521 (M+M & CC/UC, AU, Adult) [Complete]

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521 (M+M & CC/UC, AU, Adult) [Complete]

Post by April » Mon Mar 02, 2009 10:29 am

Winner Round 14

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Winner Round 13

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BILLY

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MARTY

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Kyle and Michael

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Isabel

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Wonderful banner made by Sarah! (girl afraid)

Title: 521

Author: April

Disclaimer: Usually I try to be humorous with my disclaimers, but sadly, right now, I’ve got nothin’. Including no affiliations to Roswell. Suck-fest!

Summary: Maria DeLuca and Tess Harding are best friends, but the two constantly clash when it comes to Tess's boyfriend, the ruthless and self-absorbed Max Evans. When wild-child Maria moves out of their apartment and in with their responsible, introverted friend Michael Guerin, everything changes.

Category: Michael and Maria (and other CC/UC couples) AU without aliens (This is NOT Alien Abyss material.)

Rating: Adult (language and sexuality)

Warnings: Some UC elements for certain couples (But it’s still not Alien Abyss material.)

Trailers: You can find all 3 trailers and all 6 character promos on my Youtube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/April7739 (I believe that audio was disabled for one of them. That really grates my cheese!)

Author’s Note: Ah, my first post-Passion fanfic! This is going to be another lengthy one, folks. I didn’t intend to write this story so soon. In fact, I had another one in the works, about 144 pages of it already written. But I was in the mood for humor, and something about this idea called to me. I really love feedback, so please let me know what you think. Have fun reading!









Part 1









Maria DeLuca pushed open the door to her apartment, and horror engulfed her. Pink walls. Used to be white. Now they were pink. Maybe some people thought it looked good, but . . . no. It looked horrible. She had been expecting this, sure, but expecting it didn’t make it any less shocking when she actually saw it. Apartment 315 was now officially the worst looking apartment in The Links apartment complex. Had to be. And it was all her roommate’s fault.

“It’s like a pink nightmare,” she muttered, shaking her head in disgust. How much longer could she take this?

“Max, is that you?” Her roommate, Tess Harding, came out of her bedroom, all smiles and pigtails, but when she saw Maria, a frown robbed the smile of its place. “Oh. You’re not Max.”

Maria grunted in disdain. “Thank God for that.”

Tess crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at her. “So I suppose you don’t like the new décor.”

“It feels like Candyland,” Maria informed her. “Why don’t you just go out and buy a bunch of rainbow lollipops and make this place look even more preschool?”

“It does not look preschool!” Tess exclaimed in outrage. “It looks better than it did before.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Are you kidding me? You actually liked those drab white walls?”

Maria shrugged. “At least they were normal.”

“They were sickening,” Tess insisted. “I’ve got a plan for this place. I’m gonna make it look like--”

“Candyland?” Maria cut in.

“Would you quit with the Candyland? It’s not Candyland!” Tess yelled in a rush. “It’s gonna be a beautiful Parisian atmosphere. I’m trusting my interior designer instinct, and so should you.”

“Because that always goes well.” A few months ago, at the end of summer vacation, Tess had decided to renovate the bathroom. Needless to say, a flood had ensued.

“Shut up, Maria!” Tess snapped. “I’d like to see you do any better.”

“I could.”

“No, you can’t. You don’t even pick up after yourself. If it was up to you, this place it would a pig-sty. Oh! And then you would fit right in, because you . . . are a little pig. That’s right.”

Maria raised a questioning eyebrow, trying to decipher exactly what that meant. “Is that supposed to be insulting, or--”

“Little pig!” Tess yelled again.

Maria grunted and wrinkled her forehead, trying to concoct a good comeback. “Well, you’re a . . . big pig,” was all she could come up with.

Tess gasped and immediately rested both hands on her stomach. “Are you calling me fat?”

“All I’m saying is, you might wanna stop eating all those cookies you have stashed in the cupboard and think I don’t know about.”

Tess stood in silence for a moment, a moment in which she was visibly thinking, and then she denied it all, just as Maria expected. “What cookies? I don’t own any cookies.”

“The cookies, Tess!” Maria stomped into the kitchen, reached up into the cabinet, and rummaged around for the Oreo cookies Tess had stashed in the very back. “Aha! Right . . . here!” She took them out of the cupboard and tossed them at Tess.

Tess actually dove onto the floor and caught them like a mother catching a child. “What do you think you’re doing, tossing around my cookies like that, Maria?”

“So they are your cookies.”

Tess grumbled something under her breath and stood back up, carefully setting the cookies down on the arm of the couch. “You’re just jealous,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Of you?”

“Oh, yeah. You’re jealous because I have bigger boobs than you.”

Maria grunted, trying to cover up the fact that that was true. “Well . . . you’re jealous because I have longer legs than you.”

“You’re just jealous because I have a boyfriend and you don’t!”

Oh! My god!” Maria shrieked, now at the end of her very-short-to-begin-with rope now. That did it. “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! You don’t have a boyfriend; you have Max Evans, who, by the way, is the most despicable person I have ever met in my entire life!

“Why have you always hated him?”

“Uh, let’s see, shall we? A) He acts like he owns this apartment. 2) He acts like he owns you. C) He flirts with everything that breathes . . . and some things that don’t. And 5) He’s just a jackass.”

“How is he a jackass?”

How is he not? Maria thought in astonishment. “Tess, you’re really perpetuating the dumb blonde stereotype right now, you know that? The guy dumped you last year for no apparent reason at all.”

Tess shifted uncomfortably and mumbled, “He was indecisive. So? Does that make him the devil or something?”

“Yes!” Maria exclaimed. “The devil. That’s the perfect way to describe him. Can we get him two little red horns so he can wear them all the time on top of his head and let all the other crushed-out girls know what a douche-bag he is?”

“What about your boyfriends, huh?” Tess asked aggressively, turning the tables on her. “I swear, Maria, you’ve got a new guy every week, and each one’s worst than the last.”

“That’s not true.”

“I don’t know how it’s possible to find such losers, but somehow you’ve made an art form of it.”

“And somehow you’ve managed to find the biggest loser of them all.” Maria smiled. “And he’s gay.”

Max is not gay!” Tess said adamantly.

“Tess, he waxes . . . everything!”

“Hygiene’s important in a relationship. Max understands that.”

“But it’s a girl thing to do.”

Tess rolled her eyes and said, “Fine, he’s metro sexual! Burn him at the stake!”

Maria smiled. “Now there’s a happy thought.”

“If you wanna talk gay, how about your brother, the actual gay one?”

Maria stiffened when Tess said that. “Marty’s been through a lot,” she ground out.

Marty’s been through a lot? Oh, please! I’ve been through a lot!” Tess claimed. “He made me listen to Celine Dion’s ‘The Power of Love’ for twelve hours straight, Maria!”

Upon that remark, Maria immediately burst into the song. “‘Cause I’m your lady!

“No!” Tess cried, pressing the heels of her hands against her ears in desperation. “Make it stop!”

And you are my man!

“Stop it!” Tess barked. “Just stop it!”

The only reason Maria stopped is because she didn’t know the rest of the lyrics.

“You are evil,” Tess said, pointing an accusing finger at her. “Pure evil!”

“That’s my brother’s favorite song, Tess. What’s he supposed to do, just not listen to it ever again?”

“He’s supposed to not listen to it for twelve hours straight. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”

“You think listening to that’s rough? How about listening to you and Max moaning and groaning all night long?”

“At least my guy makes me moan,” Tess retorted.

Maria’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Are you saying I’m a faker?”

“I’m saying you have to be since, let’s face it, the guys you bring home . . . itty-bitty. Max, on the other hand . . . extra large.”

“Ugh.” Maria cringed, hating herself for the nasty visuals that appeared in her mind.

“Guess what?” Tess said. “The other day, while you were in class, he came by and we had sex in your bed.”

“What?” Maria shrieked. If it was possible, she had gone to an even scarier visual place.

Tess nodded proudly.

“In my . . . in my bed?” That was so wrong on so many levels. “Why?”

“Well, last time we tried to do it in my bed, the headboard fell down on top of him. You don’t want him to get seriously injured whilst he’s inside of me, do you?”

Whilst?” Maria echoed. “Oh my—oh my god. You know what? Never mind. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping in that bed anymore.”

“Well, where are you gonna sleep?”

“Not here,” she decided. “Not anywhere near you. I’ve put up with you for twenty-one years, and I can’t do it anymore.”

“What’re you saying?” Tess asked. “Are you moving out?”

“Yes,” Maria replied hastily. “I’m . . . totally moving out.”

Tess looked shocked to hear that. “But . . . you can’t make it on your own. I pay the rent for us. You don’t even have a job.”

“I’ll get one.”

“Where, a strip club?”

Once again, Maria’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. “Bitch!” she shouted.

“Slut!” Tess shot back.

“Max-slut!”

“Random guy-slut!”

I will find somewhere else to live,” Maria proclaimed emphatically. “And I’ll be perfectly happy never talking to your fugly face again.”

“Oh! One thing we have in common.”

Maria seized Tess’s cookies and stormed down the hallway to her bedroom. “Fine, stay here with your pink walls and your pink bed and your stupid pink curtains!” she screamed. “I’m packing up and leaving tonight.”

“Fine!”

“Good!”

“Perfect!”

“Great!” Maria slammed the door shut and imagined how happy she would be when she got out of there and got away from her ex-best friend. For over a year, this roommate thing had worked. She and Tess had been best friends all their lives, but nowadays, they were just too different. They weren’t compatible roommates anymore, and they never would be again. No question about it.

But there was one question she couldn’t help but ask herself: Where the hell am I gonna go now?

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

Michael Guerin turned up the volume of his stereo (not too loud, but not too soft, either), and the sounds of piano music filled his living room. He smiled. Usually, soft rock music was his thing, but when it came time to painting, there was no background music like classical music.

He made his way over to his easel and began to pump himself up. His inner artist was his inner Rocky Balboa, and his brush was his boxing glove. Once he let loose, there was no holding back.

He swung his head to the left and rolled it back to the right, then shrugged out his shoulders and shook his arms and legs. What a great, relaxing Sunday evening this would be, just him and a new painting. No distractions, no interruptions.

He surveyed the paints and brushes lined up on his table, and even though he wanted to dive right in, he wanted to paint a masterpiece more, so he picked up a pencil and began to sketch lightly, the faint outlines of mountains, the pale shape of a tree. He was just about to pick up his brush and palette and start to mix a perfect shade of sky blue when there was a knock on the door.

He sighed in frustration, hating the fact that someone was interrupting his artistic flow, but he set his palette and brush down, turned off the classical music, and made his way over to his door, expecting to come face to face with his neighbor and friend Kyle Valenti when he opened it. But he saw a different friend instead, a much blonder, more feminine friend.

“Hey,” he said.

Maria smiled at him. “Hey, Michael.”

He just smiled back at her, not sure what to say. He wasn’t used to seeing her on weekends. Usually she partied until Monday or Tuesday morning.

“So Tess and I had a little falling out,” she told him. “I kinda moved out, and now I need a place to stay.”

Where’s she going with this? he wondered worriedly. Please don’t let her say . . .

“Can I stay here?”

He knew he should have said something. Anything. ‘No’ would have been a good word to use, but instead, all he did was stand there and say, “Uh . . .”

“Great!” she chirped, apparently accepting that as a ‘yes.’ She slipped past him and entered his apartment. His apartment. She cast a glance over her shoulder and said, “My bags are out in the car. Be a dear.”

What the hell? She wanted him to go get her things? She wanted to move in with him? Was she crazy?

He stood at the door, dumbfounded as he watched her make her way over to his radio and turn it on to some pop station. He really wanted to say something, but no words came out.

Maybe he was the crazy one.









TBC . . .

-April
Last edited by April on Tue Oct 13, 2009 8:37 am, edited 98 times in total.
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 2

Post by April » Wed Mar 04, 2009 10:26 am

Lena: Thanks, I’m glad you liked the start!
Leila:
I was shocked as Michael didn't object that Maria wanted to live with him or better said he was too shocked. a speechless Michael....something you need to get used to.
Yeah, you know, the Michael in this story . . . I think he’s pretty unique. I know I’ve rarely if ever portrayed Michael the way I do in this fic, and I don’t see it done in many other fics, either. So he may take some getting used to. But he's really great if I do say so myself! :D
Krista:
Well this is cute. To be honest, based on the preview videos, I was expecting something dramatic. But maybe the dramatic part will come in with Max and Liz and Tess and... whatever. You know? Because their descriptions were not so great.
You know, this fic is often very humorous and light-hearted and fun. But there will be drama, too. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that one scene I plan to write for this fic is the most emotional, dramatic thing I’ve ever written. (Oh, I bet your bunnies are cute!)
killjoy: It’s going to take Tess awhile to get off her “Max-kick.” If she ever does.
nibbles: Thanks, I'm so happy to have you reading!
Alien_Friend: Oh, I have lots of ideas dreamt up for this one. I hope you enjoy it!
Jan: Aw, thanks for the feedback! Michael didn’t say anything when Maria invited herself to move in with him because . . . he’s just too nice in this fic! You’ll see more of that in this next part. Just too nice.
Buddha-Boy: 521 is actually the number of Michael’s apartment. It’s where the majority of the story takes place. ;) And yes, I will be updating every other day, except when I go home and don’t have the Internet. 521 updates will be just like Passion updates! :D
art_junkie: Thanks! I’m glad you liked the beginning!
spacegirl23:
So Tess is head over heels for Max, who's a total man-whore. And Maria's a party-hardy spoiled brat demanding to live with Michael the not-so-tortured artist.
Well, that pretty much sums it up. Although I’m not sure if Max is a man-whore right now so much as he’s just a JERK. And actually . . . Michael might be a little bit tortured. More to come on that.
Mercedes: :lol: I'm glad you liked the "A, 2, C, 5" part. I liked it a lot, too for some reason. And I'm glad you like the dialogue in my fics. It's by far my favorite thing to write.
Rowedog: Hmm, Max getting redeemed? :lol: You haven't even met him yet and he already needs redeemed. The Max in this fic is . . . I don't even know how to describe him really. He's a bad guy. There's just no sugar-coating it. So I fully expect that, as some people read, they will decide that Max can't be redeemed, whereas others will argue that he can be.
Christina: Max's true colors are . . . kind of varying shades of grey, honestly. But, yes, you'll see a large portrayal of his "asshole-ishness" ( :lol: ) before you see any true colors coming out.

Thanks so much for the feedback, everyone! I hope this fic lives up to expectations, as it’s been a joy to write.

And anyone who read Passion knows how I am about music . . . so this is going to be a music-heavy fic. By request, I'm in the process of compiling a sort of soundtrack to this fic. (I'm not done yet.) You can listen to it here: http://april.candyisdandy.yuku.com/ although I think you have to have an Imeem account to listen to the full songs. (If you don't have an Imeem account, just get one. They're a wonderful thing to have. I swear, like the best thing ever.)

Okay, so when you see the :) smiley, try listening to "Iron Lung" by Radiohead. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDhV5OTsnzY&fmt=18 One of my faves.


Okay, got that all out of the way . . . now on with the fic!









Part 2









Tess decided to sit in her apartment and bask that evening, bask in the peace and quiet and, most of all, the newly-painted pink walls. She had spent hours on those walls, and she was proud of them. They looked good. They really did.

Once the basking became boring, she decided to do something. Even though she was supposed to have had an experimental living room design plan constructed for one of her interior design classes tomorrow, she decided that painting her toenails was a more pressing matter. She was just not in the right state of mind to work on homework. She rarely was.

She sat down on the couch with her feet on the coffee table and carefully brushed pink nail polish onto every toenail. She was just finishing up with her big left toe when the door opened and Max came in. He had a key, so he never bothered to knock.

“Hey, sweetheart,” he said, taking off his jacket.

“Hey.”

He set his jacket down on the arm of the couch and came to stand beside her, towering over her. “Where’s the less friendly blonde?” he asked.

“You mean the sluttish slut who sluts herself out to random guys who like slutty sluts?”

He nodded. “Yep, that’d be the one.”

She shrugged. “Who knows where she is? I sure don’t.”

“Why’s that?”

“She moved out.” That fact still seemed more than a little unreal. In fact, when Max had walked in that door, Tess had halfway been expecting for it to be Maria, for her to be back, chocked full of apologies. But she should have known better. Maria was stubborn.

“She moved out?” Max echoed. He didn’t sound all that surprised.

“Yeah. We’ve been arguing a lot lately, mostly about little stuff.”

“Well, where’s she gonna go?” Max asked. “I mean . . .” He trailed off, a big and happy smile on his face, and began to laugh. “I have to be honest, I don’t even care.”

“She’ll probably crash with Michael,” Tess figured. “Or maybe one of her exes. I don’t know. All I know is that she took it too far today. She was totally attacking you. I didn’t like it.”

“What’d she say?”

“Oh, you know, just that you’re gay, a user, and a jackass. And she brought up our break-up again. Why would she do that?”

He sighed and sat down beside her. “Oh, Tess, she just doesn’t know what she’s talking about. We’ve worked past that. You and I both know that last year’s break-up was the best thing that could’ve happened to us.”

“Yeah,” she said, not really listening to him for a moment. But when his words registered, she spat, “What?”

He rose to his feet again and motioned towards her recent art adventure. “I like the pink walls,” he said.

That perked her up a bit. “Really?” She stood up alongside him and surveyed her work. “It’s a little bright. I’m thinking I’ll tone it down a bit. Maybe a pastel pink, but not like a baby pink, ‘cause I’m not pregnant.”

“That’s good,” Max said. “Let’s go have sex.”

“Oh.” They hardly ever did anything else anymore. “Okay.” She let him put his arm around her shoulder and lead her down the hallway towards Maria’s bedroom. Or . . . I guess it’s not really her bedroom anymore, Tess thought, unable to help feeling a little bit sad about that.

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

What a day, Michael thought as he plopped down on his couch and picked up the remote control. He turned on the television and flipped to channel four to watch the news. This was his nightly routine. Watch the news, go to bed. Then wake up in the morning and go to class. Come back home and do homework. Paint in free time. Watch the news, go to bed. Repeat as necessary.

He was watching coverage of conflict in the middle east when Maria came out of the bathroom. Michael couldn’t help but take note of the fact that her pajamas weren’t so much pajamas as they were . . . just a t-shirt. She definitely was making herself right at home.

She sat down on the couch, brushing her hair. Michael watched in mortification as strands of silky blonde fell down onto the carpet. Did all girls shed like this? He was going to have to vacuum tomorrow before class.

“What’re you watching?” she asked, setting her brush down on the end table. Before he could answer, she said, “Ew, are you watching the news?”

“Yeah.” What did she find so gross about that?

“Hmm.” She reached over and literally seized the remote right out of his hand. He sat back and watched in astonishment, too shocked to say anything as she changed the channel to a station showing Family Guy. Three seconds into the episode, she already began to laugh. “Oh, that Brian,” she said. “He’s a dog, but he walks and talks. That’s so genius.”

“Oh, yeah,” Michael said sarcastically, “‘cause that’s never been done before.”

She just ignored him and said, “I love this show.”

101 Dalmatians,” he mumbled, still trying to make his point about talking dogs in the media. “Homeward Bound.”

“I think Peter’s my favorite character, though.”

Balto. Milo and Otis.

She finally looked over at him and asked, “What’re you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the fact that I was sitting here watching the news a minute ago.”

“Yeah, that’s kinda nerdy,” she said, nodding her head as though she were in agreement about something.

“No, and . . .” She was missing the point. “Now I’m not watching the news anymore. Because you sat down.”

“Well, why do you wanna watch the news anyway?” she asked.

“I don’t know, just to know what’s going on in the world, I guess.”

She made a face. “No, thanks. It’s so depressing. Every night it’s the same thing. ‘Oh, somebody got killed. Oh, somebody got raped. The economy sucks and there’s no hope of getting better. Have a good night, everyone.’”

“It’s important.”

“But Family Guy’s funny,” she tried to explain. “Hmm, laughter or knowledge? Laughter or knowledge? I’ll take the laughter.” She smiled at him and said, “Come on, Michael. Take a moment to lol, you know?”

“Lol?” He made a face, knowing one that meant, of course, but unable to believe that she had just used it in a sentence. English grammar was really down the drain these days.

“And if you really wanna know what’s going on in the world, just hop online. That’s what the Internet’s for. I mean, that and sleazy hook-ups.” She laughed at her own joke, then added, “Oh, on second thought, don’t get online. I’m gonna check my Facebook on the commercial.”

Facebook. He didn’t even have Facebook or MySpace or any of those dumb social networking sites. And he didn’t care to. They seemed like a complete waste of time, and he didn’t have any time to waste. “Alright, you do that,” he said. “I’m goin’ to bed.” He got to his feet and started towards the bathroom.

“It’s only 11:30,” she pointed out.

“Yeah, and I got class at 7:30.”

“So? I’d stay up until 3:00, at least.”

“What time’s your first class?” he asked her. “9:30, right?”

“8:30,” she said, “but I never go.”

“Oh, wow.” He rubbed his forehead, feeling tired, and shook his head. Maria was . . . well, she was Maria. She was his friend, but she was out of her mind sometimes.

“Goodnight,” she said.

“‘Night.” He ducked into the bathroom to brush his teeth before going to bed, but when he turned on the light, he was horrified by the sight that greeted him. His bathroom had been . . . feminized! Completely and utterly feminized. All Maria’s girly things—her hair products, her make-up, her moisturizers—littered the bathroom counter as though it were the city the dump. It smelled like apricot in there. And worst of all was the fact that his things—razor, toothbrush, and the like—were now all sitting atop the toilet in a tiny wicker basket. She was already taking over. It was the feminine invasion every guy dreaded. He’d already gone through it once with Isabel.

Taking a deep breath and forcing himself to remain calm, he poked his head out the door and said, “Maria.”

“What’s up, roomie?”

“The bathroom,” he said. “It’s a little . . . different than when I left it.”

“I know, right? It looks better this way.” She turned her attention back to the TV screen, back to Family Guy, and laughed again.

Stay calm. Stay calm. He shut the door again and turned back around to survey his basket of supplies. That was just a dismal sight. Maria had been staying with him for less than seven hours, and she had still managed to completely transform his apartment into her apartment. But it wasn’t. No, this was a temporary arrangement, just until she could find something better. Apartment 521 was still his and only his.

It became harder and harder to convince himself of that the longer he stood there and brushed his teeth while surrounded by bottles of her perfume.

Once he climbed into bed, he felt . . . relieved. And a little guilty, too, because he fell asleep wishing that he would wake up tomorrow and find Maria ready to move back in with Tess already. It was only a matter of time. Those two girls had been joined at the hip ever since he knew them, and long before that. They would patch things up, and he wouldn’t have to go insane. All would be right with the world.

He felt as though he’d only been asleep for two minutes when he felt movement in the bed beside him, but when he opened his eyes and looked at his bedside clock, he saw that it had been two hours. “Maria?” he said.

“Yeah?”

“What’re you doing?” As if he didn’t know. She was pulling all the covers away from him that very instant.

“Just going to bed,” she replied.

And here he’d been under the impression that his houseguest would sleep on the couch like any normal houseguest. But then again, Maria DeLuca wasn’t normal. He should have known better than to assume that she wouldn’t crawl in bed with him.

He supposed it didn’t really matter. He could share a bed with her if he had to. And maybe she would surrender some of the blankets later in the night. And it was only a temporary arrangement. He just had to keep reminding himself of that. Temporary, just temporary . . .

His positive thinking all went to hell when she reached over and turned on the radio.

His eye’s shot open again when Justin Timberlake’s ridiculous smash hit “Sexyback” rang out. And she didn’t bother to change it? Of course not. This was her kind of music. But why would she turn it on when she was trying to fall asleep?

“Music,” he said. “You listen to music when you go to sleep?”

“Yeah, who doesn’t?”

“I don’t.” He liked to fall asleep to silence. No lights, no sounds. Wasn’t that the norm?

“You’re a smart guy, Michael. You can learn,” was her over-simplified response.

He thought he might be tired enough to try it until she . . . well, she seemed to dance a bit in the bed as she sang out the words. “I’m bringing sexyback!

He grabbed his pillow and climbed out of the bed at once. It was clear that there was no way this could work.

“Where’re you going?” Maria asked him.

“I’m just gonna go sleep on the couch,” he told her.

“Okay,” she said. “Goodnight.”

He watched in envy as she snuggled down into his soft mattress, covered up with his warm blankets, and rested her head on his comfortable pillows. As much as he liked Maria, she was the epitome of the reason why he’d never had a roommate.

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

The only reason why Maria went to her macroeconomics class the next day was because she had nothing better to do. Once she’d finished hanging up all her clothes in Michael’s closet, she’d gotten bored. Ergo, class attendance.

Since the professor was stupid and the subject matter was uninteresting, Maria never paid attention to what was being taught. She sat in the back row of the lecture hall with Liz Parker, a girl she had befriended in last spring’s biology class. Liz was a science freak, so she was the only reason why Maria had gotten through biology; but when it came to macroeconomics, they were both as uninterested as could be.

“So, I don’t get it,” Liz said quietly as the professor droned on and on. “Who decided you had to be the one to move out?”

“I did,” Maria told her.

“Why?”

“Because, unlike, Tess, I’m a generous person. I make sacrifices. Plus, she was transforming the place into a pink wonderland. I didn’t wanna stay there anymore. And . . .” She hesitated for a moment before reluctantly confessing, “She’s paid the rent for the past year, too, ever since I got fired from my job at the newspaper. So if we wanna talk fairness, it was only fair that I moved out.”

“You worked at the newspaper?” Liz asked. “Like the university newspaper?”

“Mmm-hmm, my entire freshman year.”

“I didn’t know that. Why’d you get fired?”

“Because I broke this harmless story about a professor who was sleeping with a student, who was sleeping with another professor, who was sleeping with the dean, who was in turn sleeping with an intern.” She shrugged. “What’s so bad about that?”

“Um . . . everything.”

“But still, shouldn’t they have fired the sleazy profs and the dean? Instead, the newspaper fires me. Little, innocent me. What’s up with that, Liz?”

Her friend gave her a knowing look. “Innocent?”

She supposed that wasn’t an appropriate adjective. “Little guilty me?”

“That’s more like it,” Liz said. “Oh, well, that sucks about you and Tess. You two are, like, best friends.”

Were best friends,” Maria corrected. “For a long time, actually. We were literally born fifteen minutes apart. And our moms were best friends, too, so they had delivery rooms right next to each other.” She smiled fondly. “And we both had to go into intensive care for a few weeks, because I had undeveloped lungs and Tess had . . . I don’t know, a problem with her butt or something weird like that. So we were hanging out in neighboring incubators.”

“Aw,” Liz said. “That’s cute.”

“Yeah,” Maria agreed. “We’ve been best friends ever since we were born.” It was . . . kind of sad that they had fallen out now.

“I don’t understand what happened,” Liz said. “You guys have lived together for years, right?”

“Yeah, we dormed it freshman year, and that was fine at the start,” Maria said. “You know why? Because she hadn’t met Max yet. But then she met him and she went all ga-ga for him, even though he treats her like crap.”

“So that’s why you two fell out? A guy?”

“Basically. That and the fact that little things started to get in the way. She’d always get mad at me that I didn’t make my bed, and I’d always tease her for making hers. Stuff like that.”

“Oh.”

“But mostly because of Max. I can’t stand the guy. I don’t know why she likes him.”

“It’s probably the bad boy thing,” Liz concluded.

“But Max isn’t even, like, the traditional James Dean, you know. He’s more annoying than anything else. And I know I’m one to talk, because the guys I hook up with aren’t exactly candidates for sainthood, but . . .” She shrugged. “There’s a difference between hooking up with a loser and dating one. And Max and Tess have just gotten to the point where they’re like . . . it’s like The Hills.” She couldn’t think of a better way to explain it than that. “They’re like Spencer and Heidi and I’m Lauren.”

“Oh, no.” Liz cringed. “Max and Tess are Speidi?”

“In the flesh.”

“That sucks,” Liz agreed. “You know, I can kinda relate, though. Last year, I hooked up with this guy a few times. Complete ass-hat. But I still liked him.”

“Who?” Maria asked, curious.

“Oh . . . you wouldn’t know him,” Liz answered. “Anyway, I think I can actually understand why Tess would stay with Max. Nice guys finish last. It’s a thing.”

“True.”

Before either of them could say anything more, the guy in front of them turned around in his seat and said, “Do you mind? Some of us are trying to learn.”

Maria smiled a fake smile and laughed an uncaring laugh. “Well, some of us are trying to talk,” she mocked.

The guy turned back around, and Liz rolled her eyes. “Rude-o,” she mumbled.

“I know,” Maria agreed. “Okay, where were we?”

“We were comparing your life to so-called reality TV.” Liz laughed. “Anyway, if you moved out, where are you living now?”

“Fairview Apartments. So much better than The Links.”

“Who are you living with?”

“My friend Michael,” she replied. “His place is so much nicer than . . . Tess’s place.” It felt weird to think of that apartment as just Tess’s place now.

“Michael,” Liz echoed. “What’s his last name?”

“Guerin.”

“Huh. I don’t think I know him.”

“No, you wouldn’t. He doesn’t go to parties or anything. He used to, but ever since his girlfriend's been gone, he’s been, like, a total homebody.”

“Oh,” Liz said, smiling. “So you’ve gone from living with a committed female friend to living with a single male friend. Sounds like an upgrade to me.”

Even though Maria blushed a little, it wasn’t what Liz thought it was. “No, it’s not like that. I don’t think of Michael that way. He’s just . . . Michael.”

“Is he cute?”

She hadn’t really ever thought about that before. “Well, yeah, I guess so,” she admitted. “But he’s not my type. He’s too calm and studious.”

“It’s always the quiet ones,” Liz teased.

“No, he’s just a friend. I could probably try to hook you up with him if you want.”

“No, that’s okay,” Liz said. “I’m doing friends with benefits these days. That’s the only way to go.”

“Hope it works out for you,” Maria said skeptically. “Yeah, Michael would never go for that. I swear, he’s, like, the nicest guy I’ve ever met.”

“Did you go to high school with him, too?” Liz inquired.

“No, Tess and I met him freshman year in math 101.” She laughed as she remembered the way they had shamelessly used him for academic purposes. “We didn’t know how to do any of the assignments, so we convinced him to do them for us.”

“Oh, so your whole friendship with him is based on . . . cheating.” Liz smiled. “That’s nice.”

Maria laughed again. “No, it’s more than that now. But that’s how it started off. I’ll tell you, though, sometimes I wish Michael would get together with Tess just to get her away from Max. It won’t happen, though. The day Tess falls for a nice guy is the day I die of shock.”

“She could probably say the same thing about you,” Liz pointed out.

“And I could say the same thing about you,” Maria put in.

“I tried,” Liz insisted. “I stayed with Kyle for a long time. But then Mr. Jackass came along last year, and I was just a freshman, and . . . well, you can’t blame me.”

“I can’t,” Maria agreed. “Bad boys are sexy, but there is something to be said about nice guys, too.”

“What’s that?” Liz asked.

Maria smiled. “They don’t get mad if you move in with ‘em.”

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

:)

Michael was on his way to his third and final class of the day when he saw Tess sitting on the steps outside the Student Union, studying and texting at the same time. He had a couple of minutes to kill, so he approached her and sat down beside her.

“Hey, you,” she said, putting her cell phone away. “What’s up?”

“Nothin’ much,” he replied.

She came right out and asked, “Did Maria move in with you?”

He didn’t say anything.

“Ha, ha!” she laughed. “Oh, wow, that’ll be a picnic.”

“I didn’t even really say she could stay there. She kinda just barged right in.”

“That’s what she does,” Tess said. “At the end of freshman year, when I told her I was moving off campus to get an apartment, I never told her she could be my roommate. She just assumed she would be.”

“Oh, don’t lie,” he said, knowing the two girls well enough to know that they had been and always would be the best of friends. “You liked being roommates most of the time.”

“Well . . . until lately,” Tess acknowledged. “I’m telling you, Michael, you have to act fast. The moment she takes over your bathroom, it’s all over.”

“The bath--” He scratched his eyebrow, suddenly very concerned, and said, “She already did that.”

“Already?” Tess echoed. “Oh, no, this is worse than I thought. Michael, you’ve gotta get her out of there. If I can’t live with her, you can’t live with her. Trust me, she’ll drive you crazy.”

“She already is.”

“She’s loud. She’s a complete slob. You’re not gonna get any painting done with her there. She’s not gonna pay any of the rent. Oh, and just wait ‘til she comes home drunk some night with three utter losers. You’ll wonder how she’ll have sex with them all three of them at once, and if you’re unlucky enough, you’ll get a visual demonstration.”

“Oh, great.” That didn’t sound encouraging. “You know, I like Maria. Maria’s my friend, but--”

“Okay, see, you gotta change your thinking. Don’t think of her as your friend. Think of her as your competitor. And that oh-so-fancy apartment of yours is the prize that’s on the line.”

That sounded even less encouraging, especially because it was all coming from the mouth of the one person who knew Maria best. “Wow, she’s really not gonna be moving back in with you anytime soon, is she?” he concluded.

“She’s not moving back in with me at all,” Tess responded adamantly. “Maria DeLuca is the most difficult person to live with in the entire world.”

“Oh, great,” he muttered worriedly.

“Yeah, which is why you gotta get her out of there as fast possible. The longer you let her stay, the comfier she gets, the more you wish you had a gun so you could put it to your head and end your misery. If you let it go on too long, you’ll be the one to move out. Mark my words.”

He made a face and said, “I’m not gonna move out of my own apartment.”

“Oh, that’s what you say now.” Tess smirked.

He groaned and raked one hand through his hair in frustration. “I gotta get her outta my house.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

He sighed heavily, not exactly looking forward to it. He wasn’t an authoritarian person by nature, but he was going to have to lay down the law and tell Maria that she couldn’t stay there. Because she couldn’t. And that was that.









TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 3

Post by April » Fri Mar 06, 2009 7:40 am

Lena:
We get an introduction to Liz. I'm curious to learn more about her.
Well, you’ll learn more about her in this part.

Leila:
Michael watching the news instead of sports is new and cool. you were right your Michael is something new....ME LIKE A LOT
Aw, thanks! I fell in love with this Michael as I was writing him. And even though he’s a lot different than canon Michael, I feel like canon Michael was a nice guy at heart, and smart, too. So it actually wasn’t too hard t write him this way. It’s still Michael, just an unexplored side of him.

Jan:
I'm not to sure about Max yet. I think I'd better reserve my judgement on him.
That’s a good idea. You might have a clearer opinion on him after this part, though.

behrlyliz:
I wonder if Michael will be able to get Maria out of his place. Somehow I don't see it happening in the immediate future
Yeah, I think Michael isn’t assertive enough to get Maria out of his house!

nibbles: Passion flashbacks, huh? :lol: You know what? There are a lot of throw-backs to Passion in here, and Maria’s flippant offer to hook Liz up with Michael in the last part was one of them. I just wanted to freak everyone out for a minute!

Alien_Friend:
Have I ever told you how much I love your faithful every other day updates?
Yes, you have! But you know what? The only thing that motivates me to do my faithful every other day updates is your guys’ faithful every other day feedback! So thanks!

killjoy: I know, I know, responsible Michael is something hard to fathom. I think you’re really going to like him in this, though. For real.

Krista: Hey, if this inspires you to update Friendly Encounters, then I’ll post five updates in one day! (Kidding. I won’t. But you should update Encounters anyway!)

spacegirl23:
So Liz hooked up with a bad boy last year, after she was Kyle's girlfriend? And Max broke up with Tess for no apparent reason last year? Am sensing a past (or maybe still current) affair.
Instead of giving you an answer, I’ll just tell you to read this part! :mrgreen:

Rowedog: Well, as the writer, I’ll obviously be desperately trying to redeem Max at the end, too. The guy has quite a journey to go on. That’s all I’ll say.

Christina:
I was surprised to see that Liz had dated Kyle, too. I can't help but wonder how long they were together for... like if they were highschool sweethearts, or simply dated for a few months.
You’re never going to get a whole lot of background on Liz and Kyle, mostly because it was never a serious, romantic relationship. They dated in high school. You’re going to be introduced to Kyle in this next part, and once you get to know his character, you’ll see that he and Liz are not a match AT ALL. (I like it when you speculate, by the way. ;) )

Nat:
Tess and Maria are/were/will be one day again besties! I love reading about them being friends and I thought it was a friendship worth seeing on the show.
Me, too! I would have loved to see Tess and Maria become friends on the show. That was part of the reason why I wrote this fic. The posting schedule for 521 is just like the posting schedule for Passion was: I'll do every-other-day updates for the most part, except that sometimes there might be an extra day thrown in there if I leave town and don't have Internet, or there might be a whole week without an update (like my spring break week, which is coming up.) But frequent updates for the most part! You know how I roll! :lol:

tequathisy: Aw, I'm so glad to have you reading! "Straight-laced" is definitely a good way to describe this Michael. ;)


Enjoy this part, readers! Next update will be Sunday afternoon!








Part 3








When he arrived home, Michael thought his living room felt like a tundra. It was freezing. Maria was lying on the couch, though, in shorts that could pass as underwear, a pile of blankets at her feet. She had the remote control in one hand and a box of Cheez-Its in the other. Even though the TV was on, she was asleep, her mouth hanging open just slightly.

He cleared his throat and slammed the door, waking her up.

“I’m awake!” she exclaimed, shooting upright. She wiped at the drool on the side of her mouth, made a face of disgust, and then wiped off her hand on one of his pillows. One of the nice pillows his own grandmother had spent years embroidering. She was using it as a drool towel. Fantastic.

“Don’t you think it’s cold in here?” he asked.

No,” she replied emphatically. “God, I’m burning up. In fact . . .” She trailed off and reached down to pull her shirt upward and remove it. She tossed it backward flippantly, and it landed on his head.

He handed the shirt back to her and said, “Don’t just throw your clothes around, okay?” He really tried to keep his place clean.

“Whatev,” was her response as she dropped her shirt onto the floor. “How hot is it in here, anyway?”

“No, it’s not-it’s not hot,” he insisted. “It’s cold. It’s cold in here.”

“Then why am I all sweaty?”

“Maybe it’s your natural state.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. “

“I’m not naturally sweaty. Maybe you’re naturally shivery.”

“Shivery?”

“You shiver.”

“Fine, I shiver. You know why? ‘Cause I’m cold.” He made his way over to his thermostat and said, “Oh, no wonder. It’s 62 degrees in here.”

“Sweatbox!” she exclaimed. “Turn it down.”

“Down? Are you crazy?”

“No, I’m hot.” She grinned and added, “But that’s common knowledge.”

“Yeah, you looked real hot when you were drooling in your sleep.”

“Hey, tell no one about that,” she warned. “And Michael, realize this: ‘Tis a far, far better thing to be cold than hot. If you’re cold, you can layer up. If you’re hot, all you can really do is strip down. Now, I’ll get naked if I have to, but . . .”

“No, no, just . . .” He decided to lay the issue to rest and said, “I’ll go put on a sweater.”

She smiled. “Good boy.”

“Good boy,” he echoed. “My god. Okay.” He trudged into his bedroom, shaking his head and muttering under his breath, but when he slung his backpack down on the bed and slid open his closet doors, silence engulfed him. Because all the clothes in there . . . were her clothes!

Dresses. Skirts. Chick tops and chick pants. None of it belonged to him. The worst part was all the shoes cluttering the bottom of the closet. There had to be fifty pairs of them. Strappy sandals and all kinds of boots and . . . none of his shoes!

First the bathroom, now the closet, he thought in astonishment. She was crazy. She was a crazy person. And she was taking over everything, stripping more and more of his masculinity away with every takeover tactic she enacted. This could not go on.

Dazed, he made his way back out to the living room. She was in the kitchen, though now, still holding her box of crackers in her hand. She had found a can of Easy Cheese now, though, and instead of squirting the cheese onto the crackers like any normal person would do, she tilted her head back and squeezed the cheese directly into her mouth.

“Maria.”

She set the cheese down (the can was now clearly empty) and swallowed everything she had in her mouth. “What?”

“My closet.”

“What about it?”

Oh, she already knew! “What happened to it?”

She smiled innocently and said, “It got prettier?”

“It got prettier?!” he shrieked. “Where the hell are my clothes?”

“Oh, well, I threw away the really ugly stuff,” she said.

“What?”

“And I put the other stuff in boxes, and I put the boxes under the bed.”

“You . . . what?

“Yeah, I already talked to my brother. He’s gonna take you shopping Saturday so you can get some attractive clothes.”

“But I-I don’t want attractive clothes. I want my clothes.”

“All your clothes had paint on them.”

“Because I’m a painter!”

She rolled her eyes and groaned. “Oh, technicalities. Here, have some crackers.” She thrust the Cheez-Its box at him. “They’ll make you feel better.”

“No, they won’t, ‘cause I’m still cold, and I can’t go put on my sweater because you probably threw away my favorite sweater.”

“The checkered one?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s gone.”

“It’s gone,” he echoed. “Great. Well, you know what, Maria? You’re gone.”

She gave him a confused look and stated the obvious when she said, “No, I’m right here.”

“Not for much longer. You’re gonna find somewhere else to live, and you’re gonna . . . go live there.”

She frowned. “Why?”

“Because, I live alone. I like to live alone. That’s why.”

“I bet you’re really boring when you’re alone,” she said. “Masturbate, paint, masturbate, paint. Watch the news. Ooh.”

“I do just fine on my own,” he assured her. “Maria, you’re my friend, but I can’t live with you. You gotta go somewhere else.”

She looked a little taken aback. “Whoa,” she said. “Check you out, puttin’ your foot down. Right on top of me! Squashing me like I’m a little bug. Thanks a lot, Mr. Stompy Foot!”

“Stompy foot?” he echoed. “I’m not—yes, I am! Stompy foot. Puttin’ my foot down. There you go. I want you outta my house by the end of the week.”

“End of the week?” she echoed. “But where am I supposed to go?”

“I don’t know. Go stay with someone else, get an apartment of your own, reconcile with Tess. The possibilities are endless.”

She pouted. “This sucks. I just unpacked all my clothes.”

He tossed his arms about in the air, almost losing it. “In my closet!”

“Fine!” she shouted. “Some friend you are! You can’t even lend me a helping hand when I need it. But guess what? When I get an apartment of my own and fail to pay the first month’s rent and end up out on the street, shooting up just to feel alive, knocked up after a desperate night of prostitution, I’m blaming you!” She shoved the crackers box against his chest and stormed off towards the bedroom. She turned around at last minute though, stomped over towards the thermostat, and turned the temperature down to a chilling 59 degrees. “That’s more like it,” she said, smirking.

He clenched his jaw shut to keep from saying something he would regret and ground out, “End of the week, Maria.”

“That’s fine,” she growled ferociously. “I don’t wanna stay here anyway.”

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

Some people said Friday nights were the best nights of the week; others chose Saturday. Max Evans passionately and steadfastly believed that Thursday nights were the best. Thirsty Thursday. Everyone got hammered, and it was always a great time.

The big action that night was surprisingly taking place at a high school sophomore’s house. Some kid who had a rich dad who was out of town . . . he should have known it was a recipe for disaster when he invited a “few people” over for a “small get-together.” Max didn’t pity him one bit. So his house was now a drunken orgy site. He had no one to blame but himself.

“Hmm,” Tess said when they walked in. “Looks fun.”

“Yeah.” He surveyed the room and caught sight of one of the few girls in the world he could never mistake. She was sitting alone on the couch, and that satisfied him. She was wearing tight black pants and a sparkling grey halter. Her hair was down and dark as ever. She looked even better than the first night he had met her a year ago.

He had to go talk to her, but he had to get rid of his girlfriend first.

“Oh, look, there’s Maria,” he said upon spying one of his least favorite people over by the keg with an astounding number of men around her.

“And she’s getting plastered.” Tess looked disappointed, but not at all surprised. “What else is new?”

“You should go insult her,” Max suggested.

She frowned in confusion. “Why would I do that?”

“Well, you don’t want to let her make a jab at you first. Then you’ll be on the defensive end of a cat-fight.”

“I guess . . .” Tess said.

“Go on.”

She still looked a little confused, but she left his side to make her way over to Maria and the gaggle of guys. Max grinned and slipped off to talk to his former bed-partner. He approached the couch and leaned down to speak quietly in her ear. “Do you wanna have sex with me?”

Liz turned her head to the side just slightly, not even fully allowing herself to look at him. “No,” she replied simply.

“Try to sound a little more convincing.” He smiled, knowing that she was trying to hide a likewise frisky facial expression.

“I’m serious,” she insisted. “Why would I wanna have sex with you when you’re still dating your precious Tess Harding?”

He made a face. “I never said she was precious.”

“Last year you broke up with her and hooked up with me. And then you ended things with me and got back together with her. Is that supposed to make me swoon?”

Fair enough, he thought. At the time of their first hook-up, Liz had been little more than a sexual object to him; but ever since he had put an end to their secret sexual trysts, he had found himself completely infatuated with her. Flirting with her like this while his girlfriend was mere feet away was exhilarating.

“What if I told you I love you?” he asked.

“Please,” she scoffed. “You don’t love anyone. Except yourself.”

He smiled. This was true. But since when was that a bad thing? “Don’t you love yourself?” he asked. “Don’t you love yourself every night when you trail your hand between your legs?”

She tensed, and he enjoyed it.

“Don’t you love yourself every night,” he murmured against her silky hair, “and think of me?”

The visible shutter that raced through her body was answer enough for him.

“I knew it.”

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

“Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot!”

Maria tilted her head back and downed a tequila shot, following it up immediately with a shot of straight vodka. “Woo!” She threw her hands up into the air, and everyone cheered for her.

“Yeah, Maria!”

She laughed and danced around a little as a guy she knew from Spanish class tried to shove another tequila shot into her hand. She ignored him, knowing that she was fast approaching her limit, and asked, “Who wants to dance with me?”

“Oh, me!” everyone chorused. “Me, me!”

She tossed her head back and laughed in delight. This was a great party, full of hot boys who wanted nothing more than to get with her.

“Hey, Maria, you should do a strip tease for us,” one of the guys suggested.

She would have done it for fun, but the very small part of her brain that was still using logic decided to try to make some money off of it. “It’s gonna cost you.”

“How much?”

She shrugged. “Fifty bucks.”

“I’ll pay it, girl.”

She smiled. “Good.”

“Clear off the counter, boys,” the guy said. “Maria, get up there.”

Just as she was about to do just that, she spied Tess coming towards her. “Wait just a minute,” she said, grabbing an already-opened can of beer. She didn’t care whose it was. She just held it in hand while shoving her way through the crowd towards her ex-best friend and roommate, and when she was close enough, she pretended to trip and spilled beer all over Tess. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “Oops, sorry. Looks like I ruined your new, pink dress.”

Tess didn’t look amused. “You did that on purpose.”

No point in denying it. “I probably did.” She smiled as her boys behind her hollered, “Come on, Maria! Let’s go!”

“Nice friends you got there,” Tess remarked.

“Nice boyfriend you got . . . wait, where is he?” Maria asked.

Tess ignored that question and said, “So you’re drunk and acting slutty. Must be a day that ends in Y.”

“At least I’m having fun,” Maria shot back. “What is it that you and Max have? Miscommunication, trust issues, and bad sex. I’m so jealous.”

“At least I don’t have a million STDs from letting every Tom, Dick, and Harry bang me.” Tess smirked.

“Well, at least I don’t have an ass of a boyfriend who’s flirting with someone else as we speak.” She cast a glance at Liz and Max out of the corner of her eye. Couldn’t he just leave her alone? Didn’t he realize she would never go for him?

“What’re you talking about?”

“Let’s see, I spy with my little eye, something that begins with B.” She pointed at Max. “Bastard.”

Tess turned around, and she looked truly worried when she saw Max talking to Liz. She quickly forgot about Maria and made her way over to them. “Max,” she said. “What’re you doing?”

Maria crossed her arms over her chest in annoyance, listening in.

“Oh.” From the very first word she heard leave Max’s untruthful mouth, she knew he was lying. “Liz is in my chemistry class. I was just asking her a few questions about a lab report we have due next week.”

Maria rolled her eyes, unable to bear the obviousness of it all. “He’s lying, Tess,” she called out to her friend. She knew for a fact that Liz wasn’t taking chemistry this semester. Max was just being a prick as usual, flirting up a girl he didn’t stand a chance with because she actually had standards.

Tess looked more angry with Maria than with her boyfriend, because she tugged on Max’s sleeve and said, “Come on, Max. Let’s get out of here. Let’s go home and have sex on Maria’s old bed. Again.”

“Sure,” he said. “I could handle that.” He glanced down at Liz and said, “See ya,” before wrapping his arm around Tess’s shoulders and guiding her towards the door.

Maria stomped her foot angrily and decided to retaliate. “Well, come on . . .” She grabbed the nearest male by his shirt collar, an obvious underclassman who was mildly attractive, and asked, “Uh, what’s your name?”

“Brad,” he replied.

“Come on, Brad,” she said, loud enough for her former friend to hear her. “Let’s go have better sex than Max and Tess could ever have!”

He laughed giddily as she dragged him through the crowd. “Okay!”

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

Maria shoved Brad through the door of apartment 521 and stalked in after him. She slammed the door and enjoyed the look of perpetual anxiety etched onto his face. Then she kissed him almost violently and ripped his shirt off.

“Oh!” he exclaimed in surprise.

She laughed.

“So you’re a-a journalism major?”

“Mmm-hmm.” She kissed him again, but for some reason, he seemed determined to get to know her a little.

“And you’re a junior?”

“Yep. And you . . .” She snaked her hands up his chest, pleasantly surprised by his body. “. . . are a freshman.”

“How-how can you tell?” he stuttered nervously.

“You talk too much.” She jumped up into his arms—he barely caught her—and shoved her tongue into his mouth as he staggered down the hallway. She pushed open the door to the bedroom, and he stumbled towards the bed, falling down on top of it, her on top of him.

“Ah!” Michael screamed. Funny, Maria thought. She hadn’t even noticed him lying there.

“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded.

She smiled and rubbed her lower body against her boy-toy’s erection. “Mmm, I’m doing Brad,” she moaned in response. She sneaked her hand down between them to pull down his zipper.

“Oh, god!” Michael hollered in dismay. He sprung out of the bed, taking one of the sheets and pillows with him, and fled the room.

Maria laughed at her friend’s hasty exit. It was too bad she had to move out. He was a good roommate.

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

Michael walked to art class with his best friend and neighbor Kyle Valenti that day, relaying last night’s insanity to him.

“Wow,” Kyle exclaimed in disbelief. “So she and this guy . . . while you were in the bed?”

“No, I got the hell outta there,” he reminded him. “But all night, I couldn’t get to sleep because of . . . the sounds.”

“Whoa.” Kyle seemed incredibly intrigued. “You heard what Maria DeLuca sounds like havin’ sex?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s she sound like?”

“Like a crazy person!”

“Oh! No!” Kyle made a face. “What a disappointment.”

“No, really, the loud one was the guy. I don’t even know who he was. I don’t know where she finds these guys. He was making barking sounds. Howling. Really disturbing.”

“Oh, you’re only supposed to make those sounds your first time,” Kyle said. “Or so I’ve heard.”

“Well, kudos to him for gettin’ the job done, though. Numerous times. Until 6:00 a.m. Oh, I swear to God, I’m so tired, I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“Ah, relax,” Kyle said as they headed into Richards Hall with the rest of the Advanced Painting II students. “She’ll be outta your hair soon enough, right?”

“I hope so.” Honestly, he’d been trying not to get his hopes up. “I don’t even think she’s gone to look at any apartments, though. All she does is go and party, come back and have sex. She never does homework, she never studies for tests, she never goes to class, she never goes to work ‘cause she doesn’t have a job . . . and she never looks for another place to stay.”

“Uh-oh,” Kyle said. “Little birdie’s making a nest.”

Michael scrunched up his forehead in confusion. “What?”

“You heard me. She’s settling in. Liz did the same thing when I got my apartment freshman year. You remember?”

“No, I didn’t know you when you were dating her.”

“Well, she did. And when we broke up, I had to get stern, you know? Wasn’t fun, but I pretty much just threw her out.”

“Yeah, but that’s different,” Michael reminded him as they trudged up the stairs to their classroom. “She was your ex. Maria’s my friend.”

“A friend who drives you crazy and takes advantage of your generosity.”

“Well, yeah, but . . . she’s still my friend.” Sometimes he wasn’t sure why. They had nothing in common, and they didn’t actually hang out that much, but . . . she and Tess had always tried to be there for him, especially after all the Isabel stuff.

“You know, there could be some advantages to letting Maria stay with you, though,” Kyle went on. “She’s hot.”

“I don’t think about her like that.”

“But if you did . . . she’s hot.” Kyle smiled. “Of course, she’s not my type, though. The perfect girl for me . . .”

Michael felt his phone vibrating in his pocket and reached in grab it, tuning Kyle out somewhat.

“. . . a little more compact . . . sweet . . . semi-innocent . . .”

He flipped open the phone and saw that he had a new text message.

“You know, somebody like . . .”

“Tess,” Michael blurted.

“What?” Kyle shrieked, coming to an abrupt halt in the middle of the hallway. “Tess? No, I-I didn’t say anything about Tess. Early Britney Spears. I was talking about early Britney Spears.”

Michael held up his phone and said, “No, Tess just texted me. ‘Tell Maria I painted the bathroom pink.’” He shook his head, smiling a little. “Those two . . . I hope they work things out. I hate being caught in between ‘em.”

“I wouldn’t,” Kyle said, once again venturing off into pervert territory.

Michael shoved his phone back in his pocket, and he and Kyle rounded the corner and slipped into their classroom just as the class was about to start.

“Tess probably wouldn’t even remember me anyway,” Kyle mumbled as they headed over to their easels.

“She remembers you,” Michael assured him as he set his backpack down on the floor and peeled his covering off of his canvas. “I mention you all the time, and she nods.”

“Really?” Kyle grinned from ear to ear, then attempted to cover up his entirely obvious crush by saying, “Well, it doesn’t matter.”

“Right.” Michael smiled himself and surveyed the work in progress painting he planned on submitting for the class. It . . . wasn’t his best. He loved painting, drawing, anything to do with art, but his work had been sort of bland lately.

He and Kyle got to work, both making the most of the class period, as their professor, Professor Adams, made his way around to all of his students to offer suggestions and praise for their artwork. When the professor came up to Michael, he immediately frowned.

“Hmm.”

“What, you don’t like it?” Michael asked.

“No, I like it,” Professor Adams said. “It just seems sort of . . . depressing. Grey sky. Murky water. Dark trees. I’m not asking you to paint a sun with a smiley face, but . . . Michael, you seem to be stuck in a rut lately.”

He was aware of this.

“In all textbook regards, it’s a wonderful painting,” Professor Adams said. “But where’s the emotion? Even if you’re painting a landscape, I should be able to feel it.”

“You feel depressed, right?” He shrugged. “Maybe that’s what I was going for.”

“Maybe.” Professor Adams seemed skeptical, of both him and the painting. “Well, work with this some more. Maybe you’d like to turn in a portrait at the end of the semester.”

He already knew he wouldn’t do that. “I don’t know.”

“I still remember your final project for my Intermediate Art class last year.” The professor smiled fondly. “Now that was a beautiful painting. Maybe you could paint that girl again someday.”

Michael stiffened, uncomfortable. “I don’t think so,” he said.

“Are you sure? She was a magnificent subject.”

He didn’t want to have this conversation. Ever. With anyone. Kyle seemed to sense that, because he piped up and said, “Hey, professor, mind takin’ a look at my painting?”

The older man smiled helpfully. “Sure.”

Michael breathed a sigh of relief as Professor Adams went to talk to Kyle. Thank God.










TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 4

Post by April » Sun Mar 08, 2009 3:01 pm

tequathisy:
oooh, who was the girl he painted? There's two possibilities and they are both intriguing.
I think this part will pretty much imply who he painted.

Lena: Aw, thanks for the feedback, Lena!

Leila:
I would write something about Maria...SHE IS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Amazing good or amazing bad? :lol: She's definitely got a lot of personality. She just needs to grow up a little . . . or a lot.

Krista:
See, Max and Liz. Knew it. This Liz is a lot better than Passion Liz. Passion Liz and Passion Max were naive, annoying pains in the ass. This Max and Liz are more what I like to see. Heh.
Dude, it was such a drastic shift for me writing Passion Liz and Max and then writing this Liz and Max. (Oh, and you love Imeem, too? You're right. We're fated. Let's get married. You can wear the tux. :lol: )

Buddha-boy:
Maria is selfish and spoiled - not my favourite character right now.
That's okay, I think she's on a lot of people's hate lists right now. She is selfish, and she is spoiled . . . but she's got her good qualities, too, and given time, I promise they'll come out.

Alien_Friend:
Fascinating triangle Tess, Max, and Liz make. At the moment, I don't get what they both see in him.
I know, what do these girls see in Max, right? It's hard telling. He's such a jerk, but he has his moments where he can be a very smooth operator, very charming and intelligent. And he's worked his way so far into Tess's life that he has a lot of control over her, sadly; and one of the things that intrigues him about Liz is that he doesn't have total control over her, although he'd like to.

mary mary: Thanks for reading!

killjoy: :lol: I'm not surprised you're annoyed by Maria. I knew you would be. But rest assured, she's not like Passion Maria. She's not intentionally mean or malicious or manipulative. And Michael's going to be a good influence on her. She'll probably even be a good influence on him.

nibbles: Yes, Maria has brains! She's just not using them. She's got a really over-the-top personality. She does and says a lot of things without thinking, and she takes a lot of things for granted (like the fact that she's in college and that she's got good friends like Michael.) And no, she's not sleeping with her professors. No Passion flashback there! :lol:

Christina:
As far as Kyle goes... I already love him. He's such a sweetheart. His crush on Tess is so freakin' cute. And the two of them totally deserve each other and would be so adorable together.
:mrgreen: I love Kyle, too. You'll get to know him as the fic progresses, and you'll find out that he . . . is a total spaz. A nerd, a really big nerd. I''ll be using him for comic relief a lot of the time. But he's an adorable guy, too, and he really likes Tess.

spacegirl23:
So now I wanna know what went down with Michael and Izzy.
Keep speculating, because you won't find out for awhile. Suffice to say it was bad.

Karin:
I hope Tess claws Max's eyes out and sticks them up his ass, so he can see what a ass he is!!
Oh my goodness, that was graphic! Although not a bad idea. ;)



Everyone remember when I told you this would be a music-heavy fic? Try listening to "Clean Breaks" by Dashboard Confessional when you see the :) smiley. I fell in love with that song by accident one day. You can find it either on the soundtrack link I posted a few pages back or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFu3G10C0hA&fmt=18









Part 4








:)

Michael reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of milk. He was about to pour himself a glass when Maria emerged from the bedroom with—shocker—a textbook in her hand. She sat down on the couch, opened the book, and switched the television channel from MTV to CNN before she began to read.

Michael studied her skeptically for a moment, unable to believe what he was seeing. Studious Maria? No way. She was up to something.

He put the milk carton back in the refrigerator and went to join her in the living room. He plopped down beside her on the couch and asked, “What’re you doing?”

“Studying,” she replied simply. “And watching the news.”

“Why?”

She smiled a one-hundred percent fake smile and answered, “‘Cause it’s fun.”

He gave her a knowing look. “Maria.”

She sighed in resignation and said, “Well, you can’t blame a girl for trying.”

“So this is your last ditch effort to convince me you’re a good roommate?”

“Kind of,” she admitted. “Look, I know I’m not the best person to live with, but I’m not the worst, either. I’m not a pyromaniac. That’s gotta count for something.”

“Maria . . . I know you need a place to stay,” he acknowledged, “but . . . you can’t stay here.”

“I had a feeling you wouldn’t budge,” she mumbled dejectedly. “At this time tomorrow, you’ll be shoving me out the door. Well, good for you. But before you start doing your happy dance and rejoicing--”

“I don’t have a happy dance,” he interrupted.

“You should know that it’s not that funny. I’m scared. I don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to go to.” She pouted. “I guess I’ll just live in my car.”

He pressed his lips together and let out a heavy breath, willing himself to remain steadfast in the face of her persuasion. “Are you trying to make me feel guilty?”

“Yes, is it working?” she replied eagerly.

It was. It definitely was. And he hated that it was. This was his apartment, his and his only. All he wanted was to be left alone.

“Did you go look at apartments?” he asked her.

“A couple, but they smelled like cat pee and grandpa. Plus, I’m not responsible enough to pay rent all by myself. I’m no good at that.”

“Then get a job,” he suggested.

“I’m no good at that, either.”

“Well, you can’t . . . you-you can’t stay here,” he stuttered. “Why don’t you just move back in with Tess?”

“No way, Michael. That girl went from being my best friend to my best frienemy. I refuse.”

“Well, move in with another friend.”

“I don’t have any other friends,” she told him.

“Sure you do.”

“Well, not, like, close friends. I mean, sure, Liz, but she still lives in a dorm. And all the guys I know, besides you . . . they’re not roommate material.”

God, this girl knows how to work me, he thought, struggling with some inner indecision. “Well, what do you want me to do?” he asked.

“I want you to let me stay. Just for awhile. I’ll be a better roommate, I promise.”

He sighed heavily, wondering if he should believe her or not. Honestly . . . he didn’t. A tiger couldn’t change its stripes. Neither could Maria. She wasn’t going to become a completely different person just for the sake of staying in his apartment, and that was a good thing. Maria was who she was, but . . . could he live with her?

“Please?” she begged.

He held his head in his hand, rubbing his forehead out of stress, and cast a glance at her out of the corner of his eye. She was giving him the puppy dog look; and damn it all to hell, it was working.

Against his better judgment, he said, “Fine, you can stay here.”

“Really?” Her face lit up with excitement.

“Oh, god, what am I saying?”

“Thank you, Michael!”

“But this is still temporary,” he reminded her. “You find another place to live, you go live there. You understand?”

“I understand,” she said, smiling in appreciation.

“Oh, god, what am I getting myself into?”

She giggled and said, “Thank you, Michael. You’re the best.” Then she leaned in and pressed a big, thankful kiss to his cheek before slamming her book shut, springing to her feet, and skipping down the hallway into the bedroom, probably to unpack again.

He touched his cheek and smiled a little, hoping he had made the right choice. As much as living with Maria drove him crazy, he couldn’t send her out there to struggle on her own. He wasn’t that kind of guy.

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

Michael ran into Tess as he was walking out of his Art History class the next day. She stopped and asked him if Maria had moved out. He could tell that she was pretending not to give a damn, but she really did. Instead of standing out in the middle of campus talking to her, he invited her out to lunch since they both had a few hours to kill before their next classes.

Right outside the Student Union was a café infamous for its coffee-flavored ice cream. They went there, opted for smoothies over ice cream, and talked. Michael told Tess that he had decided to let Maria stay with him for awhile longer, and she just sat there looking shell-shocked. He waited for her to speak, but she was the personification of silence.

“Aren’t you gonna say something?” he asked her finally.

“I would, if I wasn’t speechless.”

Great, he thought. That didn’t sound good.

“Wow, Michael, you’ve really gone and done it now,” she remarked. “I guess I don’t get it. Yesterday, you were giving her the old heave-ho. Now you’re laying out the welcome mat. What changed your mind?”

He sighed and reluctantly admitted, “She did.”

Tess gave him a knowing look. “Hmm, she’s very conniving like that.”

“She said she was gonna live in her car.”

“She’s a liar,” Tess’s responded quickly. “And you know it. Think of all the people she’s slept with. Maria uses guys like Kleenex. Once they’ve served their purpose, she throws ‘em away and reaches for the next one. It’s all very cyclical.”

“So you think I’m just another guy in the cycle?”

“I didn’t say that,” Tess was quick to assure him. “Things are different with you. You guys aren’t dating. And please don’t ever start, because you’ll end up in the mental ward.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“But she’s still using you, Michael. She likes your apartment; she wants to stay there. So—surprise, surprise—she makes you feel sorry for her and you agree to it.”

Indefinitely,” he emphasized. “I told her she could stay indefinitely.”

“Oh, come on, Michael, you and I both know Maria chops the prefix off that word. Indefinitely, to her, means the same as definitely. Like for all time. Say goodbye to life as a bachelor. You just shot yourself in the foot. And just for kicks, you shot yourself in the other foot, too. And once she throws her first Apartment 521 kegger, you’re gonna feel tempted to shoot yourself in the head; but please refrain. Blood’s a bitch, and you’ve got white carpet.” She smiled.

He was pretty sure even a casual observer would notice the terror etched onto his face if they walked by and cast him a glance. “Well, this has been nice and encouraging,” he mumbled sarcastically.

“Hmm.” She just shrugged and slurped down the rest of her smoothie.

Michael was about to ask Tess whether or not he should exile Maria from the bedroom and force her to sleep on the couch when one of the most arrogant people he had ever met sauntered up to the table.

“Michael, Michael, Michael,” Max said, resting his hand on the back of Tess’s chair. “I know my sister left you heartbroken, but lunching it with my girl? She’s outta your league.”

“Hello to you, too, Max,” Michael mumbled, forcing himself to be civil. He didn’t hate Max the way Maria did, but he definitely didn’t like the guy, either.

“Hi, honey,” Tess greeted her boyfriend. She puckered up her lips for a split-second as though she were expecting a kiss, but Max didn’t give her one. So she skipped straight to asking, “How was your day?”

“Monotonous,” he replied. “And it won’t get any better anytime soon. I’ve got a meeting with my dad this afternoon.”

“Gee, Max. The guy’s not even dead yet and you’re already taking over his company.”

Max shrugged unabashedly. “It is what it is.” He turned to Michael then and asked, “So, Guerin, you hear from Isabel lately?”

“Have you?” Michael asked in return, deliberately not answering.

“No,” Max admitted. “All I can figure is that she’s too busy to call because she’s off at some expensive beach resort having sex with someone who’s not you.”

“Max!” Tess cut in sharply. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“The Union. I have to buy my cousin a birthday present.”

“Sounds good.” Max smiled at Michael and said, “See you later, man.”

Michael didn’t say anything. That guy really knew how to piss someone off. People could say all they wanted to about him, but the fact of the matter was that Max Evans was highly intelligent, knew just what buttons to push and when to push them.

“I’m sorry,” Tess whispered as she grabbed her purse and stood up from the table. She laid a ten dollar bill down to cover her portion of the expense and said, “Good luck with the Maria situation. Thanks for lunch.”

He waved goodbye to her and reluctantly watched her head towards the Union with Max. He knew now that the Evans siblings were very much alike, and if Tess wasn’t careful, she was gonna be abandoned.

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

Max couldn’t help but smile at the slight mental torture he had just inflicted upon Michael by simply mentioning Isabel’s name. It wasn’t that he had anything against Michael, specifically. He just enjoyed making people’s lives difficult, which was part of the reason why he would someday be the next Donald Trump. Of that much, he was certain.

“God, Max, you’re such an ass sometimes,” Tess mumbled angrily. “Why would you taunt him like that?”

“Relax, I was just having a little fun.”

“No one else was.”

He stopped right on the steps of the Union, turned to face her, and took his hands in hers, attempting to project sincerity when he said, “You know what? You’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those things.”

She seemed hesitant to believe him, but, as usual, she came around to it. “Just be nicer to him next time.”

“I will.” Different day, same promise. The kind he never kept. “Come on.” He led her towards the entrance doors of the Student Union.

“What do you think I should get my cousin, a university sweatshirt or a lamp?”

He might have actually taken the time to answer the unimportant question had he not pulled open the door to the Union just as Liz was walking out. Their eyes locked, and even though she looked as though she were going in slow motion, she wasn’t. She brushed right past him at normal speed, but he couldn’t help fixating on her. Maybe it was the thrill of having her before but not having her right now . . . he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that he wanted her back, wanted to bend her over the counter and put it to her good, because she’d really enjoyed that last time.

“Max.”

Tess’s voice broke through his reverie, and he disliked it.

“Are you even listening to me?” she asked impatiently.

He shrugged and smiled. “More or less.”

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

Maria burst into hysterical laughter as her brother Marty told her a story about a party he had been to last night. She almost rolled off the couch—she was laughing that hard—but he grabbed her arm and pulled her back upright.

“Whoa, cowgirl!”

She laughed again, the snorting kind of laughter you could only do in the company of siblings.

“Don’t you wanna hear the rest?”

“Oh my god, yes,” she replied eagerly. “Tell me the rest.”

“Okay,” Marty said in his usual feminine tone. “So I told the girl, ‘honey, I appreciate the offer, but you’re gonna have to take your fashionista self off the field, ‘cause I’m up to bat and I’m not hittin’ straight. I’m hittin’ a curve ball, you know what I mean?’ And it was a home run, baby!”

Maria howled in laughter. “So what’d she do?”

“She left like I told her to. But here’s the delicious part: At the end of the night, I hooked up with her boyfriend.”

“Ah!” Maria half-screamed, half-laughed. “Marty!”

“If he wasn’t gay before, he is now, little girl.”

“Oh my god, scandalous!” she exclaimed, loving her brother’s tales of sexual exploits.

“I know, I know.”

“Was he good?”

“Oh, sweetie, it was the best sex of my life,” Marty told her in all seriousness. “That boy rode me like the midnight train to Georgia!”

She collapsed into a fit of laughter yet again, and he joined her this time. They held onto each other’s hands, both wheezing and gasping for air, and they only calmed down when the door opened and Michael walked in.

“Oh, hey, roomie,” Maria greeted, struggling to catch her breath.

“Hey,” he returned. “Hey, Marty. Haven’t seen you for awhile.”

“And that’s just a damn shame,” Marty said, “because you, sir, just get foxier and foxier every day. Am I right?” He turned to Maria.

“Pretty foxy,” she agreed, smiling at her friend.

“You got kind of a bedhead look goin’ on. Very 90’s. Very post-modern grunge,” Marty remarked. “I like it. It works for you. Your clothes on the other hand . . .” He turned to Maria and said, “Well, it’s nothing a shopping spree can’t fix.”

“Shopping can fix everything,” she agreed. “We all have to go soon.”

“Fabulous!” Marty exclaimed in a sing-song voice.

“Yeah, I can’t wait for that,” Michael muttered less enthusiastically. He tossed his backpack down next to the couch and headed down the hallway.

“Where are you going?” Maria asked him.

“I’m gonna take a shower,” he replied.

Oh!” Marty cried out and bit down on his fist in order to silence himself at the thought of naked Michael covered in water. Maria laughed at him, and Michael promptly added, “Alone.”

Maria laughed some more, and once Michael shut the door to the bathroom, Marty took his fist out of his mouth and said, “Now that is a perfect specimen of a man. The dirty little things I would do for five seconds with that guy.”

“Sorry, Marty,” she said sympathetically. “Michael definitely goes for the feminine persuasion.”

“And I can be very feminine.”

“Except for your genitalia.”

He frowned and groaned in disappointment. “Oh, it’s not fair.”

“It never is,” she agreed.

“I’m serious. Straight people get guys like Michael. Who do we adorable homos get? Oh, Clay Aiken. Watch me swoon.”

“Poor baby.” She pouted, then inquired, “So if Michael was gay, would you be all over him?”

“Girl, are you kidding? If that boy had one gay bone in his body, I’d be on him like stank on a hog. Bark on a tree. Britney on Madonna. You couldn’t pry me away. I hate him for being heterosexual, I swear. And I hate you for living with him.”

“You hate me?”

“I’m so jealous,” he admitted. “But really, Maria, if I can’t have him, you might as well.”

She made a face at the idea. “No, stop.”

“What? You’re telling me you’ve never thought about it?”

“Thought about what?”

“Honey, you’ve known this guy for . . . how long now?”

“A little over two years.”

“Right. And in all that time, you never once imagined what it would be like to have a roll in the hay with him?”

She thought about it and blushed as she confessed, “Well . . . maybe a couple times.”

“See?”

“But that’s not some huge revelation. I think about that with every guy I see.”

“But you’re in a great position right now, living here with that sizzling piece of man meat. If I were you, I’d get in an even better position: flat on your back with your legs in the air!”

“Marty, you are such a perv!” she teased.

“I bet he’s huge,” Marty went on to speculate. “Is he huge?”

“What? I don’t know.”

Marty gasped in astonishment. “You mean you’ve never seen it?”

“Not Michael’s.”

“Well, that’s just wrong. Honey, we have to find out. Now’s our chance. Come on!” He sprang to his feet, grabbed her arm, and pulled her up off the couch and down the hallway.

They crouched down on the floor outside the bathroom door, and Maria covered her mouth with one hand to keep from giggling. Poor Michael. He wasn’t going to be happy about this invasion of privacy, but there were just certain things you had to sacrifice when you had a roommate who had a horny, gay brother.

They gently pushed open the door to the bathroom, only a few inches. Maria peered inside, and Marty poked his head beneath hers, peeking through the curtains of her hair. They watched in silence as Michael checked himself out in the mirror, knocked over Maria’s wide array of lip gloss on accident, set it all back up again, and then began to undress. First his shoes and socks, then his shirt. Then his belt, then his jeans . . . Maria could tell the unintended strip tease was driving Marty crazy. And to be quite honest, she could see why. Michael looked pretty damn good in nothing but his skivvies.

When he pushed his boxers down to pool at his feet and stepped out of them, Marty lost it. “Mamazita!” he exclaimed, throwing open the door. He and Maria both fell forward into the bathroom, and Michael hollered and grabbed a towel to wrap around himself.

“Ah!”

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord!” Marty yelled. “I knew it! I knew it was huge!”

Maria rolled around on the bathroom floor and laughed. Being a Peeping Tom was so fun.

“What the hell do you two think you’re doing?” Michael demanded, still trying to secure the towel around his waist.

“You, in my dreams,” Marty answered unabashedly.

“Oh, god,” Michael mumbled, holding his head in his hands. “Why me?”

“Because . . . you’re gorgeous,” Marty replied, pushing himself up onto his hands and knees and then onto his feet. “I know this. Maria knows this. You know this.”

“You’re gorgeous, Michael,” Maria echoed, still lying on the floor.

“Thanks,” he muttered. “Do you guys think you could . . . leave?”

“If you want me to, I’ll stay,” Marty volunteered.

“No, I want you to leave.”

“Are you sure? Soaps and suds, no sexual duds.”

“Marty,” Maria said, raising herself back up to her feet before Michael could say anything in response to that little rhyme. “What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted, “but it sounds hot.”

“It does!” she agreed.

“Guys,” Michael cut in emphatically. “Leave.”

Marty pouted at Maria and said, “He’s kicking us out.”

“He’s no fun,” Maria agreed. “Oh, well. Come on, Marty. I’ll cook Hot Pockets for dinner.”

“Actually,” Marty said, holding up his watch, “I’ve got a date at eight and I can’t be late.”

“It’s 4:30,” Michael pointed out.

“I know,” Marty acknowledged, “but I have to find something to wear.”

Michael just stared at him and shook his head.

Maria giggled and playfully hit her brother on the shoulder. “Alright, well, thanks for stopping by today.”

“And violating me with your eyes,” Michael added.

“We’ll shop soon,” Marty reminded her. “Hugs, everybody. Hugs and kisses.”

“I’m not hugging or kissing anyone in this room,” Michael said adamantly.

Maria hugged her brother and whispered, “Get laid tonight.”

“You, too, girly.” She could practically hear him grinning before he pulled away. “Alright, well, it’s been fun,” he said. “Farewell, sister. And Big Boy . . . TTFN.” He waved goodbye and practically skipped out of the bathroom.

Maria turned to look at Michael. He didn’t look amused. “What? It’s better than little boy,” she pointed out.

“What’s TTFN?” he asked.

She was amazed that he didn’t already know. “Ta-ta for now. God, Michael, haven’t you ever watched Winnie the Pooh?

“Uh, yeah, when I was in playgroup.”

“Well, one of these days, we’re just gonna rent every Pooh movie and watch them all,” she decided. “And you’ll enjoy yourself.”

“Why-why am I gonna enjoy myself?”

She smiled confidently. “Because I said so.”









TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 5

Post by April » Tue Mar 10, 2009 11:55 am

I have to go to work in about an hour, so I won't have time to respond to every one individually, but THANK YOU for the amazing feedback:

Karin
Leila
Christina
Ginger
Alien_Friend
Spacegirl23
Lena
Buddha-boy
nibbles
cassie
killjoy
Krista (maybe I'll fly to Cali and kidnap you first! ;) )

Enjoy this part! It's a pretty fun one.
;)









Part 5









Kyle sat on an incredibly uncomfortable bench outside of Berman Hall that afternoon, pretending to be interested in reading his Italian Renaissance art history book. He had a test in a few days and probably should have been studying a lot harder than he actually was, but he found it hard to concentrate when Tess Harding was across the green, standing outside the College of Interior Design building, talking to a group of friends. She was like a homecoming queen, popular and bubbly and liked by everyone. Kyle definitely liked her.

He kept sneaking glances up from the pages of his book to gaze at her. She was really a beautiful girl, 100% his type, not that he was picky or ever had a lot of choices. He had been attracted to her ever since he’d first seen her. She and Maria had gone to a party a few months ago and dragged Michael along. Michael had in turn dragged him along, and he and Tess had sat in the back seat of the car together. They hadn’t really said much, but the few words they had shared had been magical. To him at least. She probably didn’t even remember him now. They hadn’t spoken or hung out since. Plus, she still had a boyfriend. It wasn’t as though he stood a chance.

Read, you idiot, Kyle told himself, trying to mentally glue his eyes to the words of the textbook. He couldn’t help but looking up one more time, though. Tess laughed at something one of her friends said, head tossed backward, blonde hair flowing in the breeze, eyes sparkling with the gleam of life and sunlight . . .

Oh, god. Kyle felt mesmerized. He watched her laughter as an artist, in slow motion, and he knew in an instant what his next painting would be.

Right as he was imprinting the gorgeous image onto his brain, a fat guy (Ruben-Studdard size) sauntered in front of him and stood there, blocking his way.

“Um . . .” Kyle thought about tapping him to get his attention and ask him to move, but he didn’t want to be rude. He scooted onto the far left of the bench but still couldn’t see Tess. Well, this was unacceptable! He had to keep a watchful eye on her. Moments like this were the highlight of his otherwise dull life.

He leaned to the left, trying to peer around the fat guy this time. He was still too fat. He leaned farther and farther, stretching his neck as far as he could until . . .

“Ah!” He fell off the bench and onto the grass, toppled right over onto his side. People laughed at him, and the fat guy finally moved out of the way. Well, better late than never.

Oh, too much watchful eye, he thought, rolling over onto his back. “Ow.” He reached up and touched his forehead and noticed he had a cut there. Embarrassment and an injury? He’d really gone and done it.

“Are you okay?” the fat man asked him. “That looked really bad.”

“I’m fine,” he muttered, struggling to his feet. He cast another glance at Tess. The good news was, she hadn’t noticed him fall off the bench. The bad news was . . . she hadn’t noticed him at all.

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

After she got cleaned up that morning, Maria skipped out into the kitchen for breakfast. Michael was already awake, sitting at the kitchen counter, eating cereal and reading the newspaper.

“Morning, Michael,” she chirped cheerily.

He just kept on reading his newspaper and flipped his spoon upward as though that were some sort of response.

She pulled open the cereal cupboard and frowned. He always had lots of cereal, but never the kind she wanted. She stood up on her tiptoes and tried to reach into the back of the cupboard to see what was hiding back there, but when she did, she accidentally knocked several boxes of cereal out of the cupboard and onto the floor. “Oops!” she squeaked as cereal spilled out of the boxes and all over the kitchen floor.

“What?” Michael asked in a panic. “What happened?” He peered over the counter and groaned. “Son of a . . .”

“My bad,” Maria said, kicking the loose pieces of cereal into the small space between the oven and the refrigerator.

“What-what’re you doin’?” Michael barked. “Sweep it up!”

“Michael, you’re such an anal neat freak,” she remarked. “I bet you’re the kind of guy who vacuums the grass.”

He grunted indignantly and denied it. “I’ve never vacuumed the grass.”

She gave him a suspicious look, and he caved in.

“I did that one time.”

“I knew it!”

“I was seven years old. Give me a break.”

“Seven years old?” she echoed in horror. “What kind of seven year-old boy vacuums the grass? Or cleans anything, for that matter.”

“I did.”

She nodded. “Because you’re an anal neat freak. Do you see how we’ve come full circle here?”

“No, I just like my place to be semi-organized. Is that so bad?”

“It’s weird.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause you’re supposed to a guy.”

“I am a guy.”

“Guys don’t clean.”

“And girls, at least normal girls, don’t usually go for the ‘out of sight, of mind’ style of thought when it comes to spilt cereal.”

She scrunched her face up in confusion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means sweep up the cereal.”

“I will if you buy me Frosted Flakes,” she said. “You don’t have any. Why not?”

“Uh, ‘cause I don’t like Frosted Flakes.”

“You should.”

“I don’t.”

“Well, I do.”

He stared at her in frustration and asked, “Do you ever give in?”

She smirked. “No.” She picked up the boxes she had dropped on the floor and decided that Cheerios would do. But she was going to need some Frosted Flakes soon, or she was going to become very cranky.

“So, are you excited for our shopping excursion today?” she asked him as she prepared herself a bowl of cereal.

“Shopping?” he echoed in derision. “I’m not going shopping.”

“Sure you are.” She poured milk into her cereal and smiled.

“Where the hell do you get these ideas?”

“Michael, I asked you last night while you were sleeping if you wanted to go shopping today. And you went, ‘Mmm-hmm.’”

“While—I was sleeping!

She shrugged and put the milk carton back into the refrigerator.

“I can’t go,” he said. “I gotta work this afternoon.”

“That’s why we’re going shopping this morning,” she explained.

“No, I’m painting this morning.”

“Why paint when you could be a style icon?”

“Because I don’t wanna be a style icon. I wanna be a painter.”

Michael.” She rolled her eyes in annoyance and sat down beside him at the counter. “No offense, I realize that’s your thing. Ooh, blue and yellow and make green. Fascinating. But art’s so boring. Shopping’s thrilling.”

“It’s not thrilling.”

“It can be,” she insisted. “Especially when you shop with me and Marty.”

“Oh.” He cringed. “Marty?”

“Yep.” She shoved a spoonful of cereal into her mouth just as there was a knock on the door. “Oh, that’s him!” She hopped down off the stool and bounded towards the door. “Sexy!” she exclaimed, throwing open the door, but it wasn’t Marty who was standing there. It was Michael’s friend Kyle. “Oh,” she said. “Never mind.”

“What?” he looked offended.

“She thought you were her brother,” Michael piped up in explanation. He had gone back to reading the newspaper now.

Kyle looked confused. “You think your brother’s sexy and I’m not?” He shook his head and edged his way into the apartment. “There’s something very wrong with you, Maria DeLuca.”

“Haven’t seen you for awhile, Kyle,” she remarked, shutting the door. “Do you still live in 522?”

“Yep.”

“Still live alone?”

“Unfortunately,” he mumbled. “Hey, you guys got any Band-Aids around here? I got a cut on my head.”

“Poor baby,” Maria said, jutting her bottom lip out to exaggerate her sympathy.

“Hey, I could be concussed for all we know,” Kyle said.

“What happened?” Michael asked, eyeing the small cut on the side of his friend’s forehead.

“Oh, it was nothing,” Kyle replied. “I fell, got a nice little scratch from a . . . twig.”

“A twig?” Maria echoed laughingly. “Kyle Valenti vs. the big, bad twig. Twig wins easily.”

“How’d you manage that?” Michael asked him.

Kyle shifted around nervously before replying, “Well, I was outside . . . in a place where twigs are. And I was . . . bird-watching. And I fell.”

“Bird-watching.” Michael nodded, clearly not believing him. “Okay.”

“I was,” Kyle insisted. “You know, it’s not very often you get to see the rare . . . yellow-tailed . . . chirper.”

Maria laughed a little. Kyle was such a nerd, even more so than Michael. And that was saying something.

Kyle rolled his eyes in impatience. “Look, can I just get a Band-Aid?”

“I’ll go get you one,” Michael offered, heading towards the bathroom.

“Thanks.”

Maria cleared her throat and sashayed towards Kyle. “So, K.V.,” she said. “Why are you still living alone? You and Liz have been apart for a year now. Shouldn’t you have somebody?”

“Maybe I should, but I don’t.”

“Got anyone in mind?” she asked eagerly.

A blush immediately swept over his cheeks. “Not really.”

She saw through that flimsy lie immediately. “Yes really. Who is it?”

“Just . . . nobody you know.”

“I know everybody,” she informed him. “Come on, Kyle, just tell me. I can play matchmaker. Please.”

“Uh . . .”

“Is she begging you to go shopping, too?” Michael asked as he returned from the bathroom with Band-Aid in hand.

“No,” Maria answered before Kyle could. “But that’s a good idea! I mean, look at him. He looks like a little rat. He’s in desperate need of fashion advice.”

“You know, Maria,” Kyle cut in, “I forgot how much I like you.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Kyle.”

“He was being sarcastic,” Michael informed her.

“Oh, well . . . whatever.” Before she could come up with something better to say, there was another knock on the door. “Now that has to be Marty.” She opened the door again, and it was indeed him. “Sexy boy!” she screamed.

“Sexy girl!” he returned. They threw their arms in the air and bumped their hips together, then spun around and bumped their hips together on the other side. Then they both started laughing.

“Was that supposed to be funny?” Kyle asked.

Michael shrugged in response.

“Hey, Big Boy.” Marty greeted Michael with a flirtatious grin.

“Oh, god. Hey, Marty,” Michael returned.

“And who do we have here?” Marty asked, eyeing Kyle eagerly. “Another fashion victim, by the looks of it, but there’s a cutie underneath.”

“Marty, this is Kyle. He’s Michael’s friend,” Maria told her brother. “He lives in the apartment right next door and doesn’t have a girlfriend, so if you wanna try to gay him up, now’s your chance.”

“What?” Kyle screeched nervously.

“And Kyle, this is my brother Marty. He likes boys. He probably likes you.” She smiled.

Kyle laughed nervously. “Oh, ho, ho. Well, in that case, I’ll just skedaddle. I just needed that Band-Aid.”

“How’d you hurt your pretty little head?” Marty inquired.

“Oh, there was a . . . bird-watching incident.”

“Oh, birdies?” Marty grinned from ear to ear. “Are you sure this one’s not gay, Maria?”

She shrugged. “Sixty-five percent sure.”

“Sixty-five percent?!” Kyle shrieked in outrage.

“Oh, I’m never gonna get my painting done,” Michael muttered to himself.

Maria rolled her eyes upon hearing that. “Michael, paint later. Shop now. You, too, Kyle.”

“No, I can’t,” Kyle said. “I have stuff to do today.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Important stuff.”

“Jacking off?” she guessed.

“What? Yeah-no! Maybe-I don’t know.”

“Kyle.” Maria looked him straight in the eye and decided to persuade him logically. “Think about it. You go shopping, get some clothes that actually look good on you, and you can say goodbye to dates with Rosy Palm and say hello to dates with Rosie from Delta Beta Gamma.”

“I don’t even know who she is.”

“Fine, then you can say hello to dates with your mystery dream girl, whoever she is. How’s that sound?”

Kyle thought about it for a moment, then smiled eagerly. “Let’s go shopping.”

“Oh, yea!” she exclaimed. “And Michael, you don’t even get a choice because I’m forcing you.”

He just groaned in response.

“Alright!” Marty yelped, clapping his hands excitedly. “The more the merrier. Let’s roll, bitches!”

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

Michael didn’t want to go to the mall with Maria and Marty and Kyle, but he ended up there for lack of choice. Maria and Marty took them straight to a designer clothing store, and Marty and Kyle walked up ahead, talking, while Maria and Michael lagged behind.

“Now, listen up, Kylie,” Marty said. “The most important thing you can do for your shoulder shape is to wear shirts with collars on them. Loose collars, okay? No uptight, preppy collars for you. And absolutely no t-shirts. You can’t pull ‘em off.”

“I can’t?” Kyle glanced down at the t-shirt he was wearing, the same one he wore almost every day, and muttered, “That sucks.”

“Now tell me,” Marty went on, “this girl you like . . . what does she tend to wear?”

“Uh . . .” Kyle thought about it and replied, “She wears a lot of pink.”

Hmm, wonder who that could be, Michael thought sarcastically. It was getting pretty obvious.

“Okay, pink,” Marty registered. “If you wanna match with her, I’m seeing lots of brown in your future, mostly dark brown. Come with me. I’ll show you the way.”

Michael shook his head as Kyle eagerly followed Marty further into the store, astounded by the fact that his friend actually seemed to be enjoying this.

“Does Kyle have a crush on Tess?” Maria asked him once they were out of earshot.

“I don’t know, probably,” Michael replied.

“Figures,” Maria muttered. “Too bad he doesn’t stand a chance with her. Tess doesn’t fall for nice guys.”

“Look who’s talking,” Michael remarked.

“No, there’s a difference,” she insisted. “I don’t date jackasses. I just have sex with them.”

“No, you’ve dated a few jackasses over the years,” he reminded her. When he had first met her, she had been dating a guy named Joseph who eventually got kicked out of college for trying to sell marijuana to the Dean.

“Yeah, for, like, two weeks at a time,” she pointed out. “Tess and Max have been together for two years. It’s absolutely disgusting. I’ll tell you, I don’t know what you two see in those Evanses.”

He chose not to respond to that, mainly because he didn’t have a very good answer.

“But whatever.” She flipped her hair back over her shoulder and said, “Let’s shop.”

“Let’s not and say we did.”

“What you need,” she said, surveying him, “is a good pair of jeans.”

“I have a good pair of jeans. I’m wearin’ ‘em.”

She grunted. “Those hideous things? Michael, look at them. They have white splotches all over them. They look like cum-spots.”

“It’s paint.”

“But it looks gross. Come on.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the jeans section of the store.

“Uh,” he groaned, reluctantly following her. “I’m so bored. I could be at home painting a masterpiece right now.”

“Really? I haven’t seen you paint any masterpieces lately,” she remarked as she began looking through the many displays of jeans.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well, I looked through some of your artwork the other day. It seemed like you were kinda . . .”

“Stuck in a rut?” he filled in, remembering what Professor Adams had said to him the other day.

“Yeah. It’s like everything you paint is . . . kinda the same. Trees and a lake, trees and a lake. And they’re pretty trees and lakes; don’t get me wrong. It’s just . . . why don’t you go back to painting people? Didn’t you used to do that a lot?”

He’d stopped painting people about the same time the most important person in his life had stopped giving a damn about him. “Used to.”

“You should start that up again,” she suggested. “You can paint me sometime. It can even be a nude.”

He laughed a little. Just a little.

“Oh, here we go,” she said suddenly. “This is what I’m talking about.” She took a pair of dark jeans off the rack and held them up for him to see. “These are totally meant for you.”

He grabbed the price tag and made a face. “And they’re totally a hundred bucks. I’m not paying that much.”

“Michael, a good pair of jeans is priceless.”

“Yeah, but bills and groceries and rent, which, by the way, you will start to pay half of, are pricey. I realize you don’t live in the real world most of the time, but those of us who do have expenses to pay.”

She frowned. “I live in the real world.”

“Not really.”

“Well, maybe I don’t wanna live in the real world,” she said. “Did you ever think of that?” She smiled and tried handing the jeans to him. “Here, just try these on.”

“No, I don’t want to.”

“Why not? You’d look hot in them.”

That piqued his interest a bit. “You think so?”

Yes. Come on, I won’t make you buy them. Just try ‘em on and see if you like ‘em.”

What the hell? he thought, taking the jeans from her. She wouldn’t let up until he did.

“Thank you,” she said, actually sounding sweet for a moment.

“Where are the dressing rooms?” he asked.

“Back here. Come on.” She led him towards the back of the store and approached a young employee who was standing there and wearing a set of keys around her neck. “Hi,” she said. “He needs a dressing room.”

“How many items?” the girl asked.

“One,” he replied.

“Okay.” She peeked under the dressing room doors, found him and empty one, and unlocked it with one of her many keys. “There you go,” she said.

“Thanks.” He stepped inside, and much to his surprise, Maria came in with him. “What the--”

“Thanks a lot.” Maria shut the door, leaving the poor employee clearly stunned.

“What’re you doing?” Michael demanded.

“I know you. You won’t try these damn jeans on unless I’m in here making you.”

“You’re crazy!”

“Um . . .” the employee spoke up again from outside the door. “Miss, I’m not sure if you’re allowed to be in there.”

“I don’t really care,” Maria called back cheerily. “Alright, Michael. Take your pants off.”

He could count on one hand the number of times a girl had said that to him. His entire body froze up in nervousness, and he just stood there, stunned.

She rolled her eyes. “Come on. It’s not like I haven’t seen you naked before.” She grinned. “Me and Marty both.”

“Am I just granted no privacy anymore?” he wondered aloud.

“Come on, Michael, you’re wasting valuable shopping time,” she whined. “Take off your pants.”

“I don’t want to.”

“You don’t want to? Please. A guy’s main ambition in life is taking off his pants.”

“Well . . . that’s true, but . . .”

“Uh, seriously.” She reached down, surprising the hell out of him when she began to undo his jeans.

“Hey!” he yelped. “What’re you doing?”

“It’s called taking the reins.”

“Now, wait just a minute . . . leave my reins alone!”

She unfastened his belt, unbuttoned his button, unzipped his zipper, and shoved his paint-splattered jeans down to his feet without hesitance.

“Whoa!” he yelled in astonishment as he stood before her in his boxers. “Maria!”

“You wanna try ‘em on going commando?” she asked.

Going . . . “No,” he shook his head. “Not with you in here.”

She smiled. “You know, most guys would kill to be in your position right now. Several already have.”

“Maria, I feel very awkward right now, standing here with my pants down around my ankles, you in front of me. Could you just . . . get out of here?”

“No.” She was so stubborn. “Not until you try the new jeans on.”

Once again, he sighed in resignation, kicked off his shoes and his old jeans, and did what she wanted him to do. He struggled to squeeze into the new and expensive jeans. They were a little snug. “Skin-tight,” he remarked. “This is comfy.”

“At least you fill ‘em out,” she teased. “Big guy.”

“Hey, don’t you even start with that.”

“I don’t understand why you get so worked up. It’s a compliment.”

He managed to zip the jeans shut, but when he did, he could barely breathe. “I don’t think these are gonna work,” he squeaked out.

“They look so good on you, though,” she insisted.

“Oxygen looks better on me.” As he surveyed himself in the mirror, though, he had to admit the jeans did look good on him.

“Some of my jeans are way tighter than that,” she informed him, “and I manage.”

“These aren’t jeans. These-they’re a torture device,” he claimed. “Nope. No way.” All he had to do was let out a deep, relieved breath, and they popped open again. He struggled to get back out of them. He could barely even push them down.

“Here, let me help,” Maria said upon seeing his frustration. She yanked the jeans downward and accidentally pulled his boxers right off with them.

“Maria!” he shouted, quickly pulling the boxers back up again.

“Oh, Michael, you have such a cute butt!” she exclaimed, giggling.

Oh god, he thought. He had just unintentionally mooned his roommate. He felt so embarrassed.

“Just give me my old jeans back,” he told her. “Give ‘em back.”

“But they’re so--”

“I don’t care if they’re gross. Give ‘em back. Now.”

She reluctantly handed over his reliable pair. “We’ll keep looking,” she said. “I don’t care if you shop ‘til you drop. Even if you have to miss work, we’re finding you a new pair of jeans today.”

“No, I’m not missing work,” he told her decidedly as he got dressed again. “You can’t make me.”

“Oh, yes, I can.”

He shook his head in disbelief, not doubting that claim for an instant.

Suddenly, there was a knock on their door again. “Um . . . excuse me?” It was the same girl who had unlocked the room for them. “My manager says you’re not supposed to be in there together. One of you needs to come out.”

“On my way!” Michael called desperately.

But Maria had other ideas. “Oh, no, not so fast,” she said, pressing her hand against his chest to keep him from leaving the room. She lowered her voice and whispered, “I’m gonna be bad.”

“Oh, no.” He knew where this was going.

She slammed her body back against the door over and over again and started making sounds as though she were having sex. “Oh! Yeah! Yeah! Fuck me! Put it on me, Daddy, put it on me.”

“Maria!” he hissed. They were going to get in trouble.

“Oh, I’m a whore. I’m such a whore. Yeah? Yeah!”

“Maria!”

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Oh, right there! I’m gonna cum. I’m gonna cum. I’m cumming. I’m cumming right . . . now. Ah!” She let her scream trail off and gradually smiled at him, nodding her head in approval of her own actions.

He just stood and stared at her in astonishment. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“That was so awesome!” she whispered excitedly. “I almost felt like I was really having sex.”

“Well, I’m glad you did.”

“Lighten up, Michael,” she told him. “I was just having a little fun. You should try it sometime. You might like it.”

He supposed he would. He hadn’t had fun for awhile now.

They walked out of the dressing room, and Maria had no problem ignoring the looks everyone was giving them. She even patted the young female employee on the shoulder and said, “Thanks, hun.” Michael handed her back the jeans and followed Maria back out into the store, blushing with embarrassment even though they hadn’t actually done anything.

Kyle and Marty greeted them with shocked expressions, both their mouths agape. “Was that real?” Kyle asked.

“Of course it was real,” Maria lied. “Michael makes me horny.”

“I do?” News to him.

She laughed. “Joking. No, it wasn’t real. I was just playing around.”

“Oh.” Kyle glanced at Michael and smiled sympathetically. “That sucks for you.”









TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 6

Post by April » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:30 am

Leila: I'm glad you thought the last part was funny. More funny to come in this fic, I promise!

nibbles: I want to smush Kyle's cheeks, too!

killjoy: I know this Michael is kind of hard to imagine coming off of Passion Michael. And not just Passion Michael, but general fic-depicted Michael.

Alien_Friend:
On the epic battle between Michael vs. Maria the poor dear doesn't stand a chance. Though I'm beginning to see he is definitely in need of a little Maria at this time in his life. She can provide that something to spark some fire into his existence again.
You're right, Michael doesn't stand a chance . . . and maybe that's a good thing. Because like you said, he's in need of a little Maria right now. He's just going through the motions. :(

spacegirl23: Marty = Carson Kressley, huh? Yeah, that works! :lol:

Alison:
Marty is quickly becoming my fave character in this story, followed closely by Michael and then Kyle. Max is on the bottom right now and as much as you might redeem him, I don't think he'll ever get close to the top.
Good, if Max wasn't your least favorite character right now, I'd be worried about you!

Jan: :lol: Yeah, you're right, Michael was completely mortified in the dressing room. It's good for him, though. ;)

art_junkie:
in the words of House (i think) "That's absurd. I love it."
lol, thanks!

Krista:
I hope for the sake of the Max and Lizzers out there (like myself and Wench On A Leash) that Max and Liz won't take 100+ parts to finally get back together. That would be more than lame.
You've got nothing to worry about. ;) (Vegas, huh? Color me jealous! I love Vegas. Have lots of fun!)

tequathisy:
Maria and Marty are terrors, I love them. Poor Michael though, I think he's really going to suffer in this fic. And I love that too.
:lol: That sounds a little evil. :twisted: But I like it.




Author's Note: I will be going on spring break (a.k.a. Operation: Relaxation), and I will be without Internet access, so the next update will be . . . ooh, this is really mean, but it will be Sunday March 22nd, most likely. So it's a bit of a wait, but after that, updates will be regular and frequent again. Thanks so much for all the feedback, and I look forward to sharing more of this fic with you when I get back!










Part 6









Tess’s night wasn’t turning out the way she had hoped it would. Max had promised that he would be home early enough to take her out to dinner, yet the clock ticked onward and he was nowhere in sight. She ended up staying awake, sitting home alone until 1:00 a.m. She busied herself with some homework, mostly some sketches for her interior design class, and tried her best not to be sad. Max had forgotten about dates before, but she was just surprised that he had forgotten about dinner tonight of all nights.

She sprang from the bed when she heard the front door open and ran out into the main room. “Max?”

“Hey,” he greeted, immediately heading for the kitchen. “I am so famished.”

“Dinner,” she reminded him.

“Would you?” He smiled. “Thanks, sweetie. Just whip up a casserole.”

“No, I’m not making dinner. We’re going to dinner. I mean, we’re not going now, obviously. It’s freakin’ 1:00 a.m.”

“So?”

She grunted in disbelief. “So? We had plans tonight. You totally blew them off.”

“Tess, I told you I had another meeting with my dad.”

“Until 1:00 in the morning?”

He rolled his eyes in frustration and came closer to her. “Honey, you know I love your brain as much as the rest of you,” he said, reaching down to take her hands in his, “but it’s not a brain for business.”

She frowned. “What does that mean?”

“It means that, when two powerful people such as me and my father get together in an attempt to negotiate a multimillion dollar deal with a potential investor, we’re bound to lose track of time. If our meeting didn’t go past midnight, then we’d be doing something wrong.”

“I think it’s a little wrong that you didn’t even call to let me know where you were,” she pointed out.

“I agree. That’s my mistake and I’ll never make it again,” he promised.

Somehow, she really doubted that. He had promised the same thing many times before.

“Honey, please don’t be mad at me,” he pleaded. “I’ve had a long day. I don’t wanna fight. I’d just like to get something to eat, lie down in bed, and have you give me a foot massage before I got to sleep. How’s that sound?”

She didn’t say anything.

He smiled and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “That’s a good girl.” He let go of her hands and started down the hallway towards Maria’s bedroom . . . their bedroom, now.

“Max,” she called.

He slowly turned around.

She stared right at him and reminded him exactly why this night had been so important to her, why one simple, elegant dinner shouldn’t have been too much to ask. “It’s my birthday.”

He acted as though he remembered, but she doubted he did. This was the third birthday she was celebrating with Max, and the third birthday where the celebration never happened.

“Happy birthday,” he said before ducking into the bedroom. Then he called out, “You think you can make me that dinner now?”

She clenched her jaw shut, feeling angry. This just wasn’t fair.

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

After work, Michael came home, took a shower, watched the news, and went to bed. While he was sleeping, though, he thought about all these things he needed to discuss with Maria. She had been living with him for almost two weeks now, and she still wasn’t being a very good roommate. If they were going to continue on this way, he had to lay down the law about some things.

He sprang out of bed and strode out into the hallway. “Mandatory meeting!” he called. “You hear that? Mandatory meeting.”

Maria barely glanced up from the computer screen. As usual, it was 3:00 a.m., and instead of sleeping, she was checking her Facebook.

“Are you deaf?” he asked her.

“No. Why are you awake? You’re usually boring and asleep right now.”

He rolled his eyes at that comment and repeated, “Mandatory meeting.”

“Says who?”

“Me.”

“Who’s all attending this meeting?”

“Everyone who lives in 521.”

She wrinkled her face in confusion. “But that’s just us.”

“Yeah, it’s a . . . just—come sit down. I need to talk to you.”

She sighed impatiently, stood up from the computer, and flung herself on the couch. “What’s up?”

He sat down beside her and said, “I was doin’ some thinking.”

“While you were sleeping?”

“Yes.”

“About what?”

“Just shut up so I can tell you.”

She moved two fingers across her mouth, pretending to zip her lips.

“Alright,” he said. “You’ve been living here for, what, twelve days now? Thirteen? Or rather, I’ve been providing you with a temporary residence out of the goodness of my heart.

She nodded mutely.

“Right, so . . . if you’re gonna continue to . . . take advantage of my services, I--”

She interrupted him with snorting laughter.

“What?” he asked. “What’s so funny?”

That. Take advantage of your services? It’s not like we’re fucking.”

He chuckled lightly in embarrassment. “No, that’s not what I meant.”

“But, if you want me to, I can tell people we’re gettin’ it on every night. That might make you more popular.”

“No, don’t tell people that.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay.” She reached onto the coffee table and picked up a bag of potato chips that she had apparently neglected to put away earlier. “Want some?” she asked, thrusting the bag towards him.

“No, I want—I wanna have the mandatory meeting. Can we do that? And then I wanna go back to bed.”

“Well, hurry up then,” she said, stuffing a handful of chips into her mouth.

“Quit interrupting me.”

“Hurry up.”

He rolled his eyes again and pulled out his mental to-do list. “Alright. First order of business: rent. It’s not bad. Five-hundred bucks a month gets us our cable, wireless internet, gas/electricity, all that jazz. Now if we split that half and half, how much do you need to pay?”

She thought about it for a second, then made a face. “Oh, Michael, don’t make me do math. You know I hate that.”

He sighed impatiently. “Two-fifty. That’s how much you’re gonna owe each month. Think you can handle that?”

“No,” she answered right away.

“Why not?”

“Because, I just can’t. I don’t have two-hundred and fifty dollars to just toss around each month.”

“Oh, really? Because today’s shopping spree would beg to differ.”

She glared at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, maybe you would have two-hundred and fifty dollars if you didn’t spend it all on designer jeans.”

“You’re asking me to cut back on my shopping?” She huffed in outrage. “No way! Shopping is a DeLuca sibling tradition. It’s when Marty and I do our best bonding. Okay, if you’re asking me to cut back on my shopping, you’re asking me to cut back on my relationship with my brother.”

“Where do you get the money anyway?”

“My mom.”

“Then maybe you should get a job.”

She cringed. “Ew, gross.”

“Gross?” She thought jobs were gross?

“Yeah, I’m not into that. I don’t wanna get a job.”

“You’re gonna have to eventually,” he pointed out. “Haven’t you had a job before?”

“Yeah. Freshman year I worked on the university paper. Everyone forgets that.”

“Go back to work there,” he suggested.

She shook her head emphatically. “Uh-uh. Ugly firing. That’s not an option.”

“Well, the movie store down the street’s hiring.” He shrugged. “Worth a shot.”

“I could puke a better job than that,” she claimed. “Next.”

“Fine, how about waitressing somewhere?”

She laughed. “Seriously? Do I look like a waitress to you? I waitressed for an entire year in high school, almost put a gun to my head. It’s, like, the worst job ever.”

“I’m sure it’s not.”

“That’s out of the question,” she said decidedly. “Maybe I could just charge money for sex.”

He bit his lip, nodding in contemplation, and quietly informed her, “That would make you a prostitute.”

She thought about it for a moment, then decided, “I’m okay with that.”

“No, you’re not,” he said matter-of-factly. “Look, Maria, I don’t care where you work just as long as you work somewhere. Okay?” She didn’t answer, so he chose to assume she understood him. “Okay. Now that we got that outta the way . . .” He leaned forward and picked a half-empty bottle of beer up off the coffee table. “This.”

“What, now you got a problem with Budweiser?” she asked.

“No.”

“You’re anti-beer? Anti-alcohol?” she kept guessing. “Give me that.” She snatched it from his hand, took a drink, and set the bottle back down on the coffee table.

“Use a coaster,” he instructed, picking the bottle back up again. “Look at these rings all over the coffee table. They weren’t there before you got here.”

“I don’t see any rings,” she said. “You’re paranoid.”

“No, I’m not. Use a coaster.”

“Who uses coasters anymore?”

“Hey, you’re in my house, remember?”

“I live here, too,” she pointed out.

“Yeah, but until you start paying your fair share of the rent, you follow my rules.”

“Fine. Then I’ll get a job, pay the rent, and not use a coaster.” She smirked in satisfaction. “Set yourself up for that.”

“Just use a coaster, please,” he begged.

“Fine, I’ll try,” she gave in. “I swear, Michael, you’re like my grandpa.”

“What?”

“He’s a stick in the mud, too.”

“No, I’m not—I’m not a stick in the mud,” he insisted. “I just don’t want you to ruin my entire house. And unless you take your grandpa into dressing rooms and de-pants him . . .”

“Oh, get over it,” she said. “Come on, let’s keep this joy train moving. What’s next on the lecture list?”

“Uh . . .” He tapped the beer bottle with his fingertips trying to remember. “Oh, right. Well, I guess we could skip the part about who gets the bed since we’re kinda just sharing that. Quit hogging all the covers, though.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Oh, that reminds me: sheets. If you have sex on ‘em, wash ‘em. I think that’s easy enough.”

“Whatever,” she said flippantly. “Are you done?”

“Not yet.”

She completely ignored him and said, “Good. My turn. Okay, here’s the issue I’m having with this place: It’s very nice. Very clean. Very organized, everything in its correct place. But it’s lacking a little . . . oomph.

“Oomph?” That confused him.

“Yeah, it’s very . . . lifeless,” she explained. “Like it doesn’t have a life-force.”

He scrunched up his forehead, puzzled by that remark. “What do you mean? Of course it has a life force. I’ve lived here for over a year now. It has my life-force.”

“Well, it’s not a very lively life-force,” she said. “No offense.”

He didn’t like where this was headed. “Maria, what are you getting at?”

“A party,” she said, smiling. “We should throw a party.”

He didn’t even know where to start with the bad when it came to that idea, so he dismissed it outright, immediately. “No. No way.”

“Oh, come on. Get some music going, some decorations, some bumping and grinding bodies . . . it’s exactly what this place needs.”

“We’re not having a party. Forget about it.”

“I will not forget about it,” she protested. “Do you realize that, within days, we’ll be basking in the raunchiness and sexiness of Halloween? That is, like, the most sacred holiday.”

“Since when?”

“Since every year, I throw a humungous Halloween bash. Everyone comes. It’s, like, the place to be. Don’t you get it, Michael? If I don’t throw a party this year, people are gonna think there’s something seriously wrong with me. They’re gonna be pissed.”

“And I’m supposed to care?”

She pouted. “You care more about this lifeless apartment than my fun.”

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact.”

Please, Michael,” she begged. “Just let me throw the party. It’ll do you good. This place can have a better life-force.”

He rubbed his forehead in his hands, suddenly wishing he had never gotten out of bed. This sounded like a horrible idea. “Why don’t you find somewhere else to have it?” he suggested. “Like an abandoned barn.”

“An abandoned barn?” she resounded in horror. “Are you kidding me? I can’t have my infamous, astounding Halloween party in an abandoned barn.

“Well, you can’t have it here, either.”

“Please?” She pouted adorably, really working on him. “Michael, I will use coasters for the rest of my life. I’ll let you have all the covers at night. I’ll get a really good job. Just please let me have this party.”

He felt himself giving in once again, the same way he always did with her. Why was she so good at getting to him like this?

“I’ll tone it down,” she promised him. “It doesn’t have to be some huge party. It won’t get too wild. It’ll just be people we know.”

“People we know?” He wasn’t sure whether to believe her or not.

“Yeah. Not even a party, really. Just a-a small gathering. Very elite.”

“Gathering.” He would only believe it when he saw it. “Elite?”

“Yes,” she insisted. “Just a cool, calm, collected Halloween party—gathering. Nothing more.”

“Nothing more?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

He had a feeling she was totally playing him, but he resigned to it anyway. “Fine, you can do that.”

“Really?” She squealed excitedly and clapped her hands together. “Oh, Michael, I’m sorry I called you a stick in the mud. You’re not a stick in the mud. You’re the best!” She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly.

“You promised,” he reminded her, sort of dreading what Saturday night had in store for him now.

“I promised,” she agreed. “Small gathering. I got it.”

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

Big party Friday night at Fairview 521!” Maria called as she stood out on the steps of the Student Union the next morning handing out bright orange and hot pink flyers to anyone and everyone who walked by. “Be there or be boring!”

Brad, the guy she had slept with a few nights back, came up to her and tried to talk to her, but she shoved a flyer at him and said, “Halloween party. Bring all your friends,” causing him to walk away resignedly.

Flyer after flyer left her hand. She really didn’t know most of the people she was inviting, but chances were, they knew her. “Party at Fairview 521. Bring everyone you’ve ever met!” The party was probably going to be a little bigger than Michael anticipated, but he could deal. He always did. “Halloween party. Bring all your . . .” She trailed off abruptly when she noticed an all too familiar former friend in front of her. “Oh,” she said. “Well, I guess you don’t have any friends anymore.”

Tess didn’t even flinch. “I have Max.”

“Except he’s not a friend. Jackass and dictator, sure, but there’s no friendly there.”

Tess actually smiled a little. “God, you’ve always been so jealous of me,” she remarked.

Maria laughed in disbelief. “Me, jealous of you? Not in this lifetime.”

“Give me that,” Tess said, seizing a hot pink flyer out of Maria’s hand. “I should’ve known you’d still have this stupid Halloween party. Does Michael know about this?”

“Of course he knows,” Maria replied. “We have great communication skills.”

“He’ll kick you out once the party gets too out of control.”

“No, he won’t. He loves living with me.”

Tess laughed. “Yeah, right.”

“Unlike you, he’s a good friend.”

“Hey, I didn’t kick you out,” Tess reminded her quickly. “You chose to move out. Personally, I think that was the best day ever.”

“So do I,” Maria agreed. “In fact, I don’t miss living with you one bit.”

“I definitely don’t miss living with a slob,” Tess said. “Sex-addict. Selfish whore.”

“Brainless bimbo,” Maria retorted. She took her flyer back from Tess and said, “Just so you know, you’re not invited to the party.”

Tess grinned smugly. “Actually, just so you know, I am.”

Maria wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “What?”

Tess kept smiling and took her cell phone out of her purse. She pressed a few buttons, then read a text message aloud. “‘You should come to Maria’s Halloween party –Michael.’”

Maria clenched her jaw shut to keep from screaming. What was he thinking? Or was he even thinking at all? Her ex-best friend at her very important, very cool Halloween party? That sounded like a recipe for disaster; but she decided to play it cool. “Fine. Dress up, show up. I don’t care. It just means you don’t have anything better to do.”

“Oh, I’ll be there,” Tess assured her, “and I’ll bring Max with me.”

Maria groaned.

Tess nodded, still smiling. “That’s right. And for your information, I have plenty of better things to do, but none so entertaining as seeing you squirm.”

Maria shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me. So you and Max come to my party. So what? No one’s gonna notice you anyway.”

“Because they’re gonna be too busy looking at you?” Tess huffed. “Please. My costume kicks ass.”

“Maybe,” Maria acknowledged. “But my costume kicks ass better.”

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

Michael raised a quizzical eyebrow as he surveyed Maria, standing before him wearing her Halloween costume. “A pirate?”

She smiled. “A sexy female pirate. It’s not like I’m Captain Hook or something.”

He nodded slowly and said, “I . . . don’t think I’ve ever seen any pirates dressed like that.”

She laughed. “What, you know a lot of pirates?”

“Just the ones I see in movies.”

“Well, those are fat, ugly pirates,” she pointed out. “This is the Maria DeLuca pirate. She’s much better.” Personally, she was loving this costume more than any other Halloween costume. The orange and white striped midriff that hung off one shoulder was both comfortable and enticing. The short black skirt with the slit up the left side and the wrap around white cloth belt signified that she was open for business. The black lace up boots that reached up to mid-thigh made her legs look like miles, and the orange bandana with the skull and cross bones on it added a touch of adorableness. Now all she had to do was add a few jewelry accessories and figure out how to do her hair and make-up and it would be a completely come-hither look, which was what she was going for.

“Interesting,” Michael remarked. “You know, when one thinks of a costume, one typically thinks of something with . . . you know, fabric.”

She laughed. “Well, one might think that, but I think . . . the less fabric the better. I mean, I’m glad to show a little skin. Last year, I wore this cowgirl outfit. It covered up way too much. I almost wasn’t the center of attention.”

“Well, we can’t have that.”

“Exactly.”

“And you’re definitely gonna get attention this year, ‘cause . . . do you realize I can see your ass in the back?”

She made a face. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“No, I’m just saying . . . this is why I hate Halloween. It used to be about something, you know? Trick-or-treating. Candy. Now it’s just an excuse for girls to dress up like sluts and guys to ogle them.”

“No,” she corrected, “it’s a chance for girls to dress up like sluts without being slutty and guys to ogle them without being pervy. It’s the greatest holiday of the year. Besides Christmas.”

“Christmas is good,” he agreed. “Birth of the son of God and all that.”

“Actually, I was thinking presents,” she admitted. “Whatev. Anyway, now that you’ve seen my costume . . .” She trailed off, not needing to finish the sentence for him to understand.

“I don’t have a costume,” he told her.

“I knew you didn’t, which I why I took the liberty of buying you one.” She skipped behind the counter, took out a sack she had hidden in the oven and set it on the counter. “I stopped by Shindigz on my way home from class the other day and found you something you’re gonna love.”

“Oh, here we go.”

She reached into the bag and grabbed his costume. “Say hello to . . .” She dragged it out, then whipped out a pirate costume to match hers. “First mate Michael!”

He made a face. “First mate?

“It’s not that kind of mating.”

“No, I know what it is.” He seized the costume from her and looked it over. The expression on his face told her everything. He didn’t like it. But he should have. It was made for him. He was going to look so great in it. Tight-fitting black pants and big black boots. A loose fitting white shirt with a tight black leather shirt beneath it. A cropped dark brown jacket to go over the shirt and the black bandana and eye patch . . . what wasn’t to like?

“I don’t know . . .” he said skeptically.

“Come on, Michael. You’ll look hot in it,” she assured him, hoping promised sex appeal would reel him in.

“You think so?”

“Yes, that’s why I picked it out. Plus, now we can totally wear couples costumes in a non-couple capacity. It’ll be so cute.”

“Well, why do I have to be the first mate?” he came out and asked at last.

“Because I’m the captain,” she explained.

“Well, why are you the captain? If we’re pirates, then isn’t my apartment like our ship?”

“I guess.”

“And don’t I own the apartment? Don’t I captain the ship?”

“Well, you used to until I got here,” she told him. “No arguing with me. I’m the captain; you’re my first mate. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in girl-on-top.” She grinned.

“And the sexual innuendo comes out swinging.”

“What’s wrong with that?” she asked. “You know, you should try talking sexy sometime, Michael. Girls would like it. You might attract someone with your words.”

“I don’t care about attracting anyone right now,” was his flippant response.

“Well, maybe you should,” she suggested.

He narrowed his eyes and stared at her, clearly trying to see what she was thinking. “What’re you gettin’ at?”

“I’m just saying . . . it’s been four months since Isabel left. Four months, Michael. That means you’ve been mopey and depressed for a hundred and twenty four days.”

“A hundred and twenty three,” he corrected. “Thirty days hath September.”

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. The point is, you’ve been Mr. Donny Downer for a long time now. It’s getting old.”

“Well, I’m sorry my emotional state isn’t new and exciting enough for you.”

She realized she had offended him, and she felt bad. “That’s not what I meant. All I’m doing is suggesting that you keep your eyes open. There’s lots of girls who would love to date you. Maybe you’ll meet somebody at the party tonight.”

“Are you trying to set me up with someone?” he asked immediately.

“No,” she insisted. “I just want you to be happy.”

“I can be happy without a girlfriend.”

“You could be happier with one.”

“Maria, I don’t need you messing with my love life.”

“What love life? You don’t have one.”

“I don’t care.”

“Just because things didn’t work with Isabel . . .”

“Can we not talk about her?”

“. . . doesn’t mean they won’t work with somebody else.”

“No, Maria, I’m not like you, okay?” he finally snapped. “I can’t hop into bed with the first person who catches my eye.”

That shut her up momentarily as she cast a glance downward at her feet. She wasn’t ashamed of being sexually adventurous. There was nothing wrong with trying out a lot of different guys as far as she was concerned. But still . . . she sometimes wished her closest friends didn’t think of her as a slut.

He seemed to realize he had said something wrong, because he stepped towards her and said, “Look, I’m-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean . . . that was a stupid thing to say. I don’t know why I said it.”

“It’s fine,” she assured him. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No, it’s not . . .” He trailed off and sighed, then glanced down at the pirate costume in his hand. “You want me to try this on?”

“Yes, please,” she squealed, smiling.

He laughed a little and headed towards his bedroom. “Don’t laugh when I come out.”

“I won’t,” she promised.

While he was in his bedroom changing, he called out a question to her. “Hey, so this is still just gonna be a small gathering, right? Just about a dozen people?”

Oh, it was going to be more than that, and he probably wasn’t going to be happy about it. At first. “Yeah,” she lied in reply. “Just about a dozen.”









TBC . . . (on March 22nd!)

-April :D
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 7

Post by April » Sun Mar 22, 2009 3:42 pm

Hey, guys, I'm back! I had a wonderful spring break, got some much needed relaxing done, and I wrote a lot of this fic! I kind of hit a writer's stride, so that was nice! Now that I'm back, though, my first priority is of course to give you guys a much-needed update! (Seriously, I haven't even unpacked yet.) ;)

Thanks for the awesome feedback:

Krista (California rent sounds killer!)
Leila
nibbles
Alien_Friend
killjoy
Alison
lilah
teqauthisy
Jan
spacegirl23
Christina (the dressing room sex sounds were a total Passion throwback!)
Lena
Buddha-Boy


Now this is a party chapter. There's always music in a party chapter, right? I'm gonna drop off one of my favorite rap/hip hop songs ever "Hypnotize" by the Notorious B.I.G. when you see :shock: I can't find it on Youtube (damn copyright-happy Youtube), but you can find it here: http://www.imeem.com/fion/music/FF7GGkC ... hypnotize/ or probably on Last.fm or something.

Anyway, it's good to be back! Missed you guys!











Part 7









People began showing up for the party around 8:00 that night. It started to get really crowded around 9:00. By 9:30, a few guys were already heading out to buy some more kegs. By 10:00, all of the decorations that Maria had hung up were getting torn down, and all of the food she had set out was nearly gone.

“A couple dozen, huh?” Michael said angrily as they stood back and watched it all. He was leaning back against the counter with his arms crossed over his chest, and she was sitting atop it, kicking her legs out once in awhile to flash a really cute guy dressed as a magician who kept looking her way.

“Well, just how much is a couple?” she asked. “You gotta admit, that’s really vague.”

“Two!” he shrieked. “Two is a couple. You see those people who just walked in. They’re a couple. Because there’s two of them.”

“No, they’re a couple because he’s got his hand up her shirt,” Maria informed him.

“When I said a couple dozen, I was talking about two dozen. At the most. In fact, I’m pretty sure now that I think about that I said one dozen. Singular. And what do we end up with? This. I don’ t even know these people.”

“That’s the beauty of it,” she explained. “Strangers are sexy.”

“Strangers are . . . spilling alcohol on my white carpet! What the hell?”

“Chillax,” she told him, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Chill-chillax? What the hell’s that?”

“It’s a combination of chilling out and relaxing. It’s like meditation, only much quicker.”

“Well, I would ‘chillax’ if there wasn’t a drunken orgy going on in my apartment.”

“It’s not an orgy,” she pointed out. “Yet.”

“Oh, god.” He took his eye patch off and rubbed his face with his hands. “I can’t believe you did this. You lied to me. I’m never gonna forgive you.”

Upon hearing that, she hopped down off the counter and stood in front of him, hooking her index fingers into the waistband of his pants and jutting her bottom lip out in a pout. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, giving him the puppy-dog look.

“Don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?” she asked innocently.

“Look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like . . . that. I’m serious. You’re in big trouble.”

She giggled. “That sounds kinky.”

“Kinky? Does your mind live in the gutter or something?”

“No. It lives here, in Apartment 521 with you.” She smiled.

“Oh, I should’ve stuck to my guns and kicked you out.”

“And then what would you be doing? You’d be having a boring Halloween with no fun and no memories whatsoever,” she said matter-of-factly. “At least this way you’re actually doing something.”

“I’ll tell you what I wanna do: I wanna cut the music and throw all these people out.”

“No, Michael, please, don’t,” she begged in all seriousness. “I’ll look so stupid if this party ends before 3:00 a.m.”

“3:00 a.m.?” he shrieked. “I don’t wanna stay up that late.”

“Force yourself,” she told him. “Please, just let the party people party. I’ll try to keep them more under control.”

“Yeah, you say that, but . . .” Before he could finish, the same guy Maria had been eyeing all night, the one dressed as a magician, came up to her and smacked her ass. “Hey,” he said. “You look fine.”

“Hey,” Michael snapped at him, bristling. “Don’t.”

The guy looked between him and Maria and said, “Sorry. Didn’t know she was your piece.” He slinked off into the crowd then, immediately finding another girl’s ass to spank. She was much more responsive.

Maria smiled at Michael, surprised at how good it felt to have a man get a little protective over her. But also a little disappointed that she wasn’t going to be getting her first choice of sex stallion for the night. “You just ruined every chance I had of sleeping with that guy,” she informed him.

Michael seemed dumbfounded. “You wanted to sleep with him? He called you a piece.”

“Dude, I’ve been flashing him all night long for that reason and that reason only. We were gonna make some magic.”

“Oh.” He shrugged. “Sorry about that.”

“I’ll hook up with up with that guy standing by the TV instead,” she decided.

Michael cast a glance in that direction and wrinkled is forehead in disgust. “The one dressed as the giant penis?”

“No, the other one. The guy dressed as the giant sperm.”

“Some classy people here tonight,” Michael remarked sarcastically. “You sure you wanna sleep with them?”

“Well, who else am I gonna sleep with?”

“Why do you have to sleep with anyone?”

“Because I want to. Is that so bad?”

“No,” he replied quickly. “Not so bad, just . . . they’re losers.”

She shrugged, having already noticed that. “Captain DeLuca doesn’t care.”

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

Max and Tess arrived at the party at 10:30—fashionably late. Tess took a moment to look at all the other girls’ costumes and compare them to her own. Some girls were nearly naked, and others were almost fully clothed. She fell right in the middle. Nothing was showing that couldn’t be shown in polite company . . . except for a little butt cheek in the back if she bent over too far. She didn’t really plan on bending over too much until she and Max got home. They were only going to stay until midnight, and then they were out of there.

“Smaller turnout than last year,” Max remarked.

“Maria must be getting less popular,” Tess figured.

“Or she’s sleeping with fewer guys.”

“I highly doubt that,” Tess said. “It’s probably just ‘cause the party’s at Michael’s place this year. Everyone assumes it won’t be wild.”

“And they have good reason to. Michael Guerin’s the least lively person I’ve ever met. That’s why he couldn’t make it work with my sister,” Max rambled. “She’s too good for him.”

She’s too good for him?” Tess couldn’t believe her ears. She didn’t know the specifics of Michael and Isabel’s break-up, but she knew it had been Isabel’s decision and Isabel’s decision alone. For that reason, hatred came easily.

“Yeah,” Max said. “Hey, you look really great tonight, you know that?”

She let her momentary anger slip aside and blushed at his compliment. He had been the one to pick out the costume for her. He’d better think she looked good.

“Oh, watch out,” Max mumbled suddenly. “Here comes the Queen Bitch.”

Tess looked up just in time to see Maria stalking towards them. She took notice of her former friend’s very slutty pirate costume and had to admit . . . it was cute. Dammit.

“Well, well, well,” Maria greeted them in a sing-song tone. “Look who we have here: Max and . . . Max’s girlfriend.”

“Very funny,” Tess grunted.

“Max is a cop and Tess is . . . oh, she’s a prisoner. Gee, I wonder if that’s signifying something.”

Tess glanced down at her outfit, and for the first time, she wondered, too. Honestly, she hadn’t given it much thought, and maybe that was stupid, but . . . she’d just assumed that the short pleated skirt and midriff zip-up shrug were cute. Striped and cute. And the little hat to go along with it . . . it really was an adorable, sexy outfit, but what Maria said made sense, in a way.

“I look good in stripes,” she said in defense of both herself and Max. “Besides . . . pirates are so last year.”

“But hot pirates are this year,” Maria explained, “which probably explains why you two are dressed the way you are.”

“Save it, Maria,” Max snapped. “Every time you try to convince yourself you’re not jealous of us, you get more and more pathetic.”

“Oh, really? And tell me, Max, why on earth would I be jealous of you two? Can’t be the sex.”

“We have a lasting relationship,” Max said simply. “You’ll never have that with anyone. And once your looks fade, you won’t even be having sex. So your future looks pretty bleak.”

Tess averted her eyes from Maria and tried not to listen to Max. She hated it when he got like this, attacking Maria, and then she attacked him right back, and nothing ever got accomplished.

“Quite a fiesta you’ve got going here, though,” Max remarked, switching the topic quickly and effortlessly. “Smaller turnout than last year, but that’s expected. Personally, I’m just interested in finding out how many of these whores end up pregnant by the end of the night.”

“Max, that’s really not funny,” Tess mumbled. He crossed the line with his humor sometimes.

“Sure it is,” he argued. “Tonight, Maria gets laid. Nine months later, she’s fat, and her sought-after pussy’s getting stretched to the max.” He grinned. “No pun intended, of course.”

Maria narrowed her eyes at him, looking as though she could just about kill him, and she didn’t have a snappy comeback for him this time. Instead, she ground out to the both of them, “Enjoy the party,” before turning her back on them and stomping off towards the kitchen.

“Hmm,” Max said. “Not her best argument.”

Tess gave him an impatient look.

“What?” he asked.

She shook her head, so annoyed with the both of them. They were childish and conceited, and she constantly felt trapped in between the two of them. “Nothing,” she said. “Let’s just go dance.”

Max grabbed her hand and pulled her into the living room to do just that.

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

God, that guy is such a jerk, Maria thought furiously, always amazed that Max could get more and more annoying with every passing day. She marched back over to the counter, bypassing at least five guys who tried to say something to her. She couldn’t talk to them right now. She was too angry at Max for being at the party and being with Tess and just being alive in general. Idiot. He really knew how to get under her skin.

“Hey, you okay?”

She looked up when Michael spoke to her and replied, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You look a little upset.”

“Well, Max upsets me.” She sighed heavily, resigning herself to the fact that he was in existence, and asked Michael, “Can you do your captain a favor and go get her a drink?”

“Argh,” he groaned, in character. “Sure.”

“Thanks.” She watched him veer towards the keg—somebody was going to have to make another keg run soon—and then she spied Tess and Max dancing near the hallway. Max’s arms were around Tess’s waist and her back was to him, so she couldn’t see that he wasn’t even concentrating on her. He was staring at a girl near the food table—Maria couldn’t tell who. She was dressed up as an angel.

She grunted, hating Max for being such a prick of a boyfriend to her best friend, even though Tess wasn’t really her best friend anymore.

Jackass.

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

Max knew exactly who the girl in the angel costume was the moment he saw her. He remembered those legs and how they looked wrapped around his hips as he moved inside her. For a year, images like this had pervaded his mind.

He forced his attention to return to Tess when she spun around in his arms and swayed with the music down to the floor before shimmying her way back up. She hooked two of her fingers into the handcuffs dangling from his belt and pulled his lower body in closer to hers. He ground into her suggestively for a moment, but he couldn’t help but cast a glance at Liz out of the corner of his eye. Finally, the temptation became too much, and he devised a plan to rid himself of his girlfriend for a moment.

“Tess, sweetheart. I don’t mean to alarm you, but your eyebrow hairs are out of place.”

“What?” She stopped dancing and touched her perfectly fine eyebrows with her fingertips. “Oh my god.” She hid her face and shot off towards the nearest bathroom.

Max smiled, satisfied, and made his way over to the food table to talk to Liz. He removed his dark blue police officer sunglasses in order to see her better, and his cock stiffened in delight. Tight mini-dress, some ruffles, some lace, not to mention those feathery wings on the back . . . this was an image that was going straight into his fantasy bank.

“An angel, huh?” he remarked. “That’s ironic.”

She glanced at him and said, “A dark angel.”

“Well, that’s fitting.” The costume was all black.

She smiled, trying to look all focused on the nearly empty bowl of candy corn in front of her.

“You look good, Liz,” he told her.

“Better than Tess?” she asked.

He leaned back against the food table and sighed. “Don’t make me choose.” Tess was wearing a costume that he himself had picked out, and she was wearing it well.

“You’re a jerk,” Liz commented without restraint.

“Yeah,” he agreed, laughing lightly before leaning in and whispering in her ear, “but you wouldn’t have me any other way.”

The fact that her angel wings literally fluttered with her shuddering intake of breath was all the response he needed.

“Bye, angel,” he said, quickly disappearing from her side as Tess emerged from the bathroom.

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

Maria was only mildly plastered by the time her brother finally showed up at the party. She didn’t even recognize him at first. He was dressed up as a woman in a short, red, sequined dress with matching red heels. The dress came with built in breasts, and Marty had taken the liberty to put on a platinum blonde wig and bedazzle himself in jewelry and make-up. He really looked hilarious.

“Marty, your costume’s so great,” Maria told her brother for the umpteenth time.

“Thanks,” Marty said. “What about you, Big Guy? You think I look sexy?”

Michael made a face at the new nickname. “You make a very strange-looking woman. That’s all I’ll say.”

Marty grinned. “He thinks I’m sexy.”

“I do not think you’re sexy,” Michael denied emphatically.

“You think I’m sexy?” Maria asked, turning to face him.

“Hey, I’m just the first mate. I’ll think that if you tell me to think it.”

“Think it,” Maria told him. “It’s true.” She nodded, smiling. She had never been more satisfied with a Halloween costume than she was with this pirate costume. It totally blew Tess’s ensemble out of the water. Prisoner? What the hell was that all about? She was definitely making a statement, but not a female empowering one.

Marty had just opened his mouth to say something when a guy dressed in a pimp costume came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Damn girl, what’s your name?” The words slithered out of his mouth, full of sexual intrigue. “You look tight.”

Marty turned around slowly, and the horny guy’s face registered shock. “Hi, I’m Martin. Wanna fuck?”

Horny guy stumbled backward and fled for the door.

Maria burst out laughing. “Oh my god, that was the funniest thing ever!”

Marty snorted with laughter and said, “I know, I know. Did you see his face? Did you see his face?”

“He was totally freaked out,” Maria agreed.

“And totally cute. Maybe I shouldn’t have scared him off,” Marty contemplated.

“He could be a potential Brokeback-believer,” Maria said, referencing one of Marty’s favorite movies. “Maybe you should follow him.”

“No, I’ll let him come to me,” Marty said. “He’ll come back, I promise. He can’t resist my ass.”

Maria laughed and cast a glance up at Michael. He was cringing but tolerating her and her brother’s constant perverseness. Good for him.

“Whoa, incoming,” Marty said, looking over at the doorway of the apartment.

Maria followed his gaze and tried to make sense of what she saw standing there. “Whoa,” she echoed. Somebody had just shown up wearing the lamest costume of all time. It was a plane grey shark with its jaws stretched open and two legs and tennis shoes poking out of the mouth, as though somebody were getting eaten. It was ridiculous.

“Oh my god,” she said. “Who the hell would wear that?” Even preschoolers were smart enough to know not to look so stupid.

“Uh, Maria, it’s coming this way,” Marty said fearfully.

“Let’s slip away,” Maria suggested.

“No, I wanna see who it is.”

Whoever was in the costume came up to them, waved one flipper, and said in a muffled voice, “Hey, guys.”

Maria frowned, unsure who it was. She knew so many people.

Michael leaned forward, squinting in concentration, and asked, “Kyle?”

“Yeah. Don’t you recognize me?”

“We can’t see you,” Maria informed him, holding back her laughter. “Nice costume.”

“I know, isn’t it great?”

Marty chuckled. “She was being sarcastic, honey. You look very strange.”

“Way to deflate the guy’s ego,” Michael remarked. “Kyle, don’t worry. Your costume’s . . . really unique.”

“Well, that’s why I wore it,” Kyle said. “I didn’t think anybody else would dress like this.”

“That’s because everybody else is sane,” Maria mumbled.

“Sorry, honey. Looks like you won’t be wooing your dream girl tonight,” Marty put in.

Maria sighed. “If only you were a police officer.”

“Wait a minute,” Kyle cried, flapping his fins dramatically. “This is funny. This is a funny costume. I’m two things at once: I’m a shark, and I’m a guy getting eaten by a shark. It’s genius.”

“But it’s not sexy,” Maria explained, “and Halloween’s all about being sexy.”

“And slutty,” Michael added, “according to some people.”

“Sexy, slutty . . . same thing,” she said, waving him off. “Kyle, I really wish you’d consulted with me about this. This is just . . . really something.”

“Can you even see anything?” Marty asked. “Besides the legs in front of you, I mean.”

“I can see. There’s eyeholes,” Kyle said. “I can see the way everyone’s staring at me. Oh god!”

“Actually, they’re staring at that couple having sex on the couch,” Maria informed him, pointing out the couple dressed up as matching ketchup and mustard bottles that was currently getting it on.

“On my new leather?” Michael wailed. “My new leather couch? Oh, just kill me now!” He headed into the living room to put an end to it.

“I can’t believe I dressed like this,” Kyle muttered. He went on to lament about how his father told him the costume was a good idea. Maria could barely hear him.

“Speak up,” she told him. “We can’t hear you, Sharky.”

He just whimpered in response.

:shock:

Maria laughed and was about to tease him some more—all in good fun, of course—until Tess barged into their circle out of nowhere, literally pushed her way directly through them, and climbed up on the kitchen counter just as a new song kicked on. Immediately, all the males in the room flocked towards the counter to watch her dance. Maria was practically trampled.

“Oh my god,” Kyle said. He was lucky no one could see his eyes through his costume, because he was probably staring in awe. He moved towards the front of the rowdy group and plastered himself against the countertop eagerly.

“What the hell?” Maria barked, not liking this, not liking this one bit. Tess was swirling her arms in the air, shaking her hips, unzipping her top to reveal an insane amount of cleavage. Everyone with a cell phone took it out and tried to snap a picture of what was—or rather wasn’t—under her skirt.

“No!” Maria shrieked. “No, this is my party!” She wanted the spotlight to be on her. It always was. She scanned the room quickly and met Max’s eyes. He was smirking at her, obviously having been the one to put his girlfriend up to this little stunt.

“Oh, it’s on,” Maria ground out, pushing through the drooling male crowd so that she could climb up and join Tess.

“Yeah!” all the guys cheered, smacking her ass to “help” her up onto the counter.

“My kitchen counter?” Michael shouted. “Oh, god.”

Maria stood up and glared at Tess, silently challenging her. Tess just huffed and kept on dancing.

Bitch, Maria thought, unwilling to let her be the one guys salivated over. She began to circle her hips rapidly, causing her short skirt to flap up and show off absolutely everything underneath. The guys with cell phones kept alternating taking pictures of her and taking pictures of Tess. She wanted them to just take pictures of her.

“I’m the better dancer,” Tess cooed in a sing-song voice as she did a short model strut down to the end of the counter.

“In your dreams,” Maria sang back, removing her pirate bandana. She threw it into the crowd of adoring men and shook her hair out wildly. Everyone cheered. A few especially daring men reached out and ran her hands up the expanse of her legs. She let them touch. Why not? They were good-looking enough.

“Yeah, dance, whores!” one of them hollered.

She stiffened at that command, because it was a command. She cast a glance at Michael, and he wasn’t looking at her. He was staring at the floor, looking a little disappointed in both her and Tess.

Before she could contemplate that more thoroughly, Tess’s shrill shriek rang out in the air. Maria looked over just in time to see her toppling off the counter, right into the fins of one awaiting Kyle Valenti. He fell to the floor, and she landed on top of them.

“Tess, are you okay?” she asked on instinct. When she realized what she was saying and reminded herself that she didn’t care about that girl anymore, she said, “I mean . . . yea, I won!” She threw her hands in the air and whooped in delight.

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

She’s on top of me, was all Kyle could think after Tess fell. The girl of my dreams is on top of me. He hated that she moved.

“Oh my god, that was so embarrassing,” she said as she rolled off of him. “I’m so sorry about that. I just fell, and . . . and you caught me.” She smiled.

He scrambled to his feet and held out one of his fins to help her up. “No problem,” he said, trying to sound cool.

“Thank you,” she said, sounding very gratefully. “You saved my life.”

He chuckled a little. “Well, that may be overstating it.”

“No, you’re a hero,” she insisted. “What’s your name?”

“Kyle Valenti.” He crossed his fingers and prayed she would remember him.

“Kyle.” She mulled it over and shook her head. “I must not know you.”

“No, you do,” he told her. “You and Maria went to a party with me and Michael one time.”

“I’ve been to a lot of parties,” she said, implying that they all blended together.

“No, but--”

“What’re you supposed to be?” she cut in questioningly.

“Oh, I’m a man-eating shark,” he explained.

“A what?”

“A man-eating shark,” he repeated, louder.

“Oh,” she nodded and didn’t say anything else about that.

“Here, you know what, just let me get out of this costume,” Kyle said, trying to pull his arms out of the fins. He felt confident that she would—or at least might—remember him if she saw him. He grunted upon realizing that this costume was more difficult to escape than he had initially thought and tried desperate to push it up and over his head. It was really heavy.

“Tess!” a stern voice called from the doorway. “Let’s go.”

The boyfriend. Kyle felt like snarling in contempt. Tess’s boyfriend was going to ruin this precious and all too rare moment.

“Sorry, I gotta go,” Tess said. “I’ll see you, Lyle.” She smiled and skipped off.

“No, it’s Kyle!” he called after her. “It’s . . .” He tried desperately to Hulk his way out of his costume, but he was stuck. He sighed in resignation and watched Tess disappear out the door. All he could hope now was that she remembered the man-eating shark, because she sure as hell didn’t remember him.

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

Michael stiffened when he heard something break. Not good. Not good at all.

“Hey,” Maria said, skipping up to him as though she hadn’t a care in the world. “Sorry about the counter dancing. Couldn’t resist.”

“Did you hear that?” he asked her, every nerve cell in his body standing on end.

“Hear what?”

“Something broke. Probably a vase.”

She waved it off. “Vases break all the time.”

“Probably my great, great, great grandmother’s antique porcelain vase,” he elaborated. “That thing’s been passed down from generation to generation of women in my family.”

She furrowed her brow in confusion. “Then why do you have it?” She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Something you wanna tell me, Big Boy?”

“Only child,” he reminded her. “I’m supposed to give it to my daughter someday.”

“Well, you’ll never have a daughter unless you make romance a priority,” she said pointedly.

He knew Maria well enough to know that that statement was a segue into something bigger and probably crazier. “What’re you gettin’ at, DeLuca?”

“This just occurred to me as I was climbing down from the counter. I have the perfect girl for you.”

“No, Maria, I told you not to hook me up with anyone.”

“Michael, I’m serious,” she insisted. “Come on, please? Entertain me.”

“It’s 1:30 in the morning. I just wanna go to bed. But I can’t. You know why? ‘Cause there are two people who I don’t know having sex in my bed.” He was starting to get distraught.

“Roll with the punches,” she replied simply. “Come on, just come meet her.”

“I don’t wanna meet anyone, Maria,” he whined as she pushed him in the direction of the now completely barren food table.

“Shut up and be nice,” she said before stopping him in front of a girl dressed in a dark angel costume. “Michael, this is Elizabeth Parker. Liz, this is Michael Guerin.”

Liz just stood there looking stunned for a moment. Apparently she hadn’t been aware that Maria was going to do this.

“Hey,” Michael greeted unsurely.

“Hey,” she echoed.

Wow,” Maria remarked emphatically. “Sexual tension you could cut with a knife.”

What the hell is she thinking? Michael asked himself. He really didn’t understand the way Maria’s mind worked sometimes. It worked; of that much he was sure. She wasn’t dumb. But she had some wacked out ideas at times.

“What’s going on here?” Liz asked nervously.

“Maria’s trying to play matchmaker,” he explained.

“This is just perfect,” Maria went on to rave. “You guys are both single and good-looking and intelligent. Think of the beautiful babies you could make and all the fun you could have making them.”

“Oh-kay,” Liz whistled. “Pretty sure I’m not thinking about that. Maria, can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure.”

“Just one minute,” Liz assured Michael. She grabbed Maria’s arm, and the two of them ducked off into the corner for a quick conversation. Michael couldn’t hear the entire thing, but he caught the gist of it. Liz said something about friends with benefits, and Maria assured her that there was a big benefit to hooking up with Michael. He shook his head, uncomfortable with the entire situation, and winced when he heard something else in his house break. This party was getting out of control, and he was hating every second of it.

Finally, Liz and Maria made their way back over to him. “Liz thought about it,” Maria relayed. “She’ll dance with you.”

“I can’t dance,” Michael said quickly, just as a slow song kicked on.

“Oh, is this a sign of fate or what?” Maria giggled as she pushed them close together. “Okay, just hold each other and sway. It’s really easy. Much bliss! Toodles.” She gave him an encouraging pat on the back and skipped away, leaving him slow-dancing with a girl he had just met a minute ago.

“I just thought she’d leave us alone if we danced once,” Liz explained.

“Right.” Sounded like a good idea to him. “So, you’re Kyle’s ex, right?” He didn’t recognize her face, but he recognized her name.

“Yeah, you know Kyle?”

“Yeah, he’s my best friend. Plus, he’s my neighbor, so there’s really no way I can avoid knowing him.”

Liz laughed a little. “He’s a good guy. Is he here?”

“Yeah, he’s dressed as a, uh . . . a man-eating shark. You can’t really miss him.”

“Kyle always was a little quirky like that,” Liz said. “That’s weird that we’ve never met, though, even though we both know him.”

“Well, Kyle didn’t become my friend until spring semester of last year,” Michael explained, “and I think you two were already apart, so . . .”

“Yeah, we were,” Liz said. “Probably should’ve stayed with him, though. I’ve hooked up with some real losers since then.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “Oh, well. That’s the type I go for, I guess.”

“Yeah, then we’re definitely not a match.”

“You seem very nice,” she agreed. “The last guy I was involved with . . . I mean really involved with . . . it wasn’t like an affair or anything, but no one knew we were together. And it all felt so exotic and sexy. But he was such a jerk. He still is. He broke up with me a year ago, and I’m still not over him.”

“Jerk, huh?” Michael thought of Tess and Max and said, “Some girls go for that.”

“Yeah, I wish I didn’t,” Liz said regretfully. “I’m sorry about all this. I didn’t know Maria was gonna . . . but I should’ve. She’s Maria.”

He laughed a little.

“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with you,” Liz assured him quickly. “You seem great. I’m just . . . hung up on somebody else, I guess.”

“Me, too,” he admitted, thinking of Isabel. “Kind of. Not really hung up on her so much as trying to get used to life without her.”

“Who?” Liz asked.

“Isabel Evans.”

“Evans?” Liz tensed and stopped dancing.

“Yeah . . .” Had he said something wrong?

Liz stepped away from him and said, “Oh, um . . . I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry; I’m just not feeling very well, all of a sudden. Thank you for the dance, Michael, but I think I . . . I have to go.” She whirled around, and she didn’t need those angel wings attached to her back, because she flew out of there on foot.

Weird, Michael thought. Something I said?

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

Maria rolled her eyes in annoyance when she saw Liz bolt off the party scene suddenly. Michael didn’t seem to mind. He stopped dancing and headed back over towards her.

“Well, that worked out great,” he muttered.

“You didn’t even try,” she complained, angry with him for ruining her matchmaking fun.

“I did,” he insisted. “I had a conversation with her.”

“About what?”

“Kyle and some other guy she used to date.”

“Stimulating,” Maria grunted. “God, next time I want you to hook up with someone, I’m just gonna write you a script and have you memorize the lines.”

“No, there won’t be a next time,” he told her decidedly. “You got it?”

“Uh-uh, buddy. I’m the captain.”

“Yeah, tonight you are. Tomorrow, you’re back to being the non-rent-paying portion of this household.”

“Fine, them I’m gonna make the most of this,” she declared.

“What’re you gonna do, make me walk the plank?”

“Yes.” She handed him her empty glass and said, “Walk the plank right over to the keg. Not so much foam this time. I’m really thirsty.”

He tried not to smile, shook his head, and mumbled, “The things I do for you . . .”

“Aw.” She smiled. “You’re such a good first mate.”










TBC . . .

-April

(And before anyone starts to worry, no, there is absolutely NO Michael/Liz in this story.) :lol:
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 8

Post by April » Tue Mar 24, 2009 12:16 pm

Leila: Thanks, I had a great vacation, but it's good to be back!

guel: lol, no one-night stands for this Michael and Maria. Michael would be mortified!

Alien_Friend: Aw, you're right, Maria is definitely making a home in Michael's heart (whether either of them realizes it or not!) :D

spacegirl23: I'm glad you like this Maria. She'll never lose her crazyiness or her spunk, but she'll make some positive changes and grow up somewhat, too.

Jan: Not liking Max? That's perfectly fine! :twisted:

Alison: Who would wear that costume? You'd be surprised. I saw two guys at a Halloween party dressed as man-eating sharks once. Two guys. It was really laughable. There's just nothing remotely sexy about that costume. It seemed perfect for Kyle in this fic. ;)

behrlyliz: Hmm, well, I don't watch Gossip Girl on a regular basis, but I agree, Max is kind of like Chuck Bass. I'm glad you enjoy reading him. I hope that I'm able to portray him realistically.

Christina:
What I'm most surprised about is Liz's quick get-away at the end, after Michael mentioned Isabel breaking his heart. What's up with that? Color me intrigued.
I probably should've made that more clear. Liz's getaway had nothing to do with Michael mentioning Isabel, but Michael mentioning Evans. She doesn't want anyone to have the slightest suspicion about her and Max because it would tarnish what people think of her, so she just got out of there before she became even more uncomfortable and honest.

And I have to say that you're absolutely right about Maria. As confident as she seems, she does have insecurities. She exploits her reputation as a wild, crazy, party-girl, and when people view her that way and think there's nothing more to her, she unfortunately starts to believe they're right. (And yes, Max isn't just a jerk for the sake of being a jerk--although he does enjoy it--so rest assured that you'll get more insight into him.)

killjoy: I think you'll be happy to know that the whole nice guys vs. bad boys issue is a really big part of this story. In fact, it was your feedback for Passion that inspired a lot of this fic. That should boost your ego! :lol:

Buddha-boy: I'm so glad you like Marty. I'll admit that I use him mainly for comic relief; it's not like he's some deep, complex character or anything. But sometimes you need that in a story. And I'll agree that Kyle certainly embodies a lot of canon Alex's nerdiness in this fic. I always thought that Kyle got nerdier and nerdier as the show went on . . . but that just made me love him more and more. :D

Mercedes: If you were able to get caught up, that must mean your computer's working again! Here's hoping it stays working, girl. I'm glad you're enjoying the fic and all the characters. You seem to understand them really well.


Thanks for all the wonderful feedback, everyone! Just a little tidbit of info: This story is up to 738 pages now, and it's not finished. God, I never thought it would be this long!

How about more music? I just love music, and I love "Lie in the Sound" by Trespasser's William. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPeiAMmqUtc&fmt=18 to listen to if you choose to when you see :) .

Enjoy this part. It's a little bit longer.









Part 8








The party didn’t even start to dwindle until after 3:00 a.m. By the time 4:30 rolled around, everyone was gone, and Michael was exhausted, but he wanted to get his place cleaned up. Maybe he was a bit of an “anal neat freak,” as Maria would describe him, but that had its benefits. What was wrong with a clean apartment? Absolutely nothing. People were only as clean as the environments they lived in.

Kyle stayed after, helped clean up for a few minutes, then sat down on the couch to “supervise.” He had climbed out of his ridiculous costume now and thrown it out the window onto the street.

“Well, at least none of your paintings got damaged tonight,” he remarked.

“Yeah.” Michael picked up the remnants of his grandmother’s antique vase and shook his head. So much for that family heirloom. All the women in his family were going to be pissed.

“Pretty wild bash you had going here,” Kyle went on. “Too bad I dressed up in the lamest costume ever.”

Michael dumped the shattered remains of the vase into the trash can and said, “No, your costume wasn’t lame. It was . . .”

“If you say unique, you’ll become the man part of my man-eating shark,” Kyle warned.

Michael stayed silent for a moment, then said, “I was gonna say memorable.”

“Oh, great. So my lame costume’s memorable.” Kyle grunted. “Tess won’t remember me.”

Michael grinned. “Who?”

“Oh! Wes,” Kyle lied quickly (and dumbly). “I met a girl tonight. Named Wes.”

“Girl named Wes.” Michael contemplated it and shrugged, pretending he believed it.

“Well, you know, those unsexed names are all the rage,” Kyle explained nervously. “I knew of a girl named Michael once. And I went to high school with this girl named Kyle. It was really weird. I’d run into her and say, ‘Hey, Kyle,’ and she’d be like, ‘Oh, hey, Kyle.’” He laughed a shaky laugh.

Michael sent him a what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about look and bent down to retrieve some cups from around the fireplace.

“Don’t listen to me. I don’t know what I’m talking about,” Kyle said in a rush. “So, uh . . . if you had to pick a best dressed girl tonight, who would you pick?”

Michael spied an unmistakable item lying on the floor to the left of his fireplace just as Kyle posed that question, and he shouted, “Oh, that’s sick, man!”

“What? What’s sick about that?” Kyle spat. “Those girls spent a lot of time on their costumes. We should award a gold medal. They deserve that much, don’t you think? I’m not being a creep.”

“No, that.” Michael pointed to the item that had evoked his emphatic exclamation.

Kyle peered ahead with squinted eyes and asked, “Is that a . . . used condom?”

“I told you it’s sick!”

“Dude!” Kyle laughed. “At least they’re using protection.”

“It’s still sick,” Michael said, having to look away. “I don’t wanna pick that up.”

“You’re gonna have to.”

“You pick it up.”

Kyle made a face of repulsion. “I’m not picking it up.”

“You’re my guest. Earn your right to exist here.”

“Earn your guest,” Kyle retorted. “Or just ask Maria to pick it up. She’d probably do it for fun.”

“Yeah, probably,” Michael agreed. “Maria!” He waited for a few seconds, but when he didn’t get any response, he called again. “Maria!”

She came waddling out of the bedroom a minute later with a sheet wrapped around her naked body. “What?”

“Are you having sex?” Kyle asked her before Michael could tell her about the condom.

“About to,” she replied innocently. “What do you guys want? You wanna watch? You can if you want.”

“Can we?” Kyle asked eagerly.

“We don’t wanna watch,” Michael cut in. “Maria, we’ve kind of got a . . . a situation.”

She frowned as she surveyed both of their crotches. “Strange, I don’t see any unrelieved erections.”

He rolled his eyes in annoyance. “No, no that kind of situation. There’s a used condom on the floor. Neither one of us wants to pick it up.” He shrugged helplessly. “So . . .”

“Oh, you big babies.” She waddled over to the condom, still clutching the sheet around herself, and said, “Paper towels would be nice.”

“Oh, right.” Kyle hopped up from the couch, scurried into the kitchen, tore a bundle of paper towels from the dispenser, and gave them to Maria. She picked up the condom and tossed it into the trash can Michael was holding.

“There,” she said. “Who’s the man?”

“You’re the man,” Michael replied, wrinkling his forehead in confusion as he did so. Maria was anything but manly.

“Thank me later,” Maria said. “Right now, imagine a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the bedroom door. You know.” She winked. “Later, guys.”

“Later,” Kyle said as she headed back down the hallway to the bedroom. “Wow, she’s really gonna have sex with someone, just like that?”

“Yeah.”

“How does she do that?” Kyle seemed amazed. “I wish I could do that.”

Michael shook his head. Casual sex and expendable relationships didn’t have any appeal to him. If he was going to be with a girl, then he was going to be with her, make her feel like she was the most important thing in the world to him, because she would be.

About ten minutes later, after Michael had gathered up most of the trash off the floor and taken it out into the hallway to dump it down the trash chute, he and Kyle sat down on the couch and turned on the news. Michael closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the tug of exhaustion, and was just about to fall asleep when Maria’s loud, obnoxious, sex-having voice interrupted his peacefulness.

“Uh! Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“Oh, no, not again,” he muttered. He could hear the squeaking bedsprings, too. Those things were squeaking more than ever. She was really going to bust up that bed if she wasn’t careful.

“Wow, I thought that’d be hot, but that’s . . . kind of disturbing,” Kyle commented.

“Just a little,” Michael agreed.

“You wanna come crash at my place tonight? Or, I guess there’s not much night left,” Kyle said, looking at the clock.

“No, I’m fine here.” He could sleep on his couch. It was Saturday, so he didn’t have to wake up early, either. Thank God.

“You sure?” Kyle kept offering.

“Yeah.”

A moment later, a different voice overtook Maria’s. This one was coming from the bathroom, and Michael knew immediately who it belonged to.

“Oh! Harder! Come on, cowboy, ride it!” Marty yelled as he had sex with some guy. “Ride it hard!”

Michael turned to Kyle and said, “On second thought, your place sounds good.” The two of them shut off the television, sprang up off the couch, and fled outside in a panic.

“You think we’re the only people not gettin’ laid tonight?” Kyle asked as he unlocked the door to his own apartment, 522.

“No,” Michael said, not really caring. “Well, maybe.”

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

Tess tensed as Max snapped the cold metal handcuffs around her wrists. They were the same cuffs he had been wearing earlier as part of his costume. She should have known he had been planning on using them.

“Max,” she said, instinctively spreading her legs as he settled himself between them on the bed. “Can we go to sleep after this? I’m really tired, and I have to get up early for an Interior Design Club meeting. We’re gonna talk about redesigning the library on campus and--”

“Shh,” he hissed. “You’re talking too much.”

“But I feel like we never talk anymore,” she told him. “You know what I mean? We’re always doing this, and it’s good, but . . . you know? Oh!” She gasped as he plunged his manhood into her with little warning. She wanted to move her arms and hands, to hold onto his shoulders and feel close to him, but she couldn’t do that with her wrists bound together.

“Max,” she whimpered as he pounded himself into her. “Can you . . . slow down?”

His only response was a grunt and an increase in the pace of his thrusts.

“Max . . .” She felt the cuffs digging into her wrists, and it didn’t feel good. “Ow.”

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

“Oh, I’m gonna cum. I’m gonna cum.”

Liz lay beneath Johnny, the guy she had brought back to her dorm room from Maria’s party, as he moved atop her. “Not yet.” She was so disappointed in him. He had big feet, so she had thought he would be huge in other areas as well, but he was without a doubt one of the smallest and most inexperienced men she had ever been with.

“I’m gonna cum.” Johnny kept repeating his mantra.

“Not yet,” Liz pleaded again. She was nowhere close.

Johnny closed his eyes and scrunched up his forehead, and seconds later, his orgasm overtook him. Liz just lay there and watched, wondering if he knew he made such stupid faces in his state of pleasure, wondering if he even cared that she wasn’t making faces with him.

He collapsed atop her, all sweaty and disgusting, and she fought the urge to push him off her and onto the floor. She didn’t get it. What was the problem with these guys? She told them where to touch her, how to touch her, and they did it. Granted, Johnny hadn’t done it well. Not cumming came as no surprise with him, but the other guys she had hooked up with since Max . . .

And therein lies the problem, she thought to herself bitterly. Max. She hadn’t had a genuine orgasm since she’d been with Max a year ago. Even when it was just her and her vibrator, she had to think of Max. He’d ruined it for her with anyone else. Together, they had created fireworks, really extravagant, huge fireworks like the ones you saw at Disney World or the opening ceremony of the Olympics. She and all the other guys she’d tried out since Max . . . lame fireworks. The kind you set off in your driveway and feigned satisfaction with, even when they barely crackled and popped.

“Wow,” Johnny panted heavily. “That was great.”

“Yeah,” she lied in agreement. “That was great.”

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

Michael trudged back into his apartment at 9:30 a.m. in the morning, barely able to keep his eyes open. As comfortable as Kyle’s couch was . . . it wasn’t. In fact, it felt like a slab of metal. He hadn’t slept a wink.

Maria stood in the kitchen a white sports bra and pink shorts that looked more like underwear. She looked wide awake, though he didn’t see how that was possible. She’d had a much crazier night than he had. “Good morning,” she chirped.

“If it is, which I doubt,” he muttered in response.

“Whatever, Eeyore.” She laughed. “It is a good morning. You know why? ‘Cause last night was a good night. Brad got me off twice. He’s a nerd, but I’ll tell you, he’s got some surprising bedroom skills.”

“That’s too much information. Thanks.”

She shrugged and reached into the refrigerator, pulling out a bowl of strawberries. “These still good?” she asked.

“They should be.”

“Do you think it would be tasty if I mixed strawberries with Oreos?”

He made a face of disgust. “No.”

She shrugged. “I’m gonna try it anyway.”

“Knock yourself out.” He plopped down on the couch and groaned. “God, I’m so tired.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Why? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I had to sleep on Kyle’s rock-hard couch on account of the chorus of moans and groans in this apartment. You and Marty, I’ll tell you . . . like brother like sister.”

“Well, I can’t speak for Marty,” she said, “but I couldn’t help it. Brad was doing this thing with his tongue.”

“Don’t elaborate.”

“It triggered my scream reflex. God, he’s so good.”

Michael rubbed his forehead, trying to ease the impending headache. “So is he your boyfriend now?” he inquired. “Or just your hook-up partner?”

She shrugged. “Both? No, I’ll probably just hook up with him one more time. He’s getting a little clingy. I had to kick him out on his butt at 6:00 a.m. because he wanted to have a conversation.”

“God forbid.”

“I know. So I guess he’s just a hook-up partner. And a damn good one at that. I’m so very satisfied right now.”

“Well, I’m glad you are.”

She laughed. “Jealous?”

He just shook his head. Was he jealous that she was hooking up with people she barely knew, risking pregnancy and STDs and God knew what else? Not at all. Was he jealous that she was having lots of sex and he was having none? Maybe a little. Was he jealous that all these guys got to have sex with her and he didn’t? Now that was just a weird question.

“Is Marty still here?” he asked.

“No, he and his boy-toy left an hour ago. He says he apologizes for the stains on the bathroom walls.”

“Oh, I don’t even wanna look.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to eventually. Here, try this.” She thrust a small bowl in front of him filled with cut up strawberries and Oreo cookies. She’d really gone and done it.

“I’m not hungry,” he said.

“Just try it, you big fuddy-duddy.” She scooped up half a strawberry with one of the Oreos and popped it into his mouth.

“No,” he mumbled, chewing despite himself. He let the taste of the strange mixture roll through his mouth, and oddly enough, he enjoyed it. “Hey, that actually tastes pretty good,” he told her, surprised.

“I knew it would. I’m gonna add ice cream.” She skipped back into the kitchen to do just that.

“Now, listen, I got plans today,” he told her. “I’m not goin’ shopping. I’m not goin’ out to eat. I’m not doin’ anything like that. I’m gonna paint, alright?”

“I never would’ve guessed,” she muttered sarcastically.

“I’m serious. I got a midterm painting due Monday. I really gotta focus on it.”

“I’m not stopping you.”

“Yeah, not yet.”

“You act like I’m a bad roommate.”

“Well, if the boot fits . . .” He smiled at her.

She stuck her tongue out at him. “You’re not getting any more of this food concoction,” she said as her cell phone began to vibrate on the coffee table. “Would you be a dear and get that?”

He rolled his eyes and leaned forward to answer the phone. “Hello?”

“Um . . . hi,” an unsure voice said. “I think I’ve got the wrong number.”

It took him a moment to recognize the voice, but he did. “Ms. DeLuca?”

“Yes?”

“Hey, Ms. DeLuca, it’s Michael. I’m Maria’s friend. She’s right here. I’ll get her for you.” He held out the phone to Maria.

“No!” Maria shrieked in a whisper. “No, I don’t wanna talk to her.”

He brought the phone back up to his ear and said, “She’s very excited to talk to you, Ms. DeLuca. Just a minute.” He held out the phone again.

“Evil!” Maria said. “You’re so evil.” She reluctantly took the phone from him and immediately changed her tone. “Hi, Mommy!”

Michael rolled his eyes. Mommy?

“Yeah, that was Michael. The same Michael you met last year. I’m living with him now.”

This should go over well, Michael thought. He knew enough about Amy DeLuca to know that she would not approve of Maria living with a boy. She was conservative, set in her ways, and above all else oblivious to her daughter’s actions.

“No, he’s not my boyfriend,” Maria said. “I needed a place to stay. Tess and I drifted apart, and I moved out.”

Michael lay back on the couch and closed his eyes, contemplating a nap before he began painting.

“Dinner?” Maria said. “Um . . . oh, and hanging out before dinner, huh?”

He opened his eyes just long enough to see her cringe and stomp her foot in frustration. Maria must have been reaping some bad-ass karma. She’d thrown a huge Halloween party after promising to throw a small gathering, and now her mother was initiating a mother-daughter day. Perfect.

“Sure,” Maria said reluctantly. “That sounds . . . great.”

Michael laughed, and he should have known it was a mistake.

“Actually, Mom, Michael can join us at dinner tonight. He’s got some spare time today.”

“What?” he shrieked, shooting upright into a sitting position. “No! No, no spare time! Painting!”

“He’s got all the time in the world,” Maria went on. “The three of us, dinner tonight. Sounds like a blast.”

Dammit, he thought. Maybe karma was catching up to him, too. But what for? He hadn’t done anything wrong. No, with Maria it was karma. With him, it was just plain old bad luck.

“Alright, well, the apartment’s not too hard to find,” Maria went on. “It’s about ten minutes north of my old place.”

“South,” Michael corrected.

“South of my old place. And about five minutes west of Best Buy.”

“East.”

“East of Best Buy. It’s by the old fair grounds, you know? Hence the name Fairview. You can’t really miss it. There’s this big fountain out front and everything.”

Michael got up from the couch and headed into the kitchen to try to devour as much of her strawberry and Oreo concoction as he could. Simple payback. She was making him go out to dinner, so he was eating her breakfast.

“Alright, well, I’m . . . looking forward to it, too,” Maria forced herself to say. She scurried into the kitchen and shoved Michael away from her food. “Alright, I love you, too. Bye, Mom.” She hung up her phone, slammed it down on the counter and dug into her concoction. “Oh, fuck, I need to stress eat.”

“Is it still a good morning?” he teased.

She shot him a death glare and didn’t answer the question. “Shut up.”

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

Maria spent hours cleaning that morning and managed to rope Michael into it with her. They picked up the entire apartment, and it was quite a process, but by the time afternoon rolled around, it was looking pretty good.

“Okay,” she said. “Is it clean? It looks clean.”

“It’d be cleaner if we hadn’t had a drunken orgy here last night,” Michael grumbled.

“Oh, when are you gonna let that go?”

“Never.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t act like you didn’t enjoy yourself. You had fun and you know it.”

“Sure, if you define fun as listening to my family heirlooms break, having you try to set me up with that Liz girl, picking up used condoms afterward . . .”

“You got to watch Tess and me dance battle on the counter,” she reminded him. “Don’t even pretend you didn’t enjoy that.”

He shrugged. “Every time you do something like that, you just give guys a reason to objectify you.”

She frowned. “What does that mean?”

“You know what it means.”

She really didn’t. Objectify? What did Michael think she was, a walking dictionary? He was probably just saying she should be less slutty. Before she could ask him to clarify, there was a knock on the door, a very light, polite knock that could only belong to one person.

“Oh, shit, she’s here!” Maria shrieked. “Okay, clothes . . .” She surveyed her attire, a pink sweater and jeans. Way more conservative than the clothes she usually wore, but it was all about lying her ass off. “Good. Study, gotta look studious . . .” She flung herself onto the couch and pried open her math book, coughing as dust flew up into her nose. She hadn’t opened that book . . . ever.

“It’s upside down,” Michael informed her as he made his way towards the door.

“Oh.” She flipped it around and pretended to be all engrossed in it as Michael pulled open the door.

“Hey, Ms. DeLuca,” he greeted. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Nice to see you again, Michael.” She gave him an awkward hug and squeezed inside. “Maria!” she squealed. “How’s my girl?”

“Mom!” Maria set her book aside and sprang up from the couch, really honing her inner actress as she skipped over to Amy and gave her a bear hug. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“How long has it been?”

Not long enough. “Oh . . . too long.” She sneaked a glance at Michael and saw him rolling his eyes.

“I hope you don’t mind me getting here early,” Amy said. “You were right. The place was easy to find. I didn’t catch you in the middle of anything, did I?”

“Oh, no, I was just doing some studying,” Maria said, sidestepping back over to the couch. “Just looking over some fun facts about . . .” She peered over the couch at the textbook and squinted to read one of the words written there. “Different equations?”

Differential equations,” Michael corrected.

“Differential inqua-equa-uh . . . math,” she sputtered.

“That’s good, that’s good,” Amy remarked. “Hopefully this means your grades will be picking up soon.”

“My grades,” Maria echoed. “Yes. Yes, because those have been . . . not so great lately, I know.”

“I’ve been checking them online,” Amy admitted. “What’s the problem, sweetie?”

“Professors,” she blurted. “Close-minded, malicious professors. I swear, it’s like they want their students to fail. Pop quizzes all the time. Stuff like that.”

“You’re keeping up with your reading and all your assignments, though, right?”

“Right,” she lied. “It’s just the nerves, you know? They say ‘pop quiz’ and I freeze up.”

“Well, I’ll write a note of complaint to the dean,” Amy decided.

“No!” Maria screeched. “I mean . . . it’s not necessary. I’m gonna study harder than ever, and my grades will pick up real soon. I promise.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Amy said, patting her shoulder. “What about you, Michael? Do you have problems with your professors?”

“Not really,” he replied.

“Michael’s like a genius, Mom,” Maria informed her.

“I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” she insisted. “You’ve got that scholarship.”

“Which scholarship?” Amy asked.

“Oh, it pays for my tuition,” he explained. “It’s nice, but I gotta keep up a 3.5 GPA.”

“And what does he do? Gets a freakin’ 4.0 every semester.” Maria didn’t see any harm in bragging Michael up. He wasn’t her boyfriend, but he was her roommate now. It was important that her mom liked him. And really, who wouldn’t? Michael was such a likable guy.

“You must study a lot,” Amy remarked.

“Well . . .” He shot Maria a semi-angry look. “I try.”

Maria laughed nervously. “Well, what he means by that is, uh . . . he works, too, at the art museum here on campus.”

“I was wondering how you paid for this place,” Amy said, glancing around at the apartment. “It’s very nice.”

“Thank you.” Michael smiled, seeming proud of that. “I sell some of my paintings, too, so that’s a pretty good way to make some money.”

“That’s very industrious of you.”

“Thanks.”

“Is Maria helping you pay the rent?” Amy asked, narrowing her eyes at Maria suspiciously. “I bet she’s not.”

“Well, not yet, but she’s going to,” Michael said. “Isn’t that right, Maria?”

“That’s right.” She smiled, still nervous. She was supposed to be looking for a job. She still hadn’t done that. Michael and Amy were both so responsible. She so totally wasn’t.

“Well, it sounds like you two have a nice little arrangement going here,” Amy said. “Although you’ll have to tell me what happened with you and Tess, honey. Don’t get me wrong, I’m relieved; that girl was a bad influence on you. But you two were best friends for so long.”

Maria shrugged. “There’s not much to tell. We don’t see eye to eye on a lot of stuff. We drifted apart. That’s all.” She really didn’t want to talk about it. The truth was, sometimes she missed Tess, missed their friendship. But it was gone, nothing she could do about it now.

An uncomfortable silence settled upon the three of them, and Maria wasn’t sure what to say. The last thing she expected was for Michael to pipe up and say something, but that was exactly what he did.

“So,” he said, clearing his throat, “will Marty be joining us for dinner tonight?”

Maria’s eyes almost bulged out of her head. “Uh, Michael! Come here!” She grabbed his wrist and pulled him down the hallway and into the bedroom. “Oh my god, you just committed fuck-up numero uno! Do not mention Marty in front of my mother, ever!

Michael looked confused. “Why not?”

“Because she pretty much disowned him when she found out he was gay. Okay, they haven’t spoken to each other for years, and whenever anyone mentions him, she goes on this ‘homos go to hell’ rant. It’s not fun. I hate her for it. So just don’t say anything about him, okay?”

“Okay. Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. Just go tell her hair looks nice or something.” There. That sounded like a good, safe conversation for the three of them to have.

When they walked out of the bedroom, they found Amy standing in the corner of the living room, surveying something on the floor.

“Ms. DeLuca,” Michael said, “your hair looks really . . . what’re you-what is—oh my god.”

“Mom what’re you looking at?” Maria asked as Amy bent down and picked up something on the floor, something that, from a distance, looked a lot like a . . . “Oh my god, is that a . . . oh, my god.” It was another used condom, just like the one she had picked up last night. How had they missed that? They’d cleaned the entire apartment.

“Maria?” Amy looked horrified. “Is this what I think it is?”

“Mom, put that down!”

“Are you having the sex?”

“What? No,” she lied a little too emphatically. “No, of course not. That’s probably left over from the previous tenant or something.” Bad lie. Just bad.

“This is ridiculous,” Michael muttered.

“No sex for me!” she shrieked, sending Michael a warning look. If he said anything about her non-virgin status, she was going to kill him.

“Whose is this?” Amy demanded. “Maria? What’s been going on here?”

“It’s really not mine,” she insisted. “Think about it. Why would I wear a condom? Got a hole, not a pole.”

“I got a pole,” Michael volunteered. “It’s . . . oh, god, what am I saying? It’s mine. I’m sorry, Ms. DeLuca, that’s . . . ‘cause I’m a guy. And I’ve got needs.”

Maria stared at him in disbelief. He was covering for her, for the party she’d just thrown? He was so great.

“Then I suppose you won’t mind taking this off my hands, so to speak?” Amy cringed.

“Oh. Sure.” Michael turned to face Maria and muttered, “The things I do for you.”

“Thank you,” she whispered.

He pulled a large bundle of paper towels off the dispenser and used them to collect the condom from Amy. “You might wanna . . . wash your hands,” he suggested.

“Trust me, I’m going to.” She shuffled into the kitchen and thrust her hands under the sink as he threw the condom into the trash. “So, Michael,” she said as she lathered up her hands with soap. “You’re sexually active. That's just great.”

Maria felt so bad for him. He was going to get grilled. “Mom, this is really an intrusive conversation, don’t you think?”

“I’m just trying to get to know your new roommate better,” Amy said innocently. “To be honest, I’m not too fond of this new development. I was hoping Michael was saving himself until marriage like you are.”

Michael must have choked on his own spit upon hearing that, because he coughed loudly and had to slap his hand against his chest to recover. “Sorry.”

“It’s just . . . I don’t really approve of premarital sex,” Amy told Michael.

He nodded. “I can tell.”

“I mean, I don’t know what I would do if Maria crawled into bed every night with somebody she barely knew.”

Now it was Maria’s turn to cough loudly. Mom, I’m so glad you don’t know me, she thought thankfully.

“Um, you know, I really don’t have an opinion on the subject one way or another,” Michael said, doing his best to play the part of Switzerland and be neutral in the debate.

“Well, the people involved should at least be in love,” Amy said. “At least. Tell me, Michael, were you in love with the last girl you slept with?”

Maria covered her face with her hand and shook her head. This was horrible. So horrible. Michael probably hadn’t anticipated getting into this discussion when he’d lied and claimed the condom.

“Yes,” he replied, and it was an honest reply. His eyes glazed over for a moment, and Maria knew he was thinking about Isabel. Great. In addition to barging into his private life, Amy had managed to make him think about the one person he tried to never think about. One of the many reasons why Maria couldn’t stand her own mom. She made everything bad, and then she made everything worse.

“Well, that’s a small miracle,” Amy said. “Although . . . I don’t know. I guess I still don’t like the thought of this, you two living together and possibly . . .” She trailed off.

“Oh, no, we’re not . . .”

“It’s not like that,” Maria assured her readily. “Michael’s a friend. A good friend. But not a sex friend. Because I’m . . . such a virgin.” She laughed a high-pitched laugh full of nerves. Michael stared at her in disbelief, looking as though he were about to either laugh or cry.

“I just wanted to paint today,” he mumbled.

She mouthed ‘I’m sorry’ to him and placed a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Mom, you know how we talked about dinner?”

“Yes?”

“Well, why don’t we make it lunch?” She wanted to get this over with a soon as possible. “Yeah, we’ll go to that sandwich shop on P Street, eat some whole grain bread. Healthy, yummy. Doesn’t that sound good?”

“Sounds good,” Michael said readily. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

“Okay,” Amy said. “Let me go touch up my lipstick.” She grabbed her purse off the couch and headed into the bathroom.

Maria couldn’t help but giggle when it was just her and Michael in the kitchen. He actually laughed a little, too, though he added, “This isn’t funny. Your mom thinks I’m a slut.”

“Well, she thinks I’m a virgin.” That alone was a real knee-slapper. “I’ll make this up to you, I promise.”

“Yeah, you say that.”

“No, I promise,” she insisted. “This is just--”

“What are all these stains on the walls?” Amy asked suddenly. “Michael?”

Maria clapped one hand over her mouth to stifle the laughter that came pouring out of her. Those had to be the same stains Marty had mentioned. Oh, if only her mother knew . . .

“Don’t mind those, Ms. DeLuca,” Michael called back to her. “Just part of the wallpaper.”

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

Max and Tess had just taken a seat at the counter of Galeotti’s Sandwich Shop and begun to look over their menus when Max looked up and said, “Oh, look, there’s Michael and Maria. Joy. Who’s that with them? Don’t tell me Michael scored himself a three-way.”

Tess glanced over her shoulder and saw a familiar face accompanying them. “Not likely,” she replied. “That’s Maria’s mom Amy. She’s extremely unpleasant.”

“Ooh, I like her already.”

“She hates me. She thinks I’m a bad influence on Maria.” Tess huffed. “Can you believe that?”

“Does she even know her own daughter?”

“Nope.”

“Lucky her.” Max closed his menu, apparently having decided on his order, and asked, “So what’s this lunch all about?”

“Oh, right.” Tess had been waiting awhile to approach this topic with her boyfriend. Now seemed like as good of time as ever. “Well, I . . . I was doing some thinking.”

“You were?”

“Yeah.” She frowned for a moment, not sure if he was teasing or . . . she let it go. “I was thinking that you spend a lot of time at my place. You sleep there, like, three or four nights a week now that Maria’s gone. Why don’t we just go ahead and make it official?”

“Official?”

“Yeah. You could move in with me.” She smiled hopefully.

“I could,” Max said. “I won’t.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because, your apartment’s so small and pink and . . . middle class.”

Tess wasn’t sure what to make of that assessment. “That’s because I am middle class.”

“But I’m not.”

She frowned in disappointment. “So . . . you’re not gonna move in with me?”

“No. You should move in with me, though.”

“No, I . . . don’t want to,” she admitted. “Your place--”

“Is amazing,” he cut in matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t feel like home.”

“It’s a penthouse suite in my father’s hotel,” he reminded her.

She wet her lips and tried to explain. “It’s too stuffy and dignified.”

“Dignity’s a bad thing?”

“No, it’s—Max.” She was getting a little frustrated, and she didn’t like the overall tone of this conversation. “Let’s just drop it, okay? Clearly we’re not ready to move in together.”

“Clearly,” he agreed. “God, next thing you know, you’ll be wanting me to propose.”

She glared at him, doing her best to quell her anger, and said, “Oh, trust me, that’s not what I want right now.”

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

Michael did the calculations in his head and estimated that, by the time they finished lunch and Amy got out of their hair, it would be around 5:30 p.m. Possibly even 6:00. Either way he looked at it, he had to put up with her for at least four more hours. He was beginning to wonder if he could do that.

They slid into a booth, Michael and Maria on one side, Amy on the other, and began to look over their menus. Amy glanced up and asked, “Oh, is that Tess over there?”

“Unfortunately,” Maria mumbled in response.

“Is she still dating that rich boy?”

“Unfortunately,” Maria repeated.

“Hmm.” Amy shook her head. “No, that’s no good. Better to be with the right guy than just any old guy. Don’t you agree, Maria?”

Michael smiled, sensing an opportunity to mess with her. “Yeah,” he said, turning to face her. “Don’t you agree, Maria?”

“I agree,” she answered quickly, nervously. “Why is everyone looking at me?”

Michael chuckled a little and decided to change the topic just so that she could relax. “So, Ms. DeLuca, what brings you to Santa Fe?”

“Well, you might remember that I work with a charity organization. The Sunshine Kids Foundation. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”

“Of course,” Michael lied.

“Anyway, I’m assigned to a case at St. Anthony’s hospital—poor little girl with leukemia. I thought I might as well pay a visit to my daughter while I’m up here. It’s been . . . gosh, six months?”

“Yep. Your birthday,” Maria said.

“I missed my little girl.”

“You’re so sweet, Mom. Hey, don’t mind me. I’m just gonna go hit the powder room for a minute, freshen up.”

“Powder room?” Michael echoed as she squeezed past him and out of the booth. “What powder room? It’s a unisex bathroom.”

“Well, that’s where I’m going. Try not to have too much fun while I’m gone.” She smiled, patted him on the shoulder, and quickly darted away.

Oh, she did that on purpose, he thought. She didn’t have to go ‘freshen up.’ She was just trying to diminish the time she had to spend with her mother, and she was leaving him with her. Traitor.

Amy cleared her throat as though she were about to say something important and then asked the most ridiculous question Michael had ever heard in his life. “So, Michael. When do you plan on marrying my daughter?”

He just froze for a second, thinking he couldn’t have possibly heard her correctly, and then his eyes bulged out of his head. “Marrying?”

“Yes. I recently purchased a five-year planner. I’d like to schedule it in sooner rather than later.”

“Well, how about later, as in way later, as in never. I’m not marrying Maria,” he told her decidedly.

“Well, why not? Do you think you’re too good for her? Is that it?”

“What? No!” Where was she coming up with all these crazy ideas. “Maria’s a-Maria’s a great girl.”

“She’s more than great. She’s pure and respectable and beautiful.”

“Yes, she’s very . . .” He stopped, wondering if he could honestly call Maria pure and respectable. Nope. “Beautiful,” he finished up. “Um, look, Amy . . . Ms. DeLuca . . . I gotta be honest here. I don’t know where you’re getting this whole marriage idea. I mean, Maria and I aren’t even dating.”

“But you are living together,” Amy pointed out. “The next logical step is holy matrimony, followed, of course, by the formation of a traditional nuclear family: mother, father, and two children. A boy and a girl would be nice.”

Michael just sat there, mouth agape, staring in awe at the insanity of this woman, and he didn’t even know what to say. “What?”

“I’m thinking she’ll give birth to the first around age twenty-four, after you’ve both finished college. So should I set the wedding date somewhere in age . . . twenty-two-ish?”

Michael considered bolting at that moment. He wasn’t a runner by any means, but his feet were twitching with the desire to run out of the sandwich shop and far away from her. Relief appeared in human form, though, as he saw Kyle walk through the front door. “Kyle!” he called, waving his arms frantically. “Kyle, come here! Please!”

Kyle approached the table, glancing up at the counter now and again, and said distractedly, “Hey, man, what’s up?” He then noticed Amy and said, “Got a hot date, huh?”

“Oh, very funny. Kyle, this is Amy DeLuca, Maria’s mom.”

“Oh. Shit. I mean, hi,” Kyle sputtered, extending his hand in greeting.

“Hello,” Amy said, tentatively shaking his hand. “Kyle, is it?”

“Yeah. I’m Michael’s friend. And neighbor. And your son’s latest fashion project.” He laughed.

Amy made a face, and Michael remembered what Maria had said about her no-longer-in-existence relationship with Marty, so he quickly interjected. “So, Kyle, what’re you doin’ here?”

“Oh, nothing,” Kyle replied flippantly. “I was just passin’ by, thought it seemed like a good day for a . . . for a . . . for some lasagna or something.”

“Well, good luck finding that here. It’s a sandwich shop,” Michael informed him.

“Right, right. I knew that,” Kyle said unconvincingly. He tried to sneak a glance up at the counter one more time, at Tess, but Michael saw him. He just shook his head and decided not to razz his friend about the crush. Yet.

“God, that bathroom’s gross,” Maria proclaimed as she finally rejoined them, sliding past Michael again back to her spot in the booth. “Oh, hey, Kyle. How’s it goin’?”

“Decent,” he replied. “I’m a little tired, though. Last night was pretty crazy.”

“Last night?” Amy echoed curiously. “What happened last night?”

“Oh, Amy, your daughter throws a hell of a Halloween party,” Kyle raved before either Michael or Maria could answer. “I’ll tell you, I’ve never been to such a rager. This girl is a party machine. She’s crazy.”

“Hmm.” Maria smiled and said, “Bye, Kyle.”

“Bye? I just got here. What do you mean--” Kyle glanced up to the counter again. Max and Tess were leaving now with sandwiches in hand. “Oh, bye.” Kyle dashed out the door after them.

“I’m confused,” Amy said once he was gone. “You had a party last night, Maria?”

Maria didn’t say anything, so Michael jumped in with an explanation. “Actually, uh, we had a party. Yeah, Maria wanted to keep it really small, low-profile, just a dozen or so people. But I went ahead and invited all these people, and it was a pretty wild time. ‘Cause I just . . . love to party.” He tried to sound as convincing as he could. He wasn’t a natural-born liar, but he could pull it off if absolutely necessary.

Amy surveyed him skeptically. “Is that so?”

He shrugged. “So it is.” He looked over at Maria, and she was smiling at him gratefully. He smiled back.

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

:)

Michael stood out on the balcony of his apartment that night, clothed in paint-covered sweat pants and a white tank, with his easel and canvas in front of him. Maria stood back awhile and watched him while he painted. He looked so in the zone. She had known Michael could concentrate on things that he was passionate about, but she had never seen him look so focused, so intent on one thing. She wasn’t sure whether to interrupt him or not, but eventually she gave in. She was a talkative person by nature. She couldn’t just stand there.

“That’s pretty,” she remarked as she slipped out the sliding door to join him on the balcony. “That your midterm painting?”

“Yep,” he replied. “It’s the view from my apartment.”

She surveyed the painting in greater detail and noticed that it was, down to the very last trash can. The view wasn’t great—the old fair grounds a few blocks away were really run down and shoddy. Still, Michael’s painting was beautiful. He was very talented.

“What’s it called?” she asked.

“The view from my apartment.”

She laughed. “Oh, creative.”

“Yeah, really.”

She stared at the painting a moment longer, then decided to come right out and say what she’d been wanting to say ever since her mom had left. “Hey, I just wanted to thank you. You . . . really came through today.”

He feigned surprise. “I did?”

“Yeah. You completely tarnished my mom’s opinion of you. She hates you now, which is way better than her hating me.”

“She hates me?” He laughed. “I’ve never actually had an adult hate me before.”

“Well, maybe she doesn’t hate you. She just think you’re a sex addict who parties too much.”

“Really?” He set down his brush and turned to face her. “Now who does that sound like?” He smiled and teased, “I can’t believe she thinks you’re a virgin.”

“She doesn’t know me,” Maria informed him in case he hadn’t noticed. “And I’m more than happy to keep it that way.”

“Why?”

That question surprised her. She wasn’t quite sure how to answer. “Because. Look, my mom’s not completely horrible. She does pay for my college loans, which is nice and all, and I’m grateful for that. I am. But the minute she finds out I’m not a virgin and not a braniac and not so many things, she’ll stop paying those loans. And then it’s bye-bye college for me.”

“You think?”

“Oh, yeah.” Sadly, there wasn’t a doubt in her mind. “She cut off all her ties with Marty when she found out he was gay. What’s to stop her from cutting all her ties with me?”

Michael nodded slowly, mulling that over, and then blurted out something that made her laugh. “She’s crazy.”

“Oh, god. Was she trying to plan our wedding?” Maria knew her mother. Amy’s greatest ambition for her was to walk down the altar, even if it was with a “slutty party guy” like Michael.

“No. She was trying to set a date, though. Age twenty-two-ish, alright?”

“Alright.” She shook her head as her laughter trailed off. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Is she crazier than me?”

He shook his head. “No one’s crazier than you.”

“Good to know.” She smiled.

“Yeah. You know, even though she’s crazy, she may have a point.”

And her smile quickly dissipated into a frown. “What do you mean?”

Michael shuffled from side to side on his feet and picked up his brush again. “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do. Come on, tell me,” she urged.

“It’s just . . .” He set his brush back down again. “Your mom wants you to study and get a job and . . . you know, fall in love. What’s so bad about that?”

“Nothing. It’s just not me,” she attempted to explain.

“It could be. You might be surprised how good it feels to study for a test and get a good grade on it.”

“And you might be surprised how good it feels to loosen up and dance at a party,” she retorted.

“I danced,” he reminded her, “with Liz.”

She grunted, not able to classify that as real dancing. “Yeah, mechanically, like, middle school style, a total arm’s length apart, her leading you, so awkward . . .”

“Fine, but this isn’t about me, alright? It’s about you.”

“Hmm, always is.”

“I’m serious.”

She pouted. “You’re always serious. Lighten up. Come on, Michael, admit that smokescreening my mom today was totally hilarious.”

He considered it for a moment, then confessed, “It was kinda funny.”

“You enjoyed yourself, even though she’s a non-enjoyable person. And you saved my ass. You shall be rewarded.”

He grinned. “I shall?”

“Yes. I’m thinking . . . strip-tease?”

He shook his head and laughed. “No.”

“No?” She made a face and playfully punched his arm. “You fool. You’re denying me the chance to show off one of my greatest talents.”

He stared at her, right in her eyes, and his expression became a serious one again. “You really don’t even know who you are, do you?”

She was taken aback by that. “What?” She knew who she was. She was Maria DeLuca, hottest girl on campus, life of the party, the envy and desire of virtually everyone who was anyone.

“You got any tests comin’ up?” he asked randomly.

“What?” She was more confused than ever. “I don’t know. Macroeconomics, I think.” She really didn’t keep track.

“Great. Study for that,” he suggested. “Study hard for that test. Get an A or a B. That’s reward enough for me.”

She furrowed her brow in confusion, not understanding. “Are you sure you don’t just want the strip-tease?”

“I just want you to try something new.”

She stuck her chest out and proclaimed, “Well, I’m brave. I’m adventurous. I’m up to any challenge.”

“Are you?”

“Yeah. Are you challenging me?”

“Yeah, I’m challenging you, but I’m also really hoping you’ll succeed.”

“Well, I will,” she vowed. “If it’s really gonna reward you for your blatant lies today, I’ll study my sexy ass off for that test, and I’ll get an A or a B. Let’s be real here: I’ll get a B.”

“Aim for an A,” he suggested.

“Aim for an A but expect a B,” she decided.

“Expect an A.” He picked up his brush again, and began to mix some blue and black together to create a perfect shade for the night sky in his painting. She watched him for a moment, thinking about what she was getting herself into.

“I’ve never gotten an A on a college exam before,” she mumbled to herself. “I’ve never gotten an A on any exam.”

He swiped the paint-covered brush against a blank spot on his canvas and said, “First time for everything.”

She smiled, appreciating his stubbornness. “You never give up, do you?”

He looked her over for a moment and replied, “Not on you.”

That . . . felt so nice to hear. No one had ever said that to her before.

Suddenly, he reached out and brushed a line of navy blue paint on her cheek.

“Hey!” she shrieked, trying to seize his paintbrush from him and do the same to him.

“Watch the painting! Watch the painting!” He took a step back and laughed.

“Jerk!” she exclaimed, unable to keep from smiling. Because it so wasn’t true. Michael Guerin was not a jerk. In fact, she was beginning to think he was one of the nicest people she knew.








TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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April
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Part 9

Post by April » Thu Mar 26, 2009 11:44 am

Leila: Personal sperm can? That's sadly a great way to describe how Max views Tess.

Christina: Michael is definitely getting more comfortable having Maria around. I'm glad you think they're so sweet. (I think so, too! :P )

killjoy: I promise Maria won't freeload forever. And yeah, Kyle was a little stalker-ish in that last part, but in a cute, geeky way. ;)

Jan: Permission to throttle Max: granted.

spacegirl23: Yep, M+M were definietly a team in the last part and will be again.

Alien_Friend: I know, 738 pages. 740 now, I think. I really intended for this to be a shorter fic, but I just get all these ideas and the story takes on a life of its own. Luckily I have dedicated readers like you! :D

Alison: Nothing bad happened to Max in his childhood to make him the way he is. Sorry to disappoint you. In fact, he led a pretty comfy life. As teh fic progresses, you'll see more of Max's lifestyle and just how different it is than the others' lifestyles. There's no excuse for him acting the way he does, no one event that made him a jerk. He was pretty much raised to be that way.

Mercedes: lol, yes, that song was on One Tree Hill. I'm such an OTH geek, in fact, that I can even tell you it was episode 1 of season 2. During the coda. :oops:


Thanks for the feedback, guys! And happy birthday to me! :lol: Anyway, here's the next part!









Part 9









Tess couldn’t believe her eyes. She was heading into the Student Union the next day when she spied Maria lounging about on the steps leading to the entrance. She was wearing sunglasses, shorts, and a bikini top, apparently enjoying the last days of hot weather for the year, and had she not been holding a textbook in her hands, she would have looked completely normal.

Tess approached her friend—former—and stopped in front of her, casting a shadow over her book. “You’re studying?

Maria glanced up and tipped her sunglasses downward on her nose. “Is that so hard to believe?”

Tess grunted. “Yes.” It really was. She could count on one hand the number of times she had ever seen Maria crack a book, let alone read the words inside. “What, did Michael put you up to a bet or something?”

“No. He made a suggestion. I’m following it. That’s all.”

“Why?”

Maria set her book down in her lap and pushed her sunglasses up on top her head, looking annoyed. “Because he helped me out with my mom; that’s why. You know, why am I even talking to you? You’re contaminating my personal bubble with your Max-worship.”

Tess frowned. “I don’t worship him.”

Maria laughed. “Ha, that’s a good one. Now move. You’re blocking my sunlight.”

“Fine. I hope you fry out here and, like, drop your book in the mud or something.” She wrinkled her forehead in confusion, perplexed by her own insult.

“What?”

She stepped out of Maria’s light, literally stepped over Maria, and climbed the steps towards the Union. She was so glad they weren’t friends anymore. So glad.

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

Kyle was walking away from Burger King with a fresh, delicious Whopper in his hand when he spied Tess sweeping into the Union majestically through the revolving doors. He dropped his hamburger, suddenly not caring about it, and watched her, imagining some cheesy background music, imagining her going in slow motion, approaching the sign that said, Caution: Wet Floor . . .

“Oh, shit.” He rushed toward her and made it there just in time. She slipped, shrieking, and fell into his arms.

“Oh!”

I’m touching her, he thought excitedly. Again!

“Thanks,” she said, breathing a sigh of relief as she gazed at him.

He smiled. “It’s what I do.”

She smiled back at him, still in his arms, and asked, “Can I come up now?”

“Oh, yeah.” He pushed her back up onto her own two feet, immediately missing the warmth of her skin when he no longer felt it. Damn, she felt good.

“Thanks,” she said again.

“No problem, no problem.”

She stared at him intensely for a moment, squinting her eyes to study him, and then her face lit up with recognition. “Hey. I know you. You’re the shark.” She must have recalled his voice.

“Well, man-eating shark, technically,” he corrected. “I guess it doesn’t really matter. It was a stupid costume anyway. I mean . . . hi.”

Tess laughed a little. “Hi . . .” She trailed off, apparently trying to remember what to call him. “Sorry, can’t remember your name. I wanna say Ken?”

What? he thought. Do I look like a Ken? Although, he supposed that wasn’t a bad thing. Ken scored with Barbie. “Kyle,” he reminded her. “Kyle Valenti.”

“Right. I’m Tess Harding.”

“I know,” he said a little too eagerly. He didn’t want to sound like a stalker, though, so he quickly added, “Well, I mean . . . I’m telling you, we went to a party once, you and me and Michael and Maria.”

“Sorry, I’m not remembering,” she apologized. “I’ve had some pretty wasted nights, you know what I mean? Especially those pre-upperclassman years.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. Sophomore year was the worst. You know how sophomores are just stupid know-it-alls.”

“Oh.” He hung his head and mumbled, “I’m a sophomore.”

“Seriously? My bad. I would’ve said you were a senior.”

“Really?” He smiled, happy that he looked older than he was. Or maybe that wasn’t a good thing. Maybe he was looking too old. Too old too fast, premature aging . . . he’d read about these things.

“Well, you’ve been the catch to my fall twice now, so you get a thumbs up with me,” she told him, “sophomore status notwithstanding.”

Kyle laughed nervously and said one of the dumbest words ever. “Yippee.”

Tess laughed, too, not at him, but seemingly with him, and he thought her smile was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Christmas morning paled in comparison to that smile. Birthday cakes couldn’t even compete. If he could only be lucky enough to see that smile every day for the rest of his days . . .

Tess’s phone suddenly rang out shrilly, interrupting the moment and Kyle’s thoughts. “Oh, sorry, I have to take this,” she said. “It was nice to see you again, Kyle.”

She remembers my name now. “Nice to . . . see you,” he called as she walked off towards the bookstore part of the Union. “Wow.” She was really something.

“Hey, honey,” he heard her say. “No, I’m just stopping by the Union. I’ll be . . . no, I’ll be back soon, Max.”

Max. All his hopes, the ones he’d let himself get up, were dashed. “Damn.”

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

Maria didn’t allow Michael to help her study until the night before her test. She wanted to be able to do it all on her own, but she had to admit, she was struggling. The material was just so boring, and she didn’t have the tried and true strategies to comprehend it. Michael studied all the time. He had to have some tricks up his sleeve. He said it would do her good if he quizzed her, so they set aside that Thursday night to make her a whiz kid.

“Alright, ready?” Michael asked, coming into the living room with two orange sodas in his hands.

She took the soda from him, sipped a bit, and bravely said, “Quiz me, mister.”

Michael sat down next to her on the couch, turning so that she couldn’t glimpse the open book and study guide on his lap. He cleared his throat, squinted at the words on the page, and asked what probably should have been a simple question. “What is macroeconomics?”

It was the stupid class she was should have never taken. That was all she knew. “Economics that are . . . macro,” she answered flimsily.

He gave her an impatient look. “Maria.”

“What? I don’t know. And who cares? I don’t even know why I have to take this class for my journalism major. All these general requirements drive me crazy.”

Michael shrugged, thinking about it objectively. “Lots of journalism deals with the economy.”

“Not my kind of journalism. I wanna write, like, ‘Breaking news: Brangelina preggars . . . again!’”

He made a face. “Tabloid journalism?”

She rolled her eyes, hating that ‘tabloid’ had such a negative stigma attached to it these days. “No, just, like, the fun kind. I don’t know. I don’t know what I wanna do with my life.” And she really didn’t want to think about it, so she quickly asked, “What was the answer?”

“Uh . . .” Michael peered down at the book and read the definition straight off the page. “A branch of economics that deals with the performance, structure, and behavior of a national or regional economy as a whole.”

“Oh, well, that was gonna be my second guess. What does that mean?”

“It’s . . . well, it seems like it’s basically just the economy as a whole, like the U.S. economy or, say, the British economy. Or even just the Southwest’s economy. You know? I’m guessing microeconomics would be focused on smaller businesses, states, individuals, stuff like that.”

Maybe his hair sticks up like that because his brain’s so big, Maria thought, studying the size of head. Maybe someday his brain would get too big and just pop out of his skull or something. Icky. “How are you so smart?”

He smirked. “I study.”

“Loser.” She smiled affectionately. “Okay, next question, por favor.” At least she knew how to say ‘please’ in Spanish.

“Alright, who was the first person to use the term ‘macroeconomics’ in publication?”

She didn’t even pretend to know the answer this time. “Bob Barker.”

“Let’s try Ragnar Frisch in 1933.”

“Fascinating. God, Michael, this studying stuff is so totally boring. I don’t know how you do it.”

He shrugged. “I don’t have a choice. I can’t lose that scholarship.”

“Sure you could. Your parents are kinda loaded, right?” She had never met Mr. and Mrs. Guerin, but she had seen pictures of the house where Michael grew up. It wasn’t exactly a hole in the wall. And his car . . . well, it was a nice car to have.

“They’ve got some money, yeah,” Michael admitted, “but they’re really stingy with it. They expect me to pay for everything myself. Besides, I don’t wanna lose it. I’m proud of it.”

She laughed. “If someone were to overhear you say just that last sentence, they’d think you were talking about your V-card.”

“I’m not a virgin.”

“I know. But some people probably think you are.”

“And here we go,” he muttered, “getting off topic.”

“No, no, no, we’re on topic,” she assured him. “But if we are talking about pride for a minute here . . . I’m proud of my hot body. I’ll die if I ever get fat. That’s why there’s no offspring in my future.”

“No stellar test grade in your future, either, if you don’t buckle down and do this. Come on, get serious.”

“All work and no play make Michael a dull boy,” she warned.

“All teasing and no studying make Maria a C student.”

She thought about it and decided, “I’m okay with that.”

“You promised you’d study.”

“And I have. I read all the chapters I was supposed to read, even though it almost killed me.”

“You read ‘em?” His tone indicated serious doubt.

“Okay, skimmed ‘em. Whatever,” she confessed. “Good enough. And I got this guy named Steve to email me his notes. God, he’s so gorgeous. I think I’m gonna sleep with him soon.”

“Imagine that.”

“He might be somebody I could date for a few weeks, actually. We’ll see.”

“Maria . . .” He didn’t seem amused. “If you’re not gonna take this seriously . . .”

“No, I am. Seriously. Keep going. I’m all ears.”

He nodded in approval. “Good. Good, okay. What’s GDP stand for?”

“GDP, GDP . . .” Maria wracked her overworked brain, trying to remember. “Gross.” She remembered the first word.

“Yes . . .” Michael sounded excited.

“Gross . . . Gross . . . Gross Damn Parents?”

Michael pursed his lips together, looking extremely frustrated with her. “Gross-Gross Damn Parents. No. No. Needless to say, no. It’s Gross Domestic Product.”

“I like mine better.”

“Gross Domestic Product, which means, the measure of national income and output for a given country’s economy.”

“It could mean Gross Damn Parents to some people,” she reasoned.

“Yeah, some crazy people,” he muttered. “Gross Domestic Product. Just drill it into your brain. I’m sure you learned about it in elementary school. Alright, what’s next? Uh . . .”

Before he could get around to asking that question, Marty threw open the door and skipped into the apartment. “Hey, hoes!” he chirped. “What’re we gabbing about?”

“Gross Damn Parents,” Maria informed him, smiling.

“Does anyone ever knock anymore?” Michael mumbled to himself as he flipped through the book to the next chapter.

Marty sat down on the arm of the couch next to Maria and asked, “Was Mom . . .?”

“Just a couple of days ago, yeah,” she replied. “Luckily it was just for a little lunch date. Nothing major. It was enough for me, though.”

“My immense sympathy,” Marty said emphatically. “Girl, in that case, I’ve got the perfect treat for you.”

This sparked her interest. “You do?”

“Don’t I always? Thirsty Thursday at Club Tequila. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

“It really doesn’t,” Maria agreed, getting to her feet. “What should I wear?”

“Let’s go pick something out.”

“Okay.” She and Marty began to scurry towards her bathroom when Michael called out her name and stopped her.

“Maria. You do realize this test is tomorrow, don’t you?”

She slowly turned to face him, feeling as though she’d let him down somehow. But still, in the grand scheme of partying vs. studying, it was no contest. “If I don’t know it now, a few more hours aren’t gonna help.”

“Yes, they will,” he insisted.

“It’ll just bore me to tears.”

“Come with us, Big Boy,” Marty suggested.

“Yeah, come with us,” Maria echoed. “It’ll be fun. You could meet someone.”

Michael shook his head adamantly. “I don’t wanna meet someone.”

“Michael--”

“No, you just go,” he said. “Have a good time. See if that Steve guy’s there.”

Maria pictured Steve, blonde like a Viking, muscular in all the right places, huge hands and feet that could only be an indicator of one thing . . . “Ooh, I hope she is.” She took Marty’s hand and pulled him into the bedroom to help her put together a sexy outfit.

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

“All I’m saying is, people who aren’t educated in the political arena should not enter the political arena. Don’t cast a vote solely for the sake of voting, you know what I mean?”

Maria wasn’t sure what to say in response to this statement, so all she said was, “Yeah.” She had been so happy to run into Steve at Club Tequila that night and equally happy to find out he had an identical twin brother named Stanley who went to school in Las Cruces. It had been a long time since she’d had a decent three-way, and these two looked like the perfect partners. Unfortunately, Stanley had to open his mouth and start blabbing about politics like a big, stupid know-it-all who, in reality, knew nothing. The boy just would not stop.

“The last thing this country needs is stupid voters electing stupid legislators. And I’m being nice when I call our government stupid,” Stanley went on. “I could say a lot worse. I mean, it’s not rocket science. It’s simple microeconomics.”

Something about that struck a nerve within Maria, and she just couldn’t stand him any longer. “Actually,” she piped up, “it’s, uh . . . macroeconomics, mostly.”

Stanley wrinkled his forehead in confusion, apparently not used to being corrected. “What?”

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re talking about government and economy on a large scale. That’s macro. Small-scale’s micro. I mean, it's kinda both, but you really don't know what you're talking about.” She smiled, pleased with herself.

Steve, who had been standing silently the entire time, laughed and slapped his brother on the shoulder. “Damn, bro. She put you in your place.”

“That’s right. I did.” Maria didn’t see any harm in rubbing it in. “Maybe you shouldn’t vote, Stan.” She giggled excitedly, took out her cell phone, and said, “Excuse me, boys.” She walked away from them, heading towards the ladies’ room, where she always got the best service, and started to dial Michael’s number.

“Honey, what’re you doing?” Marty asked in bewilderment as he came up to her. “You’ve got a stud sandwich in your future. I wouldn’t stray from those two.”

“I have to call Michael!”

“It’s a.m.,” Marty pointed out. “He’s gonna be pissed.”

“No, he’ll be proud of me,” she insisted as she slipped into the restroom. She held the phone up to her ear as she paced back and forth in front of the mirror, thinking to herself, God, I look good tonight. Marty, ever the aspiring fashion-designer, had picked out a short white skirt and long, tight, black-sleeved shirt for her. The black boots looked hot but not hooker-ish, and her messy ponytail and gold hoop earring really pulled together the sexy look . . .

“Hello?” Michael’s sleepy voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Hey, it’s me!” she chirped.

“Please don’t tell me you need a ride home.”

“No. Michael, guess what?” She didn’t give him the chance to guess. She was talking a mile a minute. “Some guy was going on and on about politics and the economy and all that boring crap, and he’s like, ‘Hey, microeconomics,’ and I’m all, ‘Uh-uh, macro, baby.” She squealed. “Isn’t that great?”

“That’s awesome, Maria.”

“Yeah, I just had to tell you.”

“At 1:00 a.m.”

“It’s a big deal for me. It’s not very often I use my brain instead of my body,” she reminded him.

“How’d it feel?”

She thought about it, considered why she was so excited and why she was calling him about it, and she came to a surprising conclusion. “It felt . . . actually really good.”

“Told you it would.”

“Yes, smarty-pants, you told me it would,” she admitted. “Alright, I’ll let you go. Sorry I woke you up. I was just pretty pleased with myself.”

“You should be. I’ll see you later.”

“Sweet dreams.” She flipped her phone closed and stuck it back in her purse, then surveyed herself in the mirror one last time, nodded her head in approval, and headed back out into the club. Steve was standing by the door. She bumped into him.

“Hey,” he said, “so that was pretty awesome how you corrected my brother like that.”

“You’re a lot cooler than he is, Steve,” she informed him.

“I think so, too.” He smirked. “So, what do you say we ditch him and go someplace, maybe someplace a little more private.”

She stared at him, wondering where he had in mind. Not what he had in mind, because that was obviously, but where. Sex in his car? Sex at his apartment? Sex in the very restroom she’d just exited?

It was strange . . . but she didn’t know if she felt like having sex right now.

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

Michael woke up at 3:30 in the morning asking himself one simple question: Why? Why did his bladder pick now of all times to wake up? He just wanted to sleep. He was having a great dream. Isabel was in it. The good Isabel, the one who didn’t really exist.

He grumbled to himself and crawled out of bed to go to the bathroom. He stopped in the hallway, though, when he saw light coming from the kitchen. Maria wasn’t home, was she? He’d assumed she would be out all night. If she was back, she would bring Steve with her. Where were all the sex sounds? Not that he missed them or anything; he just figured . . .

He went out into the kitchen and found quite a quizzical sight indeed: Maria was sitting at the counter, still dressed up in all her club clothes, her macroeconomics textbook spread open in front of her. Sheets of loose-leaf paper scrawled with notes lay scattered all around her. It was a sight he’d never thought he would see. Maria DeLuca was studying, and she was studying hardcore.

“Wow,” he remarked, crossing his arms over his chest. “Is this what I think it is?”

She looked up at him and smiled before returning her gaze to the facts in front of her. “Maybe.”

He smiled back at her, happy that she was taking responsibility for her own education. For once. He hoped he was influencing her somewhat. “So, uh . . . what happened to Thirsty Thursday club night?”

She looked up at him again and shrugged. “Guess I wasn’t so thirsty.”

He was happy to hear that.

“Plus, just correcting that guy . . . you should’ve seen his face. It was pretty much priceless.” She laughed.

“I’m sure it was.”

“Yeah. And it just . . . felt kinda good. So I figured, whatever, I’ll just come home and study, just so I can feel good again.” She grinned. “I’m all about feeling good, you know.”

“So I’ve noticed.” Maria definitely sought out pleasure like it was going out of style. If she had found a way to get pleasure out of studying, then more power to her. She was playing to her strengths.

“What’re you doing up?” she asked him.

“Just goin’ to the bathroom. Then I’m goin’ back to sleep. You should probably hit the hay, too.”

She giggled. “Hit the hay?”

“It’s an expression.”

“I know. But I don’t wanna. I’m not tired. I might as well keep studying.”

“No, you might as well go to sleep. Cramming doesn’t work. There have been studies.”

She didn’t believe him. “Sure it works. If I cram, I shove in all the information I can at last minute, and it doesn’t have time to leave my brain. If I sleep, I’ll forget everything I’ve studied.”

“No, you won’t,” he assured her. “If you sleep, you’ll remember it. Please, just trust me. I’ve been studying for years. I know what I’m talking about.”

“Hmm, you probably do,” she admitted. “Fine, I’ll ‘hit the hay.’” She closed her book and hopped down off her stool. She turned off the kitchen light and added, “But I’d better dream about macroeconomics.”

“Oh, that sounds like a sexy dream,” he teased.

“Sexier than your dreams.”

“Don’t be too sure.”

She headed into the bedroom, mumbling a bunch of terms to herself. “Gross Domestic Product, law of supply and demand, inflation . . .”

He smiled and ducked into the bathroom. Maria was really going for it, this good grade on her test. And as much as she could say that she was doing it for him, to ‘reward’ him, she wasn’t. She was doing it for her, and that thought made him extremely proud. There was hope for Maria DeLuca yet. There really was.

When he left the bathroom and went to join her in the bedroom, he wasn’t surprised to find that she had changed into one of his t-shirts and made herself comfy, pulling most of the blankets over to her side of the bed. She had turned on his radio, too, to some horrible hip hop/rap station. She was always trying to get him to listen to music when he fell asleep, but he just couldn’t do it.

He turned the radio off, and she sent him a death glare. “One of these days, Michael Guerin . . .”

“What?”

“One of these days, you’ll fall asleep to the melodic sound of Eminem’s voice.”

“I highly doubt that.” He crawled in next to her and lay flat on his back, yawning. “Give me some of those,” he said, trying to yank some of the blankets away from her.

“I did.”

“Yeah, like two inches. Come on, you always do this. You hog all the covers.”

“I get cold.”

“Well, so do I. Come on, I wanna get back to sleep. Give me some blankets.”

She didn’t budge.

“Maria,” he said warningly, “if I don’t get back to sleep now, I’m gonna have to stay up, and then I’m gonna be hell to deal with tomorrow morning; I’ll probably put you in a bad mood, and all your studying will just go down the drain, ‘cause . . . well, ‘cause you’ll be too pissed to remember any of it, and--”

“Oh, fine,” she gave in, rolling over to face him. She released some of the blankets to him and curled up beside him, very close to him, actually.

“What-what’re you doin’?” he asked. “You’re hangin’ all over me.”

“Because you’re so scrumptious!” she teased as she intertwined their legs and rubbed her feet against his.

“Seriously, what’re you doin’?”

“My feet are cold,” she told him.

Well . . . he didn’t want her to have cold feet. He smiled and closed his eyes, hoping he would be able to get back to sleep for a few more hours. Shouldn’t be too hard, he thought. She was warmer than all the blankets combined, and he had grown used to sleeping next to her.









TBC . . .

-April

(Next update will be SUNDAY instead of Saturday.) ;)
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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Part 10

Post by April » Sun Mar 29, 2009 4:16 pm

Leila: You're right, living with Michael is having an incredibly positive effect on Maria and she's taking steps in the right direction. He's really helping her be the best that she can be. Now he needs to see that she might be able to help him, too.

Alien_Friend: "Yippee" is a really lame word, isn't it? Hence the reason why poor geeky Kyle said it. :lol:

killjoy: If you liked that last Tess/Kyle moment, I think you'll love some of the stuff to come. ;)

Jan: I'm glad to know you'll be "along for the ride." You'd better hold on tight, because even though this fic may seem nice and lighthearted sometimes, I'm going to throw some major twists and turns at you guys.

Buddha-boy: :lol: I'm glad you liked the Barbie/Ken line. It was one of my faves in the last part, too.

Krista: Spring break in Vegas . . . be still my heart. I hope you had fun and that your life gets less hectic. (Sorry about the bunnies. :( ) Okay, as for Maria and Amy . . . even though they are similar to Passion Maria and Amy, they're a lot different, too. Especially Maria. She's not out to hurt anyone like she was in Passion. She's actually trying to help people. And believe it or not, I actually have something planned for Amy that you'll read way later which should be pretty fun.

Christina: I'm glad you find Tess and Kyle so cute. They have a LOT of cuteness to come, and a lot of funny stuff, too.

spacegirl23: Have no fear! Kooky Maria will NEVER disappear. She'll just become less immature and spoiled.

Alison: "comeuppance" :lol: So do you still think you're going to be trying to redeem Max in the end?

nibbles: Really, you love this Max? Well, wonders never cease! Although, I have to admit, I kind of like him, too. I don't like him as a person or anything, but he's so fun to write because he's such an extreme jackass.


Thanks for all the happy birthday wishes (I did have a very happy birthday!) and all the great feedback! Sorry that this update is a little later than I intended.








Part 10








Liz was just finishing up her morning shift at the tutoring center when Tess strolled in. She averted her eyes, pretending not to see the other girl, and thought to herself, Please don’t let her come over here. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Tess walked in her general direction. Please go somewhere else. She really didn’t want to deal with Max’s girlfriend. It would be too weird.

Unfortunately for her, Tess stopped right beside her, a perky smile on her face. “Hi, Liz. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Tess; I used to be Maria’s roommate. Or, Maria used to be my roommate, technically.”

“Of course I remember you,” Liz replied, forcing herself to smile and look pleasant.

“Oh, I didn’t know if you would. We never really got to interact much.”

Fine by me, Liz thought. It wasn’t that she had anything against Tess on a personal level. It was just odd to know that they had both slept with the same guy. “How’re you doing?” she asked cordially.

“Really good,” Tess answered before amending, “Or, okay at least. It’s just . . . I’m having all sorts of problems with my biology class. I’m more of an interior design girl myself, so when they give me something and tell me to dissect it, I’m, like, totally clueless.”

Oh, no, Liz thought, panicked. Is this going where I think it’s going?

“Anyway, I’m desperately in need of some help, and I heard it through the grapevine that you’re the best tutor around, especially when it comes to bio.”

“Oh.” Liz hung her head, hating that that was true. She wasn’t the smartest person alive by any means, but when it came to science, she was in the zone. “Who’d you hear that from?”

“My boyfriend Max.”

Liz tensed, somehow both shocked and not surprised. Max was full of these little manipulations. In fact, when she’d first met him a year ago, he had come into the tutoring center claiming he needed help in his biology class, but really, he had just been using their tutoring sessions as a time to flirt with her, entice her, and eventually seduce her.

“Do you two know each other?” Tess inquired.

Intimately, Liz thought, each of her nerve cells standing on end. She schooled her features to remain calm. “Uh, no. No, not really.” She knew there was no way she could tutor Tess, so she quickly got out of it. “I’m sorry, Tess, but I can’t help you.”

Tess frowned. “Why not?”

“I just can’t.”

“But . . . I don’t mean to sound over-dramatic here, but I just got a C- on my bio midterm. My situation’s kinda dire. I need the best of the best, and apparently that’s you.”

“It’s not.”

“But Max said--”

“Max doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” she interrupted adamantly.

“What?” Tess seemed taken aback by the tone of hostility in her voice.

“I mean . . .” Liz sighed to regain some of her composure. “Actually, I think he has me mistaken with that girl in the orange sweater over there.” She pointed her fellow tutor out. “See her? That’s Lynn. She’s the best of the best when it comes to . . . well, any subject, really. She can help you out much better than I can.”

“Are you sure? Because Max said--”

“I’m sure,” she cut in again. “Listen, I have to be going, but good luck with your class, Tess.”

Tess looked a bit perplexed as she said, “Thanks.”

“I’ll see you around.” Liz slung her purse over her shoulder and almost fled the tutoring center. She had been planning on going back to her dorm room to nap for an hour before her macroeconomics test. Now she had to make a pit-stop first.

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

Max grinned when he heard her insisted knocking on the door to his suite. He’d been expecting her five minutes ago. What took her so long?

He rose from the couch and crossed the room to open the door.

“What kind of sick joke are you trying to pull, Max?” she demanded, barging right into his place.

“Hello to you, too, Liz.”

“I’m serious.” She stopped in the living room and whirled around to face him. “Why would you refer your girlfriend to me?”

“Because she needs help; and you’re a tutor.” He shrugged. “I was trying to do a good thing.”

“Oh, I’m sure you weren’t.”

He stared at her in awe, wishing he could see her aura, because he was sure it would have been full of beautiful fury. He chuckled and admitted, “Alright, you got me. I just wanted to see some fireworks.”

“Well, there aren’t gonna be any. I’m not tutoring Tess,” she said decidedly.

“She’ll fail the class.”

“I really don’t care.”

He grinned, so drawn to this fire, the one she kept hidden from everyone else. “Do you hate her?”

“I hate you,” she informed him.

Good, he thought. He wanted her to.

“Anyone who tries to manipulate his ex-girlfriend into a situation with his current girlfriend’s gotta be a major son of a bitch.”

“You’re not my ex,” he reminded her. “We never dated. We just fucked our brains out.” He smiled, remembering what it felt like to be on top of her, pounding into her beneath the sheets. “And it was good.”

She shifted uncomfortably and averted her eyes from him, clearing remembering the same things he was. “You’re a bastard,” she ground out. “Stay the hell away from me.”

He couldn’t do that.

The girl glared at him with passion and determination and stomped past him towards the door.

“No, Liz, wait!” He ran towards her and grabbed a hold of her arm, stopping her from leaving.

“I mean it, Max.” She sounded serious. “Let go of me.”

He reluctantly loosened his grip on her arm, but as he did that, he moved in closer to her, standing behind her, so close that he could feel the heat of her body, and maybe she could feel his burgeoning erection pressing insistently against his jeans. “I want you,” he came right out and told her. A year of not having her was driving him crazy.

“It’s not like we’re having an affair or something,” she said, her hand lingering on the doorknob, not turning it.

He titled his head downward and whispered in her ear, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we were?”

He felt her tense, so she must have been considering it. Even if it was just for a split-second, the thought ran through her head and probably turned her on. How could it not?

“I have a test to take,” she said, opening the door. “Leave me alone.” She walked out the door and slammed it shut behind her.

He stared at the closed door and smirked smugly. She’d be back. He was sure of it. She couldn’t resist him forever.

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

“Gross Domestic Product, law of supply and demand, inflation . . .” Maria stared straight ahead at the front of the lecture hall, repeating all the terms she had studied over and over again. She only felt a little nervous for the test. Only a little. But considering she usually didn’t give two shits about it, a little nervousness was going a long way to make her feel uneasy.

Liz was way worse. She was literally shaking with nerves, which baffled Maria. Liz didn’t care about this class because it wasn’t a science class. What was she so jittery about?

“Oh my god,” Liz said as the professor and teaching assistants walked up the aisle, handing out test booklets and answer sheets to all the students. “Oh my god, oh my god. Why does this test have to be today? Why today of all days?”

“Didn’t you study?” Maria asked her.

“A little.”

“You did fine on the last test,” Maria reminded.

“Yeah, but I was focused for the last test. I’m not focused today, Maria.”

“Why not?” She rubbed her hands against her legs nervously, repeating the terms in her head now. Gross Domestic Product, law of supply and demand, inflation . . .

“Oh, no reason,” Liz squeaked out. “There was just a little incident at the tutoring center today. Not really an incident, but . . .”

“No talking!” the professor barked.

“Hmm.” Liz cringed as one of the T.A.’s handed her a stack of test booklets an answer sheets. She took one of each for herself, then passed the rest down to Maria. Maria took the next two and passed the rest on down the row to the other students.

“Oh, no,” Liz whispered in panic. “It’s all true and false. I hate true/false.”

“Are you kidding? That’s the best. You have a fifty-percent chance of getting it right,” Maria whispered in response.

“But I overanalyze. And I’m not focused.”

“Better get focused,” Maria said as she took out her pencil and wrote in her name on the answer sheet, filling in the corresponding bubble letters.

“No talking!” the professor yelled again.

“I can’t do this,” Liz mumbled fearfully. “I can’t do this.”

Maria had to tell herself the very opposite. “I can do this. I can.”

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

Michael stood in the living room and stared at the paper in his hand, the grading rubric Professor Adams had used to grade his midterm painting; he thought (and hoped) he wasn’t seeing things straight. He couldn’t be. He didn’t get grades like this. He didn’t get comments like this. Lack of creativity, he read. Shows no passion. What the hell? His artwork was his passion. It always had been.

This wasn’t good. Not good at all.

“Good news!” Maria exclaimed when she came crashing in.

“You did really well on your test?” he guessed, folding up the midterm grade paper. He stuffed it in the back pocket of his jeans and tried to forget about it and focus on Maria.

“Better. I kicked ass on the test!” She squealed and jumped in delight. “Seriously, you should’ve seen me. I was like . . . true. And then I was like . . . false. True, false, true, false. Someone should’ve been there to film me taking that test, because it would be, like, an Academy Award winner. For sure.”

He laughed a little, still down in the dumps about those comments Professor Adams had written about his painting. “That’s great, Maria.”

“Yeah, it really is. I’m definitely gonna get a B. Maybe an A? I don’t know. I don’t wanna get my hopes up.”

“Get ‘em up,” he encouraged.

“I don’t know. Anyway, I’d be happy with a B. There were just a few that I had to guess on, ‘cause I blanked out.”

“It happens.”

“Yeah. All in all, though . . . success.” She smiled and skipped towards him giddily. “And you know what?” She hooked her fingers into his belt loops and pulled him close to her. “It’s all because of you.”

He shook his head and denied it. “No, it’s not.”

“It is,” she insisted.

“You’re the one who did all the studying.”

“Only because you motivated me. You said it would make me feel good, and it did.” She snaked her arms around his waist and hugged him. He hugged her back, noting how small she felt in his arms, and rested his chin atop her head, smiling a little. Knowing that she had done well made his own failure easier to accept.

“Are you gonna be a studying machine from now on?” he joked.

She laughed and released him from the hug. “I wouldn’t go that far. But I can definitely try to do better than I have been.” She smiled up at him. “Are you proud of me?”

“Of course. You proud of yourself?”

She laughed again. “Ha! You sound like a kindergarten teacher talking to a kid or something.”

He made a face. “I’m a kindergarten teacher?”

“The best.”

“Well, you’re my favorite student.”

“I’m your only student,” she reminded him. “But yes, I am proud of myself. I’m gonna be so pissed if I get that test back and it’s just a regular old C or something.”

He sighed heavily, thinking of the midterm. “Yeah, that always sucks.”

She tilted her head to the side, staring at him, and wrinkled her forehead in confusion. She seemed to recognize that something wasn’t right with him. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he mumbled quickly.

“No, something. Tell me.”

He thought about it and decided he might as well. He lived with the girl. If he wasn’t going to tell her, who would he tell? “It’s not really a big deal. I just found out what grade I got on my midterm painting today.”

“The ‘view from the apartment’ one?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“How’d you do?”

He took the paper out of his back pocket again, unfolded it, and her eyes immediately shot to the big red C at the bottom, followed by a big red minus sign.

“Oh,” she said. “Well, what’s wrong with that? You passed.”

He grunted. “Yeah, barely. I’ve never actually gotten a C before, let alone a C-, so . . . I don’t know, I should probably just suck it up, huh?”

“Why’d you get a C-?” she inquired. “I thought that was a good painting.”

“Lack of creativity or passion or something,” he mumbled, crumpling up the grading sheet. He aimed and tossed it into the trash can, happy to be rid of it. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I gotta get to work.”

“Michael.” She grabbed his arm and stopped him from heading into the bathroom. “I really did think it was a good painting.”

“Well, apparently my professor didn’t.” He shrugged. “Oh, well. At least you did good on your test. I’m happy for you.”

“I’m happy for me, too.” She smiled. “Thanks, Michael.”

He gave her hand a squeeze and then headed into the bedroom to get dressed for work. C-. It didn’t matter. He really didn’t care.

Yeah, right.

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

The fact that Maria had finished up the test far before Liz had was cause to worry. The fact that Liz opened up her book after class and saw the answers to numerous questions she had gotten wrong was even more cause to worry. “False,” she muttered as she scurried back to her dorm, eager to hide away for the rest of the day. “Why did I put false?” She was walking so fast and had her face buried so far into the book that she didn’t notice the person coming straight towards her, and she ran right into him. “Oh, sorry.” When she glanced up to see who it was, she wasn’t sure whether to smile or cringe. “Kyle.” Sure, they were still friends even though they were no longer dating, but they weren’t exactly talking buddies. She was expecting awkwardness.

“Hey, Liz,” he greeted.

“Hey.” She shrugged, unsure what else to say. “Haven’t seen you for awhile.”

“I saw you at the Halloween party last week. I meant to say hi, but . . .”

“I heard you were there. Your friend Michael said you were dressed up as a, uh . . . a shark?”

“Man-eating shark, yeah. That was . . . it was not a good . . . costume to have.” He laughed a little. “Anyway. How’s sophomore year treating you, Liz?”

“Good,” she replied, even though that was pretty much a lie. She was both sexually and academically unsatisfied, and the worst part was that everything was getting worse instead of better.

“Still working at the tutor center?” he asked.

“Yeah.” She nodded, remembering her little run-in with Tess that morning. If that girl kept popping in, she figured she might have to quit. She was insanely jealous of her because she was Max’s girlfriend, and at the same time, she was extremely relieved not to be her because . . . well, because she was Max’s girlfriend.

“I’m still working at the auto shop,” Kyle went on. “Yeah, it sucks, but it pays the rent, you know?”

“Oh, that’s right, you’ve got your apartment now. How’s that working out for you?”

“Really good, actually. Are you thinking about moving off campus next year?”

She shrugged. Honestly, she hadn’t given it much thought. She’d probably been too busy thinking about conniving, annoying, sexy Max.

“Well, Fairview’s really cheap,” he informed her, “a lot cheaper than The Links. I think Westbrook might be the cheapest of all, but I’ve heard there’s this homicidal janitor who works there—apparently he killed his girlfriend—and he’s got the key to every apartment, even the bedrooms, so . . .”

Liz lost track of what he was saying when she spied Max and Tess strolling down the sidewalk in her and Kyle’s general direction, hand in hand. The moment she saw Max, Liz had the undeniable urge to make him jealous, so she acted spontaneously, did the first thing that came to mind.

She cupped her ex-boyfriend’s face in her hands and kissed him, effectively shutting him up.

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

“So, this Lynn girl seems really nice and all, definitely knows the material, but she just seems like she has so many students. I don’t think she’s gonna be able to spend much one-on-one time with me.”

Speaking of one-on-one . . . Max was only halfway listening to Tess’s rambling about her mundane morning when his eyes caught sight of something that made his blood boil. Liz was kissing someone. Liz was kissing someone who wasn’t him. And it wasn’t just a small, short kiss, either. It was the kind she gave in bed. He was infuriated, even though he knew she was probably just trying to make him jealous.

“What?” Tess said, following his gaze. “Well, if it isn’t the tutor who shall remain nameless.”

Who’s that guy? Max wondered. He looked familiar. Wasn’t he Michael’s friend? Well, if he was anything like Michael, he wasn’t a threat.

“I didn’t know she was dating that Kyle guy,” Tess said.

Kyle. Kyle didn’t stand a chance. “I didn’t either,” he mumbled, allowing Tess to lead him towards the commuter parking lot and away from the non-couple. He really doubted they were dating. But they were still kissing, and that was unacceptable.

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

Kyle, having been too dumbfounded to do anything at first, finally pulled away from Liz’s lips, wondering what the hell was happening and why. He and Liz hadn’t kissed like that for over a year now. “Uh . . .” He wasn’t even sure what to say.

“I’m sorry, Kyle,” she apologized quickly. “I just . . . I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Maybe you just missed me,” he suggested.

“No, that’s not it.”

He frowned. What did she mean by that?

He noticed her glancing over his shoulder, and he wondered what she was looking at. She tried to look away, but she had already piqued his curiosity. He turned, and he literally freaked out when he saw Tess’s retreating (and gorgeous) back. Max was with her. Had they seen? Oh, they probably had. Knowing his luck . . .

“No, no, no, no!” he yelled, stomping his foot in frustration. Now Tess was going to think he had a girlfriend; but he was about as single as a guy could get. “Damn it all to hell!”

“I’m sorry,” Liz said again. “I’ll see you around, Kyle.” She whooshed right past him, and he just stood there, flapping his arms against his sides in disbelief. “Figures,” he muttered. Of course Tess had to see that. Because his romantic pursuit of her wasn’t difficult enough already.

Sarcasm.

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

After Michael had gone to work that day, Maria decided to snoop around the apartment. She had a few thoughts about her roommate and about his midterm grade, and she wanted to delve deeper into them. Delving deeper required snooping.

She carried a stool from the kitchen into the bedroom and set it in front of the closet, suspecting that he would keep any items he didn’t want her to see up on the top shelf of the closet, where she couldn’t physically see them from her 5’4” vantage point. She climbed up on the stool, careful to keep her balance, and her suspicions were confirmed. There on the very dusty top shelf of the closet were about a dozen canvases, stacked in two piles. She pulled one canvas out and took a look at it. Wow, she thought. It was definitely different than his midterm painting. It was a painting of Isabel. She was outside, smiling just slightly and sniffing a rose, a small, purple flower tucked behind her left ear. She looked beautiful, and Maria had no doubt that all of the other canvases stashed away would also be portraits of her.

Maria almost fell off the stool when she heard the front door open and close. “Michael?” Kyle called. “You home?”

She breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that she should keep that door locked when Michael wasn’t home. She stashed the canvas back where it belonged and climbed down off the stool, skipping out into the living room to greet Michael’s friend. Well, he was kind of her friend now, too, as lame as he was.

“Hey, loser,” she chirped.

“Oh, hey,” he said. “Is Michael here?”

“No, he left for work about a half an hour ago,” she replied. “Why?”

“Oh, I just had a bout of bad luck today. I was gonna rant. It’s not important. I’ll see you later.” He turned, heading for the door.

“You can rant to me,” she told him.

He turned around slowly and said, “Trust me, I can’t.”

“Is this about your dream girl?” she teased. “Whoever she is. I have no idea.” If only Kyle knew how obvious his feelings for Tess were. She barely even knew him, and even she could see it.

“Maybe,” Kyle muttered in admittance. “Look, it’s not important, really. I’m just gonna head out, be on my merry way.”

“Wait, Kyle.” She stopped him just as he was pulling open the door. “Could you stay? I need to talk to you about something.”

He made a face of confusion and closed the door again. “Alright, sure.”

“Sit down,” she said, gesturing towards the counter. “You want something to drink?”

“Uh . . . yeah, I guess.”

She reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a beer as he sat down. She slid the beer across the counter toward him; and he kind of just stared at it for a minute, looking nervous, then popped the tab and took a tiny sip, making a face. She smiled and re-opened the refrigerator to take out a Snapple this time. Kyle didn’t strike her as much of a drinker.

“Thanks,” he said as she handed him the much tamer, less alcoholic drink.

“No problem,” she said, sitting down beside him. She took the beer from him and took a much bigger drink than he had.

“So . . . what do you need to talk about?” Kyle asked.

“Well, actually, I was wondering if you could give me the 4-1-1 . . . on Michael’s artwork.” She realized it was kind of an odd request.

“The 4-1-1,” Kyle echoed. “You sure you don’t mean the 9-1-1?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well . . . that sounded mean. Don’t tell him I said this, okay, but . . . he hasn’t exactly been doin’ his best work lately.”

“You mean the C- he got on his midterm painting?”

“Just . . . you know, in general, it hasn’t been his best.”

“I thought his midterm painting was really good, though.”

“Well, yeah, it was,” Kyle agreed, “but everyone’s seem him do a lot better. Professor Adams expects to be blown away by Michael’s stuff. When he’s not, it’s really disappointing. So that midterm painting could’ve been at least a B for anybody else, but not for Michael.”

Maria frowned. “That hardly seems fair.” The professor was setting a higher standard for Michael than for everybody else.

“It never is, is it?” Kyle shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m sure it’s just a temporary rut, you know? Writers have their writer’s blocks. It’s the same kind of thing for artists.”

“I guess,” she said. “Well, tell me more.”

“About Michael’s artwork?” Kyle seemed confused.

“Yeah.” She really wanted to know.

Kyle took another drink of his Snapple and said, “I might not be the right person to ask. I’ve only known the guy for a little over a year.”

“Yeah, but you’re his best friend. And you’re an artist yourself, so . . .” She trailed off and shrugged. “If anyone would know, it’d be you.”

“Well . . .” Kyle thought about it and started in. “Alright, I can tell you what I know. Michael’s very into realism. He likes to paint things exactly how they look in real life. Well, not exactly, but close to exactly.”

“No, Kyle, that’s not what I mean,” she cut in. “I’m more asking about how Michael’s artwork has . . . evolved over time.”

“Evolved?” Kyle made a face. “I don’t know. He told me he always did landscape and still-life paintings in high school, did some drawing, too.”

“What’s still-life?” she asked. Her knowledge of art was extremely limited.

“Still-life, like objects, mostly,” Kyle explained. “You know, like a vase of flowers or . . . or this Snapple bottle. Or that beer bottle. Or those salt and pepper shakers. Or that used condom on the floor the other night.”

“Okay, I get it,” she cut in before Kyle rambled forever. “Go on.”

“Well, so that’s what he said he painted in high school. But then apparently he came here, met Isabel, started doing some portraits.”

“Of Isabel.”

“Yeah. And those were good. I mean really good. He’d still paint landscapes and stuff, but by the time I met him in art class last year, he was really channeling his focus into those portraits. And come to think of it, I don’t think I ever saw him paint anyone else. Just Isabel.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“And you’d say those paintings of her were the best things he’s ever done?”

He nodded emphatically. “Definitely. Without a doubt. You know, it’s really rare to find an artist who’s great at landscapes, still-lifes, and portraits.”

“But Michael is?” she guessed, smiling.

“No, Michael’s really good at landscapes and still-lifes; he’s great at portraits. Or at least portraits of Isabel. Last year, end of the spring semester, we had to turn in these collections—I think it was a dozen paintings. They could be whatever we wanted ‘em to be, as long as there was some theme to the collection. Mine was this lame trees thing. Anyway—so obviously, Michael’s collection was all his paintings of Isabel. And, no surprise here, he got an A. Or an A+. I was so jealous. But he deserved it. It was the best work he’s ever done.”

“So why’d he stop?” she asked. “Why’s he back to doing mediocre landscapes if he was doing so well on portraits?”

“Well . . . and this is where it gets psychological. I can only speculate. But to me, it’s no coincidence that Michael stopped doing portraits when his subject left town.”

“Right,” Maria agreed, embarrassed that she hadn’t thought of that herself.

“It’s kinda sad, really,” Kyle went on, downing the rest of his Snapple. “He got an offer to have his stuff shown at the art museum here on campus, the one he works at.”

Maria scrunched up her forehead in confusion. “I never saw that exhibit. Granted, I never step foot in the art museum, so . . . maybe that’s why.”

“No one ever saw it,” Kyle said. “Every month the museum does this exhibit for a student’s collection. So they got wind of Michael’s Isabel collection, and they scheduled him for August. He was gonna have his very first exhibit ever. He was pretty stoked about it. But Isabel left in July, and the exhibit never happened. He backed out at last minute.”

“Because she left him?”

“Because she left him broken-hearted,” Kyle explained. “Anyway, he hasn’t painted a human being since, and I’m beginning to wonder if he ever will again. It’s really his forte. It sucks to see him give up on it.”

“Yeah,” Maria agreed. Remember her discovery in the closet, though, she thought that maybe there was still some hope. “He still has the paintings, though,” she said.

“Really? I thought he’d burn ‘em.”

“No, I just found ‘em up on the top shelf of the bedroom closet. He probably thought he could hide them up there because I’m too short to see ‘em.”

“You are too short.”

“Yeah, but I have my ways,” she proclaimed proudly. “I stood on a stool. Oh, yeah.”

Kyle laughed a little. “Well, there you go. And they’re all still up there?”

“Well, I only looked at one, but there were about a dozen altogether. But the one I looked at . . . you’re right. It’s really good. And Isabel looked, like, real. Of course I’m glad she wasn’t real, because I don’t like her very much.” As far as Maria was concerned, Isabel was no better than that other Evans sibling.

“I always thought she was hot,” Kyle admitted.

“I’m hotter than she is,” Maria thought aloud.

“No, the hottest girl alive is . . .” Kyle trailed of sharply, undoubtedly right before saying Tess’s name. “Never mind. So, uh . . . if you don’t mind me asking, why this sudden interest in Michael’s artwork?”

“Oh, it’s just . . .” She wasn’t quite sure how to explain it. “Michael’s been helping me out lately with some studying. ‘Cause I’m really not good at studying. He kind of motivated me to do well on this test today. I thought I might try to return the favor, help him out with something that’s important to him.”

Kyle nodded slowly in consideration. “That’s . . . surprisingly generous of you.”

She smiled and rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I just . . . I know I’m not the greatest roommate ever, so I figure it’s the least I can do. Plus, they say it’s better to give than to receive, so . . .”

“That’s a good philosophy,” Kyle agreed.

She grunted. “Well, it’s not my philosophy. I still think it’s better to receive. Good deeds are like orgasms. Would you rather give one or have one given to you?”

Kyle chuckled nervously. “Oh. Well, I . . . really don’t know.”

“It’s fun to receive,” Maria declared, “but it might be . . . nice to give, too. Once in awhile.”

“Once in awhile,” Kyle agreed. “So, how are you gonna help Michael with his artwork?”

She shrugged and took another sip of her beer, confident that she would find a way. “I’ll think of something.”

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

Michael had to work late that night. He hated nights that he had to lock up the museum. No one ever came in at 9:00 at night. It was completely dead and bored him to tears. If he had his way, they would just close at 5:00.

He trudged through his apartment, down the hallway, and decided he would postpone his shower when he heard the sounds of running water and Maria’s singing. He knocked on the bathroom door once to let her know he was home, then continued into his bedroom, exhausted. He undressed, put on a t-shirt and boxers, and crawled into bed, moaning in contentment when his head hit the pillow. Finally. He just wanted to go to sleep and forget about the day. Between that midterm grade and work, he’d had enough. And he still had three classes to look forward to tomorrow before the weekend. Great.

He had just begun to fall asleep when he heard the door to the bathroom creak open. He took one squinted peek and saw Maria emerge in a cloud of steam, wearing one of his bathrobes. When she glanced in the bedroom and saw him lying on the bed, she squealed, “Michael, you’re home!” and ran forward, pouncing on him.

“Oh!” he groaned when she landed on top of an especially sensitive appendage. “There goes any chance of children.”

“What?” She glanced down at where she was sitting and immediately climbed off of him. “Oh, sorry.” She lay down next to him, still giggling.

“Goodnight,” he muttered, rolling over onto his side, his back facing her.

“What? Goodnight? You just got home.” She shook his shoulder as if to keep him awake and asked, “How was work?”

“It sucked. I’m tired.”

“Why did it suck?”

“I had to show a tour group around the entire museum. I was on my feet all day,” he grumbled.

“You’re not even gonna paint before you go to bed? You could sit down and paint.”

“Too tired.”

She scooted in close to him, literally pressing her body against his. When she leaned forward and whispered in his ear, he could feel her wet hair shedding droplets of water on his skin. “I think you’re a good painter, Michael.”

“Thank you.”

“Guess what?” She spoke louder as she became excited again. “I’m gonna say something that’s gonna make you happy. I have an idea.”

“Oh, that makes me afraid.”

“It’s a good idea,” she insisted. “Come on, roll over.” She grabbed onto his shoulder and tried to pull him over onto his back.

“Maria . . .”

Despite his reluctance, she didn’t give up. “Roll over.” Finally, she got him to give in and lie flat on his back. She stayed close to him, resting one hand on his chest, and said, “Okay, here’s what I’m thinking: I think you should paint a picture.”

“Yeah, I do that sometimes.”

She rolled her eyes and ignored his sarcasm. “I think you should paint a picture of me.”

For the first time since she had pounced on him, he was actually interested in what she was saying. Not because he was entertaining the idea, but because it confused him. “Come again?” Why would she want him to do that?

She smiled. “See? I told you it was a good idea.”

“No, Maria, I . . .” He didn’t even have to think about it. Absolutely not. “I can’t paint a picture of you. I’m sorry.”

She frowned. “Why not?”

“Because I can’t paint people,” he fibbed quickly.

“That’s a lie. I found all your paintings of Isabel.”

“But . . .” Great, he thought. He’d never meant for her or anyone to see those things ever again. That’s why he’d hidden them. “How? You’re so short.”

“Me, stool, standing,” she explained. “I found them and they’re so good. Much better than your midterm painting. No offense.”

He knew she was right. Deep down, he knew his midterm painting kind of sucked. Even the title was lame.

“Please, Michael, please,” she begged. “Think about it. I think this could be really good for you.”

“Why do you even care?”

“Because,” she answered, “you’re my friend, and I--”

“Look, Maria, I-I can’t paint you, okay?” he cut her off. “I won’t.”

She looked so disappointed, and all of her excitement had vanished from her voice. “I just don’t understand why not.”

He scrambled, trying to think of something to say that would get her to leave him alone, forget about the idea. Because it wasn’t a feasible idea. At all. He’d never do it. “Because I don’t want to,” he replied finally, well aware of how harsh it sounded.

That . . . made her look angry. Or maybe hurt. He wasn’t sure which one, but he was sure he felt bad about it. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and got up, walking out of the room. Those last words were the kind that sentenced a guy to sleeping on the couch for the night.










TBC . . .

-April
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LOVE IS MICHAEL AND MARIA.

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