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.
|And then the surprise came. Kyle came first, up the side of the ramp; he walked slowly to Maria, grabbed her in his arms and twirled her masterfully along the ramp towards the stage. He kept her there, to watch, as Alex completed the song and couples came forward, up the ramp, to her - one by one - with a gift, gave Maria a kiss and placed a gift in the basket which Roger had brought to the end of the ramp.
Maria could not breathe, could not sing; she left the rest of the song to Alex and stood there, her face convulsing, her eyes huge and green and shiny, one hand clamped to her breast, responding to each hug with eager pleasure and delight.
She wanted to leave the stage after that but the crowd would not let her…she was shaking her head, visibly upset.
Alex pushed the mike in front of her and she was forced to pull herself together.
She gulped and then breathed into the mike.
"If these gifts are what I think they are…Michaela thanks you…or will soon, I reckon!" she broke off and wiped a solitary tear from her cheek with a hand which was not quite steady and then the irrepressible grin appeared weakly, "Then thank you. I'm doing only one more song…another Boyzone special…it kinda speaks of where I am, where I want all of you to be and…Once, I believed in destiny, but now…now I prefer the words of this song…what we believe is true…" her voice dropped to a whisper and then she breathed into the mike "This is for you, Michael, wherever you are."
The crowd still stood there, swaying, and the unity of the crowd was almost a tangible thing. As Alex organized the clearing of the gifts, Maria drifted back up the ramp to the middle and swung round slowly, like a dancer pirouetting in slow motion. The dress billowed outwards, a silvery rise and fall in suspended time. Maria had never looked more beautiful. The lights wavered, rolled around the room and then coalesced; the spotlight turned to silver, changing her into an unreal ephemeral thing, gleaming all over.
Her head raised and her eyes narrowed in concentration.
"No matter what they tell us, No matter what they do, No matter what they teach us, What we believe is true. No matter what they call us, however they attack; no matter where they take us, We'll find our own way back. I can't deny what I believe, I can't be what I'm not..I know our love's forever, I know no matter what.
"If only tears were laughter, if only night was day; if only prayers were answered, then we would hear God say. No matter what they tell you, no matter what they do, no matter what they teach you, What you believe is true. And I will keep you safe and strong, Shelter from the storm, No matter where it's barren, our dream is being born."
During the violin refrain she twirled gracefully to meet Alex who was on a stool in the middle of the ramp with her, playing the lead guitar. The balloons were released from the roof, all white and silver, to drift slowly through the silver light onto the heads of those below. Maria was leaning against Alex's back, lifting a laughing face to the drifting clouds of balloons. Almost in time to the music, hands and arms of the dancing couples glided slowly upwards to catch them as they fell.
Her face tensed suddenly in concentration and intensity. "No matter who they follow; no matter where they lead…no matter how they judge us I'll be everyone you need. No matter if the sun don't shine...or if the skies are blue...no matter what the ending my life began with you. I can't deny what I believe, Can't be what I'm not… I know this love's forever, That's all that matters now…No matter what." Maria was exhausted emotionally. She collapsed against Alex's back as the chorus droned the final refrains of "No matter what".
The crowd screamed and Maria detached herself and bowed very seriously, bending from the waist, regardless of her distended stomach.
"More!" The chant rose chaotically, pulsed with demand.
Maria lifted a damp hand to her cheek. The urchin cut made her look gamin and younger than Michael had ever seen her…soon to be the mother of his child.
"Only if you dance, guys, " she whispered…"and sorry…you are still in Boyzone. Alex, you're gonna have to help me out here."
Alex looked slightly concerned but remained on his stool and took up the lead with the guitar and the chorus crooned breathily from standing mikes near the band. Again, Maria wandered, a solitary wispy figure in the shimmering silver, to the end of the ramp and let her eyes rove over the drifting couples who were now glued together with bent heads and arms clasped round each other's necks. She looked faintly satisfied and let an affectionate glance spread out right and left. Michael noticed dimly that she had a single band of pearls on her upper arm; the spotlight now bathed her in a rosy glow and she exuded gentleness and a kind of inner tranquility. The intensity was gone.
"You needed me…" She looked directly at Alex, who had now abandoned his guitar and followed her, and she brought up one hand to the side of his face, "I cried a tear, you wiped it dry - I was confused, you cleared my mind - I sold my soul, you bought it back for me and helped me earn… and gave me dignity…somehow you needed me…" Maria now rested one arm around Alex's neck and she was singing for him alone, staring into his eyes with passionate focus. "You gave me strength to stand alone again, to face the world out on my own again… you put me high upon a pedestal, so high that I could almost see eternity…You needed me…you needed me. And I can't believe it's you, I can't forget it's true…I needed you and you were there..and I'll never leave why should I leave I'd be a fool…cos I finally found someone who really cares.."
The male chorus had joined her for the final section of her song but her voice soared above them ringing true to fill the room of darkness and silver. The atmosphere was electric, powerful. "You held my hand and it was cold and I was lost you took me home…you gave me hope when I was at the end…and turned my light back into truth again…you even called me friend..you gave me strength to stand alone again…to face the world out on my own again..
"You needed me…you needed me..." As the violins trailed away, Maria whispered for everyone to hear, "That one WAS for Alex, the best human being in the world. Thank you Alex. I meant every word of that…"
Alex was quick to respond by grasping both her arms and kissing her full on the mouth. The crowd loved the public display. *They all knew,* thought Liz quickly,*They all knew that Alex saved her during that dreadful time. They love the honesty and truth…It's amazing…and I've known them both for years…they never told me, either of them.* For some reason, it hurt…
Michael could not watch more. He uttered a low grunt and lifted himself off the couch to escape to the kitchen. The girls continued to sit there. He stood, looking out through the darkness of the window, seeing nothing but his own tortured reflection, his shoulders hunched and his hands leaning heavily on the kitchen surface. He looked at his own reflection almost without comprehending because it seemed to him that there was a shimmering silver figure in the glass singing to him: "I'll be everything you need…this one's for you, Michael, wherever you are." But her final duet with Alex intruded from the other room; he could not drown it out. Nor could he drown out that other song, "I final found someone who really cares.." for the "best human being in the world".
He was drawn back, against his will, to watch the end of her last song from the doorway of the kitchen. When it was finished and the crowd applauded, Maria was crying, wiping her hand across her face. Alex kissed her hand and then spoke seriously to the audience.
"Listen, guys, I reckon Maria's had enough now…we are now leaving Boyzone…but first, I b'lieve Maria deserves one dance at her own prom?" Yells of approval greeted him, amid the popping of balloons. As he spoke he smoothed Maria's blonde bob with one hand and placed a single strand of frangipani leaves and fake pearls across her head. He mouthed something at her, something which caused her to respond with a sad smile. When Michael had played this back innumerable times he knew that Alex had told her, "You're my Prom Queen."
Alex gestured to the band and they struck up the chords of THE AIR THAT I BREATHE as an instrumental. He led her down the ramp very slowly and gently then onto the dance floor. She was clutching his arm very tightly. The spotlight followed them for a few seconds as he pulled her close, despite the stomach. She was smiling up at him, pure joy lighting up her face. She whispered to him and he bent his head to catch the words. He twirled her round twice and they were lost in the darkened morass of the other couples. The lights had dimmed and the dance floor was irradiated only by the sparkle of laser lights, the shimmer of spotlights on stage. She was gone.
Was this why she had sent him back? To learn about her…things that he had never learned during their silent communication of furtive glances, tortured stares and silent pauses...between the heady sparring and cruel interchanges? Then he knew only her passion well. Now he did not know her at all.
He had retreated into the darkness of the kitchen and did not hear Liz come quietly to stand behind him and touch his arm.
"This is just as much a shock to me, Michael," she said softly to his hunched back. "She never told me about the prom. I never knew that her singing had become so…" Liz groped for the right word "powerful and..driven. I'm sorry. We should maybe have watched the tape first. Not just sprung it on you."
He did not turn but spoke to her in broken fragments…"Those songs…mostly about the pain I caused her…I used to hate it when she showed feeling, ya know. It's funny…those kids…they loved her for it."
"I always admired Maria for that kind of courage. She would have stood against the world. She sang for you, Michael. Think of that. 'She'll love you forever.' You should just think of that."
"You don't understand. That just makes it… more difficult. I don't deserve it." *What about Alex? Surely you saw that?* he wanted to cry out to her but his pride prevented him. It was easier to accept Liz's assurances. *Neither of us know her now* his heart told him.
She squeezed his arm in reassurance. "You don't give Maria enough credit. She understood. She tried to stand back…not let you know…she fought it, I know that."
"I took everything, Liz. I took her heart and squeezed it dry…then just walked away. Do you know how much I tried NOT to feel anything for her? It's difficult to feel good about that."
Liz gave a small gasp of impatience. "Now you're punishing yourself. Don't do that, Michael. She really understood that destiny thing…she coped better than Alex or I. Can't you see that? And look at this!" Although Michael was not looking at her, she gestured round Maria's apartment.
"Alex and I…still living at home…needing our parents to keep us together, whole. And Maria…why, she has done wonderfully…"
She was interrupted by Isabel who had appeared at the kitchen door, looking slighted and displeased. Liz could hear the Whits still thundering in the background.
"So this is where you've both gone. What's wrong? Lost interest after Maria finished?" Both of them detected the note of bitterness. Hitting back: this was Isabel's way. Michael thought that Maria…when she hit back…always took refuge in humour not hurt. Maria was always more likely to laugh at herself, to criticize herself for any failure. But this girl was supposed to be his destiny and for a while he had believed it…worse, he had wanted it.
"We're coming, " said Liz quietly, not looking at Michael. She just took his hand and half-pulled him back.
"I don't think I want to watch anymore, " said Michael in a low voice. "You carry on…I'll just check on Michaela. I'll come in a minute."
The girls knew that he would not be back in a minute. Both of them watched his retreating back up the stairs. He did not bound up this time.
He looked in at Michaela then threw himself on the bed in her room. The solitary figure in Maria's painting seemed to glow in the dark as a constant reproof. Her words still sang in his head. His mind was filled with the picture of her pouring her soul down a microphone and putting her agony on show in a silver spotlight. He yearned for the twirling figure in his head who was gracefully pirouetting down a ramp to find Alex. And she was with Alex at this minute. He knew a moment of fear.
It was Isabel who came to seek him out this time. She sat down heavily at his side on the bed. He was staring upwards at nothing in the darkness, mouth tight, unmoving.
"Come on, Michael, " she whispered urgently, fearful of waking the baby. "What are you upset about? It's going to be alright for you…surely you know that? Just give it time. I wish that I was as lucky."
He lay there, not trusting himself to reply.
"Count your blessings, Michael," Isabel continued, now stroking his arm in slow rhythmic movements. "You had a rotten life…you made Max and me feel guilty about it every day…not consciously, we just did." She paused for what seemed a long time. "And now…ya know, Michael, I think that you are going to be the most blessed of all of us. You are SO lucky. Surely you can understand that?"
He still kept silent so Isabel felt compelled to press on, to try to make him understand. "Michael. Listen to me. A few yards away is your baby…if the tape proved nothing else it showed that she loves you… something you are guaranteed for a lifetime… How much luckier can you be? It's as if…it's…" she groped desperately for words, "as if it's your reward for a lifetime of neglect and cruelty with the most wonderful gift…a love which most people could only ever dream about." She sat silently, wondering about it herself.
"And it's kinda funny, really…I was always SO lucky, ya know…with a wonderful family but I'd give anything to be where you are now."
He lifted himself up, then, onto one elbow and looked at her with an expression of real kindness. "If you mean Alex…" he said slowly, "don't give up…yet. I don't want to. I mean…that tape…it's all very obvious to both of us how involved they are…and Iz, we deserved it…both of us. Max was the only one to treat them kindly…to commit to Liz when it was important. Max is more human , I guess. You and I have created our own mess…we've just got to hope…"
"I don't think so, Michael, " she said sadly, "You don't either. Don't kid me. Alex is besotted with her." Isabel could not mention Maria's name at that moment. *And Maria?* his heart asked insistently, *Maria?* Isabel was the last person to whom he could convey his fears.
"She deserved someone to care," he replied, almost with reproof. "I'm glad. Ya know that? I'm glad that she had someone there for her when I…wasn't. She deserved it. She never had anyone…just like me…and she coped better than I ever did. I see that now."
"She had her mom," Isabel retorted tartly.
Michael could not suppress a short laugh. "Amy de Luca. I do enjoy that lady but it was like Maria was the mother…she had to think and feel for both of them."
He was trying to argue himself into a feeling of strength and for Isabel's sake he lifted himself to his feet.
"C'mon. Let's go see Liz. Don't worry, Iz. It'll come right. After all, " his eyes twinkled momentarily, "You're getting a bit of your own medicine…like I am. We took it all for granted for so long, didn't we? We accepted all they gave us, tossed them away, and were just too much bound up with ourselves. It's not comfortable to be on their side of the fence, is it?"
Isabel bowed her head in a flurry of curled hair to acknowledge the truth of that. "I suppose. It's pretty painful to care so much, isn't it? To BE human?"
Michael cocked his head, throwing her a quizzical glance which had an element of wry humour. "Guess so," he said slowly. "But ya know, Iz, I reckon I was fighting my human side all the time…and now…I think I'm not going to fight it anymore. When…if Maria comes back…" he trailed off, aware of his heavy emphasis upon 'when'. *Come back soon, Maria,* his heart cried out in torment, *Come back so I can make it all up to you.*
Isabel sighed. "When Alex comes back, what then? She'll choose you. We both know that. What will he do then?"
"I wish that I had your confidence, " Michael said, "but I'm learning…patience…and you must, too. He'll need you, whatever happens. I'm hoping that…Michaela will help me to get her back." His heart protested against the simplicity of his artifice for Isabel's benefit. Michael was not ready for truth yet.
Isabel stopped thinking of herself. She surprised herself. "I can be a real bitch," she said honestly, "You should remind me of that, Michael. Your Maria…she surprises me…I always thought she was a bit flaky…but I look at this apartment…that amazing video… and all that she has done, endured, to come through…I reckon she can give us both a few lessons about living a human life."
Michael was heading for the stairwell; all this soul-searching and privately sharing Isabel's pain and uncertainty was too much for him. He uttered a short laugh, then spoke in a low voice, "You're right there, Iz. I always knew that." He turned to look back at her. "You gotta admit, she changed me, even when she wasn't there. Alex will sort you out, too." He gave another low calculated chuckle, which to him sounded more like a bark, as he sloped off down the stairs to find Liz.
Liz was standing in the hall, dressed in hat and coat. "Michael, I must be off. Do you want to keep the tape tonight? You missed half of it." She gave him a knowing look from under her lashes.
Michael was surprised with himself…no more evasions…he looked directly into her eyes as he said, "Liz, I'd like that. I wanta see Maria again…have time to take more in..ya know?"
She knew, and hugged him fiercely. Isabel did too.
"We'll be over tomorrow to see your love child, " said Isabel, not intending sarcasm. "I haven't seen her yet and I want her to get to know her favourite aunt. Horror!"
Michael laughed. "Watch out, Michaela. The Ice Queen cometh!"
The girls let themselves out, still laughing, and Michael slowly drew the deadbolts against the Special Branch, the FBI and the world in general. He now understood what Maria had understood for so long: the good feeling about giving love. She had given to all those people - her talent and her soul, truth, honesty and passion - and they had loved her for it. He stood there, shaking his head, in slow wonderment, still feeling warmed himself by the love and concern shown by the girls. *Am I capable of changing so much?* he asked himself, *Am I kidding myself? Is it just jealousy because she found someone else?*
Then he was drawn again to the couch, like an addict in need of a fix, flicked off the lamp to leave the room in darkness and touched the remote control again, in the knowledge that he would need Maria all night tonight and that he would learn to say sorry.
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