A small woman in her mid-twenties sat on the bench right under the biggest
tree in the park and immediately started rummaging through her bag. Liz Parker,
who had been reading a book for the last hour on the same bench, raised her head
to look at her. The woman was pretty, with long blonde hair and a friendly face.
Then Liz noticed the eyes that have been hiding behind the curtain of blonde
hair; they were red and swollen from crying . . . She reached inside her bag and
offered the woman a tissue with a small smile.
"I'm Liz Parker. I live right across the street." She pointed out her building. A small apartment with a green door.
"Maria," the woman said, her voice cracking from the repressed sobs. "Maria DeLuca."
They sat for a moment, just looking at each other. Maria was sure she would burst into tears if she tried to speak, and Liz was scared to say the wrong thing.
"Man problems?" Liz asked when Maria started to silently cry again.
"Yeah. . ." Maria managed to respond.
Liz smiled softly, and nodded. "Always the same, isn't it? You love him, and he's a jerk, or gay, or married. . ."
"Yeah. . . Married. . ." Maria said as another wave of tears flooded her eyes.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Liz said, putting a hand on the woman's arm.
Maria dried her tears as best she could, and straightened her shoulders. "Yes. The jerk is married. To me."
Liz laughed slightly, looking like she didn't know how to react. "Is that a joke?"
Maria gave Liz a small smile. "No." She looked down at her hands. "It's a long story . . ."
* * * * *
29 Days Earlier, Las Vegas
Maria took a long swig of water as her drummer twirled his drumsticks to make her laugh. She always got nervous before shows, and this was a million times worse. She smiled for Vinny's benefit, but her heart wasn't in it. "Who am I kidding, Vin?"
"Uh-oh," Cathy, her bass, said. "Here she goes again."
"We should just back out now," Maria continued as if Cathy hadn't spoken. "I mean, what are we thinking? We're a small town garage band, for God's sake! Vegas? No, we can't do Vegas."
"Oh, yes. We can, and we will." Cathy gave Maria a stern look. "I will drag you out on that stage if I have to, and I'm not joking around, Maria." She picked up her pick and strummed a little. "Did you ever think, Maria, that this could be our big break? You've got to be your best." She looked around at the band. "We've all got to do our best."
Ray laughed. "One freak out from Maria? Check. Pep talk from Cathy? Check. Now we just sit back and wait for the sound system to fail."
"Don't say that!" Maria slapped him. "You're going to jinx us." She picked up her water bottle, took another long gulp, and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. "Okay. Okay. I think I can. I can do this. I can do this, right?" She looked at her friends in fear, but they merely nodded and agreed.
The manager of the club showed up in the dressing room with a clipboard. "You're the band Ria, right?" He checked something off. "Go to the stage area. The other band is just finishing. After this song you're up." The man left, looking distracted.
Cathy, Ray, Vinny, and Chris all gathered their stuff and started towards the door. Maria followed them reluctantly. She got into the hallway when the panic attack hit her. "Oh, God! Oh, God!" she chanted, fanning herself and leaning against a wall for support.
"Splash water on her face," Vinny suggested.
"No! You'll ruin her makeup," Cathy said. She reached out and slapped Maria. "Snap out of it, girl."
Maria inhaled deeply. She glared. "What the hell was that for?"
"Come on." Cathy turned and led the way to the stage.
Maria clutched Vinny's arm for support as they made it to the side curtains. She closed her eyes tightly. If she looked out into the crowd, she'd faint. The band on stage finished with their upbeat tempo, and the lights in the club dimmed for them to get off the stage.
Ria all moved quickly, setting themselves up with help from backstage. Maria stood in front of the center microphone. She was shaking like crazy. This was insane. How could she have ever thought she could make it in Vegas? She wasn't good enough for Vegas, not by a long shot.
A backstage worker counted down in a loud stage whisper. At one, the lights turned on again. A spotlight focused on Maria, and she stiffened. Chris and Ray started in with the guitars, and soon everyone was contributing to a low, sexy tune.
Maria's eyes widened with every second. She saw at least a hundred people - had to be a thousand - all sitting among the bar and tables. They were going to laugh. There was no way she could do this. No way. No way. She slowly started to back up, her eyes frantically scanning the place for an escape.
She stopped backing away when her eyes met someone else's in the crowd; she felt pinned to the stage, just staring in astonishment at these eyes that were fascinating her so much.
"Maria!" Cathy hissed.
Maria jerked a little bit. She didn't take her eyes off the man, but she stepped back up to the mike and started singing their opening song. For some reason, she felt completely at ease.
* * * * *
"Was that him? Your husband?" Liz asked.
Maria nodded as she laughed bitterly. "Husband is hardly the name to call him."
"What would you call him?"
"Business partner," Maria said softly. "We got married later that night, but it wasn't about romance and love at first sight."
"You seemed pretty impressed by his eyes."
Maria shivered. "I still am. He's . . . He's me. He's everything in here." She tapped her heart with a faraway look.
"If he's so perfect, why are you crying?"
"Like I said. Long story."
* * * * *
Maria was in a daze throughout the performance, but at the same time, she hadn't had as clear a moment before in her life. When the last strings of music from their last song rang out into the smoky air of the club, she left without a word, ignoring the calls of her band mates.
Maria walked off the side of the stage and down into the crowd. People were still whistling and clapping. She'd never gotten such a reaction before, and normally she would have been ecstatic . . . But she needed to find those eyes. She had to find the lost soul who had captivated her during her songs.
Maria pushed through the crowds around the bar until she was standing in front of a very tall man with spiky hair, lean physique, and a blank face. Oh . . . but his eyes. They were brown. It was such an ordinary color, and Maria had never given it a second thought. But this brown had to be from a different world.
"You were watching me," she said shyly.
"So was everyone else," he replied. His voice was low, husky, with a hint of sarcasm.
"They don't matter."
"And I do?" He arched an eyebrow.
"I want to buy you a drink." She reached into the strap of her short sleeve dress and pulled out a small wad of cash.
The man looked around nervously. "Let's go somewhere else for a drink."
She nodded, her body barely containing itself in little shivers of anticipation. "Somewhere else. Yes. Much, much better."
He turned around and strode out of the club. Maria struggled to follow with her high heels and short legs. Instead of taking her through the hotels, she followed him outside and through a parking lot. They stopped in front of a motorcycle, and she laughed.
"There is no way you can get me on that thing. Motorcycles kill."
"So do people."
"Not a good thing to say to a girl who you've just met and you're trying to impress."
He flashed her a smirk. "Who said I was trying to impress you?" He tossed her the helmet. "You seem to need this more than me."
"Me?" She looked at the bike with suspicion. "At least tell me one thing."
He arched an eyebrow.
"What's your name?"
"Hello, Michael." She held out her hand. "I'm Maria."
* * * * *
Maria felt Liz watching her strangely, so she turned to meet the dark haired girl's eyes. "He was hot," she said, struggling to sound like the twenty-two year old she was but failing deftly.
"No. Yeah. He sounds cute," Liz said. She scrutinized Maria some more. "You really love him don't you?"
Maria sighed and looked off into the distance. "I don't believe in love. I care about him, yeah. But love . . ." She shook her head. "Nope. Doesn't exist."
Liz looked sad. "You don't believe in love?" she asked. "How can you not? I saw the way your face changed when you talked about him - Michael. Your words change, too. Softer and more caressing when you're talking about him."
"That ain't love, girlfriend." Maria smiled grimly. "Love was designed by Hallmark."
* * * * *
They rode down the emptying streets of Vegas. Everyone was inside at the tables or in a club. No one wanted to be in the presence of neon lights and prostitutes on the corner. Maria knew she was being reckless, that she didn't know this man, but she couldn't find any whim to care.
Michael stopped the motorcycle a few blocks away. In Vegas, a few blocks seemed like a few worlds. He parked in a lot and put the keys in his pocket. She stood up, legs shaky from the unusual position and rumbling motor. "Do you live here?" she asked. He seemed to know his way around pretty well.
"I came here when I was sixteen," he said, looking around him with a closed off expression. "I was, uh, in foster homes."
Maria smiled. "Bet all the other kids at the orphanage were jealous you got to come to Vegas, huh?"
He looked at her in surprise, then smiled back. "Yeah." He reached out and put his palm on her lower back. She was wearing a thin dress, and she felt his touch all the way to her bone. Suddenly it seemed imperative to explain herself to him.
"I'm not a hooker," she blurted out as they walked to the entrance of the bar.
"I didn't think you were. If a hooker could sing like you, she wouldn't be selling herself on the streets."
Maria couldn't help grinning. "You liked my voice?" Her voice sounded unusually shy.
Michael grunted. "Wouldn't have taken you up on the drink if I hadn't."
"I don't normally do this," Maria continued. They sat down at a table in the back of the bar. This bar was very low key with only a piano for background music. "What am I saying? I've never done this before."
"And what exactly is 'this,' Maria?" He smiled at her as she became flustered.
"I-I'm not sure exactly," she admitted. On the surface he seemed so calm. She was freaking out. This wasn't just a drink, this was something much deeper. Something that she couldn't explain even to herself.
A waitress came by and listened to their orders. "This place is very nice," Maria said softly.
"If it's too expensive-"
Maria waved her hand. "Nah. They loved me on stage. I'm going to be filthy rich."
Michael leaned back in his chair and watched her. He stayed like that for a good two minutes before it finally unnerved Maria enough. "What?" she snapped.
"I'm just memorizing you," he explained with a shrug. "I'm an artist. I-uh-wanted to paint you later."
"Paint me?" Her eyebrows rose, and her mouth dropped. "Oh, no. No, no, no, buddy. I knew something was fishy here. You will not, I repeat not, paint me nude."
Michael chuckled. "I wasn't thinking about it." He paused. "Okay, the thought did cross my mind."
Maria smiled, sensing once again that this man was trustworthy. Their drinks came, and then they were left alone again.
Maria let her eyes trail over him, figuring it was her turn to stare. "You don't strike me as an artist." She reached for his hands and studied them. "But you've got long fingers." She ran her thumb across his hand. "Nice hands."
He took them back with a slight scowl. "I don't get close," he announced suddenly. At these words, he grabbed his shot glass and downed it. It fell to the table with a clank.
"You don't get close?" Maria repeated.
He shook his head and studied the edge of the table. "I'm not the kind of
person to jump on a bike with, Maria. You seem like a nice girl."
Maria was feeling wanton. "I can be bad," she whispered.
Michael looked up at her, surprised. Then he cracked a smile. "Oh, yeah. I can see you in the biker babe outfit. Leather jacket, teased hair, the works."
Maria narrowed her eyes. "You saying I look like a prep?" she asked, a challenge in her voice. "Do I look like an uptown gal with Daddy's Visa?"
Michael sobered. "I'm saying that I don't want you to get your hopes up."
Maria snorted. "Get my hopes up? Are you worrying about breaking my heart if you don't declare your undying love for me tonight? Gotta admit it, I'm just not all for the flowers and romance. I don't even believe in love."
Michael shot his head up at her and looked dumbfounded. "You don't believe in love?" he asked edgily.
"Why do people find that so hard to accept? Love is myth. There is no soul wrenching, life-altering, completely unfathomable such thing as love."
"No! I totally agree." He looked at her closely. "I just didn't think anyone would ever agree with my point of view. Especially not . . . you know, a girl." He shrugged and turned his head to look at the stage where the piano was spitting out a fast but mellow jazzy tune.
"A girl?" Maria felt her anger rise. If there was one thing she hated, it was being called a girl. "First of all, I am twenty-two, hardly considered a girl. Second of all, that term is very degrading. Not so much the words as the tone itself. Just because women are made out to be love-seeking, life-sucking vampires doesn't mean that we're actually like that."
Michael turned to her again lazily. "I stand corrected."
"You bet you stand corrected. Now let's go sit at the bar where we can get good and drunk."
"Because everyone knows that when you go to Vegas, you have to get good and drunk and fuck some random stranger." She smiled sweetly. "It wouldn't be a real vacation without it. You don't want to ruin all my fun."
Michael coughed, the motion not lost on her. "Um. No. Of course not. Let's get the lady a few rounds."
They stood and walked to bar in unison. Maria felt her heart beating faster. She was actually going to do this. She said "fuck" in a conversation without fainting or hyperventilating. Maria grinned and decided that she could do just about anything now.
* * * * *
Maria stopped a second. "I'm not a slut," she told Liz. "I know that I'm coming off that way, but . . . it was completely out of character for me. I feel so different around Michael."
"No, no. I understand," Liz assured her. "I was just thinking . . . are you hot? I'm getting a little too warm out here."
"Yeah. It is getting warm."
"Have you eaten lunch?" Liz gave her a half smile. "We could get into some air conditioning, and you can finish your story."
Maria smiled at the woman. She felt a wave of emotion for her, as if she'd known Liz her whole life. "That would be really nice. Is there anyplace you want to go?"
"Um . . . I think I can deal with anything. Except McDonalds," she said, chuckling.
"I agree." Maria stood up and swung her purse over one shoulder. "Let's eat at the first restaurant we see, okay?"
* * * * *
Maria felt very, very good. Her legs were a bit weak, her brain felt pleasantly fuzzy, and she was sucking face with an incredibly hot guy.
She giggled when they came up for air. "You're a good kisser," she said, "but you taste like alcohol."
Michael's hand trailed up her thigh. "Let's get out of here."
Maria closed her eyes and let him creep all the way up to the crotch of her pants. "Okay," she breathed when his hand brushed very determinedly over her zipper. "Now."
Maria followed Michael out of the bar. They went back to his motorcycle, and she frowned. "Can you drive that thing?"
"I can try." he tossed her the helmet. "It'll be fun."
She looked the bike up and down. Then she looked Michael up and down. She decided that he was too hot for her to deny. "All right. Let's ride around."
Michael got on the bike, and she hopped on behind him. She clutched his waist and laid kisses on his neck as they rolled off. She really liked his hair. It was . . . everywhere. So messy. She wondered how he got it to stick up like that. Did he ever wash it?
Maria laughed when she realized she'd been thinking about his hair for a good couple of minutes. They drove down one street, then another, farther away from the hotel she was staying at with . . . what where their names again? She laughed even harder. It was funny that she couldn't remember.
Michael stopped the bike at another bar. This one looked noisy and wild. He parked and hooked the helmet to the side. "This is more our style. What do you think?"
"I like," Maria said simply. She suddenly leaped forward and into his arms, kissing him noisily. He held her up against him, her legs swinging upwards. She pulled away and dropped down. "Mmm."
"My sentiments exactly." He put his hand on the small of her back and led her into the bar. The music was loud and infectious. She immediately started for the dance floor. He stood still. "No. I don't do dance floors."
Maria pouted. He kissed her, but she pulled away. "I wanna dance."
He studied her. Then he shrugged. "Drink another shot with me, and I'll consider it."
She brightened, and they headed for the bar. Michael shouted their orders, and a few seconds later the bartender slapped two shot glasses on the counter. Michael handed one to Maria. She threw it back, already used to the fiery, lumpy feeling it made. She gasped and put it down. "That was just as nasty as the first one."
Michael smiled. "You're so weird."
"I like unique." Michael paused as the bartender poured them both another at his request. "I don't do girls though."
"You don't do . . . girls . . ." She couldn't help but laugh.
He smiled along. "I mean . . . I don't have girlfriends or one night stands. But . . ." He shrugged and took his shot.
Maria cradled her glass and watched him in a new light. "Then why are you here with me?"
"Because there's something about you that I've only ever seen once before."
"Ex-girlfriend?" she asked timidly.
"Nope." He looked away. "Myself."
Maria's eyebrows raised. She took her shot then to avoid any tension. Then she pulled some money out of her purse to tip the bartender. "Let's go dance now."
He nodded, agreeing faster than she thought he would. He followed her to the dance floor, and she began to move to beat of the music, joining the other hundred people out there in a very basic groove. He watched her for a few seconds with a glazed-over look. She reached for him and began to shake her hips slowly, locking her eyes with him. His hands clasped her sides, and she was pulled closer. Soon they were grinding together in a mock of making love.
"This is so out-of-character," she gasped as his lips laid kisses along her neck.
"You've said that before," he murmured. "But we're drunk, and it's Vegas. No one acts the same while drunk in Vegas."
"I want to keep doing outrageous things. It makes me feel . . ." She kissed him soundly. "Mmm . . . infused."
"Let's have another shot."
They did, and afterwards they went to the dance floor again. They continued this cycle until Maria felt like she was literally floating. When the sexual tension was getting to be too much, she took his hand and led him out of the club. He reached for her and pushed her up against the side of the building, kissing and groping as if his life was on the line.
"Too open . . . alley . . ." she gasped when she could speak. He grunted and nodded.
She felt his hands cup her ass, and she jumped upwards and wrapped her legs around his waist. She moaned when she felt his arousal against her body. He took them a few steps down by the parking lot where there was a small alley between the club and another building. They pressed up against a wall, and he attacked her mouth again.
Maria felt. She felt more alive than she ever had with music, and that said a lot. She threw her head back and let him unbutton her jeans. This was too good to start thinking rationally now.
* * * * *
"Here's your food," their waitress said, interrupting Maria's story as she
set down the two plates of salad. "Do you want a refill, ma'am?"
"No, thank you," Liz said. When the waitress left, she turned back to Maria. "Wow. So you . . . you know?"
Maria sighed and twirled a lock of hair in her fingers, still dazed with remembering that night. "Pretty much." She had left out a lot of the details with Liz. She'd just met the girl, after all. Didn't want to scare her away with frank talk about sex. Liz seemed like a home girl anyway. Very prude.
"That is . . .wow." Liz looked speechless. "I wish I had your guts."
Maria shrugged. She picked up her fork and took a bite of salad. "I guess you can call it guts. Either that or out of control hormones. Man was I . . ." She trailed off, blushing. "Sorry. I'm thinking aloud here. If I say anything that offends you, just let me know. I'll shut up. Promise."
"You're not offending me," Liz assured her. "I haven't heard a good story like this in awhile. And don't worry . . . sex doesn't offend me. Let your tongue loose, say whatever you want." She smiled. "That's the way it works, right? You tell me your entire life story. I'm the stranger who gives you a piece of advice that changes the rest of your life."
Maria sighed. "If only that were true. I could sure use some advice."
"Don't worry. I'm already preparing my wise words for as soon as you're done with." She pointed at Maria with her fork. "Go on, missy. You can't leave me with that cliff hanger."
Maria laughed and continued her story.
* * * * *
Maria and Michael walked over to the bike when they were done. Maria felt such a strange mix of fear, excitement, and wantonness that she couldn't put a name on the emotion it created. Whatever this was, it was good. She wasn't a blushing virgin, but she was sure she'd never experienced anything close to being up against a stone wall with this strange man she barely knew.
"I'm not getting on the bike with you," she announced.
Michael looked at her strangely. "Why not?"
"Because you're drunker than you were before." She put her arms across her chest and tried to sound mature even though her words were slurring just as badly as Michael's.
"That'll just make it more fun."
She shook her head. "No way, buddy. We're walking."
"I don't think I can," he muttered.
She smiled smugly. "Yeah. It was pretty damn good, wasn't it?"
His jaw tightened. "You have no idea."
He looked up at her words, eyes cloudy. "Yeah. Intense."
Maria walked to the sidewalk. "You can pick up your bike tomorrow." She swaggered a bit then laughed. "You know, if a cop asked me . . . I don't think I'd be able to touch my nose right now."
Michael put his hands in his pockets and followed after her, a small smile on his face. "Is that from the alcohol or . . .?"
Maria merely laughed. She waited for him to catch up, then she kissed him very softly.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Of course." Maria was feeling quite content. She did a little twirl and ended up stumbling.
Michael caught her around the waist. "What's your last name?"
"What ethnicity is that?"
"Doesn't matter. It's just the name child services gave me."
She reached up for him and kissed him again. "You get sad when you talk about that."
Michael sighed. "I just met you."
Maria's brow knitted together in confusion, but she didn't say anything. All she could think about was how very nice everything was. She never wanted it to end.
They walked in silence. Every once in awhile a door would open, and the loud sounds of Vegas night life leaked onto the street. There weren't too many people outside. Maria dragged Michael into another bar, and they had a few more shots. By this time they were leaning on each other and giggling a lot.
"How come peaches are called peaches?" Maria asked, voice slurring even more than before. She had her head resting on Michael's shoulder, and her eyes lazily viewed the passing neon lights.
"Dunno," Michael mumbled. He reached a hand up to stroke her back. "I don't care very much either," he whispered in her ear, his voice reeking of alcohol.
Maria continued talking as he laid kisses down on her collar bone. "I mean, peaches are fuzzy. Why don't they call them . . . fuzz? Peach . . . that makes no sense."
"Peaches," Michael murmured against her skin. "You're soft."
"Peaches?" Maria echoed.
"It's either that or honey, and I don't do honey."
Michael kissed her when she was done. "When you laugh I feel . . ." he trailed off, frowning. "I feel. That's more than . . ."
Maria saw a large neon sign that sparked her interest. "Michael . . ."
"Let's get married."
* * * * *
Liz looked confused again. "Wait. I'm seriously not getting this. As far as I can tell, he seems like a nice guy. What'd he do? Cheat? Does he beat you?"
Maria shook her head. "No. We're not really married even." She studied her empty plate with faraway eyes. "I was drunker than I've ever been in my life. I wasn't in my right mind, and neither was he. But . . ."
"Marrying him might have saved his life that night."
* * * * *
The next half hour went by in a blur. Maria could barely recall any details. She remembered being walked up the aisle by a guy in an Elvis suit. She remembered that one fleeting moment of reality crashing down when she was supposed to say "I do." And she squashed that doubt down into nothing, free to say the words.
Michael picked her up and carried her effortlessly out of the little wannabe chapel. She remembered laughing . . . they laughed a lot. Then they decided to go back to the hotel she was staying at. She could hardly wait until she told her friends. And she was definitely looking forward to a bed. Michael said he had rooms in the same hotel.
They walked halfway there and realized that they really weren't going there at all, but in the opposite direction. They laughed for a long time and stopped at a shop for some coffee to help themselves sober up. They turned in the right direction and walked back to the club/hotel.
They got to the hotel and went upstairs to Maria's room. She didn't see any of her friends, but she was sure she would have been too distracted to talk to them anyway.
In the hotel room, they made love. It was different from fucking in an alley, and Maria was shocked into soberness at his touch and feel. He was brimming with energy, and just so very large. But his hands were gentle as they skimmed her body and brought her pleasure.
* * * * *
Maria woke up alone. She opened her eyes, awakened by the pounding in her head. She stumbled out of bed and managed to get into the bathroom. Cold water on her face helped her bleary eyes focus, but her head was still vibrating in an unpleasant, almost painful, intensity. She went to her bags and dug out a bottle of medicine. She downed four of them with a glass of water.
She went to sit on her bed, just wanting to be still to stop the nausea unfolding inside her. She looked around the room, and her eyes caught the trashcan. She let out a little gasp at the used condoms littering the bin.
Maria held a shaking hand up to her face. There was a simple gold band on her left wedding finger. Her heart began to pound, and she leaped off the bed. She searched everywhere for some kind of note or acknowledgement from Michael, but there was nothing.
"Oh, god." Maria crawled into her bed and covered her head with a pillow. "I haven't been married a day, and I already lost my husband. This is the type of thing people can go to therapy for. What if he's a mass murderer?" She felt her stomach clench. "Or maybe he has a new wife every night. Why not? He lives in Vegas, there are lots of woman. Who would expect him to resist?"
There was a firm knock on her door. "Maria? Let me in."
Maria slowly took the pillow off her head. "Cathy?" For some reason saying the name made her feel better. Knowing that her normal life still existed was a great comfort.
"Of course. Let me in."
Maria slowly got off the bed and went to the door. She opened it for Cathy and rubbed her eyes as she greeted her friend. "Hey."
"God, you look terrible," Cathy said cheerfully. "You must have gotten pretty drunk last night."
"You have no idea."
Cathy looked at the tousled sheets. The bed was a good few inches off from the wall, as if it had been in very vigorous use. Cathy arched an eyebrow. "How did things go with that guy?"
Cathy rolled her eyes. "Don't play dumb, Maria. The guy that you couldn't tear your eyes away from during our show last night. The guy that you left with not five minutes after our closing."
"Oh, him." Maria blushed. Why was she even bothering to hide anything from Cathy? "Um . . . well . . ."
"Was he good?"
"Earth-shattering doesn't even begin to cover it," Maria said, sighing. She plopped backwards on the bed. "I've got a killer headache," she groaned.
"I'll bet. Exactly how much did you have to drink last night?"
"Enough to think marrying a guy I'd just met was a good idea."
Maria slowly held her hand up so Cathy could see the ring. "I don't even know why we got married. It just . . . happened. I thought it would be a good idea, and he agreed."
Maria smiled slightly. "Yeah. I'm aware of the 'what' factor in this. But can you please not yell?"
"Sorry," Cathy said in a quieter voice. "It's a little shocking, though. Y'know?"
Maria gave her a look.
"Of course you know." Cathy looked around. "Well . . . where is he?"
Maria winced. "That's the part I'm not sure about."
"Oh, God." Cathy sat on the edge of the bed. "You met a man last night, left with him, got drunk, got hitched, had sex, and now you can't find him?"
"That about sums it up."
"This is bad, Maria. Very bad. You could have . . . gonorrhea or something!"
Maria wrinkled her nose. "Of all the bad things that could happen, that's the worst you could come up with?"
* * * * *
Liz and Maria finished their dessert, left a tip, and started walking again. "I told you it was a long story," Maria said apologetically.
"It's entertaining though." Liz looked around pointedly. "Where do you want to go next?"
Maria sighed. "I don't know. I just want to curl up in a hole and never wake up again."
"Sounds pretty depressing."
"You have no idea how angst-ridden this is."
Liz arched an eyebrow. "Oh, really? Maybe I should tell you about my relationship with Max Evans sometime."
"Well, you are listening to me rant . . ."
Liz smiled. "Another time. Just get back to the story, chica."
"Chica? I kinda like that. What does it mean?"
Liz thought hard. "You know . . . I'm really not sure."
The two woman laughed together, and Maria launched her story again. Their feet led them to a bench outside the Roswell library.
* * * * *
Once her hangover was gone, Maria was getting really worried about Michael. She took a shower and dressed, then headed down to the bar. She figured she could ask around. Someone had to remember him. Perhaps he was down there now.
Maria met up with Vinny at the bar. "Hey, Vin. What's up?"
"Nothing." Vinny took a sip of his drink. "Uh, Maria . . .?"
"Is Cathy telling the truth? Did you really marry that guy you left with last night?"
Maria groaned. "Yes. Please don't lecture me, Vinny. I wasn't exactly sane at the time. I think they should make a law against being drunk when you're getting married."
"How else is the guy going to get through it?"
Maria thumped him the back of the head. "That was unkind, Vinny."
"Or is it that the truth hurts?" He wagged his eyebrows at her. She gave him a look, and he sobered up. "All right, all right. So tell me, Maria. What do I call you now? Who's the lucky guy?"
"You can call me Maria DeLuca because I am getting this marriage annulled as soon as I possibly can. And his name is . . ." She struggled to remember. "Michael. Michael Guerin."
"Guerin?" Vinny snorted. "What a name."
Maria hit him again. "Don't insult my husband like that."
The bartender appeared, clearing his throat pointedly. "May I get you a drink, ma'am?"
"Yes. I'll have Coke, no alcohol." She smiled charmingly. "The hangover from last night was too painful to endure again."
The bartender gave her a double look. "Where you the chick singing last
Her smile grew. "Yeah. I was. What'd you think?"
"Awesome. I'll get your drink."
"He's flirting. Better tell him you're a married woman," Vinny stage whispered when the guy left.
"Speaking of, have you seen my husband?"
"Tall, dark, brooding?"
"Why am I thinking 'Angel?'" Maria shook her head. "He was tall, yeah. Um . . . he wasn't that dark. He had light brown hair. Great eyes, by the way. Mmm. And brooding?" She shrugged. "I guess I'll give you that one, too. But he broods in a very sexy, very quiet way. It's not like, 'ooh, look at me, I'm brooding, come jump my bones.' It's more of a-"
"Your drink." The bartender slid a glass in front of her.
"Thank you so much," Vinny gasped. "She was ranting, and I wasn't sure when
she was going to stop. Perhaps never, if not for you."
He grinned. "No problem."
"Oh, hey! Do you know anyone named Michael Guerin?" Maria asked, remembering that she was supposed to find him. "He's really tall, lean, kinda moody-"
"I know who he is." The bartender's voice turned cold. "Who's asking?"
Maria held up her hand. "Well, you see, I'm kind of his wife."
The man looked startled. "W-wife?" He snorted. "Michael . . . wife?" He started laughing.
Maria waited for him to finish. "I'm assuming you know him, then."
"He works here." He frowned. "Or rather, he used to. I think he's going to get fired after what happened last night."
"What happened last night?"
"Michael murdered a guy in his hotel room."
Maria's jaw dropped. "No!"
He nodded. "Yes. They found the body this morning when Guerin didn't show up for work. Apparently he was the guy's foster father when he was younger. Very creepy."
"Where is Michael?"
"The police took him in for questioning." The man told her the name of the local police station. "There are still policemen in the hotel room if you want to check it out."
"No. Thanks for your help." Maria waited for him to leave, then she turned to Vinny in a panic. "What the hell, Vinny? What am I supposed to do? I'm married to a murderer? A murderer who murdered his own family! What am I going to do? What am I going to do? Oh god, Vinny, help!"
Vinny reached into his pocket for the paper bag he kept for Maria's constant panic attacks. He held it out to her, and she breathed in and out, regaining her composure. "Maria, I'd like to remind you of a little something America likes to call 'innocent until proven guilty.'"
"He killed someone! He killed that man, then he watched me sing, then he . . . oh god, Vinny! I slept with him! I had sex with a man who killed! And I'll bet he didn't take a shower after he killed him either. Oh, eew. Eew." Maria gagged.
"Oh, no." Vinny stood up and grabbed her arm. "Maria, you're making a scene. Let's go."
Maria started whimpering as he led her out of the bar and onto the street. It was a little bit after noon, and the sun was scorching. She felt freezing, and she rubbed her arms numbly. "What am I going to do?" she asked in a weak voice.
"I'm taking you down to the police station. We're going to see what's going on."
"I don't want to go down there." Maria groaned. "Why is this happening to me?"
"Maria, if you were with him all night, when did he kill this guy?"
"I-I don't know. Before I sang."
"Maybe not. Did he seem like the kind of guy who would kill?"
"How am I supposed to know?" Maria's voice rose snottily. "I don't know anything about him except for his name and that he's an orphan."
"That's all he told you?" Vinny asked. Maria nodded. "And you still slept with him?"
Maria slapped his arm.
Vinny laughed and started to walk. "We might as well find a Taxi, Maria. I'm not walking all the way down there."
"Oh god, Vinny. This is . . . there is no word for what this is."
"I think it's kind of funny, actually."
Maria hit him again.
* * * * *
The Las Vegas Police Station wasn't a happy place. Maria felt like she'd walked into a movie set. Vinny held her hand tight as they walked up to the main desk. "Um, hello."
The secretary didn't look amused. "What do you want? Be quick. We're busy."
"Was there a man by the name of Michael Guerin admitted sometime this morning?" Vinny asked. Maria was thankful it was him; her voice was too shaky.
"Michael Guerin," the lady repeated to herself. She typed something in her computer. "As a matter of fact, we did. What have you got to do with it?"
"Meet his alibi," Vinny said, jerking his head at Maria. Maria smiled at the woman.
The secretary arched an eyebrow. "Really?" she sneered. She picked up a phone. "Winters? You still on the Guerin case? Uh-huh . . . Uh-huh. Yeah, well, I've got a pretty little girl up here claiming to be his alibi. Send her back? All right." She hung up the phone and regarded Maria. "Pay attention. Down that hallway, turn right, down that hallway, turn right again. There will be staircase. Go up, left. There will be a lot of doorways. Go to B118. Got it?"
"We've got it," Vinny assured her. He took Maria's arm again.
"And who are you?"
"I'm her friend."
"Are you an alibi?"
"Then you wait there." She pointed to a row of seats. "She goes alone."
Vinny narrowed his eyes. "Why don't you take whatever crawled up your a-"
Maria slapped a hand across his mouth and gave the woman an apologetic look. "He hasn't taken his medication today." She dragged him away and hissed, "Not a bright idea!"
"Sorry!" Vinny rubbed the back of his neck. "You gonna be all right, DeLuca?"
"I'll be fine, Vinny. Just, um. Just wait, all right?"
"You can count on me."
"Good. Um, thanks. This is-this is really weird."
"Okay, okay. See you in a few. Hopefully."
* * * * *
Liz was looking at Maria in astonishment. "He was in jail? For murder?"
"He didn't really do it," Maria said quickly.
"Well, what a great honeymoon."
"That's exactly what I said." Maria yawned.
"I'm sorry. You're tired."
"No, no. I was just up all night." Maria gave her a pointed look.
"Oh. So . . . you're still with him? I was starting to think you were upset
because of a trial for murder or something."
Maria snorted. "It's nothing that horrible. It's . . . well. I think I should tell you the story."
"Okay. Sorry, sorry. I keep interrupting. Tell away." Liz gave her a friendly smile.
Maria smiled back. "Thanks, Liz. You don't know me, but you've been listening to me talk for almost two hours now."
"Are you kidding? This is better than Oprah."
"I wouldn't go that far. Oprah is a goddess." Maria smiled faintly. "That's what I always to tell him."
* * * * *
Las Vegas Police Department
Maria numbly followed the directions the rude secretary had given her. She passed by men and women with handcuffs, all of which leered at her. She nervously started walking even faster. It seemed like a lifetime before she reached B118.
The door was big and grey, so thick that she couldn't hear what was going on inside. She knocked strongly, hoping they would hear her.
The door opened. "You the alibi?"
She straightened her shoulders. "Yes."
"Come in then. We got him set up inside." The officer was chewing gum loudly. "My name's Winters."
"DeLuca," she greeted coldly. If he was just going to use his last name, she could pull that off, too. He stepped aside and let her into the room.
Michael was sitting in a chair with handcuffs on. He recognized her immediately. "Damn it, Maria! What the hell are you doing here?"
Maria swallowed heavily. "I don't know."
"I can't." Maria walked to the table and looked at him with tears welling in
her eyes. "Did you kill that man?"
Michael met her eyes, but his were guarded and closed off, different from
last night. "What if I did? You don't even know me."
Maria shrugged. She could give him that one.
Winters was sitting down across from Michael. He indicated for Maria to sit, too. She sat down next to her "husband."
"Maria DeLuca," the man muttered as he scribbled the words on paper. "What relation do you have with Mr. Guerin?"
"None," Michael said.
"I'm his wife," Maria interrupted. She shot him a cold look.
Winters looked up. "Well, are you, or aren't you?"
"I am," Maria said.
"She's not," Michael said.
"I have legal documentation."
"Go away. Get out of this."
"Can you produce this legal documentation?" Winters asked mockingly.
"I think they gave me a marriage license."
"You think?" Winters set down the pen and sat forward. "What exactly is going on here, Mrs. Deluca. Or Mrs. Guerin. Whichever you are."
"I'm Mrs. DeLuca," she said haughtily. She would never change her name for a man, especially one who she just met. "Last night Michael was with me."
"Do you have proof or just your word?"
"I have proof in the marriage license. We both got drunk, got married, and he stayed with me the rest of the night. He couldn't have killed the man."
"You let us decide that, Mrs. DeLuca." Winters resumed writing. "Do you know what time you left?"
Maria wrinkled her brow. "My show started at . . . eight. So, eight onwards. He was sitting in the audience the whole time." She blushed slightly. "I, um, I'm sure of that."
Winters rolled his eyes. "I'm going to get documentation from your marriage. It should be on record. You think it's safe to stay here with him?"
Maria glared at the man. "I would trust this man with all the lost puppy dogs
in the world."
Winters' eyes widened as if he thought she was a little nuts. "Oka-ay," he muttered. He left the room.
The door shut, and Michael turned to give Maria a ferocious look. "Why in god's name are you doing this?"
"I want to help you," she said meekly.
"Don't. I don't need your help."
Maria snorted. "Oh, please. If I didn't come in here, you'd probably be in jail for the rest of your life. For a murder that you didn't commit."
"How do you know I didn't commit it?"
Maria suddenly found the table very interesting. "I just know, okay? Your eyes . . . they told me you couldn't commit murder. You know what I think? I think that you appear like this-this big, gruff, manly man. But really, underneath it all, you're just a little boy starving for love."
"I don't believe in love."
"That may be true, but you want to believe." Did she want to believe, too? Sometimes she wanted to be naïve enough to believe in it; sometimes she wondered if she was the naïve one for not believing in it.
"Don't go all X-Files on my ass."
Okay, true. So she'd stolen the line. So what? It fit. "You need a total attitude adjustment."
"Don't go ordering me around. You're not my wife. I don't get married."
"Well, you did last night. And until we get a divorce, just call me 'wife of mine.'" Maria gave him a sarcastic smile.
Michael gave her a look. "You were a lot more fun last night."
"Well, if it'll cheer you up, why I don't I just go out, have a few drinks, and come back here with a slur in my voice?"
"I'm the one who needs an attitude adjustment?"
The door opened, and Winters entered. "It seems you two did get married last night. That doesn't give him an alibi for the whole night though."
"I was singing last night at the bar we met at. All of my band mates and probably some others at the place will remember me leaving with him. It was kind of weird. I just walked off stage, to him, and we left."
"My motorcycle is parked by a club a few blocks away," Michael said quietly. "She didn't want me driving because we were both drunk."
"We'll be sure to check that out," Winters said. "License plate?"
Michael gave it to him.
Winters wrote it down. "You two were married sometime in the night, but what's his alibi for the time afterwards?"
Michael sneered. "You get married to a beautiful woman and tell me what you'd do afterwards."
"I see. Sex. A useful alibi. Nobody will question it; nobody wants to know." Winters didn't look convinced. "You're telling me that you had sex repeatedly until you walked into your room and were taken here for questioning?"
Maria cleared her throat. "Um . . ." She blushed. "I know this is a little gross, but . . . if it'll help, I've got some, um." She coughed and looked away from Winters. "Some used condoms. In my trashcan. We, um, we slept, too. Like actual sleeping, slept."
Winters wrote down the information. "I might be by to check that out, but I doubt it." He looked up at her. "The way you said it convinced me. You're either a very good actress or you really want to get Guerin out of this."
"Um, the second. You should have seen me in my high school play." She grimaced. "Atrocious."
Winters got up to leave again. "Let me type some of this stuff in, get a few things straight. You should be free to go in about an hour, Guerin. You might be called in again for a trial if we find out your alibi fell through or there's more evidence against you." He looked at Maria. "You can leave and come pick him up, if you want."
Maria nodded. She reached for Michael's hand and squeezed it. "I'll be back. Don't worry about it."
Michael caught her eye. "You really are something, Maria."
Maria just smiled.
* * * * *
Vinny was waiting for Maria down in the lobby. "What happened?" he asked, standing up and stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"I'm not entirely sure," Maria said. "I . . . why did I do this?"
Vinny put a hand on her arm. "Because you've got something a lot of people are missing in this day and age: compassion."
"I guess." She hugged herself. "Let's just get out of here."
"No. We need to come back in an hour to pick him up."
"He's out, then? They believed your alibi?"
* * * * *
"It's getting late, isn't it?" Maria said, noticing the sun slowly lowering in the sky. "It's funny."
"I thought I'd spend today with him. All day." She paused. "Not at the beginning, no. But I've got a problem."
"You love him."
Maria sniffled and nodded. "I think I do."
"I thought you didn't believe in love?" Liz said gently.
"Things change. People change." Maria sighed. "I have to let him go."
"Why? Go after him! If you love him-"
"But I told you earlier. Our marriage wasn't about love. It was a business deal. There weren't feelings on either side, and we didn't want to ever have feelings."
"You can't fight the inevitable."
Maria laughed. "Michael can fight anything he damn well pleases."
* * * * *
Maria stayed silent in the taxi. She didn't speak to Michael until they were back in her hotel room. She made him sit down and fixed him a glass of water. She sat next to him and put her head in her hands. "This has been one hell of a day."
They didn't speak for a few moments. Then Maria turned her head in her hands to look at him. "What are we going to do?"
"Get a divorce. Part ways." He gave her a very small smile. "Thank you, Maria. I never thought I'd thank anyone, but you deserve it."
"No! If we get divorced, they're going to think something's up. They'll think that . . . maybe you killed the man and then married me as an alibi. I've managed to kill their suspicion mostly, but they're going to wonder."
"Maria. They'll just think that we're two people who got drunk and got married in Vegas. It isn't that uncommon."
"Let's just stay married for a while longer. Three months."
Maria considered. "Okay. But if it's one, then you come with me back to New Mexico. You can live with me until the month's over."
"That's fine. I don't have anything left here. And I have a sneaking suspicion I might get fired. Dead man found in my room and all."
"Do we need to set ground rules? This obviously isn't the ideal marriage."
"This is nothing but a deal. We can't get involved."
"But . . . sex?" Maria blushed and looked away.
"If you're willing, I won't object." He chuckled. "I can't see myself objecting to sex that good ever."
"I'm, um, willing." She coughed and tried to control her red cheeks. "That's settled. Um . . . I'm not taking your name."
"I figured that out back at LVPD."
"Okay. Um, what do you want to do now?"
They slept together again. For Maria at least, it seemed so much better sober. He still managed to blur the lines between reality and Michael. He brought her into a new universe, and she never wanted to leave.
When they were done, she laid in his arms for a long time. Usually silences made her feel awkward, and she always laughed. But silence with Michael seemed natural.
Someone knocked on the door, disturbing them. Maria sat up from her curled up position next to Michael. She reached for his shirt and put it on. It came to her knees and smelled like his cologne.
Maria opened the door to see Cathy and Ray. "Hey, guys. You need something?" She kept the door opened just enough to fit her face through.
This didn't phase Cathy. She shoved the door all the way open with her shoulder. Her eyes traveled from Michael in the bed back to Maria in only a T-shirt. "Are we interrupting?"
"Yes," Maria said.
Cathy huffed; Ray grinned; Maria glared. There was a long, tense moment of no one speaking.
Ray cleared his throat finally and took Cathy's arm, backing out of the room. "We just wanted to remind you that our show starts at eight thirty tonight."
"I'll keep that in mind." Maria shut the door behind them and turned back to Michael. "I've got to start getting ready."
He nodded. "I won't get in your way. Another rule?"
Maria agreed. She went to the bathroom to shower.
* * * * *
"Thus started my very screwed up marriage," Maria said miserably.
"When did all that happen?"
"Twenty-nine days ago. Tomorrow . . ." Maria started crying again. "Tomorrow we get divorced."
"Does he love you?"
"Michael doesn't believe in love," Maria wailed. "I can't . . . I can't let him go, but it's against our rules."
"Maria, did you ever hear that rules are made to be broken?" Liz asked gently. "Maybe you should, I don't know, tell him how you feel. What's the worse that could happen?"
"Isn't he going to leave anyway?"
"Then you should do it."
Maria sniffled and wiped at her eyes. "I once heard that the advice of strangers is usually the best."
"I-I think I will. I'm Maria DeLuca. I don't hide from things," Maria said. "I get stage fright, but I don't hide from things." She paused. "But I want you to do something for me first."
"Give me your phone number."
* * * * *
Maria fixed a normal dinner that night. She didn't want to try too hard; that just wasn't her style. Her mind was racing even faster than usual. She came up with all different kinds of ways to tell him, but none of them felt right. Everything seemed surreal.
Michael came home from his last day of work in Roswell. He helped Maria's mother in her tourist trap shop. It was easier that way because Amy knew enough of the situation to let him go after only a month.
They didn't greet each other by kiss. He didn't toss his hat and yell any kind of endearment. This was the most atypical marriage you could get.
"Your mom said to stop by tomorrow after . . ." Michael trailed off, his point made. One rule left unspoken was that they didn't use the word "divorce."
Maria nodded as she made up two plates. "Would you get me a Coke from the fridge?"
"I'll do better." She turned around to see him open up a brown bag. "Champagne."
"Oh, Michael!" She set down the plate and took the bottle from him. "I love champagne."
"I know. Open it. I'll finish this." He put a hand on her shoulder for a moment, but the gesture spoke a thousand words to Maria. Despite her doubts, she had to tell him how she felt tonight. She wouldn't be able to live with the regret if she didn't.
A moment later they sat at their modest table with two glasses of champagne and a hot meal before them. Maria took a sip of the beloved drink. "Thank you." Why did the words come out so weighted? She caught his eye. This wasn't a thank you for the drink.
"Maria . . ."
She looked away. "I know." They had rules, and she'd broken the first one: no feelings.
Their meal was finished in silence. Maria took the last sip of her drink and stood up. She went into the living room and flipped through the CD's. She pulled out Savage Garden and put it in. Michael pretended not to like it, but she knew better.
Did she? Could she possibly know him better than he pretended? She shivered as the opening strums of music played.
"I hate Savage Garden."
Maria turned around and smiled, but it didn't reach her tear-filled eyes. "I know," she croaked.
Michael's eyes narrowed with concern. In two strides he was in front of her, gathering her in his arms. He didn't ask what was wrong; he knew.
Maria's hands ran up his back and she laid a kiss on his neck. "Forgive me for being cliché, Michael, but just make love to me."
She felt him tense slightly. Then his hands smoothed down her back. "One
"What?" She felt fear grip her heart. There were a million things he could say, and all the ones that Maria came up with tore at her heart.
"Turn that blasted excuse for music off."
Maria laughed shakily. She stepped away from him to press stop. "It's not an excuse for music. They write their own music, play their own instruments, and they have talent."
"Music's not music unless it's being yelled."
Maria smiled to herself as they walked into the bedroom together. "What about that Britney Spears CD I found in your collection, huh, buddy?" She wagged her eyebrows at him.
"Hey! I bought that for the half-naked chick on the cover."
Maria used his shirt as leverage to pull him towards her. "Something you want to be admitting to your wife?"
Michael frowned slightly, and Maria sensed he was about to comment on her use of the word 'wife,' even sarcastically. She pulled his head down and kissed him, thus effectively distracting him.
* * * * *
Maria woke up with Michael pressed to her side. Morning sun was streaming through the window, but even being blinded couldn't diffuse the feeling Michael gave her. She ran her hands through his hair. It had been a fascination for her since day one. She'd watched him do his hair every morning, but she hadn't yet found out his secret. It was almost as if he stepped out of the shower with spiky hair.
He woke soon after, and they ate breakfast in silence. Maria could feel the pressure of their impending divorce, and it nauseated her.
After she showered and dressed, she went to the doorway of the living room. Michael had a box on the table, and he was putting a few of his things in there. She felt her heart strain. How could she do this? She wouldn't let him go. He had to love her; she felt it in his touch and gaze . . . she could feel it here, even when he wasn't trying.
Michael turned around with a couple of movies in his hands. His eyes were closed off. "Don't do this, Maria."
"I love you."
Michael swore. "Don't say that. You don't mean it." He put the movies down in his box with a loud noise.
"You know me too well to try and tell me what I feel," she said, voice quivering. "I love you, and I don't think we should get a divorce." There. She said the D word.
"Fucking hell, Maria." He clambered over to her. "Don't be so naïve. We got married in Vegas. We were drunk off our asses."
"But when I looked over at you on that stage, I saw you." She reached a hand up to cup his cheek as their eyes locked. "I saw your eyes, and everything was okay. I saw me inside you just like you saw yourself in me."
Michael closed his eyes. A second later he seemed to gain his composure and jerked away from her. He picked up a couple of magazines from the coffee table. "I don't believe in love, and neither do you. We have good sex. We share a few opinions. At best, we have friendship." He gave her a cold look. "And I don't make friends."
"You don't do a lot of things, Michael." She crossed her arms defensively. "But things are different with me. You let yourself feel. You don't think I see the difference, but I do. Sometimes you look so vulnerable. Are you going to give this up? Be miserable for the rest of your life?"
He snorted. "You certainly think a lot of yourself, don't you."
"I think a lot of us, Michael!"
"There is no us!"
Maria glared at him. "You know, you're talking, but all I hear is 'this is a loud of crap' over and over and over again."
"Quit making things complicated." He sat heavily on the couch and buried his head in his hands. "I don't get intense, Maria. I don't have girlfriends. I don't do that kind of shit. You've been making me break all my rules, and if I break one more I might break myself in the process."
Maria moved over to the coffee table and perched on the edge. She leaned forward and took one of his hands in both of hers. "Maybe it won't break you, Michael. Maybe it will release you from all of the pain that makes you like this."
When Michael finally spoke, his voice sounded raw and broken. "Why do you always get everything so right?"
Maria thought hard before she spoke. She sensed that her next words would be monumental. "I don't believe in soul mates, Michael. I don't even believe in that crap about the four main personality types. I'm not searching for some deep meaning here." She kissed the palm of his hand. "I just know I haven't been happier in the past month. I feel . . . content. When we're arguing, talking, making love, or just sitting around and watching TV. I don't want to give any of that up. Especially not for some stupid rules we made a month ago. People change. I'm a different person than I was that night. You're different, too, but you may not see it as clearly as I can. Instead of pushing me away, pull me closer. Life is cruel, but I think it would be a hell of a lot better if we were together."
Michael didn't speak for even longer than before. The silence was suffocating Maria. She just wanted him to say anything; she couldn't take not knowing.
Michael looked up slowly and caught her eyes. His hand reached up, and he ran his thumb across her cheek. "I'll stay."
Maria lurched forward into his arms, pushing him backwards on the couch as she rained kisses on his jaw bone. "Mmm . . . you are going to be so glad you said that, Guerin."
"I know. And Maria?"
"I think you achieved the impossible. I'm mulling over this 'love' concept . . ."
"And maybe I shouldn't have out ruled it out so early in life."
Maria smiled against his neck. That was as close to a confession of love as she'd ever get from Michael Guerin.
* * * * *
That Friday night Maria and Michael went over to Liz Parker and Max Evans' home just across the street from the park. After a nice dinner, Max and Michael went into the living room to watch a guy film while Maria helped Liz out with the dishes.
"They're really hitting it off, aren't they?" Liz commented as she heard the two men laughing about something.
Maria grinned at her new friend. "I know. I'm so happy right now. In fact, I'm happier than I've ever been before in my life."
"I know what that feeling's like." Liz turned on the sink and pulled out a sponge. "And I'm so proud of you for telling him."
"I'm glad that we met. It almost makes me believe in fate," Maria said. "I don't think I could have mustered the courage to say something to him. I was so confused about what I was feeling, the fact that I was feeling."
"Like I said, it was more entertaining than Oprah." Liz shrugged. "And I still get to tell you about me and Max later."
"He's a nice guy."
"I wouldn't go that far," Maria teased. She took the plate from Liz and dried it automatically.
"Oh, I meant to tell you. I have this friend who I think you should meet. His name is Alex Whitman."
Maria inhaled sharply. "You know Alex Whitman?"
"You've heard of him?"
"He's a musical genius!"
"Then you want to meet him? He's coming to Roswell next weekend. He's dating Max's twin sister."
"Wow. This is so awesome! Can I bring my band mates along? They'll die of shock when they hear this."
Liz laughed and impulsively reached out to hug Maria. "I'm so glad we met."
"Yeah, yeah. Lay down on the lovin', Liz." Maria grinned and hugged her back. Happiness couldn't begin define Maria's feelings that night.