Magnets

By: Haley J. The Bat

Pairing(s): Michael/Maria


Summary: Michael has a hard time trying to blurt out three little words to Maria.

* * * * *

Maria DeLuca swept a piece of her hair behind her ear with an annoyed sigh as she continued to mop the Crashdown floor. Her hair was in that in-between stage, and she had no idea what to do with it. It kept falling in her eyes, and she had run into three people in the last week. At least one of them because of her hair.

The small smile she'd been wearing at the memories of accidentally falling onto people instantly dissipated when she heard a rapping sound. She first looked to the door that went up to Liz's house. Nobody was there. Liz had gone up to study long ago, and her parents were probably watching TV. She turned to the front door, wondering who would be coming to the Crashdown at this time of night.

"We're closed!" she called out, walking towards the glass door to see past the glare. She stopped short. "Oh. It's you."

"Yes, it's me," he shot. It was Michael, leaning against the door and watching her with raised eyebrows. "Are you going to let me in?"

She shook her head. "Oh, no. No, no, no. I will not fall for this again. I open the door, you attack me, and then we go at it like wild animals. Nothing of that sort is going on. Do you know why?" She took a step forward in her rant. "It's because you're an idiot. If you weren't such an idiot, then I would be happy to let you in right now. But I'm not falling for your traps. I know your game, Guerin, and I don't like it."

Michael rolled his eyes. "You sound like somebody's mom," he grumbled. "I promise not to 'attack' you if you let me. Although I clearly remember it being mutual."

Maria crossed her arms and set her jaw. She would most definitely not give in to him. Not even if he gave her the look. "Say whatever you need to say through this glass. I can hear you just fine."

Michael opened his mouth as if to sputter out something mean, but he closed it quickly. He shook his head and mumbled something unintelligible. Then he cursed and said, "Fine! But what I have to tell you is a 'face-to-face' kind of thing. Don't say I didn't warn you."

Maria bit her lip. Maybe . . .

"I just wanted to tell you that . . ." He coughed suddenly. He averted his eyes from hers, and she noticed the tell-tale twitching of his neck muscles that meant he was struggling with something internally. "That . . . I have a friend."

Maria arched an eyebrow. "Congratulations?"

"I didn't mean it like that," he snapped, raking a hand through his hard jaggedly and shooting a 'why me?' look at the sky. "I meant, I have a friend that-that needs to say something to his other friend."

"Well, why don't you go find this friend and tell him that he'd better say whatever it is before his other friend kicks his ass," Maria said matter-of-factly.

Michael glared. "Who said this had anything to do with you, DeLuca?"

She blinked. That hadn't really occurred to her. "Then why are you getting me involved? Is it about Max and Liz? Isabel? Alex? You? Kyle? Oh, right. He's just a bastard. All friendly feelings removed from association with Kyle Valenti since he and Liz broke up."

"Anyway," he gritted out, drawing attention back to himself. "This friend of mine wanted to tell his other friend something that's very, very important. But he . . . he can't do it. And he asked me to help him."

"Well, that was a stupid thing to do," Maria said bluntly. "You wouldn't know sharing your feelings if it was a rock that hit you in the head."

"What exactly is that supposed to mean?"

"I don't know. Maybe that you're a stony, no good, mean, emotionally-detached Czechoslovakian."

"Look, Maria, just open the goddamned door," Michael snapped, exasperated. He put a palm up. "I won't touch you, I swear. I don't want to touch you."

Maria's mouth opened slightly at this. She recovered quickly. "What do you mean, you don't want to touch me?" she demanded. She stepped right up to the door and fixed him with a glare. "I could get you to kiss me with the snap of my fingers."

"Go ahead. Try," he taunted.

Oh, that . . . insufferable . . . boy! She let out a frustrated groan and unlocked the door, letting him inside. "I don't want to get you to kiss me," she announced.

"That's perfectly fine with me!"

They stood, avoiding each others' eyes, for a few minutes. Then Maria shuffled her feet and went to the counter. "Do you want some chocolate cake?"

"Tabasco?"

"Of course." She went behind the counter to get some plates. "But I'm only doing this if you wash the dishes."

"I don't wash dishes."

"You can start tonight or no cake for you, pally."

Michael growled. "Fine. I'll wash the freaking dishes. Happy?"

She ignored him and put two slices of cake on the plates she pulled out. She set one across the counter and put a bottle of Tabasco sauce next to it. She stayed behind the counter, wanting to keep as much as possible between them. She may not be exactly chummy with Michael Guerin, but she knew well enough that she couldn't resist him. He was so . . . intense and . . . overwhelming. He could void out anything else in her life easily. She didn't like surrendering herself to a guy. Especially a guy like Michael.

"Dig in," she said, handing him a fork as he sat down on a stool. She took a bite of the cake and pretended not to be disgusted as he drenched his in Tabasco. She remembered why he was here in the first place. Supposedly. "Why are you talking to me about this 'friend?'" she asked, spitting the word mockingly.

He took a slow bite and didn't look her in the face. Then he spoke quietly. "I'm no good at this type of stuff."

"So you came to me for help." She snorted. "You know, that is just like you, Michael. Go to Maria. Maria won't care. Maria will just let you do or say whatever you want, and she'll go along with it. Then you can just-just drop me like you never cared to begin with . . ." She would not cry. He couldn't hurt her. She wouldn't let him.

He stared at her then, openly, the fork halfway to his mouth. "I . . ."

"Why did I let him in?" Maria asked herself, groaning. "Stupid, stupid. And then I offer you cake. What am I thinking?"

Michael resumed eating, not saying anything.

Maria sighed. There was no use trying this. She was here, he was here. He'd promised no making out. They were, she suspected, talking about Liz and Max. "What does he want to say to her?" she asked even though she knew the answer.

"He . . . loves her," Michael muttered in between bites.

Maria rolled her eyes. "Like that isn't obvious."

His head snapped up. "It's obvious?" he demanded.

"Well, yeah, kinda," she scoffed. "Of course, she wouldn't admit it, and he wouldn't. So unless someone says something, they're going to just go in circles. I'm already dizzy, so it'd be great if one of them spoke up."

Michael's eyes turned unreadable. He looked down. "Got anything to drink?"

She went to the cola machine and poured him some cherry cola, still talking. "I mean, it's really kind of depressing. For me, at least."

"It is?"

She nodded. Then she narrowed her eyes. "You're not making it any better."

"What?" he looked up in consternation as he began to pour Tabasco in his drink.

"Coming in here." She waved her arms around avidly. "Rubbing it in my face and all. I know what I'm missing, thank you very much. I don't need you of all people telling me."

He was openly confused now. "You know who we're talking about, right? You're perceptive."

"Of course, I know! Who else would tell you something personal if not Max?" She let out a noise of frustration. "That's just great, Michael. Coming in here and telling me all about how Max loves Liz and reminding me that they're soul mates and all I have is some measly off-again on-again semi-not relationship with you!" She poked him in the chest forcefully as she said the word 'you.'

Michael looked surprised. He cleared his throat and stood up. "Thanks for the cake, Maria," he mumbled. "I can wash the dishes. You go up and say good night to Liz."

Maria shook her head. "No way am I leaving you here alone."

He looked up at her sharply.

She caught the look he was giving her. "First, it's not that I don't trust you. I just don't want you getting water all over the place or breaking a bunch of plates or something like that. Second, you should really think about why you care whether I trust you or not."

His eyes closed off at this, and he took her plate and stacked it with his. "If you want to baby-sit me, fine," he said.

She rolled her eyes as he disappeared in the back room. She put the Tabasco sauce back in its place, easily accessible. Then she jumped up to sit on the counter, legs swinging and waiting for him to finish.

* * * * *

"He's looking at you again, Maria," Liz muttered.

Maria rolled her eyes. "I know he's looking at me. He's not exactly discreet, Liz," she said. She turned around and gave Michael a once over. "And I know exactly what that look means."

"What?" Alex asked, curious.

"It means that he wants to visit the eraser room with me," Maria said matter-of-factly.

"Who are we talking about here? I was spacing out," Alex said sheepishly.

"Michael," Liz replied. She gave Maria a look. "Maria . . . you shouldn't-"

"Duh! Look, Liz, I may be a little out there, but I am in no way stupid. Michael is an asshole. He's an asshole that I could deal being friends with, but he is not capable of a relationship. He doesn't even want a relationship. He doesn't even bother to pretend that he wants a relationship. He's not your typical girl-user, Liz."

Alex stared at her for a second. "How do you know Michael so well? He seems like he'd be kinda, I don't know, hard to relate to."

"He is. He's a . . . a . . . stone wall," Maria decided. "Only . . ." She looked over at him. "He's surprisingly soft and warm, and he smells really good." She sighed and bit her lip, feeling guilty.

"Maria," Liz began.

"I know, I know." Maria groaned and tore her eyes away from him. "It's hard for me though. You guys have known me all my life. You know how different I act around him. It's like I'm a completely different Maria. An uncontrollable Maria. And I have yet to figure this other Maria out."

"I thought you said you were going to stay away from him," Alex pointed out.

"I will!" Maria pointed her chin determinedly. "I'm strong. I'm impenetrable."

Liz and Alex exchanged doubtful looks.

Maria sighed again and looked down at her lunch.

* * * * *

Maria went straight home after school. She had the day off from work, and she was determined to enjoy it to the fullest. That meant she was going to bask herself in so much aroma therapy she'd reek of lavender, sage, and ylang ylang for the next month. She'd pick up a book, maybe. Or she could always watch Oprah. Hmm . . . now that was an idea.

Maria daydreamed about all of these things as she walked the distance home. She was zoned out when Michael came up to walk next to her. She only noticed him when he gave a pointed cough, and the intrusive sound made her jump.

She glared at him. "God, Michael."

"Sorry." He didn't sound the least bit sorry.

She snorted. "Yeah, right." She kept walking with him for a minute or two. Then she stopped suddenly and turned towards him. "Look, why are you here?"

He shrugged.

She glowered.

Then he rolled his eyes. "I just wanted to walk you home. Is there something wrong with that?"

"Yes," she spat. "You're so aggravating."

"Ditto."

Maria started walking again. She stopped again two feet later. "You're still following me."

"No shit, Sherlock!" he shouted.

"Well, stop it. I'm getting tired of your mind games."

"I'm just . . ." Michael shook his head. "Just let me walk you home, Maria."


Maria scrutinized him for a long time. Then she sighed and relented. "Okay." She added, "No funny business, though!"

"I think I can deal with that," he agreed.

They both kept walking, resorting to silence again.

Ten minutes later they arrived at Maria's doorstep. She gave him a hard, pointed look. He shuffled his feet. "Look . . . Maria, I . . ." he faltered.

Maria knew what he was trying to say. Or at least, she suspected. "No, Michael," she said softly.

His eyebrows knitted together, and he crossed his arms defensively. "What makes you think you know what I'm going to say?"

Maria didn't reply. She got her key out of her backpack and unlocked the door. "Goodbye, Michael."

He still stood there, staring at her with unreadable eyes. She rolled her eyes and shut the door. His hand shot out, and before she knew it he had maneuvered his way into her house. He shot his hand out again and wrapped it around her neck. Before she could react, he had her pressed against the nearest wall. His lips connected with hers, cushioning against hers and sucking her tongue into his mouth.

Her mind went dizzy, and she instantly lost hold of reality. She responded to his lips' caress fervently, her mind only on touching as much of him as she could. She felt his hands at her thighs, and then he lifted her up. She wrapped her legs around his waist, and he pressed her into the wall for support.

She moaned when he pulled away to attack her neck. She threw her head back, bumping it in the wall but not feeling any pain. She had never realized how much pleasure could be derived from open kisses on her neck. But Michael made it clear he loved kissing her there, and she never wanted him to stop.

Maria's mind was foggy, and her eyes were half closed in desire. She could feel his arousal pressing into her, and it sent tingles up and down her spine. She jerked her hips against his without knowing she was doing it. The movement made them both pause, panting.

Michael met her eyes, and she locked their gazes boldly. She didn't care if he knew how desperately she wanted him . . . even though she'd tried to convince him she didn't care, didn't want him.

Michael abruptly let go of her, and she fell to the floor. She got on her feet again angrily as he tried to open the door. She grabbed his wrist and yanked him backwards. "What the hell are you doing, Michael?" she demanded.

Michael closed his eyes tightly. "I don't know," he gritted out.

"Well, you'd better find out because I want some answers!" Maria yelled. She shoved him, and he stumbled backwards. "You are such a bastard, you know that?"

He shrugged.

She shook her head, trembling in desire and anger. "You can't-" Her voice faltered. "You can't keep doing this to me," she continued, a pleading note in her words. "It's not fair."

"I don't . . . I don't want to hurt you," he said softly. "I don't mean to . . . I was going to keep my hands off you. I don't know what came over me."

Maria calmed slightly. This was as close to an apology as she would ever get with Michael. "Okay."

He looked up at her doubtfully. "That's it?"

"No," she said, laughing shortly. "That won't ever be it. Michael . . ." She stepped closer to him with each words. "Don't you see . . .?" She ran her hands up his chest and to his back, admiring the way his muscles twitched. "We can't stay apart, no matter how much either of us wants to. It's inevitable."

He sucked in a breath then leaned down to kiss her. Despite the wonton moment before, his lips explored hers slowly and gently. He put a loose arm around her back, helping her to scoot closer to his body. He gently moved to her jaw line, nipping along her delicate bones as she dug her hands in his hair.

"Mmm . . ." she murmured. "Lift me up."

He obliged immediately, cupping her bottom and pulling her upwards. She wrapped her legs around his waist and rested her forehead against his. She loved being held like this, it made her feel almost as lightweight as his kisses. Plus, in this position she was about half an inch above him. She liked feeling taller for a moment, even if it was because he was carrying her.

She wound her hands around his neck again, and he dipped his lips to her chest. He kissed along the tender skin there. She reached down to the hem of her shirt. She wasn't thinking straight: all she wanted was his lips over all of her. And this shirt was definitely in her way.

He pulled away when he felt what she was trying to do. One of his hands stilled hers, and he met her eyes. "Maria . . ."

She was breathing hard, struggling to think straight.

He kissed her again, claiming her lips. He could have her lips. She was his. She sunk into the kiss. She couldn't believe he'd stopped her from moving this to the next level. It was stupid and pointless of him, really. With the passion that flared between them . . .

"Maria?"

"Yes?" They kept the dialogue up between long kisses.

"I . . ." He broke off in a moan when she tightened her thighs around him. "Definitely . . . Lo-"

"Oh, my God!"

Maria tore her face away from Michael to see her mother at the door, mouth hanging open. "Mom!" She tried to get down, but Michael held her tighter. He gave her a hard look, and she realized that he probably didn't want to show just how much Maria affected him to her mother.

"What . . .?" Amy looked like she was trying very hard to figure out what was going on. "Who is this?" she settled for asking. "What are you doing?" Her voice rose. "Maria DeLuca! I can't believe you would . . . You're only sixteen! And . . ." Her mouth opened and closed.

Michael let her go, apparently satisfied that he was calmed down enough. She met her mom's eyes guiltily. "We were just making out."

"Just . . . just making out?" Amy screeched. She took a menacing step forward. "Just making out doesn't begin to cover what you were doing! Just making out is necking in the car after a date or-or . . . certainly not . . ."

Maria had never seen her mom speechless before. "Um . . . this is Michael." She pointed to him awkwardly. "He's my, um . . ." She trailed off, realizing that she wasn't quite sure what Michael was.

"I don't care about that!" She glared at him. "Get out of my house right now, Michael. I need to talk to my daughter."

Michael nodded. He avoided Maria's eyes and stepped past Amy to get through the doorway. He ran a hand through his hair and muttered under his breath as he walked to the sidewalk.

Maria watched as her mother shut the door. Amy shook her head in barely-constrained anger. "Maria, I want you to go to your room. I'm too angry to talk about this right now."

"All right." Maria went to the hallway. She stopped for a second and turned back around. "Mom, you might not believe me, but we weren't going to do anything. I can control myself."

Amy laughed sharply. "That's what I always told myself with your father."

Maria winced and went into her bedroom. She has a point . . . she said to herself, remembering how she'd tried to take her shirt off. She shook her head. They wouldn't allow that though. Michael had stopped her. They both knew it wasn't right. Not yet.

* * * * *

After school the next day, Maria was working at the Crashdown. Liz was working on a science project with Max, so Maria was left to be bored all by herself. And that other waitress, Laura. Laura was quiet, and she and Maria never talked.

Maria sighed restlessly and pulled out a bag of napkins. Time to restock, she thought wryly as she went to the first booth. The Crashdown was dead. There was an old woman reading a romance novel in between bites of her burger, but that was it. They hadn't exactly been buzzing earlier either.

The door opened, and she turned around in anticipation of a distraction. She froze when she saw Michael. He stopped at the doorway, his eyes locked with hers. They hadn't said a word to each other since the day before when Amy had walked in on them. Michael had pointedly avoided her at school, and she had begun to think it was 'ditch Maria' time again. His presence here spoke otherwise.

Laura walked up to him with a menu. "Uh . . . it's seat yourself," she told him, sounding a little confused. She held out the menu.

Michael tore his eyes away from Maria to look down at Maria. "I know that," he said blankly.

Maria put the napkins on the counter and walked around the side. "I'm taking my break now, Laura, all right? Half an hour."

"Go right ahead," Laura said, turning her attention away from Michael. "I doubt we're going to get any business tonight."

Maria walked up to Michael and arched an eyebrow. "Hungry? Or do you want to go somewhere else . . .?"

Michael looked around. "Um . . . I'll eat later. Let's . . . go."

She nodded shortly and went to the door. She held it open for Michael, and he followed unhesitatingly. "Where to, Spaceboy?"

"I don't care." He shrugged. Well, at least she'd gotten him to say something. "Walking is fine."

"Okay . . ." she drew the word out and knitted her eyebrows together. "Is there something you came for?"

"What makes you think that I came to talk to you?" he asked defensively.

"If you're going to be like this, let me know now. I'm not wasting my break arguing with you, Michael." She shook her head. "I'm tired of that crap. So tell me why you're here, or I leave. And it won't be so easy to chase after me next time."

"I don't chase-"

She turned around abruptly to return to the Crashdown. She was secretly glad when he grabbed her arm and spun her back to face him. "Wait," he said shortly. He looked like he was severely annoyed. "You are so . . ." He let out a frustrated groan, let her go, and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

"Want to finish that thought?" She raised her eyebrows and smirked.

"Are you in . . . trouble?"

"Me? Nah." She waved her hand dismissively. "My mom and I have this 'don't ask, don't tell' thing going on. I just slipped in a few reminders of her last few boyfriends, and she laid off." Maria shook her head in mirth. "Not before lecturing me though. Boy, did I get an earful."

Michael couldn't hide the relief in his stance. She studied him, and sensing her gaze, he coughed. "Um . . ." he muttered. "That's all I wanted to know."

Maria laughed to herself, suddenly finding Michael's attempts to rid of her funny. He looked up sharply at her chuckle. She moved forward and leaned into his body, playing with collar of his shirt as she smiled winningly at him.

"We've got to quit doing this," Michael told her. He leaned down and kissed her. She gripped his neck for support as he slipped a hand under her shirt to caress her back. She sighed contently as he moved along to her jaw line in typical Michael-fashion.

Considering their other make outs, this was pretty tame. Instead of the blaze of passion that they were usually swept up by, things went gentle. Maria sighed as she let her head fall backwards. "You know," she said softly, "generally, people don't do this kind of thing in public."

"Point taken," he mumbled in between kisses. "Where can we go?"

"The Crashdown break room," she supplied. "There's a couch."

"Then people would know what we're doing." He pulled away from her. "Did you drive here?"

"Yes," she said. "To the parking lot."

He kept a hand on her waist as they walked back down the sidewalk to the Crashdown. It wasn't busy, and her car was one of three in the parking lot. It was still visible from the street, but they were less likely to be interrupted than if they went to the break room. She opened the back door and crawled to the other side. Michael followed her inside.

They avoided each others' gazes, and Maria fiddled with the edge of her apron. "So."

He nodded. "So."

"Guess we should . . ." She shifted to the middle of the backseat and looked up at him.

He slowly turned to look at her. "Probably," he agreed. He narrowed the space between them and kissed her softly. "Definitely."

Maria was reminded of him saying that the other day at her house. It had almost seemed like he was going to say . . . She trailed off in her thoughts. Stop being an idiot. This is Michael we're talking about.

When their kiss became deeper and hotter, she leaned backwards and pulled Michael on top of her. Lying down was uncomfortable - there was a seat belt poking into her side - but she didn't notice. He had one long leg in between her legs, and the other was dangling off the side of the backseat. One of her free legs snaked up to wrap around his ass.

Michael brought his face down to the edge of her uniform. She knew where she wanted him kissing her, and he wasn't going to stop her this time. She managed to free one hand to the top of it and started unbuttoning it. She yanked it open. He pulled away for a second, but he didn't stop her. He captured her lips again, this time attacking her with fervor. She wrapped her arms around his back and plastered her chest to his. She pulled at his shirt, wanting to feel him skin to skin.

Michael let her take his shirt off. One of his hands reached up to splay out over her breast. She gasped and arched her back. "Oh, God . . . Michael . . . we should have started this a long time ago." She started raining open-mouthed kisses all over his neck, barely taking the time to breathe as he kneaded her breast through her bra.

He groaned. "I love you," he blurted out. He rested his forehead against her neck. "I love you. I love you so much. Too much, goddamn it."

They stopped then, gasping for breath and taking in what Michael had admitted. Maria was too shocked to do anything but pant. She bit her lip to see if it was a dream. When the dream issue was ruled out, she reached up a hand to run through his hair. She couldn't think of what to say. Should she say it back? She doubted that he wanted to hear that. He was probably trying to come up with a way to jump out of the car and never see her again. Michael hadn't meant to say those words. She'd even settled for never expecting to hear them, no matter if she knew he felt them.

Maria chuckled. It turned into a full-fledged laugh, and Michael slowly sat upwards, supporting himself with his elbows so he could look at her. His eyes were hardened, and his jaw was clenched. Maria realized that it seemed like she was laughing at him.

She sobered quickly and pulled him down as he tried to leave. "No, Michael . . . I wasn't laughing at you. I was . . ." She sighed and smiled. "I just realized how very . . . you this is."

His eyebrows furrowed together. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Maria began to caress his back with her hand. "It's just . . . I always imagined that saying 'I love you' would involve flowers and candles and music and romance."

"Do you want those things?" he asked a little too nonchalantly.

She shook her head forcefully. "No, no. Not anymore. She reached her other hand up to brush across his cheek. "I never would have imagined it being on my break, in my mom's car, with you feeling me up. But-" she leaned up to kiss him softly "-I also never realized that it's not about the setting. It's about who said it."

Michael tried hard to look like he didn't care, but his eyes gave him away. He looked at her imploringly, a heavy need that she'd never expected. "How do you feel about who said it?" he asked gruffly.

Maria didn't hesitate. "Well, I kinda love him, too."

Michael closed his eyes. His arms went out, and he fell on her with a force she didn't mind. He buried his head in her neck again, and she tightened her arms around him, hugging him to her. "I know, baby," she whispered. She kissed the back of his neck tenderly. "I know."

Michael stayed with her for a few more minutes. Then he sat up again and kissed her. It was closed mouth and long, but she found that the sweetness of it made up for the barely-contained passion they kissed with. She began to button up her top, and he opened the door. "I got to go," he said.

"I know."

"I have to think."

"I know."

"But I'll be back."

"I know that, too."

He gave her a half-smile. "Well, you seem to know just about everything then," he teased, trying to bring some lightheartedness to the situation.

"I know," she joked back. She finished the top button and followed him out of the car. "I've got to get back to work. You still hungry?"

"I'm pretty satiated at the moment, but I could do with a milk shake."

She took his hand and led him to the back door of the Crashdown. "It's on me, Spaceboy."

They walked into the main part of the restaurant. Michael went to sit in his usual booth only to see that Liz and Max were there. Maria followed him, figuring that she had another ten minutes before her break was over.

Max glanced at Michael as he sat down next to him. He smirked. "I like your lip gloss, Guerin."

"Shut up," Michael growled.

Liz narrowed her eyes when she looked at a very guilty Maria. "Come on, chica. Let's go powder our noses," she said slightly sarcastically.

Maria rolled her eyes. She smiled at Michael, who merely arched an eyebrow in response, and followed Liz to the backroom. Maria sighed when she shut the door behind her. "Hurry up, Lizzie. I've got to get back to work."

Liz put her hands on her hips. "What happened to you staying away from Michael?"

"The plan is officially over."

Liz stared her down.

"Look, Liz. I know you don't want to see me get hurt. And I totally understand why you think I might - what with Michael's record and everything. But . . . I can't seem to stay away from him. It's like . . . like magnets. If we're both in the right place, we're drawn to each other. If we're not, then you couldn't get us to get along no matter how hard you pushed. And I think that I can deal with that now. We're working on it."

"Why do you bother trying to deal with it? There are a million guys who would kill to go out with you." Liz reached out and took Maria's hand.

"I know, Liz. But no one does it for me quite like Michael Guerin." She smiled. "I love him, Liz."

"I know that."

"He loves me, too. But don't spread it around, all right? He's got that touch reputation to hold up. Dating ditzy DeLuca won't exactly give him any brownie points."

Liz smiled. "I'll keep it to myself." She squeezed Maria's hand. "I'm happy for you, Maria."

"Yeah, I'm a little excited myself." Maria let go of Liz's hand and pushed through the door again. "I owe one Czechoslovakian a chocolate milk shake. You and Max want something, or did Laura get your orders?"

"No. We're fine." Liz went back to her booth, and Maria went to the milk shake machine.

"Hey, Laura."

"Hi, Maria," Laura said. She was setting an order slip down for Jose. "Fun break?"

"The best."