|"A Bleeding Piece of Clay"
|Disclaimer: Is it truly necessary for me to say that I don't own this stuff?
I guess that according to the wonderful society in which we live, it is.
That's rather sad when you think about it. But, I don't own 'em, I'll never
own 'em, someone else does. I do however, own a crappy little '87 Honda
with a failing transmission and no windshield wiper control stick-yea!
Summary: Maria: yesterday, today, and tomorrow
Author's Note: The title is taken from a line of the poem "Mary, Queen of Scots" by Henry Glassford Bell; a lovely poem that everyone should read. J Actually the whole story is rather heavily influenced by that particular poem. Like I said, it's a cool poem. you should read it. Dedication: For Maea, because I don't think I would have written anymore Roswell fic after "Relative Deprivation" had it not been for her review of that story.
|Far back into other years:
He thought everyone in the house was asleep.
Maria sat in the darkness of her room. The paintings and drawings she made in her kindergarten class were tacked to the wall above her bed, creating an illusion of happy childhood bliss. Shadows cast from the streetlight and trees outside danced across her face lightly as she sat next to her window, staring down at the driveway below.
Her parents had never been exactly calm. There were as many heated arguments between them as there were tender moments, if not more. Maria had always thought that was just the way grown-ups were until she'd mentioned it to Lizzie and Alex one day. Alex and Lizzie's parents never fought. They never stormed through the house and out to the car, driving off into the dark desert.
She knew he wouldn't come back. She knew it as surely as she knew the sun would rise in the morning and her mom would get up and make her pancakes with whipped cream and extra strawberries. He'd left lots of times before but this time it was different.
Each time before when he'd leave, he'd pause at the car and look up at her bedroom window before he got in and drove away. This time he didn't stop; he didn't seek out her pale face in the broken moonlight. He just left.
He thought he could slip away unnoticed into the deep darkness of the desert. He thought he could just walk away from the family that depended on him; leave them behind without a second thought. He was right, he could and he did, but his departure wasn't unobserved.
A single tear slid down Maria's chubby cheek as she watched the car silently pull away from the house. She waited to see if he would turn around and come back but he never did. Quietly, she slipped back into her bed and burrowed beneath the comforter, a thousand thoughts swirling through her head as she tried to understand what had happened.
She must have done something. Maybe she hadn't tried hard enough or been good enough. It had to be her own fault that he would leave. Her fault alone.
The scene was changed:
"Alex! You're it!" The little girl darted out from behind a tree and tagged her friend before dashing off across the park in a peal of laughter, leaping easily onto the spinning merry-go-round.
Alex paused in his chase to look around for the small dark head that would be Lizzie. She was never very good at tag and he was out of breath from trying to keep away from Maria, to no avail. He spotted her kneeling in the grass by the swings, peering intently at something.
He looked again to the merry-go-round where Maria spun happily. She'd be dizzy and falling down pretty soon. He would just have to wait for her to tire of the toy before he could gain the advantage.
Jogging over to join Lizzie, he dropped down next to her, trying to see what was so interesting in the short-cropped grass of the park.
"Look." She pointed at the small ant bed she had discovered. The ants busily scurried along, tracing a line from the bed into the grass, going cheerily about their little ant business.
"Uh huh. They're ants," Alex surmised.
"But look at how they always go the same way. They don't get lost or wander off on their own or anything," Lizzie insisted.
"Pretty cool," Alex said, not really all that impressed with the ants but wanting to make Lizzie happy by agreeing with her. Lizzie was always interested in stuff like that, sitting still and watching ant beds, or the fish in the goldfish pond, or the clouds that sailed through the sky. She loved it when it was time for science at school and eagerly grabbed her book from the space below her seat while he and Maria groaned and made faces. His mom kept saying that Lizzie would grow up to be a scientist.
Alex thought that was funny. They always talked about growing up and what they wanted to be, but he didn't even like Miss Rawlings' second grade science lessons. The only scientists they'd seen pictures of were all old men with crazy white hair and thick glasses. Lizzie could never look like that, even when she was a grown-up, and if she did he didn't think he'd want to be her friend anymore.
Maria closed her eyes tightly against the spinning motion of the merry-go-round, throwing her head back in pure pleasure, enjoying the feel of her hair as it spun out behind her head. She liked the swings too but the merry-go-round was her all-time favorite. She knew Alex was just waiting for her to get off so that he could tag her again, but she didn't care. The spinning of the toy was too much fun to pass up. Just after her dad left, her mom would take her to the park every day and spin her until she was so dizzy she couldn't stand up straight and they would both fall down on the grass and laugh.
It was at those times that her mom looked happy again instead of worried. Maria knew she tried to hide it from her, her troubles, but she'd hear her talking to people on the phone, telling them that if she had the money she'd pay them, she'd hear her crying in her bedroom long after Maria was supposed to be asleep. Maria never mentioned that she knew she was sad, her mom didn't want her to know and so Maria kept the secret to herself. She never even told her best friends, Alex and Lizzie.
But when she spun on the merry-go-round, she could forget that people called her house everyday and upset her mom and that she'd end up staying up and listening to her mom crying for half the night.
When she'd get drowsy at school, Miss Rawlins would smile at her knowingly and ask if she wanted to go lie down in the nurse's office and send her home with her class work to do as homework. Everyone seemed to know that her dad had left, even the ladies in the cafeteria who would give her a little extra dessert at lunch time and tell her how pretty she was, and the principal who would always smile and ask her how she was feeling when he saw her in the hall.
Even with all the attention she received, she liked being with Lizzie and Alex in the park best of all. They didn't act funny around her or treat her any differently than they ever had. So they had formed a pact of sorts, everyday after school they'd go to the park to play until suppertime.
"Maria! Lizzie! Alex!"
They all three heard the call and looked up, Maria's spinning vision making it difficult to decide where the voice was coming from as she propelled herself off the merry-go-round and onto the wobbly grass.
"It's time to go, guys!" Amy DeLuca walked across the soft green grass toward the trio. She'd offered to pick them up from the park that day and deliver everyone to their appropriate homes. She'd already talked with the Parkers and Lizzie would be sleeping over for the night but she didn't want to break the good news until after Alex dropped off. Often when one stayed over, they both did, but the Whitman's were going out of town for the weekend so it would just be the two girls and she didn't want to cause an uproar at Alex's house.
As Maria was finally able to see clearly and the ground stopped moving so much underneath her, she spotted another group of children playing in the park. Funny, but she hadn't noticed them before. They were the new kids, the ones who had been adopted or were in foster care or something like that, all she knew is that they didn't have 'real' parents. She'd heard her mom whispering with Alex and Lizzie's parents about their situation at the Crashdown one Saturday afternoon. They were strange. It was kind of creepy the way they just watched everyone, kind of like the way Lizzie watched the ants.
The scene was changed:
Fifth grade was gross.
Maria sat down in her desk as stared out the window at the clouds that drifted across the sky, her chin resting heavily on her balled fist. Lizzie sat in the desk in front of her, Mr. Snyder had the good judgment to let them choose their own seats instead of sticking that old school standby: assigned seating in alphabetical order which always placed the trio of friends in wholly different parts of the room; she knew that her friend was studiously working on their history assignment. She could hear Lizzie's pencil scribbling furiously, filling in all the blanks with her loopy letters and effortlessly correct answers.
Mr. Snyder sat at his desk in front of the classroom, reading some book that was much too thick to possibly be interesting and basically not paying attention to his students, sure that they were actually performing their assigned work. Maria was glad of his self-assurance. It gave her the opportunity to ignore the worksheet on her desk and stare at the turquoise blue sky and fluffy clouds outside.
Alex looked across the aisle, noticing Maria's neglected paper and forgotten pencil. Checking to make sure Mr. Snyder was still otherwise occupied, he hissed, "Maria!"
"What?!" her whisper relayed her irritation as she turned to look at her friend.
Gesturing toward the paper that lay on her desk, Alex reminded her of the appointed worksheet.
She stuck out her tongue at him but did pick up the pencil in a tight fist and began to read the questions. She disliked history almost as much as she disliked science, but not quite with the same intensity. It just seemed that all anyone was interested in teaching were names and dates, the two things she couldn't keep straight in her head no matter how hard she tried. She waited until Alex was satisfied that she was working and had returned to his own work, she even answered the first few questions before letting her attention wander again.
She let her gaze roam around the room, taking in all the heads of her classmates bent over their desks, diligently scratching away, all but one. One of her classmates appeared to be just as uninterested in their assignment as she was. He sat on the other side of the room in the last desk of the farthest row and he was watching her. Maria quickly turned back around in her desk.
Michael Guerin was weird. He never seemed to care about school and the only people he played with were the Evans kids; he didn't even talk to anyone else. The three of them would gather together at recess and just stand there watching their classmates play dodge ball and swing from the monkey bars, they never joined in on the fun. They would just stand against the shady side of the building and talk in hushed tones. They'd always been that way, at least as long as she'd known them they had.
There was something about him though. They had watched this stupid film about families on day in class and she remembered feeling uncomfortable with all the talk about fathers. When she had turned around in her desk, she had recognized the same unhappiness in his eyes. Maybe he understood what she had been feeling; after all, he had even less of a family than she did. Mary Summers, the girl who sat in the desk behind her, had whispered haughtily to her one day that he was a foster kid and lived with some old drunk in a trailer park on the bad side of town, the side of town where her mom wouldn't let her ride her bicycle because it was too dangerous.
At last, the final bell rang and the room erupted in a flurry of flying worksheets and scrambling children. Maria shoved her history book into her backpack along with the now horridly crumpled paper on which she'd managed to only answer the first three questions. Flying down the halls, she dashed out into the bright sunlight, relishing the feel of the warm breezes on her chilled skin.
She was free again, at least for a little while.
"Oh, hi, Maria."
Maria's pleasure was short-lived. Veronica Travers stood just outside the door with her two little buddies. Veronica was one of Maria's least favorite people in school; she liked Michael Guerin better than she liked Veronica. Michael was weird but Veronica and the girls who hung around her were just mean.
"Whatever," Maria muttered, quickly walking in the general direction of the park, not wanting to wait for Lizzie and Alex if it meant she'd have to stand within the vicinity of Veronica. Much to her displeasure, Veronica and company followed her into the playground.
"So I guess you and your mom are going to the alien crash festival thing this weekend, huh?"
"I don't know, maybe. What's it to you anyway?" she demanded. The truth of the matter was that not only were they going to the festival, her mom even had a booth at the thing for the whole weekend. Maria knew she'd end up helping her sell the freaky little plastic alien souvenirs and postcards. She loved her mom but her kooky profession often left her open to teasing from the other kids at school, namely from Veronica Travers.
"It's so sad, Maria."
"What is?" She spun around to face the other girls, wanting desperately to knock Veronica down in the dirt and run the other way as fast as she could. But if she did knock her down, she'd get in trouble and her mom was already worried enough about other stuff without Maria adding to it.
Nancy Coleman grinned. She knew where Veronica's taunts were headed and couldn't wait to see the look on Maria's face. She'd known Maria ever since they'd been in kindergarten together; they'd even been friends for a little while but when Maria's dad left, so did Nancy's friendship. The Coleman's had tried to encourage their youngest daughter to invite Maria over for play dates and sleepovers but Nancy wouldn't have anything to do with their suggestions. Normal parents didn't just walk out on their families, at least not unless there was something wrong with the family in question. She knew that Maria must have had something to do with the whole thing or her dad would have never left to begin with.
Michael walked out of the school to begin the long walk home. He generally cut through the playground on his way but paused when he saw the group of four girls: Maria DeLuca, Veronica Travers, Nancy Coleman, and Sara Myles. He'd heard enough about the girls from Isabel to know that Maria wasn't friends with any of those who now surrounded her and, against his better judgment, he walked closer to see if he could overhear their conversation.
Maria was rapidly losing her composure and becoming upset. Why couldn't they just leave her alone? She had never done anything to them; she didn't even talk to them. Why did they have to be so mean to her just because her family was a little bit different?
"I mean," Nancy explained, "it's so sad that you don't have a 'real' family. It must be hard for your mom to get by selling all those gross little alien things. It's no wonder you have to buy your clothes at Goodwill. I'm just surprised you're not on welfare."
"I do to have a real family!" Maria insisted. The Goodwill and welfare barbs had been thrown her way often enough that they didn't affect her anymore, but attacking her family always hurt. Pushing back the tears she knew were building, she squared her shoulders and crossed her arms in front of her.
"No you don't, a family is a mom and a dad and kids. You just have a mom and no dad at all. I heard my parents talking about it the other day. They said that you and your mom don't even know where your dad is. I mean, you might as well be in foster care like Michael Guerin, they said he doesn't know where his parents are either. I wonder what you two did to make your own families leave you."
Maria was having a hard time not crying in front of the other girls, her brave game-face was rapidly crumbling. She hated them more at that moment than she had ever thought was possible. They had no right to try to make her feel bad just because she didn't have a father at home. She felt the telltale prickle of tears as they filled her eyes and threatened to spill down her cheeks.
"Leave her alone!"
Maria had been so preoccupied with trying to stare down Veronica that she hadn't noticed when Michael had come up to them. She wondered how much of their conversation he had heard. Suddenly, she didn't know what she felt more uncomfortable about: Veronica's cruelty or Michael defending her.
"Oh look, what a surprise. Michael came to save you, Maria. I guess your kind needs to stick together." Veronica and her friends turned and walked away, leaving Maria and Michael standing in the middle of the playground.
"You okay?" Michael whispered. His worry-filled eyes watched her face. He had dealt with Veronica and her friends often enough to understand at least a little of what Maria was feeling; not that he liked Maria or anything like that, he just didn't think Veronica should be allowed to get away with being mean all the time. Well, maybe he did like Maria just a little bit.
"I hate her!" Maria lamented softly, wiping furiously at the tears that had defied her internal dictate and trailed sticky paths down her cheeks.
Michael just stared at her, nodding before he turned to see Lizzie Parker and Alex Whitman racing toward them. He walked slowly away before they reached the crying girl.
"Maria!" Lizzie called out. Mr. Snyder had stopped her and Alex before they could get out of the classroom, asking if they wanted to take part in the school science fair. By the time they'd made it outside, Michael had approached the group of girls and Lizzie imagined Veronica had already inflicted what damage she had intended.
"Maria? Are you okay? What did she say to you?" Alex stared at his friend's smudged face, hoping that nothing too horrible had passed Veronica's lips but knowing better.
"She's just stupid," was all Maria could say. She knew that Lizzie and Alex wouldn't agree with Veronica's conception of her home life, but she also knew that they couldn't understand what it was like to only have one parent at home.
"Why did Michael come over here?"
"He told Veronica and them to leave me alone." Maria's face screwed up with confusion. She didn't understand his actions; Michael never spoke, not even when Mr. Snyder called on him in class. She didn't even think she'd ever heard his voice before he'd spoken to Veronica.
"Weird." Lizzie didn't know what else to say about the strange boy's defense of her best friend but was grateful for it nonetheless. Deciding to change the subject, she wrapped her arms around Alex and Maria's shoulders. "Let's go to the Crashdown and get Alien Encounters!"
Maria laughed at the suggestion. Lizzie might not understand the one parent thing but she certainly understood the alien-themed life thing.
The scene was changed:
"Happy birthday, sweetheart!"
Maria grinned at her mother. She was thirteen, an official teenager at last! The cool morning sunshine spilled in through the kitchen window, brightening the room and filling it with artificial cheer. Her birthdays were always falsely cheerful, ever since her dad had walked out the door and never came back. When she had been younger she had felt certain that he would come home for her birthday loaded down with presents, as she got a little older she just hoped for a card. But at the age of thirteen, she knew better than to hope for anything.
"So, when should I expect Lizzie and Alex to show up?" Amy watched the strange emotion that flitted momentarily across her daughter's eyes, hoping to dispel the sadness with the mention of her friends.
"She's not Lizzie anymore, Mom," Maria complained.
"Oops! I forgot. I've been calling her Lizzie since you were little kids; I guess old habits are hard to break. So, when should I expect Liz and Alex?"
"I'm supposed to call them when the cake's ready to eat."
"Well then, I guess we should get started baking it then, shouldn't we?"
Hours later, Maria sat at the kitchen table with her two best friends, laughing and enjoying the slices of devilishly rich chocolate cake. She had never been big on birthday parties, who would she invite anyway? Sure, she had other friends besides Liz and Alex but they weren't exactly the sort of friends who had ever set foot inside her house, or ever would for that matter.
"Sally Wentworth is having a New Year's party at her house over the break," Liz informed them. She'd gotten a phone call from Sally that morning and had been surprised to hear the news. Sally was so shy and quiet, not exactly the type of person who would have a big holiday party.
"Yeah, she called me too, it could be fun." Alex speared another bite of cake with his fork.
"Sally? Wouldn't have picked her for the type," Maria mumbled around a mouthful of cake and icing.
"She wants you to come too, Maria. She told me to tell you about it because she didn't have your phone number," Liz said trying to smooth Maria's ruffled feathers over her apparent exclusion. It was the truth, Sally had asked Liz to invite Maria but not because she didn't have her number. Actually Maria scared Sally a little. Maria was just such an extrovert at times and could be just as weird as her mother that lots of the kids at school weren't sure how to take her, Sally had seemed to be one of them. But the pointed invitation proved that she was willing to try to be friends with her.
"Maybe I'll go. I don't know though, might already have plans."
"Yeah right," Liz laughed. "You wouldn't want to miss that exciting night of sitting on the couch with your mom, watching the big shiny ball drop in New York."
"Mom's got a date," Maria said, her tone suddenly hushed and solemn.
"Then it's settled," Alex said, pounding his fist on the table to emphasize his point. "We're all going." There was no way he was going to let Maria talk herself out of this now.
The night of the party arrived, almost too soon as far as Maria was concerned. She was looking forward to it but the thought of being around so many people from school when it wasn't a necessity was a bit unnerving. She wondered who Sally had ended up inviting.
Mr. Parker pulled up in front of Sally Wentworth's house, turning around in the driver's seat to survey the three partygoers behind him. He smiled at them as Alex reached to open the door and step out onto the curb. How could they have possibly grown up so fast? Hadn't it just been last week that they were still gathering in the park every afternoon after school or having sleepovers above the Crashdown, sneaking ice cream from the restaurant to eat while they watched scary movies in Liz's room?
"You guys have fun now. I'll be back at one to pick you up. And don't worry, I'll take Maria's overnight bag up to your room, and I won't even peek inside to see what movies are on tonight's schedule."
"Okay, Dad. Tell Mom happy new year for me, will you." Liz pulled Maria out of the car with her.
"Certainly. Bye, Lizzie, Alex. Smile, Maria, you look like you're going to your own funeral."
Maria grinned at him just to show that she was determined to enjoy what looked to be shaping up into the social event of the evening. The house was ablaze with lights and they could see a good number of their classmates already inside through the living room's wide span of picture windows.
Breathing a sigh of relief an hour later when she walked into Sally's kitchen, Maria poured herself a glass of soda and leaned forward into the counter to stare out the window. There were so many people from school but she hadn't seen caught so much as a glimpse of Veronica or any her cronies. She had been startled to see both Max and Isabel Evans in attendance though, and without the other third of their invariable trio. Michael Guerin was nowhere to be seen. That was really strange but maybe he just didn't like the party scene or maybe Sally hadn't invited him.
She turned away from the counter to see Sally standing near her. She smiled at the other girl. "Hey, Sally. Great party!"
"Thanks." Sally glanced down at her feet before she added, "you don't have to worry. I didn't invite Veronica or the others."
Maria's brow furrowed at the admission. "You didn't? Why not? I mean, this party could have landed you a spot in the most coveted clique in school."
"They're mean. I don't want to be part of their group. I'm glad you came though. Liz told me the day I called her about tonight that it was your birthday. Happy belated birthday." Sally was such a quiet girl that no one had really stopped long enough to notice that beneath the long blonde hair and thick lashes she was becoming even prettier than the coveted Veronica, almost as pretty as Isabel Evans herself, the star of their school. She had always admired Maria's spunk and upbeat attitude; nothing seemed to affect the girl and Sally knew that there were lots of things that should have. This party had been her way of getting to know her a little better.
"Thanks." Maria didn't really understand Sally but she decided that she should perhaps try a little harder.
"Hey, Maria! Sally! Come on, we're going to put on some dance music," Alex called from the doorway, "I even picked the tunes!" He anticipated both girls' reactions but wouldn't be deterred. "Come on, let's show these folks how to really party!"
Outside the house, Michael watched through the windows as several of the people he knew from school tried to turn Sally's living room into a dance floor. Max and Isabel had tried to convince him to come and Sally had surprised him by calling his house and inviting him herself, but it just wasn't his thing: parties. He was content watch from afar.
The scene was changed:
Maria stood in the hot sun, tapping her foot impatiently. She had thought that getting her driver's license would be a good thing except now she had become her mother's very own personal delivery service.
"How much did you say?"
Maria scoffed in response to the question, she'd already told him twice. "$87.62. Cash is preferable." She hated this place, actually she was pretty disgusted with most of the places that she ended up making deliveries to, except the Crashdown, but that was simply a weird friend thing and the fact that the Parkers were almost an extension of her own family.
Liz sat in the passenger's seat, patiently waiting for Maria to complete her transaction so they could go back into town and get to work. She had ridden with Maria in order to take a break from the Crashdown rush and not be conned into starting her shift early. At least they were scheduled together; it always made the shift seem to go faster when she could chat with Maria between customers.
"Look, all I've got is-"
"Listen, Mister, either give me the eighty-seven sixty-two or give me the box back."
"Hey, lookey there, I did have it after all." The man pulled another twenty from his shirt pocket and handed her the crumpled stack of bills. "Keep the change, sweetness."
"Incredible." Rolling her eyes at the man's ridiculous antics, Maria pocketed the money and slid into the car seat. "I swear, Mom's going to have to start doing this again herself, I keep wanting to knee her clientele. We got a thirty-eight cent tip though. Wanna splurge and get a generic soda on the way back? Of course we'd have to split it."
Liz laughed as Maria pulled the Jetta onto the road, headed back into Roswell.
"So what's the plan for the crash festival?" Maria asked, keeping her eyes focused on the road.
"Um, I don't know. I mean, Kyle's already got his costume and all. But I don't know when we're supposed to go or anything." Liz looked out the window at the passing landscape, pursing her lips in feigned innocence.
"Yeah, yeah. I get it. Alex and I will go and we'll see you and lover boy whenever you show up. I can take a hint." She smiled at the thought of Liz and Kyle, it was just too funny, the brain and the jock. How very cliché.
They rode in amiable silence the rest of the way to the Crashdown.
"So what do ya want to bet that Max Evans will somehow miraculously show up today during our shift?" Maria teased.
"Maria, you're. you're delusional. Max Evans doesn't even know I exist," Liz insisted.
They walked into the employee break room, retrieving uniforms, aprons, and antennae from their lockers.
"Uh huh. You need to get your eye's checked, girl. The boy's got it bad. He's so into you that all he can do is look at you the whole time he and creepy Michael Guerin are here." Maria shook her head as she tied her apron around her waist. "I'm telling you, girlie, the guy's a goner. He just sits there and follows you around the room with his eyes." Maria thought about that for a second. "Ya' know, maybe he's some kind of teenaged lunatic stalker."
"Maria! Max Evans is just a nice guy, he's not psychotic. A little quiet maybe, but that doesn't make him a stalker or a lunatic. And anyway, he's probably watching you," Liz suggested wanting to divert Maria's train of thought.
"Oh yeah, that's why he can't even look me in the eye when he's ordering because he's busy staring at you. Oh yeah, that one I believe. Denial. I wonder if you could bottle and sell it. There might be a pretty lucrative career it that." Finishing off her uniform with the antennae, she stuck her head out into the dining room. There were just a few customers: a couple who looked like they were definitely in town for the festival, two more people who seemed to be really into whatever they were arguing about, and the boy in question along with the walking billboard for 'the guy your mother always warned you about'.
"Besides, isn't that what the neighbors always say about serial killers? He was such a nice quiet guy, we had no idea he was hacking people to bits and eating them for dinner."
"Okay, I'll lay off. But that doesn't mean I can't have a little fun. And Liz?"
"You'll never guess who's out there." Maria stepped back to survey her appearance before throwing herself into the waste of energy she called her job.
"Maria! You've got to stop it. You're sounding like your mom."
"Oh come on, Liz. Lighten up. It's September eighteenth: the first day of the rest of your life. Live a little."
"Live a little, huh? With Max Evans?" Liz cocked her head and grinned at the thought. Maria was unstoppable sometimes. "I don't think so."
"If I have to take Max, then you get to have mister broody out there."
"Michael Guerin? You are so not funny, Parker."
The scene was changed:
Damn it! She knew he would be late, he was always late, why would tonight be any different? She just wanted to have a normal boyfriend. Was that really too much to ask? Considering who the boyfriend in question was, she supposed it was.
The agreement had been that they would meet at the Crashdown at seven, it was a quarter past eight and still there was no sign of the brash Czechoslovakian. Maria's emotions were fluctuating between anger, worry, and depression. If Mr. Parker gave her just one more understanding smile, she thought she would either have to become violent with the sugar shakers or burst into tears. Since her job security very well might hinge on the welfare of the sugar shakers, she decided that tears would be the best option, if not the most embarrassing.
Watching Liz and Max walk in the door, arm in arm, was the last straw. Maria hastily grabbed her jacket and purse and ducked out through the door without them seeing her. She wasn't up to any sympathetic comments. If Michael were in trouble, Max wouldn't be there gazing at Liz with those sickeningly sweet lovey-dovey eyes. She had waited for more than an hour for him, giving him the benefit of the doubt. But no more.
How could it be so hard for him to understand the importance of not standing her up? She thought about going to his apartment and telling him just exactly what she thought of him but thought better of the idea. She knew she'd just want to scream and cry and throw things at him. Not a good reaction if she wanted to keep up the 'Teflon' image.
It just made her mad because she thought she had seen a glimmer of positive change in him in Las Vegas. It must have just been from the giddiness brought on by too much glamour and glitz. How could she have ever thought it would work out between her and the wholly insensitive jerk that Michael was?
Inside the Crashdown, Liz and Max slid into a booth, smiling in embarrassment at the compliments her father offered.
"Dad? Did I see Maria's car outside?"
Mr. Parker looked quickly around the restaurant. Maria was nowhere to be seen but he hadn't seen Michael come in. "I would guess so. She was here up until just a minute ago. I must have missed her when she left."
"I didn't think she was working tonight," Liz commented, tilting her head thoughtfully to the side and trying to ignore Max's fingers as they traced lazy circles on her palm beneath the table.
"She wasn't. She had a date with Michael but he never showed."
Her father walked back behind the counter before she could question him further.
Liz was just about to ask Max where Michael was when he burst through the front door. Max quickly rose from the booth and took hold of Michael's arm.
"Michael, what's wrong? Did something happen?"
"No, I mean yes. Have you seen Maria? Is she still here?" He looked around for her familiar long blonde hair.
"Mr. Parker said she was here earlier but that she just left. When was this date supposed to start anyway?" Judging by Michael's vaguely panicked eyes, he supposed it was long past due to begin.
Michael looked up at the wall clock. "At seven." He looked back at Max, seeing the disbelief in his friend's eyes. "I fell asleep, okay. I didn't mean to, it just happened. Did you see her? Was she mad?"
"Michael, you stood her up. Would you expect her to be happy about it?" Liz asked, wishing she had seen Maria before she left.
Michael looked down at Liz and shrugged off Max's hand. "I don't need this." He turned to leave.
"No, you need to find Maria and apologize," Max agreed. "Good luck."
Liz watched Michael leave. He paused at the edge of the road and looked at Maria's car, still sitting in its parking place by the restaurant. Liz didn't look away until he was out of sight.
Michael found her in the park an hour later, sitting on the merry-go-round, staring up at the star filled night sky. He'd tried her house, startling her mother who had thought her daughter was supposed to have been with him. He'd tried his apartment, hoping he'd find her furiously waiting for him there. He'd even tried Alex's house, interrupting a movie the other teen was watching with Isabel of all people. The park had been his last ditch effort to locate her.
He'd almost missed her, she was so still and quiet.
Maria had seen him approach, not saying anything in the hope that he wouldn't notice her and would move on. It didn't work though and he walked over and sat down next to her on the cold worn metal toy. He didn't say anything, just sat down and turned his face up to look at the same stars that had been keeping her company in the lonely park.
They sat that way for a long time, neither one willing to be the first to speak. Finally, Michael decided that since he was probably to blame for the mess he was in, he should say something.
"I used to come out here at night after Hank would pass out, and try to understand how I ended up in foster care while Max and Iz got adopted."
Maria had to incline her head toward his to catch what he said. She nodded. "Did you ever figure it out?"
She nodded, sighing softly.
"I'm. I'm sorry, Maria."
She nodded again.
"I didn't do it on purpose. I fell asleep on the couch and didn't wake up until almost eight," he admitted. "When I got to the Crashdown Max and Liz said you'd already left." He stopped and turned his face toward hers. "I don't think I made a very good impression with your mom by showing up at your place looking for you."
Maria laughed at that. Michael never worried about impressions but the mention of it did give her hope. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. "Well, don't let it happen again."
Michael just watched her for a minute in disbelief. Maria DeLuca of the unending list of put-downs and sarcastic remarks was letting him off easy? Either she was changing or was a changeling of some kind.
"Okay," he agreed. "We can still go grab something to eat if you want."
"No. I think I want to stay here." She reached out to take his hand in hers. "Stay with me?"
"Sure, DeLuca, I'll stay with you. I'll even give you the ride of your life," he stated, standing up and pushing her into the middle of the merry-go-round.
She laughed again as she started spinning. She had once used the out of control feeling to forget her worries, but now it was just a game. How strange that it had taken her so long to realize that nothing was so impossible that she couldn't get past it. Not her father's abandonment, or the insensitive remarks of her peers, or even her relationship with space boy. She just had to put things in perspective and enjoy the moment.
And who knew, maybe she had seen a glimmer of change in Michael after all. At least she knew that in his own whacked out alien way, he loved her. That was all that mattered. He would never be like Max, and she finally realized that she wouldn't want him to be. He wouldn't be Michael then.
"Come on, ET, hop on."
The merry-go-round wobbled slightly as he added his weight, pulling himself along the handles toward Maria and drawing her deeply into a kiss.
What he didn't know was that she'd been on the ride of her life ever since that fateful day in September when her life had become forever enmeshed with his.
The scene was changed:
"Oh God! Maria! What happened? Where have you been? Are you alright?" The questions poured from Liz faster than she could comprehend what she saw.
Maria raised her head and painstakingly focused her gaze on the worried face of her friend. Was she alright? She didn't think so. She didn't think she ever be alright again.
Liz knelt in front of her friend, pushing back the long, grimy hair that covered Maria's face. She looked awful, worse than the walking dead. They had searched for Maria and the others for more than two years, refusing to give up hope. She looked up at Max, clearly seeing the concern in his eyes.
He joined her at Maria's side. "Maria? Where are the others?" he gently asked. "Where is Michael?"
"Gone." Maria's voice sounded harsh and raspy even to her own ears; she'd never be able to sing again, her voice was ruined from screaming for so long. She had stopped speaking altogether when they had finally killed Michael, eighteen months into their captivity. "They're all gone. I'm the only one left now."
Liz drew Maria into her arms. They needed to get her out of the weather.
She had dropped out of her classes at the university and together she and Max they had scoured the country looking for them all: Maria, Michael, Isabel, Tess, Kyle.
Alex had been killed. No one had been exactly sure how or why, but he had died before anyone could help him. They'd seen the FBI take them just after his funeral and it all began to make more sense. But when they'd seen it happen, they ran to save themselves, knowing full well they could do nothing to help their friends and family but hating themselves for it nonetheless.
They'd spent the time since trying to find where they had been taken, trying to find out what was being done to them, but they always came up empty handed. They had been driving back to Roswell again, following up another lead, when they saw the body on the side of the road fifty miles outside of town. They had never expected it to be Maria.
Max took Maria from Liz's arms, shocked by how little she weighed. He nodded toward the jeep and settled Maria into the back seat next to Liz after she'd clambered into the vehicle. They needed to get her out of the desert and into somewhere safer.
Checking into the first tiny roadside motel they came to, Max carried Maria to their room, laying her gently on the worn coverlet that was spread across the bed. Liz had volunteered to take the jeep and get some much-needed supplies knowing Max needed the time alone with Maria.
He sat down on the edge of the bed, trying to be careful not to jostle the abused woman. "Maria?" He kept his voice low so he wouldn't scare her.
"We tried, Max," she whispered coarsely, "We tried everything we could think of to get away but we couldn't."
"I know you tried, Maria," he assured her evenly, reaching out to cup her cheek in his hand. "I know you did. What. what happened to the others?"
Maria drew in a shuddering breath, stilling herself against the barrage of memories her response was sure to invoke. "Tests, experiments, torture. Kyle and I became the means of getting their cooperation. They knew we were close, were friends, and they used it against them, against all of us." She let her tears fall unabated; it had been so long since she was able to cry. She hadn't even been able to when Michael had died, drawing his last breath as she held him in her arms.
"At first Michael tried to reason with them to let us go. Kyle and I weren't the ones they were after and he kept trying to make them understand that we didn't know anything. They didn't care. They had more leverage with us there and they knew it."
She raised her red-rimmed eyes to look directly at Max, silently begging him to believe her. "They knew they had messed up, that there were four of you. I never told them, Max. I swear I never said anything, not even when they ripped Michael's child from my belly. I wouldn't tell them what they wanted. I couldn't put you and Lizzie in danger too."
Max sat in astonished silence at Maria's implication; she had refused to tell them where he was, that he even existed. He and Liz had imagined the atrocities they must have endured but somehow their imaginings hadn't been so horrible as the truth was. How could he face her now, knowing even a fraction of what she had suffered for her silence?
She didn't give him the time to consider it. She needed to tell him the rest before she couldn't anymore. "Isabel was the first. She wouldn't cooperate with their demands and they finally got so mad that they just shot her in the back of her head as a lesson for all of us. They were smart though, they had separated Michael and Tess from us with a wall they could see through but couldn't break. Kyle and I, we couldn't help her, and the others couldn't get close enough to her to save her. We tried, we did."
"Shh. it's okay, Maria, it's okay. I know you tried." Max fought his own emotions, pulling Maria closer to him in an attempt to offer her something solid to hold onto. He ran a hand along her side, noticing her sharp intake of breath as he touched her ribcage. "Maria, let he help you-"
"No! I don't want you to heal me, Max. They wouldn't let them be healed and I won't let you do it for me. I should have died in that room but somehow I didn't."
Max moved his hand back to her shoulder.
Assured Max would leave her injuries alone, she continued her tale. "Next was Kyle. He was trying to keep them from hurting Tess again. We had been there for months, maybe even a year, I'm not sure. He knew what would happen, we all did. They seemed to like the idea of public executions, it kept the rest of us in line for a while. But he was scared for Tess, they had already hurt her so badly, hurt us all so much."
"Michael. Michael was the next one. He died trying to protect me and another of his children. They had been doing these tests to see if I could get pregnant again. In-vitro fertilization." she paused and took a deep breath. "He was different, Max, so different. He tried so hard to protect me but he couldn't, he just couldn't. It had killed something inside of him when they took the first baby, the one we hadn't even known existed. But when they took the second. He almost broke through the wall trying to get to me."
Maria lay so still that Max was concerned she had drifted into unconsciousness until she began her tale again. "Tess. You know, I hadn't liked her very much before we were taken but I was wrong about her. She was just trying to live the life she'd always been told was hers. She had been raised to ignore her human aspects of and focus on the alien. When it was just the two of us left. we had to stand by each other. I think they were getting tired of their game. They would leave us alone for days at a time. Just before they dumped me in the desert, they walked into the room and pointed a gun at her head. I think she was just glad it was finally over."
"I'm so sorry, Max."
He looked down into her eyes again, at a loss for what she could possibly feel the need to apologize for. "For what, Maria? There's nothing-"
"For being here, for living through it when it should have been Isabel or Michael or Tess. I should have died in that room. They should have survived it, not me."
"They wouldn't have let them live, Maria. You said it yourself. They killed Tess in the end because they were bored with their little project. It's not your fault you were able to live through it. But I'm glad you did." He ran his hand through the tangled locks of her hair. "At least we know what happened to them."
Maria watched him for another second before closing her eyes. She had done what she had intended, she had passed on the knowledge of how their lives had ended. Now she could rest.
When Liz returned to the motel Max met her at the door, helping with the bags she carried in from the jeep.
"How is she?" she whispered, watching the shallow movement of her friend's chest as she slept.
"Hurt but she refused to let me help her. Liz. she came back, they let her come back, to die." He opened his arms to Liz as she fell into them. They had looked for them for so long and now that they'd gotten Maria back, she was leaving them again.
Maria's dreams were filled with memories of a life long since gone: spinning merry-go-rounds and boy-girl parties and sleepovers, old friends and family and the face of love. She had no regrets; she had loved and had been loved. There was nothing more that she could demand from a life that could have been so much less than what it was. She didn't know if Michael had believed in an afterlife, they had never talked about such things, but she looked forward to finding out. She couldn't wait to see him again, to hold him in her arms and never let go.
"The neck is bared - the blow is struck - the soul is passed away! The bright - the beautiful - is now a bleeding piece of clay."
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