Title:Picture
Author:Bridget...CrazyGurlBB
Category: M&M, AU
Rating: teen - mature
Disclaimer: If I owned anything Roswell would have gone a tad differently.
Summary: A famous pop singer does a song with the known bad ass. What happens when this couple meets. Will it be a Picture to remember?

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Ch.1 There’s always a beginning

The sound of heels descended down the narrow hallway as Maria Deluca gently pulled back a strand of her highlighted hair. She sighed, enjoying the quiet peace she had before entering the doors just five feet in front of her. For the moment she could be Maria Deluca, the everyday girl but when she heads though that door, she’d become Maria Deluca, the diva.

She stood for a second, delaying the press and being a normal girl for that brief time. With sad eyes, she pushed the door open, seeing the mass amount of people in front of the building.

“Miss Deluca.”

“Maria.”

“What happened?”

Maria pushed through not answering any of them, just looking for that familiar face that was suppose to be there. But what did happen to her life? She was a star. She was no longer that everyday girl working at a restaurant for crappy tips, waiting to one day have a chance to become a star. Although some days she really missed that naïve girl she once was.

“Maria.”

She instantly looked up at him, smiling. “Kyle.” She hugged him, happy to see a comforting face.

“Get in. Alex is waiting for us at the studio.” She nodded as he gently put a hand at the small of her back, supporting her like he always did.

Once inside the car, Kyle told the driver where to go while Maria leaned against the soft cushion, taking a second to relax. “How much time did he get?”

“I think like six years or something. I stopped listening. He’s not my problem anymore.” She watched the people outside the window, wondering if her life was any better. Sure she had millions of dollars but could her life actually be any better then the average person? Maria wasn’t so sure any more.

“You were there.” Kyle wanted to hear her talking like the normal babbling Maria he had known since childhood. The woman in front of him was the reserved star, knowing that anyone could betray her if they got the chance.

She glanced down at her manicured nails before answering him. “To know he got what he deserved.” She swallowed a small lump in the back of her throat. “I should have dumped him a long time ago. He was just along for the ride, not to be with me.”

“You always deserved better,” Kyle whispered gently, looping an arm around her shoulder, letting her know he was there as always.

“How much of my career do you think he’s destroyed?” She asked, laying her head against his shoulder, staring at the car seat in front of her.

“People talk.” Kyle told her casually.

“Maria Deluca, the up and coming new diva dated a cocaine addict. It’s got to hurt somewhere.” She pressed him, knowing he thought more about the situation than was letting on.

“No, you’re just a new Whitney Houston.”

She laughed a little. Only Kyle could do that, make some joke and actually get her laughing. “Bobbie was famous, and I’m no Whitney.”

“You’re right,” he stopped for a second waiting for a reaction. “You’re better, because you’re Maria Deluca.”

She laughed again at him. “Kyle, why don’t you have a girlfriend?”

“You think it’d be a turn on but some girls are scared that I’m a Buddhist.” Maria only continued to laugh at him. “Seriously wouldn’t that mean great in bed?”

She covered her mouth with her hand, trying to suppress the giggles. “I dunno, Kyle. I’ve never slept with a Buddhist.”

“You should sometime.” He said in his jockey football player tone.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “That good huh?”

“That good.” He watched her laugh and knew she was feeling better. Relief came over him, letting him know that she may get dealt a hard road but Maria Deluca could handle anything.

“We’re here.” The driver turned around smiling at the two.

The both hurried out, mumbling their thanks. Kyle shutting the door while Maria walked pretty fast in her heels to the door, trying to warm up from the cold. “Do I have anything to change in?”

“Yeah, Alex grabbed you a couple of things. We might be heading up to a concert in a couple of hours.” Kyle told her taking off his jacket.

“A concert?” Maria asked as she started down the hallway. “Where? I don’t know of anyone who’s having a concert.” She began rambling, causing Kyle to smile from behind knowing she as getting back to her old self.

“Just come on. Alex knows where we’re going.”

“Fine, I’ll try to act patient.” She said, stopping at the door slightly facing Kyle. “But I’ve never been good at being patient and I don’t know if I can start now.”

“Oh have mercy on the soul that tries to make you patient.”

“I resent that.”

Alex opened the door to see the two of them fighting but like that was anything new between Maria and Kyle? Nope, Alex had experienced the weird friendship since the age of fifteen. “We do have work to do you know.”

“Sorry.”

“Yeah, sorry man,” Kyle ducked his head quickly. “But she started with her whining and complaining.”

“Me?” Maria gasped, almost outraged. “You told me to be quiet and patient. If it is anyone’s fault is yours.”

“I never told you to be quiet.”

“Whatever it’s the same difference.”

Alex just stood there laughing, knowing that if anyone tried to tell Maria to do anything they were a goner. And you literally were a goner. She’d make sure of it in some weird shape or form.

“Maria, I got an idea for a song.” Maria quickly looked at Alex, forgetting instantly her fighting with Kyle.

“If it’ll save my career, I’ll sing anything.”

“Do a song with Michael Guerin.”

“Are you crazy?” Maria watched with an open mouth the looks exchanged by Kyle and Alex. She thought these guys actually made sense at times. What was she thinking allowing them to be her manger and bodyguard? She really was insane.

Alex sighed. “I know it sounds stupid, but it could really work for you. He’s not a druggie or anything and he writes songs from the heart about real things. He’s got what it takes to put you back on top.”

She walked past the two guys and fell into the nearest couch. She had to figure out if she wanted to do a song with hard rocker Michael Guerin. “He won’t agree to it.”

“Don’t worry; I talked to his manger, Isabel Evans. The girl is a miracle worker, if anyone can push him. It’s her.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hell no,” Michael crossed his arms, put his foot on her desk and stared at one of his closest friend’s in the face.

Isabel rolled her eyes at his child like ways. “Michael, she needs a guy like you to do a song with her, just one little song. It won’t sting I promise.”

“I’m not a two year old, Iz.” Michael almost pouted at the way she was treating him but chose to scowl at her instead.

Isabel again rolled her eyes at him. “You’re acting like it.”

“I told you no.”

“Actually you told me hell no.” She crossed her arms and looked disappointed at him. She had ways to break Michael Guerin.

“No.” Michael told her getting out of his chair extremely fast, knowing exactly what she was doing. “Don’t you dare start begging me and trying to make me feel guilty about something I don’t want to do?”

“Michael,” She said in a calming voice, trying to get him to cave. She could get him to, just a little more.

“It’s not going to work, Iz.” He started shaking his head like it would actually help anything. “I told you no.”

“Michael, listen to reason. You look like a nice guy trying to help a girl, whose boyfriend just got sent off to jail. She needs a little help. And it’ll be good for you.”

“Iz--”

Isabel got out of her chair, walking closer to him. “We’ve gone your way tons of times but just this once will you do it for me?”

“Give me time to think about it.” He grumbled walking out of her office. She always found a way to beat him, always.


Ch.2 Music from the Heart

Maria cocked her head to the left a little as she got out of the car. She was losing it, she was positive of it. She was agreeing to meet with Michael. "Alex, explain why I'm here."

Alex rolled his eyes at her; she never could just do as she was asked. If he could find the man to do that, he'd force Maria to marry him. But some poor sucker would marry her and bow down to her every wish. Alex already had pity on a man he didn't even know. "Maria, trust me on this one." Alex cleared his throat as he watched the uneasy look in her big green eyes.

She bit her lip in attempt to ease her doubt, it didn't work. "I just don't get it. I'm a 'pop princess' and he's this big hard rocker." She even did the finger quotation marks to try and get her point across to Alex. "I've always trusted your love in music to put me on the right path, but Alex I don't know where that is at this moment."

"Music has to be from the heart," Alex told her confidently. "Have you ever actually listened to one of his songs?" Maria shook her head no, letting Alex continue on his speech. "They're all about real things, real issues. He writes everything on his own. He's got the one thing I've tried to keep in you. People understand him, they can relate to him."

Maria was a little shocked by all the things Alex just said. Yes, he always tried to keep her at an audience level, to try and make her as real as possible. That was one reason why so many people loved her, they said she was real. It was the tabloids, newspapers, and other artists that said she was bossy, controlling and basically a bitch.

"Still how do you know?" It was one little thing making her unsure of the whole idea. Why was Alex so sure on this?

"His manger," Alex smirked, noticing Maria's face scrunching up in confusion. She always did that, making her look like she was a little kid again. Maria acted like a child a lot but her facial expressions were what kept you laughing. "She forced him into this. He wanted nothing to do with stardom but she was determined. She knew he was good and they had been friends all their lives. When someone offered him a contract, he kept Isabel as his manger. She seemed to know what she was doing."

Maria sighed. "I still don't know."

"That's okay. That's part of the reason I'm bringing you here to listen to him play and to meet Isabel. I swear that woman will convince you." Alex explained, trying to get her inside. He was freezing his butt off outside.

Maria turned around to look at the crowds lining up at the doors and the millions of cars parking into spots to see him. He must have something. She still wasn't one hundred percent sure but agreed to watch the concert anyway.

"Good, let's get inside."

"Where's Kyle?" she asked walking through the door.

"He wanted to go get some food, and I told him to grab a couple of Michael's cd’s." Alex answered, walking a little behind her.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
p>


"Michael Guerin." Kyle looked at the names, trying to find that one name. "Oh come on, there's got to be a couple around here." He was beginning to get mad and he was getting hungry.

"Sweets, I’ve got to just get this." The voice made Kyle turn his head to see a gorgeous curly haired blonde bending down to a child seven or eight. The smile the woman gave to the child almost took out Kyle's heart. When the woman started coming his way he moved down a couple of rows trying to act casual.

"Are we gonna see Daddy tonight?" The small child asked the woman that was about to take Kyle's heart without realizing.

"I don't know sweets." The blonde smiled down at the little girl and started to look through the G's.

"What are you getting?"

"Your Daddy's cd," She answered the very curious little girl.

"But we already have all of them." The little girl looked up with her big hazel eyes, an exact to her father's.

"I broke it by accident today." The blonde said, causing the girl to giggle. "You think it's funny? Well your Dad would be very mad at me." She ruffled the girl's hair a little.

"Don't mess up my hair." The little girl grumbled. "I got to look pretty for Daddy."

"Oh yes you do." The older woman smiled softly at the little girl's excited face.

Kyle listened to the entire conversation. Only with his luck he finds a girl that has a daughter and most likely a husband. A famous guy as well, only his luck. "Excuse me, sir?" Kyle snapped his attention to the blonde's sweet voice calling at him, holding on to the cd he was browsing through.

"Yeah?"

"Can you help me find this cd?" She explained, looking helpless.

"Sure, what's the name?"

"Michael Guerin." Kyle stared at her for a second. He must have gotten it wrong. The last time he checked Michael didn't have a wife and a kid.

"Guerin?"

"Yeah, he'll kill me if he finds out I broke it. He probably could get one free but this way he'll never know I broke his favourite cd." The blonde smiled kindly at Kyle.

"Sure." Kyle skimmed through the G's and found quite a few Guerin's. Now he finds them all, just his luck. "What cd is it?"

"His latest album, I have no clue the name, that's why I was hoping you could help me." She knew she should know it but they all sounded the same if you asked her.

"I think it's this one." He handed her the cd. Kyle couldn't believe she didn't know her own husbands cd.

"Thank you so much." She smiled the biggest smile Kyle had every seen on such a small woman.

"Yeah, no problem."

"Well I need to go." She seemed nervous for a second but Kyle just passed it off as nothing. "Have fun with that cd." She muttered grabbing the little girl's hand and walking out.

Kyle looked at the cd he had still in his hand and realized it was a backstreet boys cd. If he didn't feel stupid enough before, he certainly did now.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
p>


"Now Michael, please do this for me." Isabel pleaded with him, setting herself comfortable in the nearest chair.

"Iz…"

"Why do you have to be such a sour puss? God, live a little. It's not gonna kill you to meet her, will it? No, it won't. I swear I don't get why people call you this hard rocker when you act like an old man."

"Shut up."

"Well you do. Tess keeps telling me how you barely do anything when you're home. When you're on the road all you do is sleep, eat and write, oh and the occasional call to Camille."

"I don't need to go get drunk to have a good time." Michael told her grabbing his shirt and putting it on, buttoning it with the exception of the top two buttons. "I have responsibilities. And I like to keep that in mind."

"When was the last time you went out and enjoyed yourself?" Isabel crossed her arms.

"I love playing every night." He smirked at her angry face. He knew what she was pulling because she always played the same games to try and get what she wanted.

"You are impossible. I'm trying to help this girl out and all you care about is yourself. Then fine, end up a lonely old man and see if anyone cares then." Isabel huffed and stormed out of his dressing room, hoping Alex and Maria were there so she could force Michael to meet them.

"Finally she leaves." Michael said to himself, liking the silence as he pulled out his guitar to practice before going on.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"Alex," Isabel smiled, knowing she was going to get what she wanted. "How are you doing this evening?"

"I'm good," Alex smiled back at her. He rally thought she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. "What about you?"

"I'm alright. Where's Maria?"

"Bathroom. She'll be back in a second." Alex crossed his arms and noticed an unsure look on Isabel's face. "What's up?"

"Michael is being...um...childish." She sighed; she knew she could get Michael to do it but getting him to agree was half the problem. He was just so impossible.

"Doesn’t he want to do it?" Alex didn't like the idea of trying to get Maria to do it if Michael wasn't at all for it.

"He will but he's just being Michael." Isabel always had a hard time explaining Michael to people. "He's stubborn; he likes to tease me so he can get me all mad. We've acted like this since we were younger, but at times like these I just want to hurt him."

"Should I be worried?" Alex raised his left eyebrow; he could tell Isabel seemed annoyed by Michael's actions.

"No, it'll be fine." Isabel smiled her reassuring smile; she had perfected it after she became Michael's manger. He was a tough one to please but like she would let that on. "When can I meet Maria?"

"Now," Isabel turned to see Maria walking into the room. Isabel had to admit she didn't realize how much natural beauty the woman had. No one could tell from all the makeup or television but in person she was very pretty.

"Nice to finally meet you,"

"Nice to meet you as well," Maria smiled, realizing Alex had a certain look in his eyes, similar to the one he had when he talked about Isabel but having her in the room, it was like a warning sign.

"Well let's go watch the concert. We can talk business after." Isabel suggested and the other two agreed following Isabel to the seats.

Maria followed a little further behind, as Isabel and Alex talked about various things. Maria couldn't help but wonder if she should even do this song. Would it even be good? And what if she hated him so much, she'd want to vomit? She was crowned a pop princess and nothing seemed to destroy that damn title but doing a song with Michael Guerin could. It left her with a million questions waiting to be answered.


Ch.3 Meant to be by default

"What did you think?" Isabel beamed, she knew Michael played a great concert and could see Maria enjoying herself.

Maria saw the excited look in Isabel's face out of the corner of her eye. "It was pretty good."

Isabel smiled smugly to herself, stealing a glance in Alex's direction. "Well, all there is to do is for you two to meet."

"Are you sure he'll do it?” Alex knew Isabel was good but he wasn't a hundred percent sure Michael would do it. Alex wasn't about to put Maria out there if it wasn't a done deal.

Isabel shrugged it off; waving her hand like it was nothing. "He'll do it." Isabel quickly turned her attention back to Maria. "Now he's been writing a lot since he's been on the road. I'm sure something could work as a duet."

"Do you know of anything he's been writing?" Alex asked including himself back into the conversation.

Isabel paused before actually answering him. "I haven't gotten a chance to but he always has it with him."

Maria could sense a little tension. She had figured the two had liked each other and wasn't sure why Alex seemed worried. "I'm sure everything will work out just fine, Alex."

Alex finally looked at Maria. "Yeah, I'm sure it will." He knew he shouldn't get worked up over Isabel. He knew it was just business between them. Boy, did he wish he could change that.

As the three headed to the back room, Maria noticed Kyle was standing there waiting for them. "Kyle, did you miss the show?"

Kyle muttered something about woman, scratching his head. "Yeah, I was hungry and I didn't want to wait."

"Well we don't want you to starve." Maria teased. She had a feeling something was up with him. "What's got you so down?"

Kyle looked up and noticed how Alex and Isabel were talking at the door. "When I was picking up those cd’s I met this hot girl."

Maria raised an eyebrow, a little confused. "And your sad why?"

"Cause I think she's married with a kid. She had a little girl with her and they were looking for a cd. The little girl kept talking about seeing Daddy tonight."

"That doesn't mean she was married." Maria told him, trying to boost up his confidence a little.

Kyle shook his head no. "But her husband was famous too though. She asked for my help because she wasn't sure which cd was his. Guess what name it was."

"I dunno." Maria shrugged her shoulders, how was she supposed to figure it out.

"Michael Guerin."

Maria snapped her head at him with her jaw falling closer to the ground. "No, it couldn't be."

"I'm telling you. The woman broke his cd and knew he'd be mad so she went out to buy another. And she was taking the little girl to see her Daddy." Kyle crossed his arms and waited a few seconds waiting for Maria response.

"That's crazy." Maria muttered. "First, I didn't know he was married. Second, I had no clue he had a daughter. Third, how old was the little girl?"

"She looked to be around seven or eight." Kyle answered her after thinking about it for a second.

Maria was thinking about how old Michael was. "He doesn't seem old enough to be a father of an eight year old girl."

"Your right," Kyle agreed.

"Wait a minute." Maria stopped for a second and continued when Kyle was paying attention to her. "We could be wrong on all of this. We're assuming and that's bad. This girl probably doesn't even know Michael."

At that moment a curly hair blonde came walking in was a little girl. "Tess!" Isabel shrieked causing both Kyle and Maria to turn their heads.

"That's her." Kyle whispered in Maria's ear.

"That's freaky."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"Tess, what are you doing here?" Isabel asked after hugging the young woman and shooing Alex away. "Michael said not to come tonight."

"Camille wanted to see him." Tess explained the little girl still attached to her hip, not leaving.

Isabel sighed in frustration. "You know how he hates having her here."

Tess waved it off, not really caring at that moment in time, just as long as Camille was happy, Tess was happy. "She has a right to." Tess said quietly so Camille couldn't hear.

Isabel crouched down to the young child. "Camy, sweetie can you excuse me and Tess for a minute so we can talk?"

"Okay." Camille said softly, smiling to Isabel beginning to walk over to the couch.

"Tess." Isabel said sternly, sometimes she wondered how Tess could take care of a child when at times she was one herself.

"Don't start, Iz." Tess cut in, not wanting to hear one of Isabel's lectures. Michael was good enough at it.

"That little girl needs a mother." Isabel had no problem putting herself into. She had years of experience putting her nose where it didn't belong.

Tess crossed her arms. "Well I'm not her mother. I do what my brother asks of me concerning Camille. That's enough for me."

"But you disregard him when he asks not to bring her to his concert?" Isabel questioned.

"She hasn't seen Michael in month and a half since he's been on the road." Tess defended herself. "She should be allowed to see her father."

"I'm just trying to help." Isabel said under her breathe.

"I know it's just sometimes you go a little overboard." Tess leaned against the wall, and for the first time noticing the three friends at the other side of the room. Among them was the guy she ran into at the store. "Who is that?"

"Who?" Isabel turned her head sharply to see what Tess was looking at, seeing her head in the general direction of Alex.

"The one in the muscle shirt,"

Isabel almost let out a sigh of relief knowing Tess wasn't looking at her Alex. "Kyle, he's Maria's body guard."

"I'm gonna say hi." Tess walked away, leaving Isabel shocked into place.

Kyle spotted Tess heading their way. "She's coming this way, act cool." He said so only Alex and Maria heard him. Maria and Alex both exchanged a look without Kyle noticing because he was far to engrossed with the blonde coming towards him.

"Hi, I'm Tess." She smiled, making Kyle almost melt right there. "I believe we met earlier at the store?"

Kyle nodded is head, trying to gain control, she sounded like an angel. "Yes, I believe we did. I'm Kyle."

"Nice name." She commented to herself, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I felt so stupid asking about Michael's cd. I know I should have known but I just can't keep them all straight."

"I know exactly what you mean." He smiled back at her.

"He would die if he knew I broke his favourite cd." She explained, trying to be cute to impress Kyle.

The growling voice behind her stopped her from her innocent flirting. "You what?"

Tess spun around instantly to be face to face with Michael. "What are you asking?"

"You broke my cd?" He crossed his arms, staring at her knowing she couldn't save herself now.

"Michael, it was an accident." Tess said in her childlike voice. "I was trying to be careful and it slipped from my hands."

Michael was giving her the death glare when the voice interrupted it saving Tess from a very angry Michael. "Daddy!"

"Camille." He smiled at her running form as she wrapped her arms around his neck, while he slowly lifted her up, letting her rest against him. "What are you doing here? Isn't it past your bedtime?"

Camille smiled brightly at him, acting a lot like Tess. "I begged Aunt Tess to let me come. She gave in."

Michael looked at Tess, who shrugged her shoulders; she never could deny her favourite and only niece of anything. "How nice of her."

"I thought so." Tess muttered, hoping Michael would let her off easy.

"Tess, can I speak with you?" Or maybe she wasn't so lucky. Tess nodded, following Michael out into the hall after letting Camille down.

"I think incest is a little wrong. Don't you, Kyle?" Maria turned to look at Kyle's shocked face. Alex held back his chuckle, also finding it funny.

"Maybe she's single."

"Maybe," Maria laughed a little. This whole experience could be very rewarding as long as she gave it a chance. And maybe Michael wasn't such a bad ass. He seemed to genuinely care for the little girl. Maria couldn't help but wonder where her mother was though. There seemed to be a lot of secrets with Michael Guerin and Maria was fully prepared to find some of them out.


Ch.4 The girl that meant everything

"Maria," Kyle whined from his comfortable spot on one of the couches. He really could fall asleep wherever he was and the backroom at Michael Guerin's concert was no exception.

Maria, feeling sighed annoyed, flipping through another page in the magazine she had gotten from Isabel while they waited for Michael to stop arguing with his sister. Well… Isabel wouldn't say arguing; just that the two were having a heated discussion. Like any of them believed that. They weren't that gullible, however they often wondered about Kyle at times.

"What?"

"I want food."

"There's a table with plenty of food, as you can see. At least I hope you can. Now go stuff yourself and have a grand ole time." Maria said sarcastically as she rolled her eyes at him.

"But there's nothing good." Kyle whined again, as Maria glared at him, letting him know. If he didn't shut up now, there would be some major consequences. "Fine, I'll shut up."

"Thank god." Maria mumbled, turning her attention back to the magazine in her hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"What did I tell you?" Michael questioned her the minute they were in the hallway.

Tess rolled her eyes, crossed her arms and sighed loudly, annoyed at her brother. He was really starting to get to her. "Michael, she begged me to come and she hasn't seen you in what a month and a half. She didn't want to wait anymore in fact she shouldn't have to."

"This place isn't a place for an eight year old." Michael was not gonna have his daughter hanging out at one of his concerts.

"Michael, she was with me." Tess reasoned. "She wanted to see you play, you never let her."

"That's beside the point." Michael said in frustration, some days he really wondered if Tess listened to him at all or it just went through one ear right out the next.

"Well what is it?" Tess cocked her head seeing if Michael would come up with a high-quality answer.

"That I don't want her at my concert." He walked away, never giving Tess a chance to object.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tess strolled into the backroom where the others were still waiting. "Camille, let's go."

Camille eyes perked up rapidly, Tess only called her by her full name if something was wrong. "Where's Daddy?"

"He has some work to finish. Let's go home and get you to bed." Tess glanced at her watch briefly. "It's way past your bedtime, sweets."

Camille smiled, feeling a little better when Tess called her by her nickname opposed to her full name. "Can I say good-bye to him?"

Tess thought for a second. "Yeah, he's in the room that says Michael Guerin. Can you find him while I talk to Isabel?" Camille nodded her head quickly and headed out the door to find him.

Tess rubbed her eyes after observing her niece hurrying off. She spotted where Isabel was, enjoying a conversation with Alex in the corner. "Iz, we're gonna go."

Isabel could see the annoyed look in Tess's eyes. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Tess stated, hoping Isabel wouldn't press the issue like she so often loved to do.

"You sure?" Isabel gave Alex a side look, letting him know the two needed to talk alone. Alex smiled and went over to where Kyle and Maria were joking.

"Yeah, my brother's pissed but it's no big deal." Tess blew it off as nothing. "And don't even say I told you so. I don't want to hear it." She stopped Isabel before she could even open her mouth.

"I'm just trying to help." Isabel said calmly.

Tess paused, catching her tongue before she said anything stupid. "I know but I'm fine. Michael will be Michael, I made my niece happy, and that’s all that matters to me."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Daddy?" Camille's small head peered into the room Michael was suppose to be in. "Are you in here?"

Michael turned around from the where he was, getting a little smile at her innocence. She did things that always kept him guessing. "Yeah, I am."

Camille smiled and squeezed into the while room shutting the door. “This is a big room." She said while inspecting everything with wide eyes.

"Yeah, it is." He just watched her, he missed being home more then anything, her curiosity always made him smile, remembering that there was still one good thing in his life.

"Are you coming home tonight?" Her hazel eyes were still big with wonder as she turned to look at him.

"Yeah, but I'll be a little late." He told her. "I have to meet with this other singer. We might do a song."

"Is it the blonde in there, Maria?" Camille asked, sitting herself on the stool, becoming eye level with Michael, who was crouched down on one knee.

"Yeah," He loved to answer her million questions. When Tess was that age he use to get so impatient with her, but Camille kept him fascinated.

"She's very pretty." Camille said smiling. She missed her daddy, she hated when he went on the road.

"Yeah?" Michael raised an eyebrow at her, getting Camille to giggle at him. "I don't think she's as pretty as you, baby girl."

"You're just being nice." Camille teased, giggling even more.

"Really?" Michael questioned, just taking pleasure in the moment of her innocent giggling and smiling. "I think I've let you spend too much time with your aunt."

"Nope." She shook her head, disagreeing with him, and then giggling again.

"Are you laughing at me?"

"Yup."

"Alright, you’re gonna get it." He started tickling her, as she continued to giggle and squirm.

"Daddy!"

The door open as the two laughed with each other, Tess stood there, knowing it was exactly what Michael needed after a big tour, even if he wouldn't admit it. "Come on, sweets. It's past your bedtime."

"Do I have to?" She got her big puppy dog eyes, begging for Tess to let her stay longer.

Michael could see it. "Baby girl, I'll be home tonight. You need to get to bed."

"But..."

"No buts young lady." Michael said sternly, knowing it was far too late for Camille to be up and Tess needed to get her home. "I'll see you in the morning when you wake up."

"Promise?" Camille turned to him.

"Promise." He smiled at her as she gave him a big hug; he smoothed her hair a little, catching Tess in the corner of his eye, seeing her smiling at them. "I love you, baby girl."

Camille got another big smile. "I love you too, Daddy."

"Come on, sweets." Tess said again, shortly Camille was following her out the door, waving and smiling at her Daddy as she left.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Alright, let's get this started." Michael said walking into the room. He wanted to get whatever he had to do done, so he could go home and enjoy the feeling of actually being home.

"Well, we need to decide if you two are gonna do the song first." Isabel said looking from Maria to Michael.

Maria stopped for a second and thought about it. Did she actually want to this? Sure he was talented, not bad on the eyes and had an adorable little girl, but is it what she wanted? Shaking her head clear of all her thoughts, she realized she wanted to do this.

She, Maria Deluca wanted to do a song with the big bad rocker; well he couldn't be that bad. He had a daughter, but then again some people shouldn't be allowed to reproduce. However she felt as though it was worth the risk to see where this would lead.

"I'm cool with it." She said evenly, like either way she was fine. There was no way she was gonna look desperate.

Michael inspected her. She was kinda of cute and at one award show he heard her sing and the girl has some set of pipes. Camille thought she was pretty, he remembered her big eyes as she asked if she was the one he was gonna do the song with.

"Yeah sure. What the hell?" He shrugged his shoulders, if he didn't do it Isabel would be on him, so he might as well do it.

"Okay it's settled." Isabel said with a huge grin. "We can start tomorrow and work on it."

"We'll call you then." Alex said smiling back at her; they actually had got these two bull-headed people to do the song. Now all that was left to wonder was what would happen when they had to work together. It could be a real challenge or a real success. Only time would tell.


Ch.5 now things heat up

"Dad," Camille called down the hallway in her baby blue cloud pyjamas Isabel had gotten her for Christmas. "Daddy, you up?" She called again, knocking on his door.

She had ignored Tess's warning of entering his room. Camille was never afraid of her father waking up, although on some days she really should have been.

"What baby girl?" He asked after hearing his daughter's sweet voice. Rolling over he glanced at the clock, realizing it was around nine. He moaned he wished he could sleep more.

She poked her curious head in the door. "Are you up?"

"I am now." He mumbled into the pillow, it was mornings when he was trying to sleep she reminded him of his sister the most. Michael should have known better then letting Tess take care of her, she was already up to her aunt's old tricks. He could have asked Isabel but his daughter would have been a fashion stylist at the age two if he wasn't careful and Max and Liz would have her looking through some education crap.

Sadly, Tess had been his only option left.

Camille hopped onto the bed, giggling. "What are you doing today?" She asked, lying down next to him.

"I have to work on a song with Maria." He said, looking at Camille getting all comfortable, at least she wasn't forcing him out of bed, now that was his girl. Tess used to drag him out to go out with her to the stables. Ever since Michael could remember Tess was on a horse or in the barn.

"Is it far away?" Camille asked, her eyes letting him know that she was obviously worried that he was going to go away again, when he had just gotten home.

"Nope," He smiled back at her as he ruffled her hair. "I'll be back tonight and we can go out to dinner."

"Really?" Camille asked excitedly.

"Really." He smiled at her innocent face; yeah this is what he missed. He didn't miss anything but her smiling face. "Now let's go eat."

"Ok." She agreed, following him out the door downstairs to where Tess was trying to cook. "Daddy, will you cook please?"

"Don't you like Aunt Tess's cooking?" Michael laughed at Camille's scrunched up face, obviously not liking it. "Don't worry, I'll cook. What do you want?"

"Eggs with bacon," she said running happily down the stairs as she went to sit down at the kitchen table. "Daddy's cooking,” she announced to Tess.

Tess turned around from grabbing some things out of the refrigerator, almost looking hurt at Camille's words. "My cooking is not that bad."

"Okay, if you say so." Camille chimed sweetly, smiling brightly when Michael started laughing at her.

"Sweets, you’re supposed to be on my side." Tess whined, looking at her niece.

Michael guided Tess away from the oven. "I'll cook. I'm home, I can do something useful."

Tess glared at Camille, but could see the little girl happy that Michael was home. No one could stay mad at that little girl. She was gonna be a beautiful young woman one day. "You want orange juice?"

"Yes, please." Camille said still smiling as she politely turned her attention to Tess.

"What time you going into the studio?" Tess asked, pouring glasses for all three of them. When Michael came home it was like a family again and sometimes that was what Camille needed, normalcy.

Michael shrugged his shoulders. "Whenever Iz calls I guess. I'm her little doll to play with." He muttered under his breath causing Tess to laugh.

"That's what she does to me too." Tess smiled, she missed Michael being home. He and Camille were the only family she had left. "She likes to control everyone's life. You should have seen Liz trying to run when Iz suggested helping with the wedding."

Michael laughed at the thought. "So when are drool boy and the scientist getting married?"

"Soon."

He put a couple of eggs into the pan. "How many eggs?"

"One, sweets?" Tess looked over at Camille smiling, watching the little TV. They had set up in the kitchen, so when Tess tried to cook she had something to watch.

"One." She said and immediately turned back to the television, enjoying the Saturday cartoons that played.

“Let’s face it, Isabel will never change.”

Tess actually tried to picture Isabel not putting her noise where it didn't belong but she came up blank. "Yeah, the day Iz changes we should wonder what they put her on."

"I already do." Michael smirked when Tess started laughing at is little joke. The phone started ringing. "Hey, will you get it?"

"Sure." Tess nodded, heading to the cordless phone answering in her typical perky hello she used on the phone. "We're just about to eat, can he call you back? Alright, I'll tell him."

"Iz." The two said in unison as Tess hung up the phone.

"What time do I have to be at the studio?" He asked, putting the eggs onto the three different plates and the pieces of bacon into a main plate.

"She said around noon she'll pick you up." Tess said setting the glasses of juice onto the table.

"You could help, baby girl." Michael said to Camille as he placed her plate in front of her.

"But that would distract me from watching quality cartoons on this fine Saturday morning," she smiled brightly.

"See what you did." Michael looked at his sister raising an eyebrow.

"I didn't do anything."

"You've turned my own daughter against me." Michael complained.

"She begged you to cook breakfast, serves you right." Tess shot back sitting down next to Camille who was watching the siblings bickering back and forth.

"Camille, turn off that television." Michael told her, Tess stuck her tongue out at Michael when she thought he wasn't looking. "And I saw that Tess."

"How do you do that? Aren't you supposed to lose sight as you get older?" She whined, mad she got caught.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I'm hungry." Kyle complained as he fell onto the couch, quickly becoming comfortable.

Maria moaned, aggravated with Kyle already this early in the morning. "When are you not hungry?"

"After I just eat unless I don't eat enough then I want more. Then there times when I stuff myself like thanksgiving and I'm good for about three hours." He answered dead serious. The boy was an eating machine.

"Kyle, you’re a Buddhist, aren't you suppose to not waste land, food and that kind of crap?" Alex asked after watching the two go back and forth.

"Depends on how religious you are."

"And he's not really religious." Maria said under her breathe but Kyle caught it and frowned at her. Alex just laughed at the pair. They acted like brother and sister some days. "Anyhow when's Michael supposed to get here?"

Alex checked his watch. "Any minute now and Isabel is never late so I'm sure they'll be here."

Maria nodded. "I'm gonna go warm up my voice. Can you put my music on in the sound booth?"

"Sure." Alex said pressing a couple of keys and soon you heard Maria's music filtering through the room.

"Do you really think this song will be a good idea?" Kyle asked when he knew Maria couldn't hear him.

Alex looked at Maria as her eyes closed and she used a few little things to warm up her voice. "Michael has great publicity, and Isabel is great at what she does. I think this will really work in her favour."

"I hope you’re right." Kyle muttered.

"Hello." Isabel came through the door smiling and not even bothering to knock, with Michael only a few feet behind her.

"I tried to tell her years ago knocking is something polite people do." Michael shrugged his shoulders; he knew Isabel was in her own world anyway. A woman on a mission was exactly what she was.

"We were waiting for you guys anyway." Alex said acting like it was no big deal.

"Still, it wouldn't have stopped her." Michael teased, smirking when Isabel turned to shoot him a disappointing glance.

"I'm gonna go get food." Kyle decided standing up. He didn't want to sit there listening to them all figure out how to do the song, he would rather enjoy a nice, juicy, fat burger and fries, yeah that sounded good.

"Already leaving?" Maria asked, seeing Kyle almost out the door as she returned into the main room, done with her warming up.

"Food." Was all Kyle said and he was out the door in a flash.

Isabel stared for a second before asking. "Does he do anything but eat?"

"Nope, except sex. I think that's what his life is made of and his occasional joking around and Buddhism."

"Buddhism?" Michael stared at the three. What was wrong with that guy? He found it a little strange.

Maria shrugged her shoulders, grabbing a bottle of water and taking a sip. "Don't ask. If I try to understand his mind I'll literally drive myself into insanity."

Alex leaned back in his nice comfy chair, laughing at Maria's face when saying that. The girl could be dramatic at times. "He claims it's good for sex."

"Yeah, that's why he hasn't got laid." Maria mumbled sitting on Alex's lap, making herself completely comfortable and she failed to notice the steam coming out of Isabel's ears.

"So I think we have some work to do?" Isabel asked trying to avoid the jealousy she was feeling with Maria sitting on Alex's lap and the way the two joked. She hadn't noticed it at the concert. "Michael did you bring some of your writing?"

Michael scratched his chin. "Yeah, right here." He handed the notebook, filled with writing he had done on tour to Isabel.

"Maria, why don't you have a look?" Isabel suggested, handing the notebook to Maria, who nodded, having no problem looking at it. "Maybe you guys can work with something you have written."

"Sounds like a plan." Alex said, pushing the notebook a little down to have access at it. He wanted to see what things Michael would write.

"Wait, what's this?" Maria was very interested in the writing, it was good. And the beginning of what she found sounded like an appealing title, Picture.

Michael bended forward to get a look at what he had written that caught her eye. "Oh, I only got that paragraph. It's not one of my better ones."

"No, it's perfect." She said looking up at him. Her mind was racing with ideas. "You have it has just the guy but we could make it also from the girl’s point of view."

Michael couldn't believe it. He was stuck on where to continue that song and that idea sounded amazing. "Yeah, we could."

"Alex, we need something soft music to go with it, but with a bit of guitar. Can you find it?" She asked, Alex nodded and started pressing a couple of buttons.

"How's this?"

"Give me a pen." Maria said and Alex handed her one and she wrote down a couple of lines. "Play it over."

Michael sat there, amazed that this girl had more talent then he had expected and she definitely had a creative outlet. She was cute while she got into the music too. She was a machine and you could see her eyes sparkle at each new thought. He'd never seen anyone do that.

Maria was humming, getting a feel of the music before testing herself with the words. She loved the tune Alex had picked out, he always found the right music to go with a song and this was no exception. Maria was far to busy with her thoughts to see if Michael was really into this idea. When Maria had an idea, she soared with it.

"Okay, you had the chorus to go with it. Now we can switch it to go with a girl like this." She cleared her throat before starting singing.

I put your picture away
I wonder where you've been
I can't look at you
While I'm lyin' next to him
I put your picture away

Michael was more then shocked how easily she just sang that. "That sounds great but how do we start it?"

Maria got off Alex's lap and sat next to Michael on the couch, not realizing she brushed up against him as she did that. "You can start with this, and then go into your chorus and then switch it to my main opening, this one," She pointed to each part as she explained it to him. "I sing my chorus, and then we end with this big back and forth thing. The end I'm not sure with but the beginning I think could work."

Michael read everything she had and then looked up to her face; she was good at what she did because this song between them could work. "It sounds great."

"Really?" Her face lit up with the biggest smile he had seen besides Camille’s in a long time.

"Yeah," he whispered, not thinking the moment needed anything louder. He suddenly felt something towards the woman sitting next to him however shook it off. The last time he fell for someone he got burnt, he was not willing to go through that again.


Ch.6 Chance Meetings, New Loves

"Iz, what are you up to?" Tess asked feeling irritated; suddenly Isabel was asking a bunch of questions.

"Nothing, I just think Michael needs a lady friend." Isabel said not letting out any indication that she was planning anything.

Tess stared at Isabel for a second before heading into the bathroom, putting on some make-up. "Iz, I know you. Something's up and I wanna know about it."

Isabel followed her and stood in the doorway. "Tess, I'm just trying to help a man I look at like a brother. I'd do the same for you."

"I hope to god you don't look at me like a brother."

"No, like a sister though. You're like the little sister I always wanted." Isabel smiled faintly as she tried to convince Tess into talking about Michael.

Tess set down her mascara. "Iz, tell me what the hell you're thinking or leave." Before Isabel could deny anything Tess caught her off guard. "I've known you far to long, you want to know something and I'm not in the mood for mind games."

Isabel sighed in defeat; Tess was pretty good at judging a person’s character. "I think Michael might like Maria. He just seemed really into her."

Tess laughed. "My brother liking someone," Isabel nodded. "You know better than anyone that he has sworn off love as some stupid thing."

"You should have seen them." Isabel quickly said, stopping Tess's rant.

"That isn't going to change Michael." Tess said putting the rest of her make-up away, glancing at her reflection one last time and walking out of the bathroom. "Don't go getting your hopes up. I've accepted the fact that I'm only going to have one niece for the rest of my life.”

"Tess, he deserves happiness." Isabel said softly, knowing in reality Michael may never marry anyone.

"Camille is the one thing that makes him happy." Tess said, knowing Isabel’s heart was truly in the right place, wanting him to have someone but she forgot he already did. "Leave it be." Tess added, grabbing her purse and finding a pair of heels by the door.

Isabel realized that Tess was pretty dressed up in a short skirt and white button up top, her hair was done nicely, along with the make-up. "Where are you going?"

"Tonight is my night off. Michael and Camille went out to dinner and I'm gonna go run into some old friends." Tess smiled; it was the time she could go out and be a normal twenty year old woman, not the aunt caring for the niece. "What are you doing tonight?"

"Oh, I just got a bunch of paperwork with my name on it at home." Isabel waved it off like no big deal. There was a time she was out every Saturday and being young like Tess, however those nights were long gone.

Tess looked at Isabel's outfit, black pants and a nice purple blouse. "Come on, you're coming with me."

"Tess, I'm in my work clothes." Isabel protested.

Tess was already in her room, finding a top to make Isabel wear. "You are not spending a Saturday alone in your apartment."

"I'm not alone." Isabel called back.

"Princess does not count." Tess yelled back, shaking her head. Isabel was the only person she knew that would name her cat Princess. Tess came back with a purple tank that matched the blouse. "Just put this on underneath and undo the buttons, its cute."

"Tess…"

"No, you're not spending it alone; anyhow I was going by myself. You'll keep me company."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Ria, come on." Kyle flopped onto the bed, as Maria tried to read her book and Kyle was being exasperating, as usual.

"No, I just want to curl up with a good book and fall asleep. Maybe get some writing done."

"Yeah, but we always get in when we’re with you." Kyle pointed out, hoping it would change her mind.

Maria looked up from the book to Kyle. "So you only want me to get you in. Not to actually want to spend quality time with one of your best friends."

"That too," Kyle smiled trying to save himself, but of course Maria wasn't having any of it. "Great, I'm gonna have to go with just Alex."

"I heard that." Alex screamed from the other room.

"I didn't mean it; I'm trying to get Maria to go." Kyle shouted back, forgetting Maria was sitting right next to him.

Maria raised an eyebrow. "So now you're lying to me?"

"What?" Kyle knew he was screwed now. "No, I was lying to Alex."

"Who can hear you by the way," Alex added in as he stood at the door, smirking at Kyle's helpless face.

"Fine, both of you just ruin this for me." Kyle threw in hands in the air, he needed to get laid and having Maria always made the ladies come by, wondering who he was. It was a great chick magnet because they all related to Maria.

Maria and Alex laughed as Kyle left her bedroom. "He really is getting horny now."

Alex laughed, sitting on her bed next to her. "I think he's always like that but he's just getting desperate." Alex smiled as she started laughing. She was becoming more like herself again. "So today at the studio went pretty well."

"Yeah, it did." Maria smiled to herself, she had enjoyed it a lot more then she thought she would. Michael was really talented and it gave her the chance to be like that, the side of herself that always was about the music. That's why her fans loved her so much and she couldn't wait to get out some new material.

"Where's the 'you were right, Alex'?" Alex teased, noticing the familiar smile; he knew she was becoming happy with her music again.

"Just for that, I'm not giving it." Maria stuck out her tongue, acting like a little kid, making Alex laugh at her childish ways. "Now, you two should get going and let me be."

"Trying to get rid of us that easily?" Alex asked, acting hurt that she wanted them gone.

"Yes, now get." She smirked and pointed at the door, making sure he knew exactly how to go.

"Alright, just don't work to hard." Alex kissed her on the cheek, she smiled at him and again told the two to leave her alone and the sounds of their laughter were heard around the apartment Maria Deluca called home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I can't believe I let you drag me here." Isabel moaned following Tess into the bar that she insisted on going to. 'This place is where all the celebrities go.' Isabel thought to herself as she followed Tess inside.

"A booth please," Tess smiled at the man that was seating everyone. He smiled back at her, obviously interested while Tess batted her eyelashes as he led the two to their seats.

"I can't believe you were flirting with him." Isabel said shocked, she had really never seen Tess flirt with anyone. "He wasn't even that cute."

"I know but it got us a great seat." Tess smiled to herself, she liked just doing the harmless flirting thing because when it came out who her brother was they either ran or stayed around for some cash. She wasn't into that type of guy.

Isabel was a little taken back, Tess had always been Michael's little sister but not seeing her as she was now made Isabel realize Tess had grown up, and she enjoyed herself a lot of the time. "Do you ever regret helping him?"

"Michael?" Tess was a confused on exactly what Isabel was asking and she certainly never expected her to ask her something like that.

"Yeah, do regret giving up your chance at happiness for him to help Camille. You enjoy this, being young, flirting." Isabel had really never thought about how much Tess had sacrificed to help her brother out. "Do you ever wish you didn't help him out?"

"No." Tess said softly, she knew she'd have to explain it to Isabel. "He helped me out too and I wouldn't change my life, ever. I love Camille, and I love my brother. Yeah, there are times when I wanna go out and party but being there for Camille gives me a purpose. I like that, I like having someone who needs me because for the longest time I've always needed Michael."

"Don't you want a boyfriend?" Isabel asked. She really had forgotten how much Tess had grown up.

"Yes and no. I want the right guy to come along and if I have to wait five more years, I will." Tess was pretty comfortable with the waiting idea.

Isabel still couldn't believe how much grown up Tess seemed. "I just…” Isabel really didn't know how to respond. Tess had been there for Michael since Camille was born but to realize that she should be out partying, Isabel felt guilty. They all got to experience life a little, Tess’ though had been cut short.

"Don't." Tess told her, interrupting Isabel's thoughts. She knew how Isabel got, getting into other people's business. Tess wasn't about to have Isabel pushing at her. "I'm fine, I love my life."

Isabel sighed, looking at the glass of water. "When did you grow up?"

"Not sure, somewhere in between Camille being born and my parents getting killed. I'm not sure anymore which." Tess knew she grew up quicker then she had to but no one did more then Michael. He sacrificed everything for her, just to keep her okay. "Now let's stop the serious talk and have some fun."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"God, could that have taken any longer." Kyle complained. He hated lines since he could remember and he wasn't about to learn now how to enjoy them.

Alex scanned the room. They had chosen to sit at the bar; it was a lot easier and faster. The sooner you got something into Kyle's bloodstream the better. "I just can't believe I let you talk me into coming into this place."

"You love it." Kyle teased; they were polar opposites when it came to girls. Yet, it was really fun coming together.

Alex wasn’t really listening to Kyle. He was more concerned about what girls were around the bar. He wasn't really into finding girls right now but he figured he’d have some fun trying to find a lady friend. That's when he spotted them. "Hey, there's incest girl."

"What?"

"Tess and Isabel, nine o'clock," Alex said, trying to direct the sorry, horny man.

Kyle got a big, naughty smile on his face. "I think we should say hello."

"For once I agree with you Buddha boy." Alex agreed, as him and Kyle started walking to the girls that were talking to each other probably, not noticing the two coming closer.

"Hello, Tess." Kyle smiled at her as she looked up to realize it was him. He could see the surprise evident in her face.

"Hi, Kyle," Tess tucked a strand of hair behind her ear trying to flirt a little. She found him cute and definitely had a sense of humor. "Wanna sit down, guys?" Tess could tell Isabel was a little nervous and figured she'd help the girl out. It has been a while since Isabel dated anyone.

Alex smiled calmly as he slid into the booth next to Isabel as Kyle followed Alex's lead sliding on the other side next to Tess. "How are you, Isabel?"

"I'm good." Isabel smiled, glad she allowed Tess to drag her here. "How about you?"

"Great."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Maria stepped into the restaurant. She liked places that seemed homey. She felt comfortable and having a good normal burger sounded great. "Hi, I have an order under Deluca."

"Yeah, sure wait a minute." The guy said, heading to get her order.

Maria folded her arms a crossed her chest. She had gotten a craving for something and threw on a pair of jeans, tank top and her old brown leather coat. She knew she wouldn't be noticed dressed like that. She had basically no make-up on, except the mascara and her hair laid flat, the hair spray obviously not working twelve hours later.

"Daddy, please can I get a piece ice cream cake?" Maria's ear's perked up when she heard the little girl's voice. It sounded familiar, like she had heard it somewhere before. It wasn't until Maria spotted the little blonde sitting next her dad, did she remember whose voice it was.

"No, sorry baby girl, you stayed up too late last night and you're not having a bunch of sugar." Michael told her, Camille pouted, trying to see if he would crack. "Can you just get one in a doggy bag?" Michael turned to ask the waitress, she nodded and left.

"Thank you daddy!" Camille said excitedly, hugging him as much as her little arms would allow her to.

"That's for tomorrow though." He told her, kissing the top of her head.

"Ms. Deluca." Maria broke out of her trance to remember she was waiting for her own food. She had been into the scene between father and daughter and she found it so cute how Michael interacted with his little girl.

"Yeah, sorry." Maria mumbled, digging into her purse trying to find cash somewhere in there. She could be messy when it came to her purse; about five lip glosses came out. Maria suddenly felt stupid; she couldn't believe she was finding Michael Guerin attractive. "How much was it?" She asked the guy.

"$10.50," the guy said, becoming impatient with her.

"Here," she said, handing him a twenty, not wanting to look anymore stupid then she already felt at that moment. The guy took the money and gave her the change along with the food. "Thanks." She mumbled, trying to get everything into her purse, she really needed to invest in a much bigger one.

"Daddy, its Maria," Camille pointed out as the two were about to walk out. Michael stopped to also notice Maria putting her purse on her shoulder and grabbing the bag. He was a little surprised she was at a burger joint. She seemed like a girl to watch her weight. "Hi Maria." Camille didn't wait for her father's approval to say hi.

"Oh hi." Maria mustered up a smile; she didn't expect Camille to stop her. "How are you guys?"

"We're good." Camille said smiling. "We just had dinner, it was really good. See Daddy always takes me out on his first day back so Aunt Tess can go and have a break." Camille informed her. "Or that's how they put it." Camille shrugged her shoulders.

Maria smiled at the girl. She was so talkative, unlike her father. It seemed Camille had gotten a few traits from her aunt. "I take it she got that smooth talking from her aunt?"

"Oh yeah." Michael muttered, he definitely was not a big talker and it was pretty obvious Tess had no problem saying hi and talking. "My sister has passed on a few of her bad habits."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Camille said sweetly, causing Maria to laugh and Michael to raise an eyebrow at her. "I was naturally born like this."

Michael chuckled at her, she was a real charmer. "So why are you not out tonight?"

"Oh the boys went out to party and I figured I'd try getting some work done. I have this new cd coming up and I'm trying to get some more material." Maria explained trying to make it look like she could have gone out but chose not to. She didn't want to look pathetic, wait why did she care what Michael thought?

"Need any help?" Michael asked. If he heard the word writing, he was usually interested and if she was having trouble, being a perfect gentleman wouldn't hurt.

"Are you serious?" Maria asked, surprised Michael Guerin was offering to help.

Michael shrugged his shoulders like Camille had earlier. "Why not?" What could go wrong? It wasn't like he could actually like her or something.

"That sounds great. When do you want to do it?" Maria asked, she was excited about working with him about her writing, he was talented.

"You busy now? I have a studio in my house, sound proof." He explained.

"That works." Maria nodded, smiling. She liked this idea to much. He seemed so attractive, appealing, everything you wanted in a guy. What was not to like?

"Come on." Michael had his typical side ways smile, as he noticed the big smile on Camille's face as she hurried off to the car with the other two following close behind. Michael never expected to let his guard down this much, yet here he was with a girl, offering to do some writing with her. It could be very dangerous, extremely dangerous if he wasn't careful.


Ch.7 Keep her from falling

"Come on, Kyle." Tess teased, patting him on the shoulder. "Please come dance with me, it won't hurt."

"You better be careful." Alex muttered under his breath. He remembered the high school dances where the girls would get mad because Kyle would step on their feet.

"I'm not that bad." Kyle said then out of spite and to prove something to Alex…and himself, he grabbed Tess’ hand. “Let’s go.”

"Yay!"

Isabel smiled as Tess and Kyle hurried off to the dance floor. "He's not that bad?" She asked, trying to keep a decent conversation with Alex.

"When even Maria refuses to dance with him, it's that bad." Alex joked; the two were a funny scene when they were taken out in public. "I'm sure Tess can take it."

"I hope so." Isabel said, loving the alone time between her and Alex. He was a sweet guy and he was into music, he knew everything about it.

"So did she drag you here?" Alex asked, spying the other two on the dance floor, it seemed like they were enjoying themselves.

"Yeah," she said softly, also seeing the newly formed friends as they laughed. Tess seemed happy and free spirited, not the girl trying to control her life. "But I'm glad she did. Did Kyle drag you here?"

"Yeah," Alex smiled, Kyle was determined to get laid and needed support, that's how he got talked into going and now he was sitting with Isabel talking. "I'm glad he did though." He turned to face her when he said that and his heart swelled when she gave him her famous smile, the one he was falling in love with.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Kyle, no," Tess laughed as Kyle attempted to dance, it was really cute how he tried but it just wasn't happening. "Have your hips follow mine; just slowly move them back and forth." Tess explained, feeling a blush coming across her face. She felt her knees weaken at the close proximity they shared.

"Like this?" He asked, looking up from their feet, he always thought it was in the feet that made dancing great.

"Think of dancing like sex, it's all in the hips." Tess explained, giggling when Kyle gave her a shocked look. "Can you do that?" She asked shyly, nervous at the way she was being so forward.

"See if someone had told me that earlier I'd be the king of the dance floor." Kyle said, smiling at her pretty face. She had the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. They definitely were breathtaking. He couldn't stop staring into them. "You know I came here planning on getting laid."

Tess became a little uneasy. The subject had been one she avoided when she spent a night out. Her brother's life would always come to mind. "Well I hope that probably isn't going to happen."

"Yeah, I know." Kyle said, brushing a hand across her cheek. "But before it was going to be any girl, I'm kinda of glad I got to know you better tonight."

"You are?" She seemed so young at that moment, her own insecurities were becoming apparent and Kyle couldn't believe this strong girl had any in there.

"Definitely, because I thought you were gorgeous the first time I saw you." Kyle told her truthfully. When he saw her at that record store he wanted to kiss her so bad. But he had seen the little girl with her and realized she was most likely taken.

"I was a mess. I had been with Camille all day." Tess blurted out; surprised he thought she was even remotely beautiful at that moment.

"Your voice is what caught me." He whispered he couldn't believe he was telling her this. She was an amazing girl, great sense of humor, gorgeous smile and she seemed interested in him. He could marry this girl right now if he could. That thought scared him because Kyle was use to being the stud, the bachelor. "It sounded so sweet and the way you talked with Camille was so gentle and caring."

"Thank you." She whispered. She didn't know what to say, she never imagined herself that way, and to have Kyle sitting there telling her this, was unbelievable.

"Can I kiss you?" Kyle asked, his hand still softly stroking her cheek, he loved how soft she was and all he wanted was to taste those lips.

"Yes." Tess whispered, feeling his breath on hers and in a matter of seconds she was in heaven, no one could have described a more perfect moment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Well would you look at that," Isabel whispered watching the slow dancing and kissing between Tess and Kyle.

"They look happy." Alex envied Kyle in more then one way at that moment but Kyle always was more daring and into meeting new people than he was. Alex liked sitting back on the sidelines. "So doesn't Tess usually have to watch Camille?"

"Yeah, but on his first night back Michael and Camille go out for dinner, Tess goes out sometimes." Isabel explained, anyway Michael was more of the one to spend a night at home, which was probably where he was. "Where's Maria?"

"She wanted to have a relaxing evening. She's probably reading a book or writing."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Thanks for the ride," Maria said as she leaned against the seat. "Walking to that place is easy but I'm sure your house is farther away."

"Yeah, it's right on the edge of the city. The cab would be expensive." Michael agreed. He tried to see through the mirror if Camille had fallen asleep. "So is she asleep yet?"

Maria turned and glanced in between the gap of the two seats. "Yeah, she's out." Maria told him, becoming comfortable in the seat again. "She's a really cutie, you must be proud."

Michael got a quick look at Maria to see the sincerity in her face. "Yeah, she's pretty much it."

"It's cute how you come off as this big bad rocker but that little girl brings it all down." Maria explained. She definitely didn't realize how big of a turn on the whole thing was with Michael until that minute. Yeah, he was sexy, lean body, muscles, perfect hair, great face; he pretty much had it all but the personality to go with it was better then what she had ever imagined.

"Most don't expect it." He wanted to shut his mouth at that second. Here he was with a hot girl and talking with her. He had sworn off this kinda of thing. He had promised himself years ago he would never fall for anyone again. "We're here." He mumbled.

"Need help?" Maria offered, remembering Camille was sound a sleep in that back seat.

"Yeah, just open the front door, here's the key." Michael handed to Maria as he got out and opened the back door, gently scooping up a soundless Camille into his arms.

Maria grabbed her bag, purse, and his keys and hurried to the front door trying to help him as he carried the little girl. She unlocked it before he reached her but watching him walking up with Camille so content against his chest was a priceless picture.

"She's gotten heavier." He mumbled to himself, causing Maria to giggle. "I'm not allowing my sister to buy anymore junk food, I swear." He grumbled, walking into the door with the sleeping child. "I'm just going to take her to her room."

"Alright," Maria muttered again watching him, he was addicting. He was perfect in every way and Maria envied the girl that had caught that man's heart and had a child with him. It was just a wonder where Camille's mother was.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael softly laid Camille down into her bed while trying to remove all the stuffed animals at the same time. Tess, Isabel and Liz liked buying Camille way to much stuff. It wasn't healthy.

"Daddy?" she whispered, her voice still laced with sleep.

"Yeah?" He whispered, knowing she would be up very quickly if she kept talking. He needed her to get her rest.

Camille's hazel eyes opened a little wider. "Why don't you have a girlfriend?"

"A lot of reasons, baby girl." Michael didn't really think about the answer and said the first thing that came to mind. He was also not willing to discuss his dating life with his daughter.

"Name one." Camille said she wanted to know why she may never have a new mom, or someone else like that in her life.

"I'm to busy. A girl deserves my complete attention." Michael smiled, as he played with her hair as her eyes began to close. "And you already hold all my attention." He whispered, knowing she didn't hear him, that she was out once again. He kissed her on the cheek and tucked her in a little tighter and headed downstairs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"What the hell?" Michael mumbled a little shocked to find the girl he'd left earlier Maria Deluca, was snacking on a huge burger and fries and a big glass of coke beside her. He'd seen a lot of things but a girl pigging out was not one of them.

"Oh I'm sorry." Maria tried to say with her mouth full of food. She swallowed the food by taking a sip of the coke before continuing. "I was kinda of hungry."

Michael scratched his head. The chick was definitely confusing. "Looks like it. Do you always eat like that?"

"Is there something wrong with that?" Maria asked, suddenly she was embarrassed. She liked food, she knew a lot of girls didn't but what was wrong with being different.

"Just something I didn't expect." He said, realizing this girl was not all that meets the eye.

"Good or bad?"

"Doesn't matter." He shrugged his shoulders and sat down next to her. She was pretty cute, she was eating like a slob and she looked cute. He really had problems; he rubbed his eyes. Sleep, he probably needed sleep.

"So are we gonna work?" She asked, he seemed tense or tired. She really couldn't tell which.

Michael glanced over at her and remembered why she was here. He had completely forgotten. "Let me grab some paper." He got up and went over to the counter, looking around for a pad of paper. He found one and plucked a pen out of the container next to it.

"Any song ideas?" She asked, she could come up with good phrases and everything but she really stunk when it came to ideas.

"What's been happening in your life?" He asked back, he usually just thought about everyday life problems and expanded on the idea.

"Betrayal," she whispered. She felt so used and so low at times. She hated giving herself to people to be treated like crap in the end.

"Any other words?"

"Low, sad, everyone talking about me," she stopped after three. She didn't want to give him too much of herself. She watched him scribble down some things.

"Here." He set down the piece of paper and Maria set down her burger and looked at it sideways.

Everybody's talkin'
But they don't say a thing
They all look at me with sad eyes
But I don't want their sympathy
It's cool you didn't want me
Sometimes you can't go back
But why'd you have to go make a mess like that
Well I just have to say
Before I let go

Have you ever been low?
Have you ever have a friend let you down so?
When the truth came out
Were you the last to know?
Were you left out in the cold?
'Cause what you did was low?

No I don't need your number
There's nothing left to say
Except I never thought it'd hurt this much to be saved
My friends are outside waiting
I've gotta go

Have you ever been low?
Have you ever have a friend let you down so?
When the truth came out
Were you the last to know?
Were you left out in the cold?
'Cause what you did was low?

I walk out of this darkness
With no sense of regret
And I go with a clear conscience
We both know that you can't say
Here's to show
For all the time I loved you so
So

Have you ever been low?
Have you ever have a friend let you down so?
When the truth came out
Were you the last to know?
Were you left out in the cold?
'Cause what you did was low?

"You didn't just write that?" She blurted out. She couldn’t believe that those three words she had said, he could turn into a song in less than ten minutes. That and he's described her feelings so well. He'd captured what it felt like.

"It sucks." He mumbled. That's why he hated showing his writing, that's why he hated the whole music business.

"No, it's amazing." She barely got the words out, she was in shock. He was amazing, he was perfect.

"Really?"

"It's perfect." Maria smiled, thinking he was too good to be true. She was falling for this bad boy, right at that moment and nothing was going to keep her from falling.

Michael realized that the burger was gone. "You ready to go sing?"

"Sure." Maria agreed throwing away the bag and other wrappers from the food she had eaten in record time. She was inspecting every inch of the house as she followed Michael down to the studio he had. His house was astonishing. It was a modern day house but huge. Maria could get lost if she wasn't careful.

Michael went into the room and she followed closely behind. "Now, I was thinking a rock feel with that song would be great."

Maria stopped dead in her track. Did he just say rock? "Umm Michael, I'm not you." She blurted out; she wasn't about to sit there and do a hard rocker song.

"What?" Okay, he had thought she was a cool girl, what was wrong with hard rock music. It fit the song.

"I'm sorry but I can't sing rock. I can't suddenly do that when I've been pop, the lyrics are great but I'm not with you on the tune." She explained she was not going to throw away everything she worked for, for one song.

"But…" he trailed off. What was he exactly suppose to say? He was definitely not a girl and wasn't about to start thinking like one. "But that's how I wrote it."

"Then we add a Maria spin." She smirked, she was gonna win this fight. She knew what she wanted and she wanted this song her way.

"Maria spin?" Michael questioned the girl in front of him. She was tiny but she had fire sparking in her green eyes. He wasn't sure challenging her would be the smartest thing he ever did.

"Yes." Maria crossed her arms, she was not backing down. Sure he was a whole foot taller and could probably throw her over his shoulder but Michael Guerin was not all he was cracked up to be. Maria Deluca could take this bad boy.

Michael smirked at her fighting spirit, it was pretty damn hot but he had more important things to concentrate on besides his manly needs. "I'm not sure." He said calmly, he had control on the situation.

Maria stared at him for a second. "Okay, here's an idea. We do it your crappy rock way and my Maria way, then we have Isabel and Alex listen to it and they decide which is better?" She stuck her hand out, ready to make the deal.

"Deal," Michael smirked, shaking her hand.

"Good."

Maria's lips curved up a little. She liked this competing thing. It added a little something to it. It was scaring her how badly she wanted him but she was ignoring the protest in her heart. She couldn't take anymore hurt but this man had something about him and Maria Deluca never turned her back on a chance at falling in love no matter how many times her heart had to brake in the process.


Ch.8 And then she knew

"You're infuriating," Maria grumbled as she slid into the chair giving her a perfect side view of Michael's equally frustrated face. They disagreed on everything. Sure they had agreed to have Alex and Isabel make the finale decision but they were arguing over everything and anything. "Why are you being difficult?" It amazed her how one man could be so aggravating, irritating, and exasperating all at once.

Michael raised an eyebrow at her. She was a tough chick to figure out, plain and simple. She was like hot and cold. One minute cool with something the next she's throwing a fit that 'it's too much rock'. What did she want, him to be a spice girl or something? "Well if you could make up your mind this could be going a lot easier."

He eased himself more comfortably into the chair. She was going to scream, whine and complain for another good twenty minutes and he at least wanted to be comfortable. She was a hard chick to handle.

"What is your problem?" Her lungs were expanding beyond its normal capacity. Her high pitched voice was something that was ringing in Michael's ears. That had given Maria the fuel she needed to explode, whatever self-control she had left was ripped into little tiny pieces as she tried to find a way to kill Michael. Her eyes turned from the electrifying emerald to a blazing red. Her full, pouty, in the way lips curved into the biggest o showing her shock and disgust with Michael Guerin at that exact moment.

"My problem is your screeching voice." Michael answered coolly, adding a smirk to just add the little bit of gas to keep that fire ragging on.

"My voice?" She questioned not really expecting an answer because she continued on talking. "This coming from a guy who call’s whatever it is you do, singing. You sound like you were drunk from the night before."

Michael's smirk got a little bigger, he was enjoying this far more then he should, but he found her that much hotter when all flustered and like an animal opposed to the calm, polite girl she could be. She was definitely more fun then he had realized. Yeah the loud voice of hers was hard to ignore but maybe he could find other purposes. "No reason to blame me for your misfortunes."

"Excuse me?"

"Did I stutter?"

"You're so annoying."

"Right back at ya, sweetheart."

Maria's eyes narrowed onto him. Maybe she could make him disappear. Nope, it wasn't her day. "Who do you think your calling sweetheart?" She demanded standing up, placing a hand on her hip, insisting some respect.

Michael turned his head to the right and then paused before looking to the right, after inspecting the small soundproof room. "I don't see anyone else…honey."

His smirk pissed Maria off even more, if possible. She glared at him, almost debating whether to hit him with something or walk away but at times likes these she never thought rationally, especially when it came to guys. But something told her to walk away, don't let him get his fun. "Forget this."

Michael stared at her retreating form. Did she just say what he thought she did? He was a little shocked, no that was an under statement. He was stunned speechless. "Maria, wait."

"No."

"Maria." He was actually sorry he upset her. He didn't think she'd get that worked up over some fighting. It was innocent, wasn't it? "Come on."

"I said no." She turned around, angry that he kept pushing her when she had had enough. He didn't seem to catch on rather quickly. "Leave me alone."

"Maria." He whispered her name without meaning to. She was a pretty girl, she had simple things on but it really worked for her. Her hair pulled back lazily in a pony tale and would bounce every once and a while when she moved her head and when she had turned around, it whipped in the air so smoothly.

Maria was frozen in her spot. He had just whispered her name in a way she had dreamed off, it rolled off his tongue as if it was silk, softly gliding on the surface. Suddenly Maria felt a tingle on her arm hairs, causing small goose bumps to spread across her skin as chills went down her spine.

When he stepped towards her, she never moved and when his lips found hers, she didn't pull back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I wasn't that bad." Kyle tried to defend whatever he had left of his dignity. He did like the sweet giggles Tess kept letting releasing from her mouth but Alex and Isabel's laughter in his ears were getting annoying.

"I wouldn't dance with you." Alex said chuckling at his friend. Some days it seemed as though Kyle were just a poor fool without any clue as to what he was doing wrong. Now was one of those moments and you just couldn't help but laugh at him.

"Well I wouldn't let you dance with me and have everyone think I'm gay." Kyle justified, Buddhism already did that and his pride was not gonna take another low blow.

Isabel laughed at the two going back and forth. "Don't worry, Kyle. Michael's the worst dancer you'll every see. If any woman is brave enough to actually get him to dance, I congratulate them.”

Tess laughed in agreement realizing her brother was indeed the worst dancer. "Practice makes perfect." She whispered in Kyle's ear, causing Kyle to wrap an arm around her as they became comfortable in the backseat, going unnoticed by the two in front.

"So how's the song going along?" Kyle tried to change the subject, hoping to distract Isabel and Alex to sneak a little more private time with Tess.

Isabel smiled over at Alex who was focusing on the road. "It's really coming along. It's really sounding great. It's like the two balanced off each other perfectly."

Alex caught Isabel's stare out of the corner of his eye, smiling to himself then becoming professional. "Yeah, Maria is making that song great but adding Michael into it just gives it a little something extra."

Kyle snuck in a kiss to Tess as the pair up front talked about music and more ways to improve the song. Tess smiled as Kyle's hand tried to find its way into her pants but her own hand caught his and he looked so cute being trapped.

"Is this the house Tess?" Alex asked about to turn around before Tess and Kyle broke apart but the couple were faster.

"Yeah, this is it. Thanks guys." She smiled sweetly at Kyle as she stuffed a piece of paper into his hand and hopping out of the car to her home, waving to the others as she unlocked the front door.

"Michael?" Tess stopped for a second. The kitchen light was on and Michael was no where to be found. She was a little worried as she dropped the keys and her purse on the side table. "Michael?" She repeated it was beginning to worry her. Where could he be?

Tess headed down the hallway, hoping on the off chance that Michael was practicing or writing. "Michael?" She knocked on the door as she called his name, opening it.

I've been sitting here
Trying to find myself
I get behind myself
I need to rewind myself
Lookin' for the payback
Listen for the playback
They say every man bleeds
Just like me
And I feel like number one
Yet I'm last in life

The soft music startled her for a minute but it was a song she knew. Michael never released it because it would ruin that bad boy image he had. But there he sat, his guitar in his hands and playing the music that truly represented him.

I take too many pills
It helps to ease the pain
I made a couple dollars bills
Still I feel the same
Everybody knows my name
They say it way out loud
It's hard to hang out in crowds
That's the price to pay
To be some big shot like I am

She leaned against the door, silently watching him, a comfort that she loved. The beat had a rock feel to it yet it was slow to prove the point. Pain hurts. It hurts even when you have everything in life.

His shaggy hair fell just before his eyes and would bounce every time he moved his head to the beat. His silver rings shinning as he stringed the guitar. His eyes closed, feeling the entire song.

Tess let herself remember old times, of him playing that guitar in their old barn. It had been innocent, sweet and joyful. Tess could feel tears coming to the surface and they were unwelcome so instead of letting him finish she cough making Michael realize she was there.

"How long have you been home?" Michael asked when he opened his eyes to see Tess there. He was surprised to see her home so soon or had he lost track of time?

"The first two verses." Her voice held no emotion. She didn't want to dwell, cry her eyes out. She was done with that but every time Michael found some way to twist it back in.

"Have fun?" He asked, placing the guitar into its case.

"Yeah," She whispered, she hated getting angry at him but something happened and Tess knew it. "I dragged Iz with me. We ran into Alex and Kyle. You remember them right?" She saw Michael tense for a minute.

"Yeah, they work for Maria right?"

"Yeah." Tess stared for a minute. It took him to long to answer that question. Something was going on and Tess knew it. "Why were you playing that song?"

"Felt like it." Michael shrugged his shoulders as if it didn't matter. When he looked up he knew Tess wasn't happy with him. He knew better then to hide things from her. She picked out the things no one could notice. Not Max, not Isabel. Only Tess knew him like an open book without trying and when she tried, she nailed it.

"Don't hand me that." She spat. She was mad, mad that he was hiding something, mad that he was playing that song. "I'm not some kid that doesn't get things, Michael. I'm not Camille so you don't have to lie to me."

"I'm not lying." He defended, old habits died hard. Could he tell her that some things never go away, that they just lay to rest and come for a visit at the worst time? That song made him feel better when he was close to losing control, something he swore he'd never do again.

Tess stared at him, she wanted to yell, scream, and knock some sense into him because there was something going on inside of him if only he would admit it. "Fine, when you feel like telling me you know where to find me." She stormed out of the room and headed to the kitchen spotting a woman's brown leather jacket hanging on the back of the chair. It set her off. She grabbed the jacket and flew back to where Michael stood.

"Tess, what the hell?" Michael was shocked by Tess coming back to the room, when she was mad she stayed away and wanted to be left alone.

She threw the jacket in his face. "You brought a woman to this house with Camille home? What is wrong with you?" She was pissed, she could deal with the lying but this was too much even for Michael.

"Tess, nothing happened." He said quickly after getting the jacket off his head. He thought Maria had taken the jacket with her when she left, he was wrong yet again.

"Whose is this?"

Michael sighed, now he had to explain everything. "When Camille and I went out to eat, we ran into Maria. We were talking about music and she needed help writing. I offered to help her out; we worked on a few of her songs. Nothing happened. I swear."

Tess looked at his face, she knew he wasn't lying about how everything happened but there was more. He tensed at her name earlier, there was more there then what he was saying but Tess would let it go. "Alright but next time just tell me."

"Okay."

Tess rubbed her eyes as she headed up the stairs. She was too tired to push him further. If only she knew of a way to get him to let go of his past.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Maria hit the snooze button. She didn't want to wake up. She didn't want to deal with the night before filled of rejection. Sure Michael had been the one to lean in and kiss her but he pulled away and said he was sorry, that it was a mistake. She left in a rush and forgot her coat but being her normal self was too stubborn to go inside to get it. She just waited in the cold for a taxi.

The ringing started again, causing Maria to realize it wasn't her alarm, that it was actually the doorbell. Maria was puzzled. No one ever used the doorbell. Kyle and Alex had a key and no one else knew where she lived. The ringing continued as she sat there and finally she decided to go answer the door.

"It's eleven, who comes to people's homes at this time." Maria mumbled on her way to the door almost not caring she was in sweats and an oversized t-shirt. The person took the risk coming this early anyway she figured.

Maria opened the door and stood there staring at the woman before her. A little surprised that Tess would actually come visited her. "Hi, can I come in?" She was polite and awake unlike Maria who just simply nodded and headed to the kitchen. She needed coffee.

"Do you want anything?" Maria asked as she poured a cup of coffee. Maria could tell Tess felt uncomfortable. She was playing with the car keys and was deadly quiet.

"A bottle of water?"

"In the fridge."

"Thank you." Tess said softly, following Maria when she entered the small living room and finding a seat on the couch next to where Maria was sitting in the chair. "I know you must be wondering what am I doing here, and I do apologize for coming so early. It's just you did leave your coat and it’s just…"

Maria inspected Tess for a moment. She dressed in a nice baby blue blouse and a pair of kakis. Her nails were manicured and her makeup was neatly done. But Tess seemed to be uneasy and unsure. "What are you asking Tess?"

Tess took a deep breathe. She knew Maria may take offence to her question. "I don't want to sound nosey but I know my brother and something happened last night and I'd like to know what."

Maria didn't know what to say. She was infatuated with Michael, he seemed appealing and he seemed interested but he told her no. "Tess nothing happened."

Tess stared at Maria. She could tell when people were lying and at that instant Maria seemed to be covering something. "What do you think is classified as nothing?"

Maria was baffled. Tess was asking all the hard questions and knew exactly where to hit you. "He kissed me for not even a full minute and pulled away." Maria felt humiliated, not only to be turned down Michael but to have to say it to his sister.

"What'd he say?" Tess knew it, she was happy and disappointed in Michael but she also knew how he was when it came to dating. He dismissed it as nothing.

Maria sighed; Tess wanted to talk more about it. If wasn't bad enough Maria hadn't been with in anyone in a while…well she did date Billy but that was before he got sentenced. They had split up almost a year ago. The only reason she went to the trial was to see that he got what he deserved.

"That he was sorry and he didn't know what came over him and that I should leave. So I did. Why do you ask?" Maria smiled to herself. She was able to turn the tables on Tess and get to ask the questions.

Tess smiled a little. She could see the hurt in Maria's eyes as she repeated what Michael had said. But Tess had an advantage over Maria. She knew her brother inside and out and at that time it really paid off. "He has this song he wrote. Only god knows why. He sings it when he's down or something happen that made him lose his cool. And if you know Michael, he doesn't like it when that happens. He was playing it when I got home last night."

"What does that have to do with me?" Maria asked, it sounded kind of interesting and she personally wanted to hear the song.

"Maybe you should talk to Michael. Thank you for talking to me today Maria, I wish I could talk more but I need to be going."

"No problem." Maria smiled and escorted Tess out and shut the door to lean against before sliding down to the floor. Did it mean Michael was interested but in his own way he pulled back to prevent hurt? Did the song actually involved Michael's ex, Camille's mother? Maria was confused, so many thoughts were rushing through and she knew she had to talk to him.


Ch.9 it matters to me

"Daddy!" The little blonde girl screamed. She started to rub her hands together trying to determine the perfect way to manipulate her father. She could either play the cute face or pull a fast one.

Michael stuck his head out of the kitchen doorway to see Camille coming down the stairs. She was up to something and he had no clue as to what it was. However knowing his sister, he would bet any money that before she left, she gave Camille some good tips on how to get him to do whatever she wanted. He sighed. "What is it, baby girl?"

Camille bit her lower lip as she passed Michael and sat at the stool to be closer to his height. She hoped to be as tall as him one day. "I was thinking…"

Michael chuckled at her expression. She reminded him of Tess at that however, Camille succeeded in getting things her was whereas Tess, failed horribly. "Okay, you were thinking."

"We should go shopping."

"I think you have enough stuff." Michael raised an eyebrow but Camille ignored it and was already thinking of the next thing.

"And go out to lunch and have ice cream for dessert."

"Sorry, baby girl but you can't." Michael told her.

"Why not?" She squealed, she always found a way to get what she wanted, it never failed.

"Liz called and wants to take you out today to go shopping for your flower girl dress and to take you out to eat."

"Really?" Camille was already on her feet ready to go, she heard shopping and food. She was there.

Michael laughed and scooped her up. She kept on giggling as he swung her around. She was truly it for him, she had to be. He didn't want to fall in love again to have it end badly, he had Camille to think about and if she got attached...he didn't want to put his daughter through that. "Liz should be here any minute, so get your stuff."

Camille gave Michael a kiss on and the cheek and quickly hurried off to get her things. Michael silently watched her, thankful for what he did have.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tess took a bite of her sandwich, and told Kyle again. "I'm telling you, there's more there then either is willing to admit."

"I just don't see it. I know Maria and I'm sure she thinks Michael's good looking but I'm sure that's it." Kyle said. He knew how Maria worked. He would have seen the signs; he would have seen something, anything.

"I'm telling you," Tess repeated, "when I asked Maria what Michael said, the disappointment and the rejection was written all over her face."

"Okay." Kyle said, sipping his pop. "Say Maria is interested in him. What about Michael? How do you know what Michael feels?"

"He's scared." Tess said softly. She knew why he was too; it was clear as day to her. "His ex, Camille's mother, let's just say… ruined his trust in relationships. He sees something in Maria and for a moment he let himself get caught up and stopped himself because Michael Guerin has to be tough, unbreakable."

Kyle smirked and loved the way Tess was talking about her brother. She was like Maria was at times, all animated and using her hands to talk. Tess was just too cute for words at times. "You know him pretty well."

Tess's eyes softened then saddened in an instant. "I've watched him bury himself into his work, hide his feelings away like they have no rights and ignored what he wanted to feel because it could end badly."

"His ex sounds horrible."

Tess thought about it and nodded. "She was. She couldn't leave him be. She didn't care. Just don't tell Isabel. The two of them were kind of friends."

"Why don't you say something to him?" Kyle asked, seeing how the whole thing upset Tess, he could only imagine Michael's feelings.

"Because Michael is a man that doesn't let his feelings get involved. He leaves it alone until he is forced to deal with them."

Kyle laughed which made Tess look at him strangely. "I'm not laughing at him, it's just…Maria's the type to make you deal with things even when you don't want to. She would be able to help him there."

"Yeah." Tess let her mind wander; hoping maybe Maria could push a few more buttons to help Michael overcome his fears.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The doorbell chimed again. "I don't want any damn girl scout cookies." Michael grumbled on his way to the door. He opened it and was surprised to see Maria standing there. "Do you want your coat?"

"Tess dropped it off already." Maria said coolly as she walked passed him, remembering Tess's words. It sounded like Michael needed a shove and she wasn't about to wait around until he decided to come talk to her.

"Tess?" Michael ran a hand through his hair. He knew his sister was going out to eat with a friend but she stopped by Maria's too? "What'd she say?"

"Apparently you told her nothing happened. So kissing me mean nothing?" Maria crossed her arms over her chest in anger.

"Maria," Michael knew he was in trouble. The blonde was mad and his sister couldn't mind her own business. No, she wanted to give him a shove or something. God, Tess was annoying.

"No, don't you Maria me," she put her hands on her hips and stared him straight in the eye, his beautiful hazel pools that were mesmerizing. They were luring. She scolded herself and remembered why she was there. "You kissed me and lied about it. I want to know why?"

"It doesn't matter." Michael walked passed her, hoping, praying that if there was a god he's spare him from the torture of her screams, shouts, and her beautiful voice.

"No, it does matter." Maria said, causing Michael to spin around to face her, he was annoyed but she could careless. "You kissed me and I wanna know why."

"Why is it so important?" He asked, he didn't want to go through this, he swore to never do this and here he was, arguing and fighting with her.

"Because I want to know." Michael remained silent, not answering so Maria decided to continue talking. "Tess said you played this song that has to do with your ex girlfriend. Why'd you play it?"

"What? Did she tell you my life story too?" Michael was going to hurt Tess, not physically but man, was she going to be sorry she interfered.

"No, she asked a question and I answered. I asked a question and she answered that simple." She crossed her arms; she liked the energy he let off. It was electrifying; it fuelled her fire to continue pressing him, hoping to break that wall to see the real Michael Guerin.

"That's great, now I'm leaving." Michael had enough. He wasn't going to answer questions he didn't want to answer. He was an adult, a grown man. He could do as he pleased but the blonde followed him and kept talking and asking about what he was feeling. "Will you shut up?"

Maria stared shocked, her eyes big. "No, I'm not going to shut because there's something here and I'm not going throw something good away because you're scared to commit." Michael stayed quiet, watching the anger in her face, she wanted a reaction, and she wasn't going to get one. "That’s it isn’t it? You're afraid that I maybe like some ex girlfriend of yours? I’m sorry she burned you but it's not fair to put it all on me. I’m not her."

"You should just walk away, Maria." He replied calmly.

Maria saw it then, the fear and the vulnerability lying in Michael's eyes. She hit it right on the mark; he didn't want to go through that pain again. "I can't."

"You should try." Michael went by her again only this time she grabbed his arm, forcing him to look her in the eye.

"Is that what you want?" Her voice was soft, caring and Michael liked it way to much.

"It doesn't matter what I want." Michael said forcefully, he wasn't going to break; he wasn't going to let everything he worked so hard for, fall away.

Maria lifted her hand to softly touch his cheek, Michael closed his eyes and Maria knew he liked it. "It matters to me."

Michael's eyes fluttered open to see the sweet look in her eyes, the understanding of his fear but the joy of having the chance to love again.

And he did the only he could do, kiss her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I'm sorry I'm late." Tess laughed as she sprinted into the restaurant where she was to meet Isabel, Liz and Camille.

Isabel laughed at Tess, knowing that she could never be on time. It was in Tess and Michael’s genes or something. "Don't worry, Camille is being the little princess she is and wants her dress to be perfect, so those two are late anyway."

"Good, I had a lunch date with Kyle." Tess smiled in delight, excited to be getting into the dating after being away for so very long.

"Wow, nice." Isabel smiled showing approval over Tess's love interest as she began skimming the menu. "So you really don't want food?"

"Iz, I'm a Guerin. I can eat anything, anywhere." Tess giggled and started through the menu. "I've been playing matchmaker."

"With who?" Isabel was already interested and she didn't know detail. It was going to be one fun girl's night out.

"Maria and Michael."

"How?"

"Long story short, my brother is acting like he has no feelings involved, only he does and Maria's one determined woman. My brother may get married one day."

"I thought I'd die first."

"Tell me about it."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael hoisted Maria onto his hips as they kissed. Lips were getting swollen and Maria could barely hold her breath. He was amazing and he had the gentlest touch, his fingers glided through her hair and his strong hands held her perfectly in place. His hot breathe on her face was enough to almost send Maria over the edge. He was perfection at its best.

"Michael."

He liked how she said his name, her voice was filled with passion and it had been way to long since he heard anything close to it. Her soft, silky fingers rubbed his neck and it felt amazing. That alone could send him crazy and begging for more. It had been far too long.

"Bedroom?" Michael didn't want to push. He knew what he could handle and he could guess what Maria could but he wasn't going to assume.

She raised her head and opened her eyes to look into his. Her fingers traced his face. "Bedroom." She kissed him softly. She wanted to make the feeling last, she wanted everything with him to be forever.

"You sure?" He was giving her the option because once he started he couldn't stop.

"Positive." She kissed him again as he carried them his bedroom to waste the day away.


Ch.10 To Believe Again

The sun shinned through the dark curtains and Michael laid on his side, silently observing Maria's weird sleeping behaviours. He forgot what that feeling could do. Sure he never really experienced the love that he once had, it was there and real but now it was tainted into something he hated.

He had to believe Maria was pure unlike Courtney, who wasn't. She was a girl who did things because of what she wanted, it didn't matter who got hurt in the process just as long as she was happy. It's funny how life never worked out for her.

Maria was different. She cared and that was a new feeling. Maybe that's what love really was like.

Maria rolled over and squinted her eyes to focus on Michael. A small smile formed when she remembered her pushing him and them ending up on his bed. "Hi." She whispered, she felt like she was a teenager again, doing it for the first time. God, if that was the first time she wondered what practice could do.

"Hey." He smiled a little back at her. Her smile was breathtaking; he couldn't help but smile and look at her. He bent his head down to kiss her, it was gentle, passionate, and it was perfect.

She licked her lips, loving the taste of him. "Could I have a wake up like that every morning?" She raised her hand to feel his smooth skin and occasionally ran a hand through his hair. For a guy he had the right kind of hair, not too long but yet not to short.

"Depends." He teased, seeing a pout on her swollen lips. Last night had been pretty eventful and the evidence was left on their bodies.

Her fingers lightly traced his skin and circled around a hickey she had put on his neck. She smiled to herself, admiring her own work. "On what?"

He leaned down, whispering into her ear. "On what I get in return."

"I think we can come to an agreement." She said, laughing when Michael pinned her down onto the bed and began to ravage her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Sweets." Tess called, rushing around trying to get herself and Camille ready for the day. Michael was still in bed and she hadn't bothered to try and enter his room but he was pissing her off. He was home so why couldn't he help take care of his own pain of a daughter.

"I'm coming." The little girl cried, coming out of her bedroom all dressed and ready to go.

"Do you have everything?" Tess asked for the fourth time that morning. There was no way she wanted to forget something.

"Yes." Camille said again, annoyed by Tess' double checking everything. "Can I say good-bye to daddy?"

"He's still asleep and his door is lock, I'll take that as a no." Tess told her, grabbing her purse, and guiding Camille out of the house, sitting a note on the kitchen table on her way out. "Anyway we're late and Liz will be mad."

"Okay, we don't want that." Camille agreed, following Tess out. "Can we get ice cream?"

"Camille, it's ten in the morning."

"Alright, figured I'd ask." The little girl exclaimed, mad she couldn't pull a fast one on her aunt. It usually worked.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael glanced at the piece of paper; a bit relieved he didn't have to justify anything to Tess or Camille. Not that he was ashamed of what happened with Maria but he wanted to tell his sister and daughter in the right manner.

"What's that?"

Her voice should have startled him but it didn't. He was comfortable having her around; it was like he could sense her presence even when she just walked into the room. He liked how sweet her voice was and how forceful she was the night before telling him what she wanted.

"Tess and Camille went out to do things for Liz and Max's wedding." Michael answered and automatically wrapped his arms around her when she was close enough.

"Hmm house to ourselves?" Her voice was innocent yet naughty. "I wonder what we could do with a big house like this all to ourselves." She was teasing him and enjoying it too.

Michael started kissing her neck. "I have a few suggestions."

Maria smiled contently. While she was happy, the dread from deep inside her still came out. She needed to know that what had happened in her last relationship, wasn't going to happen again. "We need to talk."

Michael stopped kissing her, wondering where she was going with this idea of talking. The kissing and being with each other felt great. "About what?"

She had to force herself not to smile and focus on how cute he was. "I need to know where I stand."

"Stand? In what?" He pulled away, unsure of what else to do. Hadn't he seemed into it? Did she think he had a woman on the side?

"Michael, I don't know much about your past relationships and..." She trailed for a minute, losing her wording. "You have a daughter with some woman I've never met or heard you talk about and I would like to know now that in the future she won't walk in and steal you right from me."

Michael nodded, he could understand her confusion. How was she supposed to know? He knew he'd have to explain and apparently now was the time. "Courtney, Camille's mother won't walk into my life and take me away from you." The words sounded weird. It had been awhile since he said Courtney's name. When Tess and Michael fought about her they referred to her as 'her'. She had no name to them really. She was just a woman.

"How do I know that?" He made it sounded so easy, like nothing could happen. She wanted a guarantee, proof, evidence; anything to insure Michael was all hers. "How do I know she won't walk into your house and take you?"

Michael sighed, he knew he'd have to say it but it was harder to say it out loud. For years it stayed away, unspoken. Maria knew and that made it hard. "Because someone who is dead can't come and take me, Maria."

"I'm sorry." She had no clue what else to say. She was a little surprised. She figured Camille's mother just wasn't around much, busy working maybe? But dead, she hadn't predicted that.

"It's fine." Michael said, wondering how he was supposed to explain that Courtney was nothing more than a horrible memory.

But it left another question. Did Michael still love her? Was he afraid of getting into another relationship because his last love died? "Do you still love her?" She blurted out the thing that scared her most. It made her question herself. Could she love this man despite the fact he was in love with a ghost?

Michael laughed bitterly. He caught Maria's strange look and knew he'd have to explain it. "I loved what she appeared to be. Wild, crazy, fun but she was heartless, manipulative and ruthless."

Maria swallowed before asking. "How'd she die then?" She was wondering if it was a car accident, cancer maybe.

"Complications at birth." It rolled off smoothly but it was something he hadn't dealt with in a long time. It was buried deep into the back of his mind.

"That must have been terrible," Maria whispered and her sympathy went out to him, to think it could have been Courtney alive instead of Camille. Maria couldn't even picture Michael without that little girl.

"Her own fault." Michael's voice still lingered with the bitterness but now more of an acceptance. He knew what Courtney did and he knew her lies. "She didn't take care of herself."

"Why?" Maria couldn't believe that some could be so heartless, so cruel to even not take care of their own body for their child.

"She didn't want a child."

"So she pretended it never existed?" Maria was in a state of disbelief. It was understandable why Michael didn't trust love; his first bruised the image so bad he couldn't trust it.

"Basically." He shrugged his shoulders, what more could he say? He knew for a fact that Courtney didn't so why try to hide it?

Maria watched him, he was silent and she knew it had been awhile since he last talked of her. She attentively rested her head on his shoulder, bringing her arm to snake around his back. "I wouldn't do that."

"I know but it's not easy to believe." He whispered understanding her own feelings of shock by what Courtney had done. He needed her to understand why he was difficult concerning the subject.

She used her thumb to guide his eyes towards her so he saw the seriousness in her voice and eyes. "I plan on changing that."

He kissed her softly, not with need but with acceptance. What had happened in the past no longer mattered. It was the future that counts.

"I hope you do."


Ch.11 It could be called Love

Maria stretched her arms before adding a few more words to the paper in front of her. Her mind had been on over drive. When she was in love her mind went crazy with creativity. That thought stopped her. Was she already in love with Michael? Maybe she was rushing things.

"Need help?"

Maria jumped at the voice. She thought she was alone for the day to get some good material. "No."

Alex laughed at her expense. Maria was a character and it was amusing to watch her get going. "What are you writing?" Alex sat next to her on the floor. Maria always found the weirdest places to write but she said it let her be creative.

"I have this idea for a song," She bit at her finger nail. Nervous habits weren't always lost so easily, "Beautiful disaster."

"Interesting title," Alex nodded, waiting for Maria to continue. He always liked her unique choice of words and how she described her feelings.

"That's kind of how Michael is. He has all these past things and you can tell he's this hurt person but it leaves someone in my position to wonder if…if I fall in love with him could it be beautiful or a disaster." She sighed putting the actual words out there made it seem real.

"Put the words together and we'll see." Alex smiled reassuringly at her. He couldn't blame her for being cautious. Love could do that to a person and Maria was the type to sometimes over think things.

"Thanks." She smiled, she knew she was over analysing the entire situation far too much but there were things that ate at her. What if Michael’s insecurities with trust and love brought them to an end? It would be a hard bullet to take. "How's the development area with Isabel?"

Alex could see the curiosity in Maria's eyes and the interest but he knew far too well that she was trying to think of something other then Michael's past. "There's nothing there with me and Isabel."

"Nonsense," Maria scolded, she knew better too. "I’ve seen the way you look at her and the way she looks at you. I wouldn't call that nothing at all."

"You're pretty sure of yourself." Alex teased.

"I just can see love, or the possibility of love there." Maria explained, smiling proud that she could detect things so easily. "And there's chemistry between you and Isabel."

Alex stretched his long body along her carpet knowing Maria would keep him there awhile, or until she got what she wanted. "What chemistry?" He liked her advice and point of view on things, she was a true artist.

She smiled, lying beside him. "That the two of you would probably never expect to fall for the other but it keeps you wanting more because you are so different. It keeps the fire burning rapidly. I'm surprised she hasn't grabbed you and had her way with you but perhaps she needs a sign."

"A sign?" Alex never understood Maria's reasoning to life much less people. "Like what kind of sign?"

"A gesture, a comment about commitment, anything to make her think you're interested because she can read easily that you're a shy man, Alex, that you might not make any obvious interest."

Alex laughed a little; Maria could hit some things right on the money. "You think you're pretty smart don't you?"

"Alex, I know I am." She smiled, laughing at the way her and Alex acted. The relationship was special; they supported one another but in appealing ways.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Liz said it was fine." Tess argued, frustrated at her brother's childish ways. He was a grown man and he acted like a five year old. She tried to get her heels off, she hated dressing up for weddings and she was sick of trying on the maid of honour dress Liz asked her to wear.

Michael opened the door and looked at his sister, thinking for a second. "You didn't ask me? You don't even know him." And as fast as Michael was out he was back in his room, safely hiding behind his door leaving Tess annoyed.

"I'm twenty-three years old Michael. I don't need your permission to take Kyle to Michigan with us for Max and Liz's wedding. I need Liz's because it's her wedding and I can't bring whoever." Tess stared at the door, tempted to chuck the shoe at it and maybe it would go through the door and hit her brother in the head. "I do know him. He's Maria's friend, you trust her."

"Beside the point, Tess." Michael grumbled through the closed door. Tess never dated and for years he felt bad for that but at that moment he didn't want his sister alone with the guy.

"No, it does matter." She shouted back, she was sick of his controlling ways. "This is my life and I could be happy and you are being like this." She collapse against the wall, she could feel tears coming. "Do you even care how hard this is for me? That I've been so use to being alone that I have to sit here and hope that maybe, maybe you'll be okay with it and be the great big brother and let me be happy but no, I have to suffer."

Michael was silent. He knew Tess was hard on herself and she had sacrificed so much but it was hard to let her go off. He knew his own mistakes but would Tess make those same ones because of anything he didn't want his sister hurt. He could hear her soft cries; he was letting her get hurt either way. It was ten times worse when he was the cause of her hurt. He opened the door.

"I'm sorry." He sat down next to her, tilting his head to look at her. "It's not easy watching you grow up."

"You just don't trust guys." She said, laughing a little. She knew he had been on edge. "I know it's not easy going back home but we have to someday because Camille deserves to see where you grew up. And maybe you should ask Maria to come; it'll help that wound heal." She could tell he was tense about the whole visiting home idea. He left his roots and hadn't turned back yet, maybe some things could change.

"What if it never heals?" Michael asked.

"You don't believe that."

"Maybe." Michael closed his eyes. He didn't want to go back home to where it was filled of memories he wanted to forget.

"You don't." Tess pushed; she smiled even though she shouldn't. He was trying and she could be okay with that.

Michael rubbed the back of his neck. His sister sometimes never made sense to him but she was smarter then he gave her credit for. "Some days I don't know Tess."

Tess smiled, looping her arms around his neck, making him hug her because she knew he wouldn't on his free will. "Time heals all wounds."

"When did you get all sentimental?"

"I think Kyle's been a help in that department." She giggled when she saw Michael's face. "He's a good guy, you'd like him."

"Yeah, sure." Michael grumbled. "I like any guy that wants to bang my sister."

"Michael!"

"What?" Michael asked as he felt her arms smacking him in the arm, Tess may be a foot shorter but she could hit when need be. "That hurts."

"Well, serves you right." She muttered standing up to leaving.

Camille peeked out her door to see Tess walking away and her daddy sitting on the floor, alone. "What did you do this time?"

"I didn't do anything." Michael stated, but Tess's laughter from downstairs was going against him.

"Why is Aunt Tess laughing then?" Camille asked, crossing her arms as her smile grew as she sat next to Michael on the floor, becoming comfortable. She knew her Daddy was in trouble but wanted to see if he'd admit it.

Michael relaxed a little as Camille snuggled closer. "Cause your Aunt's very silly."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So he'll kill me?" Kyle asked grabbing a hand full of fries, thinking it could be one of his last meals.

"Only if you get me pregnant." Tess laughed a little hoping it wouldn't scare Kyle off, but the boy didn't seem too worried.

"Even if we're married?"

"Just protect your umm…your thing at all times." Tess blushed and continued eating leaving Kyle a little taken back. She looked back up at him to remind him of another thing he wasn't allowed to do. "Oh don't touch me when we're there or Michael will take a knife to your hand."

"So it's like the ‘let's see which part of Kyle's body will be chopped off today’ adventure." Kyle grabbed his beer and took a long drink. What was he thinking dating Michael's sister? Tess smiled and grabbed his hand, rubbing her fingers across his knuckles gently and Kyle looked up to stare into her bright blue eyes. Now he remembered why he was doing this. "Can we share a room?"

"No." Tess answered, how could she explained Michael was not normal. "Sorry it’s his house. I can't argue too much with him and trust me I've tried but Michael is one stubborn jerk."

"His house?" Kyle stared a little curious. He knew that the whole group had grown up in Michigan but last time he checked Michael lived in New York.

Tess sighed, before she took a sip of her diet coke. "He bought the house we grew up in and while we're there we're going to stay there. It's a ranch house, plenty of rooms."

Kyle nodded getting the drift. He was happy and Tess was worth the trouble. "So what about your parents then?" Tess’ eyes grew sad and Kyle immediately regretted asking the question realizing it was a heartbreaking story. "Oh god, I'm sorry."

"No, no." Tess stopped seeing the remorseful look in his eyes. She was like Michael in that way, she dreaded when people felt sorry for her. "Its fine, it was a long while ago."

Kyle could tell she was pretending, acting tough. "What happened?"

"Car accident." Tess wasn't sure how else to describe, there was so much but yet she had set aside so much be let go.

"Must have been rough."

Tess smiled at Kyle's voice, it was caring. "It was, but Michael and I got by. We had to take care of Camille. We grieved quietly. I've always been that way as well as Michael."

"You two don't seem that much alike." Kyle commented finding it interesting that Tess could be quiet. She was usually so talkative unlike Michael.

"Trust me, we're more alike then you think." Tess laughed to herself, if people only knew the things that the siblings shared. "He's stubborn, I'm stubborn. I can make a list if you like."

"No, I trust you." Kyle felt better that she was laughing a little. He liked her laughter over the quietness any day. "So tell me, what things can we do?"

"Are you trying to be naughty?" Tess giggled; she liked the sexy flirting they did ever once in a while. It was harmless but pleasurable at the same time.

"Well when you're involved…" He smirked, as his hand grazed her skin on her cheek, enjoying the way her lips curved so perfectly.

"You're a charmer." She teased, her smile growing bigger. "But I’d personally like to keep you in one piece, so I'll resist the urge."

Kyle smirked dropped at the thought of Michael trying to kill him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Hey." Michael opened the door a little wider letting Maria past by him and he liked just looking at her. She looked cute in her mini skirt and her heeled shoes and the little top that showed more then it covered, he hung up her coat as she stood by waiting.

Maria folded her arms across her chest, unsure of how to say the right thing without him getting defensive. "Have you talked to Tess yet?"

"Yeah, she's cool with it. She actually started jumping up and down that she was right and then attacked me." Michael grumbled, his hand gliding through his hair, causing the smaller hairs to fall on his forehead better. "She's like a little girl."

Maria laughed a little. "Kyle apparently really likes her." Maria heard the cough that escaped Michael's mouth at Kyle's name. "What's wrong with Kyle?"

"Nothin'." Michael said calmly liked he hadn't just coughed like that. He was cool with his baby sister dating, really.

Maria smirked, realizing Michael wasn't okay with his sister dating. He was terrified. It was actually kind of cute when she thought about it. He had a protective nature about him. "I think you have a problem with him liking your sister." She teased, inching closer to Michael.

"I do not." He argued. He was certainly not going to admit his problem with ease. He was a bigger man than that.

Maria looped her arms around his neck once he finished talking. "You are so full of it. Steam is coming out of your ears just thinking of Kyle near Tess."

Michael smirked, he could play her game. "I have no clue what you're talking about." His hand trailing her sides and once hitting the bottom of the hem of her shirt, his hand found its way underneath the thin material.

"I think you do." She whispered seductively as she brought her lips to his.

"Still don't." Michael said before she deepened the kiss, the frustration was in her emerald eyes. "And I don't want to get caught. Camille's upstairs sleeping and I still have to explain it to her."

"Oh, you're no fun." She whispered, smirking to herself. "Cause I was thinking of some ways I could have fun."

"Too bad." Michael shrugged his shoulders, it was pure torture saying no to her but it was fun to see her trying to cover up the disappointment. "Come to the wedding with me."

Maria's eyes got big. He said it so naturally like going to the grocery store or getting a cup of coffee. "It's family there though."

"Tess is bringing Kyle." Michael didn't get the big deal. She goes, enjoys herself, and then he could actually enjoy himself.

"I…I don't know." Maria mumbled, trying to think. She didn't expect him to do that. It wasn't a huge deal but they literally just started dating. Things were going way to fast. She needed to get her bearings back, let her mind be clear.

"It'll be fun."

His other hand was cupping her cheek and Maria felt herself melting in his arms. She didn't know if she could stop herself even if she tried. He was irresistible, plain and simple. "Alright, I'll go."


Ch.12 Hope

"What do you want, Michael?" Tess was getting annoyed. It was like the fifth time he had barged into her room, pacing around, trying to figure out how to tell his little girl he was might be starting to date and he was going to bring this new woman to Michigan with them.

Michael sighed and fell onto her bed. "I'm just not good at this, Tess. I mean yeah I can say it but how will Camille take it? Will she react horribly? What would I do if she did?"

Tess jumped onto the bed next to him laughing. "If only people realized how worked up you get over a little girl. Mr. Tough guy Guerin."

"This is not a laughing matter." Michael defended, not finding it as amusing as Tess seemed to. He was seriously concerned about Camille's reaction.

"This is Camille we're talking about." Tess pointed out rolling her eyes at him. "She'll probably be so excited she'll ask you when you're going to marry Maria."

Michael let out a low sigh. He was never good at words and when it came to Camille he wasn't any better at it. "This is a big thing here and I just want to handle it right." He explained.

Tess propped her hands on her chin and smiled a little. He always thought of himself as a mess up, a total fuck up yet she never could see him that way. If only he could see how right things were when it came to Camille.

"She's a smart kid, you raised her well and she'll be excited after you tell her. Who knows, she may even want the big family thing and all. We grew up with a big family, always aunts, uncles and cousins over. I think Camille would like that."

Michael stared at Tess. He honestly never realized that. "You think?"

"Yes, dummy." Tess teased, laughing a little. "She's her father's daughter more then you notice sometimes. Trust me I'm the one who deals with her."

Tess began to get up and out of the bed. "Thanks, Tess."

"Go talk to her. She's not so scary."

Michael rubbed his face and headed into Camille's room. "Hey, Daddy," she said and smiled at him as she placed various things into her suit case. As much as Tess and Michael worried about going back home, Camille was so excited to go somewhere and ride horses, she couldn't wait.

"Baby girl I need to talk to you." Michael said. He had to get it over with. He knew that but it was never an easy feat when he could think of all the bad things that could happen.

"About what, and trust me, Aunt Tess has already informed me on how I'm supposed to act through the wedding. So if it's about that I don't think we need to repeat that conversation."

Michael smiled briefly at her. She was a cutie and she got caught up into things without a care in the world, full of energy, of life. Maria was like that too and he couldn't help but think why he was so attracted to that girl. "No, it's not about that."

"What is it?" Camille asked puzzled. Her nose wrinkled as she tried to think of things that he would need to talk to her about. She had been good, picked up her room, ate a lot of her vegetables, except the nasty green ones, which was most vegetables. She was confused.

Michael sat down her bed; he was able to be more of her height when he did that. He could tell already Camille was going to be tall, not as tall as him but she not going to be short like Tess. "You know how you asked about why I didn't have a girlfriend?"

"Yeah," Camille mumbled, pushing herself up onto the bed, trying to get a better view of him. "What about it?"

"Well how would you feel about me getting one?" He figured asking her opinion first was a better idea. She was able to disagree easier or he hoped she would be able to.

Camille shrugged her shoulders, and focused on the comforter of her bed. "I don't know." She acted as if it didn't matter. She was a child that never expected much and when it came to that she never tried to get her hopes up high.

"Camille."

Her eyes shot up at Michael. When he called her by her full name it scared her. She was baby girl. That much she always understood. It was like Aunt Tess for her, being called anything but sweets was a bad thing. "Yes."

Michael sighed, her voice was quiet, little not the full of life little girl he was used to, his little girl always had an opinion something to say. 'I don't know' wasn't in her vocabulary, well now it seemed to be.

"Camille, does it bother you if I start dating?" Michael bowed his head down to look straight into her eyes. She shrugged her shoulders again. "Camille, I want a yes or a no." He didn't like how the conversation was going with her. He didn't get what was bothering her so much.

She stayed quiet a little longer acting as if she was thinking but she was trying to find a way to avoid the question. "You said the other night that a girlfriend took up to much time. What changed?"

"Why are you avoiding answering my question?" He picked up on it too quickly. Tess was right; she was too much like him for her own good. "Do you not want me to date because it will take time away from you?" He couldn't figure it out. The other night she brought it up and now she didn't seem to care.

She bit her lower lip and mumbled out another 'I don't know'. She wasn't sure how to answer anyway. Most things didn't get discussed much and she didn't want to say she would like that because it would mean she might get a mommy and maybe younger siblings.

Michael was dumbfounded. He wasn't sure what to do. "How about I let you finish packing and we'll talk about this later. Okay?" Michael kissed her forehead and left her alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I just don't get it, Tess." Michael ran a hand through his already crazy hair. He couldn't make sense of the entire thing.

"She just kept saying I don't know?" Tess asked, rinsing off a couple of dishes in the sink and dried them with a towel as she listen to Michael tell what had just happen with Camille.

Michael leaned the chair onto only two legs oppose to the normal four wood pegs. "It was the weirdest thing. She acted like it was no big deal and then tried to change it around."

"Maybe she doesn't want to get her hopes up." Tess suggested if she thought about it enough it made sense. "You have never thought of even dating before. Camille maybe has always wanted you to get a wife to fill the void of not having Courtney alive but you never have."

"But, I don't know. It just doesn't seem like her." Michael shook his head. His daughter was not an easy one to figure out.

Tess sighed and sat next to him at a nearby chair. "You did it yourself. You never even let yourself think for one moment you could be happy again and maybe even have more children. But its here and Camille doesn't realize that."

"You really think that is what's bothering her?" Michael asked, he never really thought before if having those things mattered to Camille but apparently they did.

"Yeah I do. Now again go talk to her. Let her know about Maria."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael found her laying down on her bed reading. She could be a quiet kid at times. He sometimes forgot how fast she had grown up. It seemed only yesterday she was born. He knew he missed spending time with her due to his schedule so this vacation would do her…them some good. "What you doing baby girl?"

She looked up at him like a relief was back in her eyes knowing she was being called baby girl again. That maybe he wasn't mad at her. "Reading." She turned her head back to the book and continued reading.

"Can we talk?" Michael looked at her and saw the light nod and sat next to her on the bed. "We've never really gone over this before and to be honest I don't know how to go about in the right way."

Camille sat up on the back of her legs facing Michael a little better. She was still being too quiet for Michaels liking but figured once she became comfortable she'd start talking.

"I know this is out of nowhere for you but it's kind of like that for me. I was asking your opinion about me dating because I met a girl, one Aunt Tess and Isabel would like me to date but I want to check by you first."

"Me? Why?" Camille asked trying to not sound too thrilled about the possibility of her Dad dating someone.

Michael smiled as he saw the curiosity and the happiness in her hazel eyes. Tess had hit it right on the money. "Because you're the most important thing in my life silly," he said while ruffling her hair a bit which made her giggle. It was relief knowing she was acting like her normal self again. "Wanna tell me why you were being so shy?"

"I wasn't being shy." Camille blurted out, biting her lip a little when Michael started laughing at her. "It's just you never date and I just didn't want to get my hopes too high that maybe you'd get married and I could actually have a little brother or sister." She mumbled the last part to herself almost but Michael heard her loud and clear.

Michael kissed her forehead. "I didn't realize you wanted any of that."

"I didn't know to tell you and I figured it may never happen so I just kind of stopped putting it on my Christmas list." Michael smirked a little. Now he knew how his sister knew that. He told Tess at one point to handle all Christmas things because he'll screw it up. Tess thought she was smart, yeah right.

"Well I wouldn't go that far." Michael teased causing Camille to smile a little. "But now that you seem okay with me dating do you wanna know who she is?"

"Yeah!"

Michael smiled; she was excited, ecstatic about it. "What do you think of Maria?"

"You're going out with Maria?" Michael nodded. "She's really pretty.” Camille smiled then frowned and creased her eyebrows in confusion. “She's willing to date you?" Michael tackled her on her sides causing her to scream with laughter.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Maybe I shouldn't go." Maria fell onto the couch in a huff. She kept going back and forth. She had agreed and she had less then twenty-four hours to get everything together to spend a week in Michigan with Michael. She'd lost it, she was sure of it.

"Why do you say that?" Alex asked while sipping on his glass of water. Maria always did that. The girl could barely figure out what to wear half the time and in cases like this, she was a real nutcase.

Maria let out a loud sigh. "This is like family. That entire group grew up together. Maybe I shouldn't be there. Sure Camille was cool with me and Michael dating but…I just don't know if this is rushing things."

"Please breathe," Alex teased, finding it amusing that Maria was saying that all in one breath. The girl sure had a set of lungs. "Oxygen is a good thing."

Maria hit him in the gut. "Stop teasing me. I'm being serious and here you are laughing at me, no fair."

"I don't get why you're so worried. Kyle seems fine." Alex looked over at the guy sound asleep in the lazy boy chair. "Is he drooling?"

"Be serious." Maria whined getting frustrated from all the teasing she had to endure from these two boys she called family.

"I am." Alex said back, trying to get a better view of the soundless Kyle. When was quiet you wondered. He was like Maria in that sense; he had to be right there in front of everybody. "I seriously see drool. That's so gross."

"Alex," Maria whined again. She was really getting annoyed with him. "I don't know if I should go."

"Why are you having second thoughts? Kyle's going too. You're just over thinking everything too much." Alex smiled reassuringly at her. "Just go and have fun."

"You think?"

"Honey, I know."

"You should be coming to." Maria told him after their laughter had subsided. She had worked so hard to push Isabel and Alex together.

"She's taking an old high school friend." Alex shrugged his shoulders, what more could a guy do really.

The phone started ringing. "Let me get it." Maria quickly answered the phone using her sweet hello into the receiver. "Oh really? I think I can help out. Sure I'll ask and get back to you."

"Who was it?" Alex was flipping through a old magazine on her coffee table listening to the conversation but trying to act like he wasn't.

"Michael, Isabel's date can't make it to the wedding, she needs someone to take her. Please come Alex. I can't deal with Buddha boy alone."

"Fine," Alex said like it was a chore although secretly he was thankful that he could spend some more time with Isabel.

"Good, we leave tomorrow, early." Maria smiled. It was the start of this crazy relationship with Michael. She had no clue if things would actually work out but all she could do was hope.


Ch.13 Coming Home

"Hey Michael, over here," the cheery voice called when she saw Michael, Tess and Camille walking her way after they got off the plane, waving her hands in the air to catch their attention.

"Laurie." Michael had his sorry excuse for a smile on when he noticed her standing there in typical Laurie fashion. Waving, screaming, basically doing anything to get a crowds attention.

"Well give me a hug," she chuckled, some things when it came to Michael were never easy but she was used to her cousin's ways, "or did you forget how to do that?"

Michael ignored her teasing and wrapped his arms around and she squeezed him harder then he expected. Laurie was bossy in a sense and ever since they were kids she pushed him to use his heart more often, strange girl.

"How's life?"

Laurie had to smile at his attempted to be polite. Lord knew Michael was never good at it but at least his trying was not gone from living in New York the past five years. "Been good." She easily saw how Tess was looking annoyed that none of the attention was directed her away. "And look at you," Laurie cooed, "you're tinier then ever. When was the last time you had a real meal."

"The Christmas you visited." Tess answered jokingly as Laurie pulled her into a hug. The girls were always close. Laurie was about a year older then Tess and a year younger then Michael. She was right in the middle of her cousins.

Laurie shook her head at Michael, showing her disapproval of not knowing how to feed Tess right. "I knew it. The only time you guys even get some kind of nutrition is when I'm around." Laurie immediately spotted the quiet Camille that was obvious amused by the exchange. "And look at you. It's only been almost two years since I last saw you and you've gotten so big." Laurie smiled when Camille started smiling. "At this rate you're gonna be bigger then your dad."

"Thank you, Laurie." Camille's smile grew a little. She wasn't always comfortable with being around new people. She knew Laurie but she wasn't sure if Laurie would remember her.

Laurie got down on her knee to be eye level with Camille, awed by the sweetness possessed by the young child. "Well I have no clue where you got those excellent manners from but at least someone was looking out for you."

"Laurie." Michael sounded irritated but it wasn't like Laurie was actually going to pay any attention to it at all.

"Where are the others you were bringing with you?" Laurie quickly changed the subject and also failed to see Michael's bothered look and the roll of the eyes. "I thought they were coming?"

"They are." Tess cut in before Michael could get a chance to put his two cents in. "But because Alex had to get his ticket last minute there were no seats left, so the three of them are catching the flight tomorrow morning."

"Oh well that gives us to catch up on some good times then," Laurie hooked arms with Tess before adding, “and gives us time to find the best dirt on Michael to get him to tell me about his new girlfriend."

"Don't I have a say in this?" Michael raised his eyebrow. He forgot how much trouble those two always got into but suddenly all those memories were flooding back.

Camille giggled at him and took his hand. "I don't think you have much of a say daddy."

"Thanks baby girl." Michael muttered realizing he was doomed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Now Laurie, everything has been okay?" Michael took his serious tone with her. Tess and Camille had headed inside to get everything put away and Laurie and Michael were left to talk business on the front porch.

"Michael, how is it that every time we see each other we have to talk about how the farm's doing?" Laurie crossed her arms as she relaxed in the wicker chair.

Michael sighed as he scratched his head. "This was my parent's place I just want to make sure everything is running smoothly."

Laurie smiled softly, nodding her head understanding what it meant for Michael. He wanted to make them proud and happy that he kept it up. "We're doing better; with all the money you donate we don't have to worry about saving money for new equipment. It works out really well."

"Good, I'm glad." Michael said. It felt good to know he had kept the place even though he didn't benefit from it. It felt like he was keeping his parents' memory alive and one day when he was older he could come back home, for good.

"How has Tess been? She seems to have matured even more since the last time I saw her. How do you guys manage that one?" Laurie liked to keep things light and focus on easier subjects.

"She's been good, especially happy since she started things with Kyle." Michael had a certain tone when he said Kyle's name, like it almost bugged him.

"Awe, your so cute when your being over-protective." Laurie teased, laughing at Michael's face when she said cute. He tried anything but being cute. "I'm sure Maria would agree."

"Funny, Laurie. Real funny." Michael grumbled he was going to be bruised so bad he wouldn't be able to see straight.

"I know. I should go into comedy." Laurie smirked even more at Michael.

Michael felt relaxed as he and Laurie continued joking. He forgot how simple life could be when just sitting out on the porch drinking lemonade and seeing the sun fall, the colors that danced around the brightly colored sun. In September the sky could light up in ways you only saw in a picture. It was calming.

"I miss this."

Laurie stared at him; shocked by the fact Michael could admit it. That he missed home more then he ever let on. "It is beautiful. I don't know if I could ever leave."

"I'm going to bed. Night, Laurie." He whispered and was gone leaving Laurie alone in her thoughts.

"Night, Michael." She whispered into the wind. "It's good to have you home."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Tess, what are you doing?" Michael mumbled when he realized Tess was fast asleep in bed with him. He forgot how weird she could be.

Tess rubbed her eyes and turned over, ignoring Michael and had her face in the pillow. She was comfortable and she wasn't leaving anytime soon. He'd have to deal.

"Now this is something I'd think Camille would do but no it's my twenty-three year old sister that forgot to get rid of her childhood habits."

He was mad. She could tell by his voice but their parents' bed was a comfy bed. He obviously forgot how many times she use to sleep on it or take little naps, stretch out on it as she talked with their mother as she put the laundry away. He came home and took it over like it was no big deal. Well she taught him. Michael fully expected to share a bed with Maria and she couldn't share with Kyle?

"Who's over reacting now?" She muttered still sleepy but a wake enough to throw a comment back. She had mastered that at one point in time and her old tricks were coming back like a charm.

Michael groaned as he got out of bed. "You're impossible." And he left the room leaving a smug Tess to fall back asleep.

Michael rubbed his hair causing it to go in a million different directions. Okay maybe he didn't miss home as much as he thought he did. Tess was making the aggravating memories stand out.

"Morning daddy," Camille smiled. She was dressed in a pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt and cow boy hat that was too big for her head because it kept falling down.

"Morning baby girl, why are you all dressed up?" He asked as he grabbed a cup of coffee with Camille right on his heels.

"Laurie's going to teach me how to ride a horse." The excitement filled her voice. She couldn't wait. She had been saying she wanted to do it and it was obvious she got up early so Laurie could teach her.

"She's just like Tess," Laurie teased as she came into the house, hearing the end bit of the father and daughter conversation. "She begged me the entire morning if I could teach her. So you're gonna have to take my truck to go pick up the others up okay?"

"You have a truck? What about that van you had yesterday?"

"It was one of the guy's I borrowed because I figured I'd have six of you but my truck is only a couple years old and it's the type that has a bench in the back so you can fit like five people in there."

"Alright. I'll go get dressed and do that."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was only a few hours later when Michael returned with Maria, Alex and Kyle all piled into the truck. Of course the two boys got crammed in the back as Michael only allowed Maria up front but Kyle personally wanted to stay on Michael's good side and keep all his important body parts so he didn't argue and Alex wasn't really willing to die before he lost his shot with Isabel.

"Oh my god." Maria stepped out of the truck amazed by the big house. It was like an old country style house. The big wood porch that extended away and the flowers neatly planted. The big barn house added to the whole affect. "This is beautiful."

Alex and Kyle stumbled out shortly after her. Both unsure what Maria was exactly doing but Kyle figured he'd ask. "What is she staring at?"

"The house?" Alex tried as a guess. With Maria you honestly couldn't tell.

"Yes,” Maria said irritably. “You guys obviously cannot tell the difference between something beautiful and something ugly." She groaned displeased, she'd dealt with the two in the plane for far too long.

Michael smirked and shut his door as he watched her. She was beautiful herself, the hair freely blowing around and the jeans and the plain blue tank top. She was a masterpiece. "Come on. Let me show you the back." He took her hand led her to the rest of the property.

"This is truly beautiful." She repeated once they were further away from Alex and Kyle. She loved the atmosphere of a country home, of this home. She felt comfortable there.

"That's what my mother said and so my dad bought this place." Michael explained walking along the gravel pathway that was set up around the back with the different colored flowers against it.

Maria smiled, he seemed younger, innocent almost when talking about his parents which he rarely did. "I bet she loved this place." Michael was almost a mystery to her. He still had things hidden deep inside of him. The wounded soul hadn't completely healed yet and Maria could see that, but she knew that she wouldn't turn away anytime soon because she was interested in him, ready to learn his secrets and what made him tick.

She had a feeling he was well worth the wait.


Ch.14 when old things resurface

“Come on. I just need to pick up a few things.” Laurie explained as she directed Maria into the small restaurant downtown.

Maria nodded absentmindedly as she took in the area around her. She was finding the small town cute almost homey in a sense. “Thanks for letting me tag along. I like exploring.”

“Oh, it was my pleasure.” Laurie chirped happily. She liked Maria although it wasn’t as if it was a hard thing to do but given Michael’s past experience in relationships, it was nice to know he was starting things off with a woman who cared deeply for him and Camille. Their family was protective of one another and this case was no exception

Maria inspected the little restaurant. It was obviously popular in town for the amount of people crammed into the small space. “Is this place the one Liz’s parent’s own?” She knew there was a restaurant they owned downtown but it could have been one of the other ones. She hadn’t had the opportunity to really get a chance to talk to Liz. Max was always around the farm as if he was bored. Laurie had justified it as out of habit. The group had known each other so long and hanging out on the Guerin’s farm was a normal thing.

“Yeah, it’s this one.” Laurie had been impressed by how much information Maria had absorbed. She took in everything involving Michael. “Mr. Parker is working.”

Maria found how Laurie handled herself as fun. She was not a shy girl like her cousin but she had mixed traits just like Tess. Some very obvious and others were easily hidden. Laurie’s outgoing personality was definitely not something Michael had.

“Laurie, how are you doing?” The older man smiled at her as he stood safely behind the counter.

“I’m doing great.” She said cheerfully. She had an inner beauty, which was quite unique. “Excited about the wedding or sad you got give your only little girl away?”

Maria could tell that the older man was indeed Mr. Parker. She could see the similar quietness that Liz seemed to posses. He was calm and easygoing about things. She could see the graying color coming from his chocolate brown hair, the same tiny brown eyes that Liz also had. It seemed she had gotten a few qualities from her dad.

“I’m not sure if I should cry or be quiet.” The old man replied, clearly unnerved about his only daughter finally getting married. The happiness was there but the tint of sadness was seen in his eyes. It made Maria think of how one day Michael would handle Camille getting married. It brought a small smile to her face thinking of how he would react. If he was the same with his sister as his daughter when it came to dating, Michael Guerin would surely have plenty to say against it.

“Don’t worry.” Laurie’s smile could calm anyone’s fears it seemed. “She’s in good hands with Max. The guy is perfect.” She gave a small wink to the man, whom he kindly smiled to her, almost thanking her for her sweet words.

“So what brings you in today, Laurie?” The man knew her to well. He’d watched all these kids grow up hanging around his place for years and Laurie was always in need of something.

“Mr. Parker, why don’t you know me well enough by now?” Laurie teased as she acted as if his words hurt her deeply. “I came to enjoy your amazing company.”

“Laurie you’re a sweet girl but we both know you aren’t that sweet.” Maria found it amusing. Liz’s dad had more of a sense of humor where it seemed Liz lacked it. She was kind but never joking around from what Maria had seen.

“I have a couple orders of some cakes and some other types of foods for tonight. Tess decided we should have a party before the wedding.” Laurie shrugged her shoulders; she could only cook so much, so she hoped Mr. Parker would help her out.

“Hey thanks for talking behind my back.” Tess jumped onto a stool, causing Mr. Parker to laugh at her.

“Only good things Tess.” Mr. Parker told her, he always thought Tess as the quiet one but as she got older the more the girl developed a mouth and an opinion about everything.

“It’s Tess. Can she do anything but planning? You’d think it’s Iz but Tess is getting right into it, not that Iz hasn’t had an opinion about anything.” Laurie smiled as she elbowed Tess. She loved having them all home. She missed it.

“I’ll get you some stuff. Give me a minute.” He quickly went into the kitchen to talk to the cook and try to help the Laurie out.

After Mr. Parker left the room Tess turned to Maria. “Oh Maria I left Michael with Camille in the store across the street, she may talk him into buying that store, can you prevent it?”

Maria smiled at the thought of Michael and Camille. “Yeah, no problem.” And she disappeared to help save her boyfriend from his little girl.

Soon after Maria was gone the door opened and a middle-aged woman entered the diner. Laurie seemed unaffected by the woman as well as Tess as the two continued to joke.

“Hello Laurie, Tess.”

Laurie’s reaction to the woman didn’t seem friendly. It seemed opposite Laurie’s character to be cold and turned off like she was. Tess wasn’t any calmer as she heard the voice.

“Hi Dana.” Laurie’s tone was icy, brutal. She looked the older woman up and crossed her arms in a fashion that was a lot like an angry Michael. Laurie was distant, detaching any feelings or sympathy to the older woman. “What do you want?”

“Biter?” Dana responded. She seemed snide as she talked, bitter seemed to describe the woman herself better.

“Try annoyed.” Laurie smirked briefly, similar to her cousin’s. Laurie chose to keep talking knowing Tess would not be able to hold herself together.

“I heard Michael was back in town.” Tess’s blood began to boil as she looked at the woman. Laurie caught a glance at Tess, and squeezed her hand, trying to make her not say anything.

“How about you cut the crap, Dana.” Laurie shot back. Her tolerance for the woman was running low. “Say whatever it is that you want to say and you can go back to whatever hole you crawled out from.”

“I’m sure that would make your life easy.”

“It’s not about my life.” Laurie stared her down, not backing anytime soon. “I once again will ask you what you want.”

Dana was silent, thinking briefly. “I want my daughter back.”

“She’s 6 feet under ground.” Tess snapped. “Try the cemetery.” She had been quiet but her temper got the best of her. She wasn’t going to listen to this woman blaming anything on her brother. None of it was Michael’s fault.

Dana got up closer to Tess, her eyes narrowing. “I’m not talking about Courtney.”

“Leave her alone. You want answers, talk to someone who cares.” Laurie spat out and brushed past the woman, sick of dealing with her, she knew she had to get Tess out of there and fast.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Maria smiled softly. Camille was talking a mile a minute as Michael just watched her, his entire attention was devoted to her. He was an amazing father and she couldn’t help but wonder what more children would do to him.

Michael’s eyes slightly glanced in her direction. “Hey.” His voice was gentle, still had his masculine tone to it but tender and sweet at the same time. Only Michael could do that, no one else could be do many things to her.

“Hi.” Maria felt shy. As she watched the two converse a sense of dread overcame her. She brushed it off as nothing as Michael continued to stare into her eyes, however the feeling that she may lose Michael one day became more apparent. How was she supposed to wedge her way into his tight nit family?

Camille noticed the intense stare between the two and decided to go looking through the store as Maria moved closer to Michael.

His hand caressed her cheek as he leaned into kiss her, it held passion, the kind of fire breathing passion that love stories are made of and all Maria’s concerns left her as she tightened her hold on him. Maybe if she continued to hold him so tightly, nothing and no one could tear them apart.

Maybe then she could keep him forever…….


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“We knew she’d be irrational.” Laurie said, ever since they got home Tess had been on edge. Laurie couldn’t blame her. She had helped Michael raise Camille and if Dana just walked in and disturbed things she didn’t know what would happen.

Tess sat down across from Laurie, stopping her pacing. “What if she does something in front of Camille? We never had to worry because Cara always kept Dana in line and Camille was a baby.”

Laurie nodded. “Cara was a good person. She cared about her niece, even though her own sister could have cared less about her own baby.”

“Cara cared about Michael too.” Tess smiled sadly. “They were best friends, I mean regardless of what happen with Courtney and Michael, Cara was there. It was her own sister and she still knew what Courtney did better then anyone.” Tess was always thankful for that. No matter how many times Michael tried to take the blame Cara reminded him of all of Courtney’s doing.

Laurie could see hurt in Tess’s eyes. “Liz tried to find her didn’t she?” Tess was too emotional, there was something not adding up.

“You know she did.” Tess’s voice was low and the hurt was evident. “Did you honestly believe I was her first choice for her maid of honor?”

“Tess...” Laurie reached for her hand to give support, understanding Tess’s hurt feelings. It was perfectly understandable.

“Don’t.” She was stern and wanted no pity. She was fine, perfectly fine, a little worried for her niece but nothing else.

Laurie was debating with herself, she wasn’t sure the information she had should be put out into the wide open. “I was at a town a little south.” Laurie figured to throw it out there. Tess was a little unsure where Laurie was going with it but continued to listen in silence. “I saw Cara at a bar.”

“What?”

“I know, I couldn’t believe it. I mean it’s not like she’s dead or anything but to not have seen her in years, then to see her, it surprised me.”

Tess breathed heavily. She knew what she had to do. “Where’d you see her?”


Ch.15 Now where there is fire

“Alex, I’m telling you. Something isn’t right.” Maria shook her head as she tried to calm herself. Laurie and Tess seemed stressed about something and weren’t telling her about it.

Alex glanced up from the book he was reading as he sat on the bed to look at her pacing the room. “I’m sure you’re just dramatizing it.”

Maria fell onto the bed. “What if I’m not making it a big deal? I have a feeling, Alex and it’s not a good one.” She was sure there was something to worry about and that it was something big.

“Maria, just have fun tonight.” Alex smiled hoping it would ease her worry. She sighed and curled her body up next to his.

“So how are you and Isabel?” She tried to change the subject, anything to drown out her worries.

“I’ve told you…” Maria was not willing to listen to the same speech he had kept giving. It was getting annoying.

“Nothing’s going to happen…I know you’ve told me. I bet my butt something’s going to happen.”

He smirked, knowing it would piss her off. “Well I don’t like your butt so there.”

“Excuse me? This ass was on the top ten this year.” She got off the bed in a huff and made a point to shake her famous butt as she left the room.

Alex smiled to himself, thankful she had left the room so he could catch up on his reading.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tess sighed as she rested her arms on the wooden fence. She needed to clear her head; she was far to frustrated about the situation and couldn’t risk Michael knowing about it. If he knew she planned on paying Cara a visit he’d step in and Tess couldn’t let that happen. She had to do this her own way so Michael wouldn’t ruin anything.

“What are you staring at?”

Tess rolled her eyes as she rotated her head to face him, a smile forming on her lips. “Nothing particular.”

Kyle smiled softly at her, brushing a blonde curl out of her face as he too used the fence as support. “You sure?” He didn’t know her extremely well but he had picked up that when she was quiet, something was wrong. She was a bubble of energy, something she’d given to her niece.

She smiled briefly, trying to prove to him and herself that she was fine. “I’m just remembering the good times.”

”What are you thinking about?” He whispered entranced with her crystal blue eyes that had soft sparks in them. They were like diamonds. He knew if he ever brought her any jewellery to buy something that matched the gorgeous blue like her eyes.

She nervously giggled, and tried to think of something she could tell him fast that he would believe. The thought came to her and it wasn’t a complete lie, the past events had made her think of this day more and more.

He lightly stroked her cheek, her eyes held his gaze. He remembered Maria saying something about how powerful Michael’s eyes were, Tess had those same electricity flowing through hers. She was right, she was a lot more like her brother then most realized.

Her eyes could hold all the happiness in the world, but in that moment, sadness soaked into them. “The day Camille was born, I was thinking about that day.”

“I remember the way Michael was so scared to hold her. It was as if she was a china doll. My mother, her laugh, her carefree laugh echoed as she held her, trying to help Michael out. She had amazing patience. I think that’s why it was so great with my father, he was so hot headed and she could cool him right down.”

Kyle hated to stop her, her voice, the angelic voice he fell in lov- the one that caught his attention and made it hard for him to breathe. She sounded sad when she told that story; he didn’t want her to feel sad. “I thought that was a good day?”

“It was. It was the day I realized how fragile life is, how one action can change everything you believed in, how one person can so easily become your life, how whatever you do, effects others, in some way shape or form.”

She bit back the flow of tears. She was too proud of a woman to break, crumble so easily. She didn’t want Kyle thinking of her weak, of how emotional she can be. In a sense she was like Michael when it came to that, he never let people think of him as any less then he was. Tess had slowly followed that same way over the years.

“But it makes you sad.” Kyle whispered he could see pain in those blue eyes. He couldn’t understand how she could find that day a happy day if it brought tears.

Tess nodded a little, understanding why he was confused. “It reminds me of my parents. It reminds me of everything I loved about them, I miss them more then I realize at times.”

“What made you think of that day?” Kyle knew there was a reason to why she was telling him of that day, she probably had thousands to pick from and the day Camille was born rolled off her tongue without a second thought. She had to have been remembering that day for some reason.

“I don’t know.” She whispered, hoping Kyle wouldn’t read into it to much, that he’d simply take the ‘I don’t know’ and not ask further questions, because then she might have to explain Cara.

Kyle spotted something, it was only there for a moment and quickly hidden but he could see something in her eyes, almost begging him to not ask but he couldn’t help himself. “Tess, what’s going on?”

Tess stared at him, letting out a low breath. She didn’t want to do this. “I have to see a friend tomorrow.”

“A friend? What friend?” Kyle folded his arms, things were getting weird. Did she have an old boyfriend that she was afraid to tell him about? He suddenly became concerned on where he stood. Did he matter?

Tess could see the worry spreading across his face. “Her name is Cara.” She bit her tongue, it sounded so much easier then it was going to be.

Kyle felt a bit relieved there was no ex-boyfriend. There was something else there though. Something she wasn’t saying. “Who is she?”

“She’s Courtney’s twin sister.”

“What?” Kyle couldn’t help it, he was beyond shocked. There was another woman, Michael had another woman on the side, it had to be it and now he was sending Tess to go to her.

“Kyle.” She couldn’t stop it herself, she was scared. “I know it sounds bad--”

“Yeah, you’re damn right it does.” Kyle said cutting her off. He was mad, extremely mad at the situation, to much to realize how upset Tess was.

“Will you let me finish?”

Her voice was cold and harsh, a tone Kyle had never heard. It forced him to stop and look closely at her, to see the different emotions playing on her face. Her eyes held pain, while her clutched hand showed the anger too. Kyle nodded, feeling a bit ashamed to automatically assume the worst and didn’t let her finish.

“I understand that for you, being one of Maria’s best friend’s, things sound wrong but trust me it is anything but, besides me, only Laurie knows where she is.” She could tell he wanted to say something but bit his tongue from talking. “There was nothing between Michael and Cara, nothing but a best friend relationship. It’s like how you and Alex are with Maria. She was Liz’s only best friend. Liz deserves to have her best friend at her wedding.”

“She’s Courtney’s twin sister how do you know she’s not like Courtney?”

Tess nodded slowly, understanding how to someone who had never met Cara could trust her after what her sister did. “Cara hated her sister’s ways, along with her mother’s. She was determined to get away from that. That’s why her and Liz were great friends, they studied hard, worked long hours at the Crashdown. She was a good person despite her mother and sister.”

“What does Michael say?” Kyle asked knowing that Michael would certainly have an opinion about it.

“He doesn’t know. If he did he would go see her and I’m trying to make sure nothing tears him and Maria apart. He tried for years to be happy and like you thought the worst of him, I can’t take the risk Maria will too.”

Kyle was a bit awed. She was perfect, absolutely perfect. She was willing to do anything for her brother, regardless. He ran a hand through her soft blonde curls. “Has anyone ever told you you’re amazing?” His hands began to frame her face.

“No.” She whispered seeing the look in his eyes, which held love, and she lost her breath because she caused that.

“You’re amazing.” He whispered on her lips as he crashed his own on hers. She wrapped her arms around his neck, drawing him closer. And when they both had to stop because of lack of air, she rubbed his neck, feeling his little hairs there.

“Thank you.”

“I’m still not happy about this though, keeping this from Michael and Maria, no good can come of it.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~Memory~~~

“Michael, I don’t have time.” The blonde said, putting a hand on her hip and an attitude that was famous around town.

Michael smirked. “Oh come on, Liz can take your shift. How many times do you let her and Max fumble in the back room.”

A horrified look came across her face. “Geez, thanks I needed that mental image, they’ve been trying to make out for years and you do that. Sick.”

“They’ve been using us as they’re double date partners for a year, and we both know what happens.” Michael smirked a little more. It was quite annoying that they begged the best friends to be there double dates when the two weren’t even a couple.

“Only because Liz can’t stand Courtney,” she shook her head, “and it shouldn’t even be classified as a double date. We’re not dating!” She shouted. The entire restaurant turned to her. She then spoke quieter. “Again I got an image I didn’t want to see, us dating.” She walked through the door into the backroom before muttering. “I need to wash my brain out.”

Michael followed her into the backroom. “I’m good looking.” He smirked as he leaned against the lockers.

She rolled her eyes as she slammed her locker door shut. “Michael, you’ve slept with my sister, and if I ever see you naked I won’t be accountable for my actions, so if you wake up without a dick,” She paused, not wanting to get any more images she didn’t want. “Just…forget that.”

“Comforting.” Michael mumbled as he scratched his head. “Why do you think Liz, Max, hell the entire town thinks we’ll look good together?” He knew he was probably being stupid but everyone always asked him. When will you and Cara get together?

She sighed, he was a clueless person. “Because we’re best friends, they like me and hate my sister. The whole best friends thing is a cute idea for a couple.”

“Still,” He pressed the issue, after everything that happened with Courtney he wondered, would he be happy with Cara? “What’s wrong with us, being a couple?”

Cara stared at him, most women would tell her she’s crazy to turn Michael Guerin down, but Cara couldn’t see herself with him and in reality he didn’t want her, she knew that and deep inside he knew it too. His heart was broken because of her sister. It was natural he was second guessing himself. “I need a man who understands hardships, that has had his fair share of family problems and wants to settle down and just be happy. No games, just a simple life.”

Michael listened to her, she never talked about dreams, what she wanted in the future and now she was and he’d be her best friend like he was always his.

“You’re not that type of person, Michael. You need someone who can mend your wounds when you can’t, you need the understanding type with patience but then can have fire in her eyes. Courtney likes fire but she never took to your needs and you guys worked for a while but often she blew out your fire. You need a woman who makes your fire grow, rapidly.”

“Where is she?” Michael liked the sound of the woman Cara described. A woman to bring him out, she was right he needed that, hell he wanted that.

“She’s not anywhere near here, Michael otherwise you would be with her. You’ll find her one day, probably when you have finally given up on love and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without her.”

~~End Memory~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael put away the album. Cara had been a poetic soul, under her hatred of the world for giving her a hard deal she could describe things as if it took no effort. He never understood her reasoning at times and even now he couldn’t make sense of her words. But she had been right. The type of woman he wanted wasn’t her. It wasn’t Courtney either. Maria hit the mark, perfectly.

He couldn’t explain why he had the album out. Why he needed to look at it and relive old memories. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

“Laurie says you should be downstairs in like a half an hour, because everyone will be here at six.” Maria peeked in, smiling at him. He looked deep in thought, she wasn’t sure what it was about but she wouldn’t push. He had a hard time being home and she would give him space..

He smirked at her as she walked, like she was being careful. “So we have a little time to ourselves?” He asked standing up next to her.

“You’re going to have people here in an hour. We shouldn’t…” She was silenced by his lips as he took control of her body, his hands running down her sides, feeling, enjoying every inch of her.

Her hands softly stroked his neck. She was far to lost to care about anything but him. She personally couldn’t get enough of him. He was like a drug, so intoxicating, overwhelming. Her senses only could focus on him, nothing else mattered. She used her nails as she worked her way up his neck to the soft hairs. She loved his hair, she loved everything about him.

“Michael…we shouldn’t.” She tried to get out as his lips found her neck, and began kissing her earlobe. It was her weakness, him kissing the soft skin left her unable to breathe.

“Why not?” His voice was low, husky, just the way she liked it as he continued on her neck, driving Maria insane. His hands were roaming underneath her shirt, finding the baby soft skin leading to her breasts.

“Someone could find us.” She forced herself to say, to be reasonable. She was falling far too intense and she needed to gain control, somewhere she needed to find some first, then she could pull back.

Michael stopped kissing her, and let his hands drop, he stared straight into her eyes and she bit back the emotion she could see, the hunger in his eyes. It was burning deep in his hazel pools. She swallowed hard, trying to not to throw herself at him. He strolled to the door and Maria turned so she wouldn’t see him leave, trying to steady her breathing.

Michael smirked a little, she was sexually frustrated and he could see it in her eyes when he pulled away. He switched the lock on the door, preventing anyone from entering the room. She stayed faceed away, yanking on her hair to eliminate some of the tension in her body.

He took it as the perfect opportunity to wrap his arms around her waist from behind and whisper softly into her ear before attacking her neck again. “No one can walk in now.”

Maria closed her eyes as he started sucking on the skin, and she laid her head gently on his shoulder as his hand travelled down her front. She was thankful he came back and she lost herself his body, melding hers to his. “Michael,” she moaned as he sucked harder, probably leaving a mark.

He turned her in his arms, making her face him as he kissed her, his lips wanting to feel her smooth, sweet lips on his, sucking, teasing him in every way. He loved her lips, he loved everything about her. The way she said is name as if she was in complete ecstasy and to know he could compose this woman to feel everything he was feeling was powerful.

Maria’s legs weren’t going to hold her much longer if he kept going on with his sweet torture. “Michael, please, the bed.”

Michael smirked against her lips as he left them to kiss down her body, in hast he removed the shirt so he could kiss along her chest, he needed to feel skin and soon or he wouldn’t make it. He easily got rid of the jeans so his hands could feel the heated skin of her thighs.

Maria unbuttoned his shirt, wanting him with fewer clothes as well.
As soon as she got it off and threw it in a near corner her hands got moving on the jeans and Michael knew he wouldn’t be able to hold out. He abruptly picked her up and rested her on the bed.

She giggled at him. He tried to act so manly at times but she knew he was losing patience, he was trying to torture her but he was failing because his body was going against him.

“Michael.”

Michael stopped long enough to stare into her eyes once again. The emerald gems held passion, fire in them. There was so much about this woman that made him crazy but her eyes showed him of her honesty and purity. He never wanted be without her. He’d do everything within his strength to keep her forever.

Her hand went to his cheek, feeling his skin and waiting for him to continue. He seemed amazed and it made her heart melt. She guided his lips to hers, to kiss him gently and slowly.

He was everything for her and it scared her to death that she might lose him one day but he managed to make her forget her fears and focus on him. It could work, for now it could work.


Ch.16 A Moment Frozen in Time

“Where are Michael and Maria?” Isabel asked as she barged into the house, not even bothering to knock.

“Maria went up to find Michael about forty-five minutes ago and hasn’t come down.” Laurie explained as she set some food on the table. Everyone was supposed to be there in fifteen minutes and naturally Isabel was early. “I for one am not going up there to check on them.”

Isabel nodded, understanding Laurie’s position. Isabel played with the necklace she had on, trying not to be obvious. “Where’s Alex?”

Laurie paused for a brief second trying to think. “He might still up in his room. I know Tess and Kyle were outside, so I’m not sure where he is.”

“Do you need any help?” Isabel asked, deciding against going to find Alex. She certainly did not want to appear to be a stalker or anything. Isabel was a better woman than that. She had self respect.

“You are offering?” Laurie crossed her arms as she stared at Isabel, a little shocked. Isabel was a lot of things but manual labor was one thing she never did. Laurie remembered a time she complained about her nails getting broken. She was such a girly girl.

Isabel shook her head, resting a hand on her hip. “Is that so hard to believe?” She looked at Laurie’s face that said it all. “Don’t answer that. Can I do anything?”

Laurie smiled a little at Isabel’s effort. “There are some trays you could bring in.”

“Laurie!” Camille shouted as she came running into the house. Her blonde hair everywhere as she ran into the kitchen. “Can I go for a ride on the horses?” Her hazel eyes begging Laurie to let her go riding.

“After dinner.” Laurie smiled at the child. She could see the disappointment all over her face. “I’ll sneak you a cookie.” She whispered hoping it would perk her up.

Camille smiled and headed back outside, running past Tess, who came strolling in with Kyle through the backdoor. “Hey. Where’s Michael?” Tess noticed her brother was gone, and Maria wasn’t around either, interesting.

Laurie rolled her eyes. “Like I told Iz, they went up about forty-five minutes ago and haven’t come down. Now let’s leave that to the imagination.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Wow.” Maria rested her chin on Michael’s chest, trying to catch her breath. Her eyes were growing heavy as he stroked her back soothingly.

Michael smirked as he laid his head on the backboard of the bed. “I think wow doesn’t cover it.” He kissed the top of her head.

“Cocky.” She murmured with a smile on her lips. If he kept this up she’d have no energy left.

“You like it.”

“Beside the point.”

“I think that is the point.” His hand traveled further down her body to areas he should leave be.

She grabbed his hand. “No, we have to clean up.” She raised her head to be eye level with him; a smile formed again seeing the small pout on his luscious lips. “Awe, you’re pouting.”

“No, I’m not.” He argued.

“I think you are.” She fixed it so her body was next to him so she could kiss him without trouble, her hands on his shoulders drawing him closer.

“That was nice.” He mumbled in her hair. He loved the feeling he got off her. It had been far too long since he felt like this, in reality he never felt like this. Everything with Maria was new and exciting.

It was her turn to smirk. “You bet.” She left another light kiss on his lips. She liked how intense and sensual their relationship had gotten to. It was explosive, addicting and the greatest rush.

“Now who’s cocky?”

“You like it.”

Michael just laughed at her. She was too cute for words at times and this was no exception. He leaned his head down and brushed his lips against hers, his hand cupping the back of her neck.

Then the banging started.

“Michael Guerin!”

Michael groaned as he heard his sister’s annoying voice at his door. Maria yelped and dashed into the bathroom, not even using a blanket to over herself. Michael stopped for a second, not wanting to waste a perfect chance to enjoy Maria’s ass. When the bathroom door was slammed shut, he grabbed the blanket to cover his waist down and swung open the door to see Tess’s smiling face.

“Hi.”

“How old are you again? You may have to refresh my memory because I swear you’re six, Camille acts more mature then you.”

“Awe, you’re sexually frustrated.” Tess giggled at Michael’s scowl. “Don’t worry; I’m sure Kyle can help you out, Buddhism is really great for that area.”

“Tess.”

“Yeah?”

“Do you want your boyfriend to have balls in the morning?”

“Do you want nieces and nephews? I could name one after you.” She cocked her head to the side as she crossed her arms.

“Tess!”

She kissed him on the check, giggling. “Use my bathroom, I think Liz and Max are supposed to be here and well you know how they are. They might make you and Maria sleep in separate rooms.” Her cheery voice called as she made her way down the stairs, giggling again when she turned to see Michael’s face drop. “Trust me there’s plenty of cold water.” Way to spoil her brother’s plans.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You’re evil.” Kyle laughed as she made herself comfortable next to him on the couch; he looped his arm around her shoulders as she snuggled in deeper to the embrace.

“But it’s so funny.”

“You’re not the one he threatened.” Kyle reminded her as he grimaced. “I’d like to keep my balls and all other body parts for the trip.”

Tess giggled. “Don’t worry; I can rip his off to make it even.”

“No, I’d like mine to stay intact!” Kyle jumped up.

Tess rolled her eyes. “Sensitive.”

“Are you two still fighting?” Alex asked looking up from his book. He realized that people from this area had no problem with grossing out company. “I would think it’s an honor to get something taken off.” He muttered.

“See Alex has a sense of humor.” Tess gestured to Alex, as she looked disappointingly at Kyle.

Kyle glared at Alex and then turned back at Tess. “His balls aren’t threatened.”

Tess stood up, to be facing him, a mischief smile on her face. “You want me to kiss them better?”

“Alright there went my lunch.” Alex got up and left shaking his head, he wanted peace and quiet. He went through the kitchen where Laurie was cooking all by herself. He decided against that, everyone would come in there. There was way too much coupling going on. He went through the back door and he found Isabel sitting on the picnic table.

“Hey, they’re a bit overwhelming huh?” Isabel smiled.

Alex laughed a little joining her on the table. “How do you deal with ‘em?”

“Practice.” Isabel laughed; she liked how mellow Alex was. She was used to things moving quick and she liked this slow pace he seemed to have, it was refreshing.

“Excited for the wedding?” Alex wasn’t sure how to keep up conversation.

“Yeah. My brother is actually getting married; it’s such a weird thought. But Max and Liz have been together since like forever.” Isabel stared up at the deep blue sky and the twinkling stars.

“Kind of the picture perfect couple?” He liked how beautiful she looked staring up at the sky. It made her vulnerable in a way she didn’t usually seem. It was nice to know this woman had different sides to her then what normally appeared.

“Yeah, except they’re boring.” Isabel snorted a little. She hated how everyone looked at them like they were perfect but in reality there was more beneath the relationship of Max Evans and Liz Parker. “Let’s just say most would get bored with the perfect way they treat each other, it’s just sickening in a way.”

“But you support them?”

“Max is my brother and I love him, I’m happy for him, I just wouldn’t want to be him.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Why don’t you ride anymore?” Camille asked extending a carrot stick to the brown and white horse named Callie. She was so happy that Aunt Tess let her feed the horses before dinner, it was better then a cookie.

Tess chuckled to herself. Michael was right. She asked all the hard questions, the ones you never wanted to answer to a child. “Long story.” She patted the mass of blonde as she leaned over, helping her feed the horses.

“I think we have time.” Camille pushed, wanting to understand why she didn’t ride horses when she obviously loved them. “I know it has to do with Grandma and Grandpa, but I don’t understand.”

Tess sighed, she couldn’t help but give into Camille’s pleading voice. This was Michael’s payback, making her take care of his child that did the things she used to do to him. “I feel guilty because they got into a car accident coming back from my first horse show.”

“But you didn’t cause the accident.” Camille said, as she slowly guided her hand across the horse’s neck. She liked how soft they were, such a big animal and so cuddly. A lot like her daddy.

“But they wouldn’t have been in that car then if they didn’t go to the show. It could have been prevented.”

“There’s no way of knowing.” Camille blurted out, but didn’t give Tess a second to say anything as she continued talking. “You couldn’t have known, and I’m sure they wouldn’t want you to stop riding just because something bad happen. It makes you happy. You should do what makes you happy.”

Tess smiled, as she watched Camille playing with the horse. She saw herself in Camille, the stubbornness with the childlike ways. “Have I ever told you what a smart little girl you are?”

“It couldn’t hurt.” Camille giggled.

Tess laughed, she was a fun child. “How do you like having Maria around?” It could be a sensitive subject. Camille seemed to be enjoying herself in Maria’s company but Tess wanted to make absolute sure that Camille was comfortable.

“She’s so much fun. She’s silly like you Aunt Tess. She went riding with me and Dad this morning, and he really seems to like her too. He laughs more, have you noticed that?”

Camille talked about a mile per minute. Her face was filled with excitement, and that was all Tess needed to know that Camille was happy. “Yeah, I have.” Tess smiled. Maybe her brother would finally get the life he deserved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tess followed Camille’s running form into the house. She was savoring the calm, loving family moment she knew could be ruined by what she planned to do the day after.
“Do you remember that time?” Isabel’s laughed echoed as she told a familiar tale of riding, long summer nights and laughter. Tess just stood in the doorway, watching silently the exchanges between the old friends, and the new.

Michael put is arm around Maria’s tiny shoulders, bringing her closer to share his body heat. Maria smiled, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as her eyes lit up hearing all the stories. She rubbed Michael’s arm as he talked. She was the support he never could find, a dream that was waiting to be found.

Laurie joined in on the conversation, adding her bubbly spunk to the tales. Tess knew she missed having the house full of people, full of life and to have everyone there.

Max leaned in the chair sipping his coffee, an arm around Liz who was intently listening. A gentle smile would come out but the reserved woman remained quiet most of the evening. Tess knew that even though Liz had grown up with the group she had been mostly on the outside. She was only brought in because of Max. She had Cara, who was loved by everyone immediately but when Cara left, Liz retreated, not wanting to be alone in the mass group that had stories that mostly didn’t include her. She had been labeled Max’s girlfriend for years and that seemed to be the one thing Liz still knew for sure.

Isabel seemed alive again and not the professional cold person she was back in New York. She could be just Isabel when she was back at the farm. She didn’t have deadlines, boss’s to deal with and she could just laugh and smile here, she could be young once again. The way she always dreamed. She would subconsciously catch a glance at Alex, seeing if he was enjoying himself and he would send her a soft smile in return.

Camille bounced on Michael’s lap, giving him a kiss on the cheek. She seemed at home, sitting on Michael’s lap and laughing with Maria. Tess couldn’t help but noticed how great a family the three made. Maria fit in perfectly to the adorable Father/Daughter relationship. She loved their sweet moments and could be involved in the silly ones. It was simply perfect. Tess knew to well however, that something could shatter that portrait before it could even find a paintbrush.

Kyle smiled at her, “Why don’t you sit down?” he suggested, patting the seat for to join her family. She nodded, softly sitting next to him. She couldn’t shake the fear, the fear that this moment wouldn’t last and that it would be destroyed because she couldn’t walk away from a friend.


Ch.17 part A Powerless

It was just before dawn, the early sun still snug in its cozy bed when the couple who had been tangled in a loving embrace began to wake up. Sweet kisses and exploration of one another started their early lovemaking. It was the beginning of a long day, which was full of surprises that could twist the couple in opposite directions from the path they became comfortable walking together on.

Michael had traveled from her lips, to her neck, to her collarbone, sucking the soft skin as Maria’s eye lids grew heavy, forcing her to close them just to savor the sweet moment and complete bliss Michael was awarding her with.

In the weeks of getting to known one another, Maria came to the realization he was most gentle in the morning and the morning at hand was no exception. Michael of course could be just as rough as he was soft but the morning was what kept Maria on her toes.

The nibbling, the chaste kisses left Maria wanting, needing more and quickly but Michael had found a slow pace and one he intended on keeping.

There was limit clothing to begin with, Michael in boxer shorts and an old wife beater that gave a perfect view of his broad shoulders and well defined chest as he hovered over Maria. She had a barely there pink satin nightgown. For what was underneath Maria’s outfit would remain a secret until Michael grew impatient.

Maria still couldn’t describe what it was like being with Michael. No words seem to form from her mouth whenever someone asked her. He surprised her in ways she never knew a man could. The stillness of morning Michael left Maria simply speechless. He had been beaten, bruised but that provided his handsome but rough edges. He was a puzzle, a puzzle she was dying to figure out.

In all her relationships no man seemed to teach her feelings like Michael had. The emotion that ran through him was electrifying and Maria enjoyed the energy he gave her. Sex was easy, it came as nothing special with other men, but then Michael came into her life. He could be rough, demanding and sometimes down right rude but underneath all of that he was caring, passionate and thoughtful. It captured Maria’s breath.

It was a gentle moan that escaped Maria’s lips as Michael began sucking her breast. He had lowered her nightgown just enough to expose the smooth area. His hands were holding the upper half of his body as his knees propped his lower region. Maria’s own little hand was playing through Michael’s fairly long brown hair while the other was messaging his back, feeling the muscles through the shirt.

“Michael,” it was a low, husky whisper. Maria wanted skin on skin, and he seemed a little occupied.

As if he understood her needs with a simple moan, he sat upright a little removing the material that deprived her of his salty skin. He went to reattach himself to her breast but she stopped him, sliding out from under him enough to shed her own clothing leaving just a black satin pair of panties. She lightly threw the nightgown and returned back to her previous spot.

Their bodies were already becoming slick with sweat, and the mating of their skin was only a matter of time away. Michael kissed her, covering her entire mouth in his, in that swift move leaving her pouty lips swollen. Maria opened her mouth, willingly. No fears were left concerning Michael. It was as if no one else in the world existed except the two of them. Her breathing became shallow when Michael stared deep into her eyes.

There was hunger there. Maria wanted nothing more then to feed that hunger. Shifting slightly she stared deep into those eyes as the final garments were eliminated and they could be one.

Maria closed her eyes once united and the slow process began, it was then that she knew deep in her heart she was madly in love with this man. She bit her lip from screaming it hours later when their love reached a climax. Maria wasn’t the only one who resisted the urge……

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You sure you really want to do this?” Kyle asked as he handed her a flower, trying to be cute in his own unique way. When she smiled softly at the purple flower in her hand, he knew he did something right. “A flower for good luck?” He raised his eyebrow trying to make her laugh, which worked.

She stared into his eyes, smiling again. “That’s why I have you.” She winked as she strolled into the barn.

She was on edge and he knew it. Kyle wrapped his arms around her from behind as he rested his chin on her shoulders, he knew she was afraid. “You don’t have to do this.”

She could hear it in his voice; he was trying to help, turning in his embrace, covering his face with her hands. “But I do.”

He saw the sadness flicker in her eyes and once again it killed him to be powerless to remove it. She was a strong woman and she didn’t have to depend on him, it was a new feeling. He had to sit on the sidelines and let her plunge into danger. “Be careful,” were the only words he could offer her now and she gladly took them with a smile and headed on her way.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Daddy!”

Maria yelped as she tried to find her clothing, Michael remained comfortable and not moving. “Why are you freaking out?” Michael grumbled as he rolled over.

“You want your daughter to see us naked in bed?” She really couldn’t understand how he could be so calm.

“I’m not naked.” He smirked a little bigger as he was smart enough to find his clothing before he went back to bed… well his boxers at least.

Maria looked over and groaned in frustration, desperately trying to find her nightgown before Camille walked in. “Michael,” she whimpered.

Michael laughed as he reached down and handed her the small amount of material as he again became comfortable and Maria quickly threw on the clothing and became comfortable as well.

Camille opened the door shaking her head. She made her way to the bed and crawled up onto it and just watched the two, waiting to see if they would notice her, she had called down the hallway but Michael was a sound sleeper and Camille knew that already.

Maria sat up a little, pretending to have just woken up. “What are you doing up so early, sweetheart?”

“It’s eleven and the wedding is at four.” Camille sounded annoyed as she rolled her eyes. Adults they could be so forgetful.

“It’s what?”

“Eleven…” Camille began slowly but was cut off.

“Michael, get up.” Camille actually thought watching Maria freak out and try to get up her dad was quite entertaining.

Michael caught Maria’s little hands from attempting to pound him to death. “Be careful with those.” Maria stared wide eyed at him and huffed as she got out of bed and went straight for the bathroom.

Camille smiled as she made her way to Maria’s spot and took the pillow to be lying side by side to her dad. “She hasn’t caught on has she?” Michael chuckled as Camille snuggled to him and he raised an arm to let her be closer.

“She will, but she hasn’t yet.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tess let out a low breath, trying to calm her nerves. It was simple what she wanted to do, walk into the little bar, give Cara a piece of her mind, convince her to go to the wedding, go home take a nice long shower and then get ready for the wedding herself.

“Piece of cake.” She muttered, as she rubbed the back of her neck, desperately trying to relieve the tension that was building. She should have made Kyle give her a massage. She could still make him give her one tonight.

She pushed at the old wooden door. The entire bar was old fashioned and Tess knew it was the type of place Cara would actually work.

“Sorry, we’re not open till two.” Her dirty blonde hair was pulled halfway up and her bangs fell past her forehead to the sides of her face. The blouse sleeves were rolled up to her elbows and a pair of washed out jeans hung low on her hips.

Tess noted how she never cared to turn around. Things become habit and after a while you just can’t let things go.

“I didn’t come for any drinks.”

The blonde turned around rapidly, pushing back a strand of hair that had fallen in her surprise. She set a hand on her hip, and leaned on the bar. “What do you want?” Her tone just as snippy as she glared at Tess up and down, her eyes burning holes through her.

“Why don’t you visit?” Tess paused before adding, “hell, why didn’t we get a letter? Even a phone call would have been really special. Or were you too damn busy getting drunk? Following the family pattern Cara?”

She licked her lips, a small smirk on her face. “It wouldn’t have made any difference.”

“That’s bullshit, Cara.” Tess shouted, clearly frustrated as she stared Cara straight in the face. Cara could think she was still some child but Tess wanted to prove she grew up.

Cara rubbed her chin, thinking before she said anything. She was quick on her feet; she knew how to make mean comments better then anybody. Her mother and sister were the masters. “The more important question here, Tess, is what are you doing here? Last time I checked there are finer joints for a girl of your standards to visit.

Tess couldn’t help but let her mouth fall open. “What is that suppose to mean?”

Cara twirled her hair as her smirk increased. She was pretty proud of herself, knowing she flustered Tess. “That this is no place for you. So go back home, Tess. You’re not welcome.” She strolled back behind the bar and started getting back to work.

Tess knew she should have expected that reaction but it didn’t change the fact that what she had said hurt. She sat down on the stool and with big eyes asked, “are you even gonna ask how he is? How Camille is?”

Cara bit her lip. Damn Tess. She knew exactly where to throw punches and where to stick those knives. “Knowing Michael, he’s being tougher then he has to be and making sure that little girl is fine.”

Tess inwardly smiled, she hit a spot. “So that’s how you live with yourself? Just pretend, assume their fine and you can live happy. You don’t have to actually care because heaven forbid you care for anyone but yourself.” She knew she was being cruel, but it was the truth, wasn’t it?

Cara slammed a glass on the bar, causing Tess to flinch. She folded her arms and with a mean glare at Tess she said, “I left knowing it’d benefit everyone. I left because that little girl shouldn’t know anyone connected to her mother. God gave Camille one hell of gift, never having to know her mother or her grandmother. She can have a happy life as long as I’m not apart of it.”

“You don’t honestly believe that?” Tess asked shocked. If that’s what Cara believed, she was so very wrong.

Cara kept her composure, never wavering and with a hand still firm on her hip, she replied in a snide voice. “I left. Didn’t I?”

“Cara…” Tess felt the loneliness and couldn’t shake the sadness that filled her heart knowing now why Cara left. She left thinking it would be better for everyone and she was so very wrong.

“Don’t even think it, Tess.”

Tess knew she was trying to find a way out so she wouldn’t feel guilty. “Liz is getting married. Please come to the wedding.”

Cara thought about what the small girl had said. Liz, her one time best friend was getting married. Could she really not go? “I’ll think about it.”

Tess smiled, knowing she hit a spot with Cara and for the final straw she placed a picture on the old wooden bar. “You’d adore her.” Tess calmly got out of the stool and walked out leaving Cara alone with a recent picture of Camille.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Camille pouted as she tried desperately to have someone help her, knocking on the bathroom door that she spied Maria walk into in hopes that she’d be able to help the young child.

Maria smiled gracefully as she saw the young girl with the big, curious hazel eyes, staring at her showing her struggle. She bent down to Camille’s height. “What do you need sweetie?”

Camille let an enormous sigh, showing her distress. “I can’t find my Aunt Tess and I need someone to put up my hair. Isabel is being a fashion queen saying I won’t sit still and she put six bows in my hair. Now I know Aunt Isabel can be weird but that’s just plain odd.”

Maria couldn’t help but let a little laugh at how much Camille acted like her father at times. It was fun though, the innocence of a child makes life seem so much simpler then it truly was. Looking through Camille’s eyes, Maria realized how much she wanted life to really be like that for Camille. “Alright, let’s make you beautiful.” She winked making Camille break out in a contagious smile.

Camille easily followed Maria into the bathroom, where she lifted her on top of marble counter. She sat up straight to make it easy for Maria and continued talking. “Are you excited for the wedding? I’m really nervous being the flower girl, what if I trip over my own feet and everyone laughs at me?”

Maria easily work through the tangles in her baby soft dirty blonde hair, combing the hair up into a high pony tail, letting the hair curl in certain spots, pulling her bangs out to fall on the sides of her forehead. “I’m sure they’ll think you’re beautiful and you won’t fall if you don’t think about it.”

“Really?” Camille turned around to face Maria.

“Yeah.” Maria smiled warmly at the young child, Michael’s child.

“Maria.”

“Yes?”

“Are you gonna stay around for a while?”

Maria’s breath suddenly left her. She didn’t want to crush Camille, but she didn’t want to give her an idea of something that might never happen. As she rubbed Camille’s soft cheeks she whispered, “I don’t know. Your Dad and I are just waiting to see what happens next.”

Camille nodded, making Maria see her older then her eight years. “I hope it works out.” With that, the young child was out of the small bathroom, making Maria’s heart reach out for her, wishing it worked out too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cara picked up her purse, rubbing her forehead with the other hand. She had avoided doing this for years and Tess did exactly what she sent out to do, send her home.

“You sure you want to do this?”

Cara shook her head, he spoke of truth, she evaded everything from her past for so long and when Tess showed up, she came rolling back into town. It sounded bad and she knew it, but she didn’t care.

“If I don’t now, I never will.” She whispered.

She immediately began searching for a pair of heels to put on. They were the same sparkling shoes she wore to her prom. She had basically refused to go, but Max and Liz wanted another couple to be with them. So they begged, begged Michael and Cara to go as friends. Michael was looking forward to sleeping. Camille was only two months old and never slept. With misty eyes, she slipped the shoes on.

“Here, you look good in red.”

He handed her a beautiful red dress. It has silver sparkles throughout the red material that matched her silver shoes. Cara took it, smiling softly. The thin red straps would be comfortable, it would look nice.

“I don’t know if I should wear red at a wedding.” She laughed.

“You aren’t really traditional.” He shrugged. “I would go with you, but I need to leave early in the morning….”

Cara nodded; understanding as she kissed his cheek, messed up his blonde hair. He was just an everyday guy and she loved that about him. She grabbed the picture of Camille, longing to know what Camille’s childhood had been like. Deep down she knew she didn’t deserve to know but she wanted Camille to have the life she never had.

Knowing Michael, he would shower his little girl with love.

“I love you Riley.” She smiled at him as she headed towards the door.


Ch.17 part B Promises…..broken

Her long blonde hair fell lightly onto her back as she attempted to look tough. She knew she was kidding herself, letting herself believe that it would be ok. But who was she fooling now? Everyone in town would have an opinion of her sudden departure from her childhood home and Michael….well Michael was a whole different story.

The white glass doors open smoothly as she stepped into the unknown and there was absolutely no turning back now. It was time to confront old fears and renew old friendships, once and for all.

“Invitation?” Kyle said to the woman with a handsome smile to match his equally handsome suit. She was a pretty woman, not a super model type, but she had a certain class and guts to wear red.

“Oh god, Tess didn’t give me one.” The woman muttered softly. “Do you know where she is? I mean she can say whether I should be here or not.”

Kyle couldn’t believe how kind hearted the woman was. When she spoke of Tess, he had an idea that it might be Cara. “She should be coming this way shortly. If you don’t mind waiting that is.”

“Oh, that’s fine.” She let the air she was holding spill out. With a soft smile she thanked Kyle for his kindness. A thought suddenly dawned on her. “Who are you?”

“What do you mean who am I?”

“Well I’ve known Max and Liz most my life. I would know who you are.”

Sighing he extended his hand to her. “I’m Kyle Valenti.” She shook the hand firmly, shocking Kyle by her strength, but curiosity glistened in her eyes. “I’m Tess’s boyfriend.”

Cara couldn’t help but laugh. “I never image Michael Guerin allowing his little sister to date unless over his dead body.”

“You joke.” Kyle muttered under his breathe as he loosened his tie a little proving his discomfort to how Michael was concerning his relationship with Tess which only caused more laughter to exit the woman’s mouth. “And you think it’s funny.”

“I’m sorry. You must fear for your life. I take pity on you, really I do.”

“You came.”

They both turned their heads to see the petit blonde with a radiant smile forming; knowing Cara actually made it to the wedding. She hurried over, pulling her into a hug and Cara squeezed her a little tighter.

“Yeah.” She felt nervous. She expected a million different reactions and she knew Tess was going to be warm welcoming but everybody else, was a guess.
Tess kissed Kyle cheek. “Thanks for watching her, but we’ve got to hurry.”

“But he didn’t know who I was…” Cara stammered.

“It was nice meeting you, Cara.” He gave her a small wink, as Tess dragged her into the rooms where Liz was.

“Tess, what are you doing?” Cara demanded once Tess had yanked them into a small room that had been completely dark until Tess flipped the light, or the really pathetic source of light.

Tess started searching through a small closet, bringing out a beautiful baby blue dress and matching shoes as she whirled around back to Cara. “You’re going to be the maid of honor.”

Cara held her hand over her lips, preventing her gaping mouth from showing. “Tess, you can’t do that. Liz asked you, put that away.” She choked out.

Tess smiled softly and said in a gentle voice, knowing it was going to take work to convince Cara. “She wanted you, and when her dad had no hope of finding you, she asked me. Well I found you. I’m giving her what she really wanted, you as her maid of honor.” She began unzipping her dress. “Now this should mostly fit you but in certain areas it might be lose. It seems you’ve lost weight.”

“Tess.”

“Don’t argue, just do this. For Liz.” Cara nodded, agreeing that if it was what Liz wanted, she’d do it and the two girls changed outfits. Cara sighed, knowing there was absolutely no point in hiding at this wedding. She’d have to face Michael’s wrath at some stage.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Now Tess what did you need me to do?” Isabel questioned as she entered the dressing room. However, instead of seeing Tess finishing getting ready at the mirror, it was a face Isabel hadn’t seen in a long time. “Cara?” Isabel let out, still shocked by seeing her there.

Cara whipped her head around and stood nervously, unsure of what to say or do. Yes, these people she once considered her true friends, a family she never had. But she had left them, almost as if it never mattered to her. It was a lie though, because in her heart it killed her, more then they could ever know.

“Hey Isabel,” Cara’s voice was light, trying to not let the seriousness cloud her thoughts. It was a happy day, she had to remember that, and she never wanted to ruin Liz’s day.

“How’d you get here? How’d you know? Where have you been?” Isabel blurted out all at once. She had never been patient enough to wait around for answers that may never come.

“Well I drove here, Tess paid me a visit this morning, and it’s a long story.” Cara didn’t want to go into detail about what she been up to, especially with Isabel. It was nothing against Isabel. The two had been friends, but they had never been that close.

Isabel nodded, knowing not to push things right now. Cara would tell her in her own time. “I’m glad you’re here.” She offered after a moment.

Cara smiled. “Thank you.”

Cara’s fear eased a little, and she started feeling a little better. She knew she had to relax as it was surely going to be a long day.

“Come on, I have a feeling I’m suppose to take you to see Liz.” Isabel extended a hand, hoping Cara wouldn’t hesitate in taking it.

Cara stared for a second, smiling she grabbed Isabel’s hand following where to go. She was afraid of Liz’s reaction, but above all else, she missed her friend. The hallway suddenly seemed small; she knew there was no escaping, no hiding from her fears. She took a deep breathe as Isabel dragged her into a room, and sure enough Liz sat at a mirror, all in white.

“Isabel, where is…” Liz was caught mid sentence by the time her eyes reached the door. Liz looked at Isabel then to Cara, testing her vision and covering her mouth with her hand in shock. “You’re here.”

Cara felt tears welling up, as she nodded softly and tugged Liz’s frozen body into a hug, knowing neither of them could process a thought. “Yeah, I’m here.” And at that moment Cara knew where her heart belonged, where it had always belonged.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael shook his head as Max sighed deeply. It was obvious he was nervous, but who could blame him? Marriage was forever.

“You okay, Maxwell?” Michael kept voice natural, adding a chuckle at the end.

Max glanced around the small church. Only close friends and family. Liz had said only the people that really matter should be there. So their parents, the whole gang, and a few others were there, that was all they had. It was simple, it was sweet, and there wasn’t much more then that. It was simple. He had Michael as the best man, and his cousin Eric as his other groomsman. Liz had Tess as maid of honor and Isabel as bridesmaid.

“I’m fine, Michael.” Max said taking another deep breath.

“You’re tense, man.” Michael kept his voice quiet so no one else heard, and by Max’s face, Michael knew he was right.

“This is a big deal.” Max snapped at him while shifting from one foot to another.
“I know man but relax, it’s your wedding. It should be a happy day.”

Max sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I am happy.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tess glanced over the entire wedding setting. It was simply picture perfect. She knew it was everything Liz had wanted. Tess turned to see Camille standing perfectly still with her flowers with Isabel behind her, and Cara was staring off into space. Tess had to believe she did the right thing by going to Cara.

She turned her back against the girls she gently walked down into the aisle knowing everyone was already seated. She slid into the empty spot next to Kyle, who seemed to be staring at her as she sat down. “What?” She whispered.

Kyle smiled getting a sideway glance at her, before whispering in her ear, “Your beautiful.”

Maria noticed Tess sitting next to Kyle, not in her maid of honor dress. “Tess, what are you doing?”

“I’m not the maid of honor anymore.”

Maria looked questioningly at her, not completely understanding what Tess was saying. Why would she just suddenly not be the maid of honor anymore?

“I was supposed to be, but then Liz couldn’t get a hold of her best friend, well I was able to find her.” Tess explained simply.

Maria made an awe sound and said, “That was really sweet of you, giving up being maid of honor.”

Tess nodded leaning back against the pew. “It’s what Liz really wanted.” She glanced up and noticed Michael staring at her with a confused expression.

She felt guilt consume her; Michael had no idea, along with Maria. Maybe it wasn’t for the best. He might never want to see her again, but before Tess could over think everything the music started to play.

Camille started out, allowing each flower to fall softly to the ground, trying to be gentle even in her young age. Maria noticed how Michael seemed completely in trance, not allowing his gaze to falter. She smiled to herself, thankful she had found him.

Isabel slightly turned to see Cara with closed eyes. “It’ll be okay,” she offered knowing how scared Cara was. Isabel stepped out, gracefully walking down the aisle. She locked eyes with Alex, feeling a blush creep up her cheeks, he stared at her as if she was gorgeous, stunning. When he looked at her like that she felt beautiful.

Cara took a deep breathe and hugged Liz, whispering how happy she was for her. Running a hand through her long blonde hair, she held onto her flowers and took the leap of faith. She didn’t look straight a head though, she kept her eyes a few feet in front of her. She could hear the gasps, they were quiet, but the sounds seemed to be getting louder as she slowly walked.

When she finally gained the courage to look up, she noticed Michael staring at her wide eyed, almost trying to catch his own breathe as she smiled weakly, knowing it couldn’t justify everything, but help in a small way.

She reached the end and stood next to Isabel, that’s when she saw the girl next to Kyle, staring at Michael the whole time. But before she could dwell, the crowd stood up and Liz came down, smiling with eyes only focused on Max.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The entire ceremony was beautiful. Everyone thought Max and Liz were so happy. By the time they all were at the reception, everyone had to be seated correctly, placing Cara right next to Liz on the big long table in front.

“You okay?” Isabel asked, noticing the shallow breathes escaping Cara’s tiny body. She seemed so much smaller now compared to six years ago when she seemed unbreakable.

Cara turned to Isabel with a shadowy face. “I’ll be alright.” She kept telling herself that she needed a drink, something to edge off the nervous energy.

“I’d like everyone’s attention.” Michael called, and everyone realized he was toasting to Max and Liz. “Now we all know what this special day is to Liz and Max, but I think this represents something to everyone. That love is pure, and precious. So here’s to love.” Michael raised his glass, and staring into Maria’s eyes, who was smiling back.

“Love!” Everyone called, raising their glasses.

Liz leaned over to whisper into Cara’s ear. “Do you want to say something? Tess wasn’t but, I don’t know. I thought I’d ask.”

Cara noticed that look in Liz’s eyes. She wanted her best friend to say something meaningful and special. Cara knew all eyes would be on her but she was powerless to say no to Liz.

She nodded, gently hitting the spoon against the glass, standing up and hoping everyone’s attention wasn’t diverted from the table yet so she wouldn’t have to start shouting. Luckily everyone seemed quiet and focused all eyes on her.

She started out a little shakily, not sure what to say, “I think most of us know Max and Liz’s little home town love story. If you don’t, then tuff, it’s a long story so I’ll tell it another time.”

The crowd seemed to laugh quietly as she tried to speak with more ease.

“I can remember numerous times when Max would come into the diner, most likely dragging Michael or Isabel with him and sit there for hours.” Cara seemed almost lost in thought as she spoke soft and sweetly about Liz and Max.

“Between the two of them it was almost hopeless, they were so quiet but every time she walked over there, you could tell his eyes were solely focused on her and her alone. And to find that kind of love is near impossible. To find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is hard but they found it, they found their soul mate.”

Cara choked back her tears, as one slipped. Not wanting more to leave she raised her glass. “To Max and Liz.”

The crowd cheered echoing her, as she almost collapsed back into her seat. Isabel noticed her distress. “That was beautiful.”

“Thank you.” She had to remind herself she did it for Liz. When she glanced around, she saw the blonde again, staring at her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After everyone had eaten their food, and everything planned was done, it was then time for the traditional dances. Max and Liz gracefully entered the dance floor holding each other, staring into each others eyes/

“Come on,” Michael held his hand out for Cara knowing they had to go next. She stared at his hand then up to his face, almost surprised he was willing. She nodded and stood up, grabbing his hand.

By the time they reached the dance floor, Cara had found her voice, “Let me hear it, I know you hate me, let me just hear it.” Her voice was soft, fearful.

Michael sighed, “Now why would I do that.”

She almost laughed. “Because you hate me and you know it.”

“You’re wrong.” Her face shot up, confused evident in tired features. “I don’t hate you, yeah I’m angrier then I’d care to admit, but Max and Liz are way to close for me to express any of that.” He was done talking when the music cut off, and the next song started.

Cara stood frozen for a second. She didn’t expect everything to be okay again, but she didn’t know how to handle what was there. This use to be her family, the people that mattered, and she left. In defeat she dropped her hands and began to walk away, not leaving Michael much room to say anything.

“What are you doing?” His voice was low and harsh. She kept walking, not daring to look back at him, until he caught up with her to grab her arm and twist her around to face him. “What are you doing?” He repeated in anger.

Her deep blue eyes stared at him for a second; he was angry, and frustrated. She could still read him like it was as easy as breathing. He was getting impatient, she could see that plain as day too, but Michael was never was good with patience. It was almost comforting knowing he hadn’t changed completely on her. “I don’t know,” she said quietly.

Michael’s left eyebrow rose as he stared at her. This was not the woman he grew up with. She couldn’t be. Cara was strong, determined, and sure as hell not afraid. But she was running, and he had no clue from what. He tried to not sound like a complete jerk, but he couldn’t control the emotion running through him. He wasn’t sure whether to scream at her for leaving him or hug her, thankful she was back.

He decided to ignore her weak comment of not knowing and went to what he was most concerned with, where had she been. Who had she been with? Was she okay? Why had she even left? He didn’t even know where to start, he didn’t know what to say, so in a desperate attempt not to freak out he whispered, “Why did you leave?” It was the one question that ate at him for six years, and he was not letting it go.

She bit her lip. He was always impossible. In closing her eyes, she tried to form the right words, the type of words that made sense that justified everything, that gave reason to her fears. “I just couldn’t stay here any longer.” She mumbled, “There was too much past for me to live a future.”

Her eyes opened to see his shocked face; he didn’t like the response she could tell. He didn’t understand it was the one thing even he couldn’t get; for he had never shared the same blood with something so evil.

“You couldn’t stay?” He almost laughed, only she could twist the world like that. He finally let go of her arm and ran his hands through his hair in utter disbelief. She was always so frustrating, but somewhere he understood that. There was too much pain connected to that place, but he had stayed.

He saw pain filter her pale face, she wasn’t as resilient as she use to be. But he didn’t let his voice soften as he spoke. “You had responsibilities; you had promises that seem to be forgotten.” In his mind he was screaming, ‘I was forgotten’.

She felt the tears forming, he was right. She had forgotten and she had left. She had been selfish and walked away from everything, and in a tired voice she whispered, “I wasn’t going to live her life, I didn’t want to and I didn’t want to be her.” She caught his shocked gaze and left him standing there, heading for the bathroom to rid her tear-filled eyes and go back to pretending she was fine. If only she could convince herself of that.


Ch.17 part C The truth hurts

Maria had pretended she was not intently watching the exchange between the other blonde and Michael. Tess had just mentioned she was Liz’s best friend. But then she saw Michael glance her way. What was it about? Who was she? Maria was starting to become impatient.

The way they had danced on the dance floor, seemed icy. As if there was a past, one Michael had neglected to inform her of. One that he had tried to forget perhaps. How many women had there been? He made it out that it was just Courtney. What if there were more? She never bothered to press the issue, maybe she should have.

Laurie’s voice snapped her out of her thoughts. “It’s good to see Cara again. It feels like forever since the whole gang was together again.”

By then, Isabel had sat down next to Alex and nodded in agreeing before asking, “How did you ever find her? She must have been impossible to find. Mr. Parker checked everywhere.”

Tess smiled a little, obviously proud of her accomplishments but trying to be modest, she said softly in response to Isabel, “Well thanks to Laurie I knew where.”

Isabel then looked at Laurie, who explained her almost encounter at a restaurant, and how she had told Tess when they ran into Dana. “You guys have seen Dana? How is she?”

Maria sat there trying to figure out who Dana or Cara might be and how were they related to everybody. She felt like she should know or should have been told by Michael. There was something she wasn’t being let in on and an uneasy feeling settled in her stomach.

Tess laughed a little. “You think that woman has changed? She’s still a fall down drunk.”

“Who is?” All three women glanced up, gulping as they looked at Michael who had sat down next to Maria.

“No one.” Tess said quickly, suddenly embarrassed at bringing it up.

Michael looked at her. All three of them were acting funny. He really wasn’t in the mood to understand exactly why. He extended his arm around Maria’s chair bringing her close to him.

“Hey.” She smiled warmly at him, trying to act like she was fine. But the fact still remained; she wasn’t comfortable being left in the dark. She figured she’d fight the issue with him later. She wanted to avoid reality for a little bit longer.

“Hey.” He leaned in for a kiss. He needed to go back to where everything was okay; where Cara hadn’t come back, where they were just a happy couple. He didn’t even know how he was going to explain to her about Cara. Everything was a mess.

Maria laid a hand on his cheek, feeling the kiss deepen. She was in love with him and she was fully beginning to realize how much. She almost didn’t want to know the true identity of this woman, because it could ruin them.

“Daddy!” Camille’s frightened voice knocked him out of his thoughts. Luckily she wasn’t extremely loud catching everybody’s attention that was dancing. She did however, catch the ears of all the friends around the table.

Michael quickly got up and saw where Camille was and a helpless Cara crouching down eye level obviously trying to calm her down. Tess was right behind him; a worried expression grazed her features, for she had forgot about Camille’s reaction.

The other four stayed seated and Maria almost stayed but she realized she needed to know and maybe seeing what was happening would make her realize whatever was going on, was really happening.

Alex quietly inspected Michael and Tess and Maria. There was so much more to this than anyone was letting on. He looked over at Isabel and Laurie; both with pain stricken faces and Kyle’s seldom one.

Alex broke their thoughts with his question. “Who is she?”

Isabel turned to face him, and softly said, “She’s Courtney’s twin sister, and Michael’s best friend.”

“Camille’s mother, as in Courtney?” Alex was a little confused, all three nodded and then he asked the scary question. “Maria doesn’t know, does she?”

Kyle said quietly, realizing everything Tess tried to do might blow up in everyone’s faces, especially Michael’s., “No.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Camille was already rambling to Cara and was clearly very upset. “Why do you look like my mommy? She’s dead, isn’t she? Why do you look like her?”

Cara mentally told herself she couldn’t freak out on her that she was going to have to be calm and collected. “I look like your mom because I am her twin sister.” She stated softly.

By then Michael and Tess were standing by them, but far enough back for the pair to not notice, because Cara had completely caught Camille’s attention. Maria stood a little a way from Michael and Tess, hoping they wouldn’t notice her presence, so she could know the truth.

“So you’re my Aunt, like my Aunt Tess?” Camille’s eyes had gotten wide. Her dad had never told her of this Aunt and she couldn’t understand why.

“Yeah, like that. See that’s why I look like her.” Her voice was sweet, and Cara was surprised in how gentle she was being.

Camille crossed her arms and squinted before asking, “Why didn’t my daddy tell me about you?”

Cara sighed, almost mentally asking herself the same question. She knew the answer, she always did. “Well since I left when you were still really little, you didn’t remember me. So your dad probably didn’t want you to get hurt that there was another person that wasn’t going to be there for you like your mommy.”

Camille nodded, almost understanding, but she still had questions. “Okay, so why did you come here today?”

Cara sighed softly, and smiled at Camille. She was everything she expected, Michael had done an amazing job. She was his daughter, not Courtney’s. “Well Liz and I were best friends growing and she really wanted me at her wedding. So I came back home.”

“Are you going to stay?”

Camille’s little voice clenched Cara’s heart. Was she going to? Looking at that innocent little face, she said softly, “I don’t think I’m going to. A lot of people don’t really want me here.”

“What do you mean? I want you here.” Camille stared at her before adding, “I don’t know anything about my mommy and my daddy doesn’t tell me. You knew her, you could tell me all bout her so I won’t miss her as much.”

“Oh sweetie, that’s not going to make you miss her any less.” She sighed, forcing herself to say the right thing to Camille; the truth would hurt her far too much. The truth was that her mother never deserved her, and never wanted her. “I’ll let you call me, so you can talk to me. But it’s best I don’t stay here.”

Camille turned her head to see Michael and Tess. “Daddy, tell her she should stay.” Her voice was pleading, almost begging for him to do that, to convince her.

“Camille, sweet,.” Tess stepped in knowing, there was no way anyone convince Cara to do anything. “You can’t make her do as you want. Now let’s leave your daddy and Aunt Cara alone and we’ll get some cake.”

Camille followed Tess, but asked first. “Are you at least staying for a couple of days?”

Cara nodded smiling at Camille, “I’ll stay for a little while, just for you.” Camille seemed satisfied with the answer and walked away with Tess.

Michael went to say something, but Cara cut him off, “I didn’t do it for you, I did it for her. Her mother may have been a lot of things but generous was not one of them. Even though Camille may one day realize what her mother truly was, does not mean she should be subjected to it.”

Cara paused catching her breathe. “That’s what you couldn’t understand Michael. Staying here, I could never stray away from that image. I never should have promised you all those years ago I’d help you raise her, because unlike you, I knew everything that Courtney did. Every time I looked at Camille, all I could see what she’d be forced to live with. Her mother’s mistakes. I know what it’s like, and I’m sorry if I wanted more for my niece.”

Tears were streaming down from her eyes, as she saw his stonewall face. She was use to that look; she had seen him do it to Courtney, numerous times. But Courtney always tried to break it, by kissing him, being flirty.

But Cara did the one thing Courtney never could, just walk away. And she did, she left him standing there as she went to find an escape. Some things, just never change.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Maria leaned against the wall, desperately needing support. So that was the truth. Courtney’s twin sister. A woman who had told him, she’d help him raise Camille. A woman he didn’t bother in mentioning.

She watched him closely; he ran a hand through his hair and turned around to see Maria standing there. He seemed shocked, yet he seemed afraid. “Maria.”

At that moment she hated the way he said her name, it was passionate, it was emotional, and it was almost full of love, for her. She couldn’t deal with it right then, not with everything that had just been revealed. Nothing was right and it all was too overwhelming.

“Don’t,” her voice was harsh. “I don’t want to even hear it. Courtney’s sister. How could you not tell me about her? Were you in love with her? Was she just some replacement for Courtney? It was her sister, why not? She was willing to step up and play house with you to raise Camille.” She willed herself not to cry.

She took a deep breath. “Do you think I’m stupid? Was it a joke everybody was in on but me? I was made to look the fool who actually cared for you. How am I supposed to compare to her. I don’t stand a chance with that.”

Michael wasn’t sure what to say but he blurted out the first thing in his mind. The one thing he had to clear up before anything else. “I don’t love her like that. She was my best friend that was it.”

Maria looked up at him, she wanted to believe him. She wanted to melt into his arms and let the world disappear. To know she was his one and only. Closing her eyes, letting the tears she had been holding back fall, she whispered, “I wish I could believe you, but I can’t, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

She saw his scared expression and the fear in his eyes. Somewhere she hoped he was afraid of losing her, but she knew she couldn’t compete with a woman from his past. She couldn’t set herself up to fall. Because she was already falling way too far as it was and it was going to hurt; it was going to hurt like hell.

So she walked, she turned and ran away, afraid of the truth. Afraid that he meant more to her then she did to him.


Ch.18 True Feelings

The master bedroom was lit, and Cara had a fairly good idea of who was up there. She could hear the soft cries from the end of the hall. The door was open and Cara decided to invite herself inside.

She let her heart lead her into that room. She had heard the exchange between Michael and the new woman of his life, Maria. Maria had the right to be upset, hurt, frustrated, but Cara was going to set things straight. She hated being the cause of their fight.

“Wow, this place hasn’t changed.” She wandered around the room, inspecting everything; her voice soft, light.

Maria let a short laugh escape her lips in a harsh tone as she threw more things into her suitcase. She just wanted to leave and forget the entire trip, forget everything that happened between her and Michael. Forget the pain swirling in her heart. “What do you want?”

Cara turned from the window, her features soft as she smiled. “I’m here to talk to you. I understand you may hate me beyond reason, but I’d like to try to make you understand something.”

“What? Understand that because you knew him first, you automatically get him? That no one stands a chance against you, that I should give up and go home? That you’re his one and only?” She stopped to take a breath.

“I get it. You win okay? I’m leaving, I would say it was nice to meet you and all but I’d be lying.” Her tone was still harsh and cold as she grabbed a few more things to stuff in her suitcase.

Cara watched the pain filter across her face, the new tears growing in her already spent eyes. She was an easy read, but she wasn’t going to tell Maria that. She sat down on the bed, never letting her eyes falter from Maria. “You’re in love with him.” The simple phrase captured Maria’s attention, making her realise how deeply she really felt for Michael. Cara was right, but it was too late now.

Maria’s head shot up to glare at Cara, calmly sitting on the bed. “What the hell do you want? I told you, you can have him.” She didn’t want to say that, she didn’t want to let Michael go but what chance did she have against Cara?

Cara stood. “Well I’m here to tell you that he was never mine, and he never will be mine.” She saw no change in Maria’s face and decided to add a little something to push her. “God, for someone who loves him so much you sure do give up easily.”

“What am I supposed to do? You’re Courtney’s sister. You had plans to set up house with him,” Maria’s voice raised a little more, as she ran a hand through her hair in frustration. “I never stood a chance, and to top it all off, he lied about you ever existing.”

“First of all, anything related to Courtney most likely will be on his never to date list, and second,” Cara sighed, “how did you find out about Courtney, what made you realize that there had been another woman in his life, or was in his life.”

Maria wasn’t sure what Cara was trying to pull. “Well the fact that he had a daughter was pretty much a red flag.”

“Exactly,” Cara said, confusing Maria even more. “You see Michael is like a nut, walnut, peanut, whatever kind, doesn’t matter which. There’s something inside of it, but if you didn’t know what, you wouldn’t know that you have to try and break it out. And like that nut, Michael sure as hell isn’t going to break open by himself. He needs someone with strength to break open that something amazing inside of him, to break open all of his secrets. He’s not the type to just divulge all of his information.”

“So you’re saying that he’d never have told me unless something caused me to realize who you were and that you were in life? That I’m supposed to be able to read his mind and just know that you existed?” Maria sighed and shook her head. “That makes me feel so much better, really, thanks.”

“I was trying to help.” Cara snapped. “I was trying to make you understand that I was his best friend, nothing more. I left him alone; I walked away and bruised him pretty badly. It still hurts and he wasn’t willing to come forth with that information because he’s Michael. If he doesn’t say it then maybe it’s not really happening.”

She sighed. “But you haven’t figured that out yet. So what are you going to do now instead of talking to him about it? You’re just going to leave, never accepting or acknowledging that you are, beside Camille, the best thing that ever happened to him.” Cara looked at her for a second, hoping that Maria would respond but nothing came. She shook her head, disappointed and pushed past Maria, out the door.

Maria ignored the tears sliding down her cheek, and finished grabbing her stuff. She didn’t want to listen to what Cara had said; all she wanted to do was get away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Cara found him outside sitting on the steps, his head in his hands. He was in love with her. It was clearly written all over his face. She quietly found a spot next to him, and just placed herself there, knowing he wasn’t going to object. He had been spent, his love had walked away.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” He instantly responded to her comment, finally bringing his head up to see her face. Somehow he hoped she was still his best friend because he needed her. He needed her now, perhaps more than ever.

“I come here, back home and end up ruining what you had with Maria.” She let out a deep breath. “I’m just sorry. I’m sorry I left at the worst time, I’m sorry you hate me, I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough, I’m sorry for everything,” The last one fell off her lips, as the tears started to sting her eyes.

Michael stared at her; he could see all the pain she had endured for years, pain she had suffered by herself. “What’s with this wounded bird act, you were never good playing helpless. Why now?” He asked, knowing that this wasn’t how she used to be.

“I use to know what I wanted from life.” She let her gaze fall on the night sky, the twinkling stars in the distance, as if a dream so close, yet so far away. “I use to know who I was, Michael, I don’t know who I am anymore.” She turned to look at him, tears falling freely. “I’m just so afraid I’m going to become her and that I’m going to fall into the same family pattern.”

Michael let his arm fall around her shaking body, letting her cry on his shoulder. “You’re still the Cara I know, you haven’t lost her yet.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Care for a dance, milady?” Alex extended his hand, hoping Isabel would be willing to dance with him. He had not brought up the subject, but he knew it was now or never. He had a feeling if he didn’t do it now, he never would.

Isabel felt herself blushing, pressing her lips together in a sweet smile; she said in an angelic voice, “I’d love to.” Letting her hand gently rest in his, they made their way to the dance floor.

“This has been some night.” Alex tried to sound normal, not letting the fact that she was so close affect him. It wasn’t working though.

Isabel smiled, nodding as she rested her hands on his shoulders. “Yeah, with Cara coming back to the whole Michael and Maria thing, tonight just hasn’t been the best of nights. I just hope everything works out.”

Alex placed his hand son her hips and tried not to freak out, mentally telling himself to calm down. “I’m sure everything will work out for the best, from what you girls have said about Cara, she’s certainly not here to cause trouble.”

“Yeah, I know. But everything is so different now. I mean in high school we all hung out, and had so much fun.” Isabel let herself smile sadly. “I mean I’d never want to relive high school, but I wish certain things didn’t change.”

“Like what?” Alex asked, almost afraid that she was hinting she didn’t want him there, that there was some guy she had longed for.

Isabel sighed. “We all were so innocent and free, not afraid to go after what we wanted, who we wanted. The friendships, there wasn’t all this mess; it was just a group of friends having fun.”

“I think everybody wishes real life could be more like that.”


She nodded. “I have a question for you Alex.” Isabel stated softly.

Alex felt his heart pounding out of his chest. “Yeah, what is that?”

“Could I show you something tomorrow? It’s more of a place, but I think you’d really enjoy it.” She smiled, hoping he’d say yes.

“I’d love to.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You did what you thought was right,” Kyle sighed softly, as she leaned on him, “There’s no harm in that. It would have happened eventually.”

“What if they never work things out?” Tess asked. She wanted to help, she knew it’d blow up in her face but hoped that it wouldn’t.

“That’s their problem, not ours.” Kyle rubbed her hand, wishing the entire nightmare would be over. He was sad for Maria, but she and Michael needed to talk about things, no one else could push them.

Tess raised her head, letting herself look at him. He stared back, unsure of what she was up to. Softly she touched his chin, lowering it for her lips to claim. He let her, feeling the kiss all the way to his toes, the way her hand touched his cheek so gently, made him lose control.

“Tess…” His voice trailed off when she stopped kissing him, he could finally catch his breath, but it wasn’t much help looking at her either. She was beautiful, her bright blue eyes staring at him, and a nice form fitting dress, showing off every curve. She was his kind of woman.

“Kyle,” she whispered, “come on.” She grabbed his hand pulling him up. He looked so good, his suit fit him just right and his laid back attitude just added something to it.

“Tess,” Kyle lost his breath again as he followed her, leading them through the back door, escaping without anybody noticing as she headed to the parking lot. “Tess, what are you doing?” He was finally able to stop her, and she turned to face him.

“I’m sick of waiting, I’m sick of everybody experiencing what I’m dying to.” Tess shifted uncomfortably, not sure if he would turn her down, lowering her head to stare at the ground seemed better.

Kyle raised her chin, forcing her to search his eyes, as he was hers. “Are you sure?” She nodded softly, her eyes wide. He smiled softly, leaning in to capture her lips once more, the feel of her. He never could give this up. “You’re beautiful, you know that?”

She smiled at him. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Kyle laughed, her sense of humor always got to him, and her taunting voice was driving him insane. “I gotta get you out of here, and somewhere comfortable.”

That caused Tess to laugh. “I know just the place.”

The stars twinkled at the new lovers, for love was on their side sparkling in the moonlight. What seemed out of reach wasn’t always that far away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Riley!” Maria banged on the door. She pounded harder, knowing he was home. He had left a mean voice message on her cell phone, telling her to call him every once in a while, that it would be nice.

Well he was getting what he asked for; if he wanted to see her, then he was going to see her.

“What in god’s name…” He ruffled a hand through his shaggy blonde curls, looking at her with squinted eyes. “Maria, what the hell are you doing here?”

“Can I stay for a couple days?” Her eyes were pleading, as she asked him in a small voice.

He looked at her, really looked at her then. She was a mess, it was plain as day. Her eyes were puffy and she looked tired. He wasn’t going to ask what was wrong now, but later when she got some rest he would. “Yeah, you know you’re always welcome. Come on in.”


Ch.19 Always Lose Ends

The sun beamed through the thin curtains. Tess rolled over, and smiled when she bumped into the chest of a certain guy. He was still sound a sleep. She let herself trace her fingers over his features. She couldn’t stop smiling; the feeling in her heart was indescribable.

He groaned when he felt the sun and her soft fingers oh his skin. “What are you doing?” He heard her laugh. It felt so good, he had been with plenty of woman before but with her it felt like the first time.

“I’m having a little fun.” Her voice filled with mischief as she smiled.

“Oh really,” Kyle smirked, rolling over to be on top of her. He laughed when she started shrieking. “I’ll show you fun.”

He loomed over her and let his lips find hers. She replied greedily to the kisses, not wanting to ever let go of the feeling he was creating within her.

“I like your type of fun.” She smiled up at him with big blue eyes, and he found himself falling deeper in love with her.

“Well I like you.” He smiled as he kissed her neck, letting himself inch lower and lower. She was just so beautiful.

“I more than like you,” she teased, as her eyes grew heavy from Kyle’s kisses. She turned her head slightly to look at him, her hand rubbing his neck. “I love you.”

He stopped kissing her and looked at her peaceful face. “I love you too,” he whispered as he began to kiss her again, feeling the passion run through him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Good morning.” Riley smirked; he shoved the coffee towards her as he continued cooking breakfast. “Sleep well?”

Maria sighed, she felt like a mess. “Alright I guess. Is it me or is that bed getting worse. Have your guests been having sex in your spare bedroom? That bed barely feels worn down, lumpy as hell it is.” She said jokingly.

Riley smirked to himself even more at her comment, he was going to keep his mouth shut, and tightly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, her mouth dropping open as she tried to say something, anything. “Are you telling me you’ve been….having…you know…in there?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He smirked again as he placed her food in front of her and saw her change six colors. There were moments like this that he wished he had a camera so the world could see the real Maria Deluca.

“Ewwwe!” Maria shrieked. “I didn’t need to know you were having sex in that bed, I was just joking, and I certainly was not serious.” She shook her head. “Now I’m going to have nightmares,” she mumbled.

“Speaking of nightmares,” Riley crossed his arms over his chest, “care to explain my nice wake up call this morning, and why you looked like someone chewed you up and spit you back out.”

“I don’t think that relates to nightmares in anyway,” she said, trying to avoid the conversation as she bit into her food. She knew he deserved to know, but she was going to delay the conversation as much as possible. She was going to delay the focus on her shattered heart as long as she could.

Riley knew exactly what she was doing. “Well it’s one of mine personally, seeing my little sister’s heart broken. Fess up.”

“After Billy, I thought I was over guys. I mean that hurt. However, Alex ended up getting me to do a song with the hot rock star, Michael Guerin. We did a song together and the next thing I know we’re dating and everything’s amazing. He has a daughter, and she’s adorable. Her mother died when she was born, so she wasn’t in the picture.” She sighed.

“But shit hit the fan when I got to go to this wedding with his family and friends, Alex and Kyle came too. Her twin sister shows up and happens to be Michael’s best friend. They both swore they weren’t in love, but I mean she’s her twin sister and I didn’t even know about her. He lied to me, so I flipped out and ended up here.”

Riley listened, unsure of how to respond to her ramble of feelings. “So you took off, assuming that he really is in love with her? Did you even give him a chance to speak his mind?”

“Yes,” Maria blurted, growing defensive at his accusations. “He said they weren’t in love and she came to talk to me, said the same thing.”

“But you still ran,” Riley stated simply, seeing the frustration across her face. “What made you run from him, Maria? Do you really love him? Is that what scares you, that he may love her more than you.”

Maria took a sip of her orange juice. “Look, this may sound really bad, but it’s for the best. Okay?” She wished it sounded stronger then it came out, but she knew she had to forget Michael, forget all the love she felt, forget about the whole thing. Maybe then she would be okay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You never were a good loser.” Cara chimed, trying to remember all the stuff about horses; it had been so long since she took a nice morning ride. She forgot how amazing it felt, how free she felt.


Michael glared at her. “Can you just drop the subject?” He put the saddle on the horse and began to get on.

Rolling her eyes, she got up, looked around and with a scared look she stared at Michael. “I forgot my fear of heights.” Michael laughed at her, grabbing her reins, forcing her to tag along. “What do you think you’re doing, oh dear god, what was I thinking?” She muttered, holding onto the horse for dear life.

“Who knows,” Michael laughed, finally letting go once they reached the end of the fence, seeing the forest land around them. It was there that he took off, leaving Cara stuck.

“Jerk,” she mumbled, having no choice but to chase after him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Come on,” Isabel ventured up, leaving Alex trailing behind her desperately trying to catch up. “It’s so beautiful up here. When we were all kids, we’d come up here just to hang out.”

Alex saw the way her features turned soft when speaking about her childhood, she was so beautiful and he could only imagine what she was like back then. “I’m use to the city personally, less nature stuff for me to get lost in.”

“I like the city too, but there’s something about the forest that makes nature seem so amazing. It’s the true masterpiece.”

By the time they reached the top, Alex stopped in his tracks seeing the entire town below them. Everything seemed like a painting. “Wow,” he breathed, amazed.

“Isn’t it something?” She asked, her smile sweet, angelic.

Alex wanted to tell her something sweet, something charming but couldn’t form the words. He wasn’t like Kyle or Michael who could be charming, he was just Alex. “Yeah, it really is.”

Isabel turned when she heard how raspy his voice sounded. She blushed when she found him staring at her. He made her feel beautiful. Deciding to take a leap of faith, she inched closer to him. He seemed frozen in his spot as she let her lips gently fall on his. His quick response told her everything she wanted to know.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You love her.” Cara stated quietly. It still amazed her how tender he had become, how gentle and loving. She knew that knowing Maria had made him a better man. Better then what knowing her would have made him. That sent a sense of calm through her. If she knew Michael was happy then she was happy.

His sigh was abrupt and he ran his hands through his hair, tugging on it. “You know, I forgot how frustrating you could be.”

“No you hadn’t.” Her voice was light as she sat next to him, a smile playing about her lips. “You let yourself ignore the fact even then.” She ignored the look he sent her and added, “You’re avoiding my questions, my statements and it’s beginning to make me frustrated, surprisingly you’re even more irritating.”

“I’m irritating?” Michael raised an eyebrow while still attempting to brush Cara off his back, but as usual she was not willing to take his bait.

“You’re still avoiding the questions.”

Another harsh sigh left Michael’s lips as he began to whisper, “She’s gone.” Closing his eyes, as if trying to clear all thoughts of her from his mind, he shook his head. “No sense in dwelling on any love I felt towards her.”

“How can you just let her go when you know she could be the one?” Cara shook her head; he really had grown far more impossible in the years she had been missing. “I never knew you could just walk away like that, walk away from love.”

“You don’t get to do this you know, you don’t have the right to walk in and act like you understand everything when you’ve been gone for six years.”

“Look,” she sighed. “I may have been gone Michael but things between us can’t have changed that much. You can still talk to me, please talk to me.”

Michael sighed, leaning back onto the grass, looking up at the sky above them. “Maybe she was the best love I’ve ever experience but if we’re meant to be together, I don’t need to go chasing after her and she doesn’t need to come looking for me. It’s that simple. Now can we drop this?”

Cara nodded, seeing an uneasy look cross Michael’s paling face. It was obvious he was having trouble sleeping, and his eyes showed how tired he really was. Maybe he was afraid to sleep for he dreamed of Maria and what could have been.


Ch.20 A step in the right direction

“So what was she like?” Camille asked as she continued to stroke the horse’s mane, her bright hazel eyes holding all the curiosity known to man.

Cara let the laugh building in her throat die the minute she saw Camille’s big eyes staring at her, waiting to hear amazing stories of her mother. She grabbed a saddle and put it on the brown and white horse, hoping to let a smart idea pop into her head.

“She liked having fun, always enjoying a good party and standing in the spotlight. She was a dreamer, high expectations, always had some crazy adventure that was going to lead her to fame and fortune.”

Camille’s smile grew, and Cara felt slightly better. They were true characteristics of Courtney, a tad modified, but none the less those were the things that made Courtney, who she was. Maybe she left the more bad qualities out, but one day Camille would learn. For now she could think highly of her mother. She deserved that.

“Were you and my mom really close?”

Cara stopped, sighing softly. “As close as sisters can be.”

“Hey, do you two want any lunch?” Tess asked while walking in the barn, her pig tails hanging loose as she cocked her head.

“We’ll wait till after our ride,” Cara smiled, helping Camille onto the horse and then heading to the other black one. “Why don’t you come with us?”

“She doesn’t ride.” Camille blurted out, almost forgetting that her Aunt Tess use to ride horses, once upon a time. But for reasons Camille could still not understand Tess didn’t ride.

Cara’s eyes brows shot up in confusion. “Are we talking about the same Tess Guerin who was always on a horse or near one?” She noticed Tess’s uneasy look, and abruptly asked, “What happened to make you of all people stop?”

“My parent’s accident,” Tess said softly, not feeling the need to discuss the issue further. It was the past, simple as that and it deserved no explanation.

Cara got close to Tess so Camille wouldn’t hear, “They’re car accident caused you to not ride. Tess, you’re mother of all people would be rolling in her grave if you stopped riding. You can’t be serious, that a simple accident that you had no control over stopped you from doing the one thing you love?”

“I just can’t, okay?” Tess stated in a stressed tone, and before leaving added with a harsh affect, “Just leave it alone, Cara. I mean it.”

Cara turned back to Camille; she wasn’t going to leave it alone. Too many things got neglected and she was going to make sure some things were fixed by the time she left.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So when I head back will you have time for me?” Alex grinned cocky, he had been a little extra happy since him and Isabel kissed, and to top it off it didn’t stop there. Multiple kisses erupted and Alex couldn’t stop smiling.

“Well there’s that Award show in less than a week I’m sure we can sit together, since Maria and Michael have a scheduled performance together….” Isabel realized what she was saying and quickly grabbed her planner, trying to prove what her memory remembered.

Alex let his grin fall as he looked like a deer caught in headlights. This could become a problem, an extremely big problem. “Are you serious?”

“This is perfect,” Isabel exclaimed, her gorgeous smile spreading a crossed her toned cheeks, a certain twinkle sparkling in her eyes.

“Please telling me you’re kidding.” Alex said through gritted teeth. He could see the entire auditorium going up in flames wherever the show was being held, and definitely fists flying.

Isabel grabbed his hand, and her smile grew. “Don’t you see? We can throw them together without them realizing. Tell the people in charge that it’s a surprise performance, making the two be together.”

Alex nodded, realizing the plan. “That could be exactly what we need, to bring them back together. You’re right, it’s absolutely perfect.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kyle smiled at Tess’s soft laugh as she desperately tried to finish cooking lunch, adding the vegetables to the mix, cutting the water covered lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. She enjoyed cooking but Kyle was distracting her with his lips all over her neck.

“Kyle,” she moaned quietly, trying to ignore him, but at the same time she was letting herself enjoy the feel of him being near.

Kyle smirked, holding her hips tightly in his hands, forcing her to stay in his embrace as he continued to kiss her neck. “Yes baby,” he said, trying to sound innocent, but him and Tess both knew he was far from it. He was also hoping Michael remained clueless so his body parts remained in order.

“I’m trying to make lunch and you’re distracting me, horribly.” Her voice came out raspy, too much talking at once. Damn, Kyle was good.

Kyle smirked against her pale, soft skin. “What do you think my punishment should be for distracting you, honey?”

“Keep this up, and I’ll chain you to my bed.”

Kyle’s smiled grew as he whispered into her ear gently, seductively, “Is that a promise?”

“Keep it up and we’ll see,” Tess groaned, as his hand slipped under her shirt. She really hated temptations and at the moment she hated how talented he was with his hands. She could feel herself losing control.

“How am I doing?” Kyle asked gently, kissing the skin behind her ear, he could feel her buckling as she grasped the counter, trying to remain upward instead falling down towards the ground. She could stick this out.

“Horribly,” she muttered.

Kyle laughed, finally getting sick of her game and turned her around to face him and he attacked her lips. He felt her need as she passionately returned the sediment, wrapping her arms around his neck pulling him closer as she let his tongue slide into her mouth, to battle with hers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael crossed his arms, a frown on his lips as his eyes narrowed on Kyle laughing with Tess, and every so often a kiss shared between the two. He felt…uneasy. This was his sister and the way her and Kyle were at the moment, he would assume they’ve been sleeping together. A snarl escaped his now pressed lips.

“Easy tiger,” Cara muffled her laughter seeing Michael’s angry glare and asked a simple question hoping her head would be spared, “Now what has your panties in a twist?”

Michael leaned against the wall and gestured towards Kyle and Tess. “That’s my sister.” He thought it was obvious why there was a problem.

“But they’re happy and in love with each other. What’s wrong with that? Don’t you want your sister to be happy?” She knew she hit a nerve, Michael wasn’t thinking logically, he was worried but it was understandable. Still, no one could deny that that the two didn’t look the bit in love.

Michael didn’t respond. His mouth remained closed as he let himself calm down. Cara was right, Tess deserved to be happy, and if Kyle made her happy he’d step back. He forgot how good Cara was at making people realize the truth.

“Why doesn’t she ride anymore?” It bugged Cara beyond reason. That the little curly haired girl that loved horses, no longer rode the creature she adored. There was something not right with the world the day that happened.

“I think it hurts too much for her,” Michael sighed, letting the air to come out harshly as if letting the air flow through to everyone. “Our parents supported her so much; to die because of it destroyed her. She blames herself.”

“It was an accident.” Cara spoke roughly. Michael nodded, agreeing with her already, no convincing was needed.

“Try telling her that.” That shut Cara up and she remained silent on the subject, knowing maybe she couldn’t control everything. She had left and this was what had formed. She had to start accepting things as they were. She had no choice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She felt the sound of the howling wind before she heard it leaving an echoing sound behind it. The comforts of home never seemed to bring her back to reality as much as it had the past week. She was finding herself again. She wasn’t just the daughter of a drunken mother and sister to a whore. She had friends that caused her to laugh and forget her troubles. She had gotten qualities from both worlds. Those two made her who she was, but they didn’t make her happy.

She was use to guilt, feeling helpless to change her family, but at least she could change. She could finally learn to pass her anger and guilt towards her sister’s mistakes. It took six years of stumbling alone to find it, but she had to do it on her own. She couldn’t let other people change her feelings; she had to do it herself.

The single red rose blew softly in the wind, trying to survive, much like she had her whole life. But she had found her road and she let a soft smile graze her now tired features.

She stopped at the grave, a place she not seen for eight years, not since they put her into the ground. Not since they said good-bye to Courtney. Since she started resenting her sister for everything she put her through, for forcing her to know that every lie she told and every thing that she did to hurt the ones she love. For all the pain Courtney forced Cara to swallow and making her promise to make sure Camille had the life they never could.

The tears began to form the minute she let herself read the words etched into the grave stone, allowing the world to see Courtney’s name in it. “Eight years, Court. God, I don’t even know where to start.”

A few tears gently glided down her cheek as she laid the rose next to the grave. “If I say I missed you, I’d be lying. But somewhere, wherever you are, I hope you got whatever it was you were always chasing.”

Her voice choked as she whispered, “Because regardless of what everyone else thinks of you, they’ll never know that even if you had lived you would had left Camille motherless and me, to clean up your mess. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Cause you never would have changed, you never would have cared about anyone but yourself.”

The tears slid faster down her cheeks. “Some would probably say that I’m the selfish one, saying all my anger at your grave, but I need to let it go. I need to move on from my past and Court, that’s all you’ve become now. You’re no longer my sister; you’re just a person from my past.”

She got up, knowing she was finally ready to move past everything and get on with her life. However as she turned, she was not prepared to see the one person she knew would force her to dwell in her childhood once more. Her mother.


Ch. 21 The First Cut is the Deepest

“Cara.” The older woman’s voice seemed worn out, probably from all those years of binge drinking.

“Dana, I would say it’s nice to see you but…” Her voice was rough, anger filled as it filtered over to Dana.

“That’s all you can say to me, I am your mother.”

A harsh laugh abruptly shot out from Cara’s lips. She tried not to let herself cry because she’d be admitting the true pain from her childhood. “To be a mother would mean you were around, that you cared and I’m sorry, but you were never there, Dana, ever.”

“I tried, I was young.” Dana defended herself, suddenly feeling small against her own daughter.

“Somehow, I seriously doubt that one; it’s not that I really care anymore though. It’s the fact you come up to me like nothing has change when everything has.”

Cara sighed. “It’s the fact I basically raised myself and now I’m a grown woman and I’m angry, not because you tried, but because you never cared, not then, and certainly not now. I think it’s because you’re truly alone and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Maybe it’s sick that I’m turning my back a woman I should call my mother but I can’t seem to let the words fall from my mouth.”

Her voice was tired, sick of fighting. “Maybe one day I can come back and not feel resentment towards you, but those wounds have yet to heal and I doubt they ever will.”

Cara left her standing next to Courtney’s grave thinking what two peas in a pod those two were, because in Dana she saw what Courtney would have become. Maybe God wanted to save Camille from her own mother. Somehow Cara felt jealous.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kyle ventured out back to where he noticed Michael standing against one of the old wooden fences, staring up at the night sky above him. Kyle understood Michael’s frustrated feelings but he couldn’t understand his stand back attitude.

“Alex and I are going back tomorrow,” Kyle started off as he stood next to Michael. “I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to say to Maria about everything when I don’t really understand everything.”

“Say whatever you like, I don’t really care.” Michael let it out coolly, trying express that he was fine, when in reality hearing her name was bringing him horribly back to reality, a reality where Maria no longer ended up in his arms at the end of the day.

“Just whatever?” Kyle didn’t care that he was being cruel to the man in front of him. He couldn’t tell if it was his heart bleeding for Maria or that he in fact did not care. “Did she mean anything to you at all, or was she just a good lay? I mean she’s a gorgeous—“

“I think you should shut up before you say something stupid.” Michael shifted his head to fully look at Kyle. “See I may let the fact you’ve slept with my sister go, but if you continue to banter me on my feelings about Maria, when your completely off base, than I might not be so nice.”

“Just answer one question,” Kyle asked softly, his curiosity always getting the better of him. Michael nodded. “Why did you let her go?”

“Because no words were going to make Maria stay if she didn’t want to.” Kyle nodded, he understood that. Maria was not easy to talk to when she was hurt, she stayed away and Michael respected her space.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You’re late,” Laurie smirked at Cara’s retreating back, as she sipped on her coffee.

“I was just walking around, what are you doing up?” Cara explained calmly as she took a seat next to Laurie, figuring the conversation would be nice and make her ignore the conversation with Dana earlier that day.

Laurie nodded, noticing something hidden in Cara eyes. “What’s been going on with you these days? You seem more at peace.”

Cara let her eyes wonder down as she sighed before she spoke. “I’m just letting go of the past. Finally I’ve been able to do that.”

“What are you letting go of?” Laurie asked, instinctively knowing there was more then what Cara was saying, underneath there was something desperately trying to break the surface.

Cara sighed. “For a long time I always tried to understand why Dana did what she did, Courtney too, and now I’m just realizing in their mind that it was what they wanted. I don’t think it mattered who got in their way.”

“What about you? Were you ever selfish like that?” Laurie asked, questioning this dawning of revelation.

“Yeah, I left everyone because seeing Courtney’s lies right in front of me, hearing her reputation wore on me. I needed out.”

Laurie nodded softly sipping her coffee again, understanding Cara’s frustration. Sometimes pain wore on you and there’s no escape from that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following morning Kyle and Alex packed up their things, knowing both were going home to a very lonely Maria. In a week everything had changed, the happy couple turned into a nonexistent one.

“She’s going to talk our ears off.”

“Chocolate, make sure we give her plenty of chocolate.”

“Ice cream. We’ll need Ice cream.”

“With whip cream and cherries.”

“What about tissues, do we have those?”

“No, but she’ll need them.”

Tess laughed a little as the two went back and forth. “You guys ready? Laurie’s going to take you because she thinks Isabel and I will start crying or something.”

“Alright, baby.” Kyle smiled kissing her lips lightly. “You guys are coming back in a few days right?” She nodded softly, her big blues eyes watching him intensely. “Then I’ll see you when you get back.”

“It’s a date.”

Kyle couldn’t resist giving her another kiss. “It’s a date.”

Alex made a gagging noise as he left the room carrying his suitcase to the door where he saw Isabel standing there. “Only a few days, right?”

“Only a few days,” he said and dropped his suitcase as he wrapped his arms around her, leaning in for a kiss.

Kyle made a gagging noise of his own. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Don’t you dare do it only my floor,” Michael said as he walked into the room, pointing at Kyle. Kyle gulped. “Well you two have a safe trip, and hopefully we’ll see you guys in New York.” He tried to be polite to Kyle as he shook his hand, their conversation still hanging in his mind.

The two nodded, and the horn honked. They kissed the girls good-bye, gathered up their things, and left for the airport.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Thank you,” Tess said while she practically skipped through the barn where she found Michael brushing one of the horse’s mains.

Michael raised an eyebrow at her. “Okay…what for?”

“For allowing Kyle to leave in one piece, I know how bad you wanted to wire his mouth shut, cutting off his little friend and cook him for Sunday dinner.” She smiled softly. “Thank you for stepping back and letting me live my life.”

Michael nodded, now understanding what she was saying. “Do me a favour?” An idea occurred to him, and he wanted to help her.

“What?”

He handed over the reins to the white and brown horse she use to ride in her teen years, the one she rode for the last time. “Get back on a horse. Cara was right about one thing; you loved this too much to let it fall through the cracks of your life.”

Her eyes filled up with tears as she stared at the reins, “But…but...I….I…” Her voice was weak as she tried to form words.

“I’ll never forget the pride written all over their face when you won that show. Don’t let their death, an accident cause you to stop your dream. They would never have wanted that.”

Her breathing quickened as she took the reins, a tear falling from her eye as she stared at Michael, fear was etched on her pale face, he smiled gently at her as she put her foot in the stirrup and he held her up for support, pushing her onto the horse.

Michael kept hold as she calmed herself down; enough to nod to Michael, letting him know to guide the horse outside. And he did, coxing the creature out into land where Tess allowed herself to ride a horse again.

Michael stood out there in the middle watching her ride, tears streaming down her face and a genuine smile playing about her lips. In the pale moonlight she looked like a princess.

Cara stood on the back porch, where she saw the whole thing, smiling she knew Michael put her back on that horse. “Is that Aunt Tess?” Camille asked getting up on the wooden railing to get a better view.

“Yeah, that’s her.” Cara smiled a little bigger, holding Cara up.

“She looks like an angel.” Camille said, amazed by her Aunt’s riding abilities.

“She does.” Cara couldn’t help but think the little girl in front of her was another miracle God let them all be graced with, for not everyday could people believe again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Later that afternoon, while he cleaned the stables, Michael messed with the radio station until he noticed a certain voice filling the air. He couldn’t stop the tears that fell as he realized what the words meant.


I would have given you all of my heart
but there's someone who's torn it apart
and he's taking almost all that I've got
but if you want, I'll try to love again
baby I'll try to love again but I know

The first cut is the deepest, baby I know
The first cut is the deepest
'cause when it comes to being lucky he's cursed
when it comes to lovin' me he's worse
but when it comes to being loved he's first
that's how I know

The first cut is the deepest, baby I know
The first cut is the deepest

I still want you by my side
just to help me dry the tears that I've cried
cause I'm sure gonna give you a try
and if you want, I'll try to love again
but baby, I'll try to love again, but I know

The first cut is the deepest, baby I know
The first cut is the deepest

'Cause when it comes to being lucky he's cursed
when it comes to lovin' me he's worse
but when it comes to being loved he's first
that's how I know

The first cut is the deepest, baby I know
The first cut is the deepest



Ch.22: You can run but you cannot hide

“You think she’ll actually pick us up?” Kyle asked grabbing his luggage, eyeing Alex’s facial expressions; it was easy to read him.

“She left a voicemail on both our cells,” Alex ruffled his once gelled hair. “I just hope we can manipulate this entire thing between her and Michael, cause if we can’t….”

Kyle sighed, continuing to walk towards the front doors. “Don’t even think about it. This plan has to work.”

Maria Deluca remained in the limo she had brought, figuring once the two had landed they would call her. She had continued to hide out at her brother’s but knew she had to go pick up the boys, so she called her driver. Today she felt like acting the princess.

She glanced at her platinum silver watch, realizing they’d be there any minute and stepped out, leaning against the long black car. Her big sun glasses hid her eyes, preventing anybody from knowing who she was, her long golden locks dangling down, and her arms wrapped tightly around her body, even over the long overcoat.

“Alex, Kyle,” She called once she stopped the two, smiling warmly at them when they noticed her. “I missed you guys.”

Kyle and Alex hugged her tightly then swiftly, like so many times before, the two put their suit cases into the trunk with the help of the driver and all three piled into the back seat, ready to go home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Isabel checked her planner again. For once she was glad she never really informed Michael of things until they became real close. She and Alex had arranged the set up so the new song could premiere at the Grammy’s. Between Michael and Maria, both were nominated for so many awards the show would only advance their popularity.

“Michael, don’t forget that when we get back you have three days till the Grammy’s,” She warned him as they all packed. It would make him just mumbled his typical okay, and Isabel would be free, no worries of him finding out more information.

“Which song?”

Isabel rolled her eyes as she heard it from the other room and instead of yelling back, she entered his. “I think we may do a combination, but the people in charge haven’t really told me what they’d like you to do. You’ll be fine regardless.”

“Just tell me I won’t be backstage being told some really old song.” Michael almost grumbled. He hated award shows; the people could never make up their minds, something new, or something old.

Isabel smiled inwardly. “I’m trying to push for something newer, so as long as we agree, I think I can pull a few strings.”

“Alright, sounds good.” Michael smiled back. He was use to Isabel being nice when she was up to something. She was being too agreeable, but for the time being he was shrugging it off that since things with Alex went well, she had been in a good mood.

Cara passed by his room, stopping at the entrance. “Hey, I’m going to say bye to Camille than I’m heading out, alright?”

“Actually I wanted to talk to you before you left.” Michael said, grabbing a shirt from his closet and folding to put into his suitcase. He was stuck dong most of his stuff, usually he could pass it off on Tess, but she was fixing a few things in the barn that had bugged her.

“Sure, what do you want to talk about? Cause my plane is leaving,” She checked her watch, reminding herself of the time, “like at three, so I kinda of need to hurry.”

Michael pulled out a few more shirts laying them on the bed, trying to keep eye contact with her, “What’s tying you to here? From what you’ve said you and this boyfriend have a long distance thing anyway because he’s originally from New York.”

Cara could see where he was going with this. Biting her tongue, she said forcefully, “Spit out whatever is on your mind, Michael. I really don’t have the time.”

“I want you to come stay with us in New York.” He put his hand out; knowing Cara was just about to protest. “If you come, you can be there for Camille, and maybe if someone else is there, I can slowly get Tess to go back to school, to do what she’s always dream of doing.” Michael sighed. “Take however long you need to decide, have a nice trip and enjoy yourself.”

Cara nodded, not even sure how to begin to respond to Michael’s request. So much had change, could she really go with them? So instead of dwelling any further she whispered her good-byes and left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


“So how is Riley?” Alex asked handing Maria a drink, making himself comfortable on the couch next to her. She seemed lonely, but not as bad as he had imagined. Had she gotten over Michael? Or was she simply hiding?

Maria took a gentle sip from the cup, her legs curled up to her chest as she began to talk. “He seems really good; whoever this new girl is seems to really be bringing out the best in him. The last one was a train wreck, and just walked all over him. But he hasn’t been able to convince this one to move in with him, she’s apparently really independent and doesn’t like letting people take complete care of her.”

Alex nodded, she seemed very alive but there was something about her eyes that seemed distant, cold. “Good for Riley, he always was a good guy.”

“I’m really happy for him,” She exclaimed.

Alex sat his cup on the coffee table, leaning forward to do so, and then returning to his cozy spot on the couch, setting his hand on top of his knee. “I wanted to remind you, you are performing for the Grammy’s.”

Maria’s mouth dropped open. “Oh my god,” Her words scared Alex a little, did he mention the performance before, and would she back out? “I completely forgot that was in less than a week. God, time sure does fly, what song am I doing again?”

Alex let his breath be quiet as he exhaled slowly; she was completely unaware and he had to thank his lucky stars. “I actually haven’t been told what they want you to do. From what I heard they want you to do one of your slower, newer songs. So we’ll class you all up for this.”

Maria smiled brightly, dressing up sounded like fun; she could just pretend to be someone else, anyone but Maria Deluca. “I can’t wait.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hmm, you taste good,” Riley moaned at the corner of her mouth, some how whenever she as around they ended up on the couch like two sixteen year old hormonal teenagers.

She giggled across his lips; he made her feel young again. She had felt pain for so long, and he was finally the one to look at her and say, ‘You just gotta go forward and let the past stay behind you,’ she was learning slowly.

“Ahh, right there,” He chuckled as she started to tease him. “I haven’t gotten a proper hello.” He mumbled against her neck.

“Hello,” She muttered sarcastically.

Riley smirked, “Not that kind of hello.”

She hit him, laughing at his childish humor, “What am I ever going to do with you?” She whispered shaking her head, her lips inches from his.

“How about kiss me?” She happily did so, kissing his lips gently, slowly turning more passionate. His grip on her waist made her feel protected. Her arms hooked around his neck, neither heard the door opening….

“Riley, I just….” Maria stopped dead in her tracks, seeing him making out with…Cara on his couch. He had said he had been dating a woman named Cara but she didn’t think it was the same one.

Cara glanced up, her mouth fell open. It was Maria, Michael’s Maria. She saw the embarrassed look graze Riley’s face, and looking between the two, she realized this was his sister. She immediately scooted back on the couch so Riley could sit up.

He scratched his head in obvious distress. “Um Maria, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend Cara, Cara, this is my sister Maria.”

Maria stared at the two trying to determine what to say, or what to do. So maybe nothing was going to start up with Cara and Michael. She could have been wrong the whole time—no. She couldn’t think, so the first thing she blurted out was, “We’ve already met.”

Riley turned sharply at Cara, his eyebrow raised, so Cara explained, “You know my best friend Michael, the one I went to see. Maria was dating him.” He quickly looked back Maria who seemed surprised how easy she had answered that. Like there was nothing between her and Michael but friendship. Maria started second guessing herself, so in a scared moment; she left the way she entered.

Riley immediately went to go after her until Cara grabbed his arm. “Let me,” She whispered gently understanding how he wanted to help her, but the situation it was already a mess. He nodded and sat back, letting her go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So do you think this grand plan Alex and Isabel have cooked up will work?” Tess asked taking a bite of her salad.

Kyle sighed, roughly running a hand through his hair, “Honestly, I have no clue. But let me tell you, I thought Michael looked bad. Maria’s almost worse, and she’s just not saying anything about what happened, like if she doesn’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. Alex and I keep trying to get her to say something; anything but she refuses to budge. I’ve never seen her so broken before.”

“Don’t worry; I’m sure Maria will eventually admit how she feels and she’ll realize what she did and that Michael’s in the same position.” Tess smiled sadly, knowing this entire mess shouldn’t be happening, but it could perhaps only make them stronger as a couple.

“She’s hurt and it will take some time for her to come to terms with everything, to fully understand the entire situation. Hopefully if they do this song, it’ll make them feel the electricity they once felt before.”

Kyle smiled at her, loving how much of a believer she was. “You’re beautiful, have I ever told you that?” He winked at her.

“Once or twice,” She giggled. When she saw him smiling, she leaned in for a kiss, which he nicely returned. If only love could be like this forever, and for everyone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Maria!” Cara hurried out of the apartment, thankful she was still fully clothed so she didn’t have to run out naked, not that she would but it would have waisted time trying to get dressed.

Maria turned around angrily. She couldn’t figure out if she was doing the right or wrong thing. Her head was beginning to agree with her heart and she couldn’t hold on anymore. “What?” Her voice annoyed as she stood there, helplessly.

“Look, I care about your brother and there is nothing between me and Michael.” She blurted out. She wasn’t sure what to say to begin with. Maria hated her; at least it felt that way so whatever she said would have to do.

“That’s great, I hope you’re happy, but I really need to go. I have an award show to get ready for; I wanted to see if Riley wanted to go with me.” Her voice was tired, so was her heart. Hearing Cara being with her brother and Michael with no one made her even more confused about everything.

Cara nodded. “Just think about what I’m saying, Maria. Follow your heart. You meant everything to Michael.” She left quietly, noticing the distressed look in Maria’s already pale face, she seemed drained. Her emotions were written all over her face and in her body language, she missed Michael.

Once Maria got into the elevator she let the tears fall, the tears she held since she left that day. Her heart was breaking and she couldn’t control the sob that began to erupt through her tiny body. If only she knew what to do...


Ch.23 Since you’ve been gone, my world’s been dark and gray

Michael Guerin roughly let a hand soar through his styled hair. He had a style about him regardless of what people believed. He started out nice, clean and neat to later screw it all up. A lot like his entire life, but he was done dwelling; life was something to live not to regret.

He could feel slight stubble on his chin, which was noticeable as well. He liked the rough, tough edge it awarded him. A silver chain hung around his neck, shinning nicely in the light with the white collar surrounding it. The button up shirt had three buttons undone showing off his upper chest. A pair of black slacks completed the outfit. For he would never dress up that much for a show, he was Michael Guerin who did he have to impress?

A little petit blonde popped into his mind and began to consume his heart. He was done, he was through. Time healed all wounds, even this one, eventually.

“Tess, are you ready?” He said impatiently. In a desperate attempt to not look lonely, he asked her to join him, and she gladly accepted. She knew it was not her whom he wanted to go with but the chance to be all dressy was not something she wanted to pass up.

“What do you think?” Her voice was littered with excitement spooking Michael from his struggling thoughts, twisting her tiny body around to show off the baby blue powder dress.

It was tight and accented her curves, and the light blue made her eyes stand out like the deep blue ocean. It was short for an award show dress, but it made her look cute, innocent. And her head surrounded in curls added the whole affect. A tiny silver chain wrapped around her neck, a small blue heart gem matching the dress was attached, and caught Michael’s attention.

“Mom’s?” He knew the answer as he held the small jewel under his larger fingers, looking closer and the sadness that filled in his hazel eyes made Tess feel bad.

She nodded, calming the inner tears before saying, “I thought it’d be fitting, when we were there I found it and I couldn’t resist.”

Michael composed himself and lifted her chin forcing her to look at him. “It looks amazing on you, you really look gorgeous tonight.” He kissed her cheek and lifted his left arm as he headed out, knowing she’d grab it and follow him easily.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Long full curls covered her entire head as she continued to stare at herself in the mirror trying to determine if she could even fool herself. The silver dress was full length with a low neckline, adding a long diamond chain, matching earrings dangling from her ears. She had to prove she was fine…fine without him.

“Maria, it’s time to go,” Kyle whispered, extending his arm for her to follow him. He could see her frustration, but she could fool the world, even herself for now.

She let time hold for a moment, because she knew what would come once she gracefully stepped onto the red carpet. She knew the responses, and she knew her reactions. It didn’t matter that she had lost love without them knowing.

Kyle allowed her to use his arm for support as she let herself be attacked by camera shots and she smiled flawlessly, letting the world believe she was the happiest person when she was screaming out for someone to wake her.

“Miss Deluca.”

“Maria!”

“What are you wearing?”

Kyle escorted her, knowing how much she hated the press, trying to protect her from the pain etched in her green eyes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This better work,” Isabel sighed falling into a chair, as Alex found a comfortable seat next to her unconsciously rubbing her tense shoulders.

“It will,” Alex countered, he believed this could work, they could make it work, and as the award show began to start and progress through the night, they would continue to enforce the plan to make Michael and Maria come face to face, and to grips with their true feelings.

Isabel smiled, capturing Alex’s lips in a kiss, she needed the reassurance, or that was what her excuse was. In reality she just enjoyed the feel of his lips upon her own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael entered the backstage slightly frustrated. Minutes before performance and had anyone bothered to tell him what he was singing…no. He threw on a pair of jeans, and his guitar on his shoulder completed his look.

Isabel came in, clearing her throat. She looked professional, black pants, a nice fitting blouse. It was Isabel to perfection. “I need to admit something,” She started but was admittedly cut off by Michael’s impatient voice.

“Can you find time to confess your sins at a later date? What the hell am I singing? I told you not to tell me backstage…”

“You’re doing picture…with Maria.” Isabel ignored the drop mouth look on Michael’s face and added rather quickly, “Alex and I set it up but forgot, by the time we realized it was already too late, so we made this plan to keep you in the dark till minutes before the show knowing you couldn’t back out. And being you did the song not too long ago, the song would be still known.”

“Iz…” Michael let her name drag as he tried to focus. He couldn’t do it, do a song about breaking up and getting back together would hurt far too much. Especially with the woman he wanted to grab and never let leave him again.

“Michael I’m begging you. We can’t turn back time; I need you to do this. If anything we will take the footage and make it a video. There’s no other way.”

Isabel knew she sounded desperate, but she was. She needed Michael to get on stage, and to force Maria to follow the same suit. Of the two to go up there first, naturally it had to be the more bull-headed one, but Isabel would deal with the hand she was thrown.

Her words echoed in his ears and somewhere he knew he would end up doing this regardless of his feelings. He looked drained, like every emotion in his body was sucking the life out of him. He mutely debated the issue at hand in a matter of minutes. He glanced up at Isabel and in a strained voice said, “Cue the music.”

She didn’t ask more, she only hoped Alex could get Maria on stage.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“No!” Maria shouted as she changed into a pair of tight fitting, flared jeans. She quickly changed her top to a black tank top, with a low neck.

Alex looked at her and struggled with his words. “Just do this once for me and you’ll never have to see him again if you don’t want to.”

Maria glanced up at Alex, her eyes filling with tears. “Alex, I’m sorry I just…” She trailed not sure how to say it. Singing with a man she was in love with was torture, especially doing a song about breaking up and getting back together.

“Maria, if he gets on stage, will you do it?”

She thought about it. “If he gets on stage I’ll do it.” She said, knowing perfectly well that Michael Guerin would not be easily forced into something he didn’t want to do.

But Maria thought too soon, because on the screen the crowd cheered, capturing her attention as she turned to look at it, seeing Michael smirking with guitar on his shoulder and a microphone in his hand. And at that point, Maria knew that she had no choice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael did a traditional smile for his audience, stringing the guitar gently as he gave a few minutes of intro before he let the words pour out. There was a stool and Michael knew exactly how he was doing this. Setting the microphone into the holder, he began to sing, letting every emotion pour out of him

Livin' my life in a slow hell
Different girl every night at the hotel
I ain't seen the sun shine in 3 damn days
Been fuelin' up on cocaine and whisky
Wish I had a good girl to miss me
Lord I wonder if I'll ever change my ways

He had remained mostly in the spot he landed on, singing his best; to let the feelings behind the song, scream out to a little blonde. He finally moved on the stool and sat down trying to add the effect.

I put your picture away
Sat down and cried today
I can't look at you while I'm lyin' next to her
I put your picture away, sat down and cried today
I can't look at you, while I'm lyin next to her

Maria Deluca had to stop herself from crying. She could feel the power, the power in his words. If only she hadn’t let them keep ringing through her ears. What if she had tried to listen? Would they be doing this song…happy?

She stepped out softly on her cue. The entire stage was simple, not the complex production she was use to, and for once she felt like Maria Deluca in a pair of jeans and an everyday top. It had been a while…and Michael brought that out in her.

I called you last night in the hotel

Her voice caught Michael’s attention. She had gotten on stage, he was afraid he’d be up there to do it all alone. He was use to loneliness but he felt so much better knowing she was there, no matter what the circumstances were. Perhaps all hope was not lost.

Everyone knows but they won’t tell
But their half hearted smiles tell me
Somethin' just ain't right
I been waitin' on you for a long time
Fuelin' up on heartaches and cheap wine
I ain't heard from you in 3 damn nights

She walked close to him, maybe a little too close but she was an actress, and she could fake this. His eyes haunted her though, they looked sad, like there were too many nights he didn’t get sleep. So she decided to walk around the front of the stage, pouring all her feelings into the song. For her heart was breaking at the thought that she did that to him.

I put your picture away
I wonder where you been
I can't look at you while I'm lyin' next to him
I put your picture away
I wonder where you been
I can't look at you while I'm lyin' next to him

He started his guitar solo, standing up, and that’s when Maria’s body remembered him too well. He looked troubled, rough and most of all lonely. She knew that feeling; she knew what it was like, because her heart was in pain too. She was just telling herself…at least she didn’t see him start, because the words were powerful enough, but his face would have crumbled her.

He glanced up at her frozen form staring at him; he knew the audience had no clue. The pop princes and the bad boy doing a song together were barely registering in their minds. She realized he was cueing her, and the words fell out softly.

I saw you yesterday with an old friend

He started inching closer to her, his fingers stopped playing the guitar, knowing someone would play the rest. His eyes were focused on hers, so with all he could, he sang the next part in their duelling voices.

It was the same ole same "how have you been"

By then they were so close, Maria could see the slight stubble on his chin and the way his mouth formed the words. Together the emotion was electrifying.

Since you been gone my worlds been dark and grey

Michael stood close to her ear as he sang in a soft voice full of pain and hurt, for she had left him battered and bruised, even if she didn’t realize.

You reminded me of brighter days

Her eyes were wide with innocence, and filled with tears as she let her voice stand strong while her heart could not. All she wanted to do was mumble ‘I’m sorry” and hold him for dear life.

I hoped you were comin' home to stay
I was headed to church

His voice belted out the next part, letting her feel every emotion in his words that the song wasn’t suppose to be them, but that it had turned into them somewhere along the way.

I was off to drink you away

She forgot how well their voices matched, how well they fit together. She was holding the tears in, while her eyes stayed locked with his, seeing the hurt there, the hurt she had put there.

I thought about you for a long time
Can't seem to get you off my mind
I can't understand why we're living life this way

Michael couldn’t stand being this close to her and not being able to touch her so he let his hand glide through her hair as the music began to overpower them. Their voices meshed well as they continued to fight a losing battle, but both knew they had given up the fight; it was only a matter of time before love won the war.

I found your picture today
I swear I'll change my ways
I just called to say I want you to come back home
I found your picture today
I swear I'll change my ways
I just called to say I want you to come back home

But at the last phrase Maria let herself give in. Their mouth formed the words they never said to each other; on stage in front of millions, their love was fixing the wounds.

I just called to say, I love you come back home

When she was close enough, she captured his lips with her own and as best as he could, he returned the kiss, his hands holding her face as it grew passionate.

They never heard the shocked and applauding crowd, not even how they made it to Maria’s apartment was remembered clearly. It was simply frozen in time, a moment when two souls saw only each other amongst a blurred, hectic moment of reality.


Ch.24: Just when the sun was shinning

His hands couldn’t stop touching her. It a series of rushed movements, but neither seemed to care too much. Michael’s tongue battled hers, her hands never leaving his face, feeling the rough patches, enjoying every minute to be with him again. They needed to talk but it could wait till morning, not until they had their way with their bodies first.

He pushed her against the wall, letting her be trapped; he wanted her for good, not for now. He was going to make this last, she was not leaving him again. He wouldn’t let her, not now, not ever.

Venturing down from her lips, Michael found the soft part of her neck. Her low moans were all he needed to know he was doing everything exactly right.

Maria’s eyes grew heavy as she tried to mumble something English but only groans and moans would escape her lips until she found her voice...for a moment. “Shouldn’t we talk or something?”

“Something,” Michael teased as he sucked hard on the spot he was working on. He chuckled when he felt Maria’s hand grip his shoulder a little extra hard.

“I’m not going to be able to stand much longer.” She forced out, swallowing, trying to find her voice, her willpower. When did he get her so hot?

Michael took her lips into his again to shut her up as he hoisted her up onto his hips, carrying her to her bedroom where things could continue a lot more comfortable for both parties involved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cara gasped as she looked from the television to Riley’s shocked face. “Did that just happen?”

On national television Michael and Maria sang together and Maria ended up kissing Michael. The curtains closed, and that was it. She was tempted to call Isabel.

Riley shook his head, trying to clear his mind from the surprising event as he rested an arm a crossed Cara’s shoulders. “I think it just did.”

“That’s what I thought.” Cara whispered smiling; the couple had found their way back to each other. It seemed like everyone was going to okay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Alex, have you found them?” Isabel raced across the open space in Maria’s dressing room where Alex had been making calls. The couple disappeared into the night and no one could seem to find them.

Alex sighed, leaning against the back of the chair as Isabel sat in his lap. “No clue where they went.” He muttered, holding her waist. “They just sunk out, maybe they’re fixing things, and maybe they’re getting back together.”

Isabel rested her head on his shoulder. “I hope so.”

Alex smiled, and began running his hand through her hair. He knew he was happy, he could only wish the same for Maria.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kyle quickly hurried to the now empty seat beside Tess, wrapping an arm around her and whispered in her ear, “Can you believe that?”

Tess giggled softly. “No, I can’t believe it. I was just back there, Kyle. Isabel said they’re nowhere to be seen.”

“Well it seems like they’re making up, in the best possible way.” Kyle winked.

Tess kissed him lightly before he could say anything else. “They did it; Alex and Isabel put them back together. Did you see how they were looking at each other? The love was written all over their faces.”

Her smile warmed Kyle’s heart as he held her tightly against him, now understanding Michael’s pain of losing Maria. He would feel the same way if he ever lost Tess. Maria and Michael deserved their alone time to truly be together.

That’s what every couple in love deserved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She flopped onto to the bed like a feather. The moment seemed frozen in Michael’s mind; he could have lost her. Somehow that made him be thankful for what had happened; he knew it wasn’t just a mistake about the award show performance that night on Isabel and Alex’s part.

He didn’t mind it though, because of that ‘mistake’ the petit blonde was now lying on the bed in front of him, baring her soul once again to him, looking at him gently in the way that made the pain in his heart decrease. For no one he had ever been with was like her, and no one after could even stand a chance of competing.

He stood there, letting his hand caress her beautiful face. She knew he was inspecting her closely, and she tempted to ask why, but she knew. In her heart she knew exactly why he was doing that, for she was doing the same thing. She had to prove to herself this was real, that love hadn’t given up on them, not yet at least.

His appearance demonstrated how worn out he was. His hazel eyes appeared beaten, causing Maria to feel her heart constrict at the thought of why. Since she knew that answer as well, no matter how much it hurt.

She tried to ignore his deep gaze to let her slim fingers carefully unlatch the bottom button of his white shirt. Pressing her pouty lips together she started on the second one, knowing she needed him and the patience she had now would soon be gone. She missed him in every possible way.

She felt incomplete without him, she felt lost in a world that once belonged to her. For she had felt not worthy of human emotion by the critics, audience, viewers or judges to realize the very real lonely, loveless life she had managed. Because every man before Michael Guerin had wanted her, but she had not wanted or needed them. Michael had sparked a need in her; one she never knew existed, one she could no longer refuse.

He couldn’t stop looking at her. No matter how hard he tried. Her curls always got him, the way her long blonde hair laid against her shoulders, she looked angelic and her beautiful bright green eyes staring at him like she couldn’t stop looking at him either. Someone actually believed he deserved to be happy.

She saw a familiar look graze his rough features. He seemed to be thinking, feeling grateful, and that’s when Maria knew she no longer could contain herself. Sliding her hands underneath the shirt she had finally unbuttoned, she slid the clothing off his body, carefully removing it from each arm. His gaze was intoxicating, for she knew he was studying her, and she could feel the heat flowing off his body.

Kissing his well defined chest, she smirked to herself when she felt his hands in her hair, messaging her scalp. She attempting to take as long as possible, hoping to make this burn in both their minds and heart.

Michael was not going to permit her to take the reins anymore, because he wasn’t going to be able to hold on any longer at her rate. Letting a hand glide underneath her chin, he forced her to look up at him with her wide curious eyes, and carefully he lowered his head to allow their lips to meet in a slow, passionate kiss.

Maria pushed herself back a little on the bed, while Michael followed her, letting his left knee touch the soft bed directly next to her thigh\, while his other leg lay right in between her legs.

Their lips never faltering, never leaving one another, almost instinctively they knew exactly how to hold on. He took her shirt off effortlessly, feeling her smooth skin against his. It was overpowering. He unhooked her lacy, satin bra and felt his jeans getting far too tight. He cursed himself and tried to calm his emotions down. They hadn’t even gotten that far yet.

The kissing turned hungry in a matter of seconds. It was like she couldn’t get enough of his lips. She had no clue when he managed to get both her shirt and bra off, but she suddenly felt a draft of cold air again her pale skin, hugging him tighter she tried to block it out, like if she could block it, maybe she could do the same with everything else that was wrong with her life.

He left her pleading lips to travel down to kiss the upper half of her body, enjoying the silky smooth skin leading to her lower stomach where he began to undo her belt, and slowly worked her jeans off. She could feel herself shaking in anticipation. Had it really been that long? It felt like forever. Progressively she took off his belt, and began unbuttoning his pants.

Michael was entranced by her, noticing the way her eyes softened and the way her little hands took their time, almost trying to enjoy it the same way he was. He had to stop her for a moment to capture her lips without warning, but she responded immediately.

Maria helped him get out of his pants and threw them across the room, pulling him closer to her enjoying every tingling feeling in her body. He once again parted from her and she whimpered from the loss. He was slowly, but gently kissing her thighs.

“Michael,” She moaned softly. He forgot how much he loved the sound of his name off luscious lips. It was making him that much harder. Her eyes stared at him, trying to find the words to express her feelings, to express how much she truly loved him, how she could never live without him.

That’s when he saw it, her undeniable love for him. He could see how lost she was that little time without him, her heart broken by what had happened and trying to say the right thing to him now, to make amends for leaving. “Shh, it’s alright I know,” He whispered against her lips, remembering what it was like to love her again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Maria snuggled further into the comforter, allowing her muscles to relax. It had been a long night compared to a lonely week. As she rolled over, she found herself…alone.

She sat up and scanned the room, to prove he was really gone. Her throat seemed dry all of a sudden. He had left? Everything seemed like it was working out…that they were falling back into each others arms. What went wrong? Was it something she said? Or was this payback…?

Maybe love wasn’t enough.

She grabbed her satin robe, letting it lay over her silk night gown trying to find her way down the narrow hallway, trying to understand what went wrong. Trying to grasp at the fact he was gone.

The smell of coffee assaulted her tired nose, inhaling the strong scent, and to her startling surprise there was Michael, dressed in a pair of sweats—ones he had left, cooking over her oven.

“Morning,” He said smiling, still focusing on the pan on the oven.

She walked over softly still trying to understand everything. Guilt filled her heart as her mind began to process the fact she assumed wrong…again. And it was for no absolute reason except Michael got up before her, to make breakfast.

Closing her eyes, she tried to clear her head and understand everything. She wanted to think straight, she didn’t want to make the wrong decision again. For fear of the clouds still consuming her heart, maybe the gray clouds couldn’t clear…even on a sunny day.

Michael noticed that she was being strangely quiet. There was something lingering in her eyes, something she was desperately trying to ignore or hide. “Are you alright?”

Maria’s head shot up at his tender voice. Oh this was just getting worse. She had no clue what to say…or what this meant. She assumed and he was there…he didn’t leave her…like she left him. This was just a mess.

“I’m fine,” She blurted out quickly, desperately trying to save herself but it was beginning to look like she had no chance of doing that. Her hole was just getting bigger.

Michael noticed her voice was a tad high for someone who was just fine. There was something…something he needed to figure out. He was going over the pervious events in his mind trying to pinpoint something. Everything was fine when they fell asleep wrapped in each others arms. Then in the morning he got up…to make breakfast.

The thought dawned on him. He left her alone, in bed, asleep. She thought he left....Michael was almost afraid to ask, afraid of where this would lead. Afraid this talking thing would extremely suck.

“Maria, did you think I left?” He asked gently, knowing either way she was going to get defensive that he thought the worst of her, or the fact she actually thought that. He wasn’t sure which was worse.

Her eyes got big, afraid. That’s when Michael knew, there was still a lot of things that needed to be dealt with. Trust was topping the list.

“How was I to know?” Her voice came out weaker than she meant to.. “I mean I woke up alone, and I wasn’t sure…”

Michael watched the fear etched in her eyes. The way her voice trailed off, he knew she was just afraid to admit it. Underneath the fact was even scarier.

He couldn’t stop his voice from sounding so broken. “You think I would leave after last night? I mean, after everything?” He couldn’t look at her when he said the last part. “Last night was amazing.”

“Michael,” Her voice pleaded as she felt her tears forming. She couldn’t hold on much longer…and she was scared to find out what he would do.

“Obviously you have things you need to work out, and I’m not going to play this back and forth game with you,” He said calmly, and then added in a low voice, “I can’t.”

For the first time since losing him, Maria felt her heart breaking even more and she said in a scared voice, “What are you saying, Michael?”

“I’m saying that I want you figure out what you want.” He kissed her forehead, not being able to stand so close to her yet still be so far away. Stepping away, he quietly grabbed his things….and left.


Ch. 25: To truly see what’s in front of you

The tears fell fast from her tired green eyes as she continued to wipe and sob. She couldn’t breathe, whatever breathe she could manage continued to get caught in her throat as her mind wandered.

She lost him again, and this time he walked. She knew it wasn’t because he wanted to; it was because there was so much wrong in their relationship. They avoided admitting true feelings, and hopped right back into bed, not even thinking of the consequences. She knew better but he made her mind fuzzy.

“Hey Maria,” a male voice called. “I kept knocking but there was no answer, everyone has been trying to get a hold of you guys, please tell me you’re…” Kyle stopped, seeing Maria’s horrible state; the words fell off his lips quietly, “…decent.”

She sniffled as she quickly got up and rubbed her eyes, hoping the tears would dissolve. Maybe her pain would too, her love for Michael also. Oh god, she really loved him. When had that happened? When did he start becoming her world? Maybe that’s why breathing was becoming so difficult. And she lost him...again.

“What the hell happened?”

Kyle was immediately by her side, gently holding her arm, trying to get her to look at him. She was in pain\ and it was obvious she had been crying all the tears stored up, all the tears she refused to cry in front of anymore. The tears she was still trying to ignore sliding down her cheek without consent.

“Maria,” His voice was stern, but filled with worry. She was scaring him; he’d never seen her so broken, so lost. He thought Michael was bad, Maria was worse. “Babe, what happened? I can’t help you if you won’t tell me.”

“He left,” Her voice was weak, tears choking her as she looked up at Kyle, eyes still filled with more tears waiting to make their appearance. “I woke up, and he was gone, and I came into the kitchen and he was cooking breakfast.”

Kyle rubbed her back soothingly, understanding how hard it was to form the words, and he replied gently to what she had said. “So he didn’t leave but you thought he did?”

“He knew something was off, so he asked if I thought he left.” A sob escaped again, as held onto her tiny body. “I don’t even remember what was said but when we were finished he left, why couldn’t I just trust him? Why do I keep losing him, Kyle? What am I doing wrong?”

Her emerald eyes were clear staring back at him, wanting an answer; one he wasn’t sure he knew. He softly stroked her hair, trying to search for words he didn’t know would come to him.

“I think you’re the only person who really knows the answer to that, Maria.” Kyle said gently, he wasn’t sure if it would upset her more, but he couldn’t guess on what he didn’t know.

Maria seemed lost in thought, registering Kyle’s words. She abruptly got up, her eyes dry from the tears she had cried and she started walking into the living room, Kyle following her. She turned to him as she put on her leather coat. “I need to clear my head, get some fresh air.”

“Maria,” Kyle said slowly, not completely sure she was okay.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” Maria smiled softly, and quietly shut the door behind her, leaving Kyle alone in the silence.

“I hope she’s right.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael lay on his bed, staring up on at his blank ceiling. Maybe that’s how is life truly was, vacant, blank, boring, lifeless. It had felt like he hadn’t lived in years, and that all changed when a certain blonde entered his life with piercing emerald eyes, wanting to figure him out.

No one had ever cared to do that much before. Closing his eyes, he hoped he could block out the previous night. It was haunting him, as was her smile. He didn’t know how he was going to live without her.

He heard someone open his door and softly enter. He felt the bed dip as she crawled onto the empty space beside him and rest her head on his chest.

He knew immediately who it was.

“Camille has been asking if you were alright for the past hour.” Her voice light, knowing he was in pain but from what, she wasn’t sure. All that she knew was that his heart was bleeding. “You just stormed in here; anyone could see frustration written all over you.”

Michael sucked in a deep breath before talking. “Whenever I’m around her, I don’t think and that’s when it gets me into trouble. I put my heart in her hands, and I just let my need for her take over, and last night I lost complete control. And when I woke up in the morning I didn’t have the heart to wake her, so I went to make breakfast…”

She started rubbing his arm in soothing manner. He was in pain and talking about it hurt that much more. It was apparent in his broken voice, how close he was to losing it.

“She thought I left, that I ran out the door the first chance I could. How could she even begin to think that I would leave her…after last night?”

“There’s nothing you could have done, she needs to trust you.” Her voice still soft as she continued to comfort him the only way she knew how. “How about you get some rest, it looks like you need it.”

Tess shut the door quietly behind her and sighed. She had never seen Michael so lost, so afraid. He was the one that never broke, not even when his life became ruin by town standards, not even when they lost their parents. He stood strong, and now his heart was breaking—from the only woman he ever truly loved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Maria staggered down the paved sidewalk, trying to clear her mind, trying to figure out exactly what she was feeling. No one made her feel the way Michael did. That much she understood…but why? Was it that he listened? No, that wasn’t it. Maybe it was the fact that he treated like a person not some diva star.

A chilly wind blew through the small park, where Maria found an old wooden bench to sit on, to just take a breather, to let time be frozen in place.

“Is it alright if I sit here?”

Maria instantly looked up at the woman who spoke quietly, almost afraid. The face looked familiar; the straight blonde hair blew lightly at her shoulders. The woman was not there out of kindness, it was almost out of guilt, of shame.

“Yeah, sure,” Maria rested her back against the bench. All she could feel was the loneliness trapping her heart. She was frozen in a moment that was stuck in time leaving her paralyzed from the throbbing pain.

The woman inspected Maria, her eyes weak, almost not able to see clearly. “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before. By any chance do I know you?”

Maria looked harder at the woman; she seemed familiar, like she had seen someone like her before. It almost shocked her that this woman had no clue who she was. And given the situation, Maria let herself feel that moment. “No, I’m just your everyday, boring girl.”

“Why do you look so sad than?”

The woman’s questions were tough, almost too insightful. Maria laughed lightly, before asking her own question in return. “Have you ever been in love?”

The woman’s smile was filled with sadness, more regret filled her already worn out features. “No, I can’t say I have. I’ve been with plenty of men though; let me tell you something, each one is different and affects you in a million different ways.”

“Never, I mean you never thought that someone was the one? Being the one that makes everything right, that makes you feel things you never thought existed?”

The woman could see love written all over Maria’s pretty face, and somewhere she knew God was looking out for her, her and Michael. “Honey, they don’t let people like me experience the purity of love. Lord knows I’ve messed up enough men’s lives to ever be able to experience something as divine as love.” The woman’s voice was sad, lonely; like there were too many nights she spent alone. “Is that what’s troubling you, a man in your life?”

A sad laugh escaped Maria’s lips as she shook her head. “I love him, I know that but I keep running scared, and I think this time I finally lost him and as much as that hurts, I just don’t know what to do. It’s like breathing is becoming impossible. He’s been through so much though; he probably doesn’t need a woman like me in his life.”

“Sometimes, in order to see what’s really going on, a moment has to be completely still for you to even begin to figure out the pieces to the puzzle,” The woman said in an encouraging tone, the lightest phrase she had said since sitting down.

Maria stared at the woman, she was only a year or two older than Maria, but the wisdom was not something, someone her age had. Especially a woman, who just slept around…

“Who are you?”

The woman smiled a true smile. “It doesn’t matter who I am, just don’t ignore your feelings, Maria. Follow your heart to where it takes you.” The woman began to leave, her straight blonde hair flowing in the wind as she began to turn the corner.

“Wait!” Maria quickly got up, and started after the woman, in hopes to talk to her some more. “Who are you? Why are you here?” When Maria got to the corner, no one was there, as if the woman was never there at all. And in the light wind she heard the woman’s voice. “You’re the picture in his mind…and in his heart.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Is he going to be alright?” Camille asked Tess as they started driving down the street.

Tess turned slightly to see Camille’s head staring down at the floor. She knew how hurt Camille was by all of this. Michael had been truly happy for the first time in Camille’s entire life, and now he was a mess. “He loved Maria, even though he won’t admit it, and sometimes getting over love isn’t as easy as everyone thinks it is. He’ll be okay, Sweets. I promise you; if anybody, it’s your Daddy that always finds his way.”

Camille looked up at her Aunt. “I just want him to be happy.”

Tess ignored the pain tightening in her heart. “He will be. It just takes some time, that’s why we have to take special care of him, so his heart heals faster.”

Camille nodded, understanding what her Aunt was saying. She curled her legs to her tiny body, becoming comfortable against the seat of the car. Tess stopped for a second to watch, praying Maria came back into their lives because that little girl deserved to be happy, and so did Michael.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Isabel!” Maria banged on the door, hoping she would open the door quickly. She needed to know, she had to know. Was that Courtney, it couldn’t have been….could it? This woman frickin’ disappeared. There was nowhere she could have gone that fast. “Isabel!”

Isabel slowly allowed the door to sway open, as she stared at a very confused Maria, and in a surprised voice she asked, “What is going on?”

Maria quickly walked into the apartment, her babbling words meshed together as she walked in circles around the small space. “I met this woman, and I don’t really know what happen, but she seems familiar, I need to see pictures, pictures of your past please Isabel?”

“Yeah, sure, just sit down. There in my bedroom…” Isabel stopped for a second before asking, “Is there anything I can get you?”

“No, I’m fine. Thank you though.”

Isabel soon returned with the photos of a past she had long forgotten. She smiled sadly as she watched Maria gently go through each page. “Maria, who are you looking for?”

Maria stopped looking through the pictures to turn to Isabel, “I think I um ran into Courtney.”

“Maria, she’s been dead for eight years, how can she possibly be alive?”

“She disappeared, Isabel. She was a ghost.” Maria whispered, and than the thought dawned on her, “She was making amends to a past she wasn’t proud of. She knew she had damaged Michael, and she believed he deserved happiness, him and Camille, so she was trying to put me back into his arms.”

Isabel grabbed the book, turning to a certain page, handing a picture to Maria, filled with their group of friends. It had to have been prom, homecoming, something like that. Everyone was dressed up, smiling, laughing. Maria scanned each face. “Courtney isn’t in this picture, Isabel.”

Isabel stared at her for a second, than pointed to the girl next to Michael in the picture; the girl with dirty blonde hair, and a sweet smile. “That’s Courtney.” Isabel watched Maria closely, trying to see if she’d fall for it. Anyone who had never seen the twins couldn’t know they weren’t identical.

Maria shook her head; she could see the differences regardless. Cara was a happy girl who could enjoy herself, Courtney was always miserable. “That’s Cara,” Maria said sternly. “Isabel, I’m telling you the truth, why won’t you believe me?”

“It’s a little far fetched, don’t you think?” Isabel blurted out, “You see Courtney, and she tells you, to go back to him.”

“She didn’t tell me to go back to him,” Maria said. “She told me to follow my heart.”

Sighing, Isabel pursed her lips together. Obviously Maria was a little too messed up to really think about what she was saying so she just laid her hand on the small blondes shoulder. “If she was doing as you said, why aren’t you over there trying to fix things with Michael now?”

Maria stared at her, a little surprised; she grabbed the book one final time, looking over the pictures. There was one of Michael and a girl, it was clear they had been fighting, Michael had scowl on his face and the girl had her arms crossed as she glared at him.

“That’s Courtney,” Maria said, pointing to the picture, and a shocked Isabel stared at the old photograph. “That’s the woman I met today.” And Maria left, knowing she had proven herself right, and now she knew she had to follow her heart.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She stumbled as she rapidly banged on the door. She knew what she wanted now, she knew what she needed to do and she knew nothing would take him away. Her fears had disappeared along with Courtney earlier that day.

He released the door, allowing anything to expose him. His heart was already broken; he had left that exposed as well to be battered now. But there she stood, her eyes filled with unshed tears and a look that said, “I’m here to stay.”

Words almost left her as she saw all the pain in his deep eyes, and she choked out her words, forcing him to understand, she had to get things right. “I couldn’t do it, I thought it’d be easier losing you now than later, I thought I could work past it the first time, and I’m beginning to see I was failing, miserably. I’ve never felt this way towards anyone, every guy that came into my life wanted something, but I never wanted anything in return.”

Her tears began to fall as she stumbled even more on what she was about to say. “You made me remember what is were like to just be a normal girl with everyday dreams. I thought I had lost that part of me, that part that thought love could save me, and I got scared and messed up things horribly between us, but it wasn’t because I didn’t care, it was because I cared too much.”

She cupped her hands over his face, making his sweet eyes stare into hers. “What I’m trying to say is that I love you, I think I knew it a long time ago, but I never could admit it, so I’m saying it now. I don’t care how hard we have to work to get us on track because I’m willing to do it, because…I…I don’t want to live another day with you in my life.”

Michael lost any normal thought in his mind, all he wanted was her in his arms forever and she was saying she wanted the same thing. So he did the only thing he knew to do, he kissed her hard, passionately and with every fibre in his being. He finally allowed his love for her to take over.

In typical Maria and Michael fashion they found their way back into each others arms and bed, again. Michael held her face in between his hands as he continued to kiss her, long and hard. Every emotion pouring into the defining kiss, a kiss he was hungry for in ever part of his heart.

She rolled over on top of him quickly unbuttoning his shirt to expose his soft skin, where she began kissing his neck, nuzzling the warmth she thought she had lost. He too started removing all of her clothes, until both were naked ready to finish the final step.

“Maria, hold up,” Michael gasped out; he couldn’t let things get further before he set her straight, before he fixed the thing he neglected to earlier. “I’m sorry, Maria. For making you doubt me in the first place, for not explaining everything about Cara the first time around; for everything in between.” He stared up at her, his hand touching the soft skin of her gentle face, her emerald eyes staring into his.

She leaned down in for another mind blowing kiss, feeling his arms tighten around her; she smiled sweetly at him as she whispered against his neck, trailing kisses in between each words. “We have the rest of our lives to love each other, be happy, to let the past go and to live forward.”

Michael stared at her, entrance by her beauty. He softly stroked her hair as she slowly lowered down onto him, her eyes never leaving his. He smiled as he whispered the feelings he had held onto for so long, “I love you.”

Maria felt the tears well up in her eyes as she stared at him, rocking her body gently against his, her small hands tracing his face. “I love you too, so much, Michael; so very much.” Her words echoed into his mouth as he kissed her for dear life.

She was everything he needed to be happy, and he was never letting her leave his arms again, and for the first time, he knew the feeling was mutual. That someone above had blessed him with this woman before him, and he was just thankful. Finally a little good had spread throughout his life, and into his heart.


The End



*********


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