Disclaimer: I do not own these characters; the plot is post Destiny but I do blame Jasim Katims
Productions for putting them in my head and they won't get out! Borrowed some lyrics from
ON REQUEST too.
Authors Note: This scene fits in after Part 6 of PROGENY and is a kind of sideline to that story. My acknowledgements to Boyzone, ON REQUEST, for the inspiration… listening to that CD (borrow your mom's copy) might enliven the story. The usual begging bit follows about letting me know what you think etc…etc. cos at the moment I'm set to write about MM for the rest of my life but feel free to put me off.
|It was an hour since Amy Valenti had left her daughter's apartment and Michael prowled around nervously, feeling ill at ease. Responsibility was a new phenomenon for him. Upstairs, Michaela was now sleeping soundly, so in theory he could relax; in practice he was never able to do that effectively.
Maria's presence surrounded him and he was still coming to terms with this. For what had seemed hours he had wandered around the apartment, studying the furnishings, the pictures on the walls, her personal belongings littered around the bedside table, the kitchen, the table in the hall.
He had been touched by her painted friezes in Michaela's room. Amy had told him proudly that Maria had done it all herself; to pass the time before the baby was born. Michael had fancied himself as an artist; he could recognize that her soul was in those paintings. Michaela's room reflected the contradictions of her parents: on one wall Maria had painted a huge sun rising above a verdant earth, a lush paradise of plants, and trees, and birds and flowers. When Michaela was older and understood her human life she could spend hours hypnotized by the detail of Maria's life as Maria understood it: birds hiding in leafy plants, insects hovering over flowers, a snake curled up round a rock. On the other side was a barren, desert setting, lonely and ethereal, with an orb of some moon illuminating every rock with a luminescent glow but particularly a lonely silhouetted figure of a man,crouching down but with head stretched in yearning to a universe of stars. She had not painted herself on the opposite wall. He had spent a long time studying the paintings as he waited to be sure that Michaela was sleeping and at peace. * And Maria was right,* he thought bitterly, *there was nothing on the other side, nothing but barren loneliness.*
And then he had padded downstairs in jeans with bare feet and bare chest. It was difficult for Michael not to be a slob, even in this perfect environment of order and with Maria's peculiar brand of beauty: everywhere was soul and vivacity and…life.
His unease was broken by the strident ringing of the doorbell and he tensed automatically, every muscle tautened, borne of years of distrust and fear and lonely survival.
The doorbell rang twice more before he reluctantly opened it, leaving the chain in place. Isabel and Liz were panting on the threshold, both labouring from the stairs and both bearing armfuls of brown paper bags. He moved to unlatch the chain, feeling grateful for their visit. Suddenly, now, loneliness was not enough.
"We've brought Chinese takeaway, Michael," said Isobel brusquely, pushing past him without waiting for the customary invitation to enter. Liz stood there paralysed with her burdens, her eyes riveted on the ugly scar. He saw it and bent his head in sudden embarrassment.
"Sorry, Liz.." he mumbled quickly, and turned away to bound up the stairs to grab a tee-shirt.
"Wait, " said Liz gently, looking at him with something like concern, admiration, pity: he wasn't sure which. "Is the baby up there, Michael? Mrs. Valenti said that she was here…with you. Can I see her? I haven't seen her..not really…Maria sent a couple of pictures…but…"
Michael paused at the corner of the stairwell and his eyes softened suddenly. "Of course, Liz. Maybe you can tell me if she's alright.." He trailed off, schooled his face very carefully and continued to bound upwards for a shirt. He was in no mood to answer gentle questions about the scar - or about Maria.
Isobel had disappeared, presumably into the kitchen to organize the take-away.
He thrust a white shirt over his head from where he had dumped it on Maria's bed, and met Liz at Michaela's doorway. There was no green alien nightlight here; Maria had a huge flower, an exotic orchid which glowed pinkly in the dark.
He led Liz proudly into the room and stood silently while she bent down to study his child. He heard her quick intake of breath and the slow expelling of it. He looked at his child too, although the temptation was to study Liz's reaction.
She straightened up after what seemed a long time to gaze at him, almost in slow motion, with a gentle look on her face.
"Michael, she's..she's really beautiful," She gave a mischievous grin, "and she's got your nose."
He self-consciously fingered his nose and looked genuinely surprised and pleased. "D'ya really think so? To me, she looks just like…Maria." He looked suddenly lost and vulnerable and Liz could not stop herself: she moved forward to hug him, hold him in a kind of maternal, comforting way.
"It'll be O.K., Michael. You'll see. Maria'll be back soon and you can…find each other again. If that's what you want. You know Maria. She's strong…" she trailed off, uncomfortable with the intimacy, and then pulled back without wanting to look at his face.
He did not want to say anything to her and it was almost with physical relief that he could turn away in response to Isabel's irritated shout from below.
"You two. Come on. Food's up."
Isobel, in her usual organized way, had three plates of food with matching napkins and cutlery all placed neatly on the coffee table in front of the TV.
"What's up?" said Michael, trying desperately to sound nonchalant, the old careless Michael who stepped away from intimacy and offers of help.
Isabel was fiddling with the video, with the remote in her hand.
She turned her head to look at the others as they trooped into the living room.
"Listen. Mrs. Whitman gave me a video of the Roswell High Prom. Alex and his band were playing. I thought that we could all watch it quickly."
Michael and Liz looked at each other warily, both knowing that Isabel's interest was not really the prom. Then Liz smiled, with some sadness, and made a weak attempt at enthusiasm for the suggestion.
"I'd like to see it, actually. I never stayed on…my folks moved and there wasn't much reason to stay on for it, ya know? I mean..Max…" she trailed off again and moved purposefully to seem busy with a plate of food.
"I'm sorry I missed it too," said Isabel quietly. Suddenly this had dampened everyone's mood.
"O.K. Iz. Let's watch it then. What's a prom? Let's see what I missed," said Michael with uncharacteristic heartiness. *If I had been here Maria would have nagged me to death,* he thought suddenly, *And I would have brushed her off…*
Almost self-consciously they settled down and Liz moved quietly to douse the lights so they could hide from each other.
No-one questioned when Isabel fast-forwarded the tape: no-one minded that the camera sweeps of frenetic dancing were struggling across the screen at an impossible speed. Isabel then gave a satisfied gasp as the Whits made their entrance.
Michael could not control the stiffening of his body as Alex and the group strolled onstage, all in black Mao suits. This was not the old affable and self-conscious Alex who used to stand steadfastly plucking his guitar and refusing eye contact with his fans. This Alex was flamboyant, his long hair tied back, his voice stronger, huskier, in command of the crowd. Michael and Liz smiled at each other, not even daring to whisper while Isabel sat riveted to the screen.
Liz was feeling cheated and envious: there had never been a prom like this. The decorations were superb: the usual alien encounter stuff. *Did Roswell High ever attempt anything else?* she wondered. She had spotted Kyle drifting round the dance floor with some dynamic blonde who looked his equal in age or older. The pang of regret, sadness could not be quashed: none of them had made it there. She put a hand across her face to shield her feelings from the others. To miss her prom; she would never have imagined that her perfect life could have been blighted in that way…
Isabel's eyes were following Alex's every movement and Michael…well, he was slightly bored, to tell the truth. Alex's music had never stirred him…except the one night when he had stood, unnoticed, at the back of The Nite Star to hear Maria…her music. And he had never told her.
The moving stage was widening; sweeps of light were sprayed across the stage; the mood was indefinably changing and a ramp moved mechanically into the dance-floor area. Silhouetted groups of people moved silently into the orchestra pit and took their positions. A huge glass bubble could be seen slowly lowering from the ceiling of the stage; it hung suspended then lifted slowly upwards as laser lights sprayed a sparkle of silver stars across the stage. Then it happened.
The crowd started to yell: emotionally, uncontrollably…"Maria!" A thousand chaotic renditions gradually coalesced into a chant and the tempo of the music picked up: the throb of guitars were soon joined by a burst of brass and the repetitive lilt of violins.
"My God!" The hushed whisper was from Liz. "Maria? What is this? She never told me a thing!"
Michael's heart had started to thump and he felt a weakness in his groin. He carefully put the Chinese takeaway on the coffee table; his hunger had suddenly disappeared.
"Maria! Maria!" The chant was relentless, growing in volume to compete with the regular bang and thrust of brass.
And then she appeared, a small figure picked out by a single spotlight, in the glass bubble.
As it lowered to the stage, Maria bounced out, microphone in hand and her face a jumble of confused emotions: nervousness, fear, delight and wry humour. Immediately she started to sing. Alex's band and the orchestra pounced into the melody.
"Didn't they say that I would make a mistake? Didn't they say you were gonna be trouble?…People told me you were too much to take…and yet I didn't want to know..I took you in and you let me down….. You messed me up and you jerked my life around…Let me feel that I had no where to go…I was gone … how was I to know that…? You wouldn't be there when I needed somebody. You wouldn't be there when I needed somebody...the only one to help me. I had a picture of you in my mind…never knew it'd be so wrong..."
Four male dancers appeared onstage and suddenly Maria was swept up by them,striding across the stage. One of the male dancers had plonked a black bowler hat on her head and there she was, in the middle of them, a streak of dancing silver.
Michael barely absorbed the words: that would come later. His eyes were fixed on her tiny figure swathed in a long silver dress which fell in soft folds which swayed with every movement: it was not hard to see that she was heavily pregnant.
"My God"" Isabel murmured, "she shouldn't have been dancing like that..in her condition. How could she make a public exhibition of herself like that?" Liz shot her a reproving glance, knowing that the remark was prompted by something else, completely unconnected with Maria. Michael didn't hear..or give any indication that he had; he was entirely focused on the silver apparition on the stage. Liz stole a glance at him but his face was hidden, too, by a hand supporting his head as he sprawled on the couch. She saw the silver ring on his first finger gleam in the dark.
"I had a picture of you in my mind…Never knew it would be so wrong…Why did it take me so long just to find…the friend that was there all along?" Maria was being twirled from dancer to dancer and by the time she reached these lines she was with Alex: "You will be there when I need somebody…You will be there when I need somebody…the friend that was there all along."
Michael was riveted by Maria's stage presence…at the driven obsession she displayed, crooning into the microphone, twirling with Alex, parading up and down the front of the stage. This was a girl he didn't know; not the girl who had nervously cradled the microphone offering her song with humble apology at The Nite Star.
They were all relieved when the music died away. Maria's chest was heaving; her skin was gleaming silkily under the lights. Alex gently removed the bowler hat and the camera moved in for a close-up. The crowd had stopped dancing and resumed their screaming: "Alex!" "Maria!"
Together they walked forward, hand in hand, to the start of the ramp, spotlights on them. Maria's hair was cropped short into a blonde cap, shining like platinum in the glare of light. Alex looked older in his somber black. They were ecstatic together, at this thrill of the crowd-pleasing, both doing what they loved: singing.
"So…Maria.." Alex breathed into the mike with a mischievous smile.
"So, Alex..?" a reciprocal coy smile from Maria.
"Thanks for being here for us this evening…" Alex was squeezing her hand and brought it chivalrously to his lips.
She giggled. "Well, Alex, I might be out of shape a bit…" she gestured wryly at her stomach and the crowd laughed… "but how could I refuse?"
"And all this…is for you.." she gestured to the decorations, the male dancers, the orchestra, the roof of the dance floor where balloons were hanging like some threatening storm cloud of silver and white…and then to the crowd, now clustered round the ramp.
"Maria's being modest, everyone…tonight was completely her idea." Alex was exultant in delivering this information.
"Not the glass bubble, Alex; I said that was kitsch.." Maria reproved him with laughing eyes.
He shrugged his shoulders and laughed; so did the crowd.
Then Maria looked down, hanging her head modestly, before lifting her face towards the audience with a serious look suddenly fixed on her face. She spoke quietly but with intensity into the mike.
"You guys. We wanted to give you a night to remember. Most of you," a fleeting look of anguish was there and then not, "Most of you," she said more loudly, "will be gone soon…to MIT, to Brown, to NU wherever. And you will leave little Roswell, New Mexico, for the world. We wanted to give you a memory of a good place and good people…and a great time. 'Cos we did have a great time here, didn't we?"
She called for a crowd response and she got it.
The lead guitar had introduced some slow melancholic chords and the violins swelled slowly behind it. Maria grabbed the cordless mike, broke away from Alex and glided slowly further down the ramp. The lights dimmed and she was bathed in a blue-green spotlight. The silver sheen danced across her hair, a three stranded pearl choker moved rhythmically up and down her neck; with her short hair her neck seemed un-ending. Two pearl studs glinted in her ears; gone was the plastic fun jewellery of which she was so fond. This Maria had grown up.
"Now, Alex…" she breathed softly into the mike, "Remember, you promised me Boyzone time. Grab your partners, everyone…this is slow time for lovers…" Alex started to pluck his guitar on cue, a wandering arpeggio and then the violins tuned in.
"So…rry…" she breathed huskily into the mike and Michael felt the hair on his arms stand up. Isabel was frozen motionless on the couch. Liz was absolutely still.
"… Is all that you can say…years gone by and still…words don't come easily….like sorry…sorry…
"Forgive me, is all that you can say…years gone by and still….words don't come easily…like forgive me, forgive me…" The male chorus tuned in breathily…
"But you can say, baby, baby can I hold you tonight? Baby… if I told you the right words..ooh, at the right time, You'd be mine.
"I love you… is all that you can say…years gone by and still…words don't come easily…like I love you, I love you…But you can say baby…Baby can I hold you tonight?…Baby if I told you the right words…ooh at the right time…you'd be mine…Baby, can I hold you?" She whispered the last few words with a certain wistfulness into the mike.
She was clutching the mike between her hands and slowly drifting towards the end of the ramp into the middle of the audience. The blue-green spotlight dogged her slim figure, with her pregnancy less obvious as the dress fell round her in folds. She was wearing flat silver slippers which peeped out with every step. Silver sparkles glinted on her cheeks.
She was completely absorbed in the song, lifting her head so that light gleamed on the pearls at her throat. The power of her voice reverberated round the flat. Isabel moved to adjust the remote to douse the volume but Liz waved her away. Liz had tears in her eyes and dared not look at Michael.
When the final "Baby, can I hold you?" died away and Maria stood there, a solitary figure, with her head bowed and still, Michael felt himself thawing out. It was like recovering from a mouth injection: at one minute numbness, the next exquisite warm pain.
No-one spoke; they didn't really want to remain riveted on the TV screen but the tape kept them hypnotized. This was uncomfortable, a reminder of what had been and what had never been.
Alex was drifting down the ramp to join Maria. "Better than Tracy Chapman, babe," he breathed huskily into the mike and the crowd laughed again. The three viewers all noted that Maria did not.
"Alex, still Boyzone time…you promised.." The smile broke out, involuntarily from behind the clouds.
"Maria is determined that this will be remembered for Boyzone time…girls…you are now in Boyzone…" quirked Alex.
"And girls…" said Maria, with a certain shyness, "Make the most of it..."
"Forget it, Alex, this one is mine…just for junior…so I've changed the words a bit…" Maria laughed openly and raised her mike.
At her signal the orchestra was slowly pulsing and a single guitar had started again; Maria picked up the cue.
"I was lost and alone, trying to grow…making my way down that long winding road…had no reason nor rhyme.. like the song out of time. And there you were, standing in front of my eyes…how could I be such a fool to let go of love and make all of the rules?…when you walked out that door…left a hole in my heart and now I know for sure.. You're the air that I breathe…you are all that I need and I want to thank you, baby.."
Alex had come to stand behind her, with both hands on her shoulders; as she finished the refrain he raised his mike but kept his other hand round her shoulders: he started to sing huskily against her neck, making the most of his closeness. "I was searching in vain, playing your game.. had no-one else but myself left to blame..you came into my world, no diamonds or pearls..could ever replace what you gave to me girl…and just like a flower needs rain I will stand by your side through the joy and the pain…You're the air that I breathe…" He had turned her to face him and no-one was in any doubt that he lived and breathed every word.
The crowd below had stopped dancing and crowded round the ramp, gently swaying arm in arm. They were joining in, a massed chorus, with the duet onstage. Voices thundered upwards in a wave of feeling.
|Index | Part 2
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours