Summary: One year later we take a peek inside the world that is Maria.
Author's Notes: This is the second installment in my newly titled "Love Story" series. It takes place one year after This is Not a Love Story. Part 3 is also posted here, This Could be a Love Story.


The last note reverberates off the guitar string longingly, almost as if it doesn't want to leave. My eyes remain closed, the anticipatory silence glorious to my wanting ears—I love this part. Too soon it is shattered, the cacophony of their applause rushing towards me unrelentingly. It washes over my tired body, the wave clogging my mouth with its power, its force drowning the air from my lungs.

They are happy.

They are always happy when I do this. Sit here, on this stage, with this guitar, in front of this crowd. It is different every night and yet pitifully the same. The same voice, the same words, the same music, the same song… the same marionette performing the same dance uncontrollably as if someone stands above me holding the strings.

I am not happy.

It has been so long since happiness grazed my existence that I am no longer sure I remember what it feels like. When the painted smile masks my face for the yearning crowd, I can imagine that this must be what a happy person looks like, the grin spreading from ear to ear a symbol of the obvious happiness beneath. But this is not a happy grin, this is a profitable grin, a grin that sells records, a grin that sells songs, a grin that sells me.

I am Maria Deluca, superstar.

I hate the word superstar.

I moved to New York in December, 2001. Signing a record deal was a dream of mine since I was old enough to sing along with the Solid Gold dancers. When the contract was placed before me, the fact that it said I was signing my soul over to the devil was the least of my worries. I was going to be famous—bring on the heat!

And I was famous… am famous. For whatever reason, the songs that took ten people six months of steady composing in a dark, windowless room to write were instant hits. Shocker! The fact that I am 'permitted' to play my guitar onstage is only for the lucky break that the lead writer was a tab fanatic and wouldn't dream of composing any other way. Otherwise, it would be just me and a microphone up there before the masses, exposed for the world to judge. My guitar saves me, the only thing left on the stage that is still mine, they raped me of everything else, my spirit along with my soul, a long time ago.

I suppose I have to give credit where credit is due; they are not entirely to blame for the place I find myself in today—I deserve at least some of the recognition. When the offer came over a year ago, I was so ready to run from that sleepy little town that I nearly hitched a ride to New York on the back of the agent trying to sign me. I told myself then that it was because Roswell had nothing left to offer me. Truth be told, I had nothing left to offer Roswell. Whatever part of me once held a fondness for the place and its inhabitants had died on a chilly day in November when every fear I had ever coddled was spread out before me like a five-star buffet.

I still hated him for that.

The worst part about it was that he wasn't even trying to hurt me, he was just trying to help himself. How could I deny him that? The solace he needed to save his soul from the crushing agony of being defeated by love. He needed me to understand that he didn't depend on me for his happiness, that he couldn't if he were to ever truly find it, and I agreed with him. Stupidly, foolishly, ashamedly I agreed, partly just to get him to stop looking at me like that, those brown crystals boring holes into my psyche as they examined, questioned and found the answers they sought, but didn't judge, never judged.

How I wished that he would judge.

I didn't deserve to be in his presence, wasn't worthy of the grace he had always so elegantly hid from humanity. I knew he was better that he had ever let himself be with me and the fact that I realized it long before he did on that day, only served to drive me closer to the edge of madness. I used him, I led him around for my own pleasure and drained him of what little spirit he had to call his own. Oh, I loved him, don't get me wrong. God, how much I loved him… I was just never capable of loving him in the way that he truly needed. The kind of love that comes from a place full of assurance and knowing, the kind of love that only a person at peace with their own demons could provide. Trying to fight my demons while helping ward off his was a losing battle from the start. When he so delicately pointed it out to me, my world crumbled like a rotting foundation beneath my feet. I hadn't so much as attempted to look for the scattered pieces when the saving grace of music dropped into my lap and I snatched it, holding on tightly as I let it carry me to the heights of fame and fortune… and isolation.

Have you ever felt completely alone yet were surrounded by teeming hoards of people?

I feel completely alone. Here—on this stage, in this bar, in this city, in this life—I am alone, and I am sad.

~~~~~

The biting wind attacks my body without warning, a squall sending my skirt swirling around my legs. A nor'easter they call it—whatever that's supposed to mean. I guess that since I am in the north east I best get used to the idea that things will attack me from that direction. They seem to attack from every other these days, why not north east.

The few steps from the limousine to my hotel are short, the only time I have felt the wind on my face today, the only time I have felt any shred of real emotion course through my anesthetized body. I hurry through the ornate lobby, jamming my finger on the up arrow repeatedly until the elevator mercifully arrives. The couple waiting next to me toss me a condescending glare, perfected from years of practice, and I snarl, "What, didn't you know it takes 13 presses to make it come?"

They pass on riding up with me and I smile; the image of me doing so in the mirrored interior of the moving metal beast foreign and I raise my hand to my mouth to determine if it is actually real. Before I can touch the intrusive upturn of my lips, the chime signals that we have arrived at the top, literally. The doors open into a hallway with one door, my 'suite'. Dominique says I was lucky to get it, I think I'll be lucky if the place burns down.

Bursting inside, I hesitate only long enough to tear my coat from my body before striding across the cool marble. The balcony doors beckon to me enticingly and I shiver from the memory of the gnawing gale awaiting my sensitive flesh. Gripping the handle tightly, I tug against the force of the wind, pulling back the glass barrier to let its might inside… magnificent.

Stepping out onto the exposed rooftop, I hug my arms tight to my chest as the icy tentacles grip my tender skin. Soon enough I am immune to their attack, what feeling I can muster in my body numbed from the freezing temperature—I feel dead and I am happy. This place, this act, this drama—I have only recently discovered it, the suffering heat of the city replaced by a chill the desert has never known with the coming of winter.

Out here, atop the city that has wrapped my name in lights, is the only place I can find refuge from the ache that has taken up residence where my heart used to live. Out here is the only place where I can imagine that I have escaped the brat that does not appreciate the tremendous gift she has been given and would sooner throw it in the face of her benefactor. Out here is the only place where I can feel anything now, even if it is nothingness.

Nothingness is a valid emotion, right?

The wind works its wonders on the pain scouring my body, but I have not yet found a salve for the taunting echoes resounding throughout my head. Perhaps it is because they are the real truth of this existence I call a life, the real reason I ran so quickly from that place I once called a home. They are the words imprinted on my brain perpetually, the words spoken with such softness that I will never forget the pure sound of peace floating beneath them, the words he spoke to me in that tiny room in what seems like a lifetime ago.

This is not a love story.

Indeed.

My cheeks are wet with tears before I ever realize that I have cried, cracks in the icy glaze coating my skin the warning sign that I must retreat into the warmth of my prison once again. I do so, drawing the door shut behind me as I stare forlornly around the sterile set of rooms that I am supposed to call a home. Another cursed tear drips from my crystallized eyes, coming to rest in an opulent teardrop on my frozen cheek. My hand, trancelike, moves up to detach the foreign object from my skin, staring in bewilderment as the miniature mound of moisture returns to liquid form against the relative warmth of my finger.

Once the realization of their existence is upon me, others follow furiously, swarming over each other in an effort to be the first to reach the dripping faucet resting on the edge of my chin. I fall to the floor where I stand, my designer skirt stained with expanding pools of my anguish. The comfortable lie I formulate in my brain to tell myself that I do not know where the tears come from is weak, cast aside as quickly as it takes shape to be replaced with the razor-edged truth.

I know exactly where the tears come from. It is the same place they always come from.

The admission does little to calm me, if anything it flames me into a higher panic, my mouth releasing great wrenching sobs as I urge the lingering agony of my love for him out of my being. My love… it is always my love, his love, that threatens to stamp out the very light within my eyes… on times I have even begged it to do so. Even a year apart has not lessened my need to have him in my life and I sit here now, so pathetically predictable on the floor, crying for a love I no longer own.

The fact that ending it was the right thing to do only serves to cause me further grief, rubbing coarse salt into the weeping wound I have ripped open again this night. I agreed that I could not give him what he needed in his life at that time, that fighting off my own evils left little to support him through his struggles, but the truth is that I did not believe him when he said we must both find happiness before we can love another. I do not subscribe to the belief that all relationships are built on the solid foundation of self-assuredness by each partner. In fact I know that some of the greatest ones are formed when one member is so lost in a sea of despair that it takes the capable arms of the other to pull them to safety. It is this relationship that I now need in my life. I am too lost in my own self-loathing to swim back to the safety of the shore by myself.

Crawling slowly to the pearl-plated phone resting in its protective cradle, I let my hand rest softly on the intricately designed numbers. The pattern is simple, memorized, forever marked on my brain as the digits to dial when I reached the end of my rope and had no other choice but to jump.

I am so afraid to jump.

It would be so simple to just pretend that the number didn't exist, that the soothing tones of the heart lying on the other end were not available to my damned soul. I have never connected from this hotel, from this city, never once called back to see how the life I abandoned continued without me. I couldn't, knowing that everyone was happy would have only served to make me more miserable, the irony bundled with that admission is that I am miserable anyway, perhaps more so for my refusal to cave to the need I crave so desperately.

My fingers inch closer towards the receiver, actually going as far as to clutch it tightly in my grasp for a moment. The cooling feel of the perfectly curved arch is welcoming to my touch, stilling the tremors vibrating throughout my body. I stare at the line snaking away from the device towards the hidden connections within the wall. Closing my eyes, I can imagine that I already hear the voice awaiting me on the other end, its softness hidden beneath years of displaying the rough exterior.

How I would love to see that rough exterior now.

Without further hesitation, I grab the phone from its cradle, jabbing my fingers against the keypad methodically as I pound out the first 9 digits that bring me ever closer to the salvation I seek. 9… 9 is all I can manage before slamming the tool of communication back against it's stand, cursing as I fling my body away from the cruel device.

I cannot call, I cannot admit defeat, I cannot need what he has to offer, I cannot…

A strangled cry escapes my lips as I dig my perfectly manicured nails into the soft flesh of my inner arm, the raised crescents standing out in stark contrast to the milky smoothness of my bleached skin. I have denied myself the one pleasure I know I need for so long that the pain of this physical injury is almost complacent, stirring me into a calm as I debate whether to continue my fight to find emotional happiness or replace the pain with something of my own design.

I relent almost immediately, too weak-minded to ever attempt erasing one pain with another I must cause myself. I know that the only thing that can save me from the devastation that has become my life is resting on the other end of that phone line, stretching out into the darkness of the New York night, across the great country to the sleepy desert town I had forsaken so long ago.

I walk calmly to the phone this time, picking it up almost reverently as I purposely press each remembered number firmly. The 10 digits dialed, the connection made, I hold my breath, listening to the rings echo shrilly through the emptiness that is my mind.

Ring.

I know this is the right thing to do.

Ring.

I know I will hear the voice and feel better for making the call.

Ring.

I know I will not regret this action.

Ring.

I know this is a sign of weakness and the wrong thing to do.

Ring.

The final thought pierces my mind like an arrow and I move the receiver away from my ear, unable to stand the crushing feel of my own defeat weighing down upon me.

"Hello?"

I freeze. The sound of the voice blares from the phone held just inches away from my head. It is his voice. I can hang up or speak, deny my want or fulfill my desire. I lower the phone even more, pushing it towards the table as my self-doubt seeps back in to fill the space I have created for him once more. It stings, cutting into the tender walls of my heart as it settles back into place, sure that I will never garner the strength to push it aside again. I must choose, let this fear carry me into oblivion with its power or dispel it from my depths once and for all in this moment.

I decide.

"Hey," I murmur softly into the phone, not knowing if he will curse me for this call or rejoice that I have chosen to return. His life may be on a varied path light-years away from mine by now but I take refuge in the knowledge that just making this gesture is the first step towards finding a path of my own. The courage to reach out, even if it is to beg for forgiveness, is strength I have not known since my time with him and I hope that just by making the effort I can achieve the tangible threads of confidence that I once feigned so brilliantly.

"Hey," he returns softly and my face breaks into a blistering smile. I sink into the cushions of my overstuffed couch, my body immediately out of place in this expensive land as I am transported back to the dingy apartment where I found, and lost, my first love. Perhaps, in time, I can find that love again.

Maybe, just maybe, this will be a love story after all.

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 18-Feb-2003 10:28:44 PM ]