Disclaimer: Those darned characters are still there…in my head! But I don't want Jason Katims
et al to take them away!
Authors Note: Calling for reader patience: this is post 'Wipe Out' but, readers, please appreciate that, unlike you lucky Americans, I am not privileged to see the second series yet. My gratitude to Crashdown.com, Joan's Roswell Guide and the enthusiastic writers of the transcripts. Otherwise, I'd still be in the dark. Hope that WB 'movers and shakers' realize that there are ROSWELL fanatics all over the world. . even though we never knew about the Tobasco drive. And some of us want Michael to stop being a sh..t and for Maria to wake up and smell someone else's coffee. I'm aiming for the latter. My heroine has suffered enough!
|Before Liz could reply, Michael felt Maria stand up behind him. He could not hear what she was saying though he desperately wanted to listen. Not again, though. He couldn't afford to miss Liz's news a second time around. His mind unwillingly let Maria go with Brody to settle his bill.
"You mean the scream, and Alex, and everything?"
"Yeah. That." Michael sounded morose, even to himself.
"It's great news. Maria and the Whits are going to make a single. They're due in New York next week. She's over the moon about it. Alex has gone into a distant universe. He's so grateful to her. She nagged him to send a demo. You know how Maria can nag! It's his own composition, too. Isn't it great?"
This news was a surprise to Michael. It sobered him up immediately, even if it did not cheer him up. It sobered him to think that quiet human lives had been moving on, upwards, while his mind had been on other things. Like Courtney. Somehow he felt indefinably that Maria was slipping away and he did not like it.
"No way? Really?" Was his ungraciousness as obvious to them as it was to himself? And the whispery voice of a slip of a blonde girl persisted in his head: " So funny, ya know, 'cos I thought there's gotta be something better out there than Roswell, New Mexico." That seemed like another lifetime now, a simpler life, when he did not know who his friends were, but he knew the enemies. Now he did not think that he knew either. He realized that he had been alone a lot recently; that things were different.
"That's great. So… when do they go?"
Liz rushed in to fill an emotional gap that seemed to be spreading round the table like some alien life-force, or black hole, invisible but powerful.
" Would you believe? Tomorrow, I think. Alex's is trying to get them on a red-eye flight."
At Michael's puzzled expression, she explained hastily, "You know, that impossible half-way-through-the night thing…it's cheaper." She paused, then glanced at Max as if they were sharing some personal knowledge, "Poor Maria. She's gonna be absolutely washed out after yesterday...and now this…" She trailed off, as if she had said too much, as if she had planted a mine on the table and pulled the plug on it. Now she was paralysed with fear, waiting for it to explode.
Nonplussed and really stuck for words now, Michael turned his head away from his friends to look for the girl in question, the girl whose name had seemed to be on everyone's lips today. There was no sign of her and Brody, too, seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
"What happened to Kyle?"
Liz jumped, sort of guiltily. "Oh, I guess that he left by the back. He probably just collected the books Maria organized for him. Didn't see him come back in here…but then we have been kinda busy." She ended lamely and looked longingly at Max. *Speak, Max. Help me out here, dammit. *
Michael put her out of her misery. "Listen, I guess I'll just find Maria and congratulate her. It really is great news. " He spoke as if it were the worst news in the world and they knew it.
They let him go and he moved more quickly than he intended to the swing door. He paused on the threshold and looked through the glass window.
She was there, sitting with her feet up - with those ridiculously large shoes for comfort which did nothing for her feet but did draw attention to the shapeliness of her legs: the shoes were perched one on top of the other on the coffee table. She was riveted in a book, was not even aware of his presence.
He pushed through and the first squeak of the door caused her to snap her head upwards. Did she register alarm? He thought so. Her face relaxed in relief when she saw that it was him.
"So…" he advanced towards her with his hands pushed deep into his pockets and fell heavily on the couch opposite her. "I've just heard the news. Great work, Maria. Sounds big-time."
She looked awkward and embarrassed. He was angry, inside, when it became obvious she hadn't wanted him to know.
"Yeah. Well. Maybe." She subsided into silence and pushed her nose back into her book. Conversation closed.
Michael refused to be brushed off. He could feel pressure building up in his head, like a gas canister; it would not take much to fire him off. He was really angry now.
" So…when are you going, then?" * Christ, couldn't he be more original than that? What was he doing? Testing her? *
She lifted her eyelids to look at him warily. "Not sure yet. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not." The eyes sloped longingly towards the book.
" Listen, Maria. Two hours ago you were screaming the place down with joy and giving every customer indigestion - that is, if they were lucky enough to get any food at all. So what's with the monosyllables now?" Testy. And she knew it.
With a sigh she closed the book and let it rest on her lap, put her head back against the chair-rest, and looked across at him wearily. "What's the big deal, Michael? If this had happened yesterday or a week ago, you wouldn't have waited for the end of the sentence. And besides, what do you know or care about my singing? It's no big deal in your life. Let it go. My news hardly competes with the battle of the planets, the adrenalin rush for survival. That's the big picture for you. My news? Well, it's… peanuts compared to… a six course meal." She had been scrabbling in her brain for a punchy comparison but failed to find one.
Her metaphors might have failed her but she had registered a punch; she knew that by the look of shock on his face, hotly followed by something which others might have interpreted as guilt. She would not presume to do so. The guilt reminded her of Courtney and she felt ashamed of her moment of truth; he was suffering and she would never in the world want to make that worse for him.
Her mouth gentled into a sympathetic smile. "I'm real sorry about Courtney. You must feel like hell today. You tried, though, you really did."
Where was the jealousy that had been driving him mad for days? Or maybe he was disappointed that it was no longer there. And he instinctively knew that she had not let it go because Courtney was gone; she had just let it go. Period.
His feelings of hurt, even alarm, were transformed into the usual Michael nastiness. " You must be real devastated that my Fan Club is down to one, again." All the perceived slights from people today were squashed and forced into that one piece of sarcasm.
She looked at him without speaking for a long moment and, for once, he could not read her expression. She had closed herself off, as easily as he always did, but without the desire to be cruel, without the hatred that he threw out as easily as he did his powers on the spur of the moment.
Her silence scared him. This was definitely not Maria-in-action. She pulled herself slowly to her feet and packed the book carefully into a tog bag on the floor where she had obviously stashed all the others. ADVANCED PHYSICS. He noted the title before the book disappeared.
She lifted the bag and draped it with difficulty over her shoulder. It was patently heavy. Her eyes would not meet his but settled after some indecision on the swing door.
"Be-low the belt, spaceboy." She drawled her response at him. " And by the way, since we're trading insults, who said you even had a Fan Club anymore? But don't let me stop you from re-grouping it, " she waved a hand towards the door with a forced airiness, "There's at least half-a-dozen Courtneys out there, I'm sure, with your name on them. And as your original so sweetly put it - they'll look good for fifty years even if you don't. No skin off my nose." She seemed satisfied with her parting shot and moved towards the door.
"'Scuse me, won't you? I'm going to ask Mr Parker for the rest of the day off. I'm sure he'll understand." The swing door banged and she was gone. She left him in a void.
He returned to the kitchen in a daze, hating her, hating his life in all its confusion and emotional drama. In the old days when his familiar emotion was hatred, which he had kept firmly fixated on Hank, life was so much simpler. He was beginning to think it was preferable too.
Now there was Maria, like a receding tide, inexorably moving softly and irretrievably away from him. And Courtney gone. What did he feel for Courtney? He did not want to examine himself on that one; whatever honesty he dredged up demeaned Maria and made him hate himself even more.
To add insult to injury, to heap salt into the wounds, there were two yellow slips on the counter. He threw the steaks onto the grill with the same passion and physical force as if he were tossing Maria onto a bed. But she would not burn for him now.
Liz had left Max to handle customers and Max was studying his friend objectively, knowing that life was not going well. On an impulse he strode to the serving hatch and watched Michael thunder around with chips and steaks and attack tomatoes with a knife, as if he were dismembering Agent Pierce.
" Can I give you another piece of advice, Michael? " He looked at his alien friend from beneath hooded eyes. " Not that you're the world's expert at taking advice. Remember the meanness thing? You've treated her like crap for months. Stand back. Wasn't that your advice with Liz?"
"Stone wall, Maxwell," Michael ground out, as the knife hammered up and down on the tomatoes like a mechanical piston.
He looked up and tried to glare at Max but somehow his eyes were watering: it wasn't onions he was chopping. Max felt uncomfortable with the moment of vulnerability. He twirled the skewer for the completed orders, studying it as if it were an object for dissection, and allowed his friend a moment to regain control.
Michael drew a hand across his perspiring forehead; it was a gesture of weariness and defeat. But when he spoke he injected the old couldn't-care-less attitude into his voice.
"So. Whatcha doing tonight? Shall we go 'human' and catch a movie?" He was darting around serving the meals from the table then the grill so he didn't see Max's look of discomfiture.
"Sorry, Michael. No can do. I'm going out with Liz."
"What's Iz doing?"
Max paused. Dare he say "Going out with Alex"? His hesitation made the point.
"I get it, " said Michael bitterly. "Going out with Alex?" He shot Max a dark glance.
" Well, what if I dragged along with you guys? Looked the other way when necessary. Leave you early. That sort of thing. The apartment's not good for me tonight." His last confession expressed his pain and Max felt for him, this self-destructive alien friend who lived to foul things up. And he seemed to practise most energetically on his own life.
Michael came to dump the plates and banged the bell more gently for Liz this time. He pushed his elbows down on the counter and stared at the near face of his friend. " Let me. Join you, I mean."
"I don't think that it's a good idea, Michael," he said slowly, praying that Liz would come and divert them from this uncomfortable conversation. But she was chatting at the far end and had not seemed to hear the bell.
Max banged it himself, more for something to do to distract Michael from a reply.
Max looked across and there was Michael, slouching on the counter with his head sunk in both hands. He looked momentarily boyish, like the eighteen-year old boy he was, not the killer that he had been forced to become. Living with death had changed them, Max thought irrelevantly. Taken away the beauty of innocence. He envied Liz and Maria.
"Because," he sighed and knew there was no way of avoiding the truth. "Because we've all been invited to the Whitmans, that's why. It's a kinda celebration..for the music thing. And I'm assuming that Alex hasn't asked you."
He felt for Michael: the expression on his face was quite naked…just for a moment, before it hardened into his customary coldness.
" Ah-so. I get it. And...so let me guess…Maria will be there too?"
Liz chose this unfortunate moment to waltz up for the plates, cheerful after her conversation, to catch only the tail-end of a seemingly trivial boy-talk.
" Maria's going to the movies with Brody, I think, then coming to Alex's afterwards." She said it without thinking, then was enveloped in the wave of hostility from Michael. Max was looking at her with a horrified expression. Then she knew she had blundered.
Michael tightened his lips into a crevasse, then threw the knife into the wall without raising a hand. It cracked into the plaster like a lightning bolt then plaster and knife clattered in cascading bits into the sink.
There was no way to salvage the situation so Liz rallied and attacked in defence of her friend. " Did you expect an invitation, Michael? Correct me if I heard wrong, but wasn't it the other day that Alex knocked you to the floor? And would that have been something to do with hurting Maria? In a particularly horrible way?" She flushed then, at her own memories, and avoided Max's eye. " Now you want gilt-edged invitations? "
With some nervousness, she grabbed the plates and made her escape, leaving Max to pick up pieces other than the plaster in the sink.
"Sorry, Michael, " said Max lamely, "but Liz does have a point."
"Jeez," thundered Michael, looking around for some other dangerous missile to inject into the wall, "So now I'm on the outside? You too have joined the 'Let's help poor ol' Maria brigade'? Scuse me while I wipe a tear. Oo-kay. Forget it. I'll just rot here for the rest of the night. Have a 'nice' time, Maxwell." He turned away to dig bits of debris out of the sink, and the stiff arched posture of his back told Maxwell that there was not another word to be said.
Max couldn't let it rest like that. He spoke to Michael's unrelenting back. "I don't think Tess has been invited, Michael. If you want some company tonight, that is."
He did not expect Michael to respond to this afterthought, but he did. He turned slowly back to Max and said quite softly, "Not a bad idea. Tess saved us yesterday…all of us…doesn't she deserve some kinda reward…like special attention… for that? But I suppose that Kyle is too busy looking for 'our fearless leader', whatever he means by that."
If Michael had been less agitated and less caught up with his own mixed bag of feelings he might have noticed the start of fear which registered on Max's face. But he didn't. He had seized the skewer and was twirling it violently himself.
"Now you're the one speaking in riddles, " said Max slowly, " and I gotta go. I'll stop by the Valentis and tell Tess to come keep you company. Maybe you could both go to a movie or something. I guess she'll be glad of the company. What time do you finish here?"
Michael's emotions had suddenly poured out of him, gone down the drain along with bits of plaster. He sighed. "If that bum, Jose,…if he isn't drunk on a park bench or holed up with a woman...if he pitches as he's supposed to, I'll be finished by nine."
Max nodded. "I'll tell her. She might come earlier since Kyle…" he trailed off, warily aware that he was entering another minefield, one that would cause Michael to explode. "I'll tell her."
He could not stop himself from squeezing his friend's arm, as a gesture of comfort, before turning to locate Liz.
Michael watched with some bitterness as Liz melted towards Max, let him grip her arm and drop a kiss on her forehead, before he strode to the street door. The empty ring of the doorbell seemed to mock Michael. He could have had all that…and probably…no,definitely, much more. But he had tossed it all away….it was nothing but meaningless bits of plaster down the drain now.
Liz watched Max go until he turned the corner of the street and disappeared, before her gaze slid round to Michael, still slouched on the counter. She could read every conflicting emotion on his face; it was so rare that he let his feelings show that she felt bad about her verbal attack. She walked slowly up to him and put her hand on his arm.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that...even if it's true. I know you're hurting. I'm sorry - it was all below the belt."
Michael gave a faint sneer. "Leave out the bit about 'even if it's true' and I'll feel better."
Liz smiled, almost against her will. "Let me re-phrase that…"
Liz hesitated and then, against her better instincts, she rushed into the breach. "Listen, Michael. You can't pretend like you haven't been a bum with Maria. And it's all very well telling yourself it was in the line of duty and all that. But one day you take her to the granilith and kinda apologise for months of nastiness and then the next day you're kissing Courtney. I don't think I'd react too well to that treatment, either. And it's not like she's been nasty to you or anything."
Michael considered her words. That much was true. Maria had never been anything but loyal and loving, hadn't been nasty until he provoked her. Now she was distant, cold. She had embarked upon a strategic retreat, like after the napkin incident.
His reflection gave Liz hope and she pursued her gentle defence of her friend. " Christ, Michael, you still don't really appreciate how much Maria has put up with from you. I mean get serious. You may get an A for Art but you sure bomb out with relationships. And I'll tell you one more thing…" Liz took a big breath and stared at him out of large, rounded eyes, " None of us…and I mean none of us…could say for certainty that you even feel for her anymore, ya know? Once I would have said - oh yeah, deep down he cares…but now…after Courtney…maybe you just are a flake. I think that all of us…all of us just want to protect her for a while. You've run out of chances. Till you make up your mind."
"Finished the lecture?"
"Yep. Sorry, but I just had to say all that. For Maria."
" Must I say I'm grateful? And by the way, do you know that must be the twelfth time at least that someone has said 'sorry' to me today?"
Liz could not repress a wicked smile. "Seems like we find it easier to say than you ever do, Michael."
"Point taken. And by the way, see that old gent over there…the one with the bald patch? He's been waving flags for some attention for the last five minutes. Much as I regret the interruption to our oh-so interesting conversation…Just thinking of your dad's profit margins."
He watched with savage satisfaction as Liz sailed over to make amends - which she did with her usual charm.
His heart sank when she returned moments later with an impossibly large order. Really, the old guy looked too fragile to eat all that. With a silent groan, he grabbed the slip and turned back to the greasiness of the grill, knowing that he and Liz would not have any more time for moments of truth. He was left with his own thoughts and fifteen minutes later she was back, breathing apologetic words about signing off and could he manage until the reliefs arrived and that she was sorry about it and all that.
He thought to himself that the word seemed so easy to people like Liz and Alex and Maria, while for him the word stuck in his throat with all the indigestibility of a bustaburger on rye.
|Part 1 | Index | Part 3
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