Title: Car Crashes

Author: April

Disclaimer: The characters of Roswell are not mine. No copyright infringement intended.

Category: Michael and Maria AU without Aliens (Michael's POV)

Rating: Mature

Author's Note: This is written for Sarah, who paid way too much for me at the September Support Stacie author auction. I had actually considered writing this as a novel-length story until I decided to write the sequel to 521. I think it works better as a short story, and I hope you like it, Sarah!

Prologue

They say airplanes are safer than cars. I believe that.

I should've just taken that factory job my uncle's boss offered me after I graduated high school. That would've been the simple route. But no, I decided to go to college. My grades were somehow good enough, and even though I was high as a kite and pissed off as hell when I took my ACT, my score was astronomical. Go figure. Standardized testing at its most inefficient. It seemed like a waste to get accepted into college and not go, so I went with the full intention of leaving the last craptastic year of my life behind and starting anew. And I did.

I partied my way through my freshman and sophomore years, joined a fraternity, and stupidly blurted out "English" when my advisor began pestering me to choose a major at the start of my junior year. English. What the fuck? I didn't even like to read. It was because of this spontaneous decision that I ended up in classes with book-talk freaks and wannabe poets analyzing shit like symbolism and metaphors and themes. Great.

It doesn't matter if you're a grad student or not. If you're trying to get an English degree at this university, you have to write a thesis. Doesn't have to be that long, doesn't even have to be good from what I've heard. My advisor said it was supposed to be a research paper, but I said "Screw that." That would have required going to the library, and I've never stepped foot in that place in all my life. I wouldn't know how to use the card catalogue and I'd probably get lost and starve to death. No thanks.

It was out of this reluctance to pick up an actual book and flip through it that I decided to compose a memoir instead. This memoir. No research required. That's my kind of thing.

I'd rather be watching porn. Oh, well. Start your engines.

My name is Michael Guerin, and I firmly believe that all the significant moments of my life were accompanied by near or head-on car crashes.

Chapter 1 – The Brakes

When I was six years old, my next door neighbor got arrested for having a meth lab in her basement. It was a huge surprise to everyone since she was over sixty and had three grandchildren, but . . . whatever. It's always the ones you don't expect, right? Her house went up for sale and stayed on the market for two years until the Banks family decided to buy it. They were your typical all-American bunch: anxiety-ridden dad who kept his middle-class family afloat by working at a law firm, housewife mom who attended all the PTA meetings and soccer games, teenaged son who was in his own words "not a robot" and refused to conform to society while paradoxically blasting mainstream radio at 10:00 at night. And Courtney. She was my age.

Courtney was cool. We were in the same second grade class with Mrs. Henneger, who was a real bitch and once refused to let me go to the nurse's office after I threw up all over my show-and-tell item. Courtney walked me to the nurse's office without permission and stayed with me until I felt better. I had my hero.

She never really fit in with anyone else in our class, and that worked out nicely. Neither did I. My dad had managed to piss off half the town a year earlier by driving drunk into the high school gymnasium and causing a hell of a lot of damage that the taxpayers would have to account for. No sane parent wanted their kids to be friends with me. Courtney didn't care about any of that, though. She said she thought I was cute and weird and gave me a kiss on the back of the bus when we were in the third grade. Just a peck on the cheek, but it was enough to give me my first erection.

We made out for the first time in seventh grade. We decided to have sex at the eighth grade cotillion, but I had performance anxiety and that got postponed until ninth grade. When we finally did it, we were downstairs in her home movie theater watching Chicken Run for the thousandth time. Her dog was snoring on the floor beside us. It wasn't romantic, but I thought it was awesome.

It was common knowledge that I was the first guy in our class to get laid. This elevated my social status more than I could have imagined. I was considered a stud while Courtney was considered a slut. She got really depressed about that designation for awhile and decided to stop eating. It took her passing out after getting down to one-hundred pounds before her parents checked her into a rehabilitation place. I wasn't allowed to see her for six weeks.

When Courtney got back from rehab, her family was more concerned about concealing the scandal than actually making sure she was okay. So she spent a lot of time at my house. We tried running away together when we were sophomores, but we only made it to the next county when we decided we weren't cut out for life on the road just yet. So we turned around and went back and vowed to get an apartment together after graduation. Courtney's dad wanted her to go to school to be a veterinarian, but she didn't plan on it. She said she'd be happy if she got to eighteen.

She did, but just barely. She stopped eating again when she was a senior because of the college-pressure her dad was putting on her and the stress of a pregnancy scare that turned out to be nothing. She had to go back to rehab, and it was Rosy Palm action for me for about two months.

When she got out of rehab this time, she was . . . different. She'd put the weight back on and looked hotter and healthier and all that, but she barely looked at me. Barely talked to me. I didn't understand why until I stopped by her house one night and found her fucking some skinny kid who wasn't me.

I still remember that look on her face, that semi-apologetic expression of regret and the more potent look of having gotten caught.

"We could have a threesome," Skinny Kid suggested. I punched him.

I stormed out of her house and she followed after me wrapped in only the sweat and semen-covered sheet. She tried to explain what I'd just walked in on, but I was so furious I only heard fragments.

"His name's Benny . . . met in rehab . . . nice guy . . . we . . . drifting apart . . . awhile now . . . just not right . . . still love you."

I wished she would stop eating and die this time. Harsh, I know, but wouldn't you be harsh if you walked in on your girlfriend—who was also your best friend—getting plowed by a skeleton?

I wasn't watching where I was going when I stepped out onto the road. Courtney screamed, and I barely jumped back onto the sidewalk as a blue Honda Accord zoomed by. The frazzled driver drove into a tree and smashed in the front of his car. At first he seemed relieved that he hadn't run over me, but relief turned to anger when he saw the damage to his vehicle. Suddenly I was to blame because I should have watched where I was going. But how was I supposed to see anything in front of me when all I could see was my whore of a girlfriend whoring herself out to a man-whore who liked whores?

That was the day our relationship came to an abrupt end. She and Benny kept hooking up, and I was no longer the stud at school but rather the loser who'd gotten dumped by a former anorexic. I went through the motions for the remainder of my senior year and skipped out on graduation to go to a strip club and smoke pot. I spent my summer working at a grocery store, saving up money and planning my exodus from that place. Screw the cost factor, I was going to college out of state.

Fuck yeah, college was going to be great.

Chapter 2 – The Turn Signal

Great was an understatement. My first two years of college were the most wild and carefree years of my life. I had no idea what classes I was taking and no idea who my professors were. I showed up only on exam days and managed to get straight Cs.

My roommate was a guy named Max Evans. He was a pre-med major, very much on the right path in life. He hit the gym every single day and hit the books every single night. We didn't get along at first since we were such polar opposites—I even considered switching to another dorm because he was so tightly wound that he freaked out when I refused to vacuum the carpet. Once he started dating his girlfriend Liz, though, he loosened up. She was still in high school at the time, and she had that whole too virginal to be true thing going on. They said they were both waiting until marriage to have sex. They ended up deflowering each other at the end of the first semester.

I decided not to do the girlfriend thing. Been there, done that. Didn't plan to do it again. Looking back, I'd been an idiot. Why had I tied myself down with one stupid bitch when there were plenty of girls out there, girls who were hotter than Courtney because they weren't afraid to put a sandwich in their mouths? I met and fucked plenty of them that first semester. One was my TA for my biology lab. Oops.

I opted to stay on campus over Christmas break. As far as I knew, Courtney was still living back at home, and as tempting as it was to spend my holiday trying to avoid her, I passed. My parents came to visit me a few days before Christmas. My mom was in tears over the fact that I wouldn't be home to open presents on Christmas day. My dad told her to shut up, that Christmas wasn't about presents or family or even religion for that matter. It was about getting drunk, just like every other holiday. He slipped me a bottle of tequila while she was in the bathroom touching up her eye makeup and told me to find a pretty girl and have a real nice holiday.

That's my dad.

Once they were gone, I watched porn for about forty-eight hours straight, got a virus on my computer because of it and had to take it into the Geek Squad guys at Best Buy for repair. While they were working on it, I went to the public library and watched more porn on their computers. I got kicked out when the librarian saw what I was doing, but I wasn't ashamed. Hell, how was I supposed to entertain myself when all the hot girls on campus had gone home for nearly a month? The only ones left were the foreign exchange students who, although attractive and able to evoke a certain Asian-fetish of mine, barely spoke a word of English. Miscommunication was the kind of thing that could lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit, and that wasn't exactly how I was planning on starting my second semester.

The Geek Squad declared my computer unfixable and told me to get a new one. So I did. I got the best anti-virus software known to mankind, had them install it for me, and walked out with a brand new Toshiba in hand. I was making my way back through the parking lot when a ditz in a purple VW Bug almost crashed into me, barely stopped in time.

"Hey, I'm walkin' here!" I shouted, slamming my hand down on the hood of her car.

She flinched, her eyes half-closed, and I took a closer look at her. What a rack.

I ended up doing her that night, Christmas Eve. Santa Clause was coming to town, and I was just plain cumming. Merry Christmas indeed.

Her name was Isabel and she was a sophomore, turned out to be the girlfriend of the newly-elected student body president, Alex Whitman. When he found out about it, he was pissed off and some of his friends decided it would be fun to beat me up in retaliation. I got my first black eye, bloody lip, and broken ribs ever, and Isabel was so impressed that she gave me a blow job. She went back to Alex after that, though. They married and had their babies. Not the point. When I screwed Isabel and braved the beat-down for it, everything changed for me. That was when I went from being a cool freshman to being a campus legend.

Chapter 3 – The Ignition

By the time I was a junior, I was president of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity. The story was that, for over a hundred years, they had prided themselves on developing educated "gentlemen" who promoted "human dignity, positive relationships among men, and moral excellence." Ha.

How I became president of this fraternity is a mystery. I definitely wasn't qualified, sure as hell didn't have the grades for it. But when you're more well-known on campus than your football team's quarterback, the logistics of your life don't matter much.

"That's Michael Guerin," all the girls would say when they passed me. "He's so dreamy."

You hear that? Dreamy.

They wanted to be with me and the guys just wanted to be me. I scored more ass than almost anyone had before. Even my professors were in awe of me. There was one female grad student who taught my late American literature class and offered to give me an A+ if I had an affair with her. (Unhappy marriage, abusive husband, you know the drill.) She wasn't much to look at, so I closed my eyes when I whenever I did her. The faculty ended up finding out about our little tryst, and she was fired. I wasn't kicked out of school, but I almost was. The Dean fully planned on booting my ass until half the student body showed up at the student union for a "Let Michael Stay" rally complete with signs, chants, and marching.

Told you I was popular.

After I was allowed to stay, several websites popped up entirely devoted to me. .com and .net received more visitors than MySpace on our campus. It wasn't exactly Hollywood, but it was like the small-scale version of it. And I'll admit, I was like Paris Hilton, famous for being famous. That was okay with me.

At the start of the second semester, my frat threw a rager of a party. This was after I had made the dumbass decision to major in English, and I needed to let off some steam. (Side note: When I chose to get an English degree, the number of students enrolled for English degrees doubled.) I started off the night with a beer, then another beer, then some grinding with a few hot freshman, and then some glorious thoughts about how I would go to my ten-year high school reunion and reclaim my "stud" title. And then I had more beer.

Halfway into the party, Max and Liz showed up. They had gotten an apartment off campus that year, so I didn't get to see them as much. I gave Max a drunkenly overenthusiastic hug and tried to grab Liz's ass. She swatted my hand away before I had the chance and told me there was someone she wanted me to meet.

That someone was blonde. And hot. And named Maria DeLuca.

"She's a freshman," Liz informed me. "I met her in my cooking class. Maria, this is Michael."

"I know," Maria said. "I've seen the websites."

All I could do was stand there and grin. I loved freshman girls and the body parts attached to them.

"She's an English major, too," Liz went on.

I chuckled. "You decide to do that after you found out I did?"

Maria gave me a look as though she were disgusted by me, and she didn't say anything. Liz desperately tried to resurrect the conversation by talking about how Maria was double-majoring in English education as well. I didn't hear much of what she said, because the moment I heard education, I began having hot teacher fantasies. Maybe she'd teach at one of those private schools. Maybe they'd make her wear a plaid skirt like the students.

Maybe I could make her wear a plaid skirt for me.

When Max and Liz went to dance, that left me alone with the girl who would hopefully be my newest conquest.

"Where you from?" I asked, handing her the remainder of my beer.

"Around," she answered, pushing the cup back towards me.

"Around where?"

She grunted. "Like you care."

Smart girl. I didn't care. I hadn't cared about anyone for a long time.

I sensed the girl didn't like me, and that was a problem, because I liked her. I asked her why Max and Liz were so obviously trying to hook her up with me when I had built my entire reputation on having unprotected, spur-of-the-moment sex with a girl who drove a Bug. She said Max and Liz thought my playboy ways were just a front and that I was a good guy with a big heart underneath. I just needed someone to give my heart to.

What a crock of bullshit.

I suggested a few lewd and inappropriate things to her—suffice to say they involved a pickle and a bull-whip—and she slapped me hard across the face and stormed off. I was so turned on.

I followed her out, tripping and spilling my beer all over my shoes on the way. She looked like she couldn't get away fast enough. I yelled her name . . . except it wasn't her name. I called her Melanie. My mistake. Melanie was the girl I'd hooked up with the night before.

"Maria!" There we go.

She didn't stop. She practically ran across the street, rifling through her purse for either her keys or pepper spray. She wasn't watching where she was going, and I saw a car zooming down the street, people hanging out the windows whooping and hollering. She stopped like a deer caught in the headlights, and I ran out into the street and pushed her out of the way, falling down on top of her just as the car drove past.

Holy crap, I'd just saved her life. This was going to bring in so much traffic to the websites.

"What are you doing?" she yelped, hitting me with her hands and purse.

I tried to tell her that I'd saved her, but she wasn't buying it. She took her pepper spray out of her purse and sprayed it directly into my eyes. I literally screamed and scrambled away from her. I'd never been pepper sprayed before. It was interesting.

She called me a pervert and started walking away. I followed her, even though I was practically blind.

She threatened to call campus police. She didn't.

She looked cute when she was pissed.

Once the searing pain in my eyes had died down and we were nearly back at her dorm, I jumped in front of her and said, "Go out with me." What the hell was that? Go out with me? Usually I just cut straight to the chase, go down on me.

"In your dreams," was her swift response.

"In my dreams we do a lot more than that."

She lifted her pepper spray again, and I shielded my eyes. She told me I should go to the hospital. I was going to have retinal problems from now on. I told her I thought she was sex personified.

"Why don't you go back to your party?" she suggested. "I'm sure there are plenty of brainless bimbos willing to sleep with you there."

"There are," I acknowledged.

"So why are you still bothering me?"

I didn't have an answer to that. All I could do was smile at her. It took her a long time, but eventually she smiled back.

Chapter 4 – The Ride

It took a lot of persuading on my part—even a serenade—but I eventually convinced Maria DeLuca to go out with me. We went to the only drive-in movie theater in town and saw Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Or at least that's what I think we saw. I can't really remember. I spent most of the time staring at her.

I had a massive boner the minute she sat down in the passenger's seat of my 1995 Mercury Sable. The car was crap, but my fraternity brothers had promised to buy me a truck or a convertible for my next birthday. Possibly both.

Maria liked to bitch. She bitched about the car, she bitched about the movie, and she bitched about the popcorn I bought for her, even though I'd ordered the extra buttery kind. She was trying to make it seem like she was having a miserable time, but I knew she wasn't. Every once in awhile, she'd sneak a glance at me and move a little closer. I put my arm around her about halfway through the film. She didn't shrug it away.

"This is a stupid movie," she said, munching on her popcorn.

Part of me wanted to tell her to get down low and put that mouth of hers to good use, but the other part actually liked hearing her talk. What was up with that?

During the intermission, she turned to me and sternly informed me that she had only agreed to go out on a date with me so that I would stop bothering her about it. She proceeded to call me every elementary name in the book—moron, jerk, poophead, annoying—as well as some more creative ones—sexist-freak-who-probably-just-sleeps-with-so-many-girls-to-conceal-his-gayness and assiest ass of all time topped the list.

I was more interested in her ass than any insult she had in her arsenal.

She told me I needed to take a women's lit class. I told her she needed to get laid.

She told me she wanted to go home. I told her the movie wasn't over.

She told me she'd kill me if I kissed her. So I did.

She kissed me back—with tongue, I might add. She probably didn't even realizing she was doing it. But then she shoved me away. Just like that. She went on a tirade about how she's "not that kind of girl" and refused to be putty in my hands. Oh, I wanted her in my hands, but not in the form of putty.

We settled back in and watched about five more minutes of the movie, minutes in which I let my mind wander and asked myself why the hell I was going to so much work for one chick. Before I could contemplate the answer, she was all over me. And I mean all over me. Hands in my hair, mouth on mine, ass in my lap. She was an animal, this Maria DeLuca. She practically took out the dashboard.

She climbed on top of me, blocking my view of the movie screen and giving me a better view in the process: straight down her shirt. I undressed her quickly, practically tore her clothes into shreds. I tossed her shirt into the passenger's seat and her bra out the window. She slid my zipper down; I hiked her skirt up. She rode my cock until I couldn't see straight.

When we were both done, the windows had fogged up. I traced out a stupid smiley face in the steam, and she muttered "Fuck you," under her breath. I promptly reminded her that she just had.

She laughed a little and climbed into the backseat. I spanked her bare ass and climbed back there with her, intoxicated by the way she smelled. She pulled her skirt back down and insisted, "I'm really not that kind of girl."

"What kind?" I asked.

"Just . . . that kind. You know that kind."

I did know that kind, quite well in fact. The slut kind. Even though she'd just done me, she wasn't that kind.

"I can't believe I did this," she whimpered, suddenly sounding mortified.

What was the big deal? She hadn't been a virgin as far as I could tell. No virgin fucked like that. I asked if she was on the pill and she nodded. I told her I'd wear a condom next time if it would make her feel better—I'm a nice guy like that. She told me there wasn't going to be a next time.

And then there was. The backseat of my car was not spacious by any means, but we got into so many positions, I couldn't even keep count. Her on top, me on top, me behind, and something she learned from Cosmo that I can't even spell. It didn't matter that we were cramped, exhausted, and drenched in sweat. She said she did yoga, and I was flexible when motivated.

Bottom line, folks: If the car's a-rockin', don't come a-knockin'.

I feel the need to interject here and admit that this is in no way, shape, or form a car crash. But it was a pelvic crash and it took place in the car, so it counts.

The movie ended before we did, and even then, we didn't quit. I had never felt more satisfied and alive than I did on that night in that car with that girl. I knew it was the best night of my life. I knew it always would be.

I took her back to her dorm four hours later than she had intended. She asked if I wanted to spend the night, so I followed her up to the fifth floor and into her room. Her roommate was at her desk with a mountain of books spread out in a semi-circle around her computer. She didn't even glance up at us when we came in.

I crawled into bed with my backseat buddy and lay behind her. We did inappropriate things while her oblivious roommate remained oblivious, and as she fell asleep that night, I held her. It had been a long time since I'd really held anyone.

"I don't want you to think I'm a slut," she said as she fell asleep. "I promise I'm not."

I stroked her hair and told her I knew that.

"I promise," she repeated as her eyes fluttered closed. She fell asleep a minute later.

I stayed with her the whole night, although I didn't sleep much. I was wired. This was . . . new. And different. And good. Whatever it was. I wasn't sure if we would amount to anything or if this one night was all we would have, but either way, it was a night I'd never forget.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the night I fell in love with her.

Chapter 5 – The Steering Wheel

Maria and I defied all common sense. We were an odd couple to say the least. At times we couldn't stand each other, and at times we were each other's best friend. Our sex life was killer, and our love life was often blazing with contempt. We fought just about as much as we fucked, and I never understood what was going on in her head. But my favorite thing in the world was to make her laugh.

The minute my "loyal fans" found out about her, there were two new websites that popped up: .com and .com. She became a campus celebrity in her own right. Everyone knew who she was, and everyone knew she was dating me. It took a long time for people to perceive me as boyfriend material. Hell, it took a long time for me to perceive myself that way.

The first two months were rocky. I'm not gonna lie, I was tempted by some of the other girls on campus. Her newfound status caused a lot of guys to be interested in her, guys who in all honesty were better men than me. We broke up constantly and always got back together the next day. Then we broke up again. It felt like an endless cycle until it wasn't anymore.

Things changed when I met her parents. (She met mine, too, but my dad was too smashed to comprehend what was going on.) When I met her mom and dad and baby brother, that was when I stopped seeing her as Maria the sexual being and started seeing her as Maria the real live girl who just happened to be very sexual, too. We spent a weekend in her hometown at her grandpa's funeral. For such a somber occasion, her entire family was very light-hearted and welcoming. I watched the way she lit up around them and the way they adored her, and it dawned on me that I adored her, too.

For the next two months, my affection for my girlfriend grew. It got to the point where I no longer noticed the other girls who looked my way. I even cancelled my three year-old subscription to Playboy. Maria DeLuca was the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning and the last thing I thought about when I went to sleep at night. When I wasn't around her, I wanted to be, and whenever she was near, I felt my heart beat faster.

Hearts are a funny thing. I'd almost forgotten I had one.

Max and Liz got married over spring break, and Maria was a bridesmaid. I was a groomsmen. I stood across from her while our friends said their vows, and I thought about what I would say to her on our wedding day. I thought about how she'd look in her white dress. And that freaked me out.

Marriage thoughts were not Michael thoughts. Before her, I'd been perfectly content at the prospect of being a lifelong bachelor. Either that or the next Hugh Hefner. Something had to be wrong with me.

I talked to Max about it. He said that I was in love. I almost choked on my own spit.

He said I should tell Maria. I practiced in the mirror, but the word felt unnatural on my tongue. Love. Love. L-O-V-E.

Perhaps the more surprising thing was that it felt like she loved me, too. It wasn't hard to fall for Maria. She was like a kitten and a tiger and a superhero all rolled into one. It was, on the other hand, hard to fall for me. To really fall, I mean. All those girls who ran those websites and danced with me at parties and had pictures of me on their walls . . . they didn't really know me. Because if they had, they wouldn't have even liked me. But Maria came to know me better than anyone else, and even though I think she hated me a good deal of the time . . . I know she loved me, too.

She told me on a completely random day when I was walking her to class in the rain. I was holding her umbrella above her head. She thanked me for doing so, gave me a quick kiss, and said, "I love you," as though it were the easiest thing in the world to say. I stood there like an idiot while she scurried into the English department. She didn't seem to mind that I hadn't said it back. I made a mental promise that I would someday.

At the end of April, she was driving me to my new job at the bar when she casually mentioned that she hadn't renewed her housing contract for the dorms. I asked if she was going to live in one of the on-campus apartments. She said she'd missed the sign-up on account of one of our massive fuck-a-thons. I stared at her for a moment, and then I said something that took both of us aback. Not 'I love you,' but the next best thing.

"You should move in with me."

Her mouth dropped open, and then she smiled. I knew this whole conversation had been a gigantic hint at that. "I can't live in the frat house with you, though," she pointed out. "I'll get raped."

"Nah, I won't let anyone rape you," I promised. If anyone ever laid a hand on my girl, they'd be deader than Elvis and Michael Jackson combined.

I suggested we move off campus, find a cheap apartment just for the two of us. She said she didn't want it to be too cheap. Had to have good plumbing and all that. I made a perverted joke about cleaning her pipes, and she just laughed and told me to shut up.

"Alright, so we're doin' it," I decided. "Moving in together."

She seemed so elated—and a little bit terrified—by that idea that she got distracted and didn't watch where she was going when she turned right at the intersection. She turned directly into the wrong lane and drove right into the side of a yellow Viper. Luckily she wasn't going at a high speed or she could have killed the driver. She was only going fast enough to dent the door.

The driver took off his sunglasses and glared at us. It was none other than Alex Whitman, Mr. Student Body himself. He probably hated the fact that I was going to be unanimously elected next year.

He got out of the car and threatened to sue the hell out of us. Luckily, he didn't. We did end up having to pay for the repairs to his door, though, and that wiped out both our bank accounts. We had to settle for a cheaper, dirtier apartment than we had intended to. It wasn't in the best neighborhood, and the neighbors themselves were loud. When we were christening the bedroom, a cricket crawled up my ass. Maria said that was what living together was all about.

Chapter 6 – The Speed Bump

Moving in together was a bigger deal than it should have been.

Maria was ready for it. Maria was responsible. Maria was determined. I was none of those things. I got fired a week before our rent was due (something about never showing up on time), so she had to start working full-time at the library just to cover our asses. In addition to that, she was taking three classes that summer, so I barely ever saw her, and whenever I did, she had to study for a test or write some kind of paper.

The fact that I no longer lived on campus definitely hurt my notoriety. The crop of incoming freshmen had no idea who I was. The number of English majors dropped, as did pledges for my fraternity, and my websites seemed to be getting fewer and fewer visitors each day. I thought about doing something that would get me kicked out of school, just to see if my fellow students would rally and save me again. But that suddenly seemed too risky.

It was just the opposite for Maria. Everyone still knew who she was since she was always on campus for either class or work. She didn't let it go to her head, though. She always thought it was creepy that that she was so well-known. I probably worried about it more than she did.

It occurred to my unemployed self as I wasted my summer away in our crappy apartment that Maria and I were completely different people. She liked Sarah McLachlan; I liked Metallica and Staind. She liked romantic comedies; I liked hardcore porn. She was really going somewhere in life. I wasn't even sure if I'd manage to graduate. When I stopped feeling like Michael Guerin, the coolest guy in town, I started feeling like Michael Guerin, the utter loser. And I didn't like feeling that way.

It probably didn't help that people on the message board of .com were saying that she worked with a guy who was studying business law, stood to inherit his father's multi-million dollar clothing line, and had modeled for Abercrombie and Fitch last year. When I asked her about it, she said he had a girlfriend and that he was incredibly self-absorbed. I still worried. How was I supposed to compete with someone like that?

I got drunk a lot that summer, and Maria and I fought about it a lot. She said I was turning into my dad. I said she didn't know what the hell she was talking about. But maybe she did. I really didn't want to be him. I wanted to be me, but I had no idea who the hell I was.

You know how they say that girls mature faster than boys? It's true. Because I didn't go through that typical adolescent identity crisis when I was in high school. I went through it when I was twenty-one years old, and I felt like a chump.

Things came to a head the night before the start of the fall semester. Maria had gotten a higher paying job at the bookstore, and with all sorts of students purchasing their books for their upcoming classes, it was a busy night. She had to work a double shift. I was drinking and watching porn and trying to get my anti-virus software to actually be anti-virus when someone knocked on the door.

Courtney. I almost couldn't believe it when I saw her standing out in the hallway. I barely even recognized her at first. The girl who had been a toothpick for as long as I'd known her was now . . . well, a whole lot of toothpicks. She'd put on a ton of weight, and she looked older and smelled like smoke.

I probably didn't look or smell much better.

"Hey, Michael," she said, smiling sweetly. "Long time, no see."

I wanted to slam the door in her face, but I stupidly let her inside instead. I gave her the grand tour of the apartment, which didn't take long since it only consisted of a bathroom, a closet, and a bedroom/kitchen combo. Then I got a beer out of the refrigerator for her and we sat down on the floor and talked.

She told me how bad her life had sucked for the past three years. She and Benny had stayed together. She'd ended up getting pregnant a year ago. (She blamed her weight gain on that, but I think she just liked to eat cake.) Benny had left her, though, and now she was a single mother. She said she was trying to get back in shape so she could make some money being a stripper. I'd always had a feeling Courtney would end up being a stripper, even back when she'd actually had a future.

I started to tell her what I'd been up to, but she said she already knew.

"I visit the websites every day," she revealed. "Court'sInOrder_01? That's me."

"Really?" I'd always thought Court'sInOrder_01 was a stalker.

"Yeah. I visit Maria's websites, too. She seems . . ." She trailed off and looked me up and down. "Like she's too good for you."

She always had been.

Courtney went on to suggest that I shouldn't enter into a lifelong commitment with her. She said that serious relationships were bound to fail. "Look at what happened to us, or me and Benny." She shuddered. "Just don't get involved with that. It's so much easier if you hook up and never look back."

That was definitely easier . . . but not necessarily better.

I told her that Maria was my whole world. She laughed and said she'd never heard me sound so sappy before. I told her it was the alcohol talking. She said it was me.

Even though I loved Maria, even though I knew she was the one for me, an entire summer's worth of stress, concern, and the fear that I wasn't good enough kept creeping in, and my fall from grace was complete when I kissed Courtney. I kissed her. I didn't want to, but I did, and for a split-second, I felt like the stud from high school. I felt like the king of campus. I felt like the guy who actually was someone because I was better than the person I was with.

And then I felt like a heartless bastard when Maria walked in the door. She saw me kissing Courtney, dropped her purse on the floor, and looked as though she were about to throw up.

"No, Maria, I . . ."

She didn't want to hear my excuses, and that's exactly what they were. Excuses. She whirled around and ran back out into the hall. I shot to my feet and ran after her. My throat felt dry.

"Maria, that wasn't what it-"

"Shut up!" she yelled. Her voice was loud. Her eyes were louder. "God, I'm so stupid. How could I ever let myself fall for you?"

And in that moment, as if I couldn't have made the situation worse, I said the one thing I probably shouldn't have said at all, or the one thing I should have said sooner. "Maria, I love you."

She spun around and slapped me so hard across the face, I thought she'd knocked my jaw out of my mouth. She told me she wouldn't do infidelity. She told me we were done. I begged her to forgive me. It was just a kiss. She said there was no such thing. She said she deserved better, and she was right.

Even though I knew I'd just screwed up the best thing that had ever happened to me, I followed her downstairs. She didn't seem to have any idea where she was going, but she clearly wanted to get away from me. I know she would have pepper sprayed me if she hadn't left her purse in the apartment. I knew Courtney was probably stealing cash out of her wallet at that very moment. I knew Courtney was just a miserable bitch who wanted me to be miserable with her. But I knew I wanted Maria.

"Don't ever talk to me ever again!" she screamed, stopping at the end of the sidewalk. She bent down, took off her left shoe, and threw it at my face. It hit my shoulder instead. Still hurt. And with that she hobbled across the road wearing only one shoe, holding her stomach as though it hurt, and crying. I hated myself so much for hurting her.

"Maria . . ." I stepped down off the curb, and an instant later, I was up in the air. I rolled up over the hood of someone's car, down across the trunk, and landed on the pavement with a thud. I heard Maria scream my name and felt a bone in my leg pop. The last thing I remembered was her hand on my head before everything went black.

My entire life flashed before my eyes while I was unconscious. It's not a cliché; it really happens. My entire life . . . and all I saw were cars. And all the cars made me think of Maria.

I'm convinced it was the thoughts of her that brought me back. When I came to, I was in a hospital room with my leg in a stirrup, a cast covering the entire length of it. The chart on the wall said I'd been unconscious for two days. There were flowers and balloons all over the room. My mom was asleep beside me, holding my hand. Maria was nowhere in sight.

Chapter 7 – The Seatbelt

Well, here we are. The end of my memoir that's supposed to be a research thesis. How rebellious I've been. I hope by now I've proven that airplanes are safer than cars. I've never actually flown on an airplane before, and I don't think I'll get on one anytime soon. Knowing my luck, we'd hit birds and end up floating in the Hudson River. Shit like that happens, you know?

I think I should walk everywhere for the rest of my life. Or ride a bike or take the bus. Or hop around on a pogo stick.

Oh, definitely the pogo stick.

I had to skip my fall semester because of mobility issues. I'd broken my entire leg and messed up a shitload of stuff in my back when I got hit by that car. What was worse, I had to move back home with my parents so they could take care of me while I attended rehab. Well, my mom took care of me at least. My dad continued his slow descent to the bottom of the bottle and chose to ignore the fact that I was still alive. My one saving grace was that Courtney and her family no longer lived next door. In fact, I heard Courtney took off for New York a week after my accident. I never heard from her again.

I had to give up my role as president of my fraternity. I wouldn't have been elected student body president even if I'd still been a part of the student body. My reign had come and gone. Alex ended up taking another year of classes just so he could get elected again.

My websites shut down around Halloween. Maria's stayed up until Christmas until they shut down, too.

I didn't see Maria for months. She sent a card addressed to my parents saying that she hoped I had a speedy recovery, but other than that, she didn't want anything to do with me, and I couldn't blame her.

Max and Liz were my eyes and ears. They talked to Maria, and then they talked to me. They said she seemed lonely. She had moved to a nicer apartment and gone out with a few guys, but she didn't have a boyfriend. Liz said she talked about me a lot, and sometimes she took naps in the back of her car.

By the time the spring semester rolled around, I was well enough to go back to school. I sort of had a new lease on life, so education didn't seem so worthless anymore. I planned to study my ass off and graduate later that year. Then I'd have an English degree and no idea what to do with it.

I moved into an apartment on campus. It was a good fit for me. There was a cleaning staff who came by every other week to clean the kitchen and the bathrooms. I thought that was righteous.

The people who didn't know me stared at me as though I were a freak when I walked to class with my cane. The people who did know me pretended they didn't. A cane really did nothing to reignite my reputation, but I was beyond caring about that. Besides, it was better than the wheelchair I'd had to roll around in and the walker I'd had to haul with me immediately following the accident. I'd be back to normal in a few more weeks; and normal really meant normal this time, as in a regular guy, not a campus legend.

I had so many goals: No more drinking. A lot more studying. No more porn.

Well . . . maybe a little more porn.

I had just finished meeting with my advisor to discuss my impending thesis deadline when I saw Maria in the commuter parking lot. She was wearing a loose white skirt, a brown jacket, and hoop earrings. She didn't see me. She was too busy trying to figure out how to change the front left tire of her car. It had gone flat, and she was clearly frustrated.

I would watch Attack of the 50 Foot Woman fifty times in a row with her.

I hobbled towards her, tapping my cane against the pavement to get her attention. She looked up at me, shielding her eyes against the sun, and she smiled when she saw me.

"Michael."

I really missed hearing her say my name.

I offered to help her with the tire. She pointed out that I didn't know how to change a flat, and we both laughed.

I would let her pepper spray me for fun.

She said I looked good. I said I looked horrible, but I felt better.

She said she was glad I was okay. I said I was glad to see her again.

She said she was sorry she threw her shoe at me. I said I was sorry I kissed my ex.

We stood together in silence for what seemed like a long time, but it was really only for a few seconds. Finally I told her I still loved her.

She tensed up momentarily. She looked wary, suspicious, and a little scared. But she looked like she still loved me, too.

Crickets be damned.

She smiled softly at me, opened the door to her car, and jingled the keys in her hand. "Let's take a drive."

THE END