following it.

valentinebaby No frog prince sadly. I just didn't know where to take it.

Mary Mary Maria doesn't have a reputation as a 'good time girl'.

Alien_Friend For now, Maria is really committed to the idea of listening to the other's advice. They are in stable, happy, committed relationships so she figures, they've got to know what they're talking about.

Tequathisy Don't worry, Michael will figure in.

Eva Tess is only living with Kyle, but the other two girls are married.

Sarammluver It's going to be an interesting experience for Maria.

Sundae Thank you.

Thanks Alison for betaing this for me.


Bradley Howard, the third.

Nick Harvey, the sales rep with the great butt and even better smile ran his finger along the line of Maria’s palm and smiled that amazing smile of his. Maria bit her lip but failed to stop herself giggling like a school girl.

“This is your loveline,” Nick told her, looking deep into her eyes. He looked down at her hand again and nodded. “Yes, very interesting.”

Before Maria could ask why it was interesting, Michael Guerin sitting two seats away at the counter made a gagging sound.

“Are you choking? One hopes,” Maria asked, glaring at him.

“I need the ketchup,” Michael told her with a grin.

Maria grabbed the nearest bottle and slammed it down on the countertop in front of him.

“Thanks,” Michael grinned, his mouth full of food.

Maria grimaced at him. Why did he have to choose today of all days to sit at the counter? She waltzed back to where Nick was waiting and held out her palm to him. “You were saying…”

Nick reached for her hand, but Tess suddenly appeared at his side and caught his elbow. “Nick, I’m going to go through our order with you. Let’s go into the office.”

“I was doing that,” Maria protested. She tried to go after them but Liz and Isabel blocked her path. “Do you mind?”

“Yes, Maria, actually we do,” Isabel declared. “That guy is a sleaze. He has a different girl in every town. Do you really want to be Miss Roswell?”

Maria sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. “No,” she agreed grudgingly. “But all we were doing was flirting. Am I not allowed to do that anymore?”

Liz shook her head. “No. Because that’s one of your problems, Maria. You get all infatuated with a jerk like him and ignore all the great guys around you.”

Maria looked around the cafe. The only guy in the vicinity was Michael Guerin. “Are they invisible?”

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Isabel told her with a shake of her head. “Because I’ve lined you up a date with a real life Prince Charming. You’re going to love this guy.”

“Really?” Maria asked curiously and a little warily.

“Yes. His name is Bradley Howard The Third. He was in my business class at college. He’s the son of Governor Howard. He’s handsome, smart, sophisticated and rich. His dad is opening a new factory here in town and Bradley is overseeing it for him.”

Maria bounced excitedly and clapped her hands. “Wow. I’ve seen pictures of him. He’s gorgeous. When’s the date?”

“Tomorrow night at eight,” Liz answered, just as excited as Maria.

Isabel wagged her finger in Maria’s direction. “Which gives us just enough time to get you ready. Come on, we have work to do.”
***


Bradley Howard The Third arrived promptly at eight the next night. He was driving a Porsche that looked as if he had just picked it up from the showroom an hour earlier; an impossibility as there were no Porsche dealers in Roswell.

He was wearing an expensive charcoal gray suit, expensive Italian leather shoes (according to Isabel) and the best smelling cologne that Maria had ever smelled.

She practically swooned when he walked into the apartment and handed her a bouquet of roses, expensive naturally. She managed to maintain a cool reaction and excused herself to put the flowers in water.

Liz followed Maria into the kitchen and the two girls grabbed each other and jumped up and down silently.

When they calmed down, Liz fanned herself. “Wow. He is so hot. I could just lick him.”

“Calm down, Mrs. Evans,” Maria laughed. “Here,” she thrust the flowers into Liz’s hands and stood in front of the oven, using the shiny surface to tidy herself up.

Taking one last breath to calm herself, Maria went back out into the living room where Isabel, Tess and Bradley were talking.

“I love your suit. I wish I could get Alex to wear something this nice,” Isabel sighed.

“It’s Armani. Bespoke. Cost me about seven thousand. I don’t think your boy earns enough to wear something this nice,” Bradley teased.

The smile on Isabel’s face dimmed a little and Maria felt her first flutter of doubt, but she brushed it aside.

“Ready?” Bradley asked.

“Yes. Let’s go. Goodnight girls.”

Isabel, Liz and Tess stood at the doorway waving as Maria and Bradley went downstairs and out to where his car was parked.

Maria slid into the car and looked around, impressed with the plush interior. She wondered if he would ever let her drive it. “Your car is amazing,” she told Bradley when he climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Yeah. It cost me about eighty thou just to buy it and then another eighty to customize it. I get one-fifty, one-sixty on her easy.”

“You must get a lot of speeding tickets, easy,” Maria joked.

Bradley shook his head. “My dad’s the governor, I don’t have to worry about things like that.”

“How nice for you,” Maria said tightly, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach.

Bradley pulled the car to a stop in front of Chez Pierre, Roswell’s only fine dining restaurant. “Thank God there’s one decent place to eat in this hick town or I would have starved.”

Maria refrained from reminding him that she and her friends owned a restaurant and bakery in this ‘hick town’.

With his hand on the small of her back, Bradley guided Maria inside. They were led to the best table in the house immediately. No waiting around for the son of the governor.

“I’ve never been here before,” Maria told him. “It looks really lovely.”

Bradley wrinkled his nose. “It’s ok. Very old-fashioned but I suppose it can get away with it in a small town like Roswell.”

“Oh really? Do they have many fancy restaurants in Albuquerque?” Maria asked.

Bradley snorted. “I don’t spend a lot of time there. I usually divide my days between New York and LA. Most people can’t cope with a bi-costal lifestyle but it helps when you have access to a private jet.”

“Roswell must be a real comedown for you.”

“Ugh, yeah. I can’t wait to get out of this shithole.”

Maria bristled. Sure, Roswell wasn’t the most happening spot on Earth but it was still her home town and it wasn’t ok for him to disparage it like that in front of her, but she bit her tongue.

The sommelier came by and Bradley ordered the most expensive wine on the list. Five hundred dollars a bottle. Maria supposed she should have been blown away by it but she really couldn’t taste any difference between it and the thirty dollar bottle of wine that Isabel always brought to their monthly girls night in.

But she smiled politely and told Bradley it was great when he asked. They opened their dinner menus then and Maria was dismayed to find they were written in French. She knew some French, especially words relating to food and cooking because of her training as a baker, but she wasn’t really able to read it so well and definitely wasn't confident enough to use it around people who spoke it fluently.

“That’s kind of stupid,” she commented. “Like anybody in Roswell speaks French.”

“It’s a smart move. Keeps the undesirables away,” Bradley shrugged. “Don’t worry, I’ll order for you.”

The waiter came by then and Maria was surprised and a little impressed at how flawless Bradley’s French sounded, at least to her untrained ears. He and the waiter conversed easily.

Maria sat back and watched them, trying to figure out what to do. So far, Bradley was a major disappointment. He was obnoxious and rude. But he was also a friend of Isabel’s so he had to have some good points. Isabel would not have set her up with a jerk. So maybe he was just trying to impress her.

She resolved to give him a chance. After all, she was trying to change the way she dealt with men and making rush judgments was one of her major faults.

Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard Bradley say ‘foie gras’.

“Sorry, excuse me. Did you order foie gras for me?”

Bradley rolled his eyes. “Please don’t tell me you’re one of those bleeding heart types that won’t eat foie gras because it’s mean to the ducks. You’ll love it, trust me.”

“I’ve actually had it before and I don’t like it. I’ll just have the chicken, please.” She pointed at the menu and the waiter nodded, writing it down. She just hoped that she had guessed right and it was some kind of roast chicken.

Bradley said something in French and the waiter sniggered. Maria hadn’t understood the words, but she understood the tone and knew that she had just been insulted. Her face flushed. She threw down her napkin and stood up. “Excuse me.”

In the bathroom, she pulled her phone out of her purse and called Isabel. “He’s an asshole,” she whispered furiously as soon as Isabel answered.

“What?”

“Isabel, he’s a gigantic asshole. I do not like him. He just insulted me in French.”

“Maria, he wouldn’t do that. He’s a good guy, he just has a weird sense of humour that’s all. Once you get to know him, he’s great. I promise.”

It took Isabel a few more minutes to convince Maria that she was being too harsh and to try and get to know Bradley a little more. Reluctantly, Maria went back outside.

Bradley checked his no-doubt expensive watch pointedly as she sat down. “I thought I would have to send a search party for you.”

“Sorry,” Maria apologised but didn’t offer an explanation. She knew he was waiting for her to comment on his watch but she refused to give him what he wanted. Still, she had promised Isabel to give him a chance so she cast around for a topic of conversation. “So, tell me about what you’re doing here in Roswell.”

Bradley talked until their starters came about his father’s factory, making it very clear that he saw living in Roswell as something akin to living in hell and couldn’t wait to get out of there. He didn’t like the town, the desert, the people, the nightlife. Nothing.

He then started telling her stories of his adventures on New York and LA, and all the famous people he did and all the money he’d spent. He asked her nothing about herself. By then, Maria knew that he wasn’t going to be her Prince Charming, so she just enjoyed the meal, which was delicious and tried her best to at least be polite. She declined dessert, which delighted Bradley for some reason and barely an hour after he had picked her up, he was taking her home.

“Thanks for dinner, it was lovely,” Maria said when they were parked in front of the Crashdown again. “It was nice meeting you.”

Bradley shook his head. “The night’s night over yet,” he told her as he leaned forward. “Time for dessert.”

“Not for me, I have to get up early. The cupcakes don’t make themselves,” Maria said lightly. It wasn’t really true, Isabel had rearranged the schedule so that Maria had the morning off.

Bradley put his hand on Maria’s knee and slid it up her leg, under her skirt. Maria pushed him away. Then the expression on Bradley’s face changed abruptly, suddenly he looked mean and sinister. He grabbed her arm, stopping her from reaching for the door handle.

Maria cried out as he twisted her wrist. “Let me go, you turd.”

“Look, bitch,” he snapped, but his words were cut short at the sound of something smacking against his windscreen. He let go of Maria and sat bolt upright and then swore loudly before jumping out of the car and leaning over it to inspect the glass. “There’s a chip. Somebody’s going to pay for this.”

Maria climbed out of the car and found that her legs were shaking. She glanced over Bradley’s shoulder to the doorway of Howdie Dudie’s, the bar two doors down from the Crashdown as a figure slipped inside. Before the door closed, Maria heard the familiar sound of rubber thumping gently on the ground.

She let herself inside the dark and empty Crashdown and locked the door before sinking into one of the booths. She watched Bradley as he cursed and ranted for a while before finally getting back into the car and roaring off down the street.

Maria waited until she could no longer hear his car before pushing herself back onto her feet and going back outside.

In all the years she had lived in Roswell, she’d never been inside Howdie Dudie’s because it was a Cowboy bar. When she opened the door, she was met with the whine of country song blasting from the jukebox.

She spotted Michael Guerin right away, sitting at the bar and talking to the barman. He was wearing his security guard uniform and his crutches were propped up against the empty stool beside him. He grinned at something the barman said and Maria sighed. It was the thing that killed her most about Michael. All that sex appeal and good looks, wasted.

Michael glanced up and seeing her, raised his bottle in greeting.

Maria made her way across the straw and sawdust covered floor, wishing she’d changed out of her good shoes before coming in. She slid onto the stool beside Michael and contemplated ordering a vodka. She needed a stiff drink but she'd had two glasses of wine at dinner.

“How was Prince Charming?” Michael asked.

“Definitely not Prince Charming,” Maria sighed. “More like his evil, ugly step brother.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that about him,” Michael told her.

“What did you hear?”

“That the real reason he’s in Roswell was because he roughed up some girl back home. His father paid her off and shipped him off down here as punishment. You should be careful of him, Maria.”

Maria wondered why he hadn’t said anything to her before but then she answered her own question – she wouldn’t have listened to him.

“Well, thankfully nothing happened,” she said, emphasizing the 'thankfully'. “And I won’t be seeing him again.”

Michael nodded and took a sip of his beer.

“Should you be drinking before work?” Maria asked.

“Probably not,” Michael agreed, taking another drink.

The song on the jukebox changed to another dreary, whiny country song. Maria groaned. She wondered what Michael was doing in here anyway. She was more of a female folk rock type of fan and even she had a low tolerance for this kind of music, but Michael was a metal fan.

“Why are you drinking in here?” she asked.

“They make their own beer here,” He held up his glass. “It's really good.”

“Oh. Can I taste?”

Michael raised an eyebrow but slid the glass towards her.

Maria took a sip and nodded. “It's pretty good.”

“Want a glass?” Michael asked.

Maria thought about it and nodded. A beer sounded pretty good.

Michael signaled the bartender and ordered her a glass, passing a five dollar bill across the bar. The bartender came back a minute later with a glass of beer for Maria and Michael's change.

“It's really good, actually,” Maria said after taking a longer drink from her own glass.

“The best money can buy,” Michael agreed.

Maria smirked, thinking of Bradley and his five hundred dollar bottle of wine.

“So, you're really letting Isabel, Liz and Tess pick your dates?” Michael asked.

“Ugh,” Maria groaned, wondering how the hell he knew that. She guessed that Max or Kyle had told him. God, that was embarrassing. “Yeah.”

“Why?”

Maria shrugged, “I don't seem to be having much luck by myself.”

Michael pondered that for a moment. “Ok, I’ve another question. Aren't you a raging feminist? Why are you so obsessed with getting a man?”

“I'm not obsessed,” Maria protested. She took another sip of the beer, which she was beginning to think was worth putting up with the shit music for. “And it's not like I’m desperate to become a housewife or anything.” She lapsed into silence for a moment, thinking it over. “I look at what Liz has with Max and what Isabel and Tess have with Alex and Kyle and I want that too. They have a best friend and a lover and somebody to share everything with, all rolled up in one. I’ve known them all my life and they've never been so happy. I want to have a relationship like that with somebody. I mean, they're still my best friends, but it's different now. The guys are their first priority. And that's the way it should be, but it feels like I’ve been left behind. They have these lives that don't include me. Soon they're going to start having kids and I’ll be even more left out. I don't want to end up like my mom. She has loads of friends and she's always busy. She's independent and self-sufficient. But when she goes home alone at night, I know that she's lonely. And lately, especially since Tess moved in with Kyle I’ve been feeling lonely too.”

Maria looked up at Michael, embarrassed to have revealed so much to him. It must have been the wine, she concluded.

Michael wasn't looking at her. He was staring into the bottom of his empty glass. He had a haunted look in his eyes. Eventually, he turned his gaze to hers and nodded. “I know what it's like to be lonely. It's no fun.”

“Yeah.” Maria guessed that as an orphan, Michael knew a lot about being lonely.

“You'll find somebody, Deluca. A girl like you... trust me, there's a great guy out there for you.”

Maria looked at him, surprised. She didn't think he had ever said anything nice to her before. She'd heard him say something nice about somebody maybe three times in all the years she'd known him and she had known him for over twenty years.

She didn't know what to say.

Michael pushed away from the bar and grabbed his crutches before she could decide how to react. “I should get to work.”

“Ok. I’ll walk out with you. I don't want to be here on my own.” She drained her glass and stood up. The room swam around her. “Crap. I’m drunk.”

Michael laughed. “You're a lightweight.”

“I'm not. I drank about a hundred dollars worth of wine at dinner is all.” She tilted to the side and Michael had to grab her arm to straighten her up. He gave her a gentle push towards the door.

The cold night air help sober Maria a little and she managed to make the short journey to the Crashdown without falling over.

However, she struggled to get the right key in the lock and eventually Michael had to take the keys off her to open the door for her. He handed her the keys and Maria held his hand, staring into his face. He looked so handsome there in the soft light of the UFO above them and for a wild second she wanted to kiss him.

He seemed to read her intentions and stepped back. “Good night, Maria. You should try and get some sleep.”

Maria flushed again. Christ, she got really stupid when she was drunk. “Goodnight.”

Michael waited patiently to make sure she locked the doors once she was inside.

When she gave him a thumbs up, he waved at her and shuffled off. Maria watched until he was out of sight, surprised by the night's turn of events. Michael Guerin had a decent side. Who knew?

She shrugged and went to raid the ice cream.

***

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nibbles2
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Buddy Halper

Postby nibbles2 » Sun Apr 10, 2011 1:36 pm

Earth2Mama Well, the joke was in his name – Bradley The Turd. (it works better with an Irish accent)

Sundae You'll find out what happened to Michael's leg in this part.

valentinebaby Suffice it to say that Maria won't be going out on any dates with Isable approved guys for a long time.

Alien_friend Yep, Michael threw a stone at the Porsche. He'd have done more if necessary.

Sarammlover Shot in the penis. Gets my vote.

Tequathisy Indeed.

DreamerLaure They're the worst. Quick question : When are you going to update Teach me tonight?

And as always, thanks to Ali who betaed this part for me, even though she is just hours from death by vomiting bug. everybody say a prayer fro Ali.

Also, I should have mentioned this before but this fic is inspired by an episode of friends, Season 5 episode 2 The one with all the kissing.



Buddy Halper

Maria peered through the small round window in the door that separated the staff room from the restaurant. It had been two weeks since she had almost made a fool of herself by almost kissing Michael Guerin and she had mostly managed to avoid him.

He usually came in for lunch. And often an afternoon snack. And frequently for dinner too. But, he wasn't there right then so Maria pushed open the door and entered the diner.

No Michael, but Max Evans was there whispering in his wife's ear.

Maria felt the usual pang of longing she got whenever she saw Max with Liz. She'd give anything to have a guy look at her like that, like she was the most special girl in the world.

Liz pulled away from Max when she saw Maria and beckoned her over to join them. “I've got a really great guy for you,” she announced excitedly.

“Uh...” Maria's hopes that her friends could find a Prince Charming for her had pretty much bitten the dust after her disastrous date with Bradley Howard the Turd.

“Actually, you've met him before,” Max interjected. “He was at our Christmas Party. He said he really liked you but you were with Billy so... anyway, I told him you were single and he was really keen to ask you out.”

“Oh.” Maria search her memory banks for any guys she had met at that party but came up blank. Not surprising really, she had gotten really drunk at that party. So drunk that as the clock struck midnight, she was bent over a toilet throwing up, with Michael Guerin of all people holding her hair back and taking care of her. In retrospect, the fact that Billy had been conspicuously absent for most of that night really should have been a warning sign.

Liz bounced in her seat drawing Maria's attention back to the topic on hand. “His name is Buddy Halper, and he's a really sweet, lovely, romantic guy. I think you'll really like him.”

Maria wrinkled her nose. “Buddy Helper? He sounds like a clown in a children's hospital.”

“Buddy Halper,” Liz corrected. “And you're close. He's actually an art therapist. He works with children at the hospital, that's how Max knows him.”

Artistic and sensitive; it was a pretty fatal combination. Maria sighed. “Fine. When's the date?”

Liz clapped her hands excitedly. “Tonight. This is so great. He's perfect for you.”

***


Buddy Halper pulled his car into a resident's spot in front of an apartment complex.

Maria looked at her surroundings in confusion. Buddy had promised her a romantic surprise. She was expecting a nice restaurant, or a picnic. Not a boring, slightly run down apartment complex. “What are we doing here?”

“It's a surprise,” Buddy told her. He handed her a bandana. “Put this on over your eyes.”

Maria hesitated for a second, then decided to trust Buddy. Liz had promised that Buddy was a real romantic and it had been a long time since Maria had experienced something that was really romantic.

When the blindfold was on, Buddy pressed a watch into her hand. “The alarm will go off in five minutes, then you can removed the blindfold and come find me.”

“How?”

“I'm leaving you a clue,” Buddy said and Maria felt something soft brush against her face. She jumped but then the sweet scent of a rose hit her nose and relaxed.

Buddy climbed out of the car. Maria counted to about thirty, then pulled the blindfold off. No way was she sitting in the car with a blindfold on all by herself. She picked up the pale pink rose that Buddy had left on her lap and smiled, lifting it to her nose and breathing in its perfume. Seeing no sign of Buddy, or anybody else, she climbed out of the car and straightened out her clothes.

There was a trail of pink rose petals leading away from the car into the building, and Maria smiled again excitedly.

As she waited for the watch to count down the time, another car pulled into a spot close by. She recognized the car as belonging to Kyle Valenti.

Kyle jumped out and waved at her so Maria walked over. Michael was slowly climbing out of the other side, he looked like he was in pain. Kyle hovered around, trying not to make it seem like he wasn't there to help in case Michael couldn't do it.

“What are you two doing here”? Maria asked.

“I'm just dropping Michael home,” Kyle explained. He pointed to a ground floor apartment. “He lives over there. What about you?”

“Um, I have a date,” Maria admitted reluctantly.

“With Dolphin Boy?” Michael asked with a smirk.

“Who?” Maria asked. The watch in her hand beeped. “Never mind, I have to go. I have a date with a man who actually knows what romance is.”

Michael snorted.

Maria glared at him again before turning and following the trail of rose petals into the building, up three flights of stairs and out onto the roof.

She gasped in surprise at the sight that met her there. The roof top was covered in candles, they sat on every surface, glowing brightly in the dark. There was a table sitting in the middle, set for two. A vase of roses to match the one in her hand sat on it.

Buddy looked up at her, he was still lighting candles. “Maybe I should have asked you to wait ten minutes.”

Maria laughed and grabbed a spare taper and started lighting the candles along the ledge. They met in the middle as they lit the last candles.

Maria blew out her taper and gazed out. The view from the roof was amazing, the lights of the town in front of her with the desert in the background. “It's really beautiful up here.”

“Yes it is,” Buddy agreed, staring intently at her.

Maria smiled uncomfortably. His words were lovely, she just wished it hadn't sounded so rehearsed. “So, dinner?”

“Yes,” Buddy took her hand and led her over to the table. He picked up a remote and aimed it at a CD player. Taylor Swift's voice filtered out. “Some ambient music.”

Maria winced. She hated Taylor Swift. “Have you got anything else?”

Buddy's smile faltered. He pressed stop. “Sorry, I’ve got nothing else with me. I can run downstairs and get another one.”

“No, it's fine, we don't need music,” Maria smiled, feeling bad.

Buddy smiled brightly again. He poured two glasses of wine and handed one to her before raising his own. “Here's to the beginning of something beautiful.”

Again, Maria smiled politely and clinked her glass against his.

“Do you like the mural?” Buddy asked, pointing to the wall to her right.

Maria looked up and her mouth fell open. Somehow she hadn't noticed the large mural before, though it was pretty unmissable. It depicted a large dolphin leaping from a pool of water and over a rainbow. It would have looked fine on the wall of a children's hospital or in the bedroom of a six year old girl. Here, in the drab surroundings of an apartment building it just looked weird. “Wow,” she said at last. “Did you paint that?”

“Yes. Dolphins are such amazing creatures. They give me such positivity and hope. I wanted to create something wonderful for all the residents in the building to show them that there is joy and love in the world.”

“Ok.”

Buddy talked more about dolphins and positivity while Maria ate in silence. When they moved onto dessert, Buddy reached across the table and took her hand.

“I'm really glad that we're doing this,” he told her. “I wanted to ask you out for a long time.”

“Thank you.”

“I felt such a connection to you when we first met. I knew that there was something very special about you. I think that there's something special here.”

Maria didn't know how to respond to that.

“Dance with me,” Buddy suggested suddenly.

“There's no music,” Maria pointed out, hoping that he wouldn't put Taylor Swift back on.

“We don't need music,” Buddy smiled. “You told me that. And it's true, when I’m with you, I hear music.”

Maria's mouth opened and closed a few times as Buddy stood up and held out his hand to her. She shook her head. “I have to go. I have to be up early in the morning.”

Buddy's face fell. “Oh. Are you sure?”

“Yes. It's late. I should go.”

“Ok. Well, I’ll drive you.”

“No, it's fine. My friend Kyle is downstairs with one of your neighbours, I’ll just catch a ride with him,” Maria said as she grabbed her purse.

“I'll drive you,” Buddy insisted.

“No, no. You should stay and blow out all these candles. You could get in trouble for leaving them unattended. It's a fire hazard.”

Buddy looked torn between the desire to follow after her or to stay and blow out all the candles. Maria took advantage of his confusion and fled.

She hurried down the three flights of stairs and knocked on the door of Michael's apartment.

“Who is it?” he yelled from inside.

“It's me, Maria.”

There was silence for a moment and then Michael's surprised voice. “Uh, come in.”

Maria pushed the door open and walked in warily. She'd never been in Michael's apartment before and didn't know what to expect. She'd imagined something grungy and dingy and messy. The reality was a lot more boring. It was a typical bachelor apartment – practical and comfortable without being cosy; tidy and clean but not obsessively so, and with that slightly funky smell that inhabited all male dominated spaces.

Michael was sitting on a couch in front of the TV, his leg stretched out before him and covered with ice packs. “Hey.”

“Hi. Is Kyle still here? I need a ride home.”

“He left about twenty minutes ago.”

“Oh.” Maria looked out at the space where Kyle's car was parked and realized that the red car sitting there wasn't Kyle's. “Is it ok if I hang out here for a little while until the coast is clear?”

“Sure.”

“Thanks,” Maria closed the door and walked in. She left her purse down on the counter top and took a seat on the armchair opposite Michael.

“So Dolphin Boy isn't Prince Charming?” Michael guessed.

Maria shook her head. “More like Princess Charming. He's a nice guy and he'd make a great gay best friend. You know, if he was actually gay.”

Michael smirked. “Not man enough for you?”

“It's funny. I always thought that I wanted a sensitive, caring romantic guy but after an hour with Buddy I just wanted to tell him to man up. I want a man, not a girl.”

“See, I’m the complete opposite,” Michael joked.

Maria laughed but she quickly sobered up. “The whole thing was so contrived. It was like he'd read every crappy romance novel and watched every crappy romance movie and made notes. I’m a fan of the big romantic gesture, but it was to come from somewhere genuine, you know? It felt like Buddy had a check list of everything to do and say and was working his way through them.” She sighed and flopped back in her seat. “Or I’m a freak who gets what she wants and immediately picks holes in it.”

Michael shook his head. “Nah, Buddy is definitely not the man for you. He's too much of a sissy boy. You need a real man to keep you under control.”

“Under control?” Maria repeated incredulously.

Michael smirked again and shifted in his seat causing the ice pack on his knee to fall off, revealing the horrific scar beneath.

Maria gasped quietly and looked away. She'd never seen the scars or burns on his leg before and even though she'd known his injuries had been bad, there was something about seeing them for herself that really brought home just how bad it had been.

Seeking something else to look at while Michael fixed the ice-packs, her eyes fell on a drawing desk sitting by the window which she hadn't noticed before. “I didn't know that you were still into art.”

“It's kind of personal....” Michael said pointlessly. Like that was going to stop Maria.

“Do you still drawn Comet cartoons?” Maria asked as she stood up and walked over to the desk. Back in high school, Michael's one extracurricular activity was his weekly cartoon in the school newspaper. Maria, though she'd never admitted it to him, had loved reading the adventures of Comet, the Roswell alien.

“No, not since school.”

Maria sat down on the stool and gazed at the drawings scattered on top of the desk and pinned to the wall around them. They were definitely not pictures of the cute and funny Comet. The pictures on the desk were dark and violent. They showed soldiers fighting a menacing, demonic beast. Maria almost recoiled from them. “Oh.”

She wondered why Michael would draw something like this. Was it a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress? Were these images that he had in his head?

“It's not what you think,” Michael said. He pulled himself awkwardly to his feet and hobbled over to her. He pulled a stool out from under the desk and plopped down on it.

“I don't think anything,” Maria said lamely.

Michael grinned. “Yeah, I know that's not true. You always think something about everything.”

“Well, what are they then?”

Michael scratched his eyebrow, a telltale sign that he was nervous and Maria felt bad about asking. “I'm working on something,” he said after a little hesitation.

“Oh.” She really wanted to asked, but she was aware that she was intruding.

Maybe because he knew she would keeping nosing until she got the answer, Michael explained. “Probably nothing will come of it, but it's something to keep me busy and focused which is good for me. Stops me dwelling on other things.”

Maria looked at the drawings again and figured it out. “It's a comic,” she guessed.

“Well, a graphic novel, actually,” Michael said. “But it started off as a comic strip. When I was in hospital first, I really couldn't do a lot except read and draw so I started working on a comic strip using drawings I had done when I was in Iraq. Then Alex saw them and he suggested that I should put them up on this web-comic website. Then a couple of months ago I was contacted by a publishing company. It's only a small company but they specialize in graphic novels and comics and they've asked me to submit a manuscript.”

“Really?” Maria asked. “That's so cool. Wow.”

Michael shrugged. “It's not that big a deal. They might decide not to publish it.”

“So, what's your book about?”

“Well, it's about this soldier and his unit. They're out in Iraq fighting the war and they begin to realize that there's something really evil and dark lingering in the shadows and it turns out to be this hell beast that feeds on fear and hate, so it's pretty huge.” He flipped a notebook to reveal an image of a terrifying monster. “So they have to fight it. That's what these scenes are... It's pretty allegorical.”

“The drawings are amazing,” Maria told him, flipping through his book to look at all his sketches and rough drafts.

“That is the first time you've ever said anything nice to me,” Michael said suddenly.

“Oops,” Maria grinned. “Are these all based on the drawings you made in Iraq?”

Michael nodded.

“Can I see them?”

Michael hesitated again before grabbing two pads and handing them to her. He rose to his feet again and shuffled back to the couch. Maria wandered back to the armchair she'd been sitting in, completely absorbed in the pictures. Some of them depicted fighting, but most of them were of off-duty soldiers hanging out and enjoying themselves. She was glad to see them, to know that it hadn't been all bad. All the time that Michael had been out in Iraq she had pictured the worst.

When she finished looking through the two pads, she laid them down on the coffee table. “They're really good.”

“Thanks.”

“You know what I’ve never been able to figure out?” Maria said. “Why the hell you joined the army in the first place. I mean, you always broke the rules, you always resented anybody in authority, you were incapable of following orders. And then all of a sudden, you're in the army.”

Michael played with a loose thread on the arm of the couch. “I just didn't want to be a loser all my life. I needed to grow up and do something and the army seemed like a good idea.”

“You're not going to go back, are you?”

“No.” Michael shook his head. “I've been discharged on medical grounds.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“It's ok. I’m kind of glad. The army was good for me, but I really don't like following orders.” He smiled ruefully.

Maria smiled in return. “So do you have any idea what you're going to do?”

“I think I might do some classes in the community college. I haven't decided yet. I’m still... I’m still dealing with stuff... my leg and.... my head's not quite there yet.”

“That's understandable,” Maria sympathized.

Michael shrugged uncomfortably.

“Doesn't working on those drawings bring it all back?”

“Not really. I mean, it's all still there anyway. Every time I close my eyes I see things... things I really wish that I could un-see.” He shook his head as if trying to lose the images from his mind. “Sometimes, it actually helps me to draw the stuff that's on my mind. It kind of purges it a little. And actually, my counselor thinks it helps me to deal with the memories instead of trying to suppress them. I don't know, I don't really pay a lot of attention to him.”

“Is your counselor Buddy?” Maria asked, trying to lighten the tone.

Michael cracked a smile. “Believe it or not, but no.”

“No? Rainbows and dolphins aren't your thing?”

“Not ever.” Michael grinned. He picked up his ice-pack and frowned at it. “Hey, could you do me a favour and get me a fresh one of these from the freezer?”

“Sure.” Maria took the now luke-warm pack from him and went to get a new one from the freezer.

She sat down on the couch beside him and placed the ice pack on his knee, forcing herself to look at the scars. She couldn't imagine how bad the must have looked seven months earlier. Without thinking, she ran her finger gently along one of the angry red lines. Michael was breathing heavily, and realising what she was doing, Maria retracted her hand quickly. “Sorry. Does it hurt?”

“No, they get a little tight sometimes. It's the bones that hurt.”

Maria tore her gaze away from his leg to look up at him and noticed for the first time how close they were sitting. He was looking right at her, his gaze dropped down to her lips. Maria's eyes dropped down to his. She'd always thought that he looked like a good kisser. He had very kissable lips.

She leaned forward and he did the same at first before pulling back abruptly.

“The coast is probably clear now,” he said in a hoarse voice.

Maria blinked in surprise. Wow, she had really read those signals wrong.

She stood up trying hard to look unaffected. “Well, thanks for letting me hang out. Good look with your book. Goodnight.” She practically fled from his apartment.

***

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nibbles2
Obsessed Roswellian
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James Lasser

Postby nibbles2 » Tue Apr 19, 2011 7:15 am

Thank you

Valentinebaby
Earth2Mama
Alien_Friend
Sundae
sarammlover
Mary Mary
Drogyn
Eva
spacegirl23
DreamerLaure

James Lasser

Maria’s stomach did a weird flip-flop thing when Michael walked into the Crashdown, leaning on a walking stick. “Your crutches are gone!” she exclaimed happily.

“Yeah, since yesterday. I’ve got this bad boy instead,” Michael said, twirling his stick baton style and finishing with jazz hands, before sliding onto a stool at the counter.

“I didn’t know you were so talented,” Maria teased.

“I’m very talented at a lot of things, Maria,” Michael told her seriously.

She didn’t know why, but for some reason that made her blush. Or maybe it was the way he said her name. Maria shook her head, getting herself under control and poured him a cup of coffee. When he had put the milk and sugar in she asked him a question. “Can you do me a small favour?”

Michael looked at her warily. “Depends.”

“Isabel has decided that we’re going to branch out into catering parties and events and she’s asked me to come up with a range of cupcakes for children’s parties. So, I was wondering if you’d try out a new cupcake for me and give me your opinion on it.” She placed a cupcake in front of him and smiled. “On the house, of course.”

“Let me guess, arsenic flavour?” Michael asked, poking at it with a fork.

“No, Michael, if I was going to poison you, I wouldn’t do it in my place of business. It’s an orange soda cupcake. And try not to wolf it down in two bites like you do with everything else; actually taste it.”

Michael saluted her and took a small piece on his fork, examining it and sniffing it carefully before putting it in his mouth and swirling it around like it was wine.

Maria rolled her eyes. “When you’re finished, please fill out this comment card. You can just draw a happy face or a sad face if writing is too tricky for you.”

“I’ll keep it simple for you,” Michael shot back but not in his usual acerbic tone. If he was talking to anybody else, Maria might even have called it a flirtatious tone.

He took another bite of the cupcake, serious this time and nodded. “Wow, it’s really good.”

Maria beamed. “Thank you.”

“It looks like the soda cupcakes are a hit,” Tess said as she joined them at the counter.

“Definitely,” Michael agreed with his mouth full. “They’re very moreish.”

“You’re only getting one,” Maria told him, but she said it with a smile.

“So, guess what,” Tess asked giddily.

Maria had a sinking feeling about this.

“I’ve found the perfect man for you,” Tess revealed. She paused as if waiting for a reaction, but she got none. “He’s a friend of Kyle’s. He’s a real nice guy and he’s going through exactly the same thing as you are. He just can’t meet a nice girl.”

Maria flushed and threw a quick glance in Michael’s direction, wishing that Tess hadn’t made her sound so desperate in front of him but Michael didn’t seem to notice, he was too busy trying to gather up the cupcake crumbs.

“Tess, I really don’t think that I want to do this anymore,” Maria sighed. She was always wary of guys who were described as ‘nice’.

“You have to. I promise, this is the guy for you. When have I ever steered you wrong?”

“You might not have, but the Committee certainly have,” Maria pointed out.

“True. But, that was Liz and Isabel. Liz hasn’t had to pick a guy since she was fifteen and Isabel only landed Alex by accident. I know what I’m talking about. Tell her, Michael.”

“I don’t want to get involved,” Michael answered hastily.

“I’m not going to leave you alone about this until you agree,” Tess insisted.

Maria threw her hands up. “Fine. But after this, you’re all fired.”

***


James Lasser was, as Tess had promised, nice.

He was nice looking, nicely dressed, had a nice car, brought Maria nice flowers and had booked a table at a nice restaurant.

He was very polite and well mannered. He complimented her dress, held doors open for her, and held her chair out for her. He listened when she spoke and didn’t interrupt.

Unfortunately he was a big, dull dud with no sense of humour.

Maria had to keep reminding herself of all his good points as he droned on and on about… something... all throughout their main course. He was a nice guy. He was Kyle’s friend. He was probably just nervous about the date and wanted to impress her.

The meal dragged and Maria thought they’d never get to dessert.

“So, Tess says you’ve been single for a while,” James said over his cheesecake.

“Not really. I was seeing this guy, Billy, for a while. That ended over a month ago. And before that I was seeing another guy, also named James actually. So, I haven’t really been single for a while. But I haven’t been in a serious relationship in a while either.”

“I’m the same,” James told her. “I date a lot, meet lots of women but I just can’t seem to get a girlfriend. It always fizzles out after a date or two.”

“Mine last a few months but the same thing happens. They either dump me or cheat on me or just stop calling,” Maria said. “And the last few dates I’ve been on have just been disasters. The guys were just nightmares.”

James clucked and shook his head, like he was disagreeing with her.

“What?” Maria demanded.

“Were they really nightmares? Tess told me that she and your friends were looking for a nice guy for you. I don’t think they would have set you up with ‘nightmares’.”

Maria was so surprised that she couldn’t’ say anything in response.

“You women are all the same,” James continued, jabbing the air with his fork. “You say that you want a nice guy but that’s not really true. You really want a dirtbag who will treat you like crap. A nice guy doesn’t stand a chance with you. You say that you want somebody who makes you laugh and who you can talk to and then when you find a funny, nice guy, you tell me that you want to be friends and spread your legs for a guy who just wants to bang you and leave you.”

“That’s a very sweeping statement,” Maria said angrily. “Not all women-”

“All women!” James interrupted. “Look, I’ve been single for eight years now and I’ve tried everything. Women don’t want a nice guy like me. They want a rich jerk and they don’t care how badly he treats them as long as he keeps buying them jewellery and cars. You sit there in your short dresses with your ya-yas hanging out like hookers on a street corner waiting for a creep to show up and ignore the nice guys.”

Maria threw her napkin down on top of her half-finished chocolate pudding. “Maybe the reason you’ve been single for eight years is because you’re not a nice guy. Maybe it’s because you’re boring and rude and bitter. You think that just because you open doors for a woman and pay for dinner that she should automatically like you. Well it doesn’t work that way. You’re just as much a jerk as all the other guys; the only difference is that you think you’re a nice guy.”

She grabbed her purse, threw enough cash to cover her share of the bill at him and stormed out of the restaurant. She was so mad that she stomped the whole way home before she’d even realised it.

The restaurant was closed when she got back but Isabel was there, finishing the clean up. Michael Guerin was sitting in one of the booths, an entire lemon meringue pie in front of him. They stared at her when she stormed through the doors.

“Uh oh,” Isabel said quietly.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Maria told her, so angry that she couldn’t even look at Isabel. She stormed past her and went upstairs to her apartment where she spent the next ten minutes pacing angrily around the living room until Isabel came in, slowly and uncertainly.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Maria said again, calmer now.

“Ok.” Isabel looked indecisive. “Maria, Alex is at home with a really bad migraine so I’ve got to get home to him, but if you want to talk, why don’t you come home with me.”

Maria shook he head. “I’m fine, go home to your husband, Isabel.”

“Ok,” Isabel said, still lingering uncertainly. “Listen, Michael is downstairs. One of the guys who was in Iraq with him committed suicide yesterday so he’s pretty down. I think he wants to be around people but Max is working and Kyle is gone away for the weekend and Alex is sick… Would you mind just sitting with him for a while? I don’t think he wants to talk either but I don’t want to leave him alone.”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Maria assured her, privately glad that Isabel was leaving and Michael was staying. She really wasn’t in the mood to talk to Isabel about her date yet and Michael’s more taciturn nature appealed to her right then.

She said good night to Isabel and changed into a pair of sweats and a t-shirt before grabbing two cold beers from the fridge and heading back down to the restaurant.

There was a single light on over the counter but Michael was sitting in a booth in the semi-darkness staring morosely at the pie in front of him.

“Did you pay for that?” Maria asked.

He looked up, startled out of his own thoughts by her appearance. “I did not.”

“Well, then that’s theft buddy.”

Michael shrugged, completely unconcerned. “Arrest me.”

“Whatever, but you have to share,” Maria told him and slid into the seat across from him.

He handed her a fork, she gave him one of the beers.

“I’m sorry about your friend,” Maria said after a minute of silence.

“Thanks. I’m sorry about your date.”

Maria shrugged, it seemed so unimportant in the face of what Michael was dealing with.

“So what was the problem with this Prince Charming?” Michael asked.

“He was utterly charmless,” Maria sighed. “He was whiney and boring. And his idea of a joke was telling me that he reads Playboy for the articles.” She rolled her eyes. And to think she had laughed politely at that ‘joke’. “And then he went off on this rant over dessert and basically called me a hooker. Self-proclaimed ‘nice guys’ are the worst.”

Michael looked at her with shock written across his face. “Want me to kick his ass for you? You’ll have to wait a few months until I’m back to semi-full fitness but I’ll have the element of surprise then, he won’t be expecting it.”

Maria laughed. “Thanks, but I’m going to take comfort in the fact that he’s going to die alone and miserable.”

Like me, she thought to herself.

“Not like you,” Michael said, guessing her thoughts.

“I think I’ve dated every available guy in Roswell at this stage. All the ones under thirty anyway and my Mom has dated all the others. Maybe we’re just destined to end up alone.”

Michael snorted. “You’re not. And for the record, you haven’t dated every guy in Roswell.”

Maria raised an eyebrow and he pointed a finger at himself.

She threw her head back and laughed. Michael smiled too, but he looked sad. So she picked up her fork and took a bite of the pie. “Tell me about your friend.”

“His name was Ben…” Michael talked for a long time about Ben and about all his friends in his unit. About the good times they’d had together and the bad ones too. He talked about how Ben had been badly injured when the Humvee he was driving had been hit by mortar fire. About how depressed Ben had become when he had woken up to discover he had lost both legs and the sight in one eye.

He talked until the pie was gone and the beers were drunk and then they sat in silence for a while. Maria realised that at some point she had reached across the table to hold his hand. Michael was looking down at their joined hands.

Embarrassed, Maria retracted her hand slowly.

Michael picked up his empty bottle of beer. “Don’t suppose you have another one of these?”

“They’re upstairs… You can come up, if you want.” Her face flushed immediately. She didn’t really know what she was offering except that she didn’t want to be alone. She just hoped it was too dark for him to see how red her face was.

Michael was quiet for a moment before looking up at her. “It’s late. I should probably go home.”

Maria wanted to ask him to stay, to keep her company but the words didn’t come out. “Do you need a ride home?”

“Nah, it’s not that far and I could use the air. But thanks. And thanks for the company.”

“Any time, Michael.”

He stood up and winced a little as he straightened out his sore leg before grabbing his walking stick and hobbling over towards the door.

Maria hurried after him to unlock the door and let him out.” So, goodnight. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. It’s banoffi cupcake day tomorrow, those are your favourite.”

“Pretty much everything you do is my favourite,” Michael said quietly.

Maria looked at him, confused by his tone of voice. She realised then how close they were standing to each other.

Michael seemed to lower his head slightly and Maria held her breath. Then he backed away. “You know, I don’t think you should be trying so hard to find your Prince Charming. Love will find you when you least expect it.”

And then he was gone.

Maria watched him limp up the street until he was out of sight and only then did she release the breath she’d been holding.

She had a sinking feeling that he was right.

***

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nibbles2
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Prince Charming - Chapter 4

Postby nibbles2 » Wed Apr 27, 2011 4:32 pm

Wow, 2011 is a good year for me, so far I've finished two fics. TWO! I've really loved writing this fic and I'd love to write more for it but I really have to turn my attention to Gold Diggers and get the damn thing finished.

Thanks to the lovely Alison for betaing this for and teaching me all about apostrophes. I hate those damn things.

I think I said before that this fic was inspired by an episode of Friends, and there's a line in this chapter from that episode.

So, with that, thank you to everybody for reading and leaving feedback. I hope you find the ending satisfying.

Earth2Mama The three dates weren't based on any one person, but more on the particular types of guys that we all know. And hate.

Rowedog Thank you.

Eva Thank you. They take a really big step in this chapter.

Mary Mary I don't think the sisters made any promises.

Killjoy Thanks for reading.

Alien_Friend I promise I'll have your auction fic soon (ish. Before 2012. I hope)

Sundae Well said.

Sarammlover Her friends don't suck as much as you might think :wink:

DreamerLaure Yeah, the toad dating part sucks, but it's all leading her to her prince, so it's worth it.




Michael Guerin

Maria had made and frosted so many cupcakes in her life that she could probably do it in her sleep. She often zoned out while she was doing it and let her mind wander over something else. That particular Monday, her mind was on Michael Guerin and their strange relationship.

They’d hung out with the same people since elementary school, but never really been friends. They’d been thrown together more when Max and Liz started dating each other and a new phase of their relationship had begun. Michael had inexplicably grown ruder and more argumentative around her and Maria, never one to put up with anybody’s shit had responded in kind. They had continued on in that fashion for the remainder of high school and much of Maria’s college life until out of the blue Michael had enlisted in the army.

The Michael who had returned from the army had been a different Michael. He was older, wiser and more mature now. Surprisingly, even after losing several friends in the fighting and almost losing his own leg, it seemed that he had mellowed. Gone was the angry, bitter Michael carrying around years of resentment for his tough childhood in foster care. Gone was the guy who had put up a stone wall to keep everybody out. Gone was the abrasive, rude, argumentative Michael. In his place was a less arrogant, more confident, friendlier guy who seemed to accept that he had friends who cared about him and finally allowed them to help him.

He still argued with Maria and teased her whenever he could, but it was different now. Sometimes, Maria would have called it flirtatious, if she didn’t know better. And lately, she had been seeing a brand new side to him. Instead of being just a weird, rude, tough loner Maria was beginning to see that he was a deeply wounded, vulnerable guy.

And that was Maria’s kryptonite.

There was something about a bad boy that appeared to have a soft center that was irresistible to Maria. Every single one of the guys she had ever fallen for had been that way. Or at least, she had thought they were when she first met them. Inevitably it turned out that they were bastards through and through.

She sighed and dropped her spatula in the empty frosting bowl. She had to learn to steer clear of guys like Michael Guerin. It was just such an inconvenient shame that she could feel herself being pulled towards him more and more now. He was beginning to occupy a lot of her thoughts recently.

She shook her head to clear her mind of Michael and walked over to the sink to rinse the bowl, then started boxing the prepared cupcakes.

Normally Liz would help her at this, but her friend was on a cleaning spree in the café. Liz was the anally neat one of the group, but there was a certain mania in her cleaning tonight that made Maria wonder if there was something going on with Liz. She’d been acting weird all weekend.

Isabel emerged from the office and sighed. “Is she here yet?”

“No!” Liz snapped, sounding frustrated.

Maria’s eyebrows shot up. There was definitely something up with Liz. She glanced over at Isabel to see if she had noticed, but Isabel was staring into the distance oblivious to Maria's surprise and Liz's out of character mood. There was something up with her too. She’d been on edge all evening.

Tess had called that morning and said that she would come by the Crashdown on her way home from her parents’. She needed to talk to them about something. So Isabel and Liz had stayed late.

“It’s late, they’ve probably been delayed in traffic. Why don’t you guys go home and we’ll see her tomorrow?” Maria suggested. She was tired after a long day of work and just wanted to lie down on the couch and watch some mindless TV.

Liz shook her head. “No, I want to see her tonight.”

Maria sighed and went back into the kitchen to wash up. At least with Tess being late, she’d had a chance to get ready for the morning so she could have a lie in.
She was just wiping down the counters when Isabel announced that Tess had finally arrived.

“Coming.” Maria wiped her hands on a towel and made her way into the closed restaurant where Liz, Isabel and Tess were waiting.

“I’m engaged,” Tess shrieked as soon as Maria walked through the door. She brandished her left hand to show off her new diamond ring and screamed.

Liz and Isabel screamed in response and jumped up to hug her.

Maria smiled but couldn’t muster up the same enthusiasm as the other two. Tess and Kyle’s engagement had been inevitable and it really wasn’t going to change things but it just seemed to hammer home the fact that she was alone and the others all had somebody.

Liz drew back from Tess and Isabel, her face flushed and beaming. “I know this is your night and I don’t want to steal your thunder, but I’m so excited that I have to tell you guys. I’m pregnant.”

“Oh my God, me too,” Isabel screamed. “I just found out today. Alex doesn’t even know yet.”

There was more screaming and hugging and jumping around.

Maria just watched, her smile frozen in place. She felt like somebody had kicked her. And then she felt horrible for feeling like that and for not being excited for her friends.

They realized that Maria wasn’t getting involved and turned to stare at her.

She tried, she really did, to smile and be happy, but the tears came and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. She had to get out of there. “I’m sorry. I have to… I have to go.”

And she turned and bolted.

Maria ran blindly and without a destination for a while before ending up in the parking lot of the building where Michael Guerin lived.

She hesitated outside for a while, trying to convince herself to go home and stop being such a bitch. It was the happiest day of her three friends’ lives and she should celebrate with them instead of thinking about herself. But try as she might, Maria couldn't force her feet to turn around and go back to the Crashdown. She couldn't face her friends right then. She had never felt more alone and left behind than she did as she watched them celebrate their triple joy. It was not her friends’ fault, they had done nothing to exclude her from it. She knew that they would want her to be a part of it; to be an aunt to their children and a bridesmaid at the wedding. And Maria knew that she would love being an aunt and a godmother and a bridesmaid and being part of their happiness. But just once she wanted to experience that happiness for herself, and not vicariously through her friends.

Instead, her feet made their way to Michael's door and the rest of Maria had no choice but to go along with them. She knocked twice but got no answer. Remembering that the last time she'd been there the door had been open, Maria turned the handle and let herself in.

The living room was empty but she could hear music playing somewhere so she called Michael's name.

He appeared in the doorway of the bedroom looking surprised. He was wearing his security guard uniform but his shirt was unbuttoned. His hair was wet and he was holding a towel. “Hey. What are you doing here?”

Maria shrugged and then started crying. She cried so hard that she couldn't see. Michael hobbled across the room and sank into the couch beside where Maria was standing and pulled her down beside him. She immediately buried her head in his chest and he wrapped his arms around her.

Slowly Maria calmed down and the tears stopped. Michael kept his arms around her, kept rubbing her back, kept making soothing sounds.

Maria felt her body heat up in response to his touch and to the closeness of his body. She straightened up and looked him in the eye.

“Maria...” Michael began in a husky voice.

She didn't let him finish, instead Maria crushed her lips against his. He responded immediately, pulling her onto his lap to get closer to her.

As their mouths melded together, their hands explored each other’s body, removing any clothes that got in the way.


***



Maria was awoken by the shrill sound of a cellphone. She felt Michael peel away from her as he slipped off the bed and searched for his phone.

She lay there in the darkness, wondering what to do. Pretend to be asleep and leave when he went back to sleep? Or face him now and get it over with it?

She'd dated a number of guys over the years but she'd never just fallen into bed with any of them and she wasn't sure how to deal with the situation. Michael, as far as she knew, wasn't a serial bed hopper either but he also wasn't a relationship type of guy.

She figured he'd probably be happy to call this a one night thing and go back to their normal quasi love-hate relationship tomorrow. She tried to think she was cool with that, after all Michael pretty much summed up everything she was trying to avoid in a guy. He was emotionally unavailable, didn't like relationships and hadn't the least romantic bone in his body. Ok, maybe lately she'd begun to see that there was a lot more to him than that. He was kind, and sensitive, he listened to her when she was upset, he could be very sweet. Plus he had sex appeal in bucket loads. But they were traits that Maria thought she saw in every guy she'd dated and been burned by and she wanted to stop making that mistake.

She wasn't going to allow herself to make that mistake again. She was not going to fall in love with Michael Guerin only to get crushed again. She'd learned her lesson, she wasn't going to let history repeat itself for the twentieth time.

If only she wasn't already in love with him.

Well, she'd just have to put him out of her mind and avoid him for a while until her stupid, traitorous feelings went away. And do whatever she could to forget tonight and how amazing it had been. Hypnosis, maybe.

And the best way to move on was to put space between them, so she jumped out of the bed, remembering then that her clothes were in the other room where Michael was on the phone.

As Maria was wondering what to do, Michael came back. He was naked. Maria swallowed and looked away from temptation. She grabbed a sheet and wrapped it around her body to shield her own nudity.

“That was work, wondering where I was,” Michael explained. “I told them I took a painkiller and it knocked me out.”

“You can go to work if you want. I’m ok,” Maria told him, hoping he'd take the easy way out.

“I'd rather stay,” Michael said. He limped over to where she was standing and slid his arms around her waist. He lowered his mouth to her neck and slowly sucked on her pulse point, driving her crazy.

Maria tried desperately to cling to her resolve. “I... I should go.”

“Stay with me,” Michael said gently, his mouth slowly making its way up her neck and across her cheek. His hands slipped inside the sheets and pushed them to the ground.

“I...ok,” Maria agreed just as he captured her lips again.

The next time she woke up was because of her own body clock, the sun was just beginning to make its way over the horizon and she knew she had to get back to the diner to make sure it was open on time.

But she didn't move. She and Michael had fallen asleep face to face, their legs intertwined and their faces almost touching. She pulled back a little so she could observe him as he slept.

When he was awake, Michael was either smirking or scowling. Asleep, he looked peaceful and content. Almost happy.

And he didn't snore. Maria sighed, at least if he snored, she could have put that in the con column.

She pulled away slowly so as not to wake him up and climbed out of bed.

“Hey,” Michael said sleepily.

Maria jumped and grabbed a towel to wrap around herself. “Uh, hi.”

Michael reached for her but Maria stepped back.

“I should get going. I have to open the diner this morning,” Maria said. She did her best to act normal. “But, um, thanks for last night.”

A range of emotions flitted across Michael's face and he threw the covers back to climb out. Maria turned away quickly and went looking for her own clothes, most of which were discarded around the living room.

Michael hopped slowly into the living room wearing a pair of boxers and winced as he lowered his foot to the ground. Maria felt guilty. Last night's activities had probably put a lot of stress on his knee. She got dressed as fast as she could.

“Can you stay for a few minutes so we can talk?” Michael asked.

Maria smiled at him brightly. “I'm really in a hurry. The regulars will be queuing up soon and if they don't get their coffee and pancakes there'll be riots on Main Street.” She straightened up and looked at Michael. The way he was looking at her... his eyes held so much longing. She looked away again. “Thanks for... I’ve got to go.”

Michael called for her again, but Maria was already out the door.

She practically jogged the whole way back to the Crashdown and when she let herself in she found that Liz, Isabel and Tess were all in the backroom waiting for her. All wearing matching expressions of concern and worry.

“I’m so sorry,” Maria blurted out before she even got the door closed. “I’m a horrible, horrible friend. I am really, really really happy for you guys. I just…”

“It’s ok, Maria,” Liz said sympathetically. She grabbed Maria’s arm and drew her to the couch. “We understand.”

Maria shook her head and laughed hoarsely. “You don’t Liz. You’re married to the man you love and you’re going to have his baby. But it’s ok. I’ll be ok.”

“We’re not going to abandon you,” Tess told her, taking a seat on the other side of Maria. “You’re our sister, Maria. You’re going to be my maid of honour.”

“And aunt,” said Isabel, patting her stomach.

“And Godmother,” Liz added.

They looked at her expectantly and Maria burst into tears. Their faces fell and they scooted closer to comfort her. Maria felt awful that at what should have been the happiest time of their lives, she was sucking all the joy out of it for them and it made her cry harder.

“What’s wrong? Tell us,” Liz pleaded, sounding distressed.

Maria tried desperately to get herself under control and to stop crying. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok. Take your time,” Isabel reassured her. “We’re not going anywhere until you’re feeling better.”

The café should have been open by then and Maria knew that the regulars would start arriving so she took a deep breath and forced herself to stop crying. “I’m ok. Open the café, I’ll be fine.”

“No,” Isabel said emphatically. “Not until you talk to us.”

“We’ll stay closed all day if we have to,” Liz told her firmly.

“Ok.” Maria took a deep breath. “I guess I’m still dealing with breaking up with Billy-”

“Cut the crap and tell us the truth, Maria. This isn’t about Billy,” Tess butted in.

“It is. Kind of,” Maria protested. Her friends shot her look that told her they weren't buying that. “Ok, maybe not Billy per se, but the whole situation. He’s just the latest in a long line of guys who’ve let me down. It’s hard to keep coming back from that. To keep standing up so that somebody else can let you down. And I think I’m beginning to realise that not everybody gets to find their Prince Charming. Some people just end up alone. Like my Mom. Do you know she has thirteen godchildren? And that she’s been a bridesmaid seventeen times. And that she has twenty three nieces and nephews? I’ve been trying so hard not to end up alone like her and maybe it’s time to accept that I’m going to be alone and learn to be happy with it.”

She hoped she sounded more convincing than she felt.

“No,” Liz said with a shake of her head. “We’re not going to let you consign yourself to the Old Maid pile. The right guy is out there for you and you just have to open your eyes.”

“Don’t you think I’ve tried?” Maria cried. “God, I’ve tried. But I just keep falling for the wrong guy, time and time again. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t let myself feel this way about another guy and get crushed again. It’s too much. I’ve had enough.”

“Feel this way? Maria, are you saying that you have feelings for somebody?” Isabel asked.

“What? No,” Maria lied emphatically.

Isabel didn’t buy it for a second. “You do! Who is it?”

“Nobody. It’s doesn’t matter.”

“Maria, tell us,” Liz urged.

Maria shook her head. “Nuh-uh. Even I know this guy is no Prince Charming.”

“Maria, honey chops, we’re not going to stop until you tell us who it is,” Tess said sweetly.

“Ugh, fine. It’s Michael Guerin. I have somehow managed to fall in love with Michael Guerin, ok? Happy? But don’t worry, I know that he’s a bad bet so I’m going to do my best to forget about this. It’s probably just a crazy phase anyway. Last night was just an aberration.”

That statement was met with a full minute’s silence.

Finally Liz asked. “Last night?”

Maria groaned. “That’s where I was last night. I spent the night with him.”

Isabel jumped up and clapped her hands. “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. Finally. I knew it. I told you it would work.”

Maria stared at Isabel. “What?”

Maria’s confusion grew as the others hurled questions at her.

“What did he say?”

“How did it happen?”

“Did he tell you how he felt?”

“Why are you saying that you’re going to be alone if you and Michael are finally together?”

“What?” Maria asked again.

“What did Michael say to you?” Isabel repeated loudly.

“Nothing. We didn’t really… talk,” Maria squirmed.

Liz grabbed Maria’s shoulders and looked her dead in the eye. “Maria, listen to me. You have to go and talk to Michael and tell him how you feel. Right now. He's a good guy, a really good guy and he's definitely not a bad bet. If you just-”

“No way,” Maria shook her head.

“You have to. We’re the ones making your decisions and we say that you have to go and tell Michael how you feel. Now!” Liz told her.

“I fired you,” Maria pointed out.

“You can’t fire us. We make your decisions and we say that we’re not fired,” Liz countered triumphantly. “Go and find Michael.”

“No,” Maria said again. She stood up, brushing Liz’s hands away. “We have to get to work. The cafe should have been open thirty minutes ago. You guys do that and I’m going to take a shower.”

She ignored their protests and marched upstairs to her apartment where she showered quickly and changed into a fresh uniform. As she applied her make-up she realized that there were several hickeys on her neck. Damn Michael. She covered them up as best she could and left her hair down loose.

Then she took a deep breath and went back downstairs. Hopefully by now it would be busy and the others wouldn't have a chance to talk to her again.

The others were waiting at the bottom of the stairs with huge grins on their faces.

“Maria, there’s somebody in the restaurant who wants to talk to you,” Isabel said.

“Who is it?”

“Just a customer,” Isabel shrugged with feigned nonchalance. She grabbed the apron from Maria’s hand and pushed her. “Go.”

Maria had a bad feeling but Isabel was bigger and stronger and she pushed her through the door and into the diner.

Where Michael Guerin was waiting.

Maria’s face turned a bright red.

“I have something to say to you,” Michael blurted out.

“Ok.”

Maria waited.

Michael said nothing.

Tess and Liz slipped out of the back room and stood with Isabel behind Maria. There were a few of their early morning regulars in booths and along the counter, all conversations stopped as everybody turned to watch Michael, waiting to hear what he had to say.

Michael took a deep breath but still said nothing.

“Ok, I have work to do,” Maria prompted.

“Burgers make me fart,” Michael blurted out.

Liz gasped. Maria looked at him as if he’d lost his mind.

“They make me fart,” he continued “But they’re my favourite food so I eat them anyway. I sometimes talk with my mouth full. I have bad table manners. I usually leave the washing up until I run out of clean dishes. I leave dirty socks on the floor until I run out of them too. I don’t rinse the sink when I shave. And I haven’t lived with a woman since I was eleven so I never put the toilet seat down. I’m rude and grumpy most of the time. It gets worse when I’m tired or hungry. I have no social skills. I forget dates and times. I can’t even remember my own birthday so I’d never remember anniversaries. I suck at picking out gifts. I absolutely will not sit through a chick flick. I have never let anybody else be in charge of the remote. I play video games until two in the morning sometimes… I never notice when people cut their hair or lose weight… I think that chick rock you like is stupid… I am so emotionally retarded that I picked fights with you instead of telling you ages ago that I’m in love with you...” Michael flapped his hands helplessly. “So, in short, I’m no Prince Charming.”

Maria just stared at him open-mouthed. Her blood was pounding in her ears.

Another two customers walked in and were quickly hushed and pulled into a booth.

Michael took two steps closer to Maria. “I've probably done a really good job at making you think I'm an asshole because I thought it would protect me somehow but I have good points. I’m honest and loyal. I would never, ever cheat on you. I see a counselor once a month now so I’m making progress on the emotional stuff. And I’m willing to work on the other things like picking up my dirty socks and doing the dishes. I’m trying to make something of myself… When I’m not being an ass, we got along great. I’m a good kisser, I think. You already know that I'm good in bed. I can't guarantee multiple orgasms every night, but I'll give it my best shot.”

A ripple of laughter ran through the diner. Maria barely noticed.

Michael didn't either, he just continued talking. “I'm a decent cook. I make a great spaghetti bolognese which I know is your favourite... I'm pretty good with cars. That's a plus because you drive a heap of junk... Oh, your friends like me... And... shit, I can't think of any more good points... Look, what I'm saying is that I won't be the perfect Prince Charming boyfriend that you're looking for but I think you should give me a shot anyway because I'll treat you right and I want to make you happy and nobody will ever love you as much as I love you.”

There was a collective intake of breath as Michael finished talking and everybody now turned their attention to Maria, awaiting her response.

Maria's mouth opened and closed several times but she simply couldn't form a word.

It took three minutes for her to even form a coherent thought and then she blurted it out. “Then why didn't you kiss me?”

Michael frowned. “What? I kissed you.”

“Not last night. All the other times I wanted you to kiss me and you didn't.”

“When did that happen?” Michael asked, looking thoroughly confused.

“After my date with Bradley. And Buddy and James.”

Michael stared at her silently for a moment and then flapped his arms in resignation. “I thought it was wishful thinking on my part. Ok, I have another fault. I suck at picking up subtle hints. So if you want something you're going to just have to spell it straight out.”

“Ok,” Maria said, a slow smile growing on her face. “In that case, I want to give you a shot.”

Michael blinked in disbelief. He half-smiled uncertainly. “Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

Michael's uncertain half-smiled bloomed into the biggest smile Maria had ever seen on his face. He closed the distance between them and grabbed her around the waist, pulling her to him and kissing her breathless.

Around them, the diner erupted in applause and catcalls.

When they pulled apart, Michael kept his arms around Maria and looked over at her friends who were practically bouncing and grinning and clapping. “Does the committee approve?”

“Yes, definitely,” Isabel squealed. “Nice speech by the way.”

“You don't know how long we've been trying to get you two together,” Tess bragged. “I can't believe that it finally worked.”

Michael shook his head. “You're not taking the credit for this.”

“Yes we are,” Liz told him firmly. “We played the two of you perfectly. The horrible dates. Making sure that you knew all the details - All part of the plan.”

“And that time Kyle drove you home and stopped to get ice-cream?” Tess chipped in. “That was a stalling tactic to make sure that he got you back to the apartment in time to see Maria with Buddy.”

“I’m really sorry about Bradley,” Isabel said. “I knew he was a jerk I just never thought he'd try to hurt you. If I’d known about-”

“It's fine,” Maria interrupted. “I can't believe you went to all that trouble for me. Thank you.”

“We love you, Maria and we know that it's been hard for you. We just wanted you to be happy,” Liz told her, pulling Maria from Michael's arms so she could hug her.

Tearfully, Maria returned Liz's embrace and whispered in her ear. “Congratulations on the baby.” Then she hugged Isabel and Tess and offered her congratulations to them as well.

Liz came back with a glass of orange juice for everybody and urged them all to take it. Then she raised her own. “Everybody, I’d like to raise a toast, to Maria, for finally finding her Prince Charming.”

“Maria and her Prince Charming.”

***


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