|"In Near Bliss"
by Ashleigh Lou
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Summary: Michael. Reflections. What else?
Authors Note: The song is Better Than Ezra, "Under You."
|* * * * *
Along the edges colors blur at seem familiar
While you read your magazine
I was counting all the markers
And California seemed to draw you like a siren
From a postcard
In a letter
Or a frame of film melting
* * * * *
She was infatuated with the thoughts of California, and all it held. Beverly Hills, movie stars, and Disneyland all appealed to my girl, so we packed up our pitiful belongings and moved in with Isabel.
The first thing Maria learned was that Hollywood wasn't as fabulous as Isabel's postcards showed. It was a dirty, nasty field of dreams that would never be realized. The first thing that I learned is that starving artists are a dime a dozen in this world. Isabel was working as a fashion coordinator for a teen magazine, and she and Alex had gotten married last year. He was doing computer work with some movie studio. Obviously, Maria and I weren't doing so good, compared to them.
She cried every night for her mother, but of course that was only a wishful thought. Amy DeLuca had insisted that her daughter would never survive in this place -- an ocean, one Maria couldn't swim in. She predicted we'd be crawling home in no time. Of course, her daughter was stubborn and would never let her mother be right about it.
So we slept every night in Isabel's guest room, dreaming of a better existence than we were carrying out. Maria went to auditions daily, and never received any kind of work that would allow us to move out. I wasn't faring much better, anyway.
But somehow, lost in the land of unanswered prayers, I felt whole. Like this was something I'd been waiting for my whole life. I was at peace -- no alien hunters in California, only tortured souls searching for stardom. I had Maria, I had Isabel and Alex, and I had my freedom.
* * * * *
Then, of course, we learned of Maria's pregnancy. We had no real home of our own, no steady jobs. *How could we have been so careless?* I cursed myself daily.
Still, on the inside, I was excited at the thought of our child together. Isabel and Alex had opened their home to us for as long as we needed a place to stay, and were delighted to find out that our child would soon come into the world. They couldn't have children of their own, and Isabel had always wanted a whole brood of kids.
What strange curses destiny brings upon us.
* * * * *
Finally, I got a steady job as a cook at some restaurant downtown, and Maria worked part time as a waitress. We moved out into a seedy one-room apartment that reminded me often of my first place back in Roswell. Isabel and Alex had protested, but I'd insisted that we not invade their space any longer.
We ate a lot of sandwiches those first weeks in our new home, and Maria made a lot of cookies. Flour and sugar were cheap, after all. She'd learned somewhere along the line how to make fortune cookies, and every night when I got off work there'd be two fortune cookies waiting on the table. She'd write the fortunes and place them inside, and we'd open them together. Even though she'd written them herself, she'd always laugh merrily when I read mine aloud. I think it was the highest point of her day, then.
The nights we worked together, we'd always get off work just before the sun came up. I'd boil some water for noodles and the two of us would share a bowl.
After we'd eat, she'd put her legs in my lap and give me that puppy-dog look. I'd protest for a moment, but in the end I'd massage her feet until she fell asleep in mid-sentence.
I'd pick her up and carry her to the rickety old bed we'd gotten at Goodwill, and Maria would open her eyes as soon as I placed her onto the mattress. The words, "Come here," would emerge from her lips and I would fall into bed next to her. She would tug my shirt over my head, and I would undress her just as quickly. We would make slow, desperate love until neither of us could keep our eyes open anymore, and fall asleep content.
Somewhere around noon, I'd awake to find her sitting naked in our bed, searching through her baby name book. Then we'd go shower together, my hands never leaving her stomach. She had already begun to show, her once flat belly rounding with our child. It was almost magical for me, feeling our son or daughter move faintly inside her.
That was how I spent my life with Maria, in near bliss, before darkest days fell on my shoulders.
* * * * *
It happened at the time that Maria was seven and a half months pregnant, and had landed a great new job. A department store had hired her as a maternity model for their catalog, and had expressed some interest in using her after she gave birth. She was positively delighted, her exciting news broadcast so loudly that neighbors knocked on the walls in protest. We called Isabel immediately, who invited us over to dinner. For once, we swallowed our pride and accepted.
I wish now that my pride had overcame me.
I wish that everyday.
We put on our best clothes; Maria was wearing her only nice maternity outfit and I in my well-worn dress pants and Oxford shirt. It seemed like a night for celebration, after all.
Maria and I lived on the fourth floor of those apartments, with creaky wooden stairs. Maria had complained about them often, especially since they were outside and there were so many of them.
It was then that it struck me, almost like an out of body experience, I suppose. I could see Maria and me, a happy couple holding hands, our child to be born in a few weeks. We didn't have much, but we had each other, and that was more than enough for me.
And suddenly there was the horrifying creak of the stairs giving way, and Maria's hand falling out of mine.
I came to first, immediately noticing my hands covered in blood. I noticed my arm and shoulder were screaming with pain.
And then I noticed Maria.
She was lying still, unmoving. I put my head to her chest, but I heard nothing.
Her eyes never opened again.
I remember the ambulance coming, and Isabel coming, and the police coming. I wouldn't let them take me to get treatment. Isabel called Max, hoping he'd come to heal me, but when he and Liz arrived the next morning I refused to let him put his hands on me. I wanted to live with my pain, because something inside me knew that Maria would never feel anything, not even pain, again.
And I was right. They'd been able to revive her, but she would never wake up, they told me. I didn't believe them, made scenes in hospital rooms, escorted out by security countless times. But even while I didn't believe them, I did. I knew it. My heart knew it. What was left of my heart -- it had snatched from me the moment that Maria closed her eyes for the last time.
* * * * *
My beloved had seen her last sunrise, made her last fortune cookie, spent her last night in my arms.
But our child lived on. While Maria survived, hooked up to all sorts of machines, they took our baby from inside her and soon pronounced her healthy and perfect.
I can't begin to describe the resentment I felt for this child. Her mother had been taken from me, ripped from my life like buttons scattering everywhere. And here was this reminder of her. Her blue eyes turned to green after a few months, her mouth and nose shaped just like Maria's. Only her unruly, light brown hair sticking up everywhere reminded her of me.
Isabel took over mothering duties, and Alex doted on the child as well. She was two weeks old before I even gave her a name, and then only because Isabel insisted on it. I moved back into Isabel's house, sleeping all day and awakening at night.
One night, I heard the baby crying down the hall, and Isabel made no move to stop the wailing as usual. I waited about ten minutes before barging into the nursery and looking at the child. At this point, the child was about two months old. I'd never held her, not once, never changed a diaper or mixed a bottle. I couldn't even think of the baby without growing physically ill, thoughts of Maria in that hospital creeping into my brain at every turn.
As soon as I stepped into the nursery, the baby, named Amy for her grandmother, immediately quieted. I wondered if she felt some sort of connection with me, if she knew I was her father.
"Um, hi," I muttered as I stepped gingerly towards the crib. "I guess you need, a diaper change or something. I'll go get Isabel." I couldn't believe I was actually talking to this baby in the first place. And what was I supposed to say to this reminder of my pain?
I suppose Amy said it best when I turned my back and she began to wail. Spinning around to face her again, she stopped, her large green eyes peering at me curiously. I started to walk out once more and the cries began again.
So, I picked her up. It hurt, oh God, did it hurt, to see this small reminder of my love. But it didn't hurt like I thought it would. Part of me hurt for Maria, for our memories and dreams, and part of me hurt for this small child who would never know her true mother.
"Are you okay?" I heard Isabel calling from the doorway. I simply nodded, suddenly awash with guilt and pity -- no longer for myself, but for my daughter.
"I'll take her now," Isabel decided, moving towards me. Again, I couldn't find words, so I simply shook my head.
"I should, um, try to handle this," I finally croaked out, and Isabel looked at me with wonder. "But first, could you show me how to change a diaper?"
The pain is never going to fade. I see her face everywhere, like a ghost, or a nightmare. Her voice and spirit haunt my mind, even though she still exists on this earth.
But, I've stopped looking at our child as a cross for me to bear, and instead as a miracle.
I remember thinking more than once that destiny is a strange, screwed up thing.
Who is for sure what is truly meant to be?
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours