|"Comes a Time"
Disclaimer: I do not own nor do I have any affiliation with the WB, Melinda
Metz, Jason Katims, etc. etc. I'm just playing in their world for a little
Summary: Maria ponders a lifetime of promises and secrets.
|Maria woke slowly, reluctantly from a sleep too deep to be restful. The
vestiges of another vivid dream clung to her foggy mind, forcing her into a
struggle to separate trance from real life. She blinked blearily at the sun
creeping gently through her bedroom window and tried to grasp reality. What
time was it? What day?
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and stretched slowly, carefully. The dream faded, splintering into fragments that her waking mind couldn't quite hold on to. Her heart fluttered irregularly in her chest and she felt an emptiness, an airy breathlessness that spoke of fear, of anticipation. She pressed her palm against her sternum, breathing carefully, allowing the slight dizziness and shortness of breath to subside. Soon, yes it would be very soon. Today. But there were a few things yet to be taken care of before the time came. And she had some promises yet to keep.
She rose carefully and approached the window, sinking slowly into the window seat and closing her eyes as the warm sunlight washed over her. It was rare to have a morning warm enough not to need her robe and slippers. While the vivid blues and grays of the ocean and the wildness of the northern California coastline pleased and inspired her, she had spent her formative years in the desert, and it amused her that even after all this time, she never seemed to be able to get warm.
Liz had always laughed at her penchant for layers and sweaters, calling her a thin blooded desert lizard. Liz had had much less trouble adjusting to California when they had come here, at least to the weather. The traffic and congestion had gotten to them all over the years, and though they had rarely spoken of it, Maria knew Liz had longed for the quiet and spaciousness of the desert, just as she had longed for the colors. She wondered briefly if she should have made more of an effort to go back to Roswell. Perhaps if they'd gone together they could've given each other the courage necessary to face it all. It was far too late now, of course. But now, in the peace and quiet of the early morning, Maria let herself miss the beiges and pastels of the New Mexico desert. She allowed herself, just for a brief moment, to wish she could be home on this day.
But that was weak, self indulgent. Opening her eyes, she let the beauty of the coastline sink into her, banishing her vivid memories of home, of sand and sagebrush. California was her home now. It had been home for years. It had been a long time since she, Liz and Alex had bolted from Roswell, fleeing the pain and memories that lurked there. Enough years that the raw anguish had faded to a sad and bittersweet nostalgia. Enough years for her to tell herself that she was over it. Almost enough years for her to forget.
But she hadn't forgotten, not really. Maria sighed, resting her head against the glass window as she watched the rhythmic waves beat against the shoreline. On some level she had never forgotten, and on this day of all days she should be honest with herself. She had coped with the loss, dealt with the loneliness and the hidden feelings of rejection. With Alex and Liz, she had moved on with her life. But of course, she had never forgotten. During her waking hours she could fool herself, but the dreams made her realize that she had never completely shaken Michael Guerin out of her psyche.
They had clung together, she and Liz and Alex, especially in those first few years. After almost three years of it being the six of them, bound together by equal parts of love, passion, protectiveness and fear, suddenly it was just the three of them again. They had been lost, fumbling for purchase in a world suddenly gone wrong. They had coped in different ways. All three of them slept far too much, perhaps craving the dreams that were so much more attractive than the present reality. Alex had grimly thrown himself into music, focusing on mastering his bass and guitar and playing until his fingers bled, writing music, immersing himself in it and pushing himself to learn more. Maria had alternated between manic energy in an effort to keep herself too busy to think, and complete lethergy. Liz, the most pragmatic and practical of the three of them, had found refuge in sleep. She had refused to go to work, refused to follow up on her college plans, and spent the majority of every day in bed, dull eyed and listless, refusing to get up. While it would have been all too easy to follow Liz into that downward spiral, the sight of her best friend literally wasting away had galvanized Maria into action. She and Alex had begged, cajoled, threatened, and finally bullied Liz out of the house and into Maria's car. They'd driven out to the desert, to the desolate place where they had said their final goodbyes. There the three of them had spoken painfully, for the last time, about Max, Isabel and Michael. They had discussed the possibility, then the certainty, that they would never see them again. They had cried what they swore to each other would be their last tears. They had pledged to be strong for each other. And they had resolved together that the only way to stay true to their promises would be to leave Roswell.
Within a month, over protests of parents, they were gone. California was selected not at random, but because it offered the most diverse opportunities. Liz had been accepted to the University of California at Berkeley. Alex had made a late application to and been accepted to the University's music program. Maria's high school grades had always been mediocre (and downright disgraceful during her time with Michael), but two desperately focused years at a local junior college had gotten her general education out of the way, and given her scholarship money to pursue interior design at the University. They'd found a tiny rental house outside of Berkeley with no insulation and an inadequate water heater, but a breathtaking view of San Francisco bay. They'd carefully constructed a small hidden compartment behind the pantry to hold the few treasures brought from Roswell, and locked them away. They'd gotten jobs, settled into school, and grimly, joylessly, set out to live their lives.
And whenever one woke gasping from a deep sleep, calling out a name that was never to be mentioned while awake, the other two were there. To help the dreamer transition from the vivid, too-real dream back to chilly reality. To comfort, to dry the tears, to hold each other through the deep, wracking sobs that gave lie to the illusion that they had truly forgotten.
But they never discussed the dreams. To discuss them would be to give them a validity that none of them could afford. Their peace was too hard-won, too fragile to be able to discuss the dreams. But Maria was certain that Liz and Alex wondered, as she wondered, privately, if the dreams could possibly be real.
Gradually, almost imperceptibly, it had gotten easier. Ambitions and goals became real interests, not just something to keep their brains occupied and bodies exhausted. Their daily "how are we doing?" meetings/group therapy sessions became weekly, then monthly meetings. They met other people, people who shared their interests, people who thought aliens were nothing more than an engaging television plot line. Alex won prestigious musical awards, and joined a band that had actual paying gigs. Liz agonized over molecular biology versus medicine, than whether to become a research physician or a practicing physician. Maria discovered a talent and flair for architecture that meant more years of school. They found excuses not to return to Roswell, even for holidays, despite pleas and direct orders from their parents.
Alex had been the first to venture from their little house and the cocoon of solace and security they had wrapped around themselves. The band that had helped supplement their income for years began getting bigger and bigger gigs, farther and farther away. Over the few years after graduation, while Maria worked 70 hour weeks establishing herself as a junior architect and Liz struggled through her medical residency, Alex was away more than he was home. Soon he had another home, in Los Angeles, and was spending more time there than in Berkeley. But she and Liz didn't face that until it was time for them to leave too. Liz was recruited for the prestigious residency program at Stanford University Hospital, more than an hour's drive away. And Maria had been offered a plum job at one of the top architecture firms in San Francisco, with an opportunity to work on Victorian restoration instead of designing new buildings. It was time to face leaving the sanctuary that was their little house in Berkeley, and the safety of each other.
Alex had flown home to help them pack and move. By common, unspoken consent they had left the little box behind the pantry for the very last, until all the cartons were packed into the moving trucks, until the three of them were alone together. Liz and Maria gripped hands as Alex crawled under the shelves and felt for the small hidden catch that allowed part of the wall to bend outwards, and he emerged with the box. He set it on the floor in the bare kitchen of their empty little house, and the three of them regarded it with something like dread.
It was a small, wooden box, unremarkable under the thick layer of dust that covered it. It had been undisturbed for more years than Maria was willing to face at that moment. Without further ado Alex tossed the lid open and together they looked at the six dimly iridescent stones, the amulet broken into two pieces, the silver rings, the small football shaped orb and the few faded photos that lay inside. So little to represent so much. It suddenly seemed pitiful to Maria that these few items were all that Michael, Max and Isabel had left of themselves on this earth. And it was all she had to remind her of Michael.
She was the first to reach inside and picked up two of the stones, allowing herself for the first time in years to remember saying goodbye to Michael that crispy clear night in the desert outside of Roswell. Michael, his face set and impassive but his eyes anguished as he held her close to him, his voice cracking as he pressed the stones and his rings into her hands and asked her to not to forget him. How hard she tried to memorize him, his features, the sound of his voice, his taste, his smell. Her frustration and pain when her own tears blurred his face, when her choked sobs and the roaring in her ears blocked the sound of his voice telling her that he loved her. He promised he would try to see her again. He promised that he would try to come back. Her own voice, unrecognizable through the tears choking her, promising to keep his secrets, and to never forget him. The three of them walking into the desert, towards the strange, slightly iridescent glow that awaited them beyond the dunes, leaving Maria, Alex and Liz behind. The desolation she felt to her very core as the glow faded from sky and her ever-present connection to Michael faded with it, leaving her alone.
Maria was jerked back to the present by the sound of a car horn in her driveway. She blinked, realizing that she had been daydreaming, and that it was much later than she had thought. She never allowed herself to daydream. She wrapped herself in her robe, and carefully made her way to the front of her house. The car idling in her driveway waited only for her smile and "everything is okay" wave, before backing out and continuing down the road. One of her neighbors, kind people who knew about the heart condition that threatened her, and had offered to check on her each day. Maria pulled her robe tighter around herself as she stood on her porch. The sunny clear morning had given way to one of those strangely lit afternoons, where the sun bouncing off the coastal fog created an unearthly, iridescent light. She was gripped by the feeling that time was going by too quickly on this day. She felt the need to hurry, hurry and do what needed to be done before she ran out of time.
It hadn't been so many years ago that she would bounce from her bed when the sun rose, spending an hour on her yoga exercises before dashing off to work, or working at home in the drafting office down the hall from her bedroom. It seemed like only yesterday that her energy had been limitless.
She had lived alone since those years in Berkeley with Liz and Alex. She had friends, had dated, had even had serious relationships from time to time, but she had always ended things before they got to the marriage proposal stage. She had never met a man who felt like the right fit, and she was unwilling to settle for anything less. Liz had accused her of setting her expectations unrealistically high, and Maria had never disagreed with her. But the bald truth of it was that she had never wanted to wake up next to another man when one of the dreams visited her. Whether they were real or a product of her restless subconscious, such an event would make her feel like a hypocrite.
So she was alone on this strangely lit morning as she forced herself to move methodically through her preparations. She decided against music, preferring the silence that filled her house and the crashing of the waves on her beach. And she moved slowly, stopping often to rest as she showered and dressed warmly, keeping an eye on the clock and watching for the high tide. Late in the afternoon she went to the closet in her bedroom, and kneeled carefully in the far corner to work a hidden latch on a small, concealed compartment. She drew forth the little wooden box, once more coated with the dust of years, and looked at it with sadness.
They had divided their treasures on that last day in Berkeley. Alex had wordlessly taken the amulet and the photographs of he and Isabel. Liz had lifted the orb gently, but had refused to look at the two photos of Max, shaking her head as her tears fell on the small orb in her hands. Maria had taken the two photos, keeping them with the one other photo and the two silver rings that still, after all this time, felt so warm to her hands. They had each taken two of the stones. And although they had felt safe for so long, they agreed that the objects should never fall into hands other than theirs. One more pledge between them, one more secret to keep, one more promise to bind them. Then they left the little house in Berkeley, and their lives apart began.
They had kept in touch, of course. Alex had become a very successful session guitarist and music producer, eventually settling in New York. He'd developed a long term relationship with a woman he'd cared for but never considered marrying. He once told Maria that Shelly slept like a rock, and his restless sleep and vivid dreams never disturbed her. A week never went by that Maria did not hear from Alex, either by telephone or in person, and she had treasured his friendship, his strength and unswerving support.
Liz had sailed through her residency at Stanford, an internship at their prestigious hospital, and had eventually chosen emergency medicine. Her ability to quickly synthesize information and make a decision based on it made her perfectly suited for the job. She had married another doctor, a kind man who loved her unconditionally and never pushed Liz to share her secrets, understanding that there were parts of her soul that he would never touch. Liz and Maria spoke to each other every few days, sometimes for hours, sometimes for just a few minutes, an extension of the old "how are you" meetings. And the time passed.
It had been six years since Alex had been killed suddenly and unexpectedly by a drunk driver while crossing the street in Manhattan. The telephone call had come from Shelly in the middle of the night, putting Maria and Liz on the next flight east. Alex had been crossing against traffic, apparently not paying attention, lost in a daydream. It had happened so fast. Maria and Liz were stunned by the suddenness. They could not quite believe that he was gone, not even when seeing his face in the open casket service Shelly had insisted on. They had been frozen, numb, and focused on a promise that the three of them shared to get them through it. It had been easy to convince Shelly to leave them alone in his townhouse for a few hours. Alex had told them both where he had hidden the stones and the amulet that he had carried with him from Roswell, and Liz had taken possession of them.
It wasn't until the plane ride back to California that the truth had hit. Two sleepless nights later, sitting next to each other on the airplane heading west, Liz had turned to Maria and asked softly "Do you think she knows by now?" And Maria knew with a shock that Liz believed, perhaps even depended on the dreams being real. Then, finally, Maria and Liz had cried. They'd cried for Alex, and his life, so full on the outside and on the inside so empty. They'd cried for Shelly, alone in her pain and her bewilderment of losing a man she'd never really been able to call her own. They cried for Isabel, gone for so long now but never forgotten by Alex. And they cried for themselves, for each other, and for the lost link to their youth and innocence.
The next few years had been hard ones. Liz had lost both her parents, and Maria had been diagnosed with the genetic heart disease that had killed her own mother five years previously. She had reduced her work schedule, driving to San Francisco from her house on the coast two days a week, working at home at other times. Liz had retired from active practice and taught pathology part time at Stanford.
Only once did Maria and Liz speak of the dreams. They met for lunch or dinner once a week, usually at a small restaurant halfway between their homes with quiet patio seating. They both had more gray in their hair, both moved more slowly. It had been a meal like thousands of other meals, where they spoke of their work, their friends, Liz's husband and Maria's cat, Liz's work for a charitable fund raiser, Maria's plans to add skylights to her living room. It was part of their routine, a way of showing each other just how okay they were. And with no segue, Liz had said "Maria, my dreams, they're getting clearer. I can remember things now, when I wake up."
Maria had been frozen, not by the news itself, but by the sudden and deliberate introduction of a topic they had all assiduously avoided for the vast majority of their lives. The intent look in Liz's eyes told her she hadn't heard wrong, she hadn't mistaken Liz's meaning. For a wild moment she thought of feigning confusion, asking Liz what dreams? What on earth are you talking about? With an effort, she found her vocal chords, although the raspy voice was unrecognizable.
"What do you see, Liz?"
Liz's lips quivered as she formed the word, her eyes speaking to Maria of a liquid anguish that had not faded over the years, had not been forgotten. "Max . . . I think he's coming back. I think.... I think they're all coming back. Maria, do you still dream? Do you remember your dreams?"
Maria's mouth had opened and closed without a sound as her brain struggled to wrap itself around this information. Liz's eyes bored into hers, intent, determined, pleading. And she had to tell Liz the truth. No, the dreams were what they had always been, always, ever since Michael had disappeared over that sand dune and into the unearthly glow. The dreams woke her up several times a week, fragmenting immediately, leaving her with only vague impressions. An almost-heard voice, the vague sensation of a hand caressing the side of her face, of lips close to her ear. The faint scent, always gone within moments of waking, but which had always meant Michael to her. Liz's eyes had held hers. "Maria, I think that they're closer. I think they're coming back."
How much of it had been truth, how much of it had been wishful thinking? Liz had died only months later, quickly yet painfully of cancer. She had known during their conversation about the dreams that she had very little time left. And Maria was now alone with the little wooden box and all it had originally contained. For the last time, she lifted the lid and ran her fingers over the old photos, the amulet, the small orb, the iridescent stones. She hesitated before picking up the two silver rings, then slipped them on to the third finger of each hand. They were too big, she had to curl her fingers to keep them on, but they felt warm, welcoming on her hand. She closed the box and glanced at the clock. High tide.
The sun had completely disappeared behind strangely beautiful clouds as she left the house and started towards the cliffs. She walked slowly, fighting the dizziness and stopping often to rest as her heart pounded in a frantic and fruitless effort to keep her body alive. She approached the edge of the small cliff that divided her yard from the shoreline below. The tide was high and the surf especially rough today, and Maria took several slow, deep breaths, gathering her strength.
Waiting until the wind would work with her, she raised the wooden box and threw it with all of her strength, willing the wind to carry it far over the water, far from any curious or acquisitive eyes. Through eyes blurred by tears, she thought she saw it break open before hitting the water far from the shore, scattering the contents before the ocean sucked them down, and out to sea. It was done. The secrets had been protected. One promise had been kept.
And as Maria made her way slowly back to her deck, she knew her time had come. For in the last few months, her dreams had grown more vivid. Through the strange connection she had shared with Michael, and Liz had shared with Max, and Alex had shared with Isabel, she knew that Michael was close, was on his way back to her. He was anxious, joyous, full of anticipation. But she also knew that though she had waited her entire lifetime for him, for him it had only been the span of a few years. That he couldn't know this from his visits to her dreams, because in her dreams she was always as she had been the day he left her, the day she began waiting for him.
And she knew, as she watched the sun go down, as the tears streamed down her face, that her faltering heart would not allow her to wait any longer. She curled the silver rings tightly onto her fingers and hoped that when Michael found her he would know that she had kept her promises to him, as he'd tried so hard to keep his promises to her. And she knew finally that this life, which had seemed so brutally endless for so long, had been too short.
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours