522 (CC/UC, AU, Adult, COMPLETE, 09/01/13)

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522 (CC/UC, AU, Adult, COMPLETE, 09/01/13)

Postby April » Mon Mar 01, 2010 10:15 am

(Banner by me.)

Title: 522

Author: April

Disclaimer: Oh, lord, after all this time, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I have no affiliations to Roswell. Although I have mildly kinky fantasies where I do.

Summary: A year and a half after the last chapter of 521, Santa Fe’s most dramatic, romantic, and problematic people have settled into adulthood. Some have changed; others have not. Some have gotten what they wanted while others have fallen short. At a time in their lives when marriage, children, and careers are their primary concerns, they discover that the only difference between college and the “real world” is that the problems they face are bigger and more intimidating.

Category: Ensemble AU (Sequel)

Rating: Adult

Warnings: Consider yourself warned that this story is going to deal with a lot of difficult and controversial subject matter. Other warnings include graphic sexual situations, adult language, violence, and some UC elements. This is in the Alien Abyss for a reason, folks.

Author’s Note: This is the first sequel I’ve ever written to a novel-length fic, and I’m excited about it. I didn’t intend to write a sequel to 521, but I thought about it and realized I had a lot of (hopefully) intriguing ideas and a diverse cast of characters to work with. If you have not read 521, then DO NOT read this fic. A lot of it will be lost on you. So read 521 first if you’re interested in reading 522.

Just a quick side note here . . . in order to keep the story chronologically accurate, I had to set it in 2012. The last time I checked, I’m writing this in 2009/2010, and I’m not psychic, so I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2012. Obviously some references won’t be factually correct for that reason.

Okay. So this story is meant to challenge me as a writer and challenge you as readers. As excited as I am about posting it, I’m also very nervous about posting it. So please, let me know what you think by posting feedback. I’m interested in what everyone has to say, whether it’s positive or negative. Enjoy the fic, and please hold on for the ride.

All (slightly spoilery) trailers can be viewed on my Youtube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/April7739 as well as the playlist for the soundtrack I'm in the process of compiling.

Part 1

A Year and a Half Ago

Maria’s fingers shook as Michael slid the diamond onto her ring finger. It looked like it was meant to be there.

“Come here!” she cried as he stood up. She threw her arms around him and kissed him happily. So happily.

“Don’t cry,” he whispered in her ear.

“Good tears,” she promised. She’d waited for this day for awhile.

“Sorry it took me so long,” he apologized.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He gave her another quick peck on the lips, and then the wedding guests crowded around them. Tess and Kyle both hugged them and offered their congrats. Amy yanked on Maria’s hand and demanded to see the ring. Mascara was streaming down her face.

Once the commotion had died down, Marty’s voice rose above all the rest. “Picture!” he shouted. “I gotta get a picture of this.”

“Oh my god, no, look at me. I’m all over the place,” Maria said, wiping the joyful tears from her cheeks.

“You look beautiful,” Michael assured her.

“I want the married couple, the gonna-get-married couple, and my niece,” Marty said. “Everyone else clear out for a minute. I just want the five of them.”

“Fab Five!” Tess joked.

Maria laughed. “Yeah, Fab Five.”

“Here,” Kyle said, handing Miley over to Maria.

“Okay, scoot in,” she told them. She grabbed Michael’s collar—her
fiancé's collar—and pulled him in close to her. He wrapped his arm around her waist while Tess came to stand beside Maria. Tess put her hand on Maria’s shoulder, and Kyle wrapped both his arms around his new wife’s midsection.

“Miley, look at the camera,” Maria said as her brother took a few steps back, trying to get the picture in focus.

“Out of the picture, Mom. You’ll be in the next one,” Marty snapped. “Everybody lean in.”

“Look at the camera,” Maria told Miley again. She was such a good kid that she did just that. She laughed the way she usually did when she looked at her wacky Uncle Marty.

“Are we ready?” Marty asked.

“Wait a minute,” Michael said, reaching back to the table. He picked up the pink rose bouquet Maria had just caught and handed it to her. “There you go,” he said.

“Oh, okay.” Her hands were full. Kid in one arm, flowers in the other. It felt good, though.

“Alright, I think we’re ready, Marty,” Tess said.

“Wait, is my hair alright?” Kyle asked.

“No. Who cares, you dork?” Maria teased. “Take the picture, Marty.”

Michael chuckled. “One big happy family.”

“Okay, bitches,” Marty said. “On one . . .”

Maria smiled. Here she was, surrounded by her best friends, her fiancé, and her daughter. Her, the once out-of-control party girl who’d never even allowed herself a glimpse of this dream.

“Two . . .”

Never had she imagined that her life could be this good. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was pretty damn close. And it was close because of the people in it.


The camera flashed, freezing the moment in time.


Present Day

It was time. Maria DeLuca knew it was time to do this.

“Miley, look at the camera,” she coaxed her daughter. Miley stood by the side of the car, her light brown hair in low-slung pigtails, a Finding Nemo backpack on her shoulders. She was wearing her new red and white checkered dress and white shoes. She looked like a little princess. But not a very happy one.

Miley begrudgingly turned to look at the camera but maintained the frown on her face.

“Smile,” Maria urged, her voice high-pitched the way it usually was when she was trying to convince her little girl to do something. She snapped the picture even though Miley was still pouting, then put the digital camera back in her purse. “That wasn’t a very happy smile, girly.”

Miley hung her head and kicked at the sidewalk with the toe of her shoe.

“What’s wrong?” Maria asked, even though she already knew.

“I’m scared,” Miley mumbled. “I don’t wanna go.”

“Why not?”

She shrugged exaggeratedly.

Maria sighed and knelt down so that she was at eye-level with her. “Miley,” she said, stroking her hair. “It’s totally okay to be afraid. But there’s nothing to be afraid of.” She glanced back over her shoulder at the entrance to Happy Hearts Daycare. It looked like a safe place, clean and lively. She’d already checked the whole establishment out last week. It was the perfect match for Miley. “It’s just daycare,” she said. “It’s fun. You’re gonna have a great time. You’re gonna make lots of friends, and you’re gonna play all day.” She didn’t remember much about her own daycare experience, except for flirting with a boy who she’d ended up dating in the seventh grade. Luckily Miley wasn’t as boy-crazy as she had been. “I bet when I come pick you up this afternoon, you won’t even wanna leave,” she declared confidently.

“Yeah, I will,” Miley insisted. “Mama, why can’t I stay home with you?”

Mama. The way she said that word tugged at Maria’s heartstrings, made her want to change her mind about all this. “Because I’m not staying home today, sweetie. I have things to do,” she reminded her.

“Then why can’t I go to work with Daddy?”

“Macy went to work with Daddy, just like you used to. But you’re a big girl now, so it’s time for you to go to daycare.”

“I’m not little, I’m big,” Miley said in a rush. That was her good-old standby line, the line she always used when she was trying to convince her parents to let her do something. “I mean . . .” She caught her mistake and corrected. “I’m not big. I’m little. I’m only . . .” She held up two fingers. “This old.”

“But you’re almost . . .” Maria held up three fingers. “This old.” Sometimes she swore Miley was older. She was already teaching herself how to write her own name, and she even wanted to start reading now.

“Mama . . .”

Stay strong, Maria told herself. She couldn’t give in . . . no matter how cute her kid was. “Sweetie, you can do this,” she said, squeezing her shoulders encouragingly. “Okay?”

Miley continued kicking at the sidewalk, then stopped and nodded reluctantly.

“Okay. Let’s go.” Maria grabbed her daughter’s hand, then led her up the sidewalk towards the entrance. Miley’s steps were so little that she had to take three or four to match one of Maria’s.

When they stepped inside, Maria had to steady her own nerves. There were about a dozen kids there. They were all in the playroom, bouncing and rolling a big beach ball in a circle. Some of them were so young that they were no taller than the ball itself. Others appeared to be about five or six.

“See?” Maria said. “This looks fun.”

Miley held her hand tighter and turned around so none of the other kids could see her. She’d always been a little shy.

The daycare’s primary director, Pam Austen, approached Maria at the door with a smile on her face. She had short dark hair, and she wore thick, black-rimmed glasses, a plaid blouse and jeans, and an enthusiastic attitude. She and Maria had met in Lamaze class when Maria had been pregnant with Macy. Pam and her partner Cecily had artificially inseminated, and after having four kids of their own, they’d decided to open up a daycare. They were acquaintances at best, but Maria knew them well enough to trust them with her child.

“Maria, hi,” Pam greeted.

“Hi, Pam.”

“Hello, Miley,” Pam went on. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Miley, turn around,” Maria said, but her daughter was resistant. “Um, she’s a little nervous,” Maria said, hoping her daughter’s nervousness didn’t make her seem impolite.

“That’s completely natural,” Pam assured her.

“I thought maybe if I brought her some of her things from home, she’d feel better. So I brought, um . . .” Maria reached into her backpack and pulled out a furry little snow leopard. “Her favorite stuffed animal,” she said, “and her crayons. She likes to draw.”

“Oh, we have lots of crayons here,” Pam assured her.

Of course they did. It was a daycare. “Right. I suppose you would.” That didn’t stop Maria from digging a box of twenty-four Crayola crayons out of her backpack. Well, twenty-two now. Miley had gone through a chewing phase right about the time she’d turned two. Thank God she was out of that now. “Actually, these are glitter crayons,” she said, “so . . .” She handed them to Pam and smiled. The daycare probably didn’t have glitter crayons. Miley liked glitter.

Pam laughed lightly and took the crayons from her. “Maria, she’s going to be fine,” she assured her. “She’s not the only nervous one, is she?”

“No, she’s not,” Maria admitted. She was probably even more nervous than Miley was, but she was trying not to show it because she didn’t want to make Miley any more nervous than she already was. “This is new for both of us.”

“Nothing to worry about.” Pam knelt down and said, “Miley, do you know what we’re gonna do today? We’re gonna watch movies and listen to music and paint.”

Miley immediately whirled around, her face lit in purse excitement. “Paint!” she exclaimed. She looked up at Maria. “Like Daddy?”

“Yeah, like Daddy.”

“Cool!” Miley let go of her hand. “Bye, Mama.”

“Oh . . .” Maria stood back and watched as Miley walked into the play room with Pam. “Bye,” she whimpered, feeling uneasy. That had all happened too fast. She hadn’t even had the chance to kiss her goodbye. Now she was going to have to wait until 3:30 to see her again. This sucked.

Maria sulked out to the car, a bundle of worries. What if they fed Miley something she was allergic to? As far as she knew, Miley wasn’t allergic to anything, but . . . she’d never eaten corndogs before. What if she was allergic to corndogs? What if they were having corndogs for lunch? Come to think of it, she thought as she struggled to open the driver’s side door of her navy blue Mercury Sable, what are they having for lunch? She hadn’t even had the chance to ask.

Maria yanked hard on the door and finally got it open. The lock stuck a good deal of the time. It was really not the greatest car, but her Lincoln MKZ had crapped out on here after a year of use.

She shut the door and held her key up to the ignition. She was just about to insert it and bring the car to life when something took over. She shot out of the car and bounded back into the daycare center. Miley had already joined the group of kids with the beach ball and was laughing and smiling and playing along with them. She didn’t notice her mom come in. But Pam did. She grinned at Maria almost as if she'd been expecting it.

“Hi,” Maria said, approaching the director. “I forgot to mention something.” She pulled a Zip-lock bag full of cheddar cheese cubes out of her backpack and handed them to her. “She likes cheese,” she said. “Miley does.”

Pam nodded, looking as though she were holding in laughter. “We’ll give it to her for lunch.”

“Okay. What are you serving for lunch, by the way? Because she’s never eaten corndogs before, but she might be allergic.”

“Fish sticks.”

“Oh.” For some inexplicable reason, Miley really liked those. “Okay. Good. Well . . .” She flapped her hands against her sides, the separation anxiety almost unbearable. “I guess I can be going then.”

“You sure can.”

“Yep.” She nodded, not moving. Eventually, Pam had to grab her by the shoulders and push her out the door.


The drive to the Fairview apartment complex was a familiar one, one Maria had driven many times when she’d lived there and many times still after she and Michael had moved out. And one she wouldn’t be driving much longer now that her friends were moving out, too. She parked out front, popped open her trunk to take out the cardboard boxes, and trudged into the building, still thinking about Miley.

She got off the elevator on the fifth floor and strode down the hallway, passing the door marked with the number 521. Somebody had scratched off some of the wood on the doorframe, and the word fucker was carved into the door below the numbers. The place had really gone downhill. It made her feel a little sad.

“Tess?” she said, knocking on and then opening the door to the neighboring apartment where her friends resided for only a short time more now. “You decent?”

Tess Valenti peeked out of the bathroom. She held a hair straightener in her hand. “Am I clothed? Yes,” she replied. “Am I decent? Never.”

Maria laughed. “I brought your boxes,” she said, setting the lightweight boxes down on the living room floor. She and Michael had a ton of empty boxes stacked up in their garage from when they’d moved.

“Hey, thanks. That helps me out a lot.” Tess turned off the light in the bathroom and pranced out, looking perfect as ever. Her long blonde hair billowed behind her, and her pink halter clung to her flat stomach. Maria’s stomach wasn’t big by any means, but it hadn’t been quite that flat for awhile now.

“Did you get the girl off to daycare?” Tess inquired, inspecting the boxes.

“Oh my god, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Maria said dramatically.

Tess gave her a skeptical look. “I thought giving birth was the hardest thing.”

“Well, besides that.” Maria sat down on the arm of the couch, amazed that Kyle and Tess still had all the same furniture they’d had when they moved in together and combined their belongings at the end of junior year. “I know she’s gonna be fine,” she said, “but I felt so bad leaving her.”

“Maria, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing your own interests.” Tess set one of the boxes down on the kitchen table and started filling it at once with pots and pans.

“But my kids are my interests.” Miley and Macy were the first thing she thought about when she woke up in the morning and usually the last thing she thought about when she fell asleep. Unless she fell asleep after a powerful orgasm, in which case she then fell asleep thinking about sex.

“But what’s that other thing you’re interested in?” Tess said. “Oh, wait, it’s on the tip of my tongue.”

Maria rolled her eyes.

“Oh, that’s right. Graduating.”

Maria grunted. “Yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen.”

“Oh, come on, you’ve only got a year left.” Tess went into the kitchen, pulled open her silverware drawer, and then literally dumped all the contents into the box. They made a terrible clanging noise. “As long as you don’t get knocked up between now and May . . . hello, Pomp and Circumstance.”

“Well, I’ve gotta survive my student teaching first.”

“That’s spring semester, right?”

Maria nodded. “Yep. And then I can be out in the real world with Michael and you guys.”

“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” Tess said, folding the flaps of the box down. She stared off into space, looking thoughtful for a moment. “I miss college,” she said wistfully. “Maybe that’s why Kyle and I have held onto this apartment for so long. It’s like a reminder of the way things used to be.”

“Yeah,” Maria said. “But are things really that different?” Sure, she was a mother of two and Tess was married now, but . . . actually, things were pretty different.

“Uh, yeah,” Tess replied as though it were obvious. “For starters, 521 isn’t so much an apartment as it is a whorehouse now.”

“What?” Maria shrieked. She knew it had gone downhill, but . . . had it really gone that downhill in three years’ time?

“The new neighbors—I think there’s, like, four of them . . .”

“Four? It’s a one-bedroom.”

“I know, they have this, like, weird 70’s orgy of love thing going on.” Tess waved it off. “Whatever. Anyway, all they do is have sex, throw keg parties, and make noise. One of the reasons why Kyle and I are moving out. It just hasn’t been the same since you guys left.”

Maria had to admit, sometimes she missed apartment life. It was simpler, way less expensive. But she and Michael had decided early on that they wanted Miley and Macy to grow up in a house, not an apartment. “Well, you’ll like home-owning,” she said. “It’s nice, except for the mortgage.”

Tess grinned. “I can’t wait to christen all the rooms.”

“Definitely the best part,” Maria agreed. “Although I don’t think you’re gonna get much christening done if you don’t pick up the pace. You’ve still got a lot of packing to do.”

Tess sealed the kitchen utensils box with brown packing tape. “You could’ve brought Macy over here to help me,” she said.

“Help? She’s six months old, Tess. I don’t really envision her doing any heavy lifting.”

“No, but she could sit around and look cute while I lift.”

Maria smiled. Macy was adorable. Unlike Miley, who’d been born with a full head of hair and already had hair down past her shoulders at the age of two, Macy was practically still bald. She had bright green eyes and the cutest, most pinch-able cheeks ever. Her grandparents definitely planned to do a lot of pinching when she got older.

“Did Michael take her to work?” Tess asked.

“Yeah, he really wanted to.”

“But he’s her dad. He gets to see her every day.”

“So do you, practically,” Maria pointed out.

“That’s not the point.”

“Then tell me the point.” Maria sank down on the couch, ready to listen to gush Tess about her youngest niece. It was something she did often.

“Uh, I would if you weren’t running so late,” Tess said.

“Late?” Maria echoed.

“Yeah, it’s 9:15. Doesn’t your class start at 9:30?”

Maria leapt to her feet and glanced at the clock on the microwave. Tess was right. “What the fuck?” she shouted. She tried not to swear anymore because she didn’t want to let something slip out in front of Miley, but when she got extremely worked up about something, the words came tumbling out. “The clock in my car said it was 8:45!” she cried. “Miley must’ve set it back.” Like any curious kid, Miley liked to press buttons. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d set the clock back. “Oh my god, Tess, is it really 9:15?” Maybe this was all just a practical joke.


Or maybe not. “Oh, shit, I gotta go,” she said, throwing her side-slung back over her left shoulder. “I’ll talk to you later, Tess.”

“Run fast!” her friend shouted as she scampered out the door. This first day of class was off to a bad start.


The traffic situation on campus was an absolute nightmare that day. The first day of the fall semester was always crazy like this. There were a bunch of freshman who didn’t know where the hell they were going, sophomores who’d gotten so stoned the night before that they couldn’t even see the road in front of them, and juniors and seniors who were so busy looking over the syllabi they’d printed off the night before that they almost swerved onto the sidewalk. And then there was Maria, and she was running late.

She parked haphazardly in the commuter lot, yelling at her car when the lock got stuck again and forced her to climb over the seats and out the passenger’s side door instead. She ran as fast as she could up the sidewalk outside the Rec Center to the College of Education and Human Sciences building. Her lungs burned and her muscles ached with every step. She wasn’t in shape enough for this.

It was 9:29 when she made it to the lecture auditorium. She wasn’t sure how she’d managed to make it in time. She breathed a sigh of relief, noting that the professor wasn’t even in that room yet, and looked around. It was a small class, only about thirty-five people, the vast majority of them female, but she didn’t recognize anyone. The last time she’d been in a college classroom had been over a year ago in the spring of 2011. All the people who had been in those classes with her had probably graduated by now.

She spotted an older-looking woman sitting up in the fourth row of seats. There was an empty seat to her left, so Maria decided to take it. Four years of college had taught her one thing above all else: middle-aged women were excellent students to befriend in any class. They were generally more focused, more studious, and more willing to take on a large portion of the workload if it came time to do a group project.

Maria sat down beside the woman and smiled politely. She was definitely not a spring chicken. Her hair had grey roots, and her stomach had not one but two extra tires. Maria didn’t want to judge her by her appearance, though, because she really didn’t want to be judged by her own. There had been a day when she would have prepared for the first day of class like she had for senior prom: styled hair, bedazzling make-up, and an outfit meant to stun the men. But she didn’t have time for that stuff anymore.

“First day back?” the woman asked her.

“Uh, yeah, actually.” Maria set her backpack down on the floor, suddenly panicked. “Isn’t it for everyone? Oh god, is it Tuesday? Did I miss the first day?”

“Oh, no, it’s Monday. I was just asking if it’s your first day back after . . . after an extended absence, I guess you could say.”

“Oh.” The panic receded. “How can you tell?”

“That terrified look on your face.” The woman smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I’m terrified, too. I dropped out of college sixteen years ago with only a semester left to go, decided I’d try to open up a bagel shop.”

Maria nodded. That was an interesting career choice to say the least, and she didn’t know of any bagel shops in Santa Fe. “How’d that work out?”

“It didn’t.” The woman shook her head. “That’s why I’m back here. I always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. I figure, if you got a passion, go for it.”

Maria nodded. Sounded like a good philosophy to her. “Well, it hasn’t been that long for me,” she said. “I had a couple kids, took some time off, squeezed a year of school in between. It was actually my first daughter who inspired me to become a kindergarten teacher. Before that I wanted to be a . . .” She trailed off. Sex therapist had been the plan for . . . well, not for long. As fun as it sounded, she wanted to do something more meaningful. “Well, anyway, I guess I’m technically a second-year senior. But I should be able to graduate this spring.”

“Hopefully we both will,” the woman said.

“Hopefully,” Maria agreed. “I’m Maria, by the way.”

“Lucinda.” The woman shook her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You, too.” They fell silent for a moment as the stragglers came in. Two bleach-blonde girls sat down in the front row, chatting it up like hens. They looked like they had sorority DNA in them.

“Look at them,” Lucinda remarked, apparently eyeing the same two girls. “Early twenties. Young, energetic. Not a care in the world.” She laughed semi-bitterly. “Us old girls gotta stick together, huh?”

Maria laughed in horror, thinking she couldn’t possible have heard her right. Old? “Oh, no, I’m not . . .” She trailed off. How could anyone think she was old? “No, you didn’t mean . . .” She wasn’t even twenty-five . . . yet. “Well, when I say I have children, that doesn’t mean . . .” She let her sentence fade again. Lucinda wasn’t listening anymore, and clearly she hadn’t meant to insult Maria. Regardless, Maria looked away and whimpered. Old? Seriously? She sure hoped Miley was having a better day than she was.

TBC . . .

Last edited by April on Sun Sep 01, 2013 10:44 am, edited 187 times in total.

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Part 2

Postby April » Wed Mar 03, 2010 10:36 am

You guys don't know how relieved I am that people are actualy coming back to read the sequel, despite my warnings about how intense it will be. Intense can be a good thing. ;)

Random side note: I began posting 521 on March 2nd, and almost a year to the date, I started posting the sequel. I didn't plan that; it just kind of worked out that way. I thought it was kind of neat.

Thank you so much for the feedback, everyone!

Leila: I just knew you'd be first! :lol: How could you not be? You're the lead stalker and I love you for that.

Ellie: Yes, two kids. I was hoping to catch a few people off-guard by that. Lots of people commented during 521 that Michael has super sperm! :lol: Now we know that's true.

I can't resist the allure of updating every other day, so that's what I'll do, except when I go home on weekends or spring break or stuff like that.

BB: Since Michael and Maria's whole couple name (Candy) is based on the letter M, I just had to give their kids M names in this fic. I was originally intending for Miley to be named Maddie, and then I was like, 'Wait! There's a Maddie in Gold Diggers!' So I backed off. Didn't want people to get confused. ;)

Maiqu: You'll meet Macy in this part. (By the way, this is random, but have I ever told you how much I love it that you put your feedback in pink?)

BethanyJill: Once again, I'm so happy you decided to become a member over here at Fanatics. Glad you liked the Maria/Tess cuteness in that chapter. I've really always viewed their friendship as the core of these two fics.

Rodney: Yes, you can expect some headaches and ulcers. Everyone can. But you can also expect lots of fun, happy stuff, too.

Ginger: I hope I can do the 'mom' parts of this story justice. I'm not a mom, and I don't even have any younger siblings or babysitting experience, so we'll see how it goes.

Novy: Are they married yet? Hmm, good question. And I'll just answer it instead of trying to be all mysterious: No.

Trixie: I've missed you around here!

And I know EXACTLY how Tess feels about just watching Macy be cute. I just visited my dad this weekend for my stepmom's birthday party and my stepsister was there with my cute little niece and I swear, I could just watch that child forever. I didn't even care when she cried. She could cry all she wanted and all I would want to do is give her anything she wanted. But it also made me jealous because I would love to have an endless supply of money and have a family of my own. So I think I know how Tess is going to feel soon.

It's probably easier to 'ooh' and 'ahh' over babies all the time when you don't actually have to raise them.

Sam: Hello, there! I'm glad you've come out of lurkerdom and I hope you enjoy being a member here. Yes, Maria is definitely more mature than she was in 521. Having two kids has forced her to grow up a lot.

tequathisy: Fun Maria definitely isn't gone, but she has a lot more responsibilities than she used to, and she's actually got her priorities straight now.

Christina: While that part was mainly focused on Maria, you'll get a glimpse of what everyone else is up to in this part. Including Isabel. :twisted: (<-- I have a feeling I'm going to be using this "twisted" smilie a lot during this fic.)

lilah: I knew those Youtube videos would freak people out! :lol: Everything is light and fluffy right now for some people. But I think you'll definitely start seeing contrasts between certain individuals in this part.

Ashley: Yes, I think the 'old' comment would throw anyone for a loop.

Part 2

It was a chorus of “Good morning, Mr. Evans,” and “Hello, Mr. Evans,” as Max strode through the Customer Service floor of the Evans Hotel company’s head office. He chose not to acknowledge anyone who said anything to him and continued on his way through the maze of the third floor cubicles. His personal assistant, Jimmy, scurried right along beside him with two Blackberries in hand.

“Alright, Jimmy, hit me with your best shot,” Max said.

“Uh . . . uh, okay,” Jimmy stuttered. “You’ve got a meeting with Matthew Donavan—I’m sorry, that’s Donavan Matthews—at 10:30. At 11:30, conference call with the managers of the Phoenix, Dallas, and Denver branches. 1:00, charity luncheon at the Children’s Hospital. At 3:00, a meeting with your financial advisor, 4:00 dentist appointment, and a 5:30 meeting with the wedding planner.”

“Wedding planner?” Max echoed.


“Oh, that’s right, I’m getting married next week.” Max ducked into the bathroom so he could check his reflection in the mirror and Jimmy followed him in. Why the hell were there bags under his eyes? They were making him look older than he really was. “I’ll tell you what I want you to do, Jimmy,” he said, turning on the sink so he could splash some water on his face. “Reschedule my dentist appointment so it takes place during the charity luncheon and I have an excuse not to attend. And bump my meeting with the financial advisor up to 12:30. I’d like to get that out of the way.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll get right on that.” Jimmy handed him a White Chocolate Mocha and said, “Here’s your coffee, sir.”

“Thank you, Skinny Jimmy.” Max smiled at him and took a sip. Pretty damn good. “You’re a good assistant,” he told his little tag-along, “you know that?”

Jimmy looked delighted to hear that. His whole acne-prone face lit up. “Oh, well, thank you,” he said. “I try my best.”

“Come with me.” Max walked out of the bathroom, and Jimmy kept the pace at his side.

“Mr. Evans, do you know that my name is actually James?” he said. “Nobody really calls me Jimmy.”

“Jimmy, shut up.”

“Except for you. Very good, sir.”

Max was on his way to the elevator when he passed by a row of especially hectic cubicles. Papers lay scattered about, and most employees were on the phone or the computer, busy getting work done. But there was one employee, four cubicles back, who was slumped over on his desk, his arms pillowed together, his head resting upon them. Even in the midst of all the noise and the chaos, he was asleep. It wasn’t the first time he’d done this.

“Meet me back in my office,” Max told his assistant.

“Yes, sir.” Jimmy obediently hopped onto the elevator and was gone.

Max sighed and headed back towards the cubicle. He leaned over the side and said, “Sleeping on the job. I oughta fire your ass.”

Alex Whitman dazedly lifted his head. “What?” he said, looking around. It only took him a moment to realize what he’d done. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he apologized. “Max, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what happened. One minute I was awake, and the next . . .” He trailed off.

“Don’t sweat it,” Max told him. He knew Alex had a lot going on. He glanced two cubicles back at the employee sitting next to the wall. Pete Walters, the name card said. Pete Walters was blatantly browsing a website he shouldn’t have been. Not porn. No, if it had been porn, Max would have sat down and watched with him. It was something ridiculously and unnecessarily distracting. “Hey! You!” Max shouted.

Pete turned around, the guilt of getting caught evident on his face.

“Are you Twittering?” Max narrowed his eyes at the screen. Yeah, that was Twitter. Good old useless Twitter.

Pete quickly minimized the window. “No,” he lied.

Max rolled his eyes. This was fine. He needed to trim the dead weight. “Pack up your desk,” he ordered. “You’re fired.”

“What?” Pete shrieked. “But Alex was sleeping!”

“Alex is none of your business.” Max was annoyed that this nobody would have the nerve to question his decision. “Now if you wanna salvage a letter of recommendation out of this, I’d recommend you don’t say another word. Leave, quietly.”

Pete grunted incredulously. “But Mr. Evans . . .”


Pete recoiled in his chair and didn’t say another word.

Max laughed and said to Alex, “I never get tired of doing that.”

Alex sighed. “You know, Max, you really don’t have to give me special treatment.”

Max glanced at the photo of Alex’s son, Garret, on his desk. It was a newer picture, taken on the trip to Disneyland Max had sponsored. Garret was standing next to Donald Duck, and he had a big smile on his face. His curly brown hair was frizzed out in the heat. “Yes, I do,” Max said quietly. If he hadn’t given Alex special treatment these past three and a half years, he would have been fired a long time ago. And Max couldn’t let that happen.

“Why are you so tired?” he asked, picking up the picture of his nephew. “Kid keep you up all night?”

“Yeah, he had another nightmare.” Alex yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Hey, I could really use a night out if you feel like it.”

“Sure. After work, we’ll go to the bar.”

Alex chuckled. “Where else, right?”

“Yeah.” They were definitely regulars at Rodeo’s, a western-themed bar that Alex had taken a liking to ever since they’d named a drink after him, The Whitman. It was a mix of vodka and . . . something else. Max really wasn’t sure what was in it. He didn’t want to know. “Well, you’d better get back to work,” he suggested when Alex’s desk phone rang. Alex was a drone of Customer Service. He was on the phone almost all day. It seemed like a horrible job, but he’d been doing it for awhile now.

“I’ll see you later,” Alex said, picking up his phone with the usual spiel. “Evans Hotels Customer Service. This is Alex speaking.”

Max headed back out of cubicle-land to the elevator. It was a chorus of “Have a nice day, Mr. Evans,” and, “Let us know if you need anything, Mr. Evans,” as he left. When he got up to the fifth floor and entered his own office, which was more like a small house, Jimmy was immediately there. “Mr. Evans, your fiancée’s on the phone,” he said.

“Give it here,” Max said, holding out his hand. Jimmy handed him the cell phone, and Max raised it up to his ear. “Hey, baby,” he said. It felt good to hear her voice.


Maria trundled out of the College of Education and Human Sciences building, feeling like a kitten. Like a lost, distressed little kitten who didn’t know what was going on around her and her was just trying to avoid being stepped on. Her first class had definitely worried her. It was a methods course, the whole aim being to show how the future kindergarten teachers were to apply their knowledge of lesson-planning and skills of supervision. The professor had delved right in and told everyone that they were to rely heavily on the learning they had done during their professionalism block of courses. The only problem was that Maria had done her professionalism block a year and a half ago. She couldn’t even remember half of what she had learned.

She headed over to the bus stop to catch a ride downtown for lunch. She had an hour in between classes and a bus pass paid for with her student fees. She figured she might as well put it to good use. She was just about to sit down on the bench when she caught sight of a familiar former-friend sitting there, talking on her cell phone, her long dark hair flapping wildly around her. Liz Parker. Maria quickly spun and walked away, but she sensed it was too late.

“I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later, okay? Bye,” she heard Liz say. She tried to quicken her pace without looking like she was running, but she heard Liz’s footsteps pounding on the pavement behind her. “Maria!” she shouted.

Maria didn’t stop.


She halted, knowing that this was inevitable. She scrunched her face up, despising all the bad luck she’d withstood so far today, and slowly turned around, forcing a smile. “Liz.”

“Hey.” Liz looked gorgeous. Her skin was unblemished, her hair expertly styled, and her clothes obviously top-dollar. The look wasn’t cheap, but money wasn’t an issue for her.

“I didn’t expect to run into you on campus,” Liz said, seemingly very glad to see Maria. “What’re you doing here?”

Maria shrugged. “Just trying to graduate.”

“Oh, so you’re taking classes?”

She nodded. “Full-time.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

Maria just kept nodding, not sure what else to say. She and Liz had never been super close, not like her and Tess, but nowadays they were barely even acquaintances. They didn’t exactly run in the same social circles. “What about you?” she asked. “Didn’t you graduate, like, over a year ago?”

“Yeah, but I missed school, so I applied to the graduate studies program and made it,” Liz explained cheerily. “I’m trying to get my masters in biochemistry. I mean, I’m not sure if I’ll actually do anything with it, but it’ll be nice to have it, you know?”

“Hmm.” Maria thought it would be nice just to have a bachelor’s degree. There were many reasons why she could never be a grad student, among them being that it cost too much, she didn’t enjoy classes enough, and she had more important things going on.

“So how are Miley and Macy?” Liz asked. She raised her hands to hold onto the backpack straps on her shoulders, and the huge diamond on her left ring finger almost blinded Maria. “Tess talks about them all the time.”

“They’re good,” Maria replied, shielding her eyes. Her own diamond wasn’t nearly that big. Didn’t need to be. It was just as beautiful of ring, and it probably weighed about five pounds less. “Miley went to daycare for the first time today.”

“Oh, how exciting. And nerve-wracking, too, I suppose, for you.”

Nerve-wracking was an understatement. She was still fighting the urge to high-tail it back to that daycare center to pick Miley up and go home. “How’s Max?” she asked as her gaze drifted across the street. She saw another familiar girl dressed in a brown Bohemian skirt and white peasant top. “Pretend I care.”

“Oh, he’s doing really well,” Liz replied, her voice fading out as Maria studied the girl across the street. She had a briefcase in her right hand a stack of folders in her left arm. “He’s busy with work, of course, but we’re both really excited about the big day and--”

“No fucking way,” Maria cut in as the identity of the girl dawned on her.

“Excuse me?” Liz said.

“That’s Belinda Macintyre,” Maria said, gesturing frantically across the street. “She sat next to me in my sophomore year history class. She’s, like, the same age as me and now she’s . . . a professor?”

“Looks like,” Liz said. “Or she could be an assistant to a professor, or a grad student teaching an intro-level course. Or she could be a lunch lady.”

“She’s not a lunch lady,” Maria mumbled. Obviously she was successful, whatever she was doing. If she was employed by the university, she probably had a pretty bright career ahead of herself. “I’ll see you around, Liz,” she said, turning and heading back towards the commuter parking lot. She’d drive off campus, go see the one person who could make her feel better about this crappy day, and then decide if she felt like coming back for her 11:30 class.

“Okay,” Liz said. “Good luck with the semester.”

Good luck, Maria thought grumpily. Yeah, with the way things are going, I’m definitely gonna need it.


The C4 art gallery was the brainchild of both Michael Guerin and Kyle Valenti. They had tossed the idea around for about a year and a half, a time period in which Michael had accepted an assistant management position at the art museum he’d worked at since his freshman year of college. When Kyle graduated a semester after Michael had, they’d decided to take the risk and make their idea a reality.

They purchased a relatively small building about a mile away from the university in what was typically dubbed the “downtown” area, and even though the building had been a fixer-upper, they managed to transform it into a nice place. They were sandwiched in between a bar called The Hub and an adult video store named Cockadoodle-Doo, so they got a lot of customers, usually men who were too hammered to realize they were buying artwork and not porn.

The gallery showcased work primarily from local artists, many unknowns, which allowed them to target consumers from the middle class instead of the upper class, as many other art galleries in the area did. Sometimes Michael and Kyle sold their own work, too. All in all, the venture seemed to have paid off, even during tough economic times. They weren’t rich guys by any means, but the gallery had kept Michael’s family afloat for a few years, and it had given Kyle enough money to put a down-payment on quite a swanky house.

Michael met with a local artist named Brandon Hughes that day. He was the typical laid-back artist who fully embraced his five o’clock shadow and paint-covered jeans. Sometimes Michael missed the days when he could just paint and not have a care in the world. He’d never quite envisioned himself as the co-owner of a small business, but being an artist just wasn’t a stable enough career choice when you had a family to consider.

“Yeah, yeah, I like your stuff,” Michael told Brandon as he flipped through his portfolio. “It really fits in with the things we try to sell here.” Brandon seemed to be primarily a landscape painter. Michael could definitely see the Monet-influences, but his work was still unique in a way that mattered. “Do you think you could bring in some of the paintings themselves, maybe three or four of them?” he asked. There was only so much a person could tell from page-length photographs. “I’d like to see everything up close.”

“Sure thing,” Brandon said. “I could bring ‘em by this afternoon if that works for you.”

“Yeah, that’d be great,” Michael told him, appreciative of his apparent promptness. They really needed to get some new work in the gallery at some point soon. “I look forward to seeing them.”

“Okay, then, I’ll be back,” Brandon said, picking up his portfolio. He shook Michael’s hand and said, “It was nice to meet you.”

“You, too,” Michael returned. “I’ll see you later.”

Brandon waved goodbye and headed out.

Michael smiled confidently as he looked over the photocopies he’d made of all the items in Brandon’s portfolio. This stuff would sell. He could actually picture his mother purchasing a few of the paintings. They were soft-colored and feminine, something she’d probably like. Maybe he could buy one for her, give it to her as a Christmas present.

Kyle came out of the back and said, “Michael. I don’t think this is gonna work.”

Michael didn’t glance up from the photocopies. “Why not?” he asked. “The guy’s a great artist.”

“No, I mean this.”

Michael turned around and laughed a little when he saw the spit-up baby food rolling down his best friend’s left shoulder. “What’d you feed her?” he asked.

“Baby food,” Kyle replied simply.

“The pineapple or the banana?”

Kyle shrugged. “Pineapple.”

Michael cringed, having suspected as much. “Oh, not the pineapple. She hates the pineapple. She always spits it up.”

“Then why’d you bring the pineapple?”

“In case I ran out of the banana.”

Kyle threw his arms in the air. “Well, that’s fantastic. Somebody could’ve let me in the bloody know.”

Michael chuckled. “Clean yourself up. You’re gonna scare away the customers,” he said, standing.

“Don’t I always?” Kyle joked. “Mwahahahahaha!”

“Dude, you’re a geek.” Kyle hadn’t changed much over the years, as far as Michael could tell. Probably the biggest change was that he’d become a husband. Other than paying a little more attention to his work and a little less attention to his hormones, he was still pretty much the same old guy.

Michael headed back into his office, which was more of a nursery than anything else. Crib, playpen, high chair, toys . . . most of it had been Miley’s once. Macy had a nicer, larger nursery at home, of course, but she seemed to like it here, too.

“Oh, Macy, you like to make things difficult for me, don’t you?” he said. His youngest daughter had effectively managed to toss food onto his walls, dump food onto the tray of her high chair, and smear food all around her mouth.

“You see, when you used to bring Miley here, it was okay,” Kyle said as he dabbed at the throw-up on his shoulder, “because she wasn’t a very throw-uppy baby. She was clean. She was quiet. Perfect kid.”

“Oh, Macy’s perfect, too,” Michael said. “She’s just messier and louder.” Macy definitely looked more like Maria. She had the same mouth and the same big, bright eyes. Miley looked like both of them, but the older she got, the more she started to look like Michael. It was probably no coincidence that Miley seemed to match his personality and Macy seemed to match Maria’s. “Yeah, you’re perfect, aren’t you?” he said as he wiped off her face. She reached out and touched his nose. Little things like that made his heart swell with pride. “Did you see that?” he said to Kyle.

“Yeah, she’s cute,” Kyle agreed. “I still don’t know if it’s gonna work out to bring her here every day, though.”

“No, not every day. Maria only has class four days a week, and I’m sure Tess would be willing to take her some days. And Marty, too, if he ever gives himself a day off.”

“I guess it’s probably too expensive to send two kids to daycare, huh?” Kyle said.

“Yeah. Plus, do you know how they treat babies in daycare? I’ve seen documentaries. I’m not doing it.”

“What do you mean?” Kyle asked.

“They neglect ‘em ‘cause they’re too busy chasing after the older kids who run around and get into trouble.” Maybe it was a bit paranoid to think that, but he didn’t care. “Yeah, I saw it on Dateline,” he said. “This one baby cried for an hour, and nobody even went to pick it up.”

“Wow.” Kyle looked stunned. “Alright, Mace, you can stay,” he decided, heading back out front.

“Don’t call her Mace.” Michael was constantly getting on Kyle for that nickname. Mace was like pepper spray. His kid was not pepper spray.

“Macy!” Kyle sang out as he headed down the hallway.

Michael rolled his eyes and shook his head. He heard the front door chime sound as somebody came in, hopefully a customer, but Kyle could handle it. “I’m sorry your uncle’s so weird,” he said, touching Macy’s nose just as she’d touched his. She smiled at him and giggled. Sometimes he had to just stare at her and Miley. Having children was so surreal, but he loved it.

“Hey, Michael, you got a visitor!” Kyle called from out front.

“Stay here,” Michael said to Macy. It wasn’t like she could go anywhere. He went out to the front of the museum and wasn’t surprised to see his fiancée. She came to visit him a lot. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Maria returned.

He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a quick kiss. “What’re you doing here?”

“Oh, you know, I have that break in between my first class and my second.” She hugged him tight as though she didn’t want to let go.

“How was it?” he asked.

“The first class? Fine.” She didn’t sound very convincing. “Intimidating. It’s hard to get back into the swing of things.”

He nodded. He felt bad that he’d gotten to graduate on time and Maria hadn’t. Part of the delay was that she’d changed her major again, but the pregnancies were the major reason for it. Both of them had been tough on her physically. The nausea had caused her to miss a lot of class and fall too far behind, and she’d chosen to stay home for awhile after each of the girls had been born. She never seemed to resent him for being able to start his own career, though, and he was thankful for that.

“You’ll do fine,” he assured her, kissing her forehead.

“I hope so,” she said. “Anyway, I figured I’d stop by so you can kiss me and feed me.”

He raised an eyebrow and cast a glance at Kyle. When she said feed, did she mean . . . feed?

She rolled her eyes, seeming to read his thoughts. “Feed me actual food,” she clarified. “God, I hate to think about what gutter-heads you two become when I’m not around.”

“What the hell?” Kyle spat. “You’re the biggest gutter-head of us all.”

“Yeah, I actually wasn’t a gutter-head until I got involved with you,” Michael put in. It was true. He wasn’t.

“Whatever,” she dismissed. “Do you guys have anything to eat? I’m starved.”

“Michael has some sausage.” Kyle laughed heartily at his own joke. “You get it? Sausage? Oh, yes, I’m writing one that one down.” He actually took a Post-It note off the front desk and jotted down the joke.

“All we’ve got around here is baby food,” Michael told her.

“That’s fine. I’ll take that,” Maria said.

“Sick.” Kyle shuddered. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Baby food’s good, Kyle,” Maria informed him. “Haven’t you ever eaten it?”

“Yeah, when I was a baby.”

Maria shook her head and asked Michael, “What kinds do you have?”

“Pineapple and banana.”

She made a face. “Why’d you bring the pineapple? She hates that.”

“I just thought--”

“Oh, well. I’ll eat it.” She headed off into the back towards Michael’s office. Michael had to tilt his head to the side and watch her butt sway as she walked. In his mind, his girl had never looked better. “She’s so hot,” he said, following her.

“Keep it in your pants!” Kyle called after him.

When Michael rounded the corner to his office, Maria was already picking Macy up out of the high chair. “Oh my god, Michael,” she said. “It never ceases to amaze me how cute our kids are!”

“The cutest,” he agreed. “Speaking of kids, how’d it go gettin’ Miley off to daycare?”

“Well, she got super excited when she found out they were gonna paint. Gotta be like Daddy, you know.”

He smiled proudly. Miley was definitely a Daddy’s girl, and he liked that.

“It was a little harder on me,” Maria confessed. “I kinda feel like this whole day’s been a test and I've failed miserably.” Macy coughed, and Michael watched as more of the pineapple baby food spilled out, this time onto Maria’s shoulder. “Oh, and just as I say that . . .” She handed Macy over to him.

“I’ll go get you some paper towels,” he offered.

“No, it’s fine.” She grabbed the bottom of her t-shirt in her hands and pulled it up over her head. She was wearing a white spaghetti-strap shirt underneath.

“Nice, Macy,” he said. “You got your mom to strip.”

She blushed and folded up the shirt in her hands. “I didn’t like this shirt anyway,” she said. “I’m not so hungry anymore, though.”

“Yeah.” As cute as Macy was, her throw-up definitely dissolved any hunger pangs.

They headed back out to the front, this time bringing Macy with them. Kyle was adding up some numbers on a calculator. Michael wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing, and honestly, he didn’t care. He was happy to let Kyle take care of the business and financial side of their gallery. He was more focused on the art itself.

“Whoa, done eating already, huh?” Kyle said. “Someone’s a hungry, hungry hippo.”

“Ooh,” Michael winced, knowing that wasn’t going to go over well.

“A hippo?” Maria shrieked. “Did you just call me a hippo?

“What? No,” he denied. “It was a reference to my second favorite game of all time, behind Whack-a-Mole, of course. Man, Maria, you’re in a high-strung mood. Maybe you’re pregnant again.”

“Oh, too soon,” Michael said. “Too soon.”

“Kyle, you’re lucky Macy’s in the room right now, because if she wasn’t, I would throttle you,” she threatened.

“I’ll be good,” Kyle apologized, recoiling slightly.

Michael shook his head. Maria and Kyle’s younger brother/older sister dynamic had only intensified over the years. They actually did get along, but no one would know it by looking at them.

“So I was thinking,” she said, walking along the west side wall, observing all the paintings on display.

“First time for everything,” Kyle muttered.

“I was thinking,” she said, ignoring him, “do I really need to graduate? I mean, only nerds finish college.” She looked back over her shoulder at both Michael and Kyle. “No offense.”

Michael smiled, and walked up behind her. “You don’t need to graduate, but I know you want to,” he said. “I know you won’t be satisfied until you do.” How many times had he lain awake with her at night, listening to her talk about how she pictured her kindergarten classroom? She was going to make a great kindergarten teacher. She was good with kids, probably better than she knew or ever believed she would be.

“I wish I could take, like, online classes or something,” she lamented.

He could tell she was upset about the way her day was going, so he made a mental note to talk to her about it that night. For now, he bent down and pressed the side of his face against hers. “I love you,” he said quietly. He knew he always felt better when he heard those words from her.

“Mmm,” she murmured. “You’re so sweet.”

The front door chime sounded again, and a young couple walked in. “Oh, I gotta take Macy in the back,” Michael said.

“Alright, I’ll see you at home,” she said.

He gave her another quick kiss on the lips, then headed back to his office again.

“Greetings,” Kyle said to the patrons. “Welcome to the C4 art gallery.”

Greetings? Michael thought, laughing a little. Whatever works.

Right as he got Macy back in his office, she started to cry. He wasn’t sure what set her off. Sometimes, she just let it out. “No, don’t start,” he said, patting her back as he held her against him. If he was lucky, she’d just have to burp. “Don’t start crying. We’ve got customers out there.” But it didn’t matter. Macy was screaming at the top of her lungs. As far as Michael was concerned, though, she was still a perfect kid.


Alex paced back and forth in the bathroom, his cell phone pressed to the side of his face. He had a feeling she wasn’t going to answer, so when her voicemail kicked on, it was no surprise.

“Hey, it’s me,” he said on the message. “I don’t know if you can't hear your phone or if you’re just not answering.” Either one was possible with her. “I just wanted to let you know I’m going out with Max after work to get some drinks. I didn’t want you to . . . worry, or . . .” He sighed. She didn’t care enough about him to worry. “I don’t know.” He looked at himself in the mirror and wished he didn’t look so tired. “Well, I hope you and Garret are having a good time today. Tell him I said hi.” Alex flipped his phone closed, not even sure why he’d bothered to leave a message. Maybe he was just trying to be a good husband. He really did try as hard as he could, but it was never enough. Not for her.


The lazy evening sun shone down on Isabel Evans-Whitman as she stood up in the water and smoothed her long hair back. She loved the feel of the water on her skin and wished she could be naked. But this was a public beach. People would get offended, even though she was hot.

She made her way up onto the beach, the warm water lapping at her calves and ankles. She knew she looked good. She was wearing a pink bikini. Strings held the halter together and strings held the bottom together, allowing her to show off every inch of her late summer tan. She was in the best shape she’d ever been in. Her stomach was flatter and more muscular than she’d ever dreamed it could be, probably thanks in part to all the sex she was having.

She had just set foot on the beach when she met eyes with a blonde guy standing by the concession stand. He was wearing blue and white Hawaiian print board shorts, sunglasses, and sex appeal. Even though he was standing next to a girl whose eyes were on the concession stand menu, his eyes were on her. All over her, actually. She dug toes into the sand and smiled flirtatiously, loving the attention, loving the entire moment. It felt like something out of a steamy romance novel.

And suddenly, the moment was gone.

“Mommy, your phone ringed!”

She came back to reality when her son called out to her. He was standing under their beach umbrella, pointing down to her purse. She’d been watching him the whole time, even when she’d been watching the gorgeous guy. It was hard to forget Garret was there. She spent a lot of time with him each day. Every day. They were each other’s best and only friends.

Isabel headed up the beach and took her cell phone out of her purse. Alex. She rolled her eyes and erased the voicemail immediately, then tossed her phone back down and knelt so that she was eye level with her three and a half year old son. “Alright, buddy, what do you say? You wanna get in the water?” she asked him.

He shook his head adamantly. “Sharks.”

“There aren’t any sharks in the lake,” she told him. “But even if there were, I wouldn’t let them get you. You know that, right?” She’d never let anyone get her son.

He nodded, adorable as ever. His brown curls flapped in the breeze.

“Come on, let’s go,” she said, taking his hand as she led him down the beach towards the lake. She’d spent all summer trying to convince him to get in the water. He was still very little, but he had to understand that great rewards only came with great risks.

As they neared the edge of the water, Garret dug his heels into the sand and stiffened. “No, I’m scared,” he protested.

She wasn’t about to force him, but he had to toughen up a little. “Do you wanna just put your feet in the water?” she asked, deciding it might be better to take a more gradual approach.

He thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Okay.”

“Kay.” She took both his little hands in hers and lifted his arms above his head as he tentatively set his feet down in the water. He splashed a bit and smiled.

“Does that feel neat?” she asked.


“Yeah?” She glanced over at the concession stand again, just to see if her admirer was still watching her. But of course he wasn’t. It didn’t matter that she was in the best shape of her life or that she was the most sexual she’d ever been. She was a mother, and that turned most men off.

Their loss.

TBC . . .


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Part 3

Postby April » Fri Mar 05, 2010 11:23 am

Ellie: I wouldn't be so quick to say that Isabel and Alex are attentive parents to Garret. Isabel tries her best, but . . . well, she's Isabel. And as for Alex . . . let's just say this "bar-hopping" with Max is a little more than just bar-hopping.

I want my own Michael, too. :D Let's find one and split him in half.

Leila: OTH is a very valid reason for being second.

Oh, you and Maxine! :lol: The greatest love story if I've ever seen one.

It probably should hurt my stargazer heart that Isabel and Alex are messed up buuuuuuut I like a lot. I'm curious to see how it will go on with them.

I'm glad to hear it. Remember how I hinted that this could be the darkest Isabel/Alex relationship ever written in fanfic? I'm really not kidding. They're such a messed up pair.

Isabel hates Alex? Makes me wonder why she even agreed to marry him. I didn't think she was so traditional that she felt like mommy and daddy being married would be the best thing for her son. If anything, I think it's worse that they do that because he might end up with a dysfunctional view of relationships.

I agree, growing up with parents in a relationship like that can do serious harm to a kid. Soon, there will be a flashback that shows you Isabel's thoughts on her decision to marry Alex. As it stands right now, though, it's not a functional marriage, but they're both kind of stuck together. If they get a divorce, there would be custody battles, and neither one of them wants that.

BB: :lol: You'll see Marty again in this part, although not as the owner of the Cockadoodle-Doo video store.

I'm glad you like Max's complexity. He's still one of my favorite characters in this fic to write, and one of the most interesting things to write has been his role as an uncle. Strangely enough, Max is the person in this fic who looks out for Garret the most, more so than Isabel or Alex.

Rodney: Well, of course any daycare you worked at was a good one. But Michael's a protective parents, so he has to think of the worst ones, of course. ;)

"Woman of loose morals." Yeah, that's one way to put it. :lol:

lilah: I wanna work with Michael and Kyle, too! Let's go turn in our applications. ;)

Sam: You're welcome for the warm welcome. Once again, we're happy to have you here.

Liz mentioned Tess so I'm assuming they are friends?

As odd as that is . . . yeah, they kind of are.

Wonder who she's having all this sex with? Random guys?

Hmm, not quite so random.

I guess Max has changed some what. I'm surprised he's so nice to Alex. Maybe it's because of his nephew or Isabel. They have an odd way caring for they other.

I think you're right that Max has changed somewhat. And it's probably mostly because of Garret. He really strives to be a good uncle to him. But you're also right that Max and Isabel have an odd way of caring about each other. Their sibling rivalry is still one of my favorite parts of this fic.

Isabel is a piece of work. I feel so bad for Alex, stuck in a marraige to that tramp and stuck in a dead end job with Max for a boss.

He's like a slave to the Evanses, isn't he? That's not a good position to be in.

Liz and Tess actually speak to each other? This says volumes about what a good person Tess is.

That's true, Tess is a really good person. She's willing to give people a second chance if they need one.

Oh, the RETURN OF THE STALKING! My heart expands! I've missed that. There's nothing that makes a girl feel loved quite so much as being stalked.

And even Krista got in on it. Nice, girl.

Part 3

The moment Michael had set foot inside the house at 522 Alvarado Street, he’d known it was the house for him, for his family. Luckily, Maria had felt the same way. They’d bought the house the summer after their junior year, a few months before Miley had been born. He’d had to ask his parents for help making the mortgage payments during his senior year of college, but after he’d graduated and been able to work full-time, he’d been able to step up and take care of things himself. All in all, the house had been a great buy—they had forced the sellers to come down to $130,500 after originally listing the price at $145,000. It was a modest-sized light blue Dutch Colonial, two stories, with white trim, a small front yard, and a larger back yard. They’d had some problems with their air conditioner in the past, and there was some old woodwork that Michael planned to replace someday, but it was a good place to live, and the neighborhood was a safe place to raise a family. He loved coming home after a long day’s work, being able to relax and just spend time with the most important people in his life.

After he tucked Miley into bed that night, he searched the house for Maria. He found her in their bedroom’s master bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror. She seemed to be examining eyebrow hairs he couldn’t even see, and then she turned to the side and lifted her breasts, frowning. He stood in the doorway and watched her for a moment, smiling. They always talked about how cute their kids were, but he’d always thought she was pretty cute, too.

“What’re you doing?” he finally asked, alerting her to his presence.

“Scrutinizing my appearance.”


“Because.” She absentmindedly touched the lights surrounding the mirrors in front of her. They’d hung gold Christmas lights in the bathroom a year ago around the three mirrored cabinets, and they’d decided to leave them up ever since. It gave the bathroom a dimmer, more romantic ambiance, and he loved seeing her body in that light. Any light, actually.

“Michael, today the unthinkable happened,” she said. “Someone said I was old.”

He would have laughed had it not been so ridiculous. “What? Who?”

“This Lucinda woman. I sat next to her during my first class. She’s actually really nice; I know she didn’t mean it to be, like, insulting. But we were just talking, and then all of a sudden she’s like, ‘Oh, us old girls gotta stick together.’ She’s, like, in her forties. Do I look forty to you?”

That question made him laugh as he stepped into the bathroom alongside her. “You don’t look forty to anyone,” he assured her. Even when she turned forty, she’d look good. Boys were supposed to grow up to look like their dads, and girls were likewise supposed to grow up to look like their moms. Good news for Maria, since Amy DeLuca was very well-maintained.

“You might be lying to me,” she muttered.

“What? No, you look great.” How could she think she didn’t? He didn’t understand.

“Really?” she said, clearly still doubting. “‘Cause I had two kids in three years, I can’t afford a gym membership, most of my shirts have vomit stains on them . . .”

“And yet you’ve never looked sexier,” he cut in. “How’s that possible?”

“It’s not. You’re just saying that.”

“Because it’s true. In fact, I was looking at you today, and I thought to myself, ‘She’s never looked better.’”

A slow smile crept across Maria’s face at the compliment. “Really?”

“Yeah. Look at you.” He hoisted her up in his arms and set her down on top the sink, standing in between her legs. “Curves in all the right places.” He trailed his hands down her sides. “Clothes . . . easy to remove.” He snaked his hands under the back of her shirt. “And you don’t need a gym membership. Sex is the best exercise. You were the one to tell me that.”

She blushed, smiling. “You look pretty good yourself.” She wrapped her legs tightly around his waist, pressing her heels into his buttocks. The action was . . . strangely arousing.

“Guys get hotter as they get older,” she said. “For sure.”

“Would you quit saying that word?”

“What, for?”



He laughed lightly. “No.”


“Yeah. ‘Cause if you were old, then I’d be old, too. And I know I’m not old, so neither are you.”

“Hmm.” She hooked her fingers into his shirt collar, tugging lightly. “Then maybe I don’t look old,” she said. “Maybe I look . . . mature.”

“Better than immature.”

“God, I used to be so immature.”

He smiled, remembering. Maria had freeloaded off him for awhile when she’d first started living with him. Her primary concern had been throwing rager parties and sleeping with guys she usually discarded within two weeks time. “You’ve definitely grown up,” he said. She still had the same spirit, though, distinctly Maria DeLuca.

“Yeah, maybe that’s what Lucinda meant,” Maria speculated. “That’s a compliment.”

“Yeah.” He just wanted to kiss her.

“I feel better,” she decided, dropping her hands to rest against his sides. “Except . . .”

“Oh, no.”

“No, hear me out. I’ll be twenty-five next month.”

Michael shrugged. “So?”

“Twenty-five,” she repeated more emphatically. “That’s, like, halfway to fifty. That’s a quarter of a hundred.” Her voice rose to near hysteria as she cried, “Michael, in a few weeks, I’ll be a fourth of a century old!”

“Wow, I think that’s the most accurate math you’ve ever done in your life,” he joked.

“Shut up.” She hit his chest playfully, leaning against him. He tucked her hair behind her ear and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close, just breathing in her scent.

“Mmm,” she murmured, tilting her head back to gaze up at him. “Make love to me.”

Oh, he wanted to, especially when she just told him to like that. They hadn’t gotten to have sex for . . . awhile now. Too long. Way too long.

He bent his head and kissed her eager lips. There was no reason why they couldn’t do this. He’d just tucked Miley in, and Macy had been asleep and quiet for awhile now.

“You make me feel so sexy,” she moaned desperately in between kisses. His only response was to pull her body up close to his and kiss her again. He never got tired of doing this.

And all at once, just as he felt his body starting to ache for it, he heard Miley yelling from her bathroom. “Mama! Daddy!”

He pulled away slowly, recognizing that tone. She was scared of something, probably the monster she thought she saw under the bed. She’d started going through that phase lately.

“Go,” Maria told him.

She’s your daughter. You’re her dad, he thought. Do it. He let go of Maria despite how hard it was and headed across the hallway to Miley’s bedroom. They’d been using it as a guest room until she’d been old enough to sleep in the twin bed. He liked to tell her that her bedroom looked like an ocean, because it was covered in various hues of blue and green, despite her Aunt Tess’s insistence that it be painted pink. Usually her toys were scattered about, though she was very good about picking up whenever he told her to. She had lots of stuffed animals and dolls in her toy chest, and lots of books on her bookshelf, though she couldn’t yet read. Her favorite thing was most definitely the miniature art easel and canvas he’d bought her a few months ago, though. It was set up in the corner, and she’d painted a maze of crazy lines on it.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” he asked, sitting down on the side of the bed. Their dog, Frank, was nestled at the foot of it. He was a pug, too chubby for his own good, almost four years old now. Miley loved him more than anything in the world.

“Monster,” Miley whimpered, curled up on her side, her eyes wide and fearful. “Will you look?”

He’d done this the past three nights in a row. He didn’t want to start making a pattern out of it, but . . . how could he not look? She was scared, and he didn’t want her to be scared of anything, especially not of something that wasn’t even real.

“Sure, I’ll look,” he said, climbing down onto the floor. He lifted the blankets and peered underneath Miley’s bed. “Nope, no monster there.”


He groaned as he rose to his feet and crossed the room to open her closet doors. She pulled the blanket up over her face as he did so.

“Nothing,” he said. “See?”

She slowly lowered the blanket and peeked at the empty closet.

“You’re safe here,” he assured her, closing the doors again. “I’m not gonna let anything happen to you. Now go to sleep.” He gave her a kiss on her forehead, then started to leave the room again. Maria was in the doorway now, having watched the whole interaction with an adoring smile on her face.

“Daddy?” Miley piped up again, and he could tell just by this tone that she wanted something more from him. “Can I sleep with you and Mama tonight?”

Oh, no, he thought. He’d read about this, how kids so easily made sleeping in their parents' bed a permanent thing; but this was the first time Miley had actually asked the question since she’d started sleeping in her own bed. He shared a look with Maria, and he could still see the sexual desire in her eyes, but it was waning now.

“We probably shouldn’t let her,” he said.

She nodded in agreement.

Fifteen minutes later, Miley lay in between the two of them in their double bed, curled up against Michael, her head on his shoulder. She was fast asleep, no longer worried about the monsters.

Maria looked over at him and whispered, “If we went downstairs right now . . . the couch.”

His eyebrows rose, intrigued.

“Or the floor,” she suggested, “or the kitchen sink, or the kitchen table.”

“You wanna do it on the kitchen table?”


That sounded good to him. “Alright, let’s go.” He started to gently slip away from Miley when he heard Macy’s cries sound off on the baby monitor. He knew it. He knew she’d stayed quiet for too long. Even after six months, she kept them hopping all night long sometimes. He lay his head back down on the pillow, discouraged. “It’s not gonna happen, is it?” By the time one of them took care of Macy, the uncontrollable urge would be gone, and they’d be ready to go to sleep.

“What else is new?” she said. “I’ll take care of her.” She swung her legs over the side of the bed and left the room.

He sighed and stroked Miley’s hair, allowing his own eyes to fall closed. He refused to let this become a pattern, her crawling into bed with them. Because as much as he loved her and as adorable as she was, he and Maria were adults, and they had their needs. Someday hopefully in the not too distant future, they’d satisfy those needs all night long.


The stairs creaked as Max practically carried Alex up to his bedroom that night. It wasn’t really his bedroom, actually. It was the guest bedroom he’d been sleeping in for the past two years. Isabel had the master bedroom all to herself. Even Garret’s room was bigger than Alex’s.

“Come on, champ, you’re almost there.” Max groaned as his brother-in-law slumped against him, his entire body like dead weight.

“Oh, Max, youdon’thavetohelpme.” Alex’s words all slurred together. “I can doitmyself.”

Max knew for a fact that he couldn’t do it by himself. Alex had downed so many drinks at Rodeo’s that night that he couldn’t stand without help let alone put one foot in front of the other.

“Here you go,” Max said when he dumped him on his bed. It was a twin bed. Alex was a grown man and he was sleeping in a twin bed. His feet hung off the end.

“Oh . . .” Alex groaned as his head hit the pillow. Within seconds, he was asleep. Max covered him with a blanket and shook his head. It was a good thing Garret couldn’t see this.

He felt more than heard Isabel come stand in the doorway, felt the disapproval and disdain that always emanated from her. “Why do you let him drink if you know it’s gonna end up this way?” she asked.

“Because nights like these are the only nights he ever enjoys himself at all.” Max turned around to face his sister. She was glaring at him. “Besides,” he added, “it’s better than letting him go alone.” His role during his and Alex’s nights out on the town was and always had been the very distinct role of chaperone. Maybe Alex had never noticed, but Max never had more than one drink when he was with him. He went, he sat at the bar, he drove him home, and he got him into his house. And if he ever went overboard, Max took him to the hospital to get his stomach pumped. That had only happened once, but . . . it’d still happened.

Max walked out of the room and muttered, “You’re welcome,” as he brushed past Isabel.

“For what?” she grunted.

He shrugged as he headed downstairs. “Everything.” It was funny how he’d given Isabel so much over the years, yet she’d never even said thank you.


As the morning dawned, Tess felt her husband’s hands on her, smoothing over her shoulder and down her arm. He had amazing hands, hands that could paint gorgeous works of art and make her feel impossibly beautiful. She loved it when he touched her.

He spooned up closer behind her, moved her hair to the side, and pressed a soft kiss to the back of her neck.

“Mmm,” she moaned as a delightful shiver raced up her spine. “You know, it’s really hard to sleep when you’re doing that.”

“So wake up,” he suggested. His warm breath tickled her skin.

“Mmm,” she moaned again, smiling. “I was having a good dream. It was about chocolate strawberries.”

He chuckled lightly. “I think you’re making that up.”

She looked back over her shoulder at him. “No, seriously, chocolate strawberries.” She giggled and rolled over so that she was facing him. She traced her fingertips along the lines of his bare chest. Her wedding ring stood out against his skin.

“I dreamt our house got blown down by a tornado,” he said.

“Ooh, let’s hope that’s not one of your prophetic dreams.”

“That’s right. Remember when I dreamt about marrying you and then it actually happened?”

“Hmm, faintly,” she joked, laughing at herself.

He took her hand in his and interlocked their fingers. “No, I don’t think we have to worry about tornados in New Mexico. We might have to worry about chocolate strawberries, though.”

“They’re very seductive and dangerous,” she agreed.

“Sounds like someone I know.”

“Who, me? I’m not dangerous.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes when we go at it, I fear for my life.”

“Oh, speaking of going at it . . . that’s what we should do tonight. On every square inch of this apartment. Sex for the Valentis.”

“Sex for the Valentis,” he echoed. “I like it. I’ll try not to stay at the gallery too late, alright?”

“Good.” Kyle had been spending an increasing amount of time at work lately. She missed him sometimes. Back during her senior year of college, they’d been able to spend almost all their time together. They were both busier nowadays.

“I can’t believe this is gonna be our last night here,” he said, looking around their bedroom. It was very empty and cleaned out now. With the exception of the bed, dresser, and other furniture items, there was very little left unpacked.

“It’s kinda sad,” she said. For the past three and a half years, it had been her home. For the past four and a half years, it had been Kyle’s.

“Yeah,” he agreed, “but do you realize, when we move into our house tomorrow, we’re gonna have a pool in the back yard?”

She smiled excitedly. “That’s so cool.” The pool had been the house’s second biggest selling point for them. The neighbors had been the first.

“And we won’t have to ride an elevator up and down five floors every day,” he went on. “And we won’t have to live next to these psychos next door.”

“It’s gonna be great,” she said. “I wish you could stay home today and help me pack, though.” She pouted and tried to convince him to do just that. “You could. You’re your own boss. You could give yourself the day off like I did.”

“I could,” he said, but she knew he wouldn’t do it.

“It was worth a shot,” she mumbled.

“You know I hate packing.”

“And you love working.”

“I don’t love it; I enjoy it,” he corrected. “But not as much as I enjoy other things.” He grinned. “When I get home tonight . . . you, me . . .” He slipped his leg in between hers and brushed his knee against her center.

She breathed in sharply. “You promise?”


“Okay.” She had her motivation for the day then. “Good.” She leaned in and kissed him, laughing as she did so. “You have horrible morning breath, by the way,” she informed him.

“Oh, yeah? So do you.” They kept on kissing, though. Morning breath be damned.


He could at least try to be quiet, Isabel thought as she approached the upstairs bathroom. She’d been feeding Garret his breakfast downstairs when she’d heard Alex run to the bathroom. She looked in on him now, disgusted. He was hunched over the toilet, throwing up repeatedly. His hair was matted against his forehead, and he was sweating.

She waited until he was done to cross her arms over her chest and tell him, “Your son just asked me why his daddy always gets sick.” She shrugged. Garret didn’t know about Alex’s drinking problem, nor could he differentiate between alcoholism and regular sickness. “I didn’t even know what to say.”

Alex struggled to his feet and flushed the toilet. “I’m cutting back, I promise.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. He’d said the same thing last month. “No, you’re not.” Alex had never even admitted out loud that he had a problem.

“Well, I’m trying,” he insisted. “But if I wanna go out and have a drink once in awhile, I should be able to.”

“Except it’s never just one drink, is it? And it’s not once in awhile.” She narrowed her eyes at her husband, constantly infuriated with him for not being better than he was. “It’s pathetic.”

He snorted. “Well, with encouragement like that, it’s a wonder I’m not doing better.” He shut the bathroom door in her face. Hopefully he was done throwing up so that he could get ready for work. Maintaining a job was the one good thing he’d ever done for her and Garret. The one good thing.


During her break in between classes that day, Maria went to visit her brother at the Cowboy Club. That was where Marty had been spending the majority of his time ever since he’d bought the place from the previous owner. What used to have been a happening dance club was now little more than a dilapidated building, but Marty was working hard to rebuild it. Despite its name, it had never been a western-themed club. During its prime, it had been a local hotspot for gay men, many of whom fantasized about either being or doing cowboys. Hence the name. It had transformed into a primarily heterosexual club a few years ago and had never been the same since. Marty said his mission was to restore the club to the way it once had been, a place for gay men to hang out, hook up, and have a good time. After all, he was one himself.

“Giddy up, cowboy,” Maria teased when she walked into the club. “This place is a pig sty.” Actually, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Having done all the work himself, Marty’s progress was quite impressive. And by the looks of it, all the cockroaches were gone. So that was a bonus. Still, she knew it wasn’t quite up to par, not quite what he wanted it to be. “You’d better get it looking good before you open Friday.”

“I will,” Marty said as he swept the floor near the bar. “Hey, I got my liquor license.”

“That’s good.” She didn’t drink anymore, just because she never wanted to risk it in case she was pregnant; but if Marty was going to run a club, he definitely needed a liquor license. The Cowboy Club would be an utter failure without. “You want some help?” she offered.

“No, I’m good.”

“Okay.” She hopped up on the stage and grabbed the microphone stand. There was no microphone there, but hopefully there would be soon. She smiled, remembering standing up there singing ‘I Got You, Babe,’ with Michael years ago. As fun as it had been, it’d been a big moment for him, because it was when he’d truly started to come out of his shell and loosen up a little.

“I don’t mean to insult my own kind,” she said, twirling the microphone stand around, “but straight people really ruined this place.”

“Tell me about it,” Marty muttered, his eyes still downcast towards the floor. “First order of business, bring back the damn karaoke.”

“I’m super excited about that.” She sat down on the stage, dangling her feet off the edge. She looked over her brother, worried about him. Marty was only four years older than she was, but lately, he looked much older than he was. The guy who was more particular about his appearance than most girls were had allowed a few wrinkles to creep onto his forehead as of late. What was even stranger was that he didn’t even seem to be considering Botox. He’d let his hair grow out long enough that he could put it into a ponytail, and instead of being vibrantly blonde or brunette (he’d liked to alternate colors in the past), it was sort of a . . . dishwater color. She’d tried not to pay too much attention to the changes, but it was hard not to. She knew exactly why Marty looked older and less put together than he had in the past.

“Have you heard from Francis?” she asked him.


And just like that, the conversation about his ex-boyfriend, ex-fiancé, was over. Maria didn’t want to push him to talk about it, so she quickly brought up something else. “So my classes pretty much suck.”


“Yeah, I’ve already got a paper due tomorrow.”

Marty headed back to the storage closet to put the broom away, then came back out and said, “See, this is why I dropped out of college.” He laughed a little. Just a little. “You’re almost done, though, so I think it’s really good you went back.”

“I’ll be lucky if I survive the semester,” she groaned.

“Oh, you’ll be fine,” he assured her. He sat down beside her on the stage and asked, “So how’s the daycare situation?”

“Oh, god.”

“You know I’d play babysitter if I wasn’t so busy with the club.”

“She had a lot of fun yesterday,” Maria told him. “She couldn’t wait to go back today.”

“That’s good.”

Maria looked him over and sighed heavily. He seemed so . . . down in the dumps. So unlike the brother she’d known all these years. “Marty, can I ask you something?”


She pulled her legs up onto the stage and turned to face him. “When was the last time you got laid?”

“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Oh, come on,” she urged, “we have to talk about it. We’re one of, like, five sibling pairs in the world who can talk about sex without it being gross or unnatural.”

Marty grew red with embarrassment. “It was two weeks ago,” he said in a rush.

Maria’s eyes bulged. Two whole weeks? The longest she’d known Marty to go without sex ever since he’d lost his virginity had been two days. He was a very lovable male nymphomaniac like that.

“With this guy I was considering hiring as a bartender, no less,” Marty went on. “Long story short . . .” He glanced up at the halfway lit neon sign that gleamed Cowboy Club above the front entrance doors. “I was the cowboy; he was the horse. I hate that.”

“Oh,” Maria cringed. “Sorry.”

“Needless to say, I hired a different bartender.”

“Smart move,” she agreed. Marty’s love life was turbulent enough without adding a workplace romance into the mix.

“Why’d you wanna know?” he asked her.

“Oh, nothing. Just . . . I needed something to compare to,” she explained. “See, the last time Michael and I ‘horsed around’ was . . .” Good God, she thought, I can’t even remember. “Well, it was awhile ago.”

“I hope you’re using your vibrator.”

She wasn’t. She didn’t have time. She gave him a look to convey that, and he understood.

“Oh my god,” he said dramatically, starting to sound a bit more like his old, flamboyant self. “How are you even alive right now? I wouldn’t be. I’ve orgasmed at least four times a week ever since my sophomore year of high school, either by dependent or independent stimulation.”

She cringed. “Okay, getting a little gross and unnatural here. It’s just like, when it happens, it’s amazing. But it hardly ever happens. It’s just so infrequent. And it’s not his fault. He’s super busy, and I’m really busy, too. And last night, we were gonna do it, but we got interrupted; and then we were gonna do it again, but we got interrupted again.” She sighed heavily. “And then we were tired.” She leaned over and rested her head on her brother’s shoulder. “Oh, drought season.”

“There, there.” Marty put an arm around her and hugged her encouragingly. “See, this is why you two need to get married, so you can go on a long, extended, well-deserved honeymoon and make more babies.”

She shot upright. “No! No more babies. Not yet, at least.” She and Michael definitely wanted more kids, but she was in no rush. “I’d love to get a year of teaching under my belt before that happens. And I’d love to get Michael under my belt.” She felt the hormones starting to take over. “Under me. On top of me. Or behind me. Ooh, definitely behind me.”

“Then let the sex be motivation for matrimonial bliss,” Marty suggested.

“Oh, we have motivation,” she assured him. “We just don’t have the time or the money to plan a wedding. God, I hate being an adult.” She never used to think about things like time or money.

“Me, too,” he agreed, hopping down off the stage. “Wanna dance? I learned a whole new Pussycat Dolls routine the other night. I can teach you. It'll make you feel better.”

“Really? Please do.” She’d love to show Michael some moves.

“Just be warned, it’s very slutty,” he cautioned.

“From the Pussycat Dolls, I expect nothing else.” She got off the stage and stood behind him. “Okay, teach me.”

“Okay, hands on your hips,” he instructed, “and stick your ass out.”

She slapped her hands on her hips and jutted her butt way out to the left. “Oh, if only Michael were here,” she said longingly. She’d love to do a little bedroom dancing with him.


“Okay, so it goes: hips, butt, arms, arms, twirl . . . snake . . . and I don’t remember the rest.” Maria laughed a little as she performed all she could recall of the Pussycat Dolls dance Marty had taught her for Michael. He sat on the bed, watching her. She looked so good.

“That’s pretty good,” he said, grinning. “I like that. Although I don’t like to picture Marty doing it.”

“He does it better than me,” she promised.

That was all a matter of opinion as far as Michael was concerned. Marty had been a competition cheerleader in high school, so he had a lot of rhythm. But he lacked something in particular that Maria had: breasts. “How is he?” Michael asked.

“Oh, you know. The same.”

He nodded. Even though Marty wasn’t technically his brother-in-law yet, he thought of him that way, and he’d been worrying about him lately. There was only so much they could do, though. Marty and Francis would either get back together or they’d move on. Either way, it was going to take time.

“Mama, teach me dancing!” Miley exclaimed, suddenly bounding into the room. She hugged Maria’s legs, a big, excited smile on her face.

“Oh, no, not this dancing,” Maria said. “Why don’t you go to your room and put on some music and teach Daddy to dance. He’ll dance with you.”

“He will?” Michael piped up.


“Cool!” Miley ran into her bedroom. “Come on, Daddy!”

He reluctantly rose to his feet and said to Maria, “Every time I try to dance, I injure something.”

“Just go,” she urged, pushing him towards the door. “I have to work on my paper.”

He dug his heels into the floor in resistance. She stopped pushing him when the all too familiar beat of the Hannah Montana theme song sounded from Miley’s bedroom.

Maria groaned. “Oh, I swear to God, if I’d known she was gonna idolize that damn Miley Cyrus, I would’ve named her something else.”

He laughed.

“Go,” she said. “Fulfill your fatherly duty.”

Dancing to Hannah Montana, he thought as he slipped into his daughter’s bedroom. I’m a good dad. “Okay, what’re we doin’ here?” he asked Miley.

She smiled at him and bounced from side to side. He mimicked her movements as Frank tried to climb onto his leg and start humping him.

“Frank, get off!” he yelled, pushing him away.

Miley giggled and started kicking her legs out in front of her.

“Oh, whoa, okay.” He tried to keep up.

She threw her arms in the air and spun around rapidly.

“Turn? Ah!” he yelled, twirling. He heard Maria laughing as she stood in the doorway, so he stopped and gave her a look. “What?”

“Nothing,” she said, “it’s just . . . thank God your horizontal mambo’s better than this.”

He grinned as she walked away. His horizontal mambo was top-notch, best of the best, and so was hers. Years of practice together made perfect.

Miley stopped dancing and asked, “What’s a-a-a . . . a mambo?” She said the word exaggeratedly as though it felt foreign on her tongue.

“Oh, it’s a . . . it’s a dance,” he said, not cluing her in on the innunedo. “A very fun dance.”

“Can you teach me?”

No,” he answered emphatically. “No, god no.”

She pouted.

The doorbell charmed and Frank barked wildly at the sound. Michael breathed a sigh of relief. Crisis averted. He didn’t have to delve into an explanation of the birds and the bees just yet. Although he was dreading the day when he had to. “Oh, doorbell,” he said. “Keep dancing.” He patted Miley on the head, then headed towards the stairs muttering, “Thank you, Jesus,” gratefully under his breath. He unlocked the baby gate at the top of the stairs and headed down.

When he opened the front door, he wasn’t surprised to find Tess and Kyle standing there. They came and hung out with them a lot. “Hey, guys,” he said, only confused because he’d thought they’d be busy doing all their last minute packing tonight. “What’re you doing here?”

“Well, we’re supposed to be at home having the sex, but this one insisted we stop by and see the girls,” Kyle said before adding on as an afterthought, “And you and Maria, too, I guess.”

“Thanks,” Michael said, looking at Tess. She was procrastinating on sex for his kids? Miley and Macy were great, but . . . sex was really good, too.

“Well, I haven’t seen them for two days,” Tess said as if she’d read his mind. “I go through all these painful withdrawals when that happens.”

“You guys really need to have a kid of your own,” Michael told them, stepping aside so they could come in.

“Hey, don’t give her any ideas,” Kyle said, both he and Tess kicking off their shoes on the welcome mat.

“Uncle Kyle!” Miley hollered. “Aunt Tess!”

Michael looked up and saw her slowly climbing down the stairs. She held onto the railing tightly, and her little legs could barely reach the step below her.

“Hey, Miley, you’re not supposed to go down the stairs yourself, remember?” he said, rushing up the stairs to pick her up in his arms.

“Sorry, Daddy,” she apologized.

“It’s okay.” He kissed her forehead. It was his fault for leaving the baby gate leaning against the wall. He brought Miley down to see her god-parents. Tess’s face immediately lit up and she held out her arms.

“Oh, come here, you little munchkin!” she cooed as Michael handed her over. “I hear you’re a big girl now, going to daycare.”

“Yeah.” Miley smiled proudly.

“You like it?”


Michael gave Kyle a pointed look. Tess had always been very affectionate and motherly towards Miley, but lately, even more so.

“Now, I hear some music upstairs,” Tess went on, “but it doesn’t sound like Britney Spears.”

“I can change it,” Miley chirped readily. Whenever she hung out with her aunt, she liked to impress her by playing Britney Spears music and wearing pink.

“Can I come with you?” Tess asked.

Miley nodded eagerly.

“Yeah? Okay, let’s go.” Tess headed upstairs, carrying Miley on her hip.

“Shouldn’t she be in bed by now?” Kyle asked, bending down to scratch Frank behind the ears.

“Yeah,” Michael acknowledged. It was already 8:30, and that was Miley’s bedtime. “Endless energy.”

“I wish I had some of that. Where’s Maria?”

“She’s up there writing a paper.”

“Fun.” Kyle followed Michael into the living room and said, “Hey, so I got everything just about finalized to sell that Brandon guy’s artwork.”

“That’s good. I think his stuff could sell pretty well.” Michael flopped down on the comfier of the two couches in their living room, and flipped on the TV. Oh, they had a nice TV. Flat-screen, built into the wall, right above the fireplace. Their living room was definitely the nicest room in the house. Besides the bedroom, of course.

“It’d better sell, ‘cause I got house payments to make now, and they ain’t cheap,” Kyle said, heading into the adjoined kitchen. He pulled open the refrigerator and frowned in disappointment. “You guys got any beer?” he asked.


“No? Why not?”

“What if Miley found it and drank it? Can’t have that.”

“Man, I’m freakin’ thirsty.” Kyle grabbed one of Macy’s bottles out of the refrigerator and tilted his head back, squeezing a few drops into his mouth.

Michael sat straight up and turned off the TV, staring at his friend in horror. “Oh, you did not just do that.”

“What? It’s just formula, right?”

Michael’s mouth gaped. He couldn’t close it. “It’s breast milk,” he revealed. “Maria’s still breast-feeding.”

Kyle laughed a little as though he didn’t believe it, but when he realized Michael was serious, he looked mortified. “Oh, god!” he cried, hunching over the sink, making exaggerated puking sounds.

“What’s going on down there?” Maria called from upstairs.

“You just breastfed Kyle,” he informed her.

What?” both she and Tess shrieked in unison.

“Oh, that’s so disgusting,” Kyle said dramatically, wiping a paper towel over his tongue. “I can’t believe I just did that.” He lowered his voice and asked Michael, “Hey, does that stuff come out when you’re . . .”

Maria stormed down the stairs, looking enraged. “Kyle, what did you do?” she demanded.


“He drank your breast milk,” Michael said.

“Like a drop!” he said. “I thought it was formula!”

Maria made a face. “You’re so weird. We have a gallon of milk in the fridge.”

“This was quicker!”

“Oh my god.” She rolled her eyes and headed back upstairs when Macy started to cry. Tess and Miley were on their way back down. “Your husband’s a freak,” she told Tess. "He'll drink breast milk but not eat baby food."

“I know.” Tess set Miley down at the bottom of the stairs and came to sit beside Michael as ‘. . . Baby, One More Time,’ thumped upstairs. Michael wasn’t sure how Maria was ever going to get her paper written with all the activity going on.

“Do you ever feel like we’re sane and they’re crazy?” Tess asked him.

“All the time,” he replied without hesitating. He glanced back into the kitchen. Kyle had turned on the sink and was greedily lapping up the water now.

Miley skipped into the living room and said, “Daddy, watch,” as she started dancing to the music.

“Are you gonna put on a show for us?” he asked her. Miley was at that stage where she always wanted to be the center of attention. And she usually was.

“Yeah. Uncle Kyle!” she called.

“I’m coming, just give me a minute,” he said. “I gotta find a breath mint.”


Maria came downstairs carrying Macy in her arms. “I’m here,” she said, patting Miley’s little sister on the back. Macy let out a little burp, and then she was quiet. Maria sat down on the empty couch and asked, “Are you dancing for us?”

Miley nodded vigorously. “Yep.”

“Maybe we should get her into a dance class,” Michael suggested. She was at the age where a lot of great dancers began their training now.

“Maybe,” Maria agreed.

“Break it down, Miles,” Kyle encouraged as he joined the rest of them in the living room. He sat down next to Maria and kicked his feet up on the coffee table. “Show your dad how it’s done.”

“Hey, you’re a bad dancer, too,” Michael pointed out.

“Not as bad as you.”

“Would you guys shut up?” Tess snapped. “This is Miley’s moment.”

“It’s always her moment,” Kyle said. “Isn’t that right?”

“Yep!” Miley chirped, galloping around in a circle.

Michael sat back and watched her, smiling, thinking to himself, God, my life is so good.


It wasn’t until he sat outside 522 Alvarado Street in the passenger’s seat of Max’s prized Porsche that Alex realized how much his life sucked. He looked in the window at the scene in the living room, Michael and Maria and their friends and their kids. They all looked happy. All of them. They were laughing. It was like the ideal family moment. He’d never had one of those.

“Look at that,” he said to Max. “Michael and Maria were in the same boat Isabel and I were. Young, having a kid, trying to make ends meet.” Hell, they’d gone and had a second kid, and they still weren’t married. “How come it worked out for them and not for me?”

“Because that’s just how they are,” Max replied. “The fairy tale. Tess and Kyle, too.” He sighed and added, “But if it’s any consolation, it’s probably not as perfect as it looks.”

That much was probably true. Michael and Maria probably had their issues, things that stressed them out, made them worry. Same with Tess and Kyle. But compared to him and Isabel . . .

“Come on,” Max said. “Let’s get outta here.” He started up the car and drove away.

Alex leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes. If he and Isabel and Max and Liz ever sat in the living room and watched Garret entertain them like that, he’d swear he was in heaven. Or dreaming. Whichever.

TBC . . .


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Part 4

Postby April » Sun Mar 07, 2010 12:08 pm

I don't know if anyone actually reads these little blurbs that I do up at the top here, but it occurs to me as I'm writing this that Alison's blurbs for "Hiding Beneath" are so much funnier and wittier. I wish I could think of something funny to say, but alas, I just woke up, and humor doesn't come quickly to me in the morning.

OMG!!! I forgot about Frank! They got the dog back from Kyle? I always loved what that dog symoblized for Michael and Maria. Thank goodness he's back where he belongs and is apart of their family.

I just had to bring back Frank! :D I really wanted Michael and Maria's family to feel like a real family, and hey, a lot of real families have dogs.

Kyle and Tess ... the cuteness that is them continues. Are they Miley's god-parents?

Yep, they are both Miley and Macy's god-parents.

Oh Isabel. It's kind of funny to see how much she disdaines Alex for what he is not but at the same time she still cares about him. Like his drinking problem. Of course she's worried it affects Garrett but yet she doesn't ignore the fact that Alex has a problem.

That's true. I would say that there was a time back when they first got together that Isabel genuinely cared about Alex for Alex. Nowadays, she cares about him mostly because what he does affects their son. More than anything, she resents him, and that's a horrible thing for both of them to live with.

I'm sad because Marty is unhappy. I liked Marty and Francis together. What happened???

More on that later. ;)

PS: I think Paul and Frank would be great friends with all the leg humping they do.

Ha ha, yes, they would! I might just have to throw in a "Paul" reference somewhere in this fic.

Is this one of those things where you're going to tease us with the promise of a sex scene for ages just to make sure that we keep reading?

Well, you know, usually I tease you guys with the promise of a first kiss or a first sex scene, but I can't do that in this sequel, so I've got to torture you with something!

Michael and Maria are so grown up and mature that it's good to see they're still the same old horn dogs beneath it all.

Yes, they are. ;)

Michael and Maria are truly parents. The poor dears.

Oh, the first "poor dears" remark from Novy. I anticipate that there will be a lot of those as you read this.

Why are they stalking Michael and Maria? lol That was weird.

They were kind of just driving by and had to stop and look in because Alex got envious. :(

Karin: I'm glad to have you back as a reader! I love your icon, by the way, even though I haven't seen the show.

I love the interaction between the two couples. They are so tight and loving and have rreally formed an extended family between them. Miley and Macy are incredibly lucky to grow up surrounded by so many people who love them and are willing to subject themselves to Hannah Montana for them.

I agree. Miley and Macy are growing up in the ideal environment right now.

Why are Max and Alex spying on Michael and Maria's house? Do they regularly swing by to check out what normal people do?

:lol: They were just swinging by.

By the way, I don't expect anyone to remember this, but I'm actually quite proud of myself for foreshadowing Alex's drinking problem all the way back in 521. At the end of that fic there are all those flashbacks to Isabel's life, there's a flashback where Alex casually mentions that alcoholism runs in his family. Ooh, I'm sneaky like that. :lol:

Speaking of flashbacks, the chunk in italics in this part is quite obviously a flashback. There will be flashbacks scattered throughout this fic to fill in the blanks of what happened in the last three and a half years for these people.

Part 4

Isabel strode towards her brother’s house, holding Garret’s hand. No, it wasn’t a house. It was a mansion. It was literally big enough to be qualified as a mansion. He’d purchased it a few years ago after giving himself a generous pay raise. Out front was a large fountain built into the ground, and on either side of the fountain was a marble staircase that wound up and met in the middle, forming a small plateau before another set of stairs led up to the front balcony and front door. It was like a little slice of California high-life right in the middle of Santa Fe.

“Uncle Max has a big house,” Garret remarked.

“He sure does,” Isabel agreed. She hadn’t lived in a big house ever since she’d started college and moved out of her father’s mansion. She still thought it was possible she’d live in a big house like this someday. It just wasn’t very likely.

“How come our house isn’t big?” Garret asked as they headed up the unending stairs.

Isabel didn’t answer him. She rang the doorbell and tapped her foot impatiently, wishing she didn’t have to be there. She rarely ever visited the Evans mansion unless she had to, because it made her crazy with envy, made her realize there were so many things she didn’t have that she still wanted and would probably never get.

Max’s live-in housekeeper, Yolanda, opened the door and smiled nervously. “Miss Isabel,” she said, her Spanish accent thoroughly coating the words. Yolanda was from Honduras or Nicaragua or . . . somewhere. She was in her late thirties, and Isabel was fairly certain she’d sold her children in exchange for a plane ticket to fly to the United States and work for Max.

Hola. How are you today?” Yolanda asked cordially, though it was obviously she was afraid of Isabel.

“Been better.” Isabel strode inside, dragging Garret behind her. She breathed in the smell of money for a moment. Money was what made the house so clean, so shiny. Money smelled like nothing else in the world.

She glanced around longingly, first at the grand staircase that led up to the second floor, then out back at the pool, pool house, and large back yard. Diego, Max’s gardener, was driving a riding lawn mower, keeping the grass cut to perfection. And as if that wasn’t enough, the house was at a higher elevation than most and had an amazing view. It overlooked the entire city.

Perhaps mansion wasn’t the ride word for it, either. It was a palace, and Max was undeservingly the king.

“So,” Isabel said, listening to her high heels click nicely on the tile floor. “Where is the bitch of the house?”

“I’m in here,” Liz called from the kitchen.

“Ooh, she responds.” Isabel smirked and turned right into the most lavish kitchen she’d seen since she’d lived at home with her dad. All the most expensive appliances, of course. She didn’t even have a dishwasher in her kitchen. Max and Liz had two.

Liz sat at the kitchen table (though they never actually ate at that kitchen table—they had the dining room table for that), hunched over a sprawl of poster boards and tiny Post-It notes. She looked to be handling the seating arrangements for her big day.

“Let’s make this quick. I’ve got things to do today,” Isabel said, noting that Liz had decided to seat Alex as far away from the bar as possible. Good.

“Uh, actually, this isn’t about you. It’s about this little guy,” Liz said, tearing herself away from her work. She leaned down and smiled at Garret. “Hey, you,” she said.

“Hi, Liz.” He walked up to her and gave her a hug.

“Aw, you’re so cute,” she said. “I need you to do me a favor. I need you to try on a tuxedo for me. You know why?”

“‘Cause I’m the ring-bear,” he replied proudly.

She laughed. “That’s right, you’re the ring-bear.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to dumb it down for him. Ring-bearer.” She remembered who she was talking to and added, “Or maybe you’re so stupid that you don’t know the difference.”

Liz gave her a look of disbelief and said, “Um, Garret, why don’t you go with Yolanda? She’ll help you with the tux.”

Garret glanced up at Isabel for permission, and she said, “Go ahead.”

He skipped off with the maid. He probably had no idea what a tuxedo even was. He’d never worn one before.

“Do you really think you’re setting a good example by being mean to me?” Liz asked, slowly rising to her feet. Isabel couldn’t help but notice the designer clothes she was wearing. Even her casual-wear was extravagant.

“Gosh, I’m probably not,” she admitted, “but with you, Liz, it’s just so easy.” She really hated this girl. She had done nothing to deserve the life that she had, the privileges she enjoyed. She wasn’t even technically an Evans yet.

“You know, I’d really like for him to start calling me Aunt Liz, if that’s okay with you,” she said, remaining surprisingly calm. She pulled her luxurious brown hair on top her head and secured it with a rhinestone ponytail holder. Rhinestone.

“It’s not,” Isabel bit out. “See, the thing is, I don’t really see you and my brother having a lasting marriage. There’s no point in confusing the boy while we wait for your inevitable divorce.”

Liz huffed. “Wow, so . . . comments like that are the reason why you’re not in the wedding party.”

“Oh, please,” Isabel grunted. “Like I wanna be one of your stupid bridesmaids.”

“I was one of yours,” Liz pointed out. “In fact, I was your only bridesmaid, if I recall.”

“My wedding happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to consider anyone else.” Had she had friends, she would have enlisted their help, not Liz’s.

Liz crossed her arms over her chest and said, “Well, consider this: You’re wrong about me and Max. We’ve been together for almost four years now. We love each other, and we’re gonna spend the rest of our lives together.” She sounded so sure.

But Isabel wasn’t. “Right,” she agreed sarcastically. “And I’m gonna go home and have hot, steamy sex with Alex.” Some things would just never happen.

Liz shrugged and suggested, “Maybe you’re just jealous.”

“Jealous that you’re marrying my brother?” She was a complicated person with a lot of complicated issues, but incest wasn’t one of them.

“Jealous that I’m marrying for love,” Liz corrected. “Unlike you did.”

Isabel’s stomach clenched. Love. It was no secret that she’d only ever romantically loved one person, and it wasn’t the person she was married to.

Before she could come up with any kind of retort, Garret came back into the kitchen wearing his little tuxedo. He was even wearing a tie. “Here he is, the man of la hora,” Yolanda announced.

“Oh, Garret, you look adorable!” Liz exclaimed, rushing to greet him. She knelt down in front of him and hugged him again. “You’re gonna look better than the bride,” she said. “I can’t compete with that.”

Isabel stood back and watched their interaction as memories of her own wedding day came flooding back. She didn’t even know the name of the boy who had been her ring-bearer. Max had hired some kid at last minute, probably the son of someone who worked for him. Most of the wedding guests had been company employees who attended simply because an Evans was getting married and they were connected through business to the name. The whole thing had been like a shotgun wedding after the baby was born instead of before. And the proposal hadn’t been much better.


“So I guess I’ll just stay in Liz’s apartment until I can find a place to live,” Isabel said as she packed up her things. After three days in the hospital, she was ready to go, ready to take Garret home. Of course, she’d felt a lot better when the plan had been to go home to apartment 521 at the Fairview complex. There was a nursery for him there and everything. “She said she’d be staying with Max, so I guess it won’t matter if Garret and I crash there for awhile.” She stuffed her nightgown into her bag, hating that her baby had to ‘crash’ anywhere. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

Her eyes bulged in horror when all of a sudden she noticed Alex lowering himself to one knee beside the hospital bed. He had a small ring in his hand. It didn’t even look like a diamond. It looked like a drugstore trinket.

“What’re you doing?” she said fearfully. Nothing had gone right since he’d shown up in town. He should’ve just stayed gone.

“Marry me, Isabel,” he said. “I know we still have our issues to work out, and I know we have a lot of challenges to face in the future, but I think we can make it work. And I want to.”

She didn’t want to. Not with him.

“Garret’s already a great kid,” he went on, “and he deserves to grow up with a mom and a dad who love him. He deserves a family.”

Garret . . . she thought, picturing his sweet little face. She loved her son more than anything, but as much as she hated it, he was Alex’s son, too. And he was right. He did deserve a family.

“So?” Alex smiled hopefully. “What do you say?”

She stared down at him with tears in her eyes. She knew what it was like to grow up without a father, because hers had rarely been around, and even when he had been, he’d never noticed her. She didn’t want that for Garret. She wanted better for him. She wanted everything for him. And who knew? Maybe Alex was right. Maybe it would work out.


Isabel jerked herself out of the memory and looked at Garret now as he showed off his fancy tuxedo. He seemed happy, but he could have been so much happier. If only he’d had a different dad.


Tess twirled around on the hard wood floors of her living room, or at least the room that would be her living room once the furniture was moved in. Sunlight shown in through the bay window, and she couldn’t erase the overjoyed smile from her face. This was a huge day for her.

“I can’t believe we’re finally here,” she said.

“Home sweet home,” Kyle chimed in as he slid down the railing of the stairs.

“Kyle!” she exclaimed, skipping towards her husband, jumping into his arms. She kissed him and raved, “This place is perfect for us.”

“You wanna start unpacking some of the lightweight stuff or go see the neighbors first?” he asked.

“Neighbors,” she replied at once. She grabbed his hand, giggled excitedly, and skipped out the door with him in tow. They ran across their front lawn down to next house on Alvarado Street, the blue Dutch Colonial with the birdhouse mailbox out front and the number 522 to the left side of the door. Tess hopped up on the front porch and rang the doorbell.

Maria came to the door holding a half-eaten Pop Tart in her mouth. Both her hands were occupied putting her hair in a ponytail.

“Hey, neighbor!” Tess exclaimed.

Maria fastened the ponytail holder around her hair and took the Pop Tart out of her mouth. “Michael, they’re here!” she called upstairs.

“So we said adios to the apartment and aloha to Alvarado Street,” Tess said, leaning over to ask Kyle, “That means hello, right? Aloha.”

“And goodbye,” he said. “It’s a cool word like that.”

Tess jumped up and down, unable to contain her enthusiasm. “Oh my god, I’m so glad we’re living by you guys again.” Michael and Maria’s close proximity had been a major selling point for the house.

“I’m glad, too,” Maria said. “Think how convenient this is gonna be for baby-sitting.” She bit into her Pop Tart again and said between chews, “Well, I’d love to stick around and help you unpack, but I’ve gotta go to class. Darn the luck.”

“Just so long as your boy-toy helps out,” Kyle said. “He promised he would.”

Michael came down the stairs with Macy in his arms. “You talkin’ about me?” he asked.

“Yeah, come on, let’s go get the couch,” Kyle said. “And then the bed, and then the table; and then the other couch and the other bed and the chairs . . .”

“Oh, happy day,” Michael muttered, stopping to give Maria a kiss on top her head before he handed Macy over to her and followed Kyle outside to the large moving truck they had rented. Those boys had a long day’s work ahead of them. They’d closed down the C4 gallery and everything, because there was no way it wouldn’t take all day.

“Should’ve hired movers,” Maria said. “I swear, if my man gets a hernia, you’re gonna pay for the operation.”

“Fair enough,” Tess said. “You wanna come take a look at the place before you head to class?”

“Uh . . .” Maria glanced at her watch to check the time. “Yeah, sure. Miley, come with me.”

Miley came bounding towards the front door. Tess almost melted because of how cute she looked. She had on a pink headband and matching pink dress. Her Finding Nemo backpack bounced on her shoulders.

“Mama, do I go to daycare?” she asked.

“Nope, you’re gonna hang out with your aunt and your uncle and your daddy today,” Maria told her.

Miley dropped her backpack on the floor.

“And your sister,” Maria added. She gave Macy a pat on the head and murmured to Tess, “If she wants to help you unpack that truck, have her carry, like, pillows or something.”

“Gotcha.” Tess took Miley’s hand and said, “Let’s go!” They pranced across both front yards, past Michael and Kyle, who were inside the back of the moving truck, debating what heavy furniture item to move in first. Maria followed behind, carrying Macy.

“Alright, ladies,” Tess said as she opened the door. “Welcome to my not-so-humble abode.” She led the way inside, proud to show off her new home.

“Wow,” Maria said. “This looks so different from the way the last people had it.”

“‘Cause it’s empty, Mama,” Miley said.

“Well, it won’t be for long,” Tess assured her. She already knew exactly how she wanted to set up the living room. She wanted the TV on the south wall, book shelves on the east wall, couches facing both those walls, desk and computer on the west wall by the staircase. And so much more.

“Huh, it looks a lot like my place, only bigger,” Maria said. “I assume this is gonna be the living room.”

“Yep, and the dining room’s back there.” Tess motioned around the staircase to a room that adjoined to the kitchen. She doubted she and Kyle were ever going to eat in there unless they had company.

“What’s a di-ning room?” Miley asked, splitting the word distinctly into two syllables.

“You know how our kitchen table’s actually in our kitchen? Some people have a special room for that,” Maria explained.

“Why don’t we?” Miley asked. She was so inquisitive.

“Our house isn’t big enough.”

“Well, this is no mansion by any means,” Tess acknowledged, “but it’s pretty spacious.” She pointed out several other rooms on the other side of the stairs. “Small bathroom, the garage, kinda just this entryway room—I’m not really sure what we’re gonna put there. And the master bedroom’s upstairs. Master bathroom, too. And a spare bedroom Miley can sleep in whenever she spends the night.”

Miley’s face lit up.

“Is Kyle gonna have any sort of art room?” Maria asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Tess said. She knew Michael had a small room on his second floor where he painted and even did a little sculpting here and there, but if Kyle was planning on having a room like that, he hadn’t mentioned it to her. “He hasn’t been doing that much painting lately. He said he’d rather have a home office.” She rolled her eyes, not able to understand her husband’s love for his work. “Anyway, there’s, like, this one small room I have no idea what to do with.”

“Nursery?” Maria suggested. “Hint, hint.”

Tess blushed. “We’ll see.” One of the nice things about this house was that there was plenty of room for their children when they had some. “Oh, come look at the pool,” she said. “It’s huge.”

“Funny, that’s what I said when I first saw Michael’s . . .” Maria trailed off before saying something she shouldn’t have in the company of her kids. “Brain.”

They made their way out into the back yard. The pool was amazing. It was built into the ground and surrounded by concrete. It was indeed very large, took up about half the back yard. Tess planned on setting up some poolside chairs, and Kyle wanted to put a grill on the back porch.

“Where’s the water?” Miley asked as she looked down at the empty basin.

“It’s not in there yet, but it will be soon,” Tess promised her.

“Cool. Can I learn swimming, Mama?”

“Maybe when you’re a little older,” Maria said, pulling her back from the pool’s edge. “Tess, this is neat. I’ll be able to sit out here and dangle my feet in the water and saw, ‘La, la, la, I’m at the Valentis’.”

“Hmm, the Valentis.” She never got tired of hearing that.

Maria looked down at her watch again and grumbled, “Oh, crap, I gotta head out. Paper due today, blah, blah, blah. Kinda sorta pulled an all-nighter since my so-called friends stopped over and distracted me.”

Tess shrugged exaggeratedly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Maria handed Macy over to her and asked, “Are you sure you’re gonna be able to watch over them both and supervise the unloading process?”

“Definitely. I’m a proud member of Generation Multi-task,” Tess proclaimed. “Besides, my maternal instincts are almost as strong as yours.”

“Okay, then I’ll see you later.” Maria knelt down and hugged Miley, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Bye, baby,” she said.

“I’m not a baby,” Miley claimed.

“Little lady?”

Miley nodded her head in approval.

“Okay.” Maria stood up again and squeezed Macy’s hand. “Bye, baby,” she said before calling out the same to Michael as she headed around the side of the house. “Bye, baby!”

“Bye!” he called back, barely managing to get the word out as he and Kyle carried the first couch into the living room. Both their faces strained.

“Aunt Tess?” Miley said, tugging on her arm. “We don’t have to lift that, do we?”

“Oh, no,” Tess assured her eldest niece. “At times like these, it’s good to be a girl.”

“Boys are weird,” Miley said, making a face.

“I totally agree,” Tess said, although she couldn’t help but get turned on at the sight of her husband’s bulging arm muscles as he carried that couch. He was a weird boy, but also a sexy one. And if she had her way, they were going to have so many sexy times in their new house. So many.


Max stepped over the weeds in his sister’s yard, noting her effort to plant tulips in front of the house. They were wilting and dying in the late summer heat, though. She probably wasn’t watering them.

He stepped up onto the front porch, careful to avoid the loose boards, and pulled open the rickety screen door. The front door was open, so he strolled inside. He could hear Isabel in the kitchen, talking. When he rounded the corner, he saw her pacing back and forth talking on the phone, dirty dishes stacked up in the sink behind her.

“When are you gonna get back?” she said to whoever was on the phone with her. “I miss you.”

Max raised an eyebrow and decided to alert him to his presence by clearing his throat.

She startled and immediately shut her cell phone, tossing it onto the counter.

“Who was that?” he asked.

“Telemarketer,” she answered quickly.

“A telemarketer,” he echoed. She missed the telemarketer?

“What do you want, Max?” she asked, averting his eyes.

He shrugged. “Just thought I’d stop by and see my nephew before work.”

Isabel grunted. “Don’t you ever spend any time with your fiancée?”

“Yes. In fact, I spent all last night listening to her cry over what you said to her.”

“She should toughen up,” Isabel suggested coldly.

“You should be a little nicer,” Max suggested in return. Liz and Isabel had shared a mutually antagonistic relationship from the start, but Liz was at least cordial to her. Isabel wasn’t.

“Oh, please, Max,” Isabel scoffed. “You’re such a hypocrite.”

True, he wasn’t a nice person himself, but he wasn’t as mean as he once had been. “I’m marrying Liz,” he reminded her. “She’s gonna be your sister-in-law. She’s part of the family. Garret should know her as his aunt.” Liz was one of the first people who had ever held Garret. That first night after he’d been born, they’d stayed at the hospital, and the nurse had brought him out in the morning and let Max hold him. Max had in turn let Liz hold him. She’d been a part of his life for his whole life, but Isabel didn’t seem to care about any of that.

“Seven months,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.


“That’s how long I give it, tops, until one of you asks for a divorce. I wonder who’ll screw it up first, you or her.” She eyed him up and down and said, “Oh, definitely you.”

He rolled his eyes, refusing to think about that. “So, after all these years of a sexless, loveless marriage, you seem to have perfected the art of bitchcraft.” He smirked when Isabel didn’t have a response to that.

Garret came running down the hallway before either of them could continue, still wearing his pajamas. “Uncle Max!” he exclaimed, running up to squeeze Max’s legs.

“Hey, little guy,” Max said, patting his shoulder. “Did you just wake up?”


“Yeah, you look like it.”

“Are we going to Disney again?”

Max knelt down to his level. “Uh, no. Not today.” He hoped he’d get to take Garret to Disneyland again someday, though. Preferable Disneyworld. It was better.

“I’m hungry,” Garret announced.

“Maybe your mom will fix you some breakfast,” he said, casting a glance over at the box of Fruit Loops cereal Isabel had set out on the counter. She flipped him off, behind Garret’s back where he couldn’t see.

“She’s very mature,” Max said sarcastically. “Well, I gotta get to work. Where’s your dad? I’ll give him a ride.”

“He’s upstairs. Daddy!” Garret yelled.

“I’m coming, I’m coming.” Alex yawned as he trundled down the stairs. He looked a better this morning since he hadn’t gotten smashed the night before. Max knew he wished he had, though.

“Hey, Max,” Alex said, smiling weakly.

“Ready to go?”

“Yep.” He headed into the kitchen, pulled open the refrigerator, and took out a can of beer. “Bye, buddy,” he said, ignoring Isabel’s look of disapproval as he headed out.

“Bye, Daddy.” Garret looked sad. He held open his arms, and Max bent and gave him a hug. Maybe he’d just wanted a hug from his dad.

“I’ll see you soon, stud,” he said. “Keep practicing for the wedding, alright?”

“I will,” the little boy promised.

“Okay.” Max was on his way out the door when he turned around and added, “By the way . . . your Aunt Liz says hi.” He grinned at Isabel as she glared at him, fuming silently, and then he turned and followed Alex out to the car.


Every muscle in Michael’s body ached as he sat on Tess and Kyle’s couch. It was the smaller of the two couches and, by Tess’s insistence, pink, so they were calling it the love seat instead. Michael hoped for their sake that they made as much love there as they could, because by the time they had kids, they wouldn’t be getting it on nearly as much.

“Oh,” he groaned, draping his arm over his eyes. “I think . . . I’d rather be at work right now.” Miley lay curled up beside him, her head on his lap, asleep.

“Hey, I helped you and Maria move,” Kyle pointed out. He lay sprawled out on the floor, motionless for awhile now.

“Yeah, but we hardly had any furniture,” Michael reminded him, so thankful that they’d managed to get all the heaviest items moved in. The double bed had been the hardest since they’d had to carry the mattress and frame upstairs. “How’d you get everything out of the apartment?” he asked.

“I had the guy from 523 help me,” Kyle explained. “I think he’s a body-builder.”

“I thought that little old lady lived there.”

“Yeah, she’s a cougar, huh?” Kyle joked. “Got herself a younger man. Way younger.”

“Oh, gross.”

“Now that’s not fair,” Tess piped up. She was busy arranging ceramics on a knick-knack shelf in the living room, holding a sleeping Macy in her left arm. “If an older man scored a younger woman, you guys would be congratulating him.”

“‘Cause he’s a pimp,” Kyle said.

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You guys aren’t getting tired, are you? Because there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

“We’re just taking a break,” Michael told her, gently running one hand over Miley’s silky smooth hair.

“Wifey, aren’t you tired?” Kyle asked Tess. “I mean, after all the sex we had last night.”

“No, husband,” she replied. “And FYI, it wasn’t that much sex.”

Michael laughed.

“It was a lot,” Kyle assured him quietly.

“Yeah, whatever. Could you guys not say that word around my daughters?”

“What’s the big deal?” was Tess’s response. “One’s six months and one’s asleep.”

“Yeah, but you know how sometimes stuff drifts into your consciousness when you sleep?” Michael said. “Like the other night, I fell asleep on the couch with the TV on . . .”

“Old man,” Kyle teased.

“I fell asleep with the TV on, and I was dreamin’ about Michael Phelps. And I’m thinkin’, ‘Why the heck am I dreamin’ about Michael Phelps?’ Turns out they were talking about him on the news. So that stuff happens. It seeps in.”

“Well, I’ll be happy to have the talk with them someday if you want me to,” Kyle offered.

Michael shook his head. “No, no, no way.” Kyle was the last person who he’d have explain sex to his children. He was still living under the false assumption that gravity prevented pregnancy if a couple had sex in the woman-on-top position.

“Kyle, do you feel up to unpacking the silverware?” Tess asked.

“If I must.” Kyle groaned and rose to his feet.

“Keep it organized,” Tess told him. “And put all the sharp knives in the second drawer.”

Michael yawned. “I’m just gonna . . . supervise if that’s okay.”

“Oh, you’ve done enough,” she said. “Just relax.”

“Okay.” He closed his eyes, content to fall asleep if that was what his body wanted. He heard one of their cell phones beep, though, so he peeked open one eye and saw Tess’s phone on the arm of the couch, flashing a red light. He picked it up, flipped it open, and read the text message she’d just received because he knew she wouldn’t mind. “Um . . . Tess?”


“You just got a text message from your dad.” He read it over again, just to make sure he’d read it correctly. Wow.

“What’s it say?” she asked.

“It says . . . ‘Amy and I just got married in Elvis Chapel. Gambling now, will call later.’”

“Are you serious?” she exclaimed, abandoning the knick-knack shelf she’d been working so diligently on. “Let me see that.”

“Don’t drop my kid.” He handed her phone to her and took Macy in exchange.

“Oh my god!” She jumped up and down giddily. “I can’t believe it. They did it! They actually did it. They finally got married!”

“Who, your dad and Maria’s mom?” Kyle asked from the kitchen.

“Yeah! Oh, I’m so happy for my daddy.”

“Good for them,” Michael said. He knew Amy DeLuca and Ed Harding had been talking marriage for the past few years. How they’d managed to live in Las Vegas all this time without tying the knot before now was a mystery.

Tess squealed as her cell phone rang out with a Britney Spears ringtone. “Oh, it’s Maria,” she said, answering her phone. “Hello?” She was a flurry of excitement as she bounded out onto the front lawn. “I know, I know, I heard!”

“Huh,” Kyle said as he stacked forks in the silverware drawer. “Everyone’s gettin’ married but you, man.”

Michael sighed, well aware of that.


That evening, Michael and Maria lay in bed, both of them struggling to stay awake. Macy lay in between them, sucking on her pacifier. Miley was already asleep in her own room that night, though she had insisted on another monster check under the bed and in the closet first.

“So what’d your mom say when you talked to her?” Michael asked quietly.

“She said . . . that their Elvis impersonator looked nothing like Elvis, but he was super nice and a really good minister. And they said their own vows, and it was just the two of them, and they had a chocolate wedding cake.”


“I know, I want a chocolate wedding cake.” Maria stroked her right index finger over the bottom of Miley’s foot, wishing her own heels felt that soft. “Anyway, she said they would’ve flown all of us out there, but it was, like, a really spontaneous thing. Or, I guess not really spontaneous since they’ve been talking about it for years, but . . . they just woke up this morning and decided to do it. Kinda romantic, huh?”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Although I gotta say, I’ll never get used to your mom being such a free-spirit. Remember when she was so tightly wound? And she used to hate me.”

She laughed a little. “Yeah, she thought you and Tess were both bad influences on me.”

He made a face.

“I know it was the other way around. God. And she thought I was a virgin; and she didn’t even talk to Marty, remember?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“She, like, disowned him.” Maria was so glad her mother’s relationship with them had changed. Nowadays, she actually wished she got to see her more often than she did, but the distance made that difficult.

“She definitely let loose with Ed Harding,” Michael agreed, cringing after he spoke the words. “Loose.”

“Oh, sick.”

“She . . . became less uptight with Ed Harding,” he rephrased.

“Who, oddly enough, is technically an uptight guy. I guess he’s just got a way with her.”

Michael smiled at her warmly. “She’s got a way with him, too.”

“They bring out each other’s wild sides.” She gazed into his captivating brown eyes, and she wanted to reach out and snake her hands under his shirt and feel him. But she wasn’t about to do that with Macy there. Besides, her arms felt like Jell-o.

“Are they gonna come visit us?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think so, next week or the week after that or whenever they get done honeymooning.”

“They can’t really honeymoon in Vegas, can they? I mean, they live there. It’d be like us honeymooning . . . well, here.”

“She said something about Denver, so I think Ed’s gonna try to get her on skis.”

“Oh.” Michael grimaced.

“I know, right?” She had the same mental image of Amy DeLuca—or rather Amy Harding now—on skis, and it looked like a disaster waiting to happen. Her mom wasn’t exactly an outdoor girl. In fact, her greatest exposure to the outdoors had probably been her first walk down the Vegas Strip.

“We should do something when they come here,” Michael said.

“Yeah, like throw some post-wedding non-bachelor and bachelorette parties,” she agreed.

“Sounds good to me.”

She sighed longingly. Wedding, honeymoon, bachelorette parties . . . these were all things she was still looking forward to. “Hey, Michael?” she said, gently pinching all of Macy’s tiny toes gently between her fingers. “Why does it seem like everyone’s heading towards the altar but us?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” he admitted.

She smiled at him. “No, but seriously.”

He scooted closer and picked her hand up in his. “I think maybe we’re just taking our time.”

“But we’ve been engaged for a year and a half now. Is that too much time?” she wondered. When Michael had first slipped that ring on her finger, she’d anticipated being engaged for about five months at the most, but then she’d gotten pregnant with Macy only two months later, and she really hadn’t wanted a shot-gun wedding, not to mention a wedding dress from a maternity store.

“No, it’s like . . . it’s like the tortoise and the hair,” he assured her. “Slow and steady wins the race. Or something.”

She smiled. “I just don’t want us to be one of those couples who gets married on their deathbeds.”

“No, it won’t take us that long. God, no,” he promised. His hand roamed all over hers, his fingers in between hers, his palm pressed against hers, then covering the back of hand. “When do you wanna get married?” he asked.

“Like right now,” she confessed. “But . . . I don’t know, maybe we should just wait until after I graduate.”

He nodded in agreement. “We could use some of your graduation money to pay for the wedding costs.”

“Brilliant,” she complimented. “But this means we have to be in the process of planning everything. And I have to student teach next semester.”

“We’ll get it planned. Don’t worry about it.”

She believed him. Michael could do anything, and when she was motivated, she could do a lot of things, too. And she was highly motivated to become his wife. “Okay, after graduation. Good, at least we have a relative timeline now.”

“Maria Elizabeth Guerin,” he said, rolling the name across his tongue slowly. “Or are you gonna be DeLuca-Guerin? Or just DeLuca? ‘Cause I’m a feminist; I can respect that.”

She laughed softly. “I’m not a feminist, so . . . Maria Guerin, for sure. I’ll finally have the same last name as you and Miley and Macy Elaine here.”

“Macy Elaine,” Michael said in a sing-song voice. “You ever wonder how I came up with that name?”

“Sometimes.” She’d been the one to come up with Miley Grace Guerin as a name, and he’d come up with Macy Elaine Guerin, but she honestly had no idea how.

“Kyle had me listen to this song by Bloodhound Gang,” he began.

“Bloodhound Gang?” she echoed. That wasn’t exactly a classy band.

“Yeah, it was called ‘The Ballad of Chasey Lain’ or something like that. Stupid song. It’s actually about boobs and all that good stuff.”

She raised her eyebrows. That explained why Kyle had listened to it.

“Anyway, I liked Chasey Lain; I thought it had a ring to it. So I came up with Macy, and then I added the ‘E’ to Lain ‘cause I liked that better and . . . there it is. Macy Elaine.”

She didn’t even know what to say. “Wow, this is our daughter’s namesake?”

“In a nutshell.” He pressed a kiss to Macy’s forehead. He was so good with her.

“You were named after your grandpa, right?” she asked him.


“It’s a good name. I love saying it when I . . .” She trailed off. Had to be careful what words came out of her mouth when either of her kids was around. “Never mind.”

“When you what?” he urged.

She blushed. “Do stuff. With you.” It really was the perfect name to moan and groan and shout and scream in bed. Two syllables, both of them easy to get out no matter how much pleasure she was in.

“You wanna do stuff tonight?” he asked.

“I want to. But . . . I’m so tired.” Her eyelids felt like they were holding up ten pound weights. “Class today was never-ending.”

“Yeah, so was the moving process.” He rolled over onto his back and yawned. “Remind me never to help our friends again.”


“Okay. I’ll go put Macy to bed and check on Miley, and then I’ll come back and settle for a cuddle.”

“Hmm.” Her eyelids flutter closed as he climbed out of bed. “I’m cuddly.”

“That you are,” he agreed as he picked up Macy and left the room.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. More than anything in the world, she wanted to make love to him, but this was the way it had been for awhile now. Either she was too tired or he was too tired or they were both too tired or too busy. Back in college, they’d spent entire days and nights doing nothing other than exploring each other’s bodies, but they weren’t in college anymore. Or . . . at least he wasn’t.

She touched her engagement ring as she fell asleep. Maybe she and Michael weren’t having the most sex in the world, and maybe they wouldn’t be married for a few more months to come. But in every way that mattered, they were already married. They just hadn’t had a wedding yet. Or a sex-filled honeymoon. But they would, and it would be amazing.


Tess clutched Kyle’s shoulders as he moved on top her, her hands slipping because of the sweat. She wrapped her legs around him and drove him deeper inside her. “Almost,” she said, letting him know how close she was to orgasm. “Almost.”

“I can’t . . .” He shook his head, his entire body clenching and stilling as he came.

“Hmm,” she said, lowering her legs back down onto the bed. “Good for you.”

His face grew red with embarrassment. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” No woman could expect to orgasm every single time. She was just happy Kyle got her there most of the time.

“No, it’s not.” He rolled onto the other side of the bed, grabbed a tissue from the nightstand, and removed the condom, dropping it into the metal trashcan beside the bed. “I’m lacking stamina after all that moving today.”

“You did pretty good, all things considered,” she assured him.

“I’ll do better next time.”

She smiled at him and reached out to stroke his face. He really did look exhausted, but he was always so eager to give her that physical pleasure. She couldn’t even begin to remember how many times they’d had sex over the years. It was . . . it was sort of strange that they’d never had an accident happen. Ever. “Hey, Kyle?” she said.


“What’re we gonna do with that little room down the hall? The empty one.”

“Uh . . . I don’t know. Storage room?” he proposed. “Or do you want a home office of your own?”

“No, I like to leave my work at work, thank you very much.”

“Well, then, what do you think we should do with it?”

She thought about mentioning Maria’s suggestion that they make it into a nursery, but there didn’t seem to be a point in that. She wasn’t even pregnant. Macy was the only person who would be able to use that nursery.

“I don’t know,” she mumbled. “Maybe just a storage room, like you said.”

“Sounds good. I’m gonna go to bed now, alright?” He leaned over and kissed her goodnight. “I love you.”

“Hmm.” She smiled and stared at his naked back as he rolled over. She clutched the covers tightly to her chest and pictured the room down the hallway painted pale pink or baby blue. It really would have made the perfect nursery.

TBC . . .


(ETA: New fic on the AU without Aliens board called Plasticities by our own lovely BethanyJill. Check it out!)

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Part 5

Postby April » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:33 am

He should not be raised by her and Alex right now. God help me, I hate to say it but - I think he'd be better off with Max and Liz right now then them. ACK! O.k. I'm gonna burn in hell now for having thought it, let alone voice it.

It's a valid thought to have and voice, though. They're very good to him.

So, who's the mystery guy she misses? Could it be ... *gag*Billy*gag*?

Well, since you've watched the promo videos, that's a good guess. ;)

It still surprises me that Max is so devoted to Garret. At least one (God, I must be crazy) good influence on the boy.

You are crazy. But then again, I've always known that. ;) I ended Max's entire journey in 521 with him looking in at Garret in the hospital and vowing that he was going to be a good uncle. I really wanted him to keep that promise, because he knows what it's like to grow up with a corrupt male role model. He wants better for his nephew.

As for Kyle and Tess, I think there's some stuff that's still unspoken between them regarding their marriage. I mean, how come they never talked about kids? I know couples who were engaged for many years but kids were one of the main topics for them. So I'm a bit surprised that Kyle and Tess didn't talk about it.

They've probably had casual conversations like, "You know, someday when we have kids . . ." blah blah blah, but they never talked about when "someday" would be.

I have this thought on Kyle/Tess....what might be going on down the road...I'm not going to mention it here due to not wanting to spoil anything....or the fact I could be very wrong

Go ahead and mention it! I'm very good at neither confirming nor denying anything. ;)

Although I do think if Alex were to just get a divorce and only care about his son than I think he'd get better.

A divorce could help, but that alone isn't enough to fix him. He's going to be connected to Isabel no matter what for his entire life because of the son they have together.

Aw, Amy and Ed got married! <33
I'm so happy you followed up with their relationship, it was such a sweet little subplot in 521. And the thought of them living in Vegas together, having fun together after her being kind of stressed out and him being a bit depressed is so great. I don't know why, but I'm in love the way you've written their little romance.

You'll see a little more of them in this fic, too.

Speaking of, why haven't Kyle and Tess talked about having kids yet? I guess maybe because Kyle's younger than them and they see how tough it's been for Michael and Maria?

That's right, Kyle actually is a year younger, so he's only 24. Plus, he's been busy launching a business, and you'll see in this part that Tess has actually launched her own business, too.

Gosh, every time I look at your icon, I get all happy and giggly! I so love that pic of Emilie.

In regards to the last part, all I have to say is... UNDER 200K TO BUY A 2 STORY HOUSE? WHAT THE EFF IS UP WITH THAT? Here in LA, a 2 story house would be at least 3x that much. I don't think I'll own a house until I'm 50. My kids are gonna live in cardboard mansions. Lame.

:lol: I was just waiting for your reaction to the money stuff! I don't understand how prices can be so drastically different only a few states away. My mom and I sold our house in October, and the buyer only had to pay $99,000 dollars for it. Granted, it was one story, but it was still nice. I don't get it.

It's odd that Isabel's thinking about raising a child is so old fashioned. Well, I suppose Alex's thinking is old fashioned as well. There's no rule that says it's better to be married when you have a child.

They both thought they were doing what was best for him, but I agree that it would have been better to not get married but still both be in his life.

Sorry the writer's block hasn't gone away yet. :( Feel free to bounce ideas off me. I love that fic of yours.

dreambeliever: Why hello there! I don't think I've ever "met" you before. I'm glad you're reading the fic. And no it's never too early to bump, although I update so quickly that you usually don't need to. :lol: Thanks for reading!

Maybe she'll just stop taking her birth-control pills and hope for an accident?

Ooh, that would be bad, wouldn't it? That would be sneaky and not the right way to go about it.

I just figured out who Isabel's lover is. Cant wait to see if I'm right

Well, you'll find out in this part, so you'll have to let me know if you're right.

I can't believe that Max has somehow gotten into the role of caregiver....did anyone see that coming?

I'm glad I caught you off guard with that. I really wanted Max to be the one to (shockingly) step up to the plate when no one else would.

Novy: I'm glad you read my blurbs! :lol:

I knew you were going to do it April, you made me have some form of compassion for Isabel.

Wow, I did? That won't happen very often in this fic!

Liz is all dressed up on the outside. I wonder what's inside of her head these days.

You'll start getting some insight into her head as her wedding day grows nearer.

Something about that pool gives me a shiver down my back every time I hear about it. I can picture Miley or even Macy when she's walking, falling into it. Please tell me I'm being overdramatic.

Oh my goodness, what have I done to my readers? I've made them assume the worst case scenario! You're possibly being overdramatic. Possibly. ;)

Tess has got babies on the brain and she should really talk to Kyle about it. He might want to try too. In fact, I think he'd love the trying part.

What guy wouldn't love the trying? :lol:

So Michael and Maria have set a date, sort of, it inevitably means that things are going to go horribly, heniously wrong. It's just a matter of how. I almost can't watch.

:lol: Oh, they have to have some drama, of course, but it might make you feel a little better to know that I've just written page 618, and it consisted of a hot, steamy sex scene between the two of them. So obivously some things go right. ;)

Thanks so much for the feedback!

Part 5

The drive from the Evans-Whitman house to Happy Hearts wasn’t a particularly long one, but it was long enough when Garret made it a point to complain the entire way there. Isabel didn’t waste any time when she pulled the car up out front. She got out and crawled halfway into the backseat to get her son out of his car seat.

“Mommy, I don’t wanna go here,” he whined. “Let’s go to the zoo.”

“We’re not going to the zoo, Garret.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because I have to go somewhere today.” She spent three or four days out of the week with him on average. She loved him, but sometimes she needed time to do her own thing.

“I wanna go with you,” he said as she lifted him out of the car.

“No, you don’t.” If he knew where she was going . . .

“I don’t like it here,” he said as she set him down beside the car. “The older boys make fun of me. They say I have clown hair.”

She slammed the door shut, making a face. “You do not have clown hair. What does that even mean?”

He shrugged.

“Whatever. If they make fun of you again, tell them to go fuck themselves.”


“Fuck,” she repeated. “You just say, ‘Go fuck yourself.’ That’ll shut ‘em up.” She took his hand in hers and led him around the back of the car towards the sidewalk. “They’re just jealous, you know. You and me, Garret . . . we’re so much better than everyone else. So much better than . . .” Her feet came to a rapid halt when she saw a familiar figure walking out of the day care. “Maria?” Isabel didn’t hesitate. She grabbed Garret and pulled him down off the sidewalk back behind their beat-up ’92 Honda Accord. She ducked down and told him to be quiet.”

“Who’s Maria?” he asked.

“Shh.” She slowly peered around the back of the car and watched as Maria checked her reflection in the mirror. She was wearing jean shorts, a yellow tank top, and sunglasses. Her hair was up in a loose ponytail. She looked pretty.


Isabel continued to watch as Maria tugged on the door to her car. It seemed to be quite an effort to get it unstuck, but finally she did. She climbed inside, started the car, turned on the radio, bobbed her head to the beat for a moment, then drove off.

Isabel leaned back against her bumper and took a deep breath. It’d been awhile since she’d seen Maria DeLuca. Last Christmas, she’d seen her in the mall while shopping for presents in a men’s clothing store, but Maria had pretended not to see her and had bolted for the exit.

“Mommy?” Garret looked at her questioningly.

She realized she’d probably scared him half to death, acting like such a paranoid secret agent. But she’d never seen Maria at the daycare before, and she hadn’t expected to see her today. “Let’s go,” she said, standing up again. She took Garret’s hand and led him inside.

“Why’d we hide?” he asked.

“Because we were playing hide and seek,” she replied quickly. “And we didn’t get caught, so I guess that means we won.” Getting caught was a horrible feeling.

He smiled at her, that adorable grin that stretched from ear to ear. “I love you, Mommy.”

“I love you, too.” She had a sweet kid. Thank God he didn’t take after his father.

Isabel stopped in the main playroom and surveyed the children. One girl stood out to her right away. Light brown hair raised up in a half ponytail, a sparkle in her eyes, purple shorts and a hot pink shirt with a picture of Miley Cyrus on it.

“Oh, hi, Isabel,” Pam, the daycare director, greeted, approaching her. “Hi there, Garret. We missed you.”

“Well, you’ll be seeing a lot more of him,” Isabel said. “I’m gonna be . . . really busy for awhile. Errands, you know.”

Pam nodded. “Of course.”

“It’s, uh . . .” Isabel glanced back into the playroom again. The little girl was bending over a box full of dinosaurs. She took out a Brontosaurus and sat down on the floor to play with it.

“Yes?” Pam urged.

She realized she’d been spacing. “Oh, it’s-it’s been awhile since I’ve been here, since we’ve been here,” she said. “I don’t even recognize some of the kids.” She watched the little girl stomp the dinosaur around on the carpet, apparently deriving some sort of satisfaction from it. “Is that Michael Guerin’s daughter?” she asked outright. She knew the answer already but figured it best to pretend not to.

“Yes, that’s Miley,” Pam said. “She’s fitting in quite well here. Isn’t she cute?”

Isabel smiled, staring at her. “She has her father’s eyes.” It was incredible how much she looked like him.

Pam gave her a questioning look.

“Oh, I’m a . . . friend of the family,” she lied. She most certainly wasn’t anything like that.

“They’re good people,” Pam said.

Well, Isabel thought, one of them is. “Hmm, I’ll just take a minute to say goodbye to my son,” she said, “and then I’ll send him in to join the others.”

“Can’t wait to spend the day with him.” Pam gave Garret a pat on the head, then went to rejoin the other kids.

Isabel knelt down in front of her son, squeezing his shoulders. “Hey, Garret, sweetie? Today’s gonna be a good day for you,” she told him. “You know why?”

He shook his head.

“You see that little girl over there?” She pointed out Miley. Miley Guerin. The pride and joy herself. “She’s about your age, and she wants to be your friend. Go say hi.”

He wrinkled his nose up, resistant. “But she’s a girl.”

“So? Boys and girls play together all the time.” She loved playing with boys, certain boys in particular. Of course, she didn’t expect her son to play in that way . . . yet. But maybe when he and Miley were in high school and in desperate need to longer be virgins . . .

“Go on,” she said. “Go say hi.”

He frowned and padded into the play room. It took him a long time just to walk over to Miley. He looked nervous. But finally, he took a Tyrannosaurus Rex out of the box of dinosaurs, sat down next to Miley, and began to play with her. Neither of them said anything to each other. They were both so little, so adorable. Isabel smiled as she watched them. Now there was a heartwarming sight.


Tess had just unlocked the door to her design studio when she heard Liz trundling up the stairs, panting for air.

“You’re late,” Tess remarked, surveying her assistant. Liz was dressed to kill in a casual maroon dress that went down to her knees. Her hair was curled and long, and her silver hoop earrings gleamed against the two big C’s on her black Chanel purse. If she only spent half as much time on her work as she did on her appearance, she would have been a great employee.

“You’re late, too,” Liz pointed out, following her into the studio.

“I’m the boss. I get to be late.” Tess tossed her purse onto her desk chair and looked around. The work was . . . not exactly piling up. Which actually wasn’t a good thing. The office of any interior designer was supposed to be messy and cluttered—it was the nature of the profession. Yet her office was nearly spotless. Small, but spotless.

“Well, I’m planning a wedding,” Liz pointed out, sitting down at her own desk. “You know how stressful that is.”

“Especially considering the groom you have.”

Liz rolled her eyes and tugged her dress down slightly. It was strapless. A few years ago, Liz never would have had the chest to hold up a strapless dress, but nowadays, it didn’t seem to be a problem. Maybe the implants had been an early wedding present from Max. Tess had to admit, they looked real.

“I don’t know why you don’t just hire a wedding planner,” she said, turning on her computer monitor. “It’s not like you and Max are hurting for money.”

“I just wanna be able to do this on my own,” Liz explained. “I’m not some spoiled little rich girl who rings a bell every time she needs something. Although I do sometimes ring a bell for breakfast. Yolanda doesn’t seem to mind.”

Tess laughed, shaking her head.


“Nothing, I was just remembering when you lived in the dorm and . . . the Budget Inn.”

Liz made a face. “There were pubes everywhere.”

“Oh, sick. Well, you’ve definitely moved up from there. You are a spoiled little rich girl, Liz. Just embrace it.”

“Spoiled little rich girls don’t work for stingy bosses who pay minimum wage,” Liz pointed out.

“Maybe I’d give you a raise if you got your ass in on time,” Tess shot back, sticking her tongue out at her. She sat down at her desk and navigated through the Valenti Designs official email account. The inbox was empty. Just great. “Or if we had any customers,” she grumbled. “Did you talk to that Jenkins guy?”

Liz bit her bottom lip, then shrugged innocently. “Oops.”

“Seriously?” It came as no surprise, but it still pissed Tess off. “You are, like, the worst assistant ever.”

“I don’t even remember who Jenkins is.”

“I designed his bedroom last year, and he got his wife pregnant, like, two weeks later. So I must’ve done something right.”

“Probably the red walls,” Liz said. “Makes it all passionate.”

Tess dialed Jenkins’s number and waited for him to pick up.

“You know, he’ll probably let you design his bathroom if you re-negotiate the price,” Liz said, taking a nail filer out of her purse. She leaned back in her desk chair and began to scrape it against her already perfectly manicured nails.

“I hate working,” Tess groaned as Jenkins’s voicemail came on. She waited for the beep, then left her message. “Hi, Mr. Jenkins, this is Tess Valenti from Valenti Designs. I apologize for not getting in contact with you sooner.” She shot Liz an angry look, but Liz wasn’t even looking at her. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m still interested in designing your bathroom, if you haven’t found someone to do it already. And if cost is an issue, I’d be willing to compromise. So give me a call at 555-2453 and let me know what you’re thinking. Have a good day, Mr. Jenkins.” Tess slammed the phone back down on the receiver and yelled, “God, this sucks! Customers are supposed to seek out designers, not the other way around.”

“At least your husband’s business is doing well.”

That much was true. Business at C4 was booming. Santa Fe had never been more artistic.

“We’re doing fine here, too,” she assured Liz. “Although if money gets too tight, I may have to fire you. Now there’s a happy thought.”

Liz didn’t even flinch.

Tess sighed and looked around her small studio. It was basically one unit in a building full of empty units rented out to small business owners. They were on the seventh floor. There was really only room enough for her workspace, Liz’s workspace, the walk-in supply closet, and a small couch in the corner, just in case she ever stayed late and needed to sleep there. But most nights, she couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Even though she enjoyed her job and was putting her college degree to good use, it wasn’t the most important thing to her. Not by a long shot.

Liz put her nail filer away and reached into her lower desk drawer to take out a large piece of poster board folded into four quadrants. She unfolded it, and Tess looked it over. There were lots of circles and numbers and names written there. “What’re you doing?” she asked, squinting. It definitely didn’t look like work.

“I’m still trying to concoct a workable seating arrangement,” Liz confessed. “I gotta keep Max’s family away from my family—they really don’t get along—but they’re disproportionate. Way more Evanses than Parkers. And I gotta keep Alex away from the bar and Isabel away from everyone.”



“There we go.” Tess smiled. Whenever that name was mentioned in Valenti Designs, which it rarely was, it was reconstructed like that. “You know, this wedding sounds like a recipe for disaster. I almost wish I was gonna be there.”

Liz’s eyes lit up. “You can come if you want.”

Tess grunted. “Liz, I said almost.”


“But look, if you want some advice from someone who’s been through it before . . . don’t build it up into something it isn’t. Your wedding isn’t your marriage. It’s ten minutes, and then it’s over. But your marriage . . . that’ll last a lot longer. Probably.”

Liz smiled. “I think I’ll leave an empty place at table fourteen for you. Just in case.”

Tess shook her head. There was no way she was going to that wedding, because there was no way it would go off without a hitch. Max and Liz’s entire relationship was based on drama. If there was no drama at the wedding, it would be unbelievable to say the least.

Liz’s cell phone vibrated in her purse. She took it out and glanced at a text message, then remarked, “I hate how Bitchabel thinks she can just tell me what to do. She texted me to pick up Garret at his daycare later.”

Tess made a face. “Isn’t she supposed to be a stay-at-home mom?”

“Apparently she’s not staying home today.” Liz shrugged. “She must have something important to do.”


Isabel stood outside the on the porch of the dilapidated two-story house she’d come to know quite well over the past year, the house with the weeds in the front yard and the board covering the front window. It was a lot like her own house, only bigger and in even worse condition.

She first rang the doorbell, but then she remembered it didn’t work anymore; so she knocked on the front door instead.

He came to the door a few moments later, shirtless. His hair was tousled, his grin inviting. When he lifted one arm to rest on the doorframe, he exposed his newest tattoo, one she hadn’t seen before. It was a snake that coiled up the left side of his body.

“Isabel Evans,” he greeted with his prominent southern drawl. “Evans-Whitman.”

“Billy Darden,” she returned, cautiously glancing over both shoulders before slipping into his house. “Long time no see.”

His eyes roamed up and down her body hungrily. “Too long.”

She set her purse down on the couch and waited for him to shut the door. The moment they were closed off from the outside world, she threw herself into his arms, crashing her mouth onto his. He tasted like drugs, and he slammed his hands underneath her shirt and unhooked her bra.

“Mmm, don’t you ever leave me here again,” she murmured, running her hands all over his chest. “I was so bored, so horny.”

He smirked and hoisted her up into his arms. She wrapped her legs around him and reached down to yank her shirt over her head. She shrugged her bra off along with it and tangled her hands in Billy’s hair, pressing his face forward so that his mouth was on her breasts. He kissed every inch of bare skin he could reach as he carried her up the stairs towards the bedroom.


A lecture hall wasn’t an ideal place for a nap, but the chairs were comfy enough, and the longer Maria sat there trying to focus on the lecture her professor was offering, the more tired she felt. Her eyelids started to flutter shut despite her knowing that she should stay awake and take notes. Beside her, Lucinda was already fast asleep, drool seeping out the side of her mouth. Maria hoped she didn’t drool.

She was about halfway asleep when an image of Michael sprang into her mind. She saw him standing in the front entryway to their house, his shirt open and blowing in the wind. He had a carton of cookie dough ice cream in one hand and a box of condoms in the other. Food and sex and Michael. She couldn’t think of anything more enticing.

“I love you, baby,” dream Michael said, his voice echoing off the walls of her mind. “You are so hot.”

She felt herself smiling, but her dream boy wasn’t done yet.

“I wanna put my hands on you.”

And all of a sudden, she couldn’t contain herself any longer. “Oh, yes!” she shouted, jolting herself awake. She remembered where she was, and she felt mortified. Everyone turned to stare at her, silent at first, and then snickering.

“Comment?” the professor asked.

She quickly tried to cover up what she’d so obviously been dreaming about. “I mean . . . yes, I agree . . . with what you just said.” Except she had no idea what he’d just said.

“You agree that kindergarten students should be taught algebra?” the professor asked for clarification.

More snickering from her classmates. Maria hunkered down her seat and mumbled, “It’s never too early to learn.”

Her professor looked at her as though she were crazy, and she tried to smile innocently. But nothing about that dream had been innocent.


“In front of the whole class? Seriously?”

“Yes!” Maria continued to scrub the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink as Michael teased her.

“During the professor’s lecture?”

“It was so embarrassing. My face was so red. I guarantee that, like, everyone knew what I was dreaming about.”

He grinned as he grabbed the dishtowel off the oven handle and dried off the dishes she’d finished washing. “You should never dream about anything else.”

“I hardly ever do,” she informed him. “God, the whole class was, like, looking at me.”

“I’ll bet.”

“I need to start gettin’ to sleep earlier or something. I can’t have that happen again.”

“It’d be pretty funny if it did.” He reached into the freezer and took out their half-eaten carton of cookie dough ice cream. “Want some?” he asked, holding it up just like he had in her dream.

“Don’t make fun of me!” she yelped, splashing him with dishwater.

He laughed and put the ice cream back.

“Don’t make fun of Mama, Daddy,” Miley mimicked from the living room. She was sitting on the floor playing with her dolls, though she looked up a lot to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos on TV.

“Are you eaves-dropping?” Michael asked her.

“What’s that?”

“Huh, apparently not.”

Maria scrubbed out the messy interior of a casserole dish and said, “Hey, Miley, why don’t you tell Daddy what you did today?”

Miley got to her feet and skipped into the kitchen. She skidded on the tile, and plowed into Michael’s leg. “I played dino . . . dino . . . di-no-saurs,” she said, struggling to get the word out. “And I made a friend.”

“What?” Maria set the casserole dish down on the dry side of the sink and drained the water. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“That’s great, Miley.” Michael rubbed the top of her head. “We’ll have to invite her over sometime. What’s her name?”

Miley shrugged.

“You don’t know her name?”

She shook her head. “Not her. He’s a boy.”

“What?” Michael shrieked. “No. No way.”

Maria laughed a little. Oh, goodness.

“Are you kidding me?” Michael threw the dishtowel up in the air exasperatedly.

“Michael.” Maria gave her fiancé a look. It wasn’t that big of a deal.

“Why’s your friend a boy?” Michael asked.

“I don’t know. He just is,” Miley answered simply. “He’s nice.”

“Well, great,” Michael grumbled. “This is just great.”

“Sweetie, we thought your new friend was a girl,” Maria said, squatting down so that she was at Miley’s level. “That’s why we’re surprised. But it doesn’t matter. Boys make really good friends, too.”

“No, they don’t,” Michael put in.

She looked up at him, only mildly amused that he was reacting this way. “Can I talk to you?” she asked.

He headed into the living room, and she followed him. Miley stayed in the kitchen, picking up the dishtowel off the floor and flapping it about.

“What’re you doing?” Maria asked Michael.

“Being the overprotective dad. Is there something wrong with that?”

“Yes, there’s something wrong with that. This is the first friend Miley’s made outside the family. We don’t wanna discourage her.”

He grunted. “Speak for yourself. That’s exactly what I wanna do.”

Maria rolled her eyes.

“She can find a girl to be friends with.”

“He’s probably a very nice boy.”

He shook his head. “No such thing.”

“Hello, you’re a nice boy.”

“Didn’t stop me from gettin’ you pregnant, though, did it? Twice.”

“Michael, she’s three years old.”

“Two years, ten months, five days,” he corrected. “But who’s counting?”

“Whatever, my point is, she’s not thinking about stuff like sex and corruption yet.”


“And I doubt this boy is, either.”

“Unless he’s older.” Michael called back into the kitchen, “Miley, how old is this kid?”

She shrugged exaggeratedly.

“Is he little like you?”

“I’m not little, I’m big,” she said, once again employing her favorite mantra.

“But is he about your age?” Michael rephrased.

She nodded.

“See, that’s good,” Maria said. “She’s gonna be fine. Just don’t freak out.”

“Maybe they won’t be friends by the time she gets older, by the time she gets her period.”

She laughed a little at his paranoia and rejoined her daughter in the kitchen. “Miley, we’re so glad you made a friend today.”

Miley smiled at her, a big, happy grin. “Go fuck yourself.”

It took Maria a moment to realize what she’d just said. “What?!

Michael charged back into the kitchen, fuming. “Miley, where the hell did you learn to talk like that? I mean, where the heck.”

“Oh my god, did Uncle Kyle--” Maria clenched her hands into fists. “I’m gonna kill him.”

“No, my friend.” Miley’s voice was soft now as though she were afraid she’d gotten in trouble.

“Your friend?” Maria echoed. “He taught you that word?”

“No, he said it to the older boys, and I heard him.”

Michael laughed angrily. “That’s it. I’m gettin’ a gun,” he declared.

“Michael, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Lots of dads have guns. It’s either that or an electric fence. Or both.”

“What’s a gun?” Miley asked.

“See, you just made it worse,” Maria informed him. She wasn’t about to explain to Miley what a gun was. Then she’d have nightmares, and then she’d want to sleep in their bed with them every night because she’d be afraid of guns in addition to monsters, and then she and Michael would never get the chance to have sex again.

“Miley, you shouldn’t say that word,” he told her.





She made a face. “I don’t know what it means.”

“It means something very bad,” Maria explained. “It’s a bad word. That’s why you should never say it.”

“Do you say it?”

“No,” she lied easily.

Michael grunted, but when she shot him a warning look, he lied right along with her. “Neither do I.”

“Miley, is your friend . . . are you sure he’s a nice boy?” Maria really didn’t want to discourage Miley’s first friendship, but at the same time, it made her extremely nervous that she’d befriended a kid who would use such bad language at such a young age.

“He’s nice,” Miley reiterated.

“Are you sure?”

She nodded.

“Because sometimes when someone talks like that, especially at such a young age, it means they’re not nice.”

Miley frowned. “I won’t talk to him again if you don’t want.”

“No, that’s not what I want,” Maria assured her. She’d read the parenting books. She knew how important this friendship would be for Miley’s development. “Will you introduce me to him the next time I take you to day care? And then we can talk about him a little more.”

Miley nodded in agreement.

“Okay. Why don’t you go pick up your toys? It’s past your bedtime.”

Miley scurried back into the living room to do just that.

“All I gotta do is get a gun license,” Michael said, talking more to himself than to Maria. “It’s that simple.”

She shook her head, smiling. “Since when am I the sane parent?” If Michael was reacting this way now, how was he going to react in twelve or thirteen years when Miley started dating? She dreaded the thought.

TBC . . .


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Part 6

Postby April » Thu Mar 11, 2010 10:28 am

Why the hell would she do that? What is Satan planning by having Garret and Miley be friends?

She sees it as a chance to worm her way back into Michael's life. :?

Wait until Maria finds out who the kid is. Oh lord, even more disturbing - wait til Michael finds out!

They are definitely not going to be happy.

It was no surprise that Billy was Isabel's lover but i have to say she can do much better than that leech. What the fuck is wrong with her? I assume she's already scheming against Maria and Michael and involved Billy in her sabotage. Otherwise I wait how you proceed with them.

Isabel hasn't had any opportunities to scheme against Michael and Maria, so what she and Billy have is not about sabotage. It's about . . . well, it's about sex. He's really a bottom-of-the-barrell guy.

Garret/Miley = My new OTP. Just sayin.

:lol: It's a little strange to ship toddlers! But they're just sort of destined to be in each other's lives because of all the problems it can cause.

I've got a weird feeling Tess'll end up at that wedding anyway. Just because you mentioned it and you're a sneaky bitch like that. But Liz didn't mark in a spot for Kyle? Boo.

If Tess ends up there, Kyle will end up there, too. ;) They're a package deal.

What on Earth kind of plan could she possibly be coming up with that involves 2 toddlers?

Right now she doesn't have any solid plan. She just thinks that a friendship between her kid and Michael's kid can't possibly be bad for her.

Please, please, please don't say that we Michael and Maria have to wait 618 pages to finally get some.

:lol: No. You do have to wait, but not that long.

It makes me happy that she's bumping uglies with Billy actually, because at least she hasn't got her claws into some other nice guy like Michael (or Alex used to be). Billy is just the type of guy she deserves though I can't for the life of me imagine what the hell she sees in him unless she's there for the drugs too.

The entire basis for Isabel's relationship with Billy is sex and feeling good. She's not there for the drugs, although she's done drugs with him before.

I can totally see them having a Grace/Karen type of working relationship where Liz is only there to escape the horror of her husband and slowly get drunk while being of no help whatsoever to Tess.

I was totally going for that Grace/Karen type of relationship, only more serious.

I once had a kid tell me that his mom and dad like to take bath times together I had to bite my tongue until blood came out to keep from laughing.

Ha! It's funny you mention that, because in this part . . .

Billy and Isabel. I guess we saw that coming. I wonder how long it's been going on.

You'll get an answer to that in future parts.

Isabel ugh! This is type of parent I always saw her has. Is she for real? Garret is so nice and she's messing him up!

It's pretty sad. Isabel really doesn't want to mess Garret up, but at the same time, she can't help herself. She's a destructive person by nature.

Liz...implants. Really? I'm interested to see what the the interaction between her and Max is like.

You'll see them interact for the first time in this part, and it's going to leave you wondering about some things.

Liz with implants?? Liz as Tess's assistant? ...could Tess and Liz be working towards a semi-friendship?

They are sort of friends, even though Tess doesn't really like Liz.

Wow Tess must be the most awsome person ever...she let Liz stay with her even after she found out that she banged her boyfriend behind her back and that the very same boyfriend raped her best friend..and now she got the big boob airhead a job?

Tess and Liz actually have a few things in common, namely that they both were under Max's control at some point (Liz sort of still is.) So they are able to relate to each other in ways. Tess is able to separate the horrible things that Max did from the things that Liz did, and while she's not able to forgive Max, she's able to forgive Liz. Even if she shouldn't.

There's some odd pairings in this fic - Isabel&Billy, Tess&Liz, Miley&Garret. Just as long as it remains Michael&Maria I'll be happy.

Well, like I told BB, on page 618, M+M are having a steamy sex scene, so be happy about that. Yes, this fic is full of odd pairings--technically Maria and Tess as friends is a very odd pairing, and that's sort of the basis for both 521 and 522. Isabel and Billy are probably the oddest pairing. I would venture a guess that that's never been done before? The idea just popped into my head to put them together for a really gross, slimy, sexual relationship, and I thought, 'That would be so diabolical! I have to do it!' :lol:

I think Isabel would absolutely love to know that Miley said it to Maria.

Of course she would! She'd be thrilled.

Liz is such a sell out, she sold her sould for some designer clothes and a pair of balloons. Having a job and being friends with Tess is not enough to keep her from being a bitch. She might as well embrace it and give Isabel a run for her money.

Exactly! But Liz is no match for Isabel and never will be.

Thank you so much for the feedback! I anticipate that some questions will arise after this part . . .

Oh, and I should probably mention that I'll be going on spring break tomorrow, which means that the updating schedule will be a little bit skewed this next week. I'll probably manage to update on Monday and Thursday of next week. When spring break ends on March 21, things will get back to normal.

Part 6

That evening, Maria filled up the bathtub with water and climbed in. Michael got in with her. He sat at the head of the tub near the faucet. She sat on the other end, mostly focused on shaving her legs. She had to have a pot of water next to the tub to rinse off her razor, though, since Michael had expressed on more than one occasion how grossed out he was whenever she rinsed the razor off in the bathtub when he was in it with her. Must’ve been a guy thing, because she never got grossed out when he left his body hair, mostly facial, in the sink.

“I think . . . maybe I overreacted a little bit,” he said slowly, contemplatively.

“You think?” Maria lifted up a patch of suds in her hand and blew it towards him teasingly.

“It’s not that I don’t want her to have a friend; it’s just . . . a boyfriend?” He shook his head.

“She’s a toddler,” she reminded him for the umpteenth time. “And he’s not a boyfriend. He’s a boy who’s a friend. There’s a difference.” At one time, he himself had been a boy who was a friend to her, but not a boyfriend.

“I guess,” he grumbled. “But then we found out he likes to drop the f-bomb, and that made me even more nervous.”

“The f-bomb,” she echoed, rolling her eyes. She raised her leg out of the water and dragged her razor across her calf, smoothing out one of the rough areas. She needed a new razor. “You know,” she said, “kids mimic their parents all the time. He probably just overheard his mom or dad say it, and then he said it, too.”

“And what does that say about the parents?”

“Oh, please. It’s not like we never say that word.”

“Not in front our kids we don’t.”

“Well, I’m sure he’s a good kid from a good family, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.” She reached over the side of the tub and shook the razor off in the pot of water, then set the razor down on the edge of the tub and sank lower in the warm water. The suds covered her entire body. “Besides,” she said, resting her head against the foot of the tub, “I know I’d hate it if someone were to judge Miley and Macy by us.”

He made a confused face. “What’s wrong with us?”

“Well, I haven’t finished college yet, and it’s embarrassing,” she lamented. “I wouldn’t want someone to look at me and say, ‘Oh, she hasn’t finished college, so she must be really stupid. So Miley must be stupid, too.’”

“No one thinks that,” he assured her.

“I hope not.” But sometimes she worried. She knew she wasn’t the best mom in the world, but she wanted to be the best that she could be in every possible way that she could be. And finishing college was definitely one of those ways.

“Alright, I’ll give this kid a chance,” Michael decided reluctantly. “But you gotta tell me what he’s like when you meet him.”

“I will,” she promised. “You’ll be able to meet him, too.” She extended her right leg so that he foot could tap lightly against his heart.

He smiled at her and said, “Come here.”

She sat up and, the water trickling off her breasts, and moved so that her back was to him. She settled in between his legs, and he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her.

“I love you, baby,” he murmured into her ear. “You’re so hot.”

She blushed, knowing that he was making fun of her in-class wet-dream again.

“I wanna put my hands on you.”

“Then please do,” she encouraged him. After three and a half years together, she and Michael were closer than they ever had been. Emotionally, at least. But she often found herself longing for that wild, out-of-control, animalistic sex they used to have. Nowadays they didn’t even have time for tame, quiet sex.

He smoothed his right hand over her stomach and nuzzled his face against her wet hair. She opened her legs wider as his hand continued downward, and when he circled his middle finger atop her clit, she closed her eyes and moaned. Michael had amazing hands, hands of an artist. He could do anything with them.

In an effort to return the favor, she slipped one hand back in between the two of them and reached down beneath the water to grasp his length in her hand. She squeezed gently.

“Fuck,” he swore, his hips instinctively bucking upward a little.

“You said a bad word,” she teased.

He chuckled. “Yeah, it happens when you . . . do that thing you do.”

“What thing?” she asked innocently, stroke her hand up and down his shaft.

That. Jesus.”

She grinned and turned so that she was facing him. She lifted her legs to rest on either side of him, and he hoisted her up onto his lap. She looped her arms around his shoulders and asked, “You got a condom?”

“Always do. Nowadays.” He smirked. He reached out over the bathtub to his pile of clothes on the floor. He sifted through them and found his jeans, and it didn’t take him long to locate the condom in his back pocket. “Aha,” he said, holding it up proudly. “I’m prepared.”

She gave him a look, and in unison they added, “Nowadays,” again.

He wriggled his eyebrows and tore open the foil package with his teeth.

“Animal,” she remarked.

“Oh, yeah.” He took the condom out of the package and examined it closely before muttering, “Oh, crap.”

“What?” That didn’t sound good.

“Look, there’s a hole.”

“Seriously?” She pouted. “That’s so disappointing.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Do not put that thing in me!” She backed away from him just slightly so that his manhood wasn’t coming into contact with her. She and Michael had proven themselves to be a very fertile couple, and they couldn’t take any chances.

“Good thing I noticed, huh?” he said.

“Yeah, or else we would’ve ended up with another . . . Macy.” She smiled. “You got any others?”

“In the drawer,” he said, motioning towards the sink. “And in my wallet. The bedroom.”

“You’ve got ‘em everywhere.”

He shrugged. “Well, you never know where it’s gonna happen. I can go get one.”

“No, don’t move.” She curled forward, holding onto him tightly, resting her head against his shoulder. It wasn’t going to happen. What else was new? But if he got out of that bathtub, Macy would start crying or Miley would start calling for him, and then even this moment would be gone. And she wasn’t ready for it to be over yet.

“We should, like, sue that condom company or something,” she suggested.

“Yeah, really.”

“Mmm.” She breathed in the soapy scent of him, enjoying the feet of his large hands splayed against her back. “Michael?” she said quietly.


“If I fall asleep, will you carry me to bed?”

“No, I’ll just leave you here,” he joked.

She smiled. “We seriously need to have a sex night this weekend. Send the kids over to Tess and Kyle and just get nasty.”

“Sounds fun,” he agreed. “I’ll check the condoms beforehand.”

“Good,” she said. “No interruptions, no distractions. No bad luck. Just you and me and sex this weekend.” She was fairly certain Tess and Kyle would agree to watch Miley and Macy both Friday and Saturday nights. It was practically their duty as godparents. “You won’t forget, will you?” she asked.

“I won’t if you won’t.”

“I won’t,” she promised. It would take a tidal wave to make her forget about sex plans with Michael. And even then . . . she’d still remember.


Isabel rolled onto her back, barely able to catch her breath. “That . . .” she panted, “was fucking unforgettable.” She cast a glance at the man beside her and grinned. “Or unforgettable fucking, I guess you could say.”

Billy grinned. He had that dazed post-orgasm look on his face, not to be confused with his dazed post-acid trip look. “You know what they say,” he drawled. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Cock grow harder, pussy grow wetter. Or something like that.”

“How romantic.” She leaned in and kissed him hungrily. The fact that nothing was romantic between her and Billy Darden was what made it work so well.

“You hook up with anyone else while I was gone?” he mumbled against her lips.

“No,” she replied truthfully.

“Your husband?”

Hell no.” She couldn’t even remember the last time she and Alex had slept together.


She grunted. “I wish.”

She saw that familiar flicker of jealousy flare up in his eyes, but it was gone in an instant.

“I used my vibrator so much, I practically broke it in half,” she said, rubbing her legs against his beneath the covers.

“Were you satisfied?” he asked.


“Are you now?”

She shook her head. “No.”

He frowned.

“Come on, Billy, you know me. I’m never satisfied.”

“Not even if it’s unforgettable fucking, or fucking unforgettable?”

She sighed and lay down on her back again, tucking the covers in beneath her arms. “So I take it you didn’t get a record deal,” she said, changing the subject to something him-related.

“No. The tour was cool, though. The headliners got a record deal.”

“Well, selfishly, I’m glad you didn’t get one,” she admitted. “I don’t want you to leave again. I need you here.”

“What for?” he asked.

She smiled. “Screwing. Occasionally talking. More screwing.”

“What else?”

“That’s about it.” She didn’t need to sugarcoat things with Billy. They were what they were, and that was that.

He cleared his throat and asked, “So where’s your kid?”

“Probably with his uncle or his dad. Both bad influences, but I’m willing to let them influence him if that means I get to spend time with you.” She crawled on top of him again, bending to press her lips to his chest. Billy was so much better looking now that he’d waxed all that hair off his chest, hit the gym a few times, and stopped putting gel in his hair. She loved his hair these days. He’d let it grow out more, and it was curlier and thicker and great to tangle her hands in when she was cumming apart.

Just as she was about to trail her mouth lower and go beneath the blankets, the door to the bedroom swung open and Billy’s roommate Lorenzo came in. Lorenzo was a friend of Billy’s and also a struggling musician. He’d lived with his parents until the age of thirty, and now, at thirty-one, he was still unemployed and useless. When Isabel had first heard Billy mention him, she’d pictured a dark-haired, dark-eyed Hispanic, but in all actuality, Lorenzo was pale, ragged, and had greasy, shoulder-length blonde hair. But he also had the biggest penis Isabel had ever seen.

“You guys want some coke?” Lorenzo asked, stepping into the bedroom without shame. He sat down on the foot of the bed with a scratched up CD in his hand. Arranged on the shiny surface were four lines of cocaine.

“Aren’t you high enough already?” Isabel asked him.

“No such thing.” He laughed and held out the CD. “Want some?”

She shook her head. “Not tonight.”

Lorenzo gave Billy a questioning look. He shook his head as well and wrapped his arm around Isabel’s waist, pulling her down to lie beside him.

“Suit yourselves.” Lorenzo shrugged and placed a simple plastic straw up his left nostril. He’d cut it so that it was about three inches long. He brought the other end of the straw down to the first line of coke and inhaled greedily. Isabel cringed. This was why she didn’t do drugs very often. It just wasn’t a pretty sight.

“Damn.” Lorenzo made a face and held his nose as though it burned.

“Save some for me. I’m gonna do it later,” Billy told him. “I’ll pay you for it.”

“Sure, man.” Lorenzo stood up and started to leave, but not before turning around and asking Isabel, “You up for two dicks tonight, girl?”

“Billy’s all the dick I need,” she informed him, although it was tempting.

“Alright, I’ll get outta your hair then.” Lorenzo stepped outside and shut the door, and Isabel could hear him snort another line on his way down the stairs. What an addict.

“Dude’s gonna kill himself if he’s not careful,” Billy remarked.

“You’re one to talk.”

“Drugs make my music better. You know that.”

“Hmm, like Kurt Cobain?”

“Yeah, Kurt Cobain.”

She grunted. Drugs certainly made the sex worse. Usually Billy was very attentive to her, always wanted to make sure she got off first. But when he was high, his own pleasure was his only concern.

“You know,” he said, threading his fingers through her hair, “as fun as our little threesomes with my roommate are, I think we should keep it to ourselves from now on.”

“You realize that means no threesomes with Lorenzo’s girlfriend, too, don’t you?” Lorenzo had been dating a girl named Verona for a few months now. She was a former stripper. Enough said.

“That’s fine,” was Billy’s response.

She frowned. “Are you getting clingy?” Because it certainly sounded like he was getting clingy. And that was bad. The moment their no-strings-attached relationship became attached to strings, she’d have to do something about it.

“No, I just missed you,” he said.

“Well, I missed you, too.” She reached down beneath the covers to pump his renewed erection and let him know just what part of him she’d missed the most. Billy was an easy guy.


Garret liked Spiderman, so he had Spiderman sheets on his bed. Max had given him those sheets for his third birthday since Isabel had bought him Batman sheets at Christmas. He didn’t like Batman.

“You comfy?” Max asked as he tucked his nephew into bed.

Garret wiped his nose and nodded.

“Alright.” Max pulled the covers up over him and said, “‘Night, buddy.” He was about to get up and leave the bedroom when Garret touched his arm and said, “Uncle Max? Will you tell me a story?”

Max frowned. A story? Did he know how to tell a story to a three and a half year old boy? “You got any books?” he asked, looking around. There were dozens of books on Garret’s bookshelves.

“Those are little kid stories,” he said. “Mommy tells me stories out of her head.”

“Really? Did she tell you the story about the forged paternity tests?”

Garret wrinkled his forehead in confusion.

Max shook his head. “Never mind.” Although that was undoubtedly Isabel’s best story. “Alright, I got something. It’s about a kid, a little boy. He’s about . . . three and a half years old. His name’s Gary.”

Garret laughed. “That sounds like my name.”

“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? So there’s this kid Gary, and he’s a really cool kid. He’s got his uncle’s good looks. His uncle’s awesome.” Max grinned. “He doesn’t just have good looks, though. Do you know what else he has?”

Garret stared up at him, wide-eyed yet sleepy.

“He’s got a superpower,” Max told him. “He can fly.”


“I know, right? So whenever he’s scared or unhappy or confused at home, he rises up into the air, and he just flies all over town. All over the world sometimes. Even into outer space.” Max stared at his nephew and watched his eyes flutter closed. It was obvious that he wanted to stay awake, but he just couldn’t. Max had always thought that Garret looked a little bit like him, but mostly, he looked like Alex. He definitely didn’t look like Michael, much to Isabel’s disappointment.

Max stroked Garret’s hair and finished up his story. “And he knows that everything’s gonna be alright. No matter what happens. And if he comes back home and he still doesn’t wanna be there . . . well, then he can just fly away again.” He remembered being a little boy himself, listening to the sounds of his parents’ unhappy marriage, wishing he could fly. Garret took after him in that respect. “He’s gonna be fine.”

Once he was sure Garret was asleep, Max headed downstairs. He was glad Garret was the only one who got to see that side of him, the side that actually cared about what happened to other people. The only other person who’d even gotten a glimpse of that side was Liz, but she was an exception. Always had been.

“Is Garret asleep?” his soon-to-be wife asked him as he came down the stairs.

“Yeah, he wanted me to tell him a bedtime story.” Max yawned. It had been a long day. He wanted to go home.

“Did you tell him one?” Liz asked.


“About what?”

“About him.” Max turned the corner and headed into Isabel and Alex’s kitchen. It was a mess. There seemed to be an ever-present mountain of dishes in sink, and the trashcan was overflowing. The floor probably hadn’t been swept in months. Maybe it was wrong of him to pass those judgments since he had a maid who did all his housework for him, but . . . Isabel didn’t have a job. The least she could do was clean once in awhile. It wasn’t beneath her.

“Hey, guys, thanks for sticking around,” Alex said, “but you can go if you want. I’m sure Isabel will be back soon.” He turned to the sink and stared at it as if he were about to start doing dishes, but he never made a move to turn on the water.

Liz cast a worried glance at Max, then told Alex, “We can stay.”

Max nodded in agreement. Last winter, Isabel had gone to a concert, said she’d needed to blow off some steam. That had left Alex with Garret for a father-son night. Unfortunately, Alex had driven to the bar, headed in for one drink at Rodeo’s, and left Garret asleep in the backseat of the car. One drink had easily turned into more than one, and the bartender had ended up calling Max to come and get him. It had been so cold that night, and Garret had been in the backseat of the car, all alone, freezing. Alex didn’t remember much about that night, but Max and Liz both remembered peering into the rear window of the car and seeing Garret crying, shivering. Ever since then, they both tried never to leave Garret alone with his father. Just in case.

“Did you get a hold of her?” Liz asked Alex.

He shook his head. “No.”

“Do you have any idea where she is?”

He grunted. “Yeah.”

Max turned around when he heard the front door creak open. Isabel came in, looking as though she wasn’t about to explain anything.

“Huh, speak of the devil,” Max muttered.

“Well, well, well, look who’s slumming it.” Isabel kicked off her shoes and glared at the both of them. “You guys miss your mansion yet?”

“You know, Isabel, you should take some pride in your home,” Liz suggested. “It’s really not that bad.”

Max nearly laughed. Yes, it is, he thought. When he’d first purchased that house for Isabel and Alex, it had been a nice space. Good upkeep, mown lawn. Not anymore.

Isabel rolled her eyes at Liz’s suggestion. “Don’t patronize me,” she grumbled, pushing past her. She went to the kitchen sink to stand beside Alex. She looked him up and down and noted, “You’re not drunk tonight.”

“Nope.” He reached into the refrigerator and took out a can of beer, popping the tab back and taking a drink.

“This is awkward,” Liz whispered to Max.

“Yeah, let’s get outta here,” he agreed. Garret was asleep now. Their job was done.

“We’re gonna go,” Liz announced. “Bye.”

“See ya,” Alex said.

“Whatever,” Isabel muttered, bending down to check her reflection in the microwave.

Liz rolled her eyes emphatically and led the way out the door. Once she and Max were outside and heading to the white Bentley parked out on the side of the street, she wrapped her fingers around his arm and rested her head against his shoulder. “Promise me we won’t be like that when we’re married,” she said.

“Please, we’re gonna have a great marriage,” he promised, though he could only promise so much. “Lots of sex.”

Lots of sex,” she agreed, reaching into her purse as her cell phone rang. “Wait a minute, it’s my mom,” she said, bringing the phone up to her ear. “Hello?”

Max unlocked the car with his keypad and climbed into the driver’s seat. He’d had a chauffeur a year ago, but he’d had to fire him. He’d had to fire a lot of people.

“Wait a minute, there’s bad reception,” Liz said, plugging her right ear with her middle finger. She walked ahead of the car to try to find a better service zone, and Max sat there and watched the conversation she was having with her mother. He didn’t have to hear it, or at least much of it, to know what was being said. He could tell by the expression on her face.

“What?” he heard her ask, and then he only saw her lips move as she whispered the word again. “What?”

I’m sorry, Liz, he thought, lowering his head. I’m really sorry.

She was silent on the drive home, looking out the window. When the gates outside their house opened up and let them in, she opened her mouth as though she wanted to say something, but then she just closed it again. It wasn’t until Max had pulled in the garage and parked the Bentley in between the Lexus and the Porsche that he asked for the confirmation of what he already knew to be true. “They’re not coming to the wedding, are they?”

She kept gazing out the window, even though there was nothing to gaze at, and mumbled, “No, they’re not.” She got out of the car and headed inside, and he followed her. On his way up the winding staircase to their bedroom, he thought back to that day five months ago when he’d set their marriage plans in motion. He’d had a bad feeling even then that something was going to go wrong. And now it had.


“I’d like to marry your daughter.”

Everything about Jeff Parker tightened. He stared at Max as though he couldn’t possibly be hearing him straight. “Excuse me?” he said, laughing lightly as though the statement were just completely absurd.

“You’re excused,” Max joked. His only response was an angry glare, so he tried to rectify. “No, I was kidding.”

“About marrying Liz?”

“About you being excused. That’s just a joke I like to make to remind people I’m a jackass.”

Jeff grunted disapprovingly.
“This is how you ask for permission?”

“Well, yeah,” he said with a shrug. What did it matter? This whole thing was just a formality anyway. He was going to ask Liz to marry him whether her father wanted him to or not. The only reason he was even asking for permission was because he was still a male chauvinist, and this was a chauvinistic tradition.

“Mr. Parker,” he started over, “in all seriousness, I’m madly in love with your daughter.”

“Yeah, ‘madly’ being the key word there.”

“I wanna be with her. Forever.” He’d never imagined himself getting married before he’d met Liz.

“I’ll consider it,” Jeff decided.

Max made a face. “You’ll
consider it? Why won’t you just say yes?”

Jeff stared at him for a long, hard while, then went over to his desk, pulled open the top left-hand drawer, and took out a magazine Max knew all too well. It was called
Corporate, and it was basically the business world’s version of The National Enquirer. Full of gossip, most of it unfounded. Bits and pieces of it true.

Max took the magazine from Liz’s father and sighed in defeat. He knew what was written in there about him, and he knew he wasn’t getting Jeff’s permission because of it.


Liz was still a silent mess when Max crawled into bed beside her. She was wearing her favorite white, silky nightgown. It was little more than a slip, but it had been expensive, and she looked beautiful in it.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized out loud, taking one of her hands in his.

“It’s not your fault,” she assured him.

“Yeah, it is. Your parents don’t like me. Can’t say I blame ‘em.”

“But I love you. And they’re supposed to love me,” she bit out angrily. “They should be there on my wedding day. My dad should be there to walk me down the aisle. But it’s not gonna happen.”

He sighed and asked, “Who else isn’t coming?”

“Basically everyone on my side of the family,” she muttered. “Except the really distant cousins who already flew in from out of state. I barely even know them. So now I have no bridesmaids, and I have no friends to be bridesmaids. No flower girl. And I just got done with that freaking seating arrangement, and now I have to do it all over again.”

He smiled at her a little. “I can get Jimmy to do it.”

“Your assistant?”


She gave in to that offer. “Fine. You think he’d be one of my bridesmaids?”

“Well, I think he’s bisexual, so it’s worth a shot.”

She managed to laugh a little despite the horrible situation. “No, that’s okay. I don’t need bridesmaids.”

“You could always ask Isabel,” he pointed out.

“I think I’d rather lay on a bed of knives.”

“Well, she’s gonna be your sister-in-law.”

“Point taken.” She sighed. “This is so not what I pictured for our wedding day. It was supposed to be a dream come true.”

“It will be,” he promised without hesitating. “Even if your parents aren’t there. I promised you a dream wedding, and that’s what you’re gonna get.” Liz didn’t talk about it, but he knew sometimes the lack of fairytale romance in their lives bothered her, and she felt envious of girls like Maria and Tess who had found their princes in Michael and Kyle. Max knew he wasn’t a prince. He had enough money to be one, but . . . he wasn’t one. He had wanted their wedding day to be that fairytale where he was a prince and she was a princess. For her sake.

“As long as I marry you,” she said, curling up beside him, “that’s all that matters.”

He held her hand tighter and hoped she meant that. Because he couldn’t give her everything.

TBC . . .


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Part 7

Postby April » Mon Mar 15, 2010 11:19 am

Okay, first off, I'm at the public library. Ew. Second, I just got my eyes dilated, so I can't see ANYTHING! It's possible that these sentences could be jibberish right now and I wouldn't even know it.

Third, thanks so much for the feedback!

Damn, do you think Tess and Kyle would be up to it - taking in Garret? A practice run in being parents for their own kids? Just saying ...

They'll get a practice run at being parents in this part, but nope, never with Garret.

I still don't get why Isabel chose Billy for casual sex. She can have any other guy so why that freaking idiot. I really thought she would go for someone who has a job and a higher salary than Alex. I'm a bit confused.

You're right, Isabel could have chosen somebody a lot richer, smarter, etc. She's with Billy right now because, like she thought in the last part, he's an easy guy. She can control him. And we all know that Isabel needs a certain amount of control in her life. She likes to be the puppet master.

Great part all around. I've never been much of a Candy/Stargazer reader - but I'm totally invested in all your characters here.

Aw, thank you! That means a lot.

Edited to add: Just watched the promo vids again and I have a question. Will there be a character death (someone who was also in 521) in this story?

Well, this is in the Alien Abyss, so you never know. I'll give you the vaguest answer I can: Possibly. (I hope that doesn't scare anyone away!)

And I have to say in this story Max is showing a small...small....microscopic...human side when it comes to his nephew and Alex.

That's all I was going for, so I'm glad that's coming across to you.

As for Isabel, it's like I said to Leila, she can control Billy. She's with him because he's easy.

It seems they may have to practice abstinence for awhile, I have a feeling Tess and Kyle will not be watching the girls for them this weekend.

Oh, they might. Baby fever is creeping up on Tess, you know. She'd love to watch the kids.

I'm very annoyed at you, and also, curious to see how else you're going to thwart Michael and Maria finally getting jiggy. Maria needs to break out the bikini and bucket again. Although I don't think that Michael will need the persuasion.

The bikini and the bucket? :lol: I can't believe you remembered that. Poor M+M. They want to get it on, but the timing never seems right.

I wonder if there was something in that magazine that we don't know about yet.

I was waiting for somebody to bring up the magazine! What's written in there is actually very important and affects a lot in this fic. It might be something you already know about, or it might be something new. (Great speculation, but it has nothing to do with the girl in the promo vid.)

Oh, April. I feel so, so bad for Garret. And why do I get the weird feeling that he is going to think of Uncle Max's story and try to fly out of his window.

Don't worry, the thought never crossed my mind!

I'm glad that Kyle and Tess are getting a nice big house that they deserve and that Kyle is loving his job. I am kind of surprised that they haven't talked about kids yet, though. Especially since Michael and Maria have two, you'd think they would have talked about it at some point. It's both cute and weird that Tess is afraid to talk about having children with Kyle. Is she afraid he'll say he doesn't want kids or something? 'Cause those are the kind of things couples tend to discuss before they decide to get married.

Kyle and Tess have definitely had conversations like, "Oh, someday when we have kids, blah blah blah..." but they haven't really ever discussed when they want to have kids. And they probably should have by now.

I think it is so darn cute that Maria blushes so much. Back in 521 that girl was all over the place, doing every guy she thought capable of giving it to her good. (So dirty) And now, she's over here blushing when Michael makes a sexual innuendo.

She's just so into him, isn't she?

It's clear with how Max was around Garret that he is capable of being a good guy. And, people are gonna hate me for saying this, but seeing how good he is with Garret as his nephew makes me think that Max would make a surprisingly wonderful father. And, I'll leave it at that.

I agree with you. Max know exactly what not to do as a parent because his own father messed him and Isabel up so much. He wouldn't be a perfect dad by any means, but right now he'd be a hell of a lot better than Alex.

Is it possible that Isabel is a better parent to their son than Alex is?

Sadly, yes. They both love their son, but Alex loves his alcohol just as much.

Michael and Maria have changed a lot. A lot! The old Maria wouldn't have let an unusable condom from letting her have wild sex with Michael. It's another example of much she's grown and it makes me a little sad because I loved old Maria.

Old Maria is still around. She just has to be a lot more responsible and cautious these days. ;)

What's up with the condoms? Birth control pills? Patch? Ring?

:lol: Maria was on the pill when she got pregnant both times before. They need to take all the precautions. (That actually happened to a friend of mine from high school. She never missed on BC pill, and she still got pregnant. And then she got pregnant with twins shortly after that. That's just bad luck if you ask me.)

Max & Liz getting married didnt expect it.. its like woah

Yep, the dysfunctional couple is heading down the aisle. Before Michael and Maria. :( I'll be the first to admit that seems a little wrong. I'm excited to post all the chapters that deal with their wedding, though. It's going to be a big event that encompasses several parts.

because i know they were both almost evil in 521 but i like max. and i like him in 522, too. So dont make him a crazy, parnoid one

Well, although I think you're in the minority of liking Max in these two fics . . . I'm right there with you. I like him, too, and I don't know why. He's fun to write.

I so hope that Michael wont do anything stupid in this one, cause Maria seems sure of everything and i cant imagine her doing any damage to her relationship.

They love each other and Michael's a smart guy, so I think if he did anything with Isabel, it would be pretty out of character considering where he's at in his life right now. :)

I'll probably try to update again on Thursday. Probably being the key word there. :)

Well, we all know how musical I can get, right? Today I'm finally stopping by with some music, the first of many "soundtrack" songs I'll suggest for this fic. And it's "Time to Pretend" by MGMT, which I think is an addictive song. Click on 8) if you want to listen to it. (The link should work. I'm sitting on a crappy library computer that doesn't play Youtube videos, so here's hoping.)

Part 7

Since Friday, was the one day of the week when Maria didn’t have to go to class, she accompanied Michael to work. That was when Michael liked the gallery the best, when his whole family was there with him.

“So you guys are gettin’ married after you graduate?” Kyle asked for clarification as he skimmed over their latest inventory reports.

“In a nutshell,” Maria mumbled. She had plopped down in the corner under a still-life painting of a broken vase done by a sophomore at the university. One of her many textbooks was open, and she was diligently reading through it.

“Good, I have plenty of time to prepare my best man’s speech,” Kyle said.

“Who says you’re gonna be the best man?” Michael joked.

“Uh, it’s common knowledge. Besides, I’m a man and I’m the best, so . . .” He shrugged. “Makes perfect sense.”

“You’re a man and you’re the best.” Maria shook her head. “That’s laughable.”

Kyle opened his mouth to offer a comeback, but Miley came running out of Michael’s office before he could. “Uncle Kyle!” she exclaimed. “Do you know what ‘fuck’ means?”

“Miley!” Maria shrieked.

She pouted. “They won’t tell me.”

Kyle smiled at his niece. “Why yes, Miley, I do know what ‘fuck’ means. In fact, just the other night, your aunt Tess and I--”

“Okay!” Michael interrupted, clamping his hands down over his daughter’s ears. “Nobody needs to hear about that. And Miley, you have to stop saying that word.”

She frowned.

“I didn’t teach it to her,” Kyle said quickly.

“She learned it from a friend,” Michael informed him.

“Huh, classy friend.”

“A boyfriend.” He grunted.

“What?” Kyle’s eyes bulged. “You’re lettin’ her date already? Is that smart?”

“A boy who’s a friend,” Michael clarified. “Don’t get me started.”

“That’s it.” Maria slammed her textbook shut and got to her feet. “It’s, like, impossible to study out here. I’m gonna go hang with Macy in the back.” She headed back to Michael’s office, and Michael gave Miley a pat on the back, urging her to go with her. Miley skipped off after her mom, and that left Michael and Kyle out in the gallery, free to openly discuss man things.

“Alright, now that they’re gone, I need to talk to you about something,” Michael started in.

“Erectile dysfunction?” Kyle guessed.

“No. But it does kind have to do with that . . . area.”

“Genital warts?”

Michael made face. “No, would you shut up?”

“Well, you said ‘that area.’”

“No, it’s—it’s . . . okay, Marty’s re-opening the Cowboy Club tonight, and Maria and I kinda wanna go. Well, I mean, Maria wants to go. I don’t really wanna . . . but it’s Marty, so I’ll go. We were kinda wondering if you and Tess would be willing to watch the girls tonight.”

Kyle nodded. “Yeah, sure.”

“And when I say tonight, I mean . . . all night.”

Kyle grinned.

“Maria and I really wanna . . . spend some time together and . . .”


“Well, yeah.”

Kyle chuckled. “Yeah, no problem. You got enough condoms?”


“Okay, just checkin’. Man, do you guys even remember how to have sex? I mean, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”

Michael crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the painting next to the broken vase still-life. This painting, though done by the same artist, depicted something very different: a young couple wrapped around each other, lost in the throes of passion. “We haven’t had sex in a whole month,” he admitted, ashamed.

“A month?” Kyle echoed loudly.

He nodded, not proud of it. “A month as of today. I know, it’s pathetic.”

“How often do you guys usually do it?” Kyle asked. “I mean, when you’re not havin’ a dry spell.”

Michael shrugged. “I don’t know. Five or six times per week.”

“Five or six?” Kyle looked . . . astounded. But then he quickly recovered and said, “Me, too. Uh, but you know . . . five or six . . . that’s nothing to frown about. You’re a man, not a machine, right?” He playfully slugged Michael’s shoulder.

“But I wanna be a machine with Maria,” he said, smiling as he thought about all the nights they had spent in the apartment doing nothing but being machines. “So, yeah, I really appreciate you takin’ care of my kids for the night.”

“Hey, no problem. You gotta take care of girl. And your . . .” He cast a glance down at Michael’s groin. “. . . boy.”

Michael rolled his eyes. It wasn’t so much the thought of sex that motivated him so much as it was the distinct thought of sex with Maria.

“So really, five or six times on average?” Kyle asked again.

“Uh-huh.” Wasn’t that what most couples managed to squeeze in during the week?

“Hmm.” Kyle nodded quietly, contemplatively, seemingly impressed.


Tess spent her afternoon sitting alone in her small studio, sketching out a living room design for customers she didn’t even have. Business was slow. Business was slower than slow. It was so slow that Liz hadn’t even bothered to show up for work that day, not that she was much help when she was there. To the outside observer, Valenti Designs would have looked like a failure. But it wasn’t a failure. It just wasn’t much of a success, either. During her first year post-college, she’d opted to work with the studio she’d spent the better part of two years interning at. But at that studio, she’d been a little fish in a big pond. She’d started up her own studio with the hopes of being a big fish in a little pond. But it seemed as though she were a little fish in a little pond instead.

Just when she was about to crumple up her living room sketch and start over, she heard someone step off the elevator. She hoped it was a customer, but instead her husband came strolling into the studio. “Hey, you,” she said, happy to see him. He was better than any customer.

“Hey,” he returned. “Should we be havin’ more sex?”

The abruptness of the question surprised her, and she wasn’t sure whether or not to laugh at it. “What?”

“Should we, as a married couple, be having more sex?”

“Uh . . .” How did she even answer that question? “If you want to. Why?”

“Because Michael--”

“Michael thinks we should have more sex?” She was so confused.

“No, he thinks he and Maria should have more sex.”

More?” They already had two kids. They could afford to tone it down a little.

“Yeah, he says he’s got condoms, though, so . . . thumbs up to him. I guess they’re having a dry spell.”

“Oh.” She and Kyle had gone through a few of those over the years. They always seemed to work themselves out. “So what does that have to do with us?”

“Well, it got me thinking about our own sex life. And I just wondered if we were having enough of it.”

She leaned back in her chair, starting to like this conversation. “Define enough.”

“Michael says he and Maria do it five or six times per week on a normal basis. Obviously not lately, but usually . . . they’re puttin’ up the numbers. Hence their daughters.”

She nodded, considering it. “Does that include oral?”

Kyle made a face of disgust. “I didn’t ask.”

“Five or six. That’s not that much.”

“It’s more than what we’re doing. And what’s our excuse? We don’t have kids holding us back.”

“Well, maybe we don’t have kids because we don’t have sex.”

“So you think we should be having more sex?”

She shrugged. “Well, maybe. I mean, you’re just so busy with work, you know?”

“Yeah. But I’m not working right now.”

She smiled. Even though it was past noon . . . they could have a nooner. “Drop ‘em,” she told him as she unbuttoned her blouse.

He grinned and scurried over to the door to shut it. Then he pulled the blinds and got to work unfastening his jeans. “Remember our honeymoon,” he said as he shoved them down his hips, “when we hardly even left the hotel room?”

She blushed. “We crammed in all of Disney World in three days, spent the other nine cramming into each other.”

He stepped out of his jeans and shoved his boxers down after them. “Let the doing it commence,” he proclaimed as he bent down and hoisted her up in his arms. She laughed as she felt herself being sprawled out atop her own desk and he climbed on top of her. More sex was just fine with her.


( 8) )

The line outside the Cowboy Club on its opening night was unending. Luckily, Michael and Maria were able to bypass everyone who was waiting and head straight inside since Marty had granted them both VIP status.

Inside the smoky, blue-lit club, the unmistakable techno beat of MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” swelled. Strobe lights flashed, occasionally illuminating the DJ up in his booth on the second floor balcony. Two bartenders were pouring drinks faster than was humanly possible, and almost everyone was out on the floor dancing. The place was so packed, in fact, that some people had climbed up onto the stage to dance. Above them, a sign lit with neon blue proclaimed, Ride ‘em, Cowboy. And indeed, judging by all the whooping and hollering up on the second floor, there was some definite riding going on.

“Wow,” Maria said, looking around. She pulled up on her red, strapless dress and joked, “I in no way stick out like a sore thumb.” From what she could see, she was about the only female there.

“Marty sure put a lot of work into this place,” Michael remarked, glancing around as well.

“Yeah, just a couple days ago, there was still so much to be done. But I should’ve known he’d pull it off.”

All of a sudden, Marty came up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not like I had anything better to do.”

“Marty!” She threw her arms around her brother and hugged him. He had pulled his hair back in a ponytail tonight and was wearing a tight-fitting, V-neck t-shirt and jeans. He looked very stylish and put-together.

“Hey, bitches,” he said, reaching behind Maria to unbutton the top button Michael’s shirt for him.

“The place looks great,” she told him.

“Thanks.” He gave Michael a questioning look and asked, “You been hit on yet?”

“Uh, no.”

“Well, give it time.”

Maria laughed at the semi-horrified look that came across Michael’s face. “I’ll protect you,” she promised, before returning her attention to her brother. “So what about you?” she inquired. “Anyone catching your eye?”

“Gotta say no,” he replied. “All I do is look around and see a bunch of not-Francises. Plus, I’m really busy trying to make sure everything runs smoothly tonight.” He cast a glance over his shoulder at the bar. Two middle-aged guys were arguing about something, and it looked as though it were getting pretty heated. The bartender was hurriedly waving Marty over. He groaned. “And just as I say that . . .” He groaned and slipped back through the crowd to take care of the situation before it escalated out of control.

“So he’s . . . doing okay,” Michael remarked.

“He’s hanging on by a thread,” Maria said, knowing for a fact that was true. “Hopefully this club will be really good for him.”

“Looks like a pretty successful opening night to me.”

She took his hands in hers and smiled up at him. “You know what could make it even more successful?”


She gently pulled him out onto the dance floor. “Dance with me.”

He groaned.

“Come on,” she urged, “it’s either that or karaoke.” She doubted they could manage karaoke on opening night, though, not with so many people up on the stage.

He followed her out onto the dance floor, and even though dancing was one of the few things he wasn’t good at, he did it to the best of his ability. Over the years, his rhythmic abilities hadn’t improved much, but his willingness to dance with her had.

She held his hands in hers and swayed from side to side, letting the music pulse through her, feeling like a kid again. Michael lifted one of her arms in the air and twirled her around. She laughed as she almost stumbled off one of her high heels. She bumped into the guy behind her, apologized to him, then moved in close to Michael again, hooking her fingers into his belt loops to pull him close. She wanted to feel every inch of his body against hers in anticipation for tonight. Like foreplay. She loved to dance almost as much as she loved to have sex. Almost.

His hands pressed against the small of her back as her hands snaked up his chest to loop around his neck. He bent his head and mated his forehead against hers as they danced closed together, neither one of them particularly aware that there was anyone else in the club until Marty came up to them and said, “First off, sorry to interrupt the dance sex. Second, everyone’s disappointed you’re not gay, Big Boy. Third, some guy at the bar wants to meet you.”

“Me?” Michael rolled his eyes. “You tell him I’m straight?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Marty said, motioning towards Maria. “No, I think it’s about some art thing.”

“Mmm.” Maria pressed a kiss to the underside of Michael’s jaw and said, “Let’s go.” They had all night to dance.

Marty led them over to the bar where one of the two men who had been arguing was still seated. He was a weird looking guy, obviously in his forties, but he looked like he was still trying to be in high school. He had jet-black, side-swept hair, pale skin, dark eyeliner, and piercings in his nose, ears, and on his eyebrow. He looked like a stereotypical gothic. It was an unusual look for a gay guy.

“Michael, this is . . . sorry forgot your name,” Marty said as he attempted to introduce them.


“Right. Cyrus, this is Michael.”

“Hey,” Michael greeted. “Oh, this is Maria.”

“Hi.” She gave him a little wave, but he completely ignored her.

“Uh-huh, I like to paint the darkness of life at the edge of the abyss,” he told Michael, “along with the imprisonment of hope forced upon us by the government.”

What the fuck? Maria thought, her mouth gaping slightly.

Michael just nodded and tried to smile. “That sounds nice.”

“I know you own that little gallery.” Cyrus tried to hand Michael a drink, but Michael shook his head and declined. “I’d like to talk to you about selling my work.”

One of these freaks, Maria thought, disgruntled. This guy had interrupted their sexy dance for this?

“Um, well, you can bring a portfolio into the gallery next week, bring in some of your pieces, if you can,” Michael suggested. “But I’m actually on a date right now, so . . .”

Cyrus smirked and handed Michael a small book full of pictures. Pictures of his paintings. A portfolio.

Michael frowned. “You want me to look this over right here?”

Cyrus shrugged. “Sure, sexy.”

Michael cringed. “Sexy.”

Maria laughed. It was a club full of gay men. It had only been a matter of time before he was hit on. “Go ahead and look through it,” she said. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom.”


She slipped through the crowd and made her way behind the stage to the bathroom. There was a long line outside the men’s door. There was no one outside the women’s. She smirked and strode right inside.

“Hair,” she said as she checked her reflection. She had spent an hour curling her hair and wanted to make sure it stayed looking just right. “Check. Body . . .” She sucked in her stomach, still a bit aggravated by those five pounds she had yet to lose. “Check-ish. Make-up . . .” She leaned in towards the mirror and smacked her lips. “Check.” She smiled at her reflection and proclaimed, “I am so getting laid tonight.” And what great laying it would be. Michael was amazing at missionary, and she had practically perfected girl-on-top.

When she came out of the bathroom a few moments later, she literally ran into the same guy she’d bumped into while dancing. “Excuse me,” she apologized as she tried to move around him, but he side-stepped in front of her.

“Hey,” he said, looking her up in down with his dark eyes.

“Hey,” she returned confusedly. Did she know him? She didn’t recognize him.

He raked one hand through his thick, brown hair and introduced himself. “I’m Alejandro.”

“Maria,” she returned. Was he one of Marty’s former flames? Should she have remembered him from somewhere?

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a gay men’s dance club?”

“Oh.” She cringed. Was he one of those guys, one of those guys who went to gay clubs just to meet a straight woman? “My brother’s the owner,” she informed him.



“That’s cool. You wanna dance?”

She laughed a little, not sure how to feel about being hit on. It was flattering, but unnecessary.

“I’m bisexual,” he explained as though she hadn’t already guessed.

“Yeah, I’m engaged.” She held up her left ring finger for him to see the small diamond.

But that didn’t deter him. “Bonus. Maybe you, me, and your fiancé can have a threeway.”

“Ew.” She shook her head and pushed past him, heading back out into the club. But he followed her.

“Come on,” he urged, grabbing her arm.

She jerked her arm away from him. “Don’t touch me.”

“I just wanna dance.” He reached for her again.

“Stop it!” she yelled as foggy memories of unwanted hands filled her mind.

“Come on, bitch.” He pulled her to him, and she could smell the heavy scent of alcohol on his breath.

“I’m not your bitch!” She pushed him away and had just given him a hard slap on the face when Michael came charging through the crowd. “Get off her!” he roared, shoving Alejandro backwards. He curled his hand into a fist and swung at him, causing him to stumble backwards.

“Michael!” Maria shouted.

Alejandro glared at Michael, then slammed forward, knocking Michael to the ground.

“Michael!” Maria shouted again. She could hear the sound of someone getting hit.


“Ow,” Michael whimpered as Maria sat with him at the kitchen table and stroked the bruised skin around his left eye. It hurt like hell.

She shook her head. “I can’t believe you got into a bar fight.”

“I can. That guy was all over you.” It made his blood boil just to think about it.

“Yeah, what else is new?” she grumbled, pressing a towel-covered icepack against his swelling injury.

“I just thought, since we were at a gay club, it wouldn’t happen. What was with that guy anyway?”

“He was bi,” she explained.

“He was an ass.” He didn’t regret hitting him for one second, not when it concerned Maria.

“Have you ever had a black eye before?” she asked.



“Fifth grade.” He laughed a little, remembering the embarrassment of how he’d received it. “I was climbing off the bus, and I tripped and fell on the cement. Luckily my face cushioned the fall.”

“It’s definitely a new look for you.”

“Is it sexy?” He hoped it was sexy, but it made him feel like Frankenstein.

“Not really,” she replied honestly.

“What? How is it not sexy?”

“It’s a black eye.”

“It’s a defense of your honor.”

“Well, when you put it like that . . .” She smiled and leaned in to kiss him. He wanted to kiss her back, but his lower lip had been cut in the fight, and it was hurting, too. He winced and pulled away.

“What?” she said.

He pointed out the cut but quickly assured her, “It’s fine, though. Fit for kissing. Let’s try again.” He puckered up.

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay, then let’s just go upstairs right now.”

She glanced into the living room at the stairs, but she didn’t move a muscle.

“We’re not goin’ upstairs, are we?” he quickly realized.

“Not to have sex.”

“Why not?” That was what this Friday night was supposed to be all about. “I know you want to.”

“Of course I want to,” she acknowledged, “but you’re wounded. You’re like a wounded love soldier. Look, look at your hand.”

He held up his right hand and examined the dark coloring around his knuckles. “It’s just bruised,” he said, folding and unfolding his fingers. “I can still touch you with it.”

“Are you sure it’s okay?”

“Yes.” Maybe if she’d let him touch her, she’d realize just how okay it was.

“Because you need your hand, not just for horny stuff, but for artsy stuff, too.”

“It’s fine,” he assured her. His hand was yearning for some horny stuff, although he had to admit, a bar fight kind of ruined the night’s mood.

She stroked her thumb over his knuckles and said, “Thank you for taking care of me. But . . .”

“I know, you can take care of yourself,” he filled in. He’d seen Maria fend off dozens of loser guys over the years, but sometimes they wouldn’t take no for an answer, and then how could he not intervene?

“We can take care of each other,” she said, taking the ice pack from him, setting it back down on the table. She moved forward and swung her right leg over his lap, straddling him. He reached up and tucked her hair behind her ears, so in love with her. She looked beautiful in her red dress. It wasn’t new, but she made it look that way.

“You think we should go get the girls?” she asked.

“Ah, not yet,” he said, content to just cuddle with her for awhile. “I’m sure Tess and Kyle have everything under control.”


Kyle tripped over one of Miley’s Barbie dolls, causing his big toe to bend at an excruciating and unnatural angle. “Tess!” he yelped, grimacing.

She ran out into the living room, a panicked look on her face. “What?”

“I can’t take this,” he said, hopping towards the couch on one foot as toe throbbed. “I’m gonna pull my hair out. She’s out of control!”

“She’s not out of control; she’s . . . rambunctious,” Tess argued.

“And the difference?” Kyle flopped down on the couch, feeling as though he’d spent his entire night being hit repeatedly by a freight train. And that freight train was an adorable little girl who wasn’t even three yet. “Look at this mess,” he groaned as he surveyed the toes littering their living room. “I don’t get it. She’s never like this for Michael and Maria.”

Tess collapsed beside him, half of her hair falling out of its ponytail. “That’s because they’re her parents. And we’re not. She knows we spoil her rotten, so she knows she can get away with anything.”

“Even this?” he asked, motioning exaggeratedly to their mess of a living room. He couldn’t even see the floor.

She nodded. “Even this.”


“Because she’s little and she’s cute and she’s our niece. I can’t discipline her.”

Kyle was about to impart a lecture on the importance of consistent discipline when Miley ran out into the hallway and exclaimed, “Look, Aunt Tess! I made paint!”

Kyle looked over his shoulder and just shook his head when he saw the red and green paint covering Miley’s hands, face, and clothes.

“Oh my god!” Tess gasped, her mouth gaping as she sprung from the couch and went to attend to the little girl. “Miley, where did you find all that paint?”

“In there,” Miley replied, pointing down the hallway.

“Where?” Tess rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

Have fun with that, Kyle thought, utterly exhausted. He’d gotten Macy to go to sleep ten minutes ago. His job was done.

“It’s in your hair? Oh my god!” Tess shrieked, lifting Miley’s light brown strands in her fingers. She grabbed Miley’s paint-covered hand and hurriedly led her up the stairs.

Kyle lay down on the couch when he heard the upstairs shower start up. He draped his right forearm over his eyes, feeling fairly certain that he’d never wanted to go to sleep as badly as he did in that moment. And that was exactly what he intended on doing. Right there on that couch, he was going to get some much-needed rest. Tess had the Miley situation under control. She was better with kids than he was.

Just as he was starting to feel relaxed, the doorbell rang.

“Kyle, will you get that?” Tess called from upstairs.

He groaned and forced himself to his feet. He practically had to swim through the toys on the floor, but once he got to the door and opened it to find Michael and Maria on the other side, he felt engulfed by relief. “Oh, thank God,” he said dramatically.

“Hey, Kyle,” Maria greeted, apparently holding in laughter. “Rough night?”

“You could say that.” He noticed the black circle surrounding Michael’s eye and asked, “What happened to you?”

“Long story,” Maria answered for him.

He shrugged. “Bar fight.”

“Apparently not that long.”

Kyle’s eyebrows rose in interest. Michael Guerin . . . bar fight? That had only happened once before, and there had been a loser named Billy and some baby mama drama involved.

“We figured we’d come pick the girls up since our sex night is no longer sexy,” Maria explained.

“Not much sexier around here,” Michael remarked, stepping inside. He pushed some of Miley’s stuffed animals aside with his foot and asked, “What the hell did you guys feed her?”

“Sugar,” Kyle replied, “and obviously way too much of it.” It had been Tess’s idea to give her the ice cream, because they just had to spoil her.

“Is Macy upstairs?” Michael asked.

“Yeah, she’s finally asleep.”

“I’ll go get her.” Michael headed upstairs, and Kyle trudged back to his spot on the couch. Maria came inside and hovered around him, sitting down on the arm of the couch as she talked to him.

“So, Kyle. What went wrong?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “We’ve taken care of her before. She’s never been this wild.”

“Well, you know how she never went through the ‘Terrible Twos?’ It could be that she’s gearing up for the ‘Terrible Threes.’”

“Yeah, good luck with that.”

Maria laughed. “No, it was the sugar. And probably the fact that this was her first time spending the night in your new house. She gets excited.”

“I can tell.”

“This is good practice for you, though.”

“Or a good deterrent,” he muttered. How was it that spending the night babysitting two little kids dissolved any and every desire he had to ever have sex again?

“Doesn’t hurt to be prepared, though,” Maria pointed out. “You know, whenever it happens for you and Tess, it happens.”

“Hmm.” He draped his arm over his eyes again, still searching for that elusive relaxation. After tonight, he was in no hurry for Tess and himself to become parents.


“I just wanted to be like Daddy.”

Tess smiled as she wrapped a warm, fuzzy, hot pink towel around Miley’s little shoulders. “Yeah, well, your daddy doesn’t put paint on his own clothes and his own hair,” she pointed out, kneeling down in front of her. “At least not intentionally.”

Miley looked ashamed. “I’m sorry,” she apologized quietly.

“It’s okay,” Tess assured her. “You’re adorable.” She leaned forward and gave Miley a big, exaggerated kiss on the cheek, exclaiming, “Mwah!” as she did so.

Miley giggled, and her face lit up when Michael appeared in the doorway. “Daddy!”

“Hey.” Michael came into the bathroom, holding Macy in his arms. “I’m afraid to ask,” he said, motioning towards the streaks of red and green in the bathtub.

“She got artistic,” Tess explained.

“Like you, Daddy!”

“I see.”

“I’m sorry,” Tess apologized as she used a hand towel to dry Miley’s hair. “I should’ve been watching her more closely.” She’d been keeping a close watch on her the entire night, and then the one time she wasn’t looking, Miley of course got into something she shouldn’t have. At least she hadn’t eaten the paint.

“Don’t worry about it,” Michael assured her.

Tess narrowed her eyes in confusion as she stared up at him. “What happened to your eye?”

“Oh, I . . . fell on top of someone’s fist,” he answered carefully.

“Oh.” She frowned. Michael, fighting? There were two words that usually didn’t belong in the same sentence.

“Are you gonna be ready to go home?” Michael asked his daughter.

“No! Sleepover!”

“But your mom and I came home early so you could come home with us.”

Miley pouted.

“She can spend the night here,” Tess offered. “It’s fine.” As rambunctious as she was, Tess really didn’t mind having her around.

“I think Kyle’s exhausted, though,” Michael pointed out.

“Oh. Okay.” She supposed she should give him a breather. “Some other night then. Okay, Miley?”

Miley nodded excitedly.

Michael smiled at her. “You never get tired of babysitting, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” she admitted, trailing her fingers through Miley’s soft, wet hair. “In fact, I kinda love it.”

TBC . . .


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Part 8

Postby April » Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:53 am

My spring break is sadly winding down. I'll update again on Sunday, and the updating schedule will get back to normal. On Sunday, the Max/Liz wedding parts will start up, which should be interesting for everyone. Their wedding is going to encompass quite a few chapters, I think.

Krista: Lord almighty, you've managed to dethrone Leila and Ellie as FIRST! :lol:

That's actually pretty funky, because I've been on BC for 6 years now. No babies for me.

Same here. Let's count our blessings.

Finals week has started for me. After that I will have my Bachelor's Degree! Then maybe I can sit in front of my laptop and come up with ideas for Friendly Encounters. I also don't want to post a new part until I've written a decent amount so that this long hiatus doesn't happen again.

Wow, that's so cool that you'll have your degree. I have to make it through another year yet, and I'm older than you. :roll: I hope you'll get some massive inspiration for Friendly Encounters, because I love that fic. It always puts a smile on my face. Feel free to bounce ideas off me if you need to.

Sexy part. A lot of sex talk but not sex doing. Bummer!

Yep, that's a little something I like to call "the tease." ;)

I adore Miley.She's so cool. Asking what 'fuck' means and she asked Kyle. Kyle...the guy who found out the meaning a few years ago.

:lol: Yeah, Kyle's the wrong person to ask about anything sex or reproduction-related.

I think Kyle's attitude about not wanting to be a parent after one night of sitting for Miley and Macy is such a bad omen for Tess....I have a feeling he's not going to agree to children for a long time if ever.....hope I'm wrong, poor Tess

Kyle wants to have children someday . . . but Tess is getting to the point where she wants to have children NOW. :?

Glad you got to update. You're so kind going out the library blind and all.

:lol: After about fifteen minutes of staring at the computer screen, the dilation started to wear off, so it's all good!

I feel like this baby issue is building with Tess and Kyle. Tess would make a great mom. I hope she will be able to and it's nothing physically wrong with her.

Tess would definitely make a great mom. Now it's just a matter of when/if she'll get the chance.

Seems like there's trouble on the horizon for Tess and Kyle. I think the problem is that Kyle is still pretty immature and Tess is an adult.

Exactly, I think you hit the nail on the head there. Buying a house, getting married, starting his own business . . . those were all steps Kyle has taken to become more mature, but Tess is still miles ahead of him.

you big TEASE.


Maiqu: Marty needed that good club opening to boost his spirits a bit!

UGH! Still no loving for my M & M duo? I can't wait until page 618!

I absolutely swear on my life that you they won't have to wait until page 618. ;)

I love how much detail you give the side stories--Marty, Ed and Amy--it adds a layer of believability to your story for sure

Aw, thank you! I really wanted this world to feel believable. Ed and Amy are going to have a fully-fleshed out story as we go on that should be pretty interesting.

Poor Michael.....he's going to have a bad case of blue balls before this story is over

I think he's already got 'em. :lol:

Tess's clock has started to tick and poor Kyle has NO idea what he's in for now.

Yep, right now, Kyle's completely oblivious.

Hate to say it but it seems like Max and Liz are the only couples on the same page at the moment. Gasp!

Weird, isn't it? Although even that will change in this part.

Thanks as much as ever for the feedback. It's so appreciated.

Part 8

The next day, Liz stood outside the front door to the Whitman household, swallowing her pride as she prepared to ask Isabel for help. She wouldn’t have been there had she not been under a major time crunch and had no other options.

“Oh my god,” she groaned, bravely knocking on the door. She waited, listening to the sounds of Garret’s little footsteps as he padded towards the door. He greeted her with a big smile.

“Hi, Aunt Liz!” he exclaimed before catching his mistake. “Oops, I mean Liz.”

She smiled back at him, wishing Isabel would allow him to think of her as his aunt. That was what she was, or at least what she was going to be once she became Mrs. Max Evans. “Hi, Garret,” she greeted him. “Is your mom around?”

“She’s upstairs.” Garret ran back into the living room and flung himself down on the couch. He was watching Saturday morning cartoons on TV and eating candy for breakfast.

Liz stepped inside, wiped her shoes off on the welcome mat, and shut the front door. “Are you all ready to be my ring-bearer tomorrow?” she asked the little boy.

“Uh-huh.” His eyes never left the television screen. “I practiced hard.”

“That’s good to hear. I’m gonna go talk to your mom, alright?”

Garret nodded, and Liz headed upstairs. At the end of the hallway, the door to Isabel’s bedroom was ajar, so Liz pushed it open and slipped inside. Isabel was sitting in front of her dresser, staring at her reflection in the mirror as she applied her mascara. She was only wearing a lacy white bra and matching underwear.

“Wow, you’re half-naked and self-absorbed,” Liz remarked. “What else is new?”

Isabel smirked, her eyes never leaving her own reflection. “Don’t hate me because my boobs are real.”

Liz self-consciously folded both her arms across her chest. “I haven’t even had any work done,” she lied. “Padded bras.”

“Right.” Isabel stashed her mascara in the top right-hand drawer of her dresser and then stood up, walking over to her closet. She reached inside and pulled out a gold, silk chiffon bathrobe embroidered with flowers on the sides. Obviously the garment had cost Alex an entire month’s worth of earnings. “What’re you doing here?” she asked impatiently as she tied the robe around her waist. “Besides wasting my time.”

Liz rolled her eyes. “I need you to do me a favor.”

“I don’t do favors.”

“Well, you should. Max and I have done a lot for you and Alex over the years.” Actually, it had been Max and his money who had helped Isabel and Alex out, for the most part, but . . . whatever. “I need you to be my maid of honor.”

Isabel’s mouth dropped open, and she smiled. “Get out.”

“No, I’m serious.” Liz swallowed hard, hating that it had even come to this. “Due to some . . . circumstances, most of my family isn’t gonna be at the wedding. And that includes all my bridesmaids. So I need you to step up for me the way I did for you when you got married.”

“That was a shotgun wedding,” Isabel pointed out. “Shotgun post-birth.”

“Well, this might as well be a shotgun wedding, considering how last minute it’s all turned out to be.” Liz sighed. This wasn’t at all how she had envisioned her perfect day. Her cousin Lacey was supposed to have been her maid-of-honor, but . . . Lacey was treasurer of the Parker family’s We-Hate-Max club.

“And I’m supposed to do this out of the goodness of my heart?” Isabel scoffed.

“What goodness?” Liz knew for a fact there was no goodness in Isabel’s heart whatsoever, and it was possible that she didn’t even have a heart. Maybe she had a very technologically advanced machine pumping away in her chest instead. “No, you’re supposed to do this because your son’s the ring-bearer, and if you’re my maid of honor, you can come to the wedding and see all his hard work pay off.”

Isabel twirled the tie on her bathrobe around in a circle, seemingly considering it. “Let me see the dress before I make a decision,” she said.

“I don’t have time to fit you for a dress. You can wear whatever you want, just so long as it’s purple.”

Isabel made a face. “Because I have so many purple dresses to choose from.”

Liz reached into her purse and took out her checkbook. “Fine, then go out and buy one,” she said, scribbling out a check for three-hundred dollars. “Preferably lavender. That goes best with the color scheme.” She handed the check to her future sister-in-law, and Isabel’s eyes lit up when she saw it.

“I promise to look ten times hotter than you,” she vowed, taking the check from Liz, touching every inch of it with her greedy fingers.

Liz ignored that remark and said, “Well, thank you with all sincerity for filling in at last minute. It means a lot to me.”

“But it has nothing to do with you, Liz. I just want a new dress.”

Bitch, Liz thought. You’re such a miserable bitch.

“So tell me, why’s the fam not coming? Sounds scandalous.”

Liz shrugged. “They don’t like Max.”

“Imagine that.”

“They don’t want me to marry him. I guess this is their way of boycotting. But nothing’s gonna stop me.”

Isabel nodded. “A bound and determined bitch. I get that.” She folded the check in half and stuffed it down in her cleavage. “But do you ever think they’re right, that maybe you shouldn’t marry Max?”

Merely a minute into her maid of honor duties, and already Isabel was planting seeds of doubt. She really sucked at this. “No. I love him,” Liz replied. “And he loves me.”

“Romeo loved Juliet,” Isabel noted, “and we all know how that turned out.”

Liz shuddered inwardly. Isabel always knew exactly what to say to make someone feel uncomfortable. But she and Max were going to have a much happier ending than Romeo and Juliet. She was sure of it.


When Liz walked in the front door, Max was waiting for her . . . along with Jimmy and three women who worked for Evans Hotels. Liz stopped just beyond the front door and stared at them in confusion.

“So,” Max said, “what do you think?”

“About . . . them?” she asked slowly.

He nodded.

“I think . . . I don’t know who they are.”

“Your bridesmaids,” he informed her. “This is Alice, your maid of honor.” He squeezed the arm of the woman closest to him, the chubby one, and she smiled meekly. “And Yvette,” he said, walking behind the tall girl in the middle. “And . . . this lovely young woman.” He stood beside the girl on the far right and admitted, “I don’t remember her name.”

“Daisy,” she reminded him.

“Daisy.” He smiled. A bridesmaid named Daisy. It was practically cliché. “They work for me,” he explained.

“Oh.” Liz fake-smiled, nodding continuously. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

He stepped aside with her, standing with one foot on the bottom of the staircase, his hands proudly on his hips as he awaited his thank you.

“They won’t do,” she said.

“Jimmy, cancel these three,” he called out to his assistant. “Bring in the girls from accounting, the skinny one, the furry one, and the one with the mustache.”

“Uh, no, Jimmy, don’t bother,” Liz told him.

“What’s wrong?” Max asked. He thought she’d be relieved to know that these women were willing to step up. It wasn’t as though they had much choice since he was their boss.

“They’re strangers to me,” she explained.

“No, they’re not. I just introduced you.”

“I don’t need hired bridesmaids.”

“Um, I hate to break it to you, but yes, you do.” He didn’t mean to sound insensitive, but in twenty-four hours, she was walking down the aisle, and she was going to feel bad if she had no females standing beside her.

“Isabel agreed to be my maid of honor,” she said, “which is . . . sucky, but better than nothing. And I don’t need any other bridesmaids.”

“But I have three groomsmen. It’s gonna look weird.”

“I know, but at this point, I really don’t care.” She smiled weakly and went to stand in front of Alice, Yvette, and Daisy again. “Thank you, ladies, for your generosity, but we won’t be requiring your services after all,” Max listened to her say.

He sighed heavily, feeling as though he’d let her down again. Alex was his best man, but he supposed he could tell the other two groomsmen to fuck off. One of them was Jimmy, and the other was the guy who headed his struggling PR department. They wouldn’t care.

Or maybe there was someone else he could talk to about the bridesmaid situation.


Tess only went to her studio that afternoon because Kyle had gone to work that morning. She figured she might as well get some designs done, even though she had no customers to design for. She always designed best in her studio.

She heard the door creak open and someone come inside, but she didn’t even look up. “Sorry, we’re closed,” she said as she put the finishing touches on a sketch of a nursery.

“I figured.”

Her head whirled around as she instantly recognized the voice. She stared at Max as he stood in the doorway, unaccustomed to seeing him there.

“You haven’t been open to me for a long time.” He grinned, always the pervert.

“What do you want, Max?” she snapped. “And don’t give me the ‘Oh, so many things’ spiel. Why are you here?”

He stuffed his hands in his pockets and sauntered towards her. “I’m here for Liz.”

“Well, she’s the world’s flakiest part-time employee, and she’s hardly ever here, so . . .”

“I didn’t say I’m here to see her; I said I’m here for her,” he pointed out, sitting down on the edge of her desk. “It’s all about the subtleties, Tess.”

“Good to know you’re as annoying as ever.”

“I’m not trying to be.” He kept a straight face for only a moment before he started to laugh. “Who am I kidding? I’m always trying to be.”

She slammed her sketchbook face down on the desk. “Seriously, Max, either talk or get out.”

He headed over to her fabric table and picked up a long strip of royal blue cloth. “Good for you,” he said, draping it around his neck like a scarf, “starting up your own business. Doesn’t exactly appear to be booming, though.”

“Max . . .” If she’d had a little more muscle to her, she would have personally thrown him out the window. They were on the seventh floor of the building. The fall would have been entertaining.

He unwrapped the scarf and dropped the fabric back down onto the table again. “Liz’s family isn’t coming to the wedding,” he muttered hurriedly. “I need you to be a bridesmaid.”

Tess’s eyebrows shot up. “Come again?”

Max smirked. “That’s what she--”

“Oh, that’s what she said—Max.” She wasn’t in the mood for stupid jokes. “Say it again, because it sounded like you were asking me to--”

“Be her bridesmaid.”

“Do that. Oh, god.” She pushed her chair back from her desk and stood up, feeling . . . unsettled. It was just such an odd request considering the love triangle they’d all once been a part of. “No,” she decided. It was just too weird. He gave her a pleading look, but she remained steadfast. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s creepy. You two had an affair while you were dating me. And she’s a pain in the ass to deal with.”

“Didn’t stop you from giving her a job,” he pointed out.

“I may be her boss, but I’m not her friend.”

“But you’re the closest thing she has to a friend. She needs you to do this for her.”

“Then why isn’t she here herself?”

Max shrugged. “Embarrassed. Wouldn’t you be if your entire family sat out your wedding on account of dislike for the groom?”

“Well, luckily Kyle is likable, so I didn’t have that problem.”

“But what if you had? Just put yourself in her shoes,” he urged.

She shifted uncomfortably. She didn’t want to be in Liz’s shoes . . . no matter how expensive and fashionable they were.

“You loved your wedding day, didn’t you?” Max asked. “Happiest day of your life?”

“Of course.”

“Doesn’t Liz deserve that, too? Despite whatever she’s done in the past, doesn’t she deserve this one perfect, dream come true of a day?”

“It can’t be a dream come true without her family there,” Tess informed him. He was fighting a losing battle.

“But it’ll be better if you’re there,” he countered. “She’ll never say it to your face, but she really likes you, Tess, and it’d mean a lot to her if you’re there.”

Tess studied him cryptically, so used to searching for ulterior motives whenever he was concerned. But she could sense his sincerity, and it was a sincerity he hadn’t possessed four years ago. “I’ll think about it,” she said.

“Don’t think about it; agree to it.”

She gave him an exasperated look.

“The wedding’s tomorrow. I need an answer now,” he said. “Come on, it won’t be so bad. Kyle’s gonna be there.”

She remembered how crazy she thought Kyle had been to accept Liz’s wedding invite, but even though they weren’t close anymore, they’d been friends ever since childhood.

“You two could slut it up at the reception.”

Tess laughed a little. “Well,” she said, “we are trying to have more sex.”

“Incentive, see? And as far as the ceremony itself, you’re not the maid of honor, so you won’t have to give a speech. Just . . .”

“Stand still, look pretty?” she filled in. Max had pretty much ordered her to do that back when they’d been dating.

Max smiled. “Exactly.”

She sighed. This wasn’t exactly something she wanted to do, but she sort of felt obligated since Liz had no one else. “Where’s the church?” she asked.

He huffed. “You think I’m gettin’ married in a church?”

“Oh, that’s right, vampires aren’t allowed in there.”

“Well, actually, it is a church, but it’s a church within my hotel,” he explained. “So it’s not really all that pure.”

“Why do you have a church in your hotel?”

“‘Cause I’m a big sinner?” He shrugged and reached into the interior pocket of his suit jacket. He pulled out a wedding invitation, smirking as though he’d known this entire time that she would agree to his proposition. “All the information’s right there,” he said. “Kyle should already have it. Wear a purple dress.”

“A what?”

“A purple dress. Lavender. Color scheme or something. I don’t know.”

“You so owe me for this,” she informed him.

“Good thing I’m rich then.”

She rolled her eyes at his lack of modesty.

“Can you think of anyone else who could be a bridesmaid?” he asked. “Or maybe a flower girl?”

“Well . . .” Two people immediately popped into Tess’s mind, though she doubted if one of them could ever be convinced.


“No. Fucking. Way.”

“Why not?”

“Why not?” Maria echoed, still floored by the absurdity of the suggestion. “Why not? Let’s see, shall we? I don’t like Liz. I really don’t like Max. They’re way too rich for their own good, and did I mention that I don’t like them?”

“Valid reasons, truly,” Tess acknowledged. “But come on, Maria, I already got roped into it. It’ll be a lot more bearable with you there.”

“Not gonna happen, sorry.” Maria opened the refrigerator, took out a bottle of Aquafina water, unscrewed the lid, and took a drink. “You know, I thought you’d gone crazy when you gave that bitch a job,” she said, “but this? Agreeing to be her bridesmaid? That really takes the cake.”

“Ooh, cake!” Tess exclaimed. “Wedding cake . . . tasty.”

Wedding cake was tasty. “I’m . . . on a diet,” she fibbed.

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, I should be!”

“Maria . . .”

“Tess . . . no.” She was decisive. No amount of persuasion was going to change her mind.

“You know, as slimy as Max is, he brought up some really good points,” Tess went on. “How would we feel if the situation were reversed?”

“It’s not reversed. Thank God,” Maria muttered. “And you know what? This is really all Liz’s fault. If she wanted to make sure her family was there, she should’ve chosen a better effing groom.”

“Oh, come on, we both know there’s no choice when your heart’s involved.”

Maria sighed, unable to argue with that. “I can’t believe you’re friends with her.”

“I’m not. I’m her boss.”

“And her bridesmaid.”

“Well, what can I say? I’m a great humanitarian like that.”

Maria shook her head. “No, but the part that really gets me is the part where you think I should let Miley be their flower girl.”

“That was Max’s idea, not mine,” Tess said, throwing her hands up in defense.

“She’s my daughter, Tess. Do you really think I’m gonna let her be a part of their wedding? They don’t even know her, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Please, just think about it, okay?” Tess urged. “I know we like to think of Liz as this bad person, but I really don’t think she’s as bad as we make her out to be. She could really use our help.”

Maria shrugged, not caring. Maybe it was inconsiderate, but she just . . . didn’t care.


“Do you believe in karma?”

Isabel stood in her dressing room of Tenacity, her favorite store at the mall, and adjusted the vibrant purple strapless dress she was trying on. “What?”

Billy stood outside the door and explained, “Like, if you do something good, it comes back to you; do something bad, it comes back to you.”

“I know what karma is, you dumbass.” She thought back to the day she’d given birth to Garret, remembering the horrible feeling of karma catching up with her right as Michael and Alex walked into the delivery room together. “Yeah, I believe in it.” She opened the dressing room door and walked out, loving Billy’s jaw-drop reaction.

“Wow,” he said. “I must be reapin’ some fuckin’ good-ass karma right now, ‘cause my girl looks hot.”

She ignored the ‘my girl’ claim and twirled around showing off the dress some more. Since it was strapless, her beasts looked fantastic. But then again, they always did. “Liz wanted lavender, but I’ll stand out if I wear this,” she said. “And I do enjoy standing out.”

“How much is it?”

She re-checked the price tag. “Hundred bucks. Which means I get to blow the extra two-hundred on things like shoes, jewelry . . .”

“Handcuffs?” he filled in. “The old ones hurt my wrists.”

“Wimp,” she teased, reaching out to grab him by his shirt collar. “Come here.” She slipped back inside the dressing room, pulling him with her this time. He pulled the door shut, and she reached behind him to shove the lock into place.

“This ain’t very covert of us,” he said, leaning back against the wall. She just smiled at him and kissed him. It was covert enough when she felt this horny.

He thrust his tongue into her mouth, and she snaked her hands down in between their bodies to unfasten his jeans. She released his cock from the confines of his boxers and took it in her hand, stroking it from base to tip. He was hard almost instantly.

“Uh . . . fuck,” he groaned, pressing down on her shoulders. “Suck it, babe.”

She grinned and got down on her knees to take his length into her mouth. She wasted no time, taking as much of it as she could at once. She fondled his balls in her left hand and gently squeezed the base of his shaft with her right, all the while moving her mouth back and forth. She could feel the veins on the underside of his cock pulsating against her tongue. The smell of him was overpowering. He clearly hadn’t bathed today, which was gross but strangely erotic.

“Oh, fuck yeah,” he encouraged her, tangling one hand in her hair as he tried to guide her ministrations. “Suck it.”

I am sucking it, she thought, casting a glance to the side to see what they looked like in the mirror. Isn’t that enough for him? When she saw her reflection, she stopped what she was doing at once. She released his straining erection from her mouth and pressed her hands to his hips, holding him back. She stared at herself in the mirror, and she didn’t like what she saw. She saw a woman on her knees, subordinated, and she remembered why she hated giving blow jobs in this position.

“What’s wrong?” Billy asked, reaching down to place his hand under her chin, urging her to look up at him. “Hey.”

She rose to her feet and changed positions so that she was leaning back against the wall and he was leaning against her. She hiked her dress up, pushed her thong aside, and wrapped her right leg around him, pulling him in close to her. “Put it in me,” she told him, pressing her hips forward.

He grinned, covered her body with his, and slid into her eagerly, thrusting right away. He buried his face in her neck, and she clung to his shoulders and made soft sounds of pleasure as he fucked her. When she looked at their reflections in the mirror again, she felt better about what she saw.


Maria shoveled another heaping spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, glancing at the clock on the microwave. It was 2:30 a.m. She should have been in bed. She hated it when she woke up in the middle of the night and started thinking about things. It was hard to go back to sleep.

She heard Michael coming down the stairs. He looked so good wearing only his favorite grey sweatpants for pajamas. Shirtless and bulging in all the right places. She would have jumped him right then and there had she not had so much other stuff on her mind.

“I heard you get up,” he said, padding into the kitchen. “Uh-oh, cookie dough. That means you’re pissed.”

“Does it now?”

“Oh, yeah. You eat cookie dough ice cream when you’re pissed, strawberry when you’re stressed, and chocolate when you’re horny.”

She smiled, loving that he noticed all the little things about her. “Well, it’s chocolate chip cookie dough,” she pointed out, “so maybe I’m pissed and horny.”

“Dangerous combination.” He hopped up on the kitchen counter, and she fed him a spoonful of ice cream. “What’s on your mind?” he asked.


He gave her a knowing look.

She sighed and admitted, “Everything.” That was probably a bit of an overstatement, but he always knew when she was exaggerating. “Okay, tell me, do you think I’m being a total bitch by not being Liz’s bridesmaid?”

“No,” he replied immediately.

“You’re just saying that.”

“No, I’m not. Why should you feel obligated to help her? She’s never done anything for you.”

“I don’t feel obligated,” she assured him. “Maybe if she was marrying a different guy . . .” She trailed off.


“I mean, Max Evans is the guy who took advantage of me. How am I supposed to stand up there at his wedding and act happy for him and Liz when really, I could care less?”

“You don’t have to.”

She dug her spoon into the half-empty carton. “Tess seems to think I should,” she said, popping the ice cream into her mouth.

“Well, that’s ‘cause she’s gotten to know Liz over the years. Maybe she sees a side of her we don’t.” Michael took her spoon from her and dug deep into the carton, freeing some of the cookie dough hidden under the ice cream.

“Well, I don’t see any sides of her because I don’t see her. Like at all,” Maria said. “I ran into her on campus once this week. Big deal. It’s not like we’re friends anymore. And it’s not like we were ever super close pals to begin with. We’d sit next to each other in class and talk about our sex lives. That was it.”

“Ah, your sex life before me.” Michael smirked. “The unsatisfying years.”

“The un-pregnant years,” she joked. “God, I remember Liz gave me this stupid story about her and a girl to cover up her affair with Max. Maxine.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe I bought it. You know, she was always that kind of girl.”

“What kind?” he asked.

“Oh, you know that kind.” Michael knew about deceitful, cheating women better than anyone else. “I just don’t like her, and I don’t care how her wedding turns out.” She seized the spoon back from him and accidently dropped it into the carton. “And how unfair is it that she and Max can plan this elaborate, expensive ceremony in a matter of months and you and I have yet to even start planning ours?” she complained as she tried to lift the spoon out. The ice cream got all over the side of her hand, and she had to rinse it off in the sink.

“Is that what this is about?” Michael asked. “You’re jealous that they’re getting married before we are?”

No, she thought. No way. “You know, I could hit you with this spoon for even suggesting that.”

“Well, are you or aren’t you?”

She sighed and folded the flaps of the carton closed, placing it back in the freezer. “A little,” she admitted, lowering her head. “I caught the bouquet at Tess’s wedding, not Liz.” She was supposed to have been the one to get married next.

“Maria, if you wanna get married sooner than we planned . . .”

“No, I wanna get married after I graduate. I’m only a little jealous,” she confessed. “I’m mostly . . . uneasy.”

“That’s better than being easy.”

She smiled and stood in front of him, resting her hands on his thighs. “I love your stupid jokes.”

He tucked her hair behind her ear and asked, “Is it the idea of being around Max that makes you . . . uneasy?”

“Yeah. But then I start to think, weddings are more about the bride than the groom. No offense to your gender or anything, but it’s like a fact. So if I were to be a bridesmaid, it would be about her, not him.”

Michael nodded.

“But then I remind myself, I don’t wanna help her. But I sort of do want to.”

He wrinkled his forehead in confusion.

“I can’t explain it,” she said. “I think it’s a girl thing. ‘Cause I do kinda feel bad for her, knowing her whole family’s not gonna be there. That sucks.”

“Yeah, I can’t even imagine that.”

“I can.” She traced her fingertips along the waist of his sweatpants and said, “A couple years ago, my mom and I didn’t even know each other. Not really. I hated her, and she had all these unrealistic expectations of me. She and Marty weren’t even speaking. If we hadn’t patched things up, who knows? Maybe she wouldn’t be at my wedding. And then how would I feel?”

“Devastated, but you’d never admit it.”

“I know I’m no substitute for her family, but maybe having me there would . . . like, lessen the blow? I don’t know, what do you think?” She really wanted to get his opinion on her dilemma, because he was so smart, and he always knew what was best.

“What do you think?”

She groaned, resigned to deciding this one by herself. “I think . . . I’d better find a lavender dress, ‘cause I’m gonna be a bridesmaid. Again.” She was far more excited to be a bride.

He took her hands in his and squeezed them. “I think that’s really selfless of you.”

“Thanks.” She laughed a little, remembering how selfish she’d been before she’d fallen in love with him. He really made her into the best version of herself. “What do you think about this idea of Miley being the flower girl, though? That’s just insane, right?”

He shrugged and slid down off the counter. “Well . . . it’d be good practice for when she’s our flower girl.”

She’d thought about that, too. “I just don’t know if I want her there. It makes me nervous. Although it would be fun to show her off.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, placing his hands in the curve of her waist. “I’ll tell you what: We’ll all go. All four of us. You me, Miley, Macy. If you’re gonna do this, you should have your family there to support you.”

She smiled. “Yeah? That’d be nice.”

“And as for the flower girl thing, maybe we should just talk to Miley about it, see what she thinks. She’s old enough to let us know how she feels.”

“Oh, you’re so perfect.” She looped her arms around his neck and hugged him. "I’m so happy I have you. I’d do you right now if I wasn’t so damn tired.”

He chuckled and suggested, “Let’s go back to bed. Okay?”

She nodded, thinking she would walk there, but instead he bent down and swooped her up in his arms. “Oh!” she exclaimed, surprised.

“I’m practicing the threshold thing,” he explained.

She laughed as he carried her out of the kitchen.

TBC . . .


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Part 9

Postby April » Sun Mar 21, 2010 1:36 pm

Well, here I am, back from spring break. It went WAY too fast. I got a lot of writing done, though, which was nice. I've written this fic up to page 689 now. I think it's definitely going to be longer than 521 was and, for those of you who read Passion, probably even longer than that. :shock:

Updates will be back to normal now.

It will be a very, very, very interesting wedding party standing on top of the altar.

Oh, yeah! I think part of the reason why I enjoyed writing Max and Liz's wedding chapters so much is because, even though they're the ones getting married, it's more about everyone else than it is about them.

I actually can imagine not having my family there and it'd probably mean less of a headache for me. They're so demanding.


I have to say, most people probably still don't like Max, but I think he's utterly fascinating.

Thank you so much. I don't expect anyone to ever really like him, but he's so fun to write because he does have so many layers and complexities.

Karma is a bitch and Liz got bitchslapped.

You know, I'm starting to think more and more that I should include Radiohead's "Karma Police" in this fic.

You know, it amazes me that neither Tess nor Michael or Maria mentioned Isabel's (maybe) apprearance to the wedding.

Yeah, they kind of spaced that off, didn't they?

Yet I'm so giddy to see how they all react to each other.

One of the reason why I enjoyed writing these upcoming chapters is because it's the first time in this fic that everyone is in the same place at once.

In addition, I can't wait to see how they react when it's out that Garret is Miley's friend and that he's Isabel's son.

Oh, that should be interesting, shouldn't it?

PS: What about Roger? Is he responsible for the article in the magazine the Parker's have read?

You sly, sly girl, remembering about Roger! Although no, he's not responsible for it. But you'll see him again very soon.

Oh yeah, Liz is going to have a great wedding ^insert sarcasm^ Those four are ultimately going to ruin her day with either A. banter of bitchiness proportions, B. all out physical fighting or C. all the above. I vote for All The Above. Cause you know it's going to happen.

You are just a genius. ;)

Yeah, nearly had to skip over the Isabel and Billy sex, but I will say this - Ew! Gross! And the fact that she saw for herself what it looks like in the mirror, speaks volumes about how low she's really sunk in her life. Nasty girl! His junk smelled and it turned her on? Excuse me - I think I just threw up in my mouth ...

Trust me, it was not pleasant to write, either. Some of the Isabel/Billy stuff gets really gross. Needless to say, I think the Candy sex, when it finally happens, will be much more readable.

I don't even know what to say about Maria going to Max's wedding since he did what he did to her. She's a better person than I would be.

I think it's good that she doesn't live her life in fear of him. She doesn't let what he did dictate what she does.

That Isabel mirror thing, creeps me out. But it was so intriguing to get a glimpse of her thought processes.

There will be a lot of things she does/thinks/says that creep you out.

Maria and Isabel forced together. Miley and Garret together. Kyle possibly getting drunk. These are all things I'm looking forward to seeing.

:lol: Well, somebody is going to get drunk. Very drunk.

I'm not sure why but Liz seems to be talking all the hate at the moment. She's not a bad person, she's great with Garret. Apart from being a bad employee at a company that doesn't do any business anyway, she hasn't done anything spectacularly wrong, yet I actively dislike her at this point.

Maybe you "actively dislike" her because she's not cool and fun and likable like Tess and Maria, but at the same time, she's not the all-out villain that Isabel is. She's in-between, so she's frustrating.

dreambeliever: Nice sky blue font. ;)

Not feeling sorry for Liz right now, however I don't think she's feeling sorry for herself either.

That's a good point. She's swallowed her pride and asked Isabel to be her maid of honor. She's going through with it regardless of the disappointments. Now on the actual wedding day itself, she might start feeling a little more sorry for herself.

I gotta say, if I was in Maria's shoes the answer would not only be no, it would be HELL NO. Let's see...let my child be the flower girl at the wedding of a guy who raped me? Not in a million frickin years. I can't believe Michael would agree to Miley doing that. True he couldn't stop Maria and he wants to be supportive, but you wouldn't think he would want his kid around that.

I had a feeling this would catch some people off-guard. Tess agreeing to be a bridesmaid is a little more understandable, but Maria and Miley . . . :shock: I think Michael and Maria realize that they can't hide from Max. He lives in the same town and their lives are bound to collide sometimes. The best thing they can do is show up there and be better, braver people than him.

OMG They are going to figure out that garrett is isabel's son wow cant wait for that reaction.

Yeah, that's not going to go over well.

Okay, so I'm bringing more music today, and this time it's "Out of My Mind" by James Blunt. I thought it was very fitting for Isabitch. Click on :twisted: when you see it to listen to it if you'd like. (Be warned that the video I'm linking you to is one of the only non-live versions of this song I found on Youtube. It's a weird video made by some weird chick. I don't know what she's doing; she kind of creeps me out. Just ignore it and listen to the song.) :lol:

Part 9

Liz lay in bed and watched the red numbers on the bedside digital clock change from 6:03 to 6:04 a.m. She hadn’t been able to fall asleep that night. Now the sun was rising outside, and it was officially her wedding day. She looked over at Max. He was sprawled out on his side of the bed, still fast asleep. How could he sleep on a morning like this?

Liz tossed the gold satin sheets aside and climbed out of bed. Max didn’t move a muscle. The alarm would go off in a half an hour, and then he would wake up, but Liz didn’t see any point in lying around. She decided to go downstairs and get herself some coffee. She was going to need it after this sleepless night.

Yolanda was already up and around, already getting started on breakfast. She told Liz she’d bring her a cup of coffee once it was done, so Liz went into the bathroom and brushed her teeth. Once she was done with that, she stared at herself in the mirror. “Dum-dum-da-dum,” she sang in the tune of the wedding march. “Dum-dum-da-dum.”

She sighed and looked around the bathroom, trying to find something old that she could wear when she walked down the aisle. Because that was part of the bridal tradition: She needed something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. For something old, she’d been relying on her mother to bring a set of her great-grandmother’s pearl earrings, but . . . now that was shot to hell. As for something new . . . that wouldn’t be a problem. Max bought her new things all the time. He’d probably give her a diamond necklace when he woke up. Something borrowed was going to be tricky since she had no friends to borrow from, and something blue . . . she felt blue. Did that count?

She ran her hands through her hair, wishing she felt better. She should have. It was her wedding day.


“Crap,” Maria swore as she watched the hair on the right side of her head fall flat once again. Tess had been standing behind her for a good twenty minutes now, trying to curl that hair with a spiral curling iron. But it wasn’t working.

“This is a sign,” Maria said dramatically. “This is an omen. It’s the universe trying to tell me though my hair that I shouldn’t go to this wedding.”

“It’s not an omen; it’s half-bad hair syndrome. Happens to me all the time.” Tess clamped a section of Maria’s hair in the curling iron and spiraled it around the rod, hold it in place near the top of her head. “You get the left half just right, and the right side just refuses to cooperate. “It’s all . . . limp and lifeless.”

“Well, I can’t go the wedding with limp and lifeless hair!” Maria wailed.

“You won’t,” Tess assured her. “I was a hair-dresser in a former life. By the time we show up there, you’ll look like a shampoo commercial.”

Maria sincerely hoped so. She bit her bottom lip nervously and watched in the mirror as Tess unclamped the curling iron. This time, her hair didn’t fall flat, but it wasn’t exactly curled either. It was . . . wavy. Well, at least it was a start.

“So how self-involved is it for Max to be having this wedding in his own hotel?” Maria said.

Tess grunted and kept curling. “Very. But that’s Max, so . . .”

“I can’t believe you used to date him.” Before Kyle, Tess had had the absolute worst taste in men.

“It’s all so weird, looking back. I used to think I’d marry Max.” She made a face of disgust. “Thank God I didn’t. Kyle is so much better. But I’ve been with some real losers. So have you.”

“Yeah, but we have our Prince Charmings now,” Maria pointed out, “unlike Liz, who has Prince Arrogant.”

Tess laughed. “Yeah, so arrogant he’d probably insist on being King Arrogant.” She released a different section of Maria’s hair, and it too was just wavy. “Oh, this is discouraging,” she said. “Maybe we should just put it up?”

“But I wanted to wear it down.” Maria frowned. She should have just straightened her hair. Tess’s hair was straight and pulled back in a half-ponytail, and it looked really cute.

“Maybe we should comb out the curly side a little so it’s wavy like this side?”

Maria nodded. “Yes.” That sounded like a good idea.

“Okay, let’s take a break, though, pick out what you’re gonna wear.” Tess set the curling iron down, and Maria stood up and made her way over to the bed. Tess had laid out a vast array of dresses, all varying shades of purple, mostly lavender.

“This is so not my color,” Maria lamented. “Where’d you get all these dresses?”

“My hubby.” Tess smiled. “He likes to give me things. Dresses, shoes . . . orgasms.”

Maria laughed lightly. “I don’t even know if I can fit in any of these.”

“Sure you can. You’re a skinny-minnie.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “No, I’m not. I’m still trying to lose the baby weight.”

Tess picked up a halter embedded with sequins around the collar and feathers near the bottom and surveyed it. “At least we’re the same cup size now,” she said, handing the dress to Maria.

“Yeah, there’s that.” Breasts were one area where Maria didn’t mind gaining and maintaining weight. She held the dress up against her and silently asked for her friend’s opinion.

Tess made a face and shook her head. “Too prommy.”

Maria set that dress back down on the bed and picked up a metallic, strapless, knee-length one.

“Too come-fuck-me,” Tess pronounced.

Maria set that dress down as well and picked up a white dress adorned with lavender roses. It was floor-length, square-necked, and short-sleeved. Maria held it up, unsure.

“Too . . . perfect for words!” Tess exclaimed.

“You think so?” It was definitely a lot more conservative than Tess’s spaghetti-strap number.

“Yeah, it’s casual but fancy, motherly but sexy. That’s the dress.”

Maria shrugged. “Let’s see if it fits.” She slipped out of the grey Santa Fe t-shirt and hot pink shorts she was wearing and unzipped the dress. Tess held it open for her as she stepped into it.

“It looks nice already,” Tess proclaimed.

Maria slipped her arms into the sleeves and turned to face the full-length mirror on the back of her bedroom door. “Can you zip me?” she asked.

“Yeah.” Tess pulled upward on the zipper, but Maria felt her stop about midway up her back.

“Is it not going?” she asked.

“Just give me a minute.” Tess continued to yank on the zipper, but it didn’t move. “Just . . . suck it in,” she suggested.

Maria held her breath and pulled her stomach as far inward as she could. Tess pulled hard on the zipper and managed to zip the dress shut. “There!” she exclaimed.

Maria smiled for a moment, but that smile disappeared when she realized how little room to move she had in the dress. “I can’t breathe,” she said.

“Oxygen’s overrated.”

She looked at herself in the mirror. The dress did look really nice on her. Even though she would have loved to wear something sexier, she could only dress so sexy when Miley was going to be with her.

“Should we finish up on your hair?” Tess asked.

“Uh . . . yeah. I just have to figure out how to sit down in this.” How is Tess so freakin’ tiny? Maria wondered, splaying her hands against her stomach. How was I ever this tiny?

The bedroom door squeaked open, and Miley poked her head inside. “Wow, Mama,” she exclaimed, “you look pretty!”

Maria smiled, her heart swelling with pride when she saw her little girl. “Not half as pretty as you!” Miley was wearing the white short-sleeved dress Maria had bought her for Easter. It had been too big to wear back then, but it fit her just right now. She’d slept with her hair in curlers, so everything about her was perfect. The white tights were by far the cutest part of the outfit, though. “Come here, girly,” she said, bending down to pick Miley up. As she did so, she both felt and heard the back of her dress rip. “Oh, shoot,” she muttered, setting her daughter back down on the floor.

“It’s okay,” Tess assured her quickly. “I can sew. Everything’s under control.”

“What’s out of control?” Kyle asked as he and Michael came to stand in the doorway. They were both wearing black suits.

Under control, Kyle,” Tess growled warningly. She glared at him as she approached him, then turned to Michael and looked up at him nervously. “Needle and thread?”

“Uh . . . linen closet?”

She nodded and headed downstairs.

Michael shrugged. “Do we even have needle and thread?”

Maria shrugged as well. “Somewhere.”

“What’s with your hair?” Kyle asked.

“I don’t know, what’s with your face?” she shot back.


“Are you sure you’re gonna be ready to go in half an hour?” Michael asked, looking her up and down.

“Yes.” She frowned. “If Tess is a miracle worker. Oh . . .” She was still convinced this was an omen, and a very bad one at that. “You guys don’t know how easy you have it. Just throw on a suit and call it good. It’s so much harder being a girl. Isn’t that right, Miley?”

Miley nodded vigorously.

Michael came to stand beside her and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “I think you look great,” he told her. “You’re unzipped, though.”

“I am?” How could she wear this dress if it was coming unzipped?

“Yeah, you want me to zip you up?”

She grinned, managing to make the obvious perverted joke. “First time for everything.”

He wriggled his eyebrows and pulled up on the zipper. He was obviously stronger than Tess. He got it in one try.

“Do I get to be flower girl?” Miley asked, tugging on her father’s pants.

“Uh . . . that depends,” he replied. “Do you want to be?”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

“And you understand what the flower girl does?”


Maria sighed, looking Michael in the eye. They’d agreed to talk to get Miley’s opinion on it, and she seemed like she was all for it, so . . . “Okay,” she said. “We’ll have to have you practice when you get there.” She gave Michael a questioning look and said, “I wonder who they’ll have for the ring-bearer.”


Isabel sat on the arm of the couch and watched as Garret walked out of the hallway. He was moving at a steady, even pace, careful to keep the wedding bands perched atop the small, white, embroidered pillow in his hand. It was heart-shaped, which was ironic considering how heartless the groom could be.

“Pretty good,” Isabel assessed her son. “Remember not to look at your feet, and smile.”

Garret lifted his head up and gave her a cheeky grin.

“Yeah, like that. You’re gonna be the cutest kid there.”

“What if I drop ‘em?” he asked.

“What, the rings? You won’t.”

“But what if?”

“Well . . . then you just pick them up and keep on going,” she told him. “But you can’t think like that. You gotta believe in yourself. Believe that you can do whatever you set your mind to, because you can. You’re an Evans. We’re good at things.”

Garret frowned. “I’m a Whitman.”

“Well, you’re more of an Evans, really.” She looked up when she heard her husband coming down the stairs, and she said to her son, “Keep practicing.”

Garret nodded and obediently headed back down to the far end of the hallway.

“Wow,” Isabel said, looking over Alex’s Versace wedding tuxedo. Max had loaned it to him. They never could have afforded it on their own. “You almost look presentable.”

Alex shrugged. “Almost.”

“You’d better not do anything to embarrass me or your son today,” she warned. There was going to be an open bar at this wedding, and Alex loved open bars more than anyone she knew. “For some reason, he’s proud to be a Whitman.” She grunted and rolled her eyes. “For some reason.” Maybe once Garret was older, he’d realize there was nothing good about his last name. He would’ve been off as a Guerin.


Liz stood in the VIP suite in front of the full-length mirror. She was dressed in her wedding dress. It was a custom-made Vera Wang, strapless, fluffed out at the waist. There was a black belt that was supposed to wrap around the waist and add a little contrast to the dress, but that was just too couture for her.

She reached up and touched her hair. It was piled high atop her head, plastered down. She’d hired a hair stylist to help her out today, and now she didn’t know why. Her hair felt tight against her head. Too tight. She would have been better off wearing it down.


She whirled around as Max entered the room. “What’re you doing?” she shrieked. “You’re not supposed to see me in my dress. It’s bad luck.”

“That’s just a superstition. I make my own luck.” He came into the room and closed the door.

“Max . . .” The sex could wait until the honeymoon. She wasn’t in the mood right now.

He stood in front of her and lifted her hands in his. “You look beautiful,” he said.

“I look like a marshmallow,” she complained, flapping the dress against her sides helplessly. It was so big and Cinderella-ish. “What was I thinking when I chose this dress?”

“You were thinking you’d look good in it. Which you do.” He smiled, seemingly trying to keep her spirits up.

“Not everything’s about looks, Max,” she mumbled. She shuffled past him and sat down on the bed, pouting.

He turned to face her slowly and asked, “Are you happy?”


“Are you happy?” he repeated. “Because it’s our wedding day, but you don’t seem very . . . happy.”

She sighed. Happiness was all relative, wasn’t it? “I’m as happy as I can be with no family here.”

“Actually, your fourth cousin Annie just showed up,” he informed her, sitting beside her. “She’s nice to look at.”

She grunted. “Really? I wouldn’t know since I don’t remember what she looks like. She’s not family. Not the family that matters.”

He stroked the back of his hand against the side of her neck and bent down to press a kiss to her shoulder. “I have some news to make you feel better,” he murmured against her skin, his breath tickling her. “I found you two more bridesmaids.”

She rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. “Max, I told you I don’t want you hiring anyone.”

“They’re not hired. Although if I paid them, I doubt it’d be the first time they received money in exchange for their services.”

Liz felt her eyes grow wide in horror. “Prostitutes?”

He laughed. “Close. Maria and Tess.”

“Maria and—Maria and Tess?” Tess she could understand, but Maria? “DeLuca?”

“Yeah.” He grinned proudly. “I know, it’s surprising, but I talked to Tess, convinced her to do it. And she talked to Maria. So there you go. Bridesmaids.”

She was flabbergasted, didn’t even know what to say.

“Consider it a wedding gift.”

“Um, wow. Okay.” This day just kept getting weirder and weirder. “I can understand Tess, because I work for her. But Maria and I haven’t been friends for such a long time. We hardly ever see each other.”

“Well, it’s either her or Yolanda, and I really think it’d look bad for our maid to be your bridesmaid. Too desperate.”

“So . . . Maria and Tess are out there right now?”

“No yet, but they’re gonna be. I just got off the phone with Tess. They’re bringing the brat, so you might even have a flower girl.”

“You mean Michael and Maria’s daughter?


And the weird just kept on coming. “That’s so nice of them.” The more she thought about it, though, the more uneasy she became. “Wait, so does this mean Michael’s coming, too?”

“I don’t know. Does it matter?”

“Uh, yeah. Have you forgotten who my maid of honor is?”

Max didn’t seem to care. “She can suck it up and deal with it. I’m not gonna let her ruin this day.”

Liz covered her face with her hands and resisted the urge to cry.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “I thought you’d be happy about this.”

“It was really nice of you, Max,” she assured him, “but think about it. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

He fell silent, and she could see the contemplation on his face. For the first time since he’d set foot in that room, he seemed as worried as she was, but he didn’t vocalize it.


“So how old is he now? Four? Five?”

Clueless bitch, Isabel thought as she struggled to maintain small-talk with Aunt Linda, her late father’s youngest sister. “Three and a half.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Linda smiled at Garret as he ran through the church pews. “He sure is cute.”

You sure wouldn’t know. Nobody in her family had ever made the slightest effort to get to know her son. All they knew about him was that he was Max’s nephew.

“You know,” Linda went on, lowering her voice to gossip-tone, “I have to admit, when you got pregnant and got married after having the baby . . . oh, lord, I thought it might destroy the family name. But I should’ve known Max wouldn’t let that happen. He’s so smart, so capable. Phillip did the right thing by leaving the company in his hands.”

Isabel clenched her mouth shut to keep from screaming. That company should’ve been hers.

“Oh, look, there he is now!” Aunt Linda ran away like a crazed fan-girl when Max stepped off the elevator into the hotel lobby. And she wasn’t the only one. The whole family flocked towards him as though they couldn’t get enough. They crowded around him just as they used to crowd around Phillip Evans, each one trying their best to suck up and get his attention.

“Look at them,” Isabel grunted when Alex came to stand beside her. “You’d think he was the second coming of Christ.”

“Maybe he is.”

Isabel shot her husband a look of disbelief. Did he know how absurd that was?

“I’m just saying, he’s saved our asses time and time again,” Alex explained. “Financially, at least.”

“Seriously, Alex? Hero-worship of my brother? That’s not a turn-on.”

“It’s not hero-worship,” Alex denied. “He’s my best friend.”

“He’s your only friend,” she pointed out.

“Yeah, that’s one more friend than you’ve got.”

She smiled and thought of Billy, thought of how friendly they’d been in the dressing room yesterday. “Oh, don’t be too sure.” She glanced into the church again at Garret. He was still running through the pews. “Calm him down,” she said. “I’m gonna go see the bride.” She gave Alex a kiss on the cheek, just for appearance’s sake. But it didn’t matter. No one was watching her, not with her brother around.

( :twisted: )

She rode up to the ninth floor of the building and walked down the hallway to the VIP suite. That was the room where she and Alex had spent their so-called honeymoon. They’d had some sex, avoided talking, and that had been it. Nothing magical about it.

“Hey, whore,” Isabel greeted Liz as she slipped into the room. Liz was sitting at the dresser, her head in her hands, crying. Isabel laughed. “Boy, your marriage is off to a great start.”

“Not unlike yours.”

“True,” Isabel admitted. Her eyes had been brimming with tears the entire time she’d said “I do.” And not happy tears, either. But she hadn’t been crying for the reason Liz was. It hadn’t been a family absence thing. Although her family had been absent on account of her dead dad and a mom in Mexico with her personal trainer. But her tears had come on as a result of who the groom wasn’t.

“This isn’t how I envisioned this day,” Liz mumbled sadly.

“Boo-hoo.” She had absolutely no desire to be sympathetic.

Liz turned around, her eyes red and puffy, her make-up smeared, and asked, “Why aren’t you wearing lavender?”

“Because this is royal purple.” She sashayed over to Liz and plucked a rhinestone tiara off the dresser. “Worn by royalty.” She set the tiara down on top her head and smirked.

“Which is not you, by the way.”

She shrugged. “It should be.”

“Give me that.” Liz stood up and seized her tiara back from Isabel. “This is for the veil. It connects into this thing . . . I think. I hope.”

Isabel laughed lightly. “This is just hilarious.”

“Would you shut up?” Liz sat back down again, carefully placing the tiara on her own head. “Maybe I should bring one of my other bridesmaids up here to bitch-slap you.”

Isabel raised an eyebrow. “Other bridesmaids?”

“What, Max didn’t tell you?”

Isabel just looked at her impatiently. Tell her what?

“Great,” Liz muttered. “Okay, don’t freak out, but . . . Max got Tess and Maria to be in the wedding.”

“Tess and Maria?” Isabel shrieked. No fucking way.

“And Miley’s the flower girl.”

“Miley Guerin?” No fucking god-damned way. Isabel struggled to maintain her composure. “How come no one told me about this?”

“I’m telling you now.”

“You should’ve said something sooner.” Isabel touched her hair nervously. She looked good, didn’t she? Her heart sped up in anticipation.

“I just found out a minute ago,” Liz explained. “Look, you have to promise not to do anything or say anything or . . .”

Her words went right in one ear and out the other. Isabel could only think of one thing—one person—as she bolted out of the room.


When she got back in the lobby, Max was still the center of attention. But he wasn’t the center of her attention. She paced back and forth near the hors d’oeuvres table, popped a few cubes of Lancashire cheese into her mouth, and kept looking at the front door. If Maria was a bridesmaid, she’d have to get there soon. And she’d have to bring her family with her.

Isabel stood back behind a stand of white Casablanca Lilies and watched as Maria came in first. Tess and Miley were with her. Miley was dressed up like a little princess. Tess and Maria were both decked out in their lavender. Maria was hauling a baby carrier with her, and the other kid, the six-month old one, was inside, sleeping and holding a blanket up to her mouth. Maria and Tess both signed themselves in on the guestbook and continued into the church.

Isabel looked out at the parking lot, desperation seeping in. Where was he?

“Dammit,” she swore, turning away. A few of her cousins heard her, looked at her curiously for a moment, and then returned their attention to Max. She fought the urge to pull her hair out, and then her entire body heated up. Something told her to turn around.

Michael walked inside, gorgeous, as amazing as ever. Kyle was beside him. They were talking to each other, laughing.

It’d been so long since she’d seen him, Isabel almost forgot how good he looked. She smiled. When she stared at him, it felt like her entire world was going in slow motion, and he was all she could see of it, all she wanted to see of it. He was wearing a suit, and his face held the maturity and respectability of a real man. A perfect man.

She wanted to rip his clothes off.

She took a few steps forward, past the flowers that had hidden her from Maria’s view. She smoothed out the wrinkles in her dress and kept smiling, waiting for him to notice her. But he didn’t. He walked right past her and slipped into the church. Isabel’s stomach lurched as he sat down next to Maria and picked up Miley, setting her down on his knee. She giggled as he bounced her up and down, and Maria, Tess, and Kyle all watched in adoration. Isabel watched in horror.

Crap, she thought, looking around. How could he not even notice she was there? She had to get him to see her, because she sure as hell saw him. It felt like the first time she’d seen him. Artistic boy sitting by the fountain, trying not to look at her, so subtly sexy . . .

She took some lilies out of the flower stand and breathed evenly to steady herself. Then, with every ounce of confidence she had, she strolled into the church. The happy group fell silent the moment she walked past them. She didn’t glance at them. She didn’t need to.

She grinned unbeknownst to them, and continued on down the aisle, the flowers in her hand. She made her way up to the alter where an arch of lavender-dyed lilies presided. She stuck a few of the white lilies in with the lavender ones, not really caring what it looked like. All she cared about was what she looked like.

She turned around slowly, still smiling. They were the only ones in the church in that moment, and they were stunned to see her there, right there so close to them. Tess and Kyle looked worried. Maria looked horrified. Michael looked like he was trying not to have any reaction at all. Miley looked confused as she tried to bounce herself on her daddy’s knee.

Isabel stared straight into the eyes of the love of her life as she walked towards him. Part of her wanted to stop and say hi to him, but she thought it best not to say anything at all. She strode back out into the bustling lobby, her heart racing, her skin prickling with delight. Michael . . .

Icy cold fingers gripped her arm and yanked hard. She startled slightly at Max’s grasp.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he ground out.

“Nothing,” she said, shaking her arm from his hold. “The flowers were bad.”

He looked around at their family members and smiled in assurance. “Don’t you dare do anything to ruin this day for Liz,” he warned, keeping that fake smile on his face.

“You mean more than it’s already been ruined?”

His smile fell. “Yes.”

Liz was the last thing on her mind. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” she said, wondering if she’d say anything to Michael today, or accidentally bump into him. Filled with wistful longing, she left Max to his admirers and headed into the bathroom to touch herself.

TBC . . .


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Part 10

Postby April » Tue Mar 23, 2010 9:46 am

No blurb up top today. I really don't have anything interesting to say. But thank you all so much for the feedback!

Leila: You've reclaimed your spot at the top of throne. FIRST!

As for Max, he tries. He really tries to make it the best day. Yet, he probably ruined by having the Guerin family and Isabel in one room.

Yeah, he kind of sabotaged it, didn't he?

Isabel is a freaking stalker [I should love her for that].

:lol: No wonder you've always been a fan of Isabitch in these two fics. You and she have some things in common. ;)

Krista: 7 am? That's too early!

Ugh, Isabel's obsession with Michael is beyond pathetic. It's bathetic. It actually makes my face contort into this weird looking expression. I don't even think it's genuine love. What Michael and Maria have, what Tess and Kyle have... that's love. Isabel doesn't love Michael, even if she thinks she does. Hell, even what Max and Liz have is love.

That's a really good point. Isabel talks a lot in this fic about how much she loves Michael, but it's an obsessed kind of love.

Bathetic? Is that a word? Regardless, I like it and plan to use it in a sentence today.

You know, I was watching the promos again, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of Max and Liz in the future. Because it seems like they're gonna have the most growth as people.

Yeah, I'll state right here and right now that, although everyone has their own journey to go on in this fic, Max probably goes through the biggest transformation.

I hope poor Garrett doesn't get too traumatized by whatever his father might do tonight. Isabel is right though the poor kid would be better off if he had Michael as a father. His folks are just so messed up.

Yep, there's really no denying that Garret's life (and probably Isabel's life, too) would be better if Michael was Garret's father. Michael's life, of course, would be a thousand times worse.

I am now very excited about this wedding. It's going to be awesome. Not for Liz obviously, but that's what adds to the awesomeness of the whole thing.

:lol: Yes, even though it's Max and Liz's wedding day, there is so much stuff going on around them that really adds to the excitement of this whole thing.

Isabel is.... terrifying in her obsession with Michael. Although, Michael in a suit is pretty stalker worthy so can't really blame her for that.


LOL I only say that because I've been to one of those kinds of weddings - my moms.

Oh goodness. That didn't exactly sound like a fairytale day for her. :(

Candy Sex?! Did someone say Candy Sex ... *eyes bulge out of skull*

Yes, it will happen eventually!

This is not going to be good..Isawhore is a freaking stalker!! creeeeeepyyy!!

And it's only going to intensify as the fic progresses.

You know I really don't know what to say about Isabel I think the poor dear has mental problems

That's why I chose the song "Out of My Mind" for the last part. :lol: She really is a little unstable.

All I know is Michael and Maria better not get poor Miley a bunny for it might end up being boiled on the stove

:lol: It's so funny you say that, because there's a bunny-boiler line in this part.

dreambeliever: I like those four words. Thanks for reading!

Isabel is a sad nutcase, it would be funny to see her obsession for Michael if I didn't know it's going to mean endless trouble in the future for Michael and Maria. I can't even imagine how you're going to do it, but I know it's going to be killer.

Really, though, what can she do? Her hands are tied. She's in obsessed love with a guy who, like you said, loves someone else and has a family with someone else.

I am surprised by how much her family hates Max. I mean, I can understand Maria and Tess hating him. But what exactly did he do to her family? Or are they not happy with the person that she has become because of him? Color me intrigued.

I think they probably never really liked him very much because he's very off-putting, but there is one definite reason why they can't approve of their daughter's marriage to him that you'll hear about later.

I feel so bad for Alex. Poor guy deserves so much better. It shows a lot that Max is his best friend. I wonder if Max is sympathetic to him because had things not worked out the way they did with his father and the company, Max could have been in the same position he's in. (Minus the kid, of course.)

That's a really good point. Max and Alex are a lot alike in this fic. They grew up similarly, had the same career aspirations, and it worked out for one and not the other. They both know what it's like to live a life involving Isabel, and they both care about Garret. So I'd say that all those things contribute to Max being Alex's best and only friend and Alex assuming the same role with Max.

Its time for mental help for Isabel.....can they fix this particular brand of crazy??

I don't think so. :lol: One thing I'll say about Isabel . . . even though she's the villain of the piece, there are still some layers of her that will be peeled back as the story progresses.

Part 10

“You didn’t tell me she was gonna be here.” Maria paced back and forth in the parking lot, wringing her hands together. Isabel’s little model strut through the church had been . . . bracing to say the least.

“I didn’t know,” Tess insisted. “Although . . . actually, come to think of it, I did know. Liz told me. But we all should’ve known. She is Max’s sister. But they don’t even like each other, and I know Liz can’t stand her.” She laughed lightly. “We have this whole thing where we’re required to include ‘bitch’ in her name if we speak it out loud in my studio and--”

“Tess!” Maria was freaked out. Isabel Evans was in her midst. Isabel.

“Well, I’m not the only one who didn’t think of it,” Tess pointed out. “You didn’t think of it, either.”

“Because I try not to think of her. At all. Ever.” And she’d done a very good job at that for years now. “God, are we stupid or something?”

“I don’t even know why Liz would invite her.”

“She’s wearing purple,” Maria pointed out, looking at herself in the driver’s side window of her car. Her hair was falling flat as they spoke. Isabel’s hair was curly and in a low-slung ponytail. She’d noticed.

“Bridesmaid?” Tess gasped. “No. You don’t think . . .”

Maria shrugged. “Maybe she’s a last-minute replacement like we are.”

“Maybe,” Tess considered. “Oh, yeah, and her son’s the ring-bearer. Liz really likes him.”

Maria shook her head, fighting the urge to cry because of the predicament. “Okay, this is no good,” she decided. “I have to leave. I have to get Miley and Macy and especially Michael out of here.” It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Michael around Isabel; it was that she didn’t trust Isabel around him. She’d had such a fixation on him in the past, and judging by the way she’d looked at him in the church, that fixation hadn’t died down over time.

“No, Maria, you can’t do that,” Tess said quickly.

“Why not? There’s a potential bunny boiler in our mix.”

Tess made a face of disgust. “You really think she’d boil a bunny?”

“The girl forged two paternity test results. I wouldn’t put anything past her.”

“True, but you still can’t go,” Tess said. “Think about it: If you leave, she’ll know she intimidated you. She’ll feel like she won. Do you really wanna give her that smug satisfaction?”

Maria sighed. When Tess put it like that . . . “No.”

“Exactly. So you gotta stick around and tough it out. And make-out with Michael right in front of her, ‘cause she totally deserves it.”

Maria laughed a little, but she was still nervous. Her palms were actually sweaty. That hardly ever happened unless she was taking a test or giving birth. “I hate that she still knows how to get to me,” she confessed.

“But we know how to defend ourselves against her now,” Tess pointed out. “We just can’t let her get inside our heads.”

Maria grunted. “Easier said than done.” Isabel was so good at getting inside people’s heads that she’d once almost convinced Maria to have an abortion. Had she gone through with it, Miley wouldn’t have been there.

“No, it is easy,” Tess kept on. “You know why? Because she’s powerless. Last time we had to deal with her, she was pregnant, and she knew exactly how to use that to her advantage. But look at her now. She’s just . . . a regular person.”

Maria highly doubted that anything about Isabel was regular, but Tess’s words made a lot of sense. “You’re right,” she said. “Oh my god, you’re so right. Here I am, scared of Isabel, and there’s nothing to be scared of. She can’t do anything to me.”

“And we’ve got the numbers advantage,” Tess added happily. “Two of us, one of her. We can hold our own.”

“Right.” They were strong, fierce females. They didn’t have to hunker down in Isabel’s presence. “Okay,” she said, feeling a sense of renewed confidence. “Let’s go be bridesmaids.”

“Let’s.” They headed back into the hotel. It really was a nice hotel, even if it was owned by a not-so-nice man.

“Do you think she looked pretty?” Maria asked quietly.

“On the outside, yes,” Tess admitted. “But on the inside? No.”

Maria nodded in agreement. All the physical beauty in the world couldn’t make up for ugly intentions.


Michael sat in the church in one of the middle pews. He’d wanted to hang out near the back, but the usher had insisted that he move forward. The first four rows were for family—Max’s. The second four rows were for friends—which Michael happily wasn’t. The back rows were for Max’s employees and household staff, those who were there out of obligation.

He sat and people-watched, imagining what his and Maria’s wedding would be like. It would probably be smaller, but better. Much better.


He looked up when a man he presumed to be an usher said his name. But when he saw the face of the man, he realized it wasn’t an usher, and he understood why he’d known his name. It was Alex, and the two of them had a lot in common.

“Her flowers,” Alex said, holding out a white satin basket with lavender lilies inside.

Michael took the basket from him, trying to fight the awkwardness. “Thanks,” he said, handing it to his daughter.

Alex smiled a little, nodded, and walked away. Michael sighed. Running into Alex Whitman was always strange. It rarely ever happened, but whenever it did, they had no idea what to say to each other. Usually it happened at the gas station, and they both would say hello, make a few comments about the weather, and then fill up their tanks in silence. It wasn’t Alex’s fault. Michael had nothing against him as a person. But they’d had a total of about one serious conversation in their lives, and it had been a doozy.

“Cool!” Miley exclaimed, sniffing her flowers. Michael smiled at her and glanced at Macy on the other side of him. She was still in her carrier, still sleeping. She was his wild child, but she’d picked the perfect day to be this calm.

Kyle leaned forward onto the back of the pew and remarked, “So this is awkward.”

“What?” Michael asked.

“Everything. It’s kinda weird, you know, being here while certain other people are here.”

Michael shifted in his seat. He didn’t even have to ask who those certain other people were.

“Was that weird, seeing her again?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah,” he admitted.

“When did you see her last?”

He yawned and rubbed his forehead. “I don’t even remember. Saw her in that restaurant about a year ago. Haven’t talked to her since . . .” He motioned to Garret Whitman, who was sticking letting a family member pinch his cheeks. “Since the day she gave birth to her son.”

“Is it hard to see her again?” Kyle inquired.

“Nah, not really. But I know it’s hard on Maria, so . . .”

“Is Mama alright?” Miley asked, concern etched onto her young, chubby face.

“Yeah, she’s fine,” he assured her, putting an arm around her. “Those are some pretty flowers, huh”


“You know what you gotta do today, right? You just walk down the aisle and throw the flowers in the air.” He took one of the lilies out of the basket and demonstrated in his seat.

Miley giggled.

“And your mom’s gonna be standing up there already, so you just walk straight to her, okay?” he added. “And when you get up there, you gotta stand really still and be really quiet. Can you do that?”

She nodded exaggeratedly.

“Yeah, you got this. I don’t even have to tell you.” She was a smart, capable kid.

“Hey, family,” Maria said as she and Tess approached.

“Mama’s back!” Miley exclaimed. “Look at my flowers, Mama.” She held up her basket proudly.

“Very nice,” Maria remarked, squeezing in between Michael and Macy’s carrier.

“You okay?” he asked her.

“Yeah. We don’t need to leave, but we do need to kiss later in front of a . . . certain individual.”

He smiled and nodded. “I can handle that.” He leaned in and kissed her just because. When they kissed in front of Isabel, he’d add in some tongue.

“Ew,” Miley groaned.

Kyle laughed from behind them. “Oh, Miles,” he said, “if you think that’s gross, wait ‘til you hear how you and your sister came into being.”

“Kyle. Don’t start,” Maria snapped.

“Sorry.” He cowered in his pew.

Tess laughed at their exchange and said, “So, I guess we bridesmaids should go upstairs and see the bride. You guys gonna be alright down here?”

“Somehow we’ll manage,” Kyle assured her.

“Okay.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek and stood back up.

“Can I come?” Miley asked.

Maria exchanged a glance with Michael, and they silently communicated. Neither one of them wanted Isabel anywhere near their kids. “Uh, I think you’d better stay down here with your dad,” Maria said. “okay?”

Miley nodded.

“Okay. You look so cute.” Maria reached over Michael and patted Maria on the head, then jokingly patted Michael on the head as well and told him, “You look cute, too,” before heading out of the church with Tess.

Miley took a lily out of her basket and tossed it into the air. “Mama’s really pretty,” she said.

Michael smiled, looking over his shoulder to watch her walk away. “Yeah, she is.” Maria was that all too rare combination of beauty on the outside and the inside. No wonder Isabel was so jealous.


“Something old, something new . . .” Liz rummaged around the cluttered dresser, trying to locate the jewelry items that would satisfy those requirements. Isabel rolled her eyes. What was the point? It was an inane tradition. No amount of good luck could help Liz.

“Do you have something I could borrow?” the frazzled bride asked.


“Something borrowed,” she repeated. “I need it. And something blue.”

Isabel waved her off. “I so don’t even care.” She had more important things on this mind than this silly little wedding. “He looked gorgeous, Liz.” Her chest tightened pleasurably as she pictured Michael’s face. Mid-twenties looked good on that boy.

“I can’t believe this is my wedding day.”

“Would you stop complaining?” Isabel had had about enough of her future sister-in-law’s woe-is-me whining. “Most people’s weddings are boring. Yours, on the other hand, is surprisingly interesting.” Just as she said that, the door to the suite opened up, and Tess and Maria came inside. They both froze momentarily when they saw her, then shut the door and tried to act as though they were unaffected.

“Well, well, Maria,” Isabel greeted. “I see you’re looking . . . fat.”

“And I see you’re looking psychotic,” Maria shot back.

“Well . . .” She shrugged. Anything was better than being fat. “And the sidekick, Tess Harding.” She smiled nastily. “Oops, I mean Tess Valenti. I gotta make these little adjustments.”

Tess rolled her eyes.

“Look at you two, best friends after all these years.”

“Step-sisters now,” Tess proclaimed.

“Cute.” So their parents had married? How perfect for their perfect little family. “Stepsisters, Tess Valenti and Maria . . . what’s your last name again? It’s not Guerin.” She laughed. “Oh, that’s right, it’s DeLuca. Still DeLuca.” Didn’t hurt to rub the lack of marriage in.

“It’ll be Guerin soon,” Maria assured her, “which is more than you can say, Isabel Whitman.”

Touché, Isabel admitted internally. “Evans-Whitman.”


“Does anyone care that my last name’s changing today?” Liz asked all of them.

“No,” Isabel and Maria barked in unison.

Tess was a bit more sympathetic. “Oh, I care, Liz,” she said, joining Liz at the dresser. She bent down and placed her hands on the bride’s shoulders. “Happy wedding day!”

“I’m sorry,” Maria apologized, making her way towards them. “I don’t mean to be so . . .” She glanced at Isabel, then tried to smile at Liz. “Congratulations. I’m sure you and Max will be very . . .” She swallowed hard. “Very happy together.”

“Gee, try to sound a little more convincing.” Liz held her dress in her hands and scurried into the bathroom, slamming the door.

Isabel snickered. “Kudos. You’re a worse bridesmaid than I am.”

Maria made a face of disgust. “Please don’t tell me you’re the maid of honor.”

“I am.” Isabel smirked. “I guess that means you should honor me.”

Maria laughed. “Oh, god.”

“Please,” Tess scoffed.

“Just threw up in my mouth a little.”

Isabel glared at them, hating them. Bitches. They weren’t smart and talented women. Not like her. What had they done to deserve anything they had?

“So I hear your daughter’s the flower girl,” she said, turning to the mini bar to pour herself a drink. Wine. Simple. Seductive. “That works out nicely. My son’s the ring-bearer.” She glanced over her shoulder and could practically see the smoke coming out of Maria’s ears, so she kept on pushing it. “You think they’ll get married someday and give us dozens of beautiful grandchildren?”

Maria narrowed her eyes dangerously. “Don’t even talk about my daughter,” she growled.

“Mamaria,” Isabel remarked. “Good job.” She brought her wine glass up to her lips and sipped at it, almost impressed with Maria’s maternal instinct. Who would have thought that the girl who used to dance topless on kitchen tables and sleep with three boys at once would end up being a good mother? “I’m serious, though. They’re so star-crossed.”

“Ew,” Tess said, wrinkling her nose. “Are you envisioning your three year-old son’s future love life? That’s so creepy.”

“Hmm, what about you, Tess? Why haven’t you and Kyle popped out some spawn by now? Is your beauty fading? Does he not wanna have sex with you?”

Tess shifted, looking instantly uncomfortable. “We’re just waiting until we’re ready.”

Isabel shrugged. “If that’s your story.” She tilted her head back and downed the rest of her wine. That tasted good.

“Do you ever get tired of hearing yourself talk?” Maria asked in annoyance.

“No.” She set her empty glass down atop the mini bar and turned to face away from the best friends. “Michael sure looks good today.” She grinned, loving that didn’t even have to turn around to picture the enraged look on Maria’s face.


My hotels have everything, Max thought as he downed another shot glass of tequila. Church, bars, restaurants, strip club. Mini-golf. He sat alone in the bar, pouring himself his liquid courage. Later on, during the reception, this bar would be bustling. He’d arranged to have not one, not two, but three bartenders on duty that day.

The door creaked open, and Alex came inside. “Hey, I’ve been lookin’ all over for you,” he said, planting himself on the stool beside him. “I think your Aunt Linda wants to adopt Garret.”

Max shrugged. “Wouldn’t be surprised. Both her kids are in college.”

“Yeah? How you holdin’ up?”

“Fine, I guess.” He sighed. “I think Liz and I should’ve written our own vows, though.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know, just to make this day memorable.”

“Oh, it’s memorable,” Alex assured him.

Max chuckled. “For all the wrong reasons.” Maybe if Liz’s parents had never seen that article in that magazine . . . then just maybe they would have decided to show.

Alex got to his feet and walked around to the other side of the bar. “She doesn’t blame you for her family not being here,” he said, surveying the liquor selection.

“Yeah, well . . . she should.” He poured more tequila into his shot glass, and Alex reached for it. Max held it out of his reach. “Oh, no, none for you. I don’t want you slurrin’ your speech today.”

“I could use a glass after seeing Isabel’s reaction to you-know-who.” Alex grabbed onto the neck of the tequila bottle and brought it up to his mouth as though he were going to take a drink, but he restrained himself for once.

“It’s not like she stands a chance with him,” Max pointed out. “And she knows that.”

Alex nodded. “I know. It’s just . . . really hard to be married to her sometimes.”

Max laughed. “I’ve been her brother for twenty-five years. Trust me, I understand. Not that I’m much easier to put up with.”

Alex managed to laugh along with him. It was actually these very acts, drinking and bitching about Isabel, that had prompted them to become best friends in the first place.

When Isabel traipsed into the room, they both quit laughing. “Uh-oh, alcohol,” she remarked. “Somebody’s having cold feet.”

“Not at all,” Max denied. “I’m just bored.”

“Then just sit back and watch the fireworks,” she suggested, standing beside him, resting one hand on his shoulder.

“What fireworks?” he asked.

“Oh, come on, Max. Maria, Tess, and me as bridesmaids? Talk about lighting a fuse. They’re upstairs right now trying to come up with ways to insult me. It’s comical.”

“Just leave ‘em alone, Isabel,” Alex said. “Please.”

She stared off into space contemplatively. “I take requests,” she said. “But not that one.”

Alex shook his head. “Dammit, Is.”

“Relax, I’m not gonna do anything,” she assured him. “Much. Besides, I gotta work on my speech.”

“You don’t have to give one,” Max told her.

“Of course I do. I’m the maid of honor. It’s an obligation. Besides, Alex’s speech is gonna be crappy. Somebody’s gotta represent well for the Whitmans.” She seized the tequila bottle from Alex and sauntered back out the way she’d come in. “Oh, just you wait,” she said. “It’s gonna be one heck of a speech.”

Max stared at the liquor in his glass and waited until she had gone. “She scares me,” he admitted, and Alex nodded. It was the first time he’d ever said that out loud.


Tess tapped lightly on the bathroom door of the VIP suite. “Liz? You still alive in there?” She waited until the doorknob turned and the door creaked open for her. She slipped inside and found Liz curled up on the bathroom floor. She was sitting against the bathtub with her knees hugged to her chest.

“Hey, bridal girl.” Tess tried her best to sound cheery as she shut the door and sat down beside her. “You finally decided to let me in, huh?”

Liz sniffed, dabbed at the tears rolling down her cheeks, and mumbled, “I’m scared.”

Can’t blame her, Tess thought. Max was a scary guy sometimes, and a future with him had to be a scary, uncertain thing. “Of what?” she probed, wanting to know more.

“Just of everything,” Liz replied. “What if all those people who’re doubting me and Max are right? What if we won’t last? I mean, we haven’t even started yet, and already our wedding sucks.”

“Okay, first off, you love Max, and he loves you,” Tess pointed out. “You guys have been together for years now. And second, this could be a lot worse. There could be an earthquake or a flash flood or a wedding dress-aster.” She laughed at her own play on words, but Liz didn’t.

“Thanks for trying to make me feel better,” she said, “but I miss my mom and dad.”

Tess sighed. She could only imagine how she would have felt if her dad hadn’t attended her wedding. It would have been an absolute nightmare. “Why do they hate Max so much?” she inquired curiously. “Besides his off-putting personality.”

Liz shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because he has all this money and he doesn’t give any to them. That’s all I can figure.”

“Then that’s on them. Money isn’t everything. They should know that.”

“Yeah, well . . . I guess they don’t.”

I wish I knew what to say to her, Tess thought. Even after all these years, she didn’t exactly like Liz, but she didn’t hate her, either. They were . . . sort of friends. And even though Maria and Isabel were more focused on their own drama than on the reason why they were both wearing purple that day, Tess had a soft spot for brides, since she’d been one herself a year and a half ago.

“I was such an emotional wreck on my wedding day,” she confessed, thinking it might help Liz to know that she wasn’t alone in feeling this way. “Even though my family was there . . . I felt like nothing was going right.”

“But your wedding was perfect,” Liz protested.

Tess shook her head. “Not quite. See, my minister came down with the swine flu the night before. He was quarantined. So the minister we had was actually supposed to be one of the ushers. He got ordained on the internet about a half an hour before the ceremony, and he married us. Just like that.”

Liz looked surprised to hear that. “Really?”

Tess nodded.

“I had no idea. It seemed like everything ran so smoothly.”

Tess laughed. “It didn’t. It never does.” In addition to the minister drama, there had been some catering drama, too, but the moment she’d started down the aisle and saw Kyle waiting for her, she’d forgotten about everything else. “My dad and Maria’s mom just got married at the Elvis Chapel in Vegas,” she went on, “and apparently their Elvis impersonator was smashed. Like hammered.”

“How romantic.”

“Well, they laughed a lot, made the most of it.” Tess shrugged. “And that’s what you and Max have to do. This is only one day in a long line of days you two will spend together. And this is just your wedding, not your marriage.” She opened up her purse and pulled out a lacy blue garter. “Here,” she said, handing it to Liz. “I wore this on my wedding day. Something borrowed and something blue.”

Liz reached out her hand to take it, then stopped.

Tess rolled her eyes. “It’s clean, I promise.”

Liz smiled and took the garter from her, twirling it around on her index finger. “Thanks, Tess,” she said, sounding a little bit hopeful for the first time that day. Tess was just happy to be of assistance to her assistant.


“I’m bored,” Miley complained as she picked up her flowers off the floor.

Michael yawned. “It’s a wedding, sweetie. We’re all bored.” Hell, even Kyle and Tess’s wedding had nearly put him to sleep. “Stay here,” he said when she walked out into the aisle.

“I’m bored,” she repeated, looking around. Michael watched her watching someone else, someone he recognized to be one Garret Whitman. He was sitting in the very front pew with his dad, looking over the back of the pew at Miley. She waved to him, and he waved back to her.

Michael leaned forward, suddenly more alert. “You know him?” he asked his daughter.

She nodded. “He’s my friend.”

“Your friend?” he echoed, tensing up. “The one who taught you how to say . . .”

“Fuck!” she shouted giddily.

Everyone in the church gasped simultaneously and turned to look at them in horror. Michael laughed nervously, grabbed Miley’s hand, and pulled her back into the pew with him. “Kyle,” he said, reaching back to wake his friend. “Kyle.”

“Huh? What?” Kyle jolted awake, looking dazed.

“Go get Maria,” Michael told him, watching Garret worriedly. “Now.”


Maria couldn’t believe the horrible coincidence. She paced back and forth outside in the parking lot, raking one hand through her hair. Earlier, she and Tess had slipped outside to stress about Isabel. Now she and Michael were stressing about her son.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said.

“I wish I was,” Michael muttered, leaning back against their car.

She shook her head. Anyone else, and it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Anyone else. She whirled around to face Miley. “You’re sure that boy in the church is the same boy from daycare?”

“Yes,” Miley answered in a shrill, impatient tone. She’d answered that question about a dozen times already.

Maria moaned in distress and shot a glance of panic at Michael. How were they supposed to deal with this? There was so much else going on here than either of the two young children knew.

She knelt down in front of her daughter, deciding to tackle the issue right then and there. “Miley, that boy’s name is Garret Whitman,” she explained, “and he is not the kind of friend you should have.”

Miley frowned in confusion. “Why not?”


“Because why?”

Maria sighed. “Just because, okay? Just trust me.” She had a feeling Miley would keep asking the question until she got what she considered a satisfactory answered, though. She was so curious lately.

“Daddy?” she asked, looking at him pleadingly, even sticking her bottom lip out. She knew how to work him.

“Sweetheart, she’s right,” he said. “I’m sorry, I know he may seem nice, but . . . you can find other friends who are a lot nicer. Say, are there any other girls who go to daycare with you? Maybe you could be friends with one of them.”

Miley folded her arms over her chest and frowned.

“Honey, don’t be mad.” Maria reached out to stroke her daughter’s hair, but she jerked away. “We’re just trying to look out for you.”

“You don’t want me to have any friends!” Miley shouted.

“That’s not true. We do. We want you to have a lot of friends. Just not . . . that boy.” Maria felt really bad, but she had to do what she had to do.

“He’s nice!” Miley wailed.

“But his parents aren’t,” Michael jumped in. “Or at least his mom isn’t. And that’s why we don’t want you to be friends with him, because of her.”


“Miley, he can’t be your friend,” Maria decided sternly. “End of discussion.”

Miley glared at her, furrowed brow and everything. She stomped her foot on the ground, then growled, “I hate you!” and ran back towards the church.

Maria grimaced. Those words felt like a knife to her heart. “Miley!”

“Miley!” Michael ran and caught up to her, to hold her hand and help her through the parking lot.

Maria sighed in defeat. “Great parenting skills.” She hated having to lay down the law like that, but she hated that shrill anger in Miley’s voice even more.

TBC . . .


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