|"All the Lonely People "
Disclaimer: I hate putting these at the top of fics. It just bugs
me. When I read other people's fics, I hate weeding through the blurbs mad
crazy fic writers throw in while all I really want to get to is the story.
But if I don't want to get sued, I must put this here. So here it is. A plea
to not sue me. You won't get anything, except a collection of Beatles cds
and a couple hundred My Little Ponies.
Summary: Valentine's Day in Roswell. Lonely hearts reaching out to find the ones who care.
Authors Note: Certain things that show up in this story might be easier to understand if you've read the Roswell Elementary series by Kara and I. (http://www.crosswinds.net/~raddish/roswell_elementary.html)
|"All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?"
-- "Eleanor Rigby", The Beatles, 1966
Ever since Maria DeLuca was a little girl she had stared out of her bedroom window longingly every day, hoping that her father would show up in his limousine. That he would come cruising by and rescue her. It wasn't that she didn't like living with her mom. They were close. Buddies. But it was tough. They never had enough money. Her mom got sad a lot. And Maria, in her childish innocence, couldn't help but wish that one day, her father would show up with a limousine and a bagful of money and suddenly things would be happily-ever-after.
But now, at 16, she was old enough to know that money and limos wouldn't change anything. If her father had the nerve to show up now, he wouldn't get a hug and a kiss and a little girl ready and willing to ride off into the sunset. He'd get the cold shoulder of a lonely and jaded young woman. He had abandoned them for too long.
But she still dreamed about being rescued. Not necessarily from her mom. Not necessarily from anything in particular. Just from her life. She wasn't smart. She wasn't beautiful. She was just... wacky little Maria DeLuca, always cracking witty jokes and laughing about one thing or another. She was "that weird girl who hangs out with Liz". A nobody, in other words.
She was just waiting... Waiting for somebody to come along and see her. Really see her, as what she was. Not the face she kept in a jar by the door. But the real her. The underneath her.
She thought maybe Michael Guerin was that person. The one she had been waiting for all of these years to rescue her, to spark her into life. When they had been together in that cheap nookie motel room talking, that was the first time in her life that she had felt like somebody really understood her.
No. That wasn't true. She had sensed their connection long before that. Like that Saturday in fifth grade, when she had gone out to get ice cream. And to get away from her depressed mother. She had found him sitting on the playground swings, and he had looked so... vulnerable and alone. Softer than she had ever seen him. And he had been drawing, so he wasn't paying attention. So she had sneaked up behind him, eager to see. She was always curious about what he drew in that sketchpad he lugged everywhere with him. To her surprise, the drawing had been of her. Michael Guerin had been drawing a picture of her. And he had made her look simply breath-taking.
She had never told anybody about that, not even Liz. She remembered how she had tried to tell him how nice it was, and he had clammed up again. But it had been there for a moment anyway. That connection, that fine and fragile cord that tethered them together. She fleetingly wondered if he still liked to draw her.
Michael was lonely, too. Michael didn't have anything. He didn't have anybody who cared about him. She wondered if he even knew what love was. She'd love to show him. But he was Michael. He'd probably always be the same. He could be sweet and awkwardly tender one minute, cold and unbearably rough the next. She knew that he was trying, though. And she'd wait. She'd probably die, or go insane, but she would wait. Because Michael needed to be rescued even more than she did. Maybe they could rescue each other.
On the other end of town, Michael Guerin also peered out of the small window in his tiny bedroom. His thoughts were not of stars, or abandoning alien parents. At least not tonight. Tonight he was thinking of Valentine's Day. It was only a couple of days away. Max had been planning and scheming for weeks. Michael had tried to point out that technically, he and Liz were not going out anymore. But Max wasn't deterred. He said that Valentine's Day would be his chance to make up for all of the pain that he had caused Liz.
Michael had laughed in his usual sardonic way. But it had made him think. Could one single stupid day out of a multitude of stupid days really make that much of a difference? Max was so much better at this sappy romantic stuff than he was. God, he couldn't even tell Maria that he needed her, never mind anything else.
But he wanted to at least try and show her how special she was to him. And that in itself was a major improvement. He wanted her to know. He could see the hurt in her eyes whenever he ignored her or avoided her. And, on the flip side of the coin, he could also see the calm trust in her eyes whenever he looked past himself and sought out the comfort of her arms.
They didn't kiss. They hadn't at all since that crazy December heatwave when he had completely lost control. When they had both completely lost control. Unless you counted that amazing kiss in the spirit realm. He was hoping that their next real kiss would be like that.
So... Valentine's Day. He had taken all of the money he had and bought something for her. Which really wasn't saying much. But he thought she'd like it. He hoped she would like it. And she'd look up at him, her eyes sparkling, and he'd lean in, and--
Just then, the telephone rang, startling him. Amazing. Hank usually forgot to mail in the phone bill, so the phone service was almost always being cut off.
He sauntered out to the kitchen and picked up the receiver, feeling a little annoyed. "Hello?"
"Mickey! Boy, is that you?"
Oh, great... Hank. Michael shifted his weight and sighed heavily. "Yeah, Hank, it's me."
"Mickey... I'm in a little bit of trouble. Gonna need some help."
"What did you do?" Michael wore a barely interested expression on his face.
"I'm in jail."
"Jail?" Michael repeated dumbly.
"Arizona?" Now Michael was interested.
"It's a real long story," Hank answered. "Mickey, boy, just listen to me, okay? You gotta come get me outta here. Daleview, Arizona. The County Jail. I know you got no reason to do what I say, but I-- Oh... I gotta go. Daleview, Arizona, Mickey. Come get me!"
There was a click as the line went dead. Michael stared at the receiver in shock for a moment before hanging it back on the handset. Great. Just great. How the hell was he supposed to respond to something like this? Did Hank honestly think that Michael was going to help him?
But then he realized something. Hank was probably even more lost than he was. Maybe Hank had been a little bit like him when he was younger. Alone. Scared. Uncared for. So he turned to the bottle. Drank his whole life away. Maybe Hank had never had anybody in his life who cared enough about him to stop him from wasting his life. And it made Michael feel even luckier that he had Maria now. Or else who knew what kind of future might have been in store for him?
He'd help Hank. He shouldn't. But he would. Even if it meant missing Valentine's Day with Maria.
He picked up the phone again and dialed Max's house, hoping that Max would let him borrow the Jeep.
Maria blinked her eyes blearily in a valiant struggle to stay awake as she walked trancelike towards her homeroom. There should be a law that stated that school couldn't start until at least 10:00. No, make that 10:30. It was just cruel. She yawned and rubbed at her eyes, scrunching up her face. Mentally, she was still at home, wearing her snowflake pajamas and lying in bed.
Then Michael was there, in front of her. Blocking her carefully chosen path to homeroom. He stared at her intently, a subtle smile on his face. "Hi," he said softly, a strangely tender look in his eyes.
That look on his face woke her up real quick. Her eyes lit up happily as she smiled and replied, "Hi... What are you doing here so early?" Certainly not one of her usual clever retorts, but it would have to do.
He reached into his worn leather jacket and brought out a small flat rectangular package. "Uhh... For Valentine's Day," he mumbled to the floor.
"Michael, Valentine's Day isn't till tomorrow!" Maria felt exasperated as she took the package.
He looked up. "I know... But I'm not coming to school tomorrow."
Just then, he spied Max across the crowded hallway. He was impatiently holding up the keys to the Jeep. "I gotta go," he said to Maria, trying to ignore the questions standing out in her eyes.
Maria stared dumbfounded down at the package in her hands for a second as Michael took off down the hallway. "Michael!" she called.
He paused and made his way back to her. He gently caressed her cheek. "Don't open it till tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay," Maria nodded, trying not to look too disappointed.
He caressed her cheek one more time and smiled reassuringly at her. Regret showed in his eyes. Then he turned and walked away, leaving her standing there alone, carefully clutching his early Valentine's Day gift and wondering what in the world was going on.
"Maria! Are you still staring at that package?" Liz laughed at the patheticness of her best friend as she walked into the kitchen of the Crashdown Cafe and caught her in the act again.
Maria's head popped up as she fixed an innocent expression on her face. She was on break right now. "What? No! No." She laughed as she quickly shoved the Valentine's Day package back into her backpack.
Liz gave her an "I see right through you" look, but didn't say anything.
"So, aren't there hungry customers?" Maria asked pointedly.
"Yes, Maria, actually... There are. Which is why I came back here to tell you that your break is officially over."
"Okay, okay," Maria picked up her bobbing antennae and placed them on her head again. "Just give me one more minute!"
She reached into her backpack and brought out the package once more, wondering down at its wrapped mysteries.
"Maria!" Liz exclaimed, trying not to laugh.
Maria looked up guiltily and put the package away one final time. "Oh, as if you wouldn't be doing the same thing if Max gave you a present and you couldn't open it, Elizabeth Parker."
Liz's face fell. "I don't think so, Maria. Max isn't going to get me anything for Valentine's Day," she said sadly.
Maria put a reassuring arm around Liz and smiled at her. "Oh, puh-lease. If Cheesebreath can get me a present, I'm sure Romeo's not gonna forget. He's just waiting for the right time."
Liz Parker sat up on the roof of the Crashdown Cafe, huddling underneath a warm flannel blanket. The roof was her favorite place. Her special place. She could spend hours up here writing in her journal or gazing up at the stars. Or, lately, dreaming that Max Evans would change his mind.
She still didn't understand how he could admit he was in love with her and yet walk away from her. He hadn't even returned her final kiss. She thought for sure that her kiss would change his mind, but no. He had gone right down the ladder and out of her life again.
He didn't come into the Crashdown hardly at all anymore. He wouldn't look at her in class, or talk to her in the hallway. And she missed him. She missed how she could feel his worshipping eyes glued to her during every class they shared. She missed his shy smile, his sweet and simple personality, his beautiful and somehow unearthly eyes. She missed that feeling she always sensed radiating out from him. That feeling of goodness and rightness and love.
But it was hopeless. Max wasn't going to change his mind. Every night, she came out here to the roof, and it was like she was waiting for him. Waiting for him to come valiantly charging back into her life like an errant knight. Admitting that he was wrong. Admitting that he did want to be with her.
She could almost picture it in her mind. There he would be, on the sidewalk below. The light from the streetlamps giving him an ethereal sort of glow. And she would hear him. He would softly call her name... And she would--
His voice. His real voice. Not the voice of her daydreams. Max's voice. Real in her ears. Below her. But... how? Why?
She eagerly peeked over the edge of the roof, still almost sure that it was her imagination. But it wasn't. He was there. Just like she had been fantasizing for weeks.
He smiled as her shining face came into view far above him. "Max!" she called.
He climbed up the ladder, but didn't jump onto the roof. They remained eye to eye. She, leaning over the roof's edge, and he, perched on the ladder. Staring into each other's eyes. Losing each other, and finding each other again.
He breathed her in under the moonlight. "Liz..." he said reverently. He gently brushed his hand against the side of her face. "It's midnight."
"I... I know, Max. Why are you telling me that?" Liz felt breathless at his touch.
"Because... It's Valentine's Day." Max smiled that gentle smile at her again.
"Oh, yeah... Right." Valentine's Day was the furthest thing from Liz's mind at the moment.
"Tonight, at 8:00. Meet me in the vegetable garden up at the old Miller farm."
"8:00," she repeated numbly as he climbed back down the ladder.
"Max!" she cried again as he stepped back onto the sidewalk.
He looked up with adoring eyes and watched as her brow crinkled with confusion. "Miller's farm?" she asked.
Max smiled. "Yes, Liz. The vegetable garden," he called up to her. "Don't forget."
"I... I won't," she murmured, smiling down at him. The same special smile she had always used with him, ever since they were children.
He gave her one last smile and then turned away. She watched as he walked serenely off down the street. She wished she felt that calm, that certain. She had to keep reminding herself that it had really happened. It wasn't just a dream. Max had come back. He wanted her to meet him, at night. Alone. On Valentine's Day. She couldn't think of anywhere else she would rather be tonight at 8:00 than in the vegetable garden up at the old Miller farm.
Maria sprang up as soon as the alarm clock started beeping. It was today. It was Valentine's Day. She could finally open Michael's present.
She pounced on it joyously, tearing off the wrapping paper like the Tasmanian Devil. She was left staring down at a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends, beaming. Her favorite book when she was in fifth grade! He still remembered! A warm and fuzzy feeling spread over her as childhood nostalgia filled her. She immediately opened the cover, eager to go through and read some of her favorite poems again. She hadn't read the book since she was 11 years old.
A note fluttered out, along with a couple of other folded pieces of what looked like sketchbook paper. She dutifully opened the note first.
Sorry I won't be here to see the look on your face when you open this. I know you'll probably open it as soon as you wake up. I know it's not anything fancy or anything like that, but I just remember how you used to get this book out of the library all the time when we were in 5th grade together, and I thought you might finally like a copy of it for yourself. But you're still a rotten old tire-face.
So... Happy Valentine's Day, Maria. I'll call you tonight. I promise.
Maria felt like swooning, something she never thought would happen in a million years. Maybe it wasn't quite up to Liz and Max's lofty romantic standards. But it was definitely from the heart. There was something there, behind his words. Some unspoken thing that she couldn't quite comprehend. Actual thought, care, had been put into this gift and the note that accompanied it. And that left her simply amazed.
She wished he was here. She ached for him as she reached for the two pieces of sketchpad paper that had also fallen out of the book. She carefully unfolded the first one, stunned. It was the sketch he had been working on that day she had gone out for ice cream, all those years ago. The face of her younger self was caught up in a careless laugh as she leaned up against a tree. The tree grove behind the playground at Roswell Elementary.
Her hands shook a little as she opened up the second one. A more recent drawing of her. And she was still laughing. This time she was leaning up against a tree outside the school cafeteria, at lunchtime. The skill with which he had drawn her was even more remarkable than it had been when they were 11.
She marvelled at both of the drawings in turn. This was how Michael Guerin saw her. This was what he thought of her. Things he had never been able to say to her, things he would probably never be able to say to her, were suddenly crystal clear.
Liz and Maria both practically floated into school that morning. Maria didn't even care that Michael had just disappeared somewhere with no explanation. And Liz didn't even care that she didn't even know where the old Miller farm was. There was a whole day to find out.
Liz grinned happily as she spotted Maria fumbling around in her locker. "Where's the old Miller farm?" she asked her abruptly.
"Well, good morning to you, too," Maria chirped cheerily. "Did you get a really good prize in the cereal box this morning or what?"
"So... Do you know where it is?" Liz asked again.
"Where what is?" Maria asked, dazed. The cereal prize, maybe? How would she know where Liz's cereal prize was? What was she? The Lost and Found? Jeez.
"The Miller farm, Maria," Liz repeated as Maria found her vial of cedar oil perched precariously on the top shelf of her locker and took a whiff.
"Oh. I have no collective clue. Why?" Maria dismissively went back to rooting through her locker.
"Um... Max... sort of asked me to meet him there. Tonight." Liz felt herself blushing a little.
That made Maria pay attention. Papers crashed out of her locker and fell to the floor in a landslide and she did her little happy dance around Liz. "Oh my God, Liz! No way! That is just too cool for color tv!" She squealed at a piercing decibel as she stooped to shove all the papers back into her locker. "I told you he would come around! Didn't I say that? I don't know, my mind has just been so cluttered that, like, half the time I don't even know what I'm saying, I mean with Michael, and--"
"Michael..." Liz cut in. "Did you open his present?"
"I did, Liz, I did!" Maria grinned excitedly and took Where the Sidewalk Ends out of her backpack, shoving it into her best friend's hands. "See? My favorite book when I was younger. Do you remember that?"
Liz barely had time to nod her head once before Maria rushed on, "Oh! And look at the note he wrote me!" She impatiently opened the cover and brought it out.
Before Liz had time to read more than the first sentence or so, Maria had grabbed the note out of her hands and replaced it with two more folded-up pieces of paper. Liz looked amused at her friend's frantically frenetic movements. "What are these?" she asked with a laugh.
"Open them, open them! But be careful!" Maria cried anxiously.
Liz did what Maria asked, carefully unfolding them. They were drawings of Maria. One that looked like it was probably from 5th grade, and one of the present Maria. "Wow," she said. "Oh my gosh, Maria... These are just beautiful. Did Michael draw these?"
"Yeah," Maria suddenly felt shy. Her cheeks were hot. "Do you think it means that--"
"That my life has suddenly chosen to take a nose-dive on what is supposedly the most romantic day of the year? Because the answer to that would be most decidedly, yes." Alex interrupted as he peered over Liz's shoulders at the drawings of Maria. "Hey, those are, those are really good."
"Hi, Alex," Liz and Maria both said, smiling.
"Well, at least two of us are having a happy Valentine's Day," he said glumly. "Guess which of us isn't."
"What happened, Alex?" Liz asked, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Isabel's got a date tonight," Alex answered dejectedly. "With Jeremy Davenport. You know, *the* Jeremy Davenport, as all the girls call him? Star of the basketball team, depressingly popular, muscles that bulge out every which way, looks like he's on steroids, Jeremy Davenport? Yeah, heard him talking about his hot date with Isabel Evans tonight a few minutes ago in the bathroom. He's had it lined up for months," Alex moaned.
"Well, Alex, if you want, you can come over and hang out with me tonight," Maria offered. "Michael, typically, has mysteriously disappeared. Again."
"No... no," Alex replied. "I think I'll just wallow... But, thank you." He tried to smile at Maria. "Hey, maybe I'll be able to get a couple of decent songs out of it or something. Just gotta think of something that rhymes with Davenport... See ya." He turned and ambled away, his head down.
Liz and Maria watched him go, their faces somber. Then Maria turned to Liz and grinned. "So... Quick, before homeroom starts. Tell me *everything* about Max. I'm talking all the standard romance novel details. Leave nothing to the imagination."
Liz laughed and pushed Maria playfully. "Maria! God! What kind of girl do you think I am?"
Her voice dropped and Maria leaned in closer to hear as Liz began. "Okay, well... I was sitting up on the roof, and..."
"... and I can't believe that you actually broke your date with him! I mean, this is Jeremy Davenport we are talking about here. As in, *the* Jeremy Davenport, who is only, like, the hottest guy in school. What is your problem lately, Isabel?"
Gracie Cohen shot Isabel a horrified look before she started off on another rambling monologue. And her monologues were not nearly as entertaining as Maria DeLuca's were. "I mean... Hello? Do you even know how many girls there are who would love to have a date with Jeremy Davenport for Valentine's Day?"
Isabel sighed as she tuned Gracie out. Gracie had been her friend practically forever, but lately... Lately she had felt like she and Gracie were on a completely different wavelength. Okay, maybe that wasn't a new feeling. Maybe she had always felt that way. It was just getting harder to hide.
A few months ago, when she had made that date with Jeremy, she had been thrilled. But things were different now. She didn't want to go out with Jeremy anymore.
Ever since she had visited Alex's dream that night... She couldn't think about anybody else. The way he had been looking at her, like she was some fragile and beautiful thing he couldn't believe he was actually touching, holding. And the way he had talked to her. Really talked to her. Like she was a person. And he was so cutely awkward around her. He was adorable.
Yeah, okay. He wasn't popular. Her friends would kill her. But why did she care so much about what her friends thought anyway? They weren't even really her friends. Liz and Maria were closer to her than any of them anyway, and she barely even knew them.
Liz and Maria could maybe be her best friends, if they would let her into their glowing circle. She wasn't sure about that. She had always been cold and unfriendly around them. Especially Maria. But she was trying to change now. And it was really hard. Though she wanted more than anything to be friends with them, it was hard for her to let that show.
But seriously. What was this, grade school? She couldn't just walk up to people and say, "Will you be my friend?" How dorky would that be? Begging for friends was just not her style.
Gracie was still going on and on. At times like these, Isabel felt like using her powers to fuse Gracie's mouth shut. Permanently.
She had to break the date off with Jeremy. There was somebody else that she wanted to spend Valentine's Day with. And he was walking by right now, his bagged lunch crumpled up in his hand.
Isabel immediately perked up as she spotted Alex. "Sorry, I gotta go," she said to Gracie, who was continuing to babble on obliviously.
Gracie stared after her in astonishment. Isabel Evans, chasing after Alex Whitman? What was the world coming to? Isabel was really starting to worry her. She shrugged and stomped off towards the cafeteria, looking for somebody else to complain to. Isabel's last minute breakup with Jeremy was hot news. Surely somebody out there could be roped into listening to it.
"Alex!" Isabel called as she ran to catch up with him.
Alex turned and goggled at her, wide-eyed. "Isabel!" Jealous thoughts of Jeremy Davenport flew right out of his mind. For the moment anyway.
She smiled, dazzling him even more. Then she reached out and straightened the collar of his plaid button-down shirt. He laughed nervously, watching her.
"Alex... Um... Are you doing anything tonight?" she asked hopefully.
Now Alex remembered Jeremy Davenport. "I know I shouldn't admit this, but non-surprisingly, I'm not. But you are," he said pointedly.
"I'm not either," she informed him with a charmed smile. "Didn't you hear? I broke my date with Jeremy."
"Y-you b-broke your...? Wait... Jeremy Davenport? And now you're, you're asking me...?" Alex could barely stammer out a complete sentence. He'd be kicking himself about this later.
She laughed. Alex was so cute when he was nervous. "Meet me tonight," she said, a seductive smile playing across her lips. "8:00, outside. Near the gym. And bring a tape player."
He gulped. His mouth suddenly felt very dry. "Uh... uh, sure, you betcha. A tape player."
She grinned and reached out again, smoothing a non-existent wrinkle in his shirt. "Great... See you tonight."
She walked confidently off in the opposite direction while Alex's insides started to congeal into jelly. "What just happened here?" he wondered aloud.
Michael sighed heavily as he finally crossed back over the New Mexico border. Hank was asleep in the back, still snoozing off the drunken stupor that had caused him to get arrested in the first place. Seems as if old Hank had hitched a ride down to Arizona the other night, and gotten into a regular bar-room brawl. And gotten himself arrested in the process.
He still hadn't said anything. He hadn't thanked Michael at all for driving all this way just to save his sorry ass. After Michael had bailed him out (using the rent money for next month!), he just climbed into the back of the Jeep and blearily dozed off. He stunk and he snored. At least the Jeep was an open-air vehicle though. That helped cut back a little bit of the alcohol vapors that were pouring off of him in putrid waves.
He checked the clock on the dashboard. 7:37. At the next gas station he'd pull off the road and call Maria. At least he had something to look forward to. And he was looking forward to hearing her voice again. He deeply regretted not being able to be with her tonight. But a phone call would be good. Yeah, a phone call would be pretty great, actually.
Maria found herself staring out the window once more. Watching the world outside of her window. Lots of traffic out there tonight. People rushing off to their Valentine's Day dances, and parties, and dates at restaurants or movie theaters. Even her mom was out on a date. Not with Sheriff Valenti this time, thankfully.
She was feeling a little lonely again. She had read some of Where the Sidewalks Ends to cheer herself up a bit. But it hadn't helped, not really. All she could think about was Michael. Where was he anyway? Was he wondering about her too?
Maria turned to the alarm clock on her end table briefly. 7:57. Her best friends were out meeting their Czechoslovakian dates on Valentine's Day. Liz, meeting Max in a vegetable garden at some weird old farm. Alex, meeting Isabel outside the gym at school. Though she was pleasantly surprised that Isabel had decided she would rather be with Alex tonight than that jerk Jeremy Davenport.
But still... She was stuck here. Waiting for a promised phone call. And Michael never promised anything anyway.
She watched as the clock turned to 7:58. Then she stared forlornly out the window again. It was stupid, she knew. But her rescue fantasy came back into her mind again. When would it happen? When would Michael Guerin finally show up at her window and actually tell her something important? When would they talk about their feelings, even a little bit? She knew he had them... If she hadn't known before, she did now.
Pinning all her hopes on a single night was crazy anyway. A fool's game. And look how it had turned out. Now all she had was the thought of his phone call. Even though she wanted him here. Now. So she could see him. Hold him. Cradle his rebelliously spiky-haired head in her arms.
A quick glance at the clock. 7:59 now. Almost to the magical hour of 8:00. She thought it was really odd how both of her friends were meeting their dates at that same time. Alex and Isabel. Liz and Max.
A streak of envy came out of nowhere and consumed her as she thought about Liz and Max. Her relationship with Michael could never be like that. Max had a crush on Liz since they were in elementary school together. She knew that he was the one who had put those flowers on Liz's desk every Wednesday. Michael, on the other hand, had just constantly tortured her, calling her names and hitting her. Why did she have to get stuck with a Cheeseface who couldn't even have the courtesy to at least tell her why he wasn't here for Valentine's Day?
Desperate tears blurred at the corners of her eyes as she stared down at the copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends that she was clutching in her lap. She wiped her eyes impatiently. She would not cry on Valentine's Day. She would not cry. Even though she was alone tonight, and she was worried sick about Michael...
Where was the laughing young girl in the drawings? She felt so far away... Like she was in another galaxy or something.
Just then, the numbers on her digital clock changed from 7:59 to 8:00. And the telephone rang.
Maria jumped up and ran blindly for the phone, wiping at her eyes again. "Hello?"
"Maria?" Michael's voice. He sounded so different when he actually said her name.
"Michael!" Maria tried to keep her voice steady but she couldn't help the sniffle that suddenly slipped out.
"What's the matter?" Concern flooded over the phonelines.
Tears ran down her eyes, dripped off her nose. "Nothing. It's nothing," she lied with a wavering voice.
A pause. "Are you lying to me?"
"No!" Maria sobbed brokenly. "I'm gonna hang up!"
"No! Don't hang up." Another pause. A deep, shuddering sigh. "Look. God, you are such a cheesehead. I'm... I'm sorry it turned out this way. Don't you know that by now?"
Maria stopped in mid-sob. "You are?" she asked in complete surprise. Leave it to Michael to admit something this monumental on the phone instead of in person.
"Yeah. 'Course I am."
"Then why did you leave me alone tonight?" Maria asked pathetically.
"Because... Hank. He was in jail. In Arizona. I had to go get him. And that part doesn't matter. Are you gonna start crying again? Because if you are, I don't think that I can-- oh, shit!"
Suddenly, sparks flew out from the phone and reflexively, Maria dropped it. Then she picked up the phone again in horror. It was dead. What had happened? She pushed the hang-up button on the phone repeatedly. "Michael?"
Then she realized. Michael. His powers. They'd gotten out of control around her before. He must've fried the phone.
She couldn't help it. The inanity of the situation just caught up with her. And she started to laugh. She leaned up against the wall and just laughed and laughed. Giant, aching belly-laughs. She laughed till tears came to her eyes again. Wherever he was calling from, she hoped that there weren't that many people there. Otherwise he was going to have a lot of explaining to do about the pay phone he had just annihilated.
Alex stood outside of the gym, clutching his tape player and feeling like a total geek. What if this was some big practical joke or something? Yeah. That was more likely than Isabel Evans actually cancelling a date with Jeremy Davenport at the last possible minute to woo him. Get real, Whitman.
He checked his trusty Indiglo again. 7:59. But as he watched, the numbers magically turned into that old double-zero. 8:00 in other words.
"Hello, Alex." Isabel emerged from the darkness, smiling at him.
Alex literally felt his knees weaken. "Isabel. Hi." She was wearing a tight red shirt that clung to her curvy body and black jeans. Her black leather jacket completed the look. God, he loved it when she wore red. "I didn't think you would really come!"
She stopped right in front of him. "Well, I did. Ta-da." She smiled wryly.
"I see that, Isabel." Alex grinned his best mega-watt smile.
Isabel stifled a laugh. Alex was such a ham. A truly adorable and completely endearing ham. She reached out once more and straightened out his collar for him as she carefully catalogued his nervously bobbing Adam's apple. She took a lot longer than necessary, looking down shyly at the task at hand and occasionally raising her eyes to meet his own. He just gazed at her raptly, letting her do what she wanted.
Finally, she stepped back, feeling a little flushed. Luckily it was dark enough that he wouldn't be able to see. "Stand back," she warned him as she went over to the padlock on the door to the gym.
He obediently took several steps away as she waved her hand over the lock. It slowly began to melt. Whoa. What a woman. Alex grinned.
She turned to look at him, grinning back as she took a few steps towards him. She grabbed his one free hand. Warm, strong, and dependable in hers. Then she pulled him into the gym.
He had never trespassed before. He wasn't planning on making it a habit. At least... Not unless it was with her. He gazed at her for a long moment. She was coyly looking around the large, empty gym. What was she scheming about?
He set the tape player down on a bench and stared at her expectantly. Without a word, she produced a tape from her leather jacket pocket and popped it in. The sounds of "Let Me In" by Save Ferris suddenly filled the darkened gym.
"I've been watching you in all you do for quite some time Knowing all the ins and outs of you..."
Alex's eyebrows popped up in surprise. This song... It seemed so familiar to him. Vague memories of a beautiful woman in a long red dress suddenly filled his mind. They had danced together. They had--
"Want to dance?" Isabel asked, enjoying the recognition on his face.
"Sure!" Alex bowed gallantly before her, surprising her. "Would you care to join me, fair lady?"
She blushed prettily. Her voice was soft. "That would be great," she answered carefully as she slid her arms around his neck. She felt his own arms meet behind her back.
They swayed to the music in comfortable silence for a while. "Y'know, Isabel... I've always wondered about you. Who you really are and stuff. Because I know you're not like all those other girls you hang around with. Well, I mean besides the-- the, uh, alien thing, of course. But I always knew, that, that you were... special. Or something along that line anyway. Uh, am I making sense?" Alex looked uncertainly at her.
"I know, Alex. That's why I asked you to come here tonight. I knew you would appreciate just dancing here with me. You wouldn't expect anything else of me."
"No... no. I-I'd never do something like that." Alex shook his head adamantly. "Just being here with you is enough."
Isabel looked up into his sweet and earnest face. "I know you wouldn't... But... Alex, you might have to wait a long time." She bit her lip nervously. "I can't... I mean, it's hard for me to... To let people in sometimes. I want to know you first."
"It'll be worth it, Isabel," Alex answered as he dipped her over backwards and then immediately twirled her around, dizzying her a little. "I can wait. I want to know you, too."
Liz looked around the dark vegetable garden, feeling a little confused. She wasn't even sure if she was in the right place. So she just wandered around, looking for Max. Why couldn't he have just met her at a restaurant or something? Why did he have to be so... Max? No, she shouldn't think things like that. She loved Max. And she loved his crazy romantic notions.
Max made her realize that life shouldn't always be planned. Life should be spontaneous. A snatch of an old song her dad liked to listen to came into her mind. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." How true that was. And Max was what had happened to her. Max. Her love. Her life...
Her foot kicked up against something. She reached down to pick it up. A radish. She laughed and turned around, looking for Max. But she couldn't see him.
She looked around some more. Another radish lay on the ground a few feet away. She ran towards it. Beyond it, lay another radish. And another. And another. A whole trail of radishes.
She laughed again, carefree music in the long-deserted garden. She began to trace the radish path. Where would it lead? Hopefully to Max.
She ran. Underneath the watchful moon and a galaxy full of stars, she ran towards Max. She could now sense him out there. Waiting. Anticipating. Just as she was.
And then she found him, standing in the darkness. Shadows crossing his face. Making him look beautiful and otherworldly. He was holding the final radish in one hand and taking in the sight of her. That soft little half-smile was playing across his lips again. The watch on his left hand had just turned to 8:00, but he was too distracted to notice. "Hi, Liz." He held out the radish to her.
Liz felt shy, suddenly. "Max..." she breathed as she took the radish, their hands lightly touching for a moment.
She stood bare inches away from him. It took all the Czechoslovakian strength he had in him to not lean in and kiss her. Not yet anyway. He could probably hold out for another minute or two at best, though. "Why are we... why are we here?"
Max smiled again. Sometimes he felt like that was all he could do around Liz Parker was smile. "Because, believe it or not, the Miller vegetable garden is one of the finest places in the world for star-gazing." And not just for gazing at the stars in the sky either, he silently added.
"No." Liz looked solemnly at him. "I meant... What does it mean, Max? Do you want to--?"
Max gave in to his urges and shushed her with a slow and tender kiss. He felt her hand stroking the hair against his neck and shuddered against her. This felt so right. How could he have ever thought anything else?
"I'll... take that as a yes," Liz replied huskily as they finally pulled away.
Max could only stare at her for a minute, breathing heavily. "I got you a present," he finally managed to say. It was all he could think of to say at the moment.
She looked at him, interested. "Oh? What?" It didn't look like he had brought anything else with him besides the radishes.
"I named a star after you," Max answered as her traced the outlines of her jaw with his fingertips.
Liz laughed, causing Max to look injured for a moment before she explained, "Max... I... I named a star after you, too."
Her eyes, those dark, warm pools that he wanted to drown himself in sometimes, connected with his. "I guess that settles that then," he said quietly as he took her hand in his.
"Settles what, Max?" She squeezed his hand. She had always loved the feeling of Max's hand in hers.
"It's meant to be, Liz," Max answered as he brought her in for another record-breaking kiss as the stars shone on above. The newly named Liz Parker and Max Evans twinkled down on them from billions of miles away.
Michael finally pulled into the trailer park, relieved. Maybe it would never be home sweet home, but all of his stuff was here. What little of it he had. "C'mon, Hank. We're here," he said to the still sleeping man in the backseat.
Hank opened his eyes and moaned. "Damn headache," he grumbled as he sat up and ambled towards the trailer.
Michael sighed and turned away. He knew he shouldn't've expected anything else.
Hank paused at the door and turned to look back at him. "Mickey?"
"I just wanted to... Well, you know."
Michael didn't turn around, but he smiled down at the Jeep. A real smile that lit up his entire face, transforming it into something almost beautiful. "Yeah. I know."
He listened as the screen door creaked open and Hank stumbled inside. "I know," he whispered again to himself as he got back into the Jeep.
Michael silently climbed up onto Maria's roof. There was a nice, flat section just outside her bedroom window. And there he sat, pulling his sketchpad out of his battered old backpack.
He could see her through the window. The warm yellow light of her bedroom encased her. She didn't even notice him, sitting out here in the chilly night air. For some reason, she was sitting on her bed with a small alien doll. She was smiling down at it as she stuck tiny arrows into it.
He just watched her for a while, drinking her in. It wasn't Valentine's Day any longer. He was still afraid. His concern for her had destroyed a pay phone at some lonely desert highway rest stop. And he still couldn't bring himself to tap on the window and let his presence be known. He just wasn't ready for that yet.
So he sketched her instead. Trying to capture that smile on her face as she continued to industriously pierce the alien doll with arrows. What did that mean, anyway? Arrows.
When he was finished, he stared down at the work in his hands. It was a little rough. Not a lot of light out here. But he thought he had gotten it. So he initialed it. Yet another drawing of her to add to the dozens he already had stockpiled in the box underneath his bed at home. He was about to close the sketchpad, shove it into his backpack, and climb on back down the roof when a better idea struck him.
He reached into his pocket and brought out a sparkly red heart sticker. He had considered putting it on the note he had written her, but had decided against it at the last moment.
He tore the sketch out of the pad and held it against her windowpane, quickly sticking the heart sticker on it to hold it into place and then vanishing into the night. She'd find it eventually. Maybe she'd call him afterwards. The phone was even turned on for once.
And suddenly, he was in a rush to get back to the trailer.
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