Disclaimer: no one belongs to me. not at all. they play in my head, and
i refuse to stop them. the lyrics at the end are by the pretenders.
Summary: takes place in the "not even the rain" universe... it's the second christmas after michael has left.
Category: Unconventional Couples
Authors Note: this is my favorite christmas song, ever. and my favorite christmas movie ever.
For Elizabeth and Shimi - they have permanently etched the idea of maria and kyle in my head.
For Fionna - who mentioned a few things and made the hamster in my brain start running.
For willa - because because because :)
When she started to recover her normal breathing, Maria sat up and rubbed her cheeks with her palms. She covered her face in embarrassment. "Oh God, Kyle… I'm so sorry. This is so not a way to spend Christmas Eve. You should be with people who are having a good time."
"Who? Like the Wilsons'? You and I both know that's no one's idea of fun. Anyway… this is much more interesting and exciting. Kinda like a new toy… Manic Maria. Wind her up and watch her go… a new emotion every two minutes, every two seconds if you're lucky." Kyle smirked at her, smoothing her hair down. In spite of herself, Maria found that she was giggling which only gave more credence to his comment and that made her only laugh harder. "Oohh… laughter. Giddiness. I can't wait to see what comes next – I think Manic Maria is due for a pot-smashing tantrum of sorts."
Folding over in hysterics, Maria conceded defeat. She stuck her tongue out and taunted the boy. "Your turn."
"My turn?" Kyle asked, taken aback.
"I've just made a complete ass out of myself. Your turn."
"You didn't make an ass out of yourself." Eying Maria suspiciously, he pondered all the potential secrets he'd been harboring. "Besides, what if I don't have anything to say?"
"Confession is good for the soul."
"My soul is content. At peace with itself and the universe."
"What if I had secrets that would blow your mind?" Kyle drawled out, fully knowing that he was digging himself a very deep hole.
Maria leaned in closer and matched his mischievous tone. "What if I do, too?"
They sat back into their respective corners and pondered the implications of their pissing match. Had they gone too far? Could they just chalk it up to being silly and obnoxious, and the other would forget it? It would be easy to laugh innocently and retreat into the kitchen for more cocoa. The blinking lights ticked away seconds… one, blue, three, green, five, white…
Confession is good for the soul. And they both had things to confess, things that they had not told another person. They had secrets that weighed them down each day, every turn they took on their daily paths reminding them of the consequences of their actions. Maria knew the hell that would reign down if her secret got out, but at the same time she wanted, needed to speak the words so as to get them out of her head. Sometimes it had gotten so bad that she had to make a conscious effort not to grab everyone she came across and tell them. But right now, she thought she could tell Kyle.
Kyle, on the other hand, didn't know what the outcome of his admission would be. He wasn't even all that sure of what he wanted it to be, or what he thought of it himself. He figured everyone would have their own opinion on the subject and would most likely subject him to a lengthy discourse on their take of the situation. But Kyle didn't want that, he just wanted to say it. Out loud. In front of someone else. To remind himself that it happened – somehow proving it. And then he could take it from there. Maria… Maria was strangely safe. Not in his immediate circle of friends, and lord knows she could keep a secret when it was absolutely necessary.
"This goes no further than this room," the boy stared straight ahead, avoiding Maria's gaze.
"I certainly don't want this getting out," she conceded.
"Okay," Kyle took a deep breath. "At the count of three – at the same time…"
Maria nodded, and joined in as he counted off. As his third finger appeared, they both looked at each other and told their deepest, darkest secret, their words tripping over each other's.
"I kissed a guy."
Two jaws dropped simultaneously, two pairs of eyes bugged out in unison. Kyle clamped his mouth shut and looked up at various spots in the ceiling. Earth-shattering secrets, indeed. The Sheriff – the symbol of rugged masculinity – his son kissing another boy. And the ultimate betrayal – a girl sleeping with the love of her best friend's life.
Colour was taking its sweet time returning to Maria's face. She breathed in too quick and ended up in a coughing fit. Taking sip of water, she addressed the room. "Want some popcorn?"
"Uh huh…" Kyle nodded, still staring off.
With that, Maria jumped off and ran into the kitchen. She fumbled around the cabinets until finally coming across the box of popcorn in one of the drawers. She tossed a package into the microwave and leaned against the opposite counter. For the first time in her life, Maria was actually willing it to go slower. The seconds were ticking by way too quickly and she wasn't too sure if she was capable of returning to the living room.
Unable to move, Kyle remained on the floor. He could almost hear the words echoing in the room – as if the walls had decided to bounce them around for further consideration. They needn't do that – he was already drowning in a state of deep pondering. Even with the blood pulsing in his ears, he feels relieved. Lighter in some way. And he was still breathing.
The oven beeped and Maria reluctantly pulled the bag out and poured it into two bowls. What had she done? Why did she tell Kyle? How did she know that Kyle wasn't going to run and tell Liz? Was he was even telling her the truth about himself? For all she knew he had made it up just to see what she said. And, Maria supposed, he was thinking that she made it up for his reaction. That was it, she decided. She would just play it off as if it was a joke. Not act all nervous and afraid – just be nonchalant. She could do nonchalant…
"In some alternate universe," the blonde grumbled to herself. She took a deep, courage-building breath and grabbed the popcorn and headed out of the kitchen.
Kyle had managed to drag himself back to the couch when he heard the timer go off. He sat there, mindlessly flicking at the channels, only minding Maria when she sat down a few feet from him and handed over a bowl of popcorn. He mumbled a 'thanks,' then proceeded to stuff his mouth as a preparatory strike of spilling more secrets. But he ventured a quick glance over and saw the girl sunk into the cushions, looking more deflated and miserable than before.
It wasn't fair – that's not what their little exercise of exorcism was supposed to be about. They were supposed to feel better, not worse. Not crawling into opposite sides of the couch, hoping to God or whatever that they could erase the past ten minutes. Confession is good for the soul, right? His soul definitely felt better… maybe Maria just needed to go a little further for hers to heal.
"Does Liz know?" A braver question than he realized, and Kyle was responded with silence. "Stupid question." He paused. "Ok… was it a drunk thing?"
"No." A firm voice came from the darkness. "You?"
The low murmur of some sports commentary show filled the space between them. Maria snatched the remote and started to flip through random shows. Kyle tried again.
"What about Michael?"
"What *about* him?" Maria snapped, and angrily flew through more channels.
"Nothing," the boy said apologetically. "I didn't mean… I just - I thought you loved him…" The words fell, and Kyle immediately wished he could snatch them back and swallow them whole. He wasn't trying to hurt Maria, not at all – but it didn't seem like his being there was helping anything. Kyle glanced towards the door and thought about leaving before he shoved his foot even further down his throat.
"And I thought you liked girls."
"Touché." Kyle smirked, both relieved and amused by the comment and the fact she hadn't killed him.
An airy chuckle floated across the room and Maria found herself smiling, breathing a little easier. Kyle took advantage of her ever-so-slightly-lowered wall and turned on the couch.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Maria shook her head vehemently. The boy nodded and moved back.
"Okay, it was in August…" Hurried words were followed by a short pause. "Max and I were at some dumb party that Alex and Liz dragged us to. We left and took a walk and ended up at his place and I was fine until I realized that it had been a year since any of us heard from Michael, and…" Her voice slowed, dropping to a near-whisper. "It just hurt, Kyle. I was holding in everything for so long and trying to stay numb and… it just hurt. And I think it felt good to hurt. I was crying, and Max just… kissed me. And it felt good to be kissed, by him. And… and… and if Liz knew, she'd hate me forever."
There it was. It was all out there and Maria couldn't pretend that it hadn't happened, and truth be told, she didn't want to. In many ways, Max was the closest person to her – the one who understood what was in her mind and heart the best. And she didn't want to deny herself, or him, that.
"Do you regret it?"
Maria thought long and hard. It was a secret that was weighing her down- a constant reminder that her life could never return to what it once was. And lying to Liz made her feel bad about what had happened. But when Maria thought about it, it was the only thing that made her feel bad.
"No." Kyle leaned back into the couch and slouched down. His hands slid down his thighs in a concentrated rhythm as he stared at the television.
"So, uhm…" Maria didn't quite know what to say. "Are you two together now?"
"No… I, well, I don't really know." He offered her a tentative smile. "Matt, this guy – uh, he was in one of my classes."
This wasn't as easy as Kyle had originally thought and he had a newfound admiration for Maria's admission. At this point, he was absolutely sure that she wasn't going to say anything – but he was still trying to figure out what was going on with him, between him and Matt, that he wasn't sure if he was ready to tell someone else. He tossed some more popcorn in his mouth to buy him time.
Maria reached over and brushed her fingers against his hand. "It's okay… I don't – you don't have to if you don't want to."
Now that he didn't have to say anything, all Kyle wanted to do was say everything. About Matt, about his issues, about his feelings, about his confusion. More than that, really – everything that had ran circles in his mind yet had not quite found its way to his mouth. He opened and closed his jaw a few times, letting the words find their own way out.
"We, uh…" Kyle took a deep breath. "We were in Eastern Philosophy together… we just got along. Hung out, studied – played football and stuff. It was just cool having someone who, I dunno, just got me. I didn't have to defend my personal philosophies, and I didn't have to explain why I still sat in front of the television every Sunday for all the games. One night…" the boy shrugged. "One night we were out at the lake, coming out of meditation and talking. And, I just… he just… it just…"
"Seemed like the right thing to do?" Maria asked. A knowing tone betrayed her own memories. "Like, at that moment, nothing else could make more sense?"
"Yeah," Kyle said softly.
"Are you happy?"
"In general, or that it happened?"
Kyle thought about that. He didn't regret it, that he had already determined in his numerous ponderings. But it threw him into something new – a whole different set of emotions and questions. He still didn't know where he fell in, but he knew that he liked where he was. "Yeah," he repeated, more firmly this time. Smiling at Maria, he squeezed her hand. "Yeah."
"Confession good for the soul?" She asked teasingly.
"I think so."
Maria was in the kitchen making more popcorn when a small tree bustled through the doorway. Kyle pulled the tree along, allowing Amy DeLuca balance the rest of the packages in her arms. She placed them on the floor and yanked her jacket off.
"Kyle honey! Merry Christmas!" She kissed him on the cheek and gave him a quick hug. "Dad working tonight?"
"Of course, Christmas Eve," he answered. Looking down at the tree he was supporting, the boy arched an eyebrow at Amy. "How long do you think this will last in this house, with the Miss Maria Merry Moratorium?"
"I know, isn't it awful?" Amy whispered conspiratorially. "I know she took Michael's departure hard, but on Christmas… I mean, two Christmases in a row have barely managed to scrape by." She glanced toward the noise in the other room and shook her head. "I was kind of hoping that if I brought this in now, on Christmas Eve, she wouldn't fight me. What do you think?"
"I dunno…" Kyle sighed. "Maybe a 50-50 chance? She seems a little more calm tonight – but still not all that thrilled with the idea of celebration. We'll just have to wait and see~"
"Wait and see what?" Maria walked out, wiping her hands on a towel. "Hey Mom." She sat on arm of the couch as two guilty looks shot back at her. "Wait and see what?" She repeated, more suspiciously.
Kyle moved out of the way so that she could see the small, pathetic little Charlie Brown tree that had been standing behind him. Amy smiled hopefully at her daughter, petting a few branches.
"It's a Christmas tree, honey. I was thinking that we could put it in the corner – maybe on the table."
Maria's lips formed a pensive pout and she cocked her head to the side. "Okay," she shrugged and went back into the kitchen.
Kyle and Amy stared at each other in a bit of shock. They looked at the tree, then toward the kitchen, then back at the tree.
"Well, I guess that's it. I'll go get the stand from the closet." Amy brought over a small metal contraption and helped Kyle put the tree on the small corner table. "Thanks."
"Not a problem," he said. "It wasn't all that heavy."
"No," Amy shook her head. "Thank you for being here. I wish I knew what to do – but I don't. And aside from Max, Liz and Alex – she won't really let anyone in. I don't even know how much she lets them in." Sniffing, she rubbed her eyes. "I'm worried, Kyle. She's my… she's my baby."
"I know," Kyle said tenderly, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Amy smiled up at the boy. "Thank you for coming by… for checking up on her. You didn't have to do that."
"I know, I know. But the fact that you're here – that she's let you stay here… that gives me hope." She kissed the boy's cheek again. "I'm going to finish wrapping some presents. You two have fun."
Kyle watched the woman haul a few bags into another room, his daze broken by a crashing sound in the kitchen. He ran in to find Maria sitting on the floor, helplessly staring at the pieces of ceramic mixed in with popcorn that covered the floor.
"Are you okay?" He sat down across from her. "Did you cut yourself?"
"I'm fine." Maria responded – still not making any move to clean anything up. "The bowl – I wasn't paying attention and I knocked it over."
The boy made a small pile between them. "I think you're just tired. You should go to sleep."
"No, I'm okay."
"Maria… you look exhausted. I'll clean this up and you can go to bed."
"No," she repeated, almost angrily.
"No no no no no." Maria scratched her nails deep into her scalp. "I can't go to bed. I can't. I can't go to sleep… not yet."
"Okay…" Kyle said soothingly. Something had spun her out of the calm emotional waters and back into dangerous territory, and he didn't quite know what to do. "What do you want to do then?"
"I don't care. Just – not sleep."
"I~" Maria choked. She reached for the glass above her and took a sip of water. "I can't sleep. Because, I can't wake up and not have him here." Sighing, she leaned back against the cabinet door. "It sounds pathetic – and I swear I'm not waiting up for him, hoping in my heart of hearts that he'll show up. I know he left, and I understand why and I'm learning to let him… but right now – right now I can't stop thinking about my last Christmas with him. And I can't bear the thought of waking up on Christmas morning without him. So I can't sleep."
"Then we'll stay up."
"Oh, Kyle… you don't have to~"
"I don't have to do anything. What am I gonna do – go home and get into a comfy bed and wake up well-rested and open presents? Please – when I can hang out with the Anti-Christmas Chick and be all overtired and grumpy tomorrow? I really don't think it's a fair contest." Kyle wrinkled his nose, blatantly taking much pleasure in mocking Maria.
She narrowed her eyes, then grinned at him in sincere gratitude and respect. Kyle was, well he was certainly not the boy that Liz had dated long ago. He was much more than the football-lovin' Buddhist he had mentally pigeonholed himself into. Three years ago, she could never have imagined that she'd be sitting on the floor with Kyle Valenti on Christmas Eve – letting him help her get over a broken heart. And he was – helping her, by simply being her friend. "Well, what are we gonna do?"
Kyle looked down at the mess between them. "Popcorn strings."
"You've got a sad, naked little tree out there and a bunch of uneatable popcorn in here." He tossed a piece at her. "You get the needles and thread, I'll pick out the usable ones, and we'll decorate your tree."
"With popcorn strings."
Two hours, and two more packages of microwaveable popcorn later, Maria and Kyle sat on the couch admiring their haphazard handiwork. Several strings rounded the tree, accompanied by random items they'd found around the kitchen. For a skimpy little tree – it was doing a remarkable job of holding up cheese graters and pie-cutters on a string. There was the occasional napkin snowflake and some tinsel made from tinfoil. Maria had nixed the ginsu-knife star Kyle was proposing, but he countered with an ice cream cone/ maraschino cherry tree topper.
It was beautiful.
And it was Christmas.
Maria looked at Kyle, almost nervously, then back at the tree. He caught the action and nudged her with his elbow.
She bit her lip and glanced down, then back at him. "Do you want to see something? It's in my room."
"Does this involve funny robes that don't close in the back, and you calling me doctor?" Kyle wiggled his eyebrows at her.
"Smartass." Maria slapped his arm then stood up. She took his hand and pulled him down the hall to her room. Inside, she told him to sit as she rummaged in the back of her closet.
Maria emerged with a small red box that she cradled delicately. Before joining Kyle on the bed, she turned off the light and lit a few candles scattered around the room. She sat next to the boy, her hands trembling. "He… Michael. Michael brought me this on that Christmas. You know… the last one?" Her thumbs caressed the crimson fabric covering the box. "I haven't shown it to anyone, and I haven't taken it out since he left…"
Kyle watched as she opened the gift and lifted up a small, glass ornament. Maria held it in front of a couple of candles and they watched as the flames illuminated it. At first he thought it was frosted glass, but the more he studied at it, Kyle realized that something white was swirling around and around inside.
"It's a perpetually snowing… ball." Maria said, still obviously awed. "I have no idea how he did it – but it never stops. I've stared at it for hours and hours, and it never stops. Sometimes it's like a little snowstorm-y blizzard thing. Sometimes it's just a peaceful snowfall." She moved over and hung it from the window latch – letting the moonlight let it glow. "He told me that it was my own personal White Christmas. No matter where I was, I would always have Christmas." She leaned back into the boy, and they watched silently as the snow fell.
The next morning, Amy came out into the rather strangely decorated living room. She laughed to herself, placing Maria's gifts under the tree. After a couple of cups of coffee, she decided to check up on her still-sleeping daughter. She found Maria and Kyle, fully-clothed, curled up on the bed with a blanket half-pulled over them.
Any other time, Amy DeLuca would have let out an ear-piercing scream that could wake a nation. But on this Christmas morning, she saw something, felt something almost forgotten – her daughter was at peace.*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
"In these frozen and silent nights
-- The Pretenders, "2000 Miles"
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