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.
The three dates weren't based on any one person, but more on the particular types of guys that we all know. And hate.
Thank you. They take a really big step in this chapter.
I don't think the sisters made any promises.
Thanks for reading.
I promise I'll have your auction fic soon (ish. Before 2012. I hope)
Her friends don't suck as much as you might think
Yeah, the toad dating part sucks, but it's all leading her to her prince, so it's worth it.
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.
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?”
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.”