FanFic - Michael/Maria
"A Girl in Need"
Part 1
by loki
Disclaimer: the characters- not mine, although they seem to enjoy living in my head. the lyrics are by Aimee Mann.
Summary: Maria's 13th birthday isn't quiet what she expected.
Category: Michael/Maria
Rating: PG

"Maria, honey... wake up!"

Rolling over, the girl pulled the blanket over her head and snuggled into the pillow. The voice kept calling, but she was determined to ignore the rude intrusion to her much-needed sleep. After all, she was a growing girl, wasn’t she? Didn’t growing girls needs sleep… or did that just apply to boys?

"C’mon sleepy head! It’s your big day!"

The palm of her hand pressed against her eyelids to keep out the sun that was forcing itself across the room. Maria grumbled, hearing the door open. She opened one eye slowly, to catch her mother walking in with a tray full of food. Maria rolled back over and propped herself up before her mother reached the bed.

"Happy Birthday honey!" Amy DeLuca was wearing a grin from ear to ear. Her daughter... thirteen. This was a day she thought would never come, a day she almost feared. Now it was official, there was a teenager living in her house. A moody, grumpy, soon to be overly self-conscious teenager. And if she was anything like her mother – a boy-smitten, sneaking out of the house to make out until dawn teenager. But she wasn’t going to think about those things now. It was Maria’s birthday, and she had a surprise to make it the best one yet.

Maria tried to pry open her eyes, but it wasn’t working as well as she had hoped. Last night had been spent giggling on the phone with Liz until about 2 in the morning. Not that they’d meant to be up that late – it just happened. First they were working on homework, then that turned into a conversation about English class, and of course, the boys in English class… and the next thing they knew Conan O’Brien was off the air and the birds would be chirping soon.

"Now, I know that I said you had to wait until tonight to open your presents," Amy said, placing the tray of breakfast on the bed, "But I figured that one little gift couldn’t hurt. You’ve been such a help with all the rush orders these past two weeks, so I wanted to get you something extra." Her smile widened at the sight of excitement waking up her sleepy daughter. She left the room and came back carrying a box wrapped in hideous skater-alien themed paper.

Lurching forward, the girl grabbed for the gift, making the tray wobble slightly. While her mother was a good one, a splurger she was not. It wasn’t as if Maria had really wanted for anything, but it seemed as if, ever since her father left, they were always in the middle of some kind of financial crisis. Long ago, she had learned not to ask for anything. Once, when she was nine, Maria had begged her mother to get her the latest toy – some cheap plastic thing that all the girls were bringing into class. It was the pained look on her mother’s face, struggling to tell her daughter that they couldn’t afford the extra five dollars, that stuck with her ever since. So this, two special birthday presents… this was a big deal.

Without a second thought, Maria ripped off the wrapping paper and lifted the top of the box. Inside lay the short black skirt and pink top she’d been eyeing months ago. It had been in the window of one of those ‘too cool for you’ shops in the mall – she was surprised her mother was even able to find it. Picking up the top, she glanced over at her mom in awe, then back to the shirt, running her fingers over the small black cat sewn into the middle.

"I know we couldn’t afford it in September, but I hope that it’s still in style." Amy shrugged her shoulders, a little nervous.

"It’s great, Mom." Maria put the shirt back and dropped the box to the floor. She crawled out from beneath the covers and hugged her mother with overwhelming appreciation. "I can’t wait to wear it to school today!"

Allowing herself one more moment to bask in her daughter’s adoration, Amy then pulled away. "Speaking of, little miss, you overslept again. I’ll have to drive you in, so hurry up and get ready. You’re already flirting with detention from too many late mornings." She stood up and kissed the girl’s head. "I’ll see you downstairs."


Lunch. Finally. Maria has just made it into school before the late bell rang, but she wasn’t able to catch up with any of her friends. The four classes until break seemed to last forever – neither Liz nor Alex was in any of them. And the news she had to tell them! Even last period, Mr. Johnson had stopped class to tell her to simmer down. It wasn’t her fault, really, she hadn’t even realized she was bouncing until he pointed it out in front of everyone. It was just that something totally great was going to happen, and if she didn’t tell someone soon, she might burst.

Maneuvering through the mobs of people in the hallway, an enormous grin broke out as Maria approached her locker. Standing there were her two best friends, obviously waiting to shower her with birthday accolades.

"Happy Birthday, Maria!" Liz squealed, throwing her arms around her friend’s neck. After a quick hug, she pulled away and thrust a small, brightly wrapped box into Maria’s hands. "I didn’t know if you wanted it now, or tonight at dinner, but I hope you like it."

Stepping to the side, Maria opened the locker with her free hand. She giggled at Liz’s excitement. "I’m sure I’ll love it, Lizzie. I’ll bring it to lunch… I’m starving."

"And what is a festivity without food?" Alex smirked, tugging the straps of his backpack. "I kinda forgot this morning… Not your birthday, but the present. It’s on my dresser, I swear. I was just running late…"

"Don’t worry about it, Alex," Maria laughed. "I’m just glad you guys are coming to dinner tonight. It wouldn’t be a birthday without you." Slamming the locker, she stuffed Liz’s gift into her bag.

"Are you kidding?" Alex said, swinging his arms around the girls’ shoulders. "Your mom. Pie. ‘Nuff said."


"So, you really think your dad is coming?" Alex asked through a mouthful of peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

"Mmmm hmmm…" Maria nodded vehemently. "I look at it this way: (1) Mom said she had a surprise for me. (2) She got me a brand new outfit to wear today. *MY MOM.* She *never* buys new things just like that. Well, not since dad left. So, it makes sense – she’s not worried about money, and she wants me to look nice. Why would she want me to look nice? For my dad, of course!"

Liz stared at her lunch, picking at the remnants of her orange. "Are you sure, Maria? I mean, how long has it been since you saw him?" As thrilled as she would be for Maria if her father *really* did show up, Liz had seen her friend build herself up too many times for the inevitable, crushing disappointment. "And did your mom mention that there might be a visitor?"

"No," the blonde shrugged, wrinkling her eyebrows. "But, I mean… why else would she be spending so much money, and be so excited? You should see her – the way she’s been bopping around the house for days. She hasn’t been this happy since before dad left. And it’s my *birthday* - and I’m his *daughter* - why wouldn’t he show up?" Almost four excruciating hours of waiting to explode with her news, and this is the reaction she was getting? Didn’t they know how much this meant to her?

Alex sipped his milk and watched the two girls for a moment. It was obvious that Liz was just trying to keep Maria a little grounded, for they had both seen her zoom off on wild fantasies about her father’s return. But those fantasies were as essential to Maria’s being as her bouncy blond hair was. Depriving her of those would be just as bad as shaving her bald.

"I guess," he paused, searching for the right words, "what Liz is trying to say is, well, if you don’t know for sure, then maybe it’s a good idea to keep an open mind. Think about all the possibilities." Frowning, he touched her hand. "We just hate seeing you disappointed."

"I know," Maria answered, not looking at either of them. She crumpled her lunch bag and got up from the table. "I wanted to hit the bathroom before class. I’ll see you guys in English." Slinging her backpack over a shoulder, she walked across the quad.


In about 5 minutes, the bathroom would be filled with chattering, giggling girls, angling for mirror space to primp. But for now, Maria was grateful for the silence. She checked herself out in the full-length mirror on the door. The outfit that her mom got looked really good on her. Especially with her black, Doc Marten boots. She turned slowly, making glamorous faces at herself. Rolling her eyes, she laughed at herself and smoothed her skirt down. If her father *did* show up, he probably wouldn’t even notice her clothes – he’d just hug her and never let go.

A low rumble of voices came towards the door, so the blonde darted back into one of the stalls. She locked the door as they entered, laughing and gossiping loudly. Maria recognized them as Bethany, Erica, Isabel and Jill – the most popular girls in her class. Bethany was definitely the nicest one, but the other girls were nothing but rude to everyone.

"Did you hear that Joy and David were making out in the janitor’s closet all during third period?"

"I hear that Jeanine is absolutely in love with Mark. I think we should write a note and tell him."

"You are EVIL!"

"I know…"

More laughter. Maria pulled her legs up and prayed that they wouldn’t hear her. It was awful, she knew – listening in on private conversations, but she couldn’t help it. How many opportunities would she get to see what popular people did, what they talked about?

"So, did you see what Maria DeLuca was wearing today?"

"Oh god, yes. Someone actually allowed her to go out in the world like that?"

Her breath caught in her throat. Maria clamped her hand over her mouth and squeezed her eyes shut. This was not happening. This was not happening. This was not happening.

"I don’t know, I thought she looked kinda cute."

That was Bethany. Maria tried to smile, knowing that someone was sticking up for her, but it didn’t ease the pain.

"Puh-lease, Jen. That outfit is so out of style it isn’t even funny. And those boots? Some Doc knockoffs I’m sure."

Isabel Evans, of course. Never a hair out of place, never a misstep in style. The one all the boys drooled over, especially Alex. Personally, Maria could never understand what he saw in her. She was a snippy girl that did nothing but cut other people down. Grasping tightly onto her boots, Maria absentmindedly played with the tag at the back. They were her favorites - she’d wear them every day if she could. Last summer she saved up all her baby-sitting money for a big splurge to get Doc Martens. It was her one brand-name thing that she owned. And now Isabel Evans was taking all that away from her.

Soon the girls went on to picking some other poor, unsuspecting person apart, then another and another. More students came in, but Maria didn’t move a muscle. Luckily, no one tried the door. When the last of them left, she finally let her feet drop to the floor quietly. She walked out and splashed some cold water on her face. Only three more classes to go. And if her father didn’t show up tonight, her mom was going to have some explaining to do.


"So, how was your day?" Amy DeLuca grinned, watching her daughter slide into the passenger’s seat of the car.

"Oh," Maria paused, securing the seatbelt. "It was okay."

"Just okay?" Amy furrowed her eyebrows, concerned. A birthday is supposed to be more than ‘okay.’ Especially a big milestone birthday like this. Maria stared out the window as the car drove away from the school. Her mother sighed, she was already putting up walls.


They continued along in virtual silence – every attempt at a conversation was cut off by a one-word answer from Maria. It was only when Amy parked the car that Maria broke from her daze, realizing that they had not gone back to their house. Instead, they were sitting a few stores down from the Crash Down – a little closer to the Sweet Shoppe and the small used bookstore.

"Did you need to get extra ice cream for tonight?" she asked, only half-interested in the answer.

"Well, no." Unbuckling herself, Amy turned to her daughter and bit her lip. "Remember the surprise I was telling you about? It’s kind of… here."

A broad smile suddenly appeared on Maria’s face. Of course… her father was going to meet her in the ice cream shop. They’d have enormous hot fudge sundaes – extra whipped cream – just like they did when she was little. And he would let her pick out whatever kind of lollipop she wanted on the way out. Yes, a little sappy and childish, but Maria was so touched that he had remembered. "What are we waiting for?" She flung out of the car and jumped out.

Her mother called to her just as she was opening the door to the Sweet Shoppe. "Over here, honey!" Confused, Maria closed the door and walked back. Maybe there was a surprise party? Maybe they weren’t supposed to arrive yet? Either way, Maria was willing to play along. Giving a small bounce, Amy reminded Maria of a small hyper child. It was almost as if it were *her* birthday. But, who could blame her? Maria knew how depressed her mother became after her father left, and this would be a wonderful reunion for all.

"Since the business has been going so well, and you know that Aunt Marnie left me some money in her will, I decided to open a store." Amy pointed to the empty storefront with a dramatic flourish. "Ta-da… the surprise!"

"A store," Maria said matter-of-factly.

"Yes," Amy nodded, a little hurt that her daughter wasn’t as excited as she had expected.

"And this is the surprise." The girl exhaled, Liz’s earlier skepticism echoing in her head. ‘Are you sure, Maria?’ she asked. How did she respond – with ignorance and insolence. She should have known better – Liz and Alex had known her family for a long time, and they weren’t coloured with the same flights of fancy that Maria was. And now she had to face them and once again, admit that they were right.

"Yes. Why? You don’t think it’s a very good surprise?"

"No, it’s fine." The look of disappointment on her mother’s face finally registered in Maria’s consciouness. "I’m sorry, mom. It’s wonderful. I’m really really happy for you. I guess I was just expecting something else."

"Something else? Are you worried that we’re not having the party tonight? Don’t worry about that… Alex and Liz are still coming over, right?" Her mother smiled, smoothing Maria’s hair down.

"Yeah, they are." Maria stared at the floor. "I was just thinking, well, you know it’s my birthday – my *thirteenth* birthday, and that Dad…"

"Dad?" Amy shook her head, befuddled. "I don’t understand, sweetie. What about your father?"

"He was supposed to come…" A sob threatened to take control of her vocal chords. "He was supposed to be the surprise. I thought…"

"Oh, Maria, oh…" Running her fingers through her hair, Amy sighed as the pieces of the puzzle began to come together. "I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you thought that. Your father… he isn’t coming." She reached over to hug her daughter, but Maria pulled away. Stepping back, the girl felt the first of the tears fall. Before her mother could do anything, she turned on her heel and bolted down the street. Calling after her, Amy clenched her eyes shut, leaning back against the wall utterly distressed.


Maria kept running and running until she was sure that her mother hadn’t followed. It was when she stopped that realized her breath had disappeared quite some time ago. Wheezing, her body fell to the ground and the little air her lungs managed to acquire was pushed out in wracking sobs. Her forehead was pressed to the ground, and she could feel the small pebbles embedding themselves into her knees. It didn’t matter – everything hurt so much that the pain barely registered.

"What are you doing here?" A sharp voice snapped, and Maria raised her head in shame. "What’s wrong with you?"

Sniffing, the blonde sat up and wiped away the tears with the backs of her hands. It was that boy from school, the one who intimidated her so. He was friends with the boy who was always making goo-goo eyes at Liz, but it never seemed like he actually looked at *anyone.* Once, in class, they were set up in a group project together. Tuning out the other kids who were more than happy to take over, she smiled at him in an attempt to start a conversation. But he only looked away and stared out the window for the rest of the afternoon.

And now he was not only looking at her, *her* - Maria DeLuca, but he was glaring. As if she had invaded some private part of the world that belonged to him. She stood up and brushed the stones from her skin, then met his eyes. What was she supposed to say? That once again, she set herself up for disappointment? That she’d have to face her best friends and tell them that her father didn’t come to surprise her? That his best friend’s sister tore her apart for not being ‘cool enough’? That maybe, if she *was* ‘cool enough’ – maybe then he would have come for her birthday? Maybe *then* he wouldn’t have left?

"It’s my birthday."

The words just came out. They weren’t an answer to either of his questions, not really, not in a way that he would understand.

"So, what? You didn’t get the thing you wanted? What was it… some barbie doll, or a designer dress just like *everyone* else has?" He sniped at her, immediately regretting each word as he saw her reaction. Her eyes glossed over again, and there was a thin wall of tears about to erupt.

"No…" Her bottom lip trembled. "I, uh, my…" She wanted to run, to get away from his stare. How *dare* he say such things to her – he didn’t even know her. He didn’t know her life, didn’t know how lonely she was, didn’t know how every night she wished she could be anyone else. Maria wanted to shout all these things at him, to be angry and venomous, and let him know how it felt to be attacked. Instead, she took hold of that small growing fury and used it to propel herself past him, towards the alley entrance.

"I’m –" Michael reached out and grabbed her wrist, spinning her around. He was going to apologize, but he knew that it wasn’t enough. While she was able to keep her tears in check, her face had paled except for her pink nose and red-rimmed eyes – and her body was just a shell of the bubbly spirit he’d seen in English this morning. His mouth was still open, mid-word, but he had no idea what he could possibly say to make it better, and to let her know how deeply he wished he could take his words back.

Then an idea popped in his head. Not really an idea, more of an impulse, and one so foreign to him that had he stopped to think about it, he wouldn’t have known how to follow-through. But his body took over and strangely did everything right. Pulling her to him, Michael cradled her head in one hand, the other sliding down her arm until it reached her hip. At first, Maria struggled against him, her rage still strong. Her palms were flat on his chest, trying to push away. He didn’t try to force her, but didn’t let go either, only resting his cheek on the top of her head.

Her body shuddered, exhaling more than the breath she had been holding in. Her humiliation and disappointment disintegrated a little more with each passing moment, replaced by something new and different – like nothing Maria had ever felt before. Remnants of anger still swirled around, now mixing in with the excitement that had flushed every nerve ending. As uneasy as Michael made her, the way that he just took her and grabbed her… well, it made her tingle. A good kind of tingle. A kind of tingle that she wanted to feel forever.

Michael rubbed her back in small concentric circles, while pressing her head firmly against his chin. There was something about the contrast in his touch that calmed Maria – making her feel comforted and secure at the same time. Clutching the fabric of his shirt in her fists, she held on tight. It was an involuntary action, but she knew that she didn’t want him to go, to leave her – as if she had found the sanctuary she’d spent her life searching for. He didn’t say a word. Not like her mother, who would have shushed her. Or Liz, who would have kept repeating that everything would be okay while Alex tried to make her laugh. No, he just held her body tight to him, and with her cheek against his chest, she could hear the strong beating of his heart.

"Maria!" Her mother’s voice echoed down the alley. "Maria… where are you?"

Letting her free, Michael grasped her shoulders and firmly held her away from him. "You should go."

Nodding, she took a deep breath. "Yeah."

The girl looked up and smiled, slightly embarrassed, and terribly regretful that she had to go. He didn’t smile back, but she didn’t expect him to. It would have seemed odd if he had – made everything feel even less real. Without a word, walked off to find her mother.


His voice, once again, jerked her out of her thoughts. She stopped and turned around to look at him.

Michael dug his hands into his pockets and took a deep breath. "Happy Birthday," he said quietly, but loud enough for her to hear.

Unable to help herself, a final tear escaped sat on the corner of her eye. Maria swallowed hard and smiled shyly, then went back on her way.

And that was it. Over just as abruptly as it began… in one brief moment that seemed to last a lifetime, he had managed to restore something she thought lost. In one brief moment, Michael gave Maria something she never knew she could have.


Save Me

Aimee Mann

You look like
A perfect fit
For a girl in need
Of a tourniquet

But can you save me
Come on and save me
If you could save me

From the ranks
Of the freaks
Who suspect
They could never love anyone

‘Cause I can tell
You know what it’s like
The long goodbye
Of the hunger strike

But can you save me
Come on and save me
If you could save me

From the ranks
Of the freaks
Who suspect
They could never love anyone

You struck me dumb
Like radium
Like Peter Pan
Or Superman

You will come
To save me
Why don’t you save me
Come on and save me

From the ranks
Of the freaks
Who suspect
They could never love anyone

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