A/N: My first official posting of a TSL story! I'm excited. Okay, I started this last night and worked on it all day. I like it, and I hope you'll feel the same. It's a oneshot, a long oneshot.
I don't own the Suite Life character's, nor the sweet Chevy Nova in this story, unfortunately.
Thunder and lightening filled the sky, rain poured on the road, bouncing off the pavement and running into the ditches on either side. The windshield wipers squeaked as they swished quickly back and forth, without any pause in the middle. The radio was off; the only sound was the storm, the wipers, and the slight rumble of the motor as the '71 Chevy Nova cruised down the empty road at 60 MPH.
Madeline Fitzpatrick sniffed again and nearly clawed at her eyes as they teared up again. The rain outside was bad enough; she didn't need more water, much less inside the car.
She could see nothing beyond the glow of her headlights. She'd left Boston in the dust hours ago. She'd reached the blacktop two-lane road at midnight, and had been driving for forty-five minutes straight, never letting up or pressing harder on the accelerator. She hadn't bothered with the cruise control mostly because she had no idea where it was, but also because she needed to concentrate on literally keeping the car in motion.
For the millionth time, Maddie looked up into the rearview mirror to check behind.
She shook her head and stared straight ahead again. There was no turning back now. If she stopped, she'd be caught. Her eyes dropped to the gas gauge.
She'd be stopping soon. If it wasn't for gas, it would be for an empty tank.
The party was great. Fun, friendly, and all-around enjoyable. Friends were everywhere, music played upbeat tunes, and decorations and lights made the room almost smile.
Maddie sat at a table with her legs crossed, fingers tapping the glass plate in front of her. The meal wasn't to be served for another half-hour, but Maddie had nothing better to do.
After the horrifying fiasco of the Sweet Sixteen's the year before, London Tipton and Maddie had decided to tie their parties together for number seventeen. Although their birthdays were months apart, they'd agreed for a halfway date, about smack-dab in-between the actual birthdates.
Maddie had been ecstatic. She'd had parties before, but with London in on it, everything would be fancy. And big.
The band that had been booked was wonderful, and Carrie and the lead singer were belting out incredible duets. The refreshment table held the finest snacks, punches, and wine, for the older attendees. Twenty-three tables semi-circled around a clear space, which served as the dance floor.
At each table there were five or six chairs and place settings, complete with salad forks, silk napkins, crystal goblets of water, and name cards. In the center was a glass vase with a single pink rose.
The table clothes were pink as well, as were most of the decorations. Maddie had told London that it was too much and that they should add white, but London insisted that if they added white it would look like a baby shower, or a wedding reception. So pink it was.
The lights were slightly dim, with flashing ones over the dance floor. Several couples, as well as a few groups of girls, dance to the current song. Maddie smiled as Lance bopped along with "the swim".
Zack and Cody were, obviously, at the refreshment table. London had argued that the twins shouldn't be invited, but Maddie had said that if they weren't invited, they'd end up there anyway.
Mr. Moseby stood at a table, engaging one of the guests in some interesting tale. Maddie chuckled as the woman he was talking to stared past him at something else.
People laughed and talked, and Maddie just sat at her table, watching everything.
It was mostly because she had no one to dance with. She would have goofed off with London, but she was laughing ridiculously at her latest flame. He was some rich stiff she'd met at a fashion show, and London thought he was all the rage.
Maddie didn't mind though, not really. It was just fun to be there. Surrounded by friends, and only friends. Family was not invited, nor present. Her grandmother wasn't flying in from Oregon this year, and Maddie was disappointed about that, but she was glad that her parents didn't even know about this party.
The fast song ended and a slow one began. Maddie watched London drag her date out onto the floor and clumsily slow dance with him. Zack spilled punch on Cody's foot, and the attendant at the refreshment table hurried to clean it up. Moseby sat down and began to talk with someone else.
Maddie suddenly sensed someone behind her. She looked over her shoulder to see Esteban Ramirez, fully tuxed, standing behind her chair. He smiled.
"Happy birthday, Miss Maddie."
She smiled back. "Thanks. You look nice."
"As do you." he dropped his gaze. "Maddie, will you dance with me?"
Maddie blushed and grinned so hard that her face hurt. Thankful he wasn't looking at her to see her stupidly lit up expression, she stood. "I'd love to."
Esteban looked up again and held out his arm. She took it and they walked toward the floor.
The dance was the best part of the whole night for Maddie. Slow, magical, a dream come true. She literally had dreamed of dancing with him…then woken up wondering why. He was a friend. Nothing more. Right?
It hadn't taken long after that for Maddie to realize no, he wasn't. To her he was much more.
But why on earth would someone as great as Esteban ever be interested in her? She was poor, she came from a rotten background, and she wasn't good at anything. So she hadn't told him yet, and she probably never would.
The slow dance ended, and Maddie didn't want to let go. However, she forced herself to step back, and then she smiled. "Thank you, Esteban."
For a split second she thought he looked disappointed, but it was gone so fast that she was sure she'd imagined it. "Thank you, Maddie." He nodded and walked away.
Maddie felt crushed, but she was determined not to show it. Every time Esteban walked away from her she felt like this. And questions whizzed through her head.
Why didn't he walk me to my table?
Why didn't he ask for another dance?
Why didn't you say something?
Maddie bit her lip and wandered toward the table again, wondering why she'd put herself in the question where she'd usually put Esteban. She shook her head and detoured toward the refreshment table. She was selling herself short of a lot of fun. It was a party in her honor, or at least half in her honor; she should be the life of it.
"Happy birthday, Maddie."
"Yeah, happy birthday."
"Thanks, Zack, Cody." Maddie grinned and put an arm around each of the twins. "Are you having a good time tearing up the food?"
Cody glared at his brother, who didn't notice because of concentrating on his innocent smile. Maddie laughed. Tonight had to get better. You only had a seventeenth birthday party once.
She got a glass of red punch and sipped it.
The band took a break, and the dance floor became the conversation floor. Groups of people stood chatting and laughing everywhere. Maddie was glad that everything was running smoothly, and that the guests were enjoying themselves.
Zack and Cody started arguing about something else, but Maddie tuned them out when she saw the door several yards from the table burst open. A very familiar person barged in.
"Where is Madeline Fitzpatrick? I know she's here!" the man yelled.
Everyone turned to look, and several heads looked at Maddie. She burned with embarrassment.
The man followed the gazes of everyone else. When his eyes landed on Maddie, she thought he would erupt, exactly like a volcano.
"Madeline, you freak, do you know what you were supposed to do tonight?"
Maddie's mouth dropped open as she racked her brain. Tears filled her eyes, as she couldn't remember. "Dad, I, I don't remember anything else…I told you I was going to…"
"You idiot. Get your ass out of here. I'm taking you home."
Maddie's eyes darted to the crowd on her right, but she couldn't see them clearly because of the tears that threatened to spill. "I…dad, wait. You didn't tell me I had to be anywhere toni-…"
"Shut up!" he screamed. He took several storming steps toward her. "Get outside, and in the car!"
People started to murmur, and Maddie felt rage surge through her. Her father, at her birthday party, had barged in to scream in her face about something he had dreamt he'd told her. Not tonight. Not on her birthday. Not after she'd yet again felt rejection from the best man in the whole world. No, not tonight.
"No! I won't! Dad, I didn't have anything else to do tonight. You made that up!"
He stomped closer. Maddie wanted to throw up.
"Get. Out. Now." He was gritting his teeth.
"No." he was close enough for her to smell alcohol.
He reached out to slap her across the face, and several guests gasped. Maddie lost it.
She splashed the glass of punch in his face. He sputtered and both hands went to his eyes. She threw the crystal cup to the floor; it shattered as she shoved her father back with all her weight. He lost his balance and landed on the floor. Maddie stepped away from him, and with the faces of confused and disapproving people in her head, she ran out of the party, through the lobby of the hotel, and out the revolving door.
Cars were lined up in front, mostly limos, and beyond that traffic flew down the road. Maddie heard someone calling her name, but she ignored it. She had to get away.
She looked both ways, debating her options. She couldn't literally run away from her father. She didn't have any money for a taxi…
Across the street, a young man was climbing out of the driver's side of a black classic car. Another guy climbed out of the passenger side and stepped to the curb, walking ahead of the driver.
"Man, sweet ride. When can I drive it again?"
Maddie saw the movement before it happened, and she was there in a heartbeat; across the street before oncoming traffic ever saw her.
The driver tossed the keys to his friend, who must have been the owner of the car. Time seemed to slow as they flew through the air, and Maddie had a single second of disbelief enter her mind as she snatched them before the owner could.
"That chick's stealin' your car!"
Maddie dodged the man who'd been driving and climbed into the car through the open window. Her fingers fumbled with the keys until she found, by touch, the one with the black plastic on it. She jammed it into the ignition and started the engine. She shoved the shifter into gear and stomped the accelerator to the floor.
Cars honked as she cut them off, shouts of anger could be heard, and several people from the party tried to stop her, but she pressed down the clutch and jammed it into second gear. As she reached sixty-five MPH, she again pressed the clutch down and shifted to third.
She heard sirens and saw flashing lights, but running on anger can make a body do anything, and she knew they wouldn't catch her.
Maddie growled in frustration as she brushed more tears away. She was in so much trouble, and more than half of it had nothing to do with her father. She'd be charged with grand theft auto…and she'd only had her license for couple of months. Who knew what that would come to?
The rain suddenly did the impossible and poured harder. Finally Maddie slowed down, down-shifting to second gear. Still nothing was in sight, and she was about to be running on empty.
With one last glance in the rearview mirror, Maddie pulled the car to the side of the road and killed the engine. She needed to think.
But before that could happen, she needed to cry.
Sobs engulfed her. She cried for her life, her family, her pathetic future. She cried for her ruined sixteenth birthday party, and now for her ruined seventeenth one. She cried for her embarrassment at the party, and all because the guests, her friends, got to see what her life was really like. She cried for all the pain her father had caused her over the years; for as long as she could remember. She had never made him happy. Even her mother had ignored her when she needed attention most.
She cried for her fear of loving Esteban. She hadn't told him anything because she didn't want to lose him forever. He would never feel the same way about her, and it would kill her if they were both aware of that.
She cried out of pure terror for what would happen when the police did finally catch up with her. She was sitting in a hot car that witnesses had seen her steal.
Seventeen years of disappointment, hard work, low wages, no love, and loneliness, and it only took one night for all of that to blow up and make everything ten times worse.
Maddie just held herself and cried for a long time. The storm quit, but a lighter rain continued. When she didn't have any more tears to cry, she wiped her eyes, and then wiped her mascara-covered fingers on her dress. It just didn't matter anymore.
As she composed herself, taking deep breaths and wiping her eyes over and over again, she started to relax. She could almost smile at the fact that if she hadn't learned to drive on her uncle's stick-shift pickup, she would have been caught hours ago. She started to feel better; a huge load off her shoulders. But suddenly, something wasn't right.
She could see. She was parked in the middle of nowhere, in what was left of a storm, at night, in a car that was not on. Why could she see as though there was a light on?
Half a glance upward to the mirror caused her to turned the key and slide into second gear, almost before first. She flew down the blacktop, eyes darting from the road, to the speedometer, to the rearview, and back to the road. Headlights brighter than sunshine on snow were coming up fast behind her.
Third gear, forth gear. The car continued to gain on her.
That answers the question of if they're looking for me. Maddie scoffed. This was just bad.
The car was almost on her tail. She glanced at the speedometer again. Ninety-five MPH.
I can't drive a car this fast! I don't know what I'm doing! I hardly drive at all!
Maddie's stomach clenched and her heart pounded. Her head ached from crying. The lights got brighter for a second, then dimmed. Confusion washed over her until she realized that the vehicle had pulled up even with her. She looked to the left and nearly stared at the car. The passenger window was rolling down, but she couldn't see who was driving. When the rain had started, she'd rolled the windows up tight.
She caught motion inside the vehicle, and guessed that the driver was waving a hand at her.
She unconsciously shook her head, then placed one foot on the clutch and the other on the brake. She jolted forward as both feet slammed to the floor. The car in front of her sped ahead and she knew she had to hurry.
First gear, she turned around, then shifted to second, speeding once again.
She looked into the sideview mirror to see the other car slow, turn around, and then continue after her again.
Panic was about to take over, and she knew she'd be busted if she let that happened.
She'd gotten a head start, but the other car was just as fast as the Chevy Nova she'd boosted. Soon the headlights were glaring into her back window again.
At least it's not a cop. It could be an undercover cop. Wouldn't he have bumped me off the road though? That's what they do on TV. Maybe it's dad. No, dad wouldn't come after me.
She was rambling in her head, and she knew it was because she was clueless as to what she should do next.
The rain began to pick up again, and Maddie's nerves jittered again. What if the car slid out of control? She was, after all, going eighty-five now.
The car behind her honked, causing her to jump and let up off the gas for a second. The other vehicle bumped her back bumper and jolted her. That's when it happened.
The Chevy Nova careened across the road, with Maddie desperately trying to regain control of the wheel. Out of sheer panic, she slammed both feet on the brake, which killed the engine and caused the car to slide on the wet pavement.
Ditch, to ditch, Maddie jerked the wheel around in terror. The car picked up speed as she headed downhill. As Maddie again cranked the wheel to the left, the whole car turned sideways and slid, and Maddie couldn't contain a scream.
She was suddenly going backwards, and it didn't take long for the car to start spinning in circles as it slid down the hill. Finally, the front tires went off the road, and the car nose-dived into the ditch. The Chevy Nova was still.
Maddie Fitzpatrick shook.
The rain picked up again, but she didn't notice. She'd just looked death in the eye, and it had scared the wit out of her.
Light again filled the car, but she couldn't do anything about it. The other car pulled up and parked nearby, headlights still shining. She heard her name, and the rumble of the vehicle's motor. She faintly saw someone running toward her, and then the driver door was pulled open.
"Maddie? Maddie, are you okay? Oh, God, Maddie, say something."
Maddie managed to look up. "Esteban?"
Esteban suddenly scooped her up and held her so tight she could hardly breathe. She wrapped her arms around him and continued to shake.
They stood between the driver's seat and the open driver's door, in the pouring rain, illuminated by the headlights from Esteban's car with it's own driver's door open as well.
"Maddie, are you all right?" Esteban whispered into her hair.
It took a couple of tries before she could speak. "Yeah,"
He stepped back and looked her over. "Are you sure?"
"Maddie, what happened? All I saw was you running out of the Tipton. And the next thing I know you're stealing a car and driving away."
Tears Maddie thought she'd cried off before suddenly poured down her face, blending with rainwater. "I'm sorry, Esteban. I'm sorry. I don't know why I did it. I was just mad. My dad has been out to get me forever. I'm just sick of it! I'm sick of no one appreciating me, I'm sick of being bossed around and yelled at, I'm sick of trying so hard to get something, and then having it jerked from my grasp. I'm just sick of it, Esteban.
"Nothing ever goes right. Tonight was supposed to be a party for London and me. Not just London. But my dad had to ruin everything again. That's all he ever does. He wrecks everything that's halfway decent in my life." Maddie's babbling was overcome by sobs, and Esteban pulled her to him again.
They stood there for awhile like that. She and Esteban were soaked to the bone long before Maddie stopped crying. Still they stood there, Esteban holding her close, Maddie relishing the feeling of being in his arms.
Esteban broke the silence. "I'm sorry, Maddie. I never knew things were so bad for you. If I had, believe me…"
She looked up at him. "What?"
Their eyes locked. "I would have fixed it."
Maddie couldn't resist. Some internal impulse caused her to put her arms around his neck and press her lips to his. As quickly as she did it, she pulled back, flushing red.
"I, I-I'm sorry…I don't know what got into me…I…" she couldn't look him in the face. She looked at his car, which was still running. "Let's just go home." She pushed past him and jogged to the passenger's side of Esteban's car. She climbed in, slammed the door, and took several deep breaths as Esteban took the keys from the Chevy, locked the doors, and shut the door. He came to the open driver's side and slid in beside Maddie. The seat was wet from the rain, but, now, so was everything else from the two wet bodies in the front seat.
Esteban popped the brake and accelerated, then shifted into second gear. The car was silent.
What were you thinking, stupid? He didn't say anything that implied that he wanted you to kiss him! Why did you do that? You blew it. You crossed the line, and now it's thicker than ever. Maddie could have kicked herself. Hard. You are an idiot! He thinks you're a little girl in way over her head.
The rain let up, and then stopped completely, and still not a word was spoken. Maddie wanted to say something, anything, but she didn't know what. Esteban's silence made matters worse, and she thought she might start to cry again. She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. Crying now, unlike earlier, wasn't going to solve anything.
Say something. Something like…well, at least apologize. You already did that. Explain yourself! But he already thinks you're…oh, terrific. Maddie turned toward Esteban. "Listen…I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry about stealing the car…I don't have an excuse anymore. I reacted, and I reacted wrongly. Please, Esteban…can you forgive me?" she blushed from the humbleness taking over her.
Esteban didn't reply. He continued to drive, and Maddie couldn't determine anything by his expression.
"I know," she whispered. "You think I'm ridiculous…I feel ridiculous. I just…really like you. I have for a while. I know you don't think of me like that, but when you said you wished you could fix things for me…"
"Maddie, let's get one thing straight. I didn't say I wish I could have fixed it. I said if I'd known I would have fixed it. There's a difference." Esteban glanced over at her with a mixed expression of anger and compassion. She nodded miserably.
"And another thing…I don't think you're ridiculous. Don't feel like you are." He paused and drew in a breath. "You don't have to apologize for the kiss."
She had looked down at her feet, but now she turned to look at him.
He stared at the road. "It was…nice. Very nice."
Maddie felt confused. Is that a compliment? Is he implying something else? Does he like me like that too? These questions were all blurted out with one word: "What?"
Esteban sighed. "Maddie…we've known each other for a long time, right?"
She didn't bother responding.
"Well, I think…I do think of you like that. I have thought of you like that for a long time." he stopped talking and gave a frustrated growl. "What I'm trying to say…"
Maddie waited. "Is?"
He looked over at her. "I-I love you."
The car could have blown up at that very moment, and Maddie wouldn't have cared in the slightest. It didn't matter.
Not the rain.
Not her wet outfit and messy make-up.
Not the ruined party.
Not her dad.
Not the police.
Not the car.
The only thing that mattered was that her future was no longer pathetic. She had managed to face her biggest fear, rejection from true love, and win. Everything was fine. It was better than fine…it was wonderful.
With the wall between her and him was gone. With Esteban, Maddie could face the police, the car owners, the guests from the party, even her dad.
She smiled a completely true smile. "I love you, too." Negativity came to mind again, and after a short pause she spoke again. "What are we going to do?"
Esteban's tone was gentle, but it humbled her. "We're going back. You're going to explain what happened, apologize, and then cooperate. I'll help you pay for the damages to the car…and anything else that might come up."
He looked at her. "Let's hope it doesn't come to that." He looked at the road again. "Then we'll explain to Miss London and the others what happened. And then…"
"What about my dad?"
Esteban paused, downshifted, and stopped the car. He pulled the brake and turned to look at her. "Maddie, I need to tell you this. Tonight, when you left like you did, you scared me to death. I had no idea what was wrong. You just ran away…doing something unlawful in the process. I didn't know what to think." He held a hand up at her disappointed expression. "I never once thought something bad on your part. I know you better than that and I was sure it had to be something horrible to make you go off like that.
"You got in that car, and everyone was calling after you. Out of all the voices, the one that came to my attention was the one of the man who was calling you names. I chose him to ask what was going on, and I won't repeat what he said to me. But he mentioned being your father, and I had to walk away before I hurt him. That's when I drove after you, and it took a long time, but I found you. When that car nearly crashed, all I could think was that I was losing you before I could hold you and tell you how I really feel.
"Maddie, I almost lost you twice tonight. It broke my heart to hear you say how horrible your life really is. I'll fix it for you Maddie."
Esteban leaned across the emergency brake and kissed her softly. He pulled back so that they were a mere half-inch apart.
"I will fix it for you."
Well, what did you think? Love it, hate it? Too much of anything? Too little? Let me know! Please review.