posted on 17-Mar-2002 6:48:05 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

"Maria, please. Try to understand," Michael pleaded.

"Understand what, Michael?" Maria nearly yelled refusing to look at him as she stacked more dishes into the sink. The Crashdown's kitchen was closed, but there were a few people still finishing their dinners in the dining area. "Understand that you are leaving me because of what some dead, long-gone woman...no, excuse me, hologram...said in a half-century old message-in-a-bottle gag? Michael, Liz may be sold on the whole destiny thing, but I am not." Maria composed herself and turned to speak rationally to Michael. She reasoned, "Do you want to be with Isabel? If you say you do, I'll accept defeat and move on. I'll know you're happy. But if you stand her now and tell me you are with her because of destiny...well, I just can't accept that."

Michael looked nervously at the small crowd still in the restaurant. Lowering his voice to a whisper he tried to explain, "Maria, my destiny is all I know. It's what I've been searching for since..."

"Destiny Smestiny," Maria cut him off. "Do you want to be with Isabel?" she asked sternly looking directly into his eyes.

Under normal circumstances, Michael would have blurted out his answer without thinking. "Of course not!" But this time he took a long breath and carefully considered his response to Maria's pressing question. He feared leaving Maria thinking he may one day return from their battle on Antar. He was as unsure about that as he was his feeling for Isabel. He loved Isabel. But he considered her a sister and Max a brother. He was unsure of his capability to love Isabel beyond that capacity. However, no uncertainty was present when he considered the blue-eyed girl before him. She gave him hope and encouragement. She trusted him completely. And even though they fought, a lot, he never once felt her lose faith in him. Their arguments were what he figured the world called lovers' spats - simply a bump in the road the pair would conquer together.

Michael loved Maria. Simply. And because he did, he knew in his heart that she deserved more than he could offer. She deserved something concrete. She deserved happiness. The last thing Michael wanted was to see the love of his life wasting her existence by hanging on to his return...a return he wasn't sure would even occur. Michael knew that if he told her he wanted to ignore his destiny and be with her, then she would wait for him to return. His life on Earth had not been the easiest and there was little he valued on
the planet. But he treasured Maria. He refused to allow her to desecrate her life for him. He said the only thing that he knew would let her move on without him. "I think I do. I want to be with Isabel, Maria. She can give me all that I've ever hoped for, and more." It pained Michael to say these words. A part of his spirit died the minute he forged the words. In his heart, he knew the words weren't true and never would be. Maria had actually already given him more he'd ever hoped. For that reason, he could not let her destroy her life. He loved her too much.

Maria nodded her head looking at the floor. She returned to the waiting sink of dishes and picked up a dishcloth. She struggled to process the millions of thoughts that crowded her head. "Why now?" she thought. "Why after all this time has he suddenly decided to follow his destiny with Isabel. I mean, he's leaving for Antar this afternoon. He could just leave, pursue a relationship with her, and I would never be any the wiser. It doesn't make sense. Besides, if he has known all along that I could never give him what Isabel apparently can, then why has he bothered giving me false hope for all this time? Surely he's not that cruel. But then again, if what he is saying is true, then Isabel is likely the one who actually played the biggest role in knocking his stonewall down. I guess I was just lucky enough to have been there to witness his changes and know the stronger person revealed when he finally dropped his shields. No, I refuse to believe that!"

Maria dropped the dishcloth and grabbed for a nearby towel to wipe the suds from her hands. She looked up at Michael and sadly offered one last hope. "If your plan is set and you have made up your mind, then why are you here? Why are you asking me to understand when it really doesn't matter if I approve or disapprove? You've made up your mind. So, why are you here?"

Michael took a few steps back to lean against the counter. He did not know how to answer. In his head he screamed, "Tell me not go. Tell me to stay and I will." But he knew that Maria would never say that. She accepted him for what he was...a soldier with a mission. After staring at his feet for the longest time, he finally looked up to reveal glassy eyes and one final message. "I love you." He tried to smile though his voice cracked with pain and tiny blue veins appeared at his temples telling of his struggle to fight the rush of emotions. The battle he faced, between his heart and his destiny, was harsher than he imagined any great war on Antar could ever be.

As much as Maria wanted to wrap her arms around the man before her, she knew that any further time spent with him would only result in more pain and torture. "Just go," she whispered turning to resume washing the stack of dirty dishes loaded in the sink. She loved him. She loved him more and longer than he would ever know. When Maria heard the kitchen door swing closed, she rushed to the order window to watch him leave. Tears began stinging her eyes as Michael's final words rang louder and louder in her head. She wanted to scream out to him...to tell him she loved him, too...to beg him not to go. But Michael was nearly as bull-headed as she and Maria had exhausted all efforts. Experiences with her absent father had led her to accept the fact that in the end men leave. Despite reason, despite tears, despite desperate begging, men leave. "I won't let him see me cry," she thought. "I won't give him the satisfaction of knowing he is capable of hurting me like this." Instead she steadied her expression just in time for one last look from Michael as he pushed the glass doors. He would never know that his last look opened wounds in her soul miles deep.

Maria knew for years that this day would come. She knew that one day her prince charming would ride off into the sunset. But her version of the story included him returning from his long and tiring journey and waking her from slumber with a kiss. But fairy tales never came true in Roswell. He wasn't coming back. Not to her.

"Maria?" Liz spoke from the back door.

Maria turned quickly and saw her best friend in much the same condition as she. "They're gone," Maria breathed.

Liz answered only by nodding her head. Her bottom lip began to quiver as she took a step towards Maria. The two hurriedly embraced comforting each other and letting tears flow uninhibitedly.

"That's the second time," Maria sobbed. "That's the second time he's told me he loved me and left."

.......................

“Good luck!” Liz called waving at Maria and Alex as they drove out of town. “Write me!”

“No, doubt, Babe! Watch for my name in lights!” Maria called from the passenger’s window of the beat-up red car Alex drove. When she could no longer see Liz, Maria repositioned herself inside the car. “You know, it’s really hard to be sad right now,” she spoke smiling at the California driver’s license in her hand. The face was hers, but the name was new. “Marianna” Maria spoke.

Two months had passed since the Czechs left town. Alex, Liz and Maria became closer than ever as they relied on each other for strength.

Liz refused to leave her room for days following the departure. Her journal became her savior. She chronicled all her feelings and emotions leaving not one minor thought untold. She shared her written words with Alex and Maria knowing empathy can be healing. And it was. She reasoned with herself that she had lived the majority of her life knowing Max as nothing more than a school mate…a name among many. She was thankful for the short time she did know him as more, but she felt positive that her life would one day return to normal. Liz knew she would never forget Max or the days they enjoyed together, but she also knew that she wanted to smile when she remembered him. She wanted to be able to one day tell her children about a great man she once knew. She wanted closure. Liz knew that it would kill Max if he knew she refused to go on with her life. She knew Max well enough to know that he would blame himself if Liz wallowed for the rest of her life. She knew he would want her to continue…living.

In the weeks after Michael left, Maria suffered depression, weight loss, and bouts of physical illness. Afraid a doctor would send her to a psychiatrist, Maria turned to friends to help her through the ordeal. She hung onto every last expression Michael portrayed, every last sigh he let escape, and the final words he admitted in the moments before he left for Antar. Maria seemed to have the hardest time dealing with the situation. Being left by Michael resurfaced old emotions she hadn't felt since her father left. The mix pushed her deeper and deeper until she felt she was drowning in an atrocious ocean of pain. Eventually, she became numb to all reason, numb to all emotion, numb to all pain.

In the middle of an anti-alien ice cream sob fest, Alex made an unbelievably wild suggestion. “Let’s leave, too.” Liz and Maria thought he was kidding and quickly forgot the idea. Alex felt a sense of responsibility for his two best friends. He wrestled with his own emotions to be strong for the two girls. He wanted to be their shoulder. Still, he had trouble empathizing. Though Alex loved Isabel, he had never had a real relationship with her. He wasn't able to fully understand how much pain Maria and Liz were experiencing. Alex lost three friends. But Maria and Liz lost much more.

Alex knew Liz was handling the situation with more vigor than was Maria. When Alex felt that Liz was able to once again stand on her own, he focused all his efforts on bringing Maria to the same plane. A week later, while Alex and Maria were waiting for Liz at her locker after school, Alex told Maria he had been giving the idea more thought. “I know a way,” he informed Maria very seriously.

“I can’t leave Roswell,” Maria nervously replied. “Who will take care of my mom? Did you know she left the iron on for two straight days last week?” she joked trying to change the subject. Alex opted against pushing the idea and tactfully chose to accept Maria’s change in subject.

Alex began losing any hope of his girls moving on. Then, a week after dropping the idea to leave Roswell, he woke to Maria knocking on his bedroom window. “Maria?” he asked opening the panes for her to come inside.

“Let’s do it,” she announced broadcasting the smile Alex had missed since the Czechs left.

“Do what?” Alex smiled knowing full well what Maria meant.

“Let’s get a change in scenery.”

Alex worked his magic and in a matter of days the pair had new identities and new lives waiting for them in California. Though the pair shared their plans with Liz and begged her to join them, Liz declined saying she could never leave Roswell. “He’s not coming back,” Maria told her friend hoping that her decision to stay was not based on empty hope. Still, Liz refused. She told Alex and Maria that her life was in the small town and she could never see herself living anywhere else. However, Liz warned her friends that she would probably be visiting so much she would wear out her welcome. “Not possible,” Maria said sincerely hugging Liz their last night in Roswell.

Maria and Alex drove for hours taking turns behind the wheel. They laughed about old times and fantasized about times to come. “Thank you, Alex,” Maria said suddenly turning the mood very serious. “I really don’t think I would have had this kind of courage without you.”

“You deserve it,” Alex replied meaning every word he said. Maria was his sister, his partner in crime, and most of all, his best friend. Lightening the atmosphere, he continued, “Besides, I’m counting on you to make me a very rich man! You better sing your heart out in California.”

Maria laughed excitedly at the idea of pursuing a music career. Singing on stage had been her dream since childhood when she stood before her mirror and sang into a hairbrush. On numerous occasions she had accepted Grammy awards donning her mother’s pearls and red lipstick. A fuchsia boa Liz’s grandmother gave her on her 10th birthday became a regular accessory used during back porch performances.

Alex glanced to his right and smiled knowingly at his daydreaming companion. He knew her thoughts…knew her hopes. And he was ecstatic at having the opportunity to be a part of her inevitable success. “After all, he thought. “What does Roswell hold for me? Isabel had to leave before we even had a chance to develop a relationship. Even if I pursued a career in computers, Roswell doesn’t have the kind of potential employment I would need to be successful. I’ve always been pretty good at PR, though…I could sell an idea to a dead man. I am sure I could sell the idea of Maria. And once I’ve convinced a record label to hear her audition, her voice will sell itself.”

Maria looked up from the new drivers’ license she affectionately held between her fingers and caught Alex smiling at her. “What?” she asked laughing.

“This is gonna be good,” Alex answered.

Maria nodded her head in agreement, turned up the volume on the radio, and began rehearsing for her destined future.

...............

“Alex!” Maria frantically called from the bathroom of their two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, California. “Alex!” She paced back and forth in the small space and shook her hands violently and nervously in front of her chest before finally bringing them to her head and collapsing to the floor. She rocked back and forth on the cold, hard tiles in utter disbelief. She alternated chomping her nails and calling again, “Alex!”

“Maria!” Alex protested in the doorway. “I was on the phone with Liz.” Alex saw the desperation in Maria’s face and immediately changed his tone. “What’s wrong?”

“This,” Maria said reaching for a white plastic stick on the bathroom counter.

“No,” Alex lied to himself knowing what the stick must surely disclose according to Maria’s panicked behavior. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and slowly opened one not wanting to focus on the blue plus sign staring him squarely in the face. “No, no, no,” he repeated taking the stick from Maria’s shaking hand.

“Yes, yes, yes! Alex, what am I gonna do?” Maria demanded.

“Wait a minute,” Alex rationalized shaking his head with skepticism. “It’s been three months since he left. You would have known before now. There would have been…signs.” He breathed sharply in realization.

Maria looked guiltily at her friend still standing in the doorway holding the bearer of bad news. “Alex, I…”

“How long have you known, Maria?”

Maria shook her head as tears began welling up in her eyes, “I didn’t know. I assumed I missed a few because of the hormonal problems and weight loss.”

“This,” Alex said waving the stick, “is the cause of the hormonal problems and the weight loss.”

Maria steadied herself as she accepted her new reality. She had been in denial for at least a month. And for the past few moments, she experienced fear and an extremely brief moment of sadness. But suddenly, she began to experience anger. She felt she needed to hit a wall, kick a tire, or throw something. She lunged at Alex and stole the stick from his hands. With all her strength, she threw the stick across the bathroom. It hit the shower wall and shattered into three pieces. Her breathing slowed as soon as she departed with some of her anger and built-up emotions. “Hmm,” she shrugged looking at a stunned Alex. “Did I…really just…do that?” she asked beginning to laugh a bit.

Alex froze. He was unsure how to react to Maria’s situation. “Uh,” he began. “Kill the messenger?” They both laughed a little. Alex cautiously approached Maria and embraced her for a much needed hug.

Weeks passed and Maria tried to come to terms with the many new details of her life. She continued to go out on every audition Alex set up for her. They made a great team as Mulder and Scully. He researched opportunities and helped her prepare. Maria fought hard not let Alex down. He had worked so hard to get her gigs and she promised herself she would not let her expectant baby stop or even so much as put their plans on pause. When she began to show, Alex found Maria work singing offstage. A jingle she sang for a local car dealer paid the bills and put food on their table for two months. Still, Maria wanted more. She wanted to prove she was more than a small town dreamer. She wanted renowned success.

During the first few weeks finding out she was pregnant, she tried to push thoughts of her pregnancy far into a dark corner of her mind. She went through days of complete denial. When she wasn’t singing, she cooked. When she wasn’t cooking, she read. When she wasn’t reading she cleaned. She refused to allow herself time to think about the baby.

Lately, however, she’d been thinking a lot about the baby. She actually found herself picking up a book of baby names in the checkout line at the grocery store last week. Without thinking, she turned to the M’s and looked up Michael. “Who is like God,” she read. “Well,” she thought. “Not exactly…but definitely heavenly.” She laughed silently at the irony.

At her sixth month, she and Alex sat down together to watch a videotape of a sonogram she had taken earlier in the day. “Alex, can this really be happening?” Maria asked Alex as she tried to come to terms with the phenomenon.

“Yes, ma’am it is,” Alex answered cautiously wording his response so as not to upset his emotionally distraught friend. “It is indeed happening and it is wonderful.”

To his surprise, Maria agreed. “You know,” she thought out loud. “I’m gonna have a small piece of him after all.”

“Small?” Alex jokingly argued touching Maria’s swelling stomach. He took her hand in his and spoke softly. “I’m here. I will help you. And I’ll be there for your baby, too.” He rubbed his hand across Maria’s stomach.

“Alex,” Maria began to protest shaking her head. Alex had done so much for her. She felt guilty allowing him to take responsibility for her actions. Maria didn’t want Alex to feel he had to do anything more than be her friend.

“No arguments,” Alex said. “It’s you and me, kid…and one more soon.” He smiled at Maria’s stomach and gently laid his ear against it.

Maria smiled thankful for Alex. She marveled at how lucky she was to have him in her life. Suddenly she felt a sharp jab on her left side. “Did you feel that?” Maria asked.

“Was that…the baby?” Alex asked astonished.

“Yeah,” Maria laughed excitedly. “That’s the first time it’s happened.”

“See that, little baby,” Alex spoke to Maria’s stomach. “I was here even from your first kick.”

........................

“She’s beautiful, Maria,” Liz said sincerely. She sat next to Maria on the small hospital bed and took in the newest DeLuca. Liz still found it difficult to believe Maria had actually given birth to the tiny miracle only hours before. Though she could not be any happier for her friend, she felt a tiny twinge of envy. She looked into Hope's eyes and saw Michael. Liz envied Maria’s living souvenir of her relationship with Michael. No, she did not want a child anytime soon. But what an incredible parting gift. “He would lover her,” Liz said knowing Maria knew what she meant.

“He would, wouldn’t he?” Maria smiled and pulled the petite bundle wrapped in a pink blanket closer to her chest.

“Oh! I almost forgot,” Liz announced jumping to her feet. She reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a pair of pink booties. “Mom made them for her,” she said holding them in the air for Maria to see.

“Awwwwww. Liz they are beautiful” Maira couldn’t hold back her tears as she saw the little baby boots. This pregnancy thing was really an emotional roller coaster. She hugged Liz really tight and both girls started laughing. Maria said, “I think it will be a while before she can wear them though.”

“I know,” Liz laughed, too. “I guess since it’s been two decades…you know, she kinda forgot how little babies can actually be.”

“It’s very nice, though. Your mom has always had an amazing talent. You remember the Halloween costumes she made us in the 3rd grade?” Both girls laughed remembering all the smiles they got when they walked the school hallways dress as green metallic aliens with blinking antennaes. Maria missed the times she and Liz spent together. Though Alex had been with her through every step of the pregnancy, she missed the girl-to-girl companionship that she’d always had with Liz. Two-hour phone calls between states simply don’t hold a candle to emergency meetings in the infamous eraser room or balcony basking in the moonlight on lawn chairs.

On more than one occasion, Maria had begged Liz to move out to California. For a while Liz had no real excuse. She told Maria and tried to convince herself that she had to stay for her mom, or because of the Crashdown, or because the plants would die is she weren’t there to water them. The excuses became less believable each time she forged one. Maria began to feel certain Liz was hanging on to Roswell in hopes that Max would come back looking for her there.

Then, Liz met Jackson. From that point forward, Jackson became Liz’s excuse for staying in Roswell. Maria found trusting Jackson to be a difficult task. She couldn’t quite place her finger on her suspicions, but something about him spooked her. She felt uneasy in his presence. When he and Liz visited Los Angeles last month, Maria noticed a difference in Liz. The strangest thing about the difference was that it only came out around Jackson. When Maria and Liz were along, she found the old Liz she knew and loved. But when Jackson came in the room, Liz became a completely different person.

“Maria, did you notice her arm?” Alex had asked when the couple left their Los Angeles apartment to return to Roswell. Maria never noticed what Alex saw…a strangely shaped bruise on her right arm near her shoulder.

“Liz, Hun, take off your coat. Stay a while,” Maria joked as her friend placed the pink booties on the nightstand.

“I’m comfy, really,” Liz lied. She feared the mark on her wrist might not have yet faded. She desperately wanted to confide in her friend, but Liz did not want Maria to get the wrong idea about Jackson.

“Liz, it’s 90 degrees outside…and you’re wearing a leather jacket,” Maria tried to reason.

“It’s always cold in hospitals. Hey…um, do you need anything. I mean, do you want something from the cafeteria…besides the yummy grub I’m sure they bring to your room?” Liz asked tactually changing the subject.

“Sure,” Maria said accepting defeat…this time. “I’d love a Coke. No, a Cherry Coke…with one of those curly straws?”

“I’ll try,” Liz said as she left Maria’s room.

“I think we may have a problem,” Maria said to Hope.

Liz took a deep breath as she left Maria’s room and entered the long hallway to the elevators. She escaped the inevitable interrogations for now. Besides, she felt no reason to go into detail about her situation with Maria. She didn't want to upset Maria for nor reason. Jackson promised this was the last time. He promised he wouldn't lose his temper anymore. Liz tried to believe him. She needed to believe him. Liz felt Jackson was her only hope for a normal future. A future that didn't involve glowing handprints or emergency trips outside the solar system.


[ edited 3 time(s), last at 20-Dec-2002 11:30:59 PM ]
posted on 17-Mar-2002 7:41:17 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

"Hello?" Liz asked holding the cordless telephone to her ear.

"Liz!" Maria screamed not stopping for a breath before continuing to yell into the receiver. "Liz, I did it. I mean, we did...Alex and me. You might want to sit down for this.” Maria paused involuntarily as her lungs demanded a breath. She breathed deeply once and finished her news with just as much passion and at the same ear-piercing volume as she had begun. “I've got a record deal!"

"Whoa, Maria. Slow down," Liz said holding the phone away from her ear.

"Liz, we did it. I begin work next month on an album. I just can't believe it. I am leaving the signing right now. I couldn't wait to call you," Maria spoke excitedly as she pushed through the revolving glass doors of Dream Entertainment Industries.

Alex walked a few steps ahead of her pushing through the crowded L.A. sidewalk clearing a path while chanting, “Clear out, folks. Celebrity coming through. Make room, people. The next Whitney Houston coming down this very sidewalk. Come on, people, give us some space here.”

"Congratulations, Maria! That's so great," Liz's voice broke as she continued, "I'm so happy for you and Alex."

"Liz?" Maria questioned her friend detecting an emotion in her voice not stemming from an overwhelming sense of happiness. "Is something wrong?"

"Maria, I really am happy for you. You've worked so hard for three years now to get something like this," Liz spoke trying to hide the anxiety in her voice.

"But," Maria prompted Liz.

Liz fought the need to tell her best friend everything. She wanted to tell Maria about the marks she hid at the hospital when Hope was born. She wanted to tell her about the empty promises Jackson made time and time again and about the numerous attempts she made to leave Jackson only to be coaxed back by colorful lies. Liz looked at the square diamond set on a thin platinum band that weighed as much as lead on her finger. She desperately wanted to tell her friend about the emotional war raging in her mind, and too often her bones. Instead, she opted to keep the latest twist of fate to herself and let Maria’s news be the pinnacle.

“No 'but,' Maria. I am so happy for you…and for Alex - the big manager,” she said trying to sound as enthusiastic as possible. Liz truly was happy for Maria and Alex. The two were a great team. They set their minds to accomplishing a feat and were doing just that. They started over in a new town - successfully. And now they are on their way to being successful in the music world.

Maria felt certain something was wrong, but she decided not to push her friend. Maria knew that when Liz was ready, she would share with her.

“So,” Liz continued, “what are you going to sing?”

“Are you kidding?” Maria laughed. “Whatever they tell me to sing. I’m not so big I can make musical demands…” Maria paused before adding emphasis to say, “…yet!” Both girls giggled at the idea.

Nearly an hour later, when Maria and Liz had talked the record deal to death, Liz hung the phone back on the wall. She stood quietly for a moment with her eyes closed as she leaned her back against the wall. Finally, she opened her eyes and surrendered to the inescapable force. She walked into her bedroom, knelt next to the bed, and reached into the darkness beneath the frame. She searched relentlessly until she found the loose board in the hardwood floor. Liz pulled the board from the floor and removed her journal from its prolonged hiding place. She blew dust from the cover and brushed the surface with her palm.

Liz found a pen in her purse and sat at her desk preparing to embark on a familiar, but long overdue, rendezvous with her journal. She flipped the pages until she found her last entry. She turned one more page and began to write:

I’m Liz Parker - engaged to be Liz Adair. It’s been over a year since I’ve had the desire to write what I feel. In fact, I think I’ve forgotten how to even feel anything on my own. You see, dependence is an emotional cancer. It starts out small and innocent - he suggests what you wear on a date, he orders for you at the restaurant, he goes grocery shopping with you. The next thing you know, he handles your finances and expects you to go nowhere without him. And finally, dependence rears its ugly head and you let him tell you what to feel, when to feel, and how to feel. Lately the “how” has been via slaps, pushes, and punches.

I should have left him months ago. I should have left the first time he raised a hand to me. But that’s the funny thing about dependence. You don’t think you can leave him; you’re afraid to be without him; you actually forget how to live without him.

He apologizes - a lot. I acquired my latest fading blue mark on my shoulder three nights ago. I came home late after spending extra time in the lab to complete an assignment. Jackson had let himself into my apartment and was waiting on me. He said I was unthoughtful and inconsiderate not to have let him know I'd be late. He said a girl shouldn't be out late by herself. That it was dangerous. Funny thing though - I wasn’t scared until I came home. I was feeling feisty that night and I yelled, “I don't have to report to you! I am perfectly capable of...” That's when he grabbed my shoulders to shake some sense into me.

I shouldn't have said it. I knew that the minute I saw his face go from angry to out-of-control. I can always tell when his anger is about to boil over. The crease between his eyebrows gets tight. His eyes bulge until they threaten to pop out. His upper lip curls, his jaw locks, and he takes one long, deep breath. Strange...I always thought deep breathing was supposed to help control anger.

Everything changed tonight, though. Everything. In my world, the word "impossible" is one I have rarely known. Expect the unexpected; believe the unbelievable; and never say never. I was shot and healed all in the same moment. I met aliens. I closed my eyes and “dreamed” my way from New Mexico to New York. Still, I never thought this was possible.

Tonight...well, it started when I was bringing groceries into my apartment. I lugged two bags of groceries into the kitchen, dropped them on the counter, and turned to go out for more. I stopped suddenly and slowly turned around to verify what I thought I had seen. I gasped abruptly and brought my hand to my pounding chest when my eyes found the bottle of Tabasco sauce sitting on the round dining table. A single white rose lay next to the bottle. My breathing quickened and I reached for the counter to steady my weakening body. "Max," I whispered into the quiet room.

"How'd you know?" a voice answered from behind.

I swung around immediately and began crying at the sight of him.

"Not exactly the welcome I had hoped for," Max smiled.

I took one small step and ran the rest of the way to Max. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my crying eyes in his shoulder. I held him intently refusing to let him go. Finally I pulled my face away and looked at him. “It's really you. How?”

Max cupped my face with his hands and said, “The war is over. We've come...home.”

“To stay?” I asked as a smile began replacing my tears.

Max nodded his head to confirm my hopes. I thought of Max every day that he was away. Though Jackson has been in my life for some time now, I have never stopped dreaming of Max at night. I dream of the night he first climbed my balcony to kiss me goodnight; I dream of the rave when we danced together; I dream of the fear, sheer excitement, and intrigue I felt when Max told me where he came from. At that moment, Max was my only thought. My mind was so full with Max that no room was left for Jackson.

Michael and Isabel slowly walked in through the door I had left open. “Can we come in now?” Isabel asked smiling ear-to-ear.

“Isabel! Michael! Oh! You're all back!” I embraced Isabel and smiled at Michael.

I doubted the reality of the moment. But only for a moment. Leave it to Isabel to notice. "Whoa!" Isabel exclaimed and stretched her arm to pull my hand for a closer view. "What is this?"

Jackson was forced back into my mind. I wasn't ready for that. I needed time to prepare for how I would tell Max. I needed time to script my words. I fumbled, “Oh, yeah...um...I” I looked at Max who stared at the diamond ring on my hand.

“Who is he?” Max asked without looking at me. His eyes remained on the ring, but I was sure he could see right into my soul. He looked afraid...afraid to hear the answer to his own question.

“His name is Jackson. He's an astronomers.” I said nervously.

“Congratulations,” Max said sadly. I think I actually saw his hopes fall to the floor. At that very moment, my hopes fell, too. Why did I have to be with Jackson? The moment should have been so perfect. He'd returned for me, but I was gone. I hurt for Max, but I hurt for me, too.

The awkward silence was interrupted when Michael asked, “So, where is everybody? How's Alex, Kyle...Maria?”

Honestly, I wanted to tell him the truth. I wanted to tell Michael where to find Maria. But I’d seen Maria fall so deeply when he left...and now she is out of that hole and climbing a mountain. I couldn’t bear the thought of her losing him again. Besides, I wasn’t sure if Michael and Isabel were together. When Alex and Maria moved to L.A., Maria and I made a promise that if the Czechs ever returned to Roswell, then I’d tell the story we created. “Oh, Michael. Um...Well, Kyle is in his junior year at UNM. Alex moved to L.A. And...Maria...she died three years ago,” I lied relating the date she and Alex left town.

“What?” Isabel sounded stunned. Rightfully so. “Maria...is dead?” Her voice cracked as she finished her question.

“How?” Michael asked refusing to allow an ounce of emotion to cross his face. Years of battle on Antar had apparently hardened him.

“Car accident,” I answered quietly hating to lie and hoping they wouldn’t ask me to go into detail. I really wanted to tell Michael about Los Angeles and Hope. I felt Michael deserved to know the truth about his beautiful little girl. Hope is so smart and growing like a weed. Each time I see her she looks more and more like Michael. But I’d made a promise. Getting over Michael had been hard enough on Maria the first time he left. If Michael leaves again, it may kill Maria.

“Oh,” Michael replied and turned to leave. Isabel followed him out of the apartment. The two came into my apartment smiling and happy. I sent them away with lowered heads and sad. But I wanted to know if the Michael and Isabel were sad at the loss of two friends, or two…

I couldn’t stand not knowing so I asked, “Are they?”

Before I could finish asking, Max interrupted and answered, “No. They tried. But I guess it just wasn’t written in the stars.” Max smiled sadly at the irony. “We’re not the same people we were in our previous lives. We’re Max, Michael, and Isabel - not Zan, Rath, or Lonnie. And Michael and Isabel are without a doubt not destined to be together. They’ve really been more like brother and sister all their lives.”

I looked down and finally found an opportunity to ask what I’d been wondering since Max arrived. “And Tess?”

“She didn’t come back,” Max replied.

I tried to conceal the smile sneaking across my face. “Oh?” I asked. “That’s a shame,” I said as sincerely as my lying lips would allow. I knew I had no right to ask, considering Jackson was in my life, but I felt a little relief knowing Max wasn’t with Tess. Actually, I was completely relieved. Even more than the pain that struck me knowing he was back and I was unavailable, was the idea that he may not have come back for me. I desperately wanted him to have returned for me. Is that nuts? I mean, I am unavailable...at the moment, but I want him to want me back.

“No, it’s not,” Max, said rather matter-of-factly. I looked at him slanting my eyes thinking he must have heard my thoughts. He disconfirmed my concerns and said, “It’s not a shame.”

I smiled with a little relief, but I almost wish he had heard my thoughts. At least then he would know. He returned my smile. We smiled together. Together. My knight in shining armor had returned. And as all knights worth their title must rescue a damsel in distress, Max needs to rescue me. I need him to rescue me from the life I have unsuccessfully attempted to build without him.

Max suddenly said, “Well, I’ll see you around,” He must have felt awfully out of place in a world that had moved on without him. If only he knew the truth. If only he knew how urgently I need him to salvage what remains of the Liz he knew five years ago. The Liz who wouldn’t take this kind of physical and emotional abuse from a stranger, much less her very own fiancé. The Liz who stood up for herself and what she believed in even when it brought distance between she and her mother. The Liz who laughed. The Liz who danced alone on her balcony and loved life.

As Max walked toward the door, I had to say something. Say anything to keep him there just a few minutes longer. In fact, I didn’t want him to ever leave again. “Max, I didn’t think you would ever...” I began.

“I know,” Max interrupted me turning around with his head down. “I didn’t expect you to wait on me.” He tried to force a smile. “I’m really happy for you.” Then Max left.

So now...now I wait. I wait for him to rescue me...again.

...............

Michael sat alone in his quiet hotel room. He concentrated deeply on a torn photograph that lay in his open palm. With his other hand, he gently caressed the picture taken of he and Maria five years ago. The candid snapshot was taken at the Crashdown while the couple was preparing for Isabel's surprise birthday party. Maria was smiling and Michael had his arm around her shoulder. He smiled remembering the fun they'd had decorating together that night.

His smile faded as his eyes moved to the damaged top right corner of the photo. During the war on Antar, fire was set to the bunkers where he and Max slept. Before fleeing to escape the fire, Michael reached for the only piece of hope and motivation he possessed on the unfamiliar planet. Though extreme heat curled the photo and melted one corner, Michael felt lucky to have saved his favorite thing on the entire planet.

Michael lay back on the bed and closed his eyes remembering the unusually hot night in December when he first realized his feelings for Maria. He remembered the conflicting emotions that raged through his body as he stood outside the Crashdown peering through the windows at Maria cleaning. He stood outside for a long while trying to figure out what brought him to the closed cafe. When Maria finally looked up and noticed him, Michael had no doubt why he'd left his air-conditioned room and ventured into the heat of the night.

A faint knocking on his hotel room’s door interrupted Michael’s thoughts. He rose to his feet and strode across the small room. He was surprised to see Liz when he opened the door. "Come in," Michael spoke as he stepped aside to allow Liz to enter the room.

"Thanks," Liz replied and slowly walked over to sit in the chair next to the bed. She wasn't sure what had brought her to his room. She only knew that Michael deserved more than she had given him earlier. Liz wanted very much to tell Michael the truth, but for now she would have to settle for giving him the fabricated truth.

"How did it happen?" Michael asked getting right to the point. He moved to the window and placed his hands in his jeans' pockets. He stared out the window and watched as a squirrel climbed a small, dying tree. Michael knew his question likely had an answer hid didn't want to hear, but he needed to know.

Liz picked at her fingernails and began talking. "We met at the movies...me, Maria, Alex, and Kyle. After the movie, we made plans to meet at my house for pizza. I rode with Kyle. Alex drove Maria's car. Kyle and I stopped to pick up the pizza. When we got to my house, Alex and Maria weren't there, yet. We knew something was wrong. After about half an hour, Kyle and I backtracked from the Crashdown to the movies. We found Maria's car three miles from the theater. A van ran a red light and..." Liz paused as Michael moved from the window to the end of the bed. He propped his elbows on his legs and rested his head in his hands. Liz feared he might break down.

"Was it instantaneous?" Michael asked.

Liz resumed her story. "They were rushed to the hospital. The car was hit on Maria's side. Alex was released that night with minor injuries. Maria suffered from internal bleeding and died the next morning. She never regained consciousness after the accident. The doctors said she didn't suffer since she was unconscious the whole time." Liz stopped. She had nothing more to relate. The actual accident was all she and Maria developed. She looked at Michael and felt his sadness. She closed her eyes so as to give him a bit of privacy and allow herself a moment to reflect. A single tear rolled down her cheek - a tear for Michael, Maria, and herself.

Michael listened as Liz spoke. He could hardly believe the horrible truth. The only thing that had kept him alive on Antar was the memory of Maria and the goal of one day returning to her. But she was gone. She had been gone nearly the entire time he had. Now he'd returned, but she never could. He turned his head and took in Liz as a tear escaped from her closed eyes. Though the news of Maria's death hurt him greatly, he knew how much it must hurt Liz to relive the terrorizing event in telling him now three years later. Michael moved closer to Liz and slowly put his right arm around her small shoulders.

The caring gesture and his move to be strong for her even through his own pain was nearly more than Liz could take. She gave in to her pain and leaned into Michael. The pair sat holding each other crying over what was lost and what could have been. Michael's uninhibited tears made Liz feel even worse about lying. Still, she felt the truth might hurt Maria beyond repair. Liz felt certain Michael would be able to move on.

After a long while, Michael and Liz broke apart and sat quietly. Liz noticed the curled photo of Michael and Maria and reached across the bed to pick it up. As she did, Michael spotted the strange mark on her shoulder.

"Liz," Michael said trying to smile and lighten the atmosphere. "Did you get a tattoo?"

"What?" Liz responded surprised and not understanding what prompted his question.

"There on your shoulder," Michael said reaching for Liz's upper forearm just above the sleeve of her t-shirt. "I saw that. You can't hide it from me. Come on, what is it?"

"Michael, I don't have a tattoo," Liz said seriously. She could not let Michael see the bruise on her arm.

Michael playfully pulled on Liz's sleeve. "Come on, what's it of? Does it say Mom?" Liz tried to keep him from seeing the mark, but she didn't want to act suspiciously. She playfully pulled her sleeve back down each time Michael tried to lift it.

"Okay," Michael said. "I give up." He put both hands in his own lap and turned away from Liz. When Liz let down her guard, Michael jumped at the opportunity to finally see her new tattoo. He pulled her sleeve up and gasped at what he saw. "Liz, what..."

"I fell," Liz finished. In a near panic, Liz jumped to her feet and walked to the dresser across the room. "I fell, that's all. No big deal."

"Liz...I...it must have been some fall." Michael remained on the bed watching Liz nervously pace the room.

"Yeah," Liz fumbled. "I was...coming down the stairs. I left a shoe on the step and..."

Michael rose and met Liz in the middle of the room. He touched her arm silently asking her to stop pacing. Liz stood still and began calming down believing she had fooled Michael. Without asking, Michael put his open palm over the bruise on Liz's shoulder. In an instant he experienced flashes that scared him. He saw Liz as she crouched in a corner of her bedroom crying. He felt fear, worry, and extreme pain. He saw Liz applying makeup to a black eye. Then he saw a man he didn't know. He saw him lifting his hand into the air.

"What are you doing?" Liz practically yelled as she pulled away from Michael.

"Liz," Michael said trying to understand the images he had just seen.

"When did you...how..." Liz asked holding her arm.

"I've been practicing," Michael said not thinking he might intrude on Liz's privacy. "I just wanted to help make it go away. I didn’t mean, I thought…sorry." Michael returned to sit on the edge of the bed.

Liz kept her eyes on him as she pulled herself up to sit on the top of the dresser. She leaned against the wall and stared at Michael. Thoughts raced through her mind. She wondered what Michael had seen. Max always had flashes when he touched her the way Michael had just done. Based on the look Michael had before she pulled away from him, Liz feared Michael had seen more than she was ready to share. "What did he see?" she thought. "Did he see Maria? Did he see Hope?" Her thoughts were cut short when Michael spoke.

“I could have saved her.” Realization struck Michael like a brick wall. He could have saved Maria. If he hadn’t left, he would have been able to heal her after the accident. Anger replaced his sadness. He was angry with himself for not being there to help her. He was angry at having to fight in a pointless war that left him miserable and alone. He was angry at fate.

“No, Michael,” Liz said grasping the emotions that soared through Michael’s veins. She moved across the room to comfort him. She sat next to him on the bed and touched his hunching back. “There was no way. You couldn’t have known this would happen.”

“I never should have left. If I’d put her before myself…” Michael spoke shaking his head.

Liz watched as Michael’s emotions played out across his face. Then his hands as they shook involuntarily. Liz knew she could ease his pain. Even amongst all his own pain, Michael had tried to help ease some of Liz’s pain by healing the bruise on her arm. Liz fought the need to tell him the truth. If only she could let him know that his love was in L.A…with their baby girl. But Liz refused to betray Maria’s trust.

“Michael, you can’t blame yourself.” She hated this act. Michael deserved to know.

Michael reached and picked up the picture of he and Maria that he’d treasured on Antar. He sighed once and made a declaration. “I will make it up to her.”

.....................

“It’s just something I need to do on my own,” Michael told Max as he stuffed more socks into his duffel bag.

“Michael,” Max tried to reason. He leaned against the dresser in Michael’s hotel room. “How will you…”

“Look,” Michael said interrupting Max. Michael tossed a rolled piece of paper to Max. He resumed packing the few earthly belongings he had as Max unrolled the document. “University of New Mexico. The first four years are basic. It’s the training at UCLA that I need.”

“A fake degree, Michael? Do you really think you’re going to get into UCLA?”

Michael stopped packing and looked squarely at Max. “It’s done, Max. I’m in. It doesn’t matter how I got in, but I will graduate. I’m not going to fake my way through medical school. I just needed a way to get in.”

“So, you used your powers.” Max said confirming Michael’s actions.

“Like you’ve never used your powers for yourself,” Michael said struggling to close the zipper on his bag. He sat on the bag and bounced a few times as if to will the contents smaller. He tried the zipper again with no luck. He sighed and resorted to holding his palm over the metal teeth. In a matter of seconds the bag was closed. He grabbed the black straps and flung the duffel over his shoulder. “I’ll be able to help people.” Michael walked across the room and joined Max in leaning against the dresser. He took a long breath and began. “Do you remember how it felt when you saved Liz that day in the Crashdown?”

“Yeah, of course,” Max answered not quite sure where Michael was going.

“It felt good, right? You saved her. You helped her. And not just anyone…the love of your life.” Michael’s face dropped and he looked at the floor. “Now imagine the exact opposite of that feeling…times a thousand.” He looked back up at Max. “That’s how I feel about Maria. I should have been here to help her.”

Max put his hand on Michael’s shoulder. “Michael, you couldn’t have known. And you were needed on Antar.”

“Was I?” Michael asked. “I left what I knew and loved for something I didn’t - know or love. And I still don’t. I mean, I’ve seen Antar. I know our people…now. I went and fought for that race, but this is my home. If I’d realized that before…” Michael’s voiced trailed off as he sank further into self-pity and depression.

Michael gathered himself and stood to leave. When he reached the door, Michael turned back to face Max and offered one last hope, “Take care of Liz. I know it looks like she has her new life together, but she needs you…more than you know right now.” Michael left Max and the hotel he’d called home for the past week and dumped his bag in the trunk of his new car. He opened the door, sat behind the wheel, started the engine, and drove away without looking back.

Over the past week, Michael had done a lot of thinking. He knew he could never undo what had been done, but he figured he could keep it from happening again. Maybe not for himself, but he could help save the loves of others. Girlfriends, boyfriends, moms, dads, brothers. Finally, he had a plan. With that plan in mind and rolling, he decided to give his overworked mind a break. He scanned radio stations until he found a song he liked, and then he turned the volume up loud. He rolled down the car window and sang at the top of his lungs.

The sun shown brightly on his face, the wind blew through his hair, and he felt free. He’d left the war on Antar only to arrive on Earth to a new sort of war. A war within himself. But now, now that he had a plan that he felt confident about, his worries began to ease. He would become more. He would exceed the high potential Maria had always seen in him. He would do everything for her, in her honor.

Three hours into his trip, Michael stopped at a small café. Just as he took the key from the ignition, he noticed movement in the back seat. Michael froze as he prepared for battle. He moved his open palm into the air and turned quickly in his seat to face the intruder.

Michael screamed.

Isabel screamed.

Michael dropped his guard when he saw the stow-away was Isabel.

“Geez, Michael, don’t do that!” Isabel shouted angrily as she pulled and straightened her hair. She patted wrinkles from her shirt and gathered her purse from the floorboard. She smiled sweetly at Michael and said, “Thank God you stopped! I have so got to go to the little alien’s room.”

A stunned Michael stared at Isabel as she opened the back door and got out of the car. Finally, he opened his door and hollered, “Isabel! What the…”

“Now, now, Michael,” Isabel interrupted as she threw her nose into the air. “Let’s not do this here. We’ll talk - calmly and rationally - over dinner inside.” She turned and continued her trek for the door. Michael remained in the car in complete bewilderment. When Isabel reached the café, she turned and said, “Well, are you going to sit there all night?”

…………………………

“Yes, the little rascal is with me,” Michael said into the receiver of the payphone. He leaned around the corner to look across the café at Isabel. She sat in a booth looking over a laminated menu. “When I find out what’s going on, I’ll get back with you.” Michael hung up the phone and joined Isabel at the table.

“So,” Michael said clearly annoyed with Isabel. “What the heck are you doing here? Why were you hiding in my car?”

“Because I knew you and Max would object,” Isabel stated rather matter-of-factly. She reached hungrily for a basket of fries the waitress brought to the table. “Great! I’m starved.”

“Isabel…come on. You know what I mean,” Michael said dousing the fries with Tabasco.

“Okay,” Isabel said wiping salt from her fingers. She straightened her back against the booth and looked Michael directly in the eyes. “There’s nothing in Roswell for me…anymore. I need a new start. Folks always said I might make a decent model. I’m tall…so…I thought, maybe. Besides, you are going to need a roommate. California is expensive. Especially for starving medical students. I want to try my hand at modeling, Michael.”

“In California.” Michael finished.

“Yeah. Why not?” Isabel asked nonchalantly reaching for another fry.

“And this has nothing to do with the fact that Alex now lives in California?” Michael said knowing full well his suspensions were right.

“No!!!” Isabel said with wide eyes. She’d hoped Michael wouldn’t question her motives, but she knew fooling him was impossible. “Yeah, okay. Maybe I’ll see him out there.” She looked down at her plate and thought for a minute. Then she regained the carefree disposition she’d been fronting all night. “But if I don’t…his loss. I’m gonna be…” Isabel paused to put down her fry and shake the salt from her fingers. She smiled big and held her arms in the air in the shape of a “v” with her fingers spread wide. She finished her thought, “a supermodel!”

.......................

Max approached Liz’s apartment. He knew he should leave her alone, but Max felt drawn to Liz. Just as he couldn’t help but stand outside her window years ago. Just as he followed her home to make sure she arrived safe. Max had always felt most comfortable, most relaxed and at ease, most needed when he was near Liz.

He made his way across the street and smiled when he saw Liz’s shadow on the blinds. The scene was familiar. She was brushing her hair. He’d watched her brushing her hair in front of her mirror a thousand times before. He stood in the shadows content with simply being near Liz again. Still something in Michael’s warning worried Max. “What did he mean when he said she needed me?” Max thought. “Did he really know something or was he just…”

Max’s smile faded and his mood changed when he saw a tall blond man approaching Liz’s door. Max had not yet met him, but he figured the fellow must be Jackson, Liz’s fiancé. A tingle of jealousy raced through Max’s veins. He stared at the man as he stood before Liz’s door and wondered how he and Liz started dating. “No!” Max told himself. “Don’t do this to yourself. It doesn’t matter. You didn’t actually expect her to wait, did you?”

He hadn’t expected Liz to wait, but he’d hoped all along that she would. While on Antar, he fantasized about returning to Earth and Liz. Never in any of his fantasies did Liz have a fiancé. He’d always pictured her as happy, but missing him. But it appeared Liz had moved on without him. He wondered if he would ever be as strong as her. He felt confident we would never be able to move on without Liz.

Max watched as Liz opened the door and invited Jackson to come in. She smiled at Jackson and took the green and yellow wildflowers he held behind his back. Max saw pleasure on Liz’s face. Though the thought pained Max, he was glad to know Liz was happy. He valued her happiness more than his own.

Feeling he was invading her privacy, Max turned to leave. Two steps into his departure, Max froze. He heard glass breaking and a man’s voice yelling. He instinctly ran towards the apartment and peered through the front window. What he saw shocked, frightened, and angered him. Liz was crouching in a corner of the kitchen. Jackson stood over her yelling about how she had betrayed him. “You’re nothing but a cheap whore!”

Max had heard and seen all he could stand or would allow. He quickly moved to the front door, held his palm over the lock, and entered the apartment. Jackson jumped back in surprise when he heard the front door open.

“Is this him?” Jackson yelled. “Is this the jerk who brought you the white rose?” Jackson lunged at Max. Max responded by bringing his hand into the air and creating a glowing field between he and Jackson. As soon as he created the field, he regretted it. Having 3 years of free reign to use his power without worrying had become habit to Max. He nearly forgot how dangerous revealing his powers could be on Earth.

Jackson bounced off the field and fell backwards onto the floor.

“Max, don’t!” Liz screamed.

Max dropped his hand and the field disappeared.

Jackson sat on the floor in disbelief. Slowly he stood never taking his eyes off Max. “What the…” Jackson walked backwards away from Max. As he backed past a coffee table, he picked up a lamp and held in the air as defense. “What are you? Are you some kind of freak?”

Max stood silently as Jackson stared him down. Jackson slowly made his way to the door. “Don’t come near me,” Jackson demanded. He threw the lamp at Max and ran out the front door.

As soon as Jackson left the room, Max ran to Liz and extended his hand to help her stand. “Did he hurt you?” Max asked concerned.

“Not this time,” Liz said standing and walking into the living room to sit on the couch. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“Sorry,” Max said suddenly aware that Liz had screamed for him to stop when he brought up the shield. He joined Liz in the living room and sat facing her in an adjoining chair. “I just thought that…”

“Don’t be sorry,” Liz objected. “I’m glad you were here. I’m just afraid of what Jackson may do with what he saw.”

Max felt great relief in hearing why Liz asked him to stop. He feared she screamed out in Jackson’s protection, but now he learned it was his own protection Liz was concerned with. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of him.”

“How?” Liz asked widening her eyes. She recalled a time when such a comment meant that the alien trio planned to kill the person. Though they never acted on any of their threats, she knew the thought could be there now. She didn’t want Jackson to die because of her. And worse than that, she didn’t want to make Max a murderer on her behalf.

“Oh…no, not…” Max smiled shyly. “I’m not gonna…” he shook his head and shrugged. “I’m just gonna scare him one good time. Make him afraid to tell what he saw.”

“Oh,” Liz smiled thankful that the man before her was still the Max she knew so long ago.

Max lost his smile when he remembered something Liz had said just a few minutes before. She commented that Jackson had not hurt her “this time.” Max feared that indicated Jackson had hurt Liz in the past. He dropped his smile and looked very seriously at Liz and asked, “Liz, has he…ever…”

“Sometimes he just gets so angry,” Liz cut Max off. She looked down at her hands and fiddled with her short nails.

“Angry at you?” Max asked.

“Angry at everything. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes it’s work. Sometimes it’s because it’s raining. Sometimes it’s because it’s not raining.” Liz tried to force a smile. “He’s not really a bad person.”

“Liz, you don’t have to make excuses for him,” Max said and moved to the couch to sit with Liz.

“He says he loves me, but…” Liz began.

“I’m sure he does,” Max interjected bringing his right hand to Liz’s face to move a strand of hair behind her ear. “How could he not?” he said sincerely looking into her eyes.

Liz fought to keep her arms to herself. She wanted desperately to wrap them around Max and hold him to her. She wanted to set her grips on him and never let him leave her side again. She opened her mouth to speak and no sound came out. She struggled wanting to tell Max the truth about how Jackson has hurt her so many times before. Liz had problems admitting to herself that she needed help and, for reasons she couldn’t explain, she feared telling Max. She worried that he may think less of her. She worried that he may see how she wasn’t able to handle life without him. She worried that he may not love her if he she wasn’t as strong as she once was.

Max sensed that Liz wanted to talk. Liz’s silence hurt him deeply. The pair once shared everything. Deep, dark secrets were never kept between them. He knew he couldn’t walk back into her life and expect her to flip on the old feelings like a light switch. He’d never turned them off. Still, he knew that if he and Liz would ever have what they did before he left for Antar, that getting there would take some time. Both of them needed time to get to know each other all over again. He considered how much he loved the time before when they were first getting to know each other - the sweet hello’s and smiles across the room - the awkward goodnight kisses and the lasting tingles when their arms brushed.

“Liz, you know you can talk to me, right? We’re…” Max nearly choked on his next word. “…friends.”

Liz looked down at her lap and shook her head in agreement. “Yeah, we are.” She took a deep breath and slowly released it before looking Max in the eyes and saying, “We are friends again. And your first order of business as my newest friend is…” Liz paused. Asking for help had never been easy for Liz. She’d lived most of her life a durable, independent female. She wanted to be that way again. So she swallowed her pride and leaned to Max for the support she knew she could always count on with him. “…to help me.” She finished.

Knowing how hard it must have been for Liz to admit she needed help, Max responded by cautiously taking her hands in his. He stared deep into her eyes as if to direct his word directly to her soul. “You will never hurt again.”

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 7:46:58 PM ]
posted on 17-Mar-2002 7:48:40 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

Two years later…

Maria leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. Her weekly trip to the spa was the one time each week she could escape, relax, and thoroughly enjoy herself.

“What color do you want on your toes this time, Marianna?” the pedicurist asked with a heavy New York accent.

“Maria rolled her head to the right and looked at the color chart on the wall. After a moment, she answered, “Let’s go with purple this time, Babs.”

“Sure thing, Sweetie,” Babs replied as she headed to the polish case.

Maria wiggled her toes in the warm, sudsy water and sighed. Just as she closed her eyes, her brief moment of peace was interrupted by a high-pitched screech. “Oh my gosh! You’re…Do you know who you are?” A skinny teenage girl with spiky brown hair stood over Maria. The young girl looked behind her to see if anyone else had noticed and lowered her voice to ask, “Are you Marianna?”

Maria loved being recognized and adored having fans. She smiled sweetly and presented her right hand for the girl to shake. “Hi. What’s your name?”

The excited girl looked at Maria’s hand and decided it wasn’t enough. She lunged forward to embrace Maria in a forced hug. “Oh my gosh! You’re so nice! My name is Sammie.”

Maria laughed and said, “Very nice to meet you, Sammie. Nice hair.”

“Oh,” Sammie said embarrassed touching her hair. “Yeah…I gave the beautician a picture of you from People Magazine, but…”

“No, it looks great,” Maria said realizing the girl doubted her short spikes. “Very flattering on you.”

“Thanks,” Sammie said with surprise. “Oh!” She turned and ran to an older lady sitting beneath a dryer. She returned in a moment holding a pen and piece of paper. “Could I have your autograph?”

“Sure,” Maria said taking the pen and paper from Sammie. Maria loved to sign autographs for fans. She compared giving autographs to receiving awards - no greater honor.

When Sammie left, a girl in the pedicure chair to her left spoke. “Do you ever get tired of that?”

Maria looked at the girl. She was laid back in the chair with wet nails spread apart on the arms of the chair. Her hair was pulled through a tinting cap and fresh cucumber slices covered her eyes.

“No,” Maria replied curiously.

“I sure do,” the girl stated sighing as if signing autographs must be the most difficult work in the world.

Maria didn’t respond, but when Babs returned from the polish case, Maria whispered, “Who is that?”

“Are you kidding?” Babs chuckled. She turned and pointed to the magazine rack near the door. “She’s only the hottest thing to hit the modeling industry. She was practically an overnight success.” Babs paused and looked at Maria. “Do you ever watch TV? She’s all over Entertainment Television and E! I think she was on Rosie last week.”

“I don’t…watch much TV,” Maria answered slowly. She stared at the magazines in disbelief. In full color on the cover of Cosmopolitan, and as plain as the nose on her face, was Isabel Evans. She could barely believe her own eyes.

“How is it possible?” Maria thought. “Isabel Evans? Isabel, the…Czechoslovakian…was supposed to be on Antar.” Maria looked again at the beautiful girl on the magazine cover and then back at the green mud masked girl to her left. “No,” Maria reasoned with herself. “No, no. This girl here, the girl at the spa…in California…on Earth…this girl must be someone who simply favors Isabel. There’s now way she can really be Is.”

As soon as Maria’s pedicure was finished, she slipped her barely set purple polished toes into her faux snakeskin sandals and practically ran for the door. As she passed the magazine rack, Maria gracefully swooped down to capture the Cosmo and nonchalantly stuff her steal into her matching faux snakeskin handbag.

She had been in such a rush to escape the undoubtedly poor potential of the situation, until Maria had dismissed any and all consideration or thought on the matter. Maria rounded the corner of a crowded street and paused briefly to catch her breath and allow herself time to think. Maria sat beneath a yellow umbrella at a table outside a small café.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” a thin, dark-haired man asked.

“Yeah. I’ll have a lemonade.” Maria answered.

The minute the server left the table, Maria began laying out the facts in her head. “They left. All of them. They left Earth and went to Antar.” Maria said using her right hand to pull down her left pinky as she calculated the details on her fingers. She moved to her left ring finger and raised her eyebrows hopefully as she continued going over the specifics. “But if they came back…” She smiled considering the possibility. “Michael could be back, too.” As soon as she thought of him, her mood changed. “But,” she continued her thought moving to pull down her left middle finger. “But if he is back, he is probably with Isabel now. That would make sense. That would explain why he hasn’t come looking for me…and Hope.” She moved to her left pointer finger. “But, he doesn’t know about Hope,” Maria thought and lowered her brow in concern. “If he is back, he deserves to know about Hope. Then again, I don’t know if I can handle knowing he and Isabel are together.” She added one more detail as she moved to the last finger on her hand. “They may not be together,” she thought hopefully as she shrugged her shoulders. “And if they are not, he may want…” she stopped her thought and looked down at the table before continuing. “Even if he does want…well, he may have to leave again. And I couldn’t deal with…what am I saying!? He is not here! He can’t be. And that was not Isabel at the spa.”

Maria smiled and chuckled at herself realizing how she had let her imagination run away. “Thanks,” she said as the server brought her the lemonade. She pulled the Cosmo magazine from her handbag and laid it on the table. She looked at the girl on the cover and laughed quietly to herself as she thought, “It’s uncanny how much you look like an old of mine.”

She flipped through the first few pages of the magazine until she found the cover story. Photo credits: John Labonia. Model: Isabel Evans. “Oh my gosh.” Maria gasped. She raised her hand to her mouth and her elbow knocked over her glass of lemonade. At the very moment the glass hit the floor, her server, carrying a large tray of food, stepped onto the glass. The glass rolled forward and sent the server backwards. The server grabbed a chair to steady himself, but the tray of food flew into the air and landed on a neighboring table dousing everyone within a 5-foot radius with fettuccini alfredo.

“Uh…” Maria began realizing she had caused the dramatic scene that had just played out before her. “Sorry?”

………………………………………………..

“Alex, you have to get out here,” Maria breathed into her pink glittery cell phone.

“Maria,” Alex argued. “I have Hope with me, remember?”

“Well, bring her with you. You have to see if it really is her. Please, Alex,” Maria desperately begged.

“Okay,” Alex reluctantly agreed. “I’m on my way.”

“Thanks, Alex. I owe you big. I’ll see you tonight,” Maria said. She placed a few dollars on the table, pulled her bag onto her shoulder, and sprinted for the hair tinting appointment for which she was already 20 minutes late.

Alex worried about Maria. He was concerned that she might be slipping back into her desperately-missing-Michael mode. He felt certain that what Maria saw must be a mistake. He knew she often missed Michael and he felt sure she probably fanaticized about him returning one day. But he also knew that the chances of Michael returning were slim to none. And the idea that Isabel was a model in L.A. was entirely too bizarre, even for Maria’s overactive imagination. Still, he had agreed to at least go check out the girl Maria saw at the spa.

................

Holding Hope’s hand, Alex walked into the spa. He stopped just inside the door and half-heartedly scanned the room for tall, blonde girls.

“May I help you, Sir?” a lady asked from behind the counter.

“Uh, yeah.” Alex said approaching the counter. “Do you have a client here named…” Alex paused. He chuckled to himself at the thought of actually asking for her. He smiled and slightly rolled his eyes before continuing. “…Isabel Evans?”

The lady continued looking at Alex. She then looked down at Hope and answered. “Ms. Evans is not to be disturbed during her treatment.”

Alex’s smile dropped immediately. He shook his head doubtfully. “No, you…Isabel Evans…blond hair, about this tall,” Alex said raising his arm into the air to demonstrate.

The lady asked, “Are you a friend of Ms. Evans?”

“Uh,” Alex began. He fought not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the idea that Isabel was in the spa and that Maria had been right. “Well, you could say that.”

“Just a moment,” the lady replied and stepped away from the counter and down a hallway marked private.

Alex stood frozen waiting for the lady to return. A million thoughts ran through his head. If indeed Isabel was back and was in L.A., then why hadn’t Liz told him? He figured that if Isabel was truly back from Antar, then perhaps she was the only one of the Czechs to return. That certainly would explain why Liz would not be bubbling over with the news of an alien return. Unless…Michael came back, too and Liz was trying to protect Maria.

“Uncle Alex,” Hope began. Alex looked down at the 5-year-old girl with bouncing blond hair and Maria’s expressive eyes. “Who is Isabel?” Hope asked.

Alex considered how he should answer the question. Should he call Isabel the love of his life when they were hardly more than friends? Should he call Isabel her father’s sister or wife? Should he call Isabel an alien…but the good kind? Finally he answered the truth. “Someone I haven’t seen in a very long time.”

The lady reappeared from the hallway. She approached the counter and asked. “Are you Michael?”

Alex’s jaw dropped. The lady merely asked a simple question, but she communicated everything Alex needed to know. “Yeah,” Alex lied.

“But Uncle…” Hope objected.

“Hope,” Alex said looking at her sternly in the eyes as if to tell her, “Say another word and no T.V.” Alex returned his eyes to the lady. “Will she see me?”

“Tonight,” the lady answered flipping through a large appointment book.

“Excuse me?” Alex asked not understanding the lady’s remark.

“She said whatever it is can wait and she will see you tonight,” the lady answered sounding a bit fed up with playing messenger service.

“Thanks,” Alex said and headed for the door. Once outside the spa, he decided he needed more proof to be certain the girl was indeed Isabel Evans from Roswell, New Mexico. Alex led Hope into FAO Schwartz across the street from the spa. He let Hope play nearby while he kept watch from the window waiting for Isabel to leave the spa.

Nearly an hour later, a blond girl emerged from the spa. She wore large, dark sunglasses, but Alex recognized her right away. “Isabel,” he murmured. The girl turned the corner and began walking up the street.

“Hope!” Alex called fearing he would lose her if he took his off the girl. “Let’s go!”

Alex and Hope followed her until she stopped outside a small café and took a seat at a table beneath a yellow umbrella. Alex grabbed Hope and the pair hid behind an unused wait station.

“Uncle Alex,” Hope began.

“Sshhh!” Alex demanded holding a finger over his mouth.

“Uncle Alex,” Hope whispered. “Isn’t that your friend?”

“Yeah,” Alex whispered.

“Then why are we hiding?” Hope asked.

Alex thought about her innocent question and had no answer. “I don’t know,” Alex answered standing up. “I guess we should just go say ‘hello.’”

Just as he made a move to leave the wait station, he witnessed the blonde girl stand up, take a bottle of Tabasco from a neighboring table, and return to her own to drench her strawberry sundae with the hot sauce. The action stunned Alex and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the girl was Isabel Evans. Max, Michael, and Isabel were the only “people” he’d ever known to appreciate the extreme mix.

Alex was so taken back by the reality of what he’d just seen, that he became frightened and unsure what to do. Instantly, Alex deduced that Michael and Isabel were undoubtedly together. They had plans to meet that night, and… “Oh my gosh,” Alex thought. “He’s here ,too. Michael is in L.A. Does he know? Of course, not. How could he? Does Isabel know? Are they different now? Are they Rath and Lonnie now? Do they even remember us?”

He retreated to once again hide behind the wait station. Hope, however, had not understood Alex’s sudden retreat. Nor had she noticed. She advanced toward to the table where Isabel sat alone enjoying a small bowl of ice cream.

“Hope, no!” Alex yelled in a whisper lunging at the young girl. As he did, he tripped a thin server with dark hair. As the server fell across Alex’s outstretched arms, his body stopped. The large tray of food the server carried did not. The tray sailed across the outdoor patio as a number of voices shouted in concern for the blonde girl about to be stuck by the wooden tray. Isabel turned to see the flying tray and quickly ducked. The tray glided past her and landed in the middle of the next table. Food flew madly dousing everyone within a 5-foot radius with red spaghetti sauce and meatballs.

“You have got to be kidding me!” the frustrated server shouted as he untied his apron and flung it to the ground.

Alex searched frantically for Hope before spotting her hiding beneath a table. He walked toward the table and bent to his knees. “Why are under the table?” Alex asked.

“Because I think I did this,” Hope said.

Alex saw the fear in Hope’s eyes. “It’s okay, Hope,” Alex began. “It’s not your fault.”

Tears formed in Hope’s eyes as she confessed. “Sometimes things happen that I didn’t mean to do. I’m sorry.”

“Hope,” Alex smiled trying to convince her she did not cause the spill. “It was my fault. I accidentally tripped the server.”

“Really?” Hope smiled wiping her eyes.

“Yeah,” Alex laughed. “Sometimes I can be so clumsy. Don’t you remember a few nights ago when I dropped your mom’s brand new bottle of perfume?” He reached out his hand to help Hope get out from under the table.

“That was pretty funny,” Hope smiled. She laughed and said, “Mom was so mad at you.”

“I know,” Alex said laughing with Hope. The two stood and brushed the few spatters of marinara sauce from their clothes. Alex removed a stray noodle from Hope’s hair.

When they turned around, Alex came face to face with Isabel.

“Alex?” Isabel asked.

“Isabel Evans,” Alex sighed not surprised to see her. Alex looked down at Hope. He nodded his head in Isabel’s direction and said, “Actually, she caused this.”

..................

Maria sat on the couch half-heartedly flipping through television channels waiting for Alex and Hope to get home. She ran to the window and peered through the blinds each time a car turned into the apartment parking lot. She reached for her bag and pulled out the magazine she'd snagged earlier from the spa. She stared at the picture of the blonde girl on the cover and shook her head in disbelief and waited impatiently for Alex to confirm or disconfirm her suspicions.

Alex closed the car door and walked around to the passenger's side to help Hope climb out of the car. "Now don't forget what we talked about," Alex said as he extended a hand for Hope to hold while she jumped from the seat to the ground.

"Okay, Uncle Alex," Hope giggled. "I won't tell."

"Good. We don't want to ruin the surprise," Alex nervously giggled with Hope. Alex was forced to think quicky when he and Isabel came unexpectedly face-to-face. In the rush to decide how much he should share with her, Alex opted against telling Isabel about Maria. He didn't fully lie. He told Isabel about Marianna and Hope. He told Isabel how he and Marianna had built a great friendship while he worked as her agent. He told Isabel about the apartment that he and Marianna shared and that he often cared for Hope while Marianna worked to develop her career. Alex told Isabel everything about Hope and Marianna, but strategically left out the fact that Marianna was in fact Maria and that Hope was Michael's daughter.

During the ride back to the apartment, Alex convinced Hope not to tell her mom about Isabel just yet. “It’ll be a fun surprise when they see each other for the first time,” Alex told Hope. He crossed his fingers in hoping that the busy mind of the 5-year-old girl would soon forget the entire incident.

Alex and Hope pushed through the front door of the apartment and were practically tackled by an overanxious Maria who stood on her toes and shook her hands in anticipation of Alex’s word regarding the blonde girl in the spa.

“What in the….what happened to you two?” Maria asked noticing the marinara sauce that Alex and Hope wore proudly on their shirts, pants, and in their hair.

Alex and Hope smiled knowingly at each other and began to laugh.

Maria joined in the fun and asked, “Are my two favorite people in the whole world keeping secrets from me?”

“Of course not, Maria. We love to share,” Alex smirked as he held out his arms to embrace Maria in a giant hug.

“No!” Maria screamed and ran laughing wildly into the living room.

“Mom! I just want to give you a hug!” Hope called chasing Maria around the apartment.

Maria rounded a corner and ran smack dab into Alex who wrapped both arms around her and holding tightly.

“No!” Maria screamed and laughed.

“Hope! I got her!” Alex called and struggled to hold onto Maria as she squirmed. “Hurry, Hope!”

“I’m coming!” Hope laughed and excitedly. She grabbed her mom around the legs and rubbed her marinara stained shirt all over Maria’s bare legs.

“Hope! How could you?” Maria laughed adoring the fun she always had with Alex and Hope. She’d often wondered how Michael would react to his fun-loving daughter. She fantasized about a changed Michael imagining how Hope would break through his tough outer exterior. Hope’s happiness was contagious and she figured Michael would smile a lot more if he had the opportunity to know his daughter.

“Okay…okay!” Alex said putting an end to the madness that had spontaneously broken out. “Alright! Hope, why don’t you head upstairs and get ready for a bath? I’m sure your mom will be up in just a few minutes to clean up, too.”

When Hope left the room Maria asked, “So? Was it her?”

Alex looked at the floor. He’d decided not to tell Maria about Isabel. He decided it would be easier if Maria didn’t know the three were back. “No,” he said quickly. Alex compared telling a lie to ripping off a band-aid. It’s going to be painful either way, so go on and get it done quickly. He walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. He retrieved a Coke and opened the bottle. “It was Isabel Evans…but not the Isabel Evans we knew.”

“What?” Maria asked confused.

“The girl just happens to look a lot like our friend. And the scary thing was how similar she was. But she is just some girl with the same name. Evans is not all that uncommon, you know.” While Alex lied, he took sips of his Coke, fiddled with his fingers, moved magnets on the refrigerator….anything to avoid looking Maria in the eye.

“But Isabel…” Maria spoke. She was nearly heartbroken. She’d somewhat hoped that the girl in the spa was indeed Isabel.

“She goes by Belle,” Alex said. He walked over to Maria and put his arm around her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Maria,” Alex apologized for lying.

“It’s okay, Alex.” Maria said lifting her head and taking a deep breath. “It’s just as well.” Maria looked down at her legs and smiled. “You know, I’ve got what I hope is marinara sauce all over me and a wonderful little girl waiting for me upstairs.” She hugged Alex, thanked him for checking on the girl for her, and turned to go help Hope get a bath.

Alex sat his Coke on the table and followed Maria to the bottom of the stairs. He decided he had better go ahead and tell her right away. “Maria,” Alex spoke.

“Yes, Alex?” Maria asked and turned to look at him.

He looked her in the eye as he finally spoke the truth. “I have a date with her this Friday night.”

................

Two years later…

Maria quickly pulled her hair into a ponytail. She did not want to be late for the rehearsal and sound check. “The Grammy’s,” Maria said out loud as she paused for a moment stared at herself in the mirror. She’d dreamed about such a day for as long as she could remember. Still, something about the day didn’t feel right. She felt something was missing….the fairytale.

Since she was a little girl singing her heart out into a hairbrush, Maria dreamed of the perfect life. In her daydreams, everyone knew and loved Maria. She lived in the perfect little house with a white picket fence. She was surrounded by loved from the perfect family with 2.3 kids. After a sold out concert, Maria returned home to the perfect husband and the perfect…daughter. Maria shook her head in an attempt to bring herself back into the real and very rushed world. “I have the perfect daughter,” Maria thought glancing quickly at a photo of she and Hope that held its permanent position on a stand next to her bed.

Though Maria had never daydreamed about motherhood the way she had about singing, the job was one she would never trade. Motherhood was more than a job, it was a privilege for which she had not exactly volunteered, but would never give up. Though Maria had not originally welcomed her unexpected pregnancy, she soon accepted her fate and grew to love her pregnancy. She was amazed when she allowed herself to focus on the bundle of joy that grew within her womb. The baby was, after all, the best of both Maria and Michael.

“Michael,” Maria sighed as she reached for a pair of earrings.

For the past seven years, Maria struggled to forget the name. Nightly, she reflected on her day to count the number of times she’d thought of him. Though she’d hoped the test would help her forget him, Maria found her number never decreased. She realized each night that she loved him even more than the night before. Slowly, but surely, She accepted the fact that Michael was gone, but her emotions for him could never be buried the way she’d buried Maria DeLuca. Maria accepted the fact that she loved a man she could never be with.

Maria had indeed succeeded in burying Maria DeLuca. Unlike Maria’s desperately dreary life in Roswell, Marianna’s life was focused around achievement, fame, and stardom. Marianna had a career and a social life, and was happy. Happy. Was Maria happy? Marianna was happy…just ask any television reporter, any writer at Entertainment Magazine, any of the media relations people at Dream Entertainment. Everyone knew Marianna was one a fast track to celebrity and happiness.

But did the glory of Marianna bring happiness to Maria? Throughout the course of her singing career, Maria learned that life in the entertainment world was one thing, but life in the real world was quite another. Maria had all the material things she’d ever hoped for. She could travel anywhere in the world, she could buy anything her heart desired. But the love her fans gave was the not the love she’d imagined in her childhood dreams. The reality of the fan’s love left her wanting. Though the fan’s appreciation gave her temporary highs and provided her with energy for concerts and the desire to continue singing, the love Marianna lacked was the love Maria felt for Michael and remembered each time she closed her eyes.

Maria snapped her watch in place and rolled her wrist to look at the time. Again, she’d allowed herself to get caught up in thought and reminiscing about Michael. It seemed that happened a lot lately. She dug through her jewelry box and found the sparkly baby blue charm necklace Hope had given her last Christmas. The necklace matched perfectly with the casual jeans and tank top she’d thrown on to run out for the sound check. She dropped to her knees to look around on the floor for the baby blue purse Liz had given her the day she left Roswell. She rarely went anywhere without it. Luckily, Maria recalled kicking it beneath the bed last night and did not have to look for it very long.

“Alright Lupe, I’m off.” Maria said as she zoomed through the house gathering last minute necessities. “Adam is coming shortly. Please don’t let them go outside unsupervised. Last time those two got together, they wound up painting the walls with mud. If I choose to have the house painted, I’ll hire professionals,” Maria said smiling at Lupe who returned the smile. “Oh, and please take care of Hope. She’s the only thing that keeps me going, you know. And if anyone calls, tell him or her I’ll be right back.” Maria told Lupe, Hope’s nanny.

Lupe came to work for Maria a year and a half ago when Maria and Alex could afford extra help. Since then, Lupe had become part of the family.

“Yes, M’ija. Have fun. Y no te preocupes por la niña. La tienes en buenas manos,” Lupe told Maria as she always did each time Maria left the house.

“I know, I know. She’s in the best hands possible,” Maria smiled. She ran to the counter and picked up her purse and checkbook. “Call my cell or page me if anything’s up.”

Maria hurried into her daughter’s room for a quick goodbye kiss and behave speech. As she entered Hope’s room, she was graced with the opportunity to witness her daughter partaking in one of her favorite pastimes. Hope held a white crayon drawing on a piece of black construction paper. Maria marveled at how such a young artist knew so much about complimentary colors.

Maria smiled as she stood silently watching Hope’s seven-year-old hands. She was growing up to be a wonderful artist….just like her father. Maria sighed at the thought of just one of Michael’s many qualities Maria saw in Hope. Hope had inherited so much from her father and Maria often wondered if Hope had also inherited her father’s Czechoslovakian powers. Maria had never observed Hope act abnormally, but Hope had said a few things that worried Maria. Hope had said on more than one occasion that she could do anything if she concentrated hard enough. Other children her age played make-believe all the time. Make-believe was normal for children Hope’s age. Still, Maria could not help but wonder if Hope’s imaginary game may be a very real beginning of her adapting to the use of her Czechoslovakian traits.

Maria could not be sure if Hope would ever develop any of her father’s extra abilities. She wasn’t sure if human and alien hybrid’s were normal human babies or normal alien babies. And it wasn’t as if she could run out and ask the local pediatrician. “Hey, do you know if all seven-year-olds babble as much as Hope? Oh, and do you know at what age human-alien hybrids begin developing their powers…that is, if they have powers?”

Maria grinned at the ridiculousness of the idea. Not only would she be put in a mental asylum and be taken away from what she loves most, but if the FBI ever found out, they would undoubtedly experiment on her daughter the way they had done on Max in the White Room. Maria would never allow that. It was dangerous enough for Hope’s mother to be a celebrity, which assured Hope’s celebrity. Maria refused to allow her on curiosity to be the reason Hope’s life would be put in danger. She subconsciously adored the idea that Hope may possess some of the very qualities that led to Maria falling in love with Michael. Then again, those very qualities would be a daily reminder of why Michael was forced to abandon her…and the baby he didn’t know existed.

Maria looked at her watch again and scolded herself for running late. Maria tip-toed into Hope’s room to take a closer look at Hope’s drawing. Tears began forming in her eyes as she stared at the drawing of her daughter standing between Maria and her daddy. The words “Daddy,” “Mommy,” and “Me” were neatly printed under each corresponding figure.

Hope drew her father as a tall, bold man with wings. “Hope,” Maria spoke.

“Hi, Mommy!” Hope said turning around in her seat to look at Maria. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” Hope asked when she saw her mom’s glassy eyes.

“Nothing’s wrong, Honey,” Maria said touching Hope’s soft hair. “Why did you draw this person with wings?” Maria asked and pointed to the drawing.

“That’s my daddy,” Hope said proudly. “He has wings because he can fly. And sometimes he takes me with him and we fly in space.”

The irony was more than Maria could bear. She hugged her daughter and said goodbye. “I’ll be back in a little while.” She walked towards the door, but stopped to say one more thing before leaving. “Don’t forget we have the ball tonight. Prince Alex will be here later to pick us up.”

Hope smiled and said, “I won’t forget.”

Maria always wanted Hope to grow up in a happy and prosperous family. She figured she was in the norm as a mother who wouldn’t be satisfied until her daughter had the best of the best. Though Maria worked hard to be both mother and father to Hope, she felt her attempts weren’t enough. Hope did at least have a male figure in her left with Alex, but Maria wanted to provide more for Hope.

Having been raised in a single-parent home, Maria knew well what Hope felt when she dreamed of her father picking her up and flying her through space. She was also all too familiar with the pain that came from years passing with no fulfillment of the dream. Maria had cried herself to sleep many times with her father’s face in her mind. She didn’t want Hope to ever know that kind of pain. The thought of Hope hurting wounded Maria more than the hurt she felt when she was abandoned for destiny.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 7:48:56 PM ]
posted on 17-Mar-2002 7:52:13 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

“Isabel,” Alex spoke putting his hand on his girlfriend’s shoulder. “I promised her. Hope is expecting Prince Alex to take her to the ball.”

“I know. I understand,” Isabel said touching Alex’s hand that still rested on her shoulder. She sat in the padded stood of her vanity putting on the final touches for her evening’s attire. “It’s okay Alex.” Isabel tried to assure Alex she was content with going to the Grammy’s alone. “I’ll see you at the party afterwards. Besides, my publicist says an openly unavailable model is twice her worth.” She smiled at Alex as she motioned for him to help her fasten the diamond necklace lent to her for the night by Tiffany's. “Performing at the Grammy’s is a very big deal…not to mention the tension she must be feeling having been nominated for two awards.”

Isabel stood and twirled in her flowing, blue chiffon strapless. “How do I look?” she asked.

Alex was overwhelmed with emotions. “Beautiful,” he answered honestly.

“And you Sir,” Isabel began reaching to straighten the bow on Alex’s traditional black tux, “are going to be the most handsome prince at the ball.”

Alex took Isabel’s hand and kissed it softly. “Don’t want to mess up your makeup,” Alex explained the kiss that would have otherwise been on her lips. “Gotta run to pickup my tiny princess,” Alex said. “See you there?”

“You got that right,” Isabel said sassing Alex as she headed back for her vanity. “Tell Hope I said hello and give Marianna my best wishes.”

Alex left Isabel’s apartment and headed for Maria’s to pick up two of his best girls. He thought how lucky he was to have Isabel and how guilty he felt about not telling Maria the truth. He worried that the truth would one day come out and that both his loves would be angry with him - Maria for not knowing Michael was back on Earth and Isabel for not knowing Marianna was Maria, alive and extremely well.

Alex loved Maria and Hope dearly. He wondered if he’d made a mistake by not telling her Michael was back from Antar. He wondered if he’d helped her or hurt her. He wondered if Hope felt deprived of a father. Worst of all, he had the knowledge to change all that and was afraid to share the knowledge with Maria. Originally, Alex made the decision not tell Maria about Michael because he wanted to protect her from pain. Now, he felt he couldn’t tell her for selfish reasons - so she wouldn’t be angry with him. Those selfish reasons were eating at Alex something awful.

Alex arrived home and knocked on the door.

“Mr. Whitman, why do you knock on your own door?” Lupe asked with surprise when she opened the door.

“Because I’m picking up my girls for a date. Are they ready?” Alex asked as he poked his head inside to look around at the empty living room. “Figures. Just like a couple of girls. Always gotta be fashionably late.”

“I’ll go see how long,” Lupe smiled opening the door wider to invite Alex to come in.

“Thanks,” Alex said taking a seat on the couch.

In a few moments, Maria descended the stairs. Alex stood and watched as she came down the stairs. “Oh my gosh,” Alex exclaimed placing his hand over his heart. “You look amazing!”

Maria wore a full-length fuchsia gown with a scoop neck lined with tiny rhinestones. Her dangly diamond earrings brushed at her bare shoulders with each step she took. When she reached Alex, Maria looked skyward and batted her long eyelashes as she extended her right hand for Alex to kiss.

Alex knelt to one knee and took Maria’s hand. “My lady,” he spoke and kissed her hand.

Maria broke her composure and excitedly jumped in place. “What do you think? ” she asked grinning from ear to ear.

“Wow,” Alex said shaking his head. “Marianna is gonna break some hearts tonight.” Maria blushed a little and hit Alex playfully in the arm.

“Ouch!!!” Alex feigned hurt. “What? You don’t want to kill your prince before the ball, do you?”

Maria rolled her eyes as she sighed, “You poor baby. I barely touched you. Now if what you want is pain, then…” Though Alex was lucky enough to catch the look in Maria’s eyes, he was not lucky enough to avoid the pinch she gave him on the forearm.

“Someone help!!!!!!! This lady is out of control,” Alex playfully cried.

Maria giggled. “Sorry, Alex. I mean…I…” Maria changed her tone and admitted her fear. “I’m kinda nervous.”

“Marianna???? Nervous????????????” Alex joked unable to believe Maria could possibly fear anything considering all she’d been through the past few years.

Maria sighed, “I don’t know why, but I feel that something is going to happen tonight. It’s a strange feeling that’s been bugging me all day. I mean, you know how much my career means to me, but what about if I’ve gotten my hopes up for nothing. What if I don’t win anything?”

“Maria, you know that win or not, you will always have my support…and your daughter’s support as well. In our eyes, you have already won. We don’t care if the industry awards you or not. We love you. I’m sure your fans feel the same way.” Alex realized Maria’s concern.

Maria was still unsure. “Alright, what if I do win? What if I cry Alex? Oh God, and then my mascara will run. Or worse! What if I trip? And everyone will make fun of me and I’ll be on the cover of tomorrow’s newspapers looking like some disoriented clown. And kids will be scared of me and everyone will stop listening to my music. And then my fantasies will be ruin and my life will be over. And then…”

“Breathe, Maria.” Alex said moving forward to embrace his friend and help calm her fears. “Just breathe. Everything will turn out fine. And who cares if you cry? If eyes are the windows to the soul, then every now and then those windows need a little Windex.”

Maria smiled a full-blown smile. “You think so?” Maria asked trying to regain her composure.

“I know so,” Alex promised.

“Thanks, Alex. You’re the best,” Maria hugged Alex tight and Alex returned her affection.

“Where’s my little princess?” Alex asked

“She’s still getting ready. I wouldn’t let the stain-queen put on her dress until just before time to leave. She’s so excited about wearing her purple sparkly dress. She’s been practicing walking in the mirror.” Maria chuckled to herself thinking how Hope acted a lot like she did in her younger years. “How come you’re running so late?” Maria asked Alex who was usually the model of a timely date.

“I was with Belle,” Alex answered. “She’s going tonight, too.”

“What?!” Maria exclaimed in surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me? We could have arranged to sit together.” Maria paused before continuing in a much more serious tone. “Is she going alone?”

“Well, I told her I would hang out with her after the awards at the party.” Alex spoke in a nonchalant voice not wanting to upset Maria on her big night.

“Alex,” Maria began. “You should be with her tonight.”

“But what you and Hope?” Alex asked.

“We have each other,” Maria said. She knew Hope would be slightly disappointed, but she also knew a 7-year-old would forgive and forget a lot faster than a serious girlfriend. “Hope will be fine. I think it’s more about the whole affair for her...the grandness of the night.”

Alex wanted to be with Isabel, but he’d made a promise to Maria and Hope. He loved them both and did not want to hurt them. “No,” he thought to himself. “A promise is a promise.”

Maria could see the firmness in his face. She knew he needed a little extra push. “Hey, have you ever thought of this? If I do win, which would be incredibly awesome by the way, then the television cameras will be all over me and whom I am with. As much as I would love that to be you, it wouldn’t help me with being Marianna. Anyone and Everyone who knew Maria will recognize you and will likely put two and two together. Then my cover will be blown.” Maria saw Alex begin to consider what she’d just said. She knew it wouldn’t take much more to convince him to go be with Belle. She wanted Alex to be happy. He’d given up so much to make her a success. He deserved happiness and she knew Belle seemed to be making him very happy.

“Go,” Maria said. “Be with your girlfriend.”

Alex smiled at Maria’s words. Girlfriend.

Maria stepped forward and slightly shoved Alex to emphasize her point. “Go,”

Alex kissed Maria on the forehead and said, “Good luck.” He reached into his pocket and handed Maria a small box. “Give this to Hope for me?” He grabbed his cell phone and began to dial Isabel’s number as he headed out to his car.

...........................

"Hope! Let's go!" Maria called from the front door. "We don't want to miss our big night!"

"Coming, Mommy!" Hope grabbed her small handbag that matched her shoes and ran to the top of the stairs. She slowed her pace as she decended the staircase concentrating carefully on each step to be certain her new shoes did not get the best of her. When she stopped at the bottom she stood proudly smiling at her mother. "How do I look?"

"Well, I can only see one side of you!" Maria replied.

"Oh!" Hope said and began to twirl.

Maria witnessed the twirl in slow motion. Her heart swelled with pride as her daughter became a young woman right before her eyes. Maria fought tears of happiness knowing Hope was still young enough she would misinterpret her rush of emotions. Maria didn't want to do anything to put doubt in her daughter's mind about the evening. "You look marvelous," Maria struggled to say.

"Really?" Hope stopped twirling and asked.

"You'll steal the show," Maria confirmed her daughters hopes.

Maria stretched out her arms for a hug and Hope began running towards her mother. Halfway there, Hope began to fade. Maria could see straight through her small body. "Hope?" Maria called unsure of what was happening to her daughter.

"Coming, Mommy!" Hope called.

"Hope!" Maria called again in response. She heard voices all around her but she could see no faces. She stood unable to move as she watched her daughter fade faster and faster. "Hope!" Maria began to call Hope's name frantically again and again. As Hope's image grew fainter and fainter, the voices around her grew louder and louder.

"Marianna!" Hope called the moment she completely disappeared.

Maria stood in fear. The light from the kitchen window began to get brighter and she could clearly hear voices coming from the room. She walked slowly towards the room. "Hope? Are you in there?"

"Marianna!" An unfamiliar voice answered.

"Hope!" Maria called as she quickened her pace towards the kitchen. The sun from the window grew brighter and stronger. Maria stopped suddenly when she remembered the sun had set an hour ago. "It's evening," she thought. "It's time for the Grammy awards."

"Marianna!" The voice called again.

"Who's there?" Maria spoke quietly. A stabbing pain shot through her head and she raised her hands to her head and dropped to her knees.

Maria heard the voice speak again. "Doctor! She spoke!"

Maria doubled over as pains began attacking her entire body. She grabbed her side and her chest before her arm went numb and flopped uncontrollably at her side. "What's happening?" She grasped for breath.

"Marianna, open your eyes," the voice called from the kitchen.

"They are," Maria answered with undeniable fear in her voice. Suddenly the fire alarm went off. She looked at the ceiling at the flashing light and began to cry. "I'm scared," she sobbed as the beeping fire alarm began to sound slower and slower. The sound then became one long beep.

"Doctor, we're losing her!"

......................

"What's the situation?" the doctor asked as the nurse placed plastic gloves over his hands at the sink.

From across the operating room, a young EMT announced the details as Maria was moved from the gurney to the table. "Car accident. Extreme trauma to the head and neck. Possibly a few broken ribs. She's been in and out of consciousness and keeps calling for Hope."

"Who's Hope?" the doctor asked as he began examining the patient before him.

"Hope is her daughter and was in the car with her. She was lucky...little more than a few scratches and a broken arm, it looks like."

The doctor stared at the patient for a moment. "Her face," he thought. "She looks so familiar."

"She's Marianna," the EMT spoke realizing the doctor must recognize the patient.

"Who?" the doctor asked.

"The singer? She was on her way to the Grammy awards when her car was struck on the driver's side by an oversized pickup."

"Okay, let's close this room off!" the doctor called as EMT personnel and prep staff exited the room. "Nurse?" the doctor asked looking to his right. "Do we have x-rays?"

The doctor gathered all the details he could and began working on his newest patient.

Hours passed as the hospital's medical staff struggled to relieve the pressure in Maria's cranial caused by the swelling of her brain. The doctor fought to stay focused on the task at hand as his mind wandered. He seemed to be more interested in the girl on the table than the condition of the girl on the table. "She seems so fragile," the doctor thought looking at her small hand. "There's something about her...something that I can't figure out. Get a grip! You're like some teenage boy who has just met Isabel Evans," the doctor scolded himself for his momentary slip of infatuation. "You are in the middle of an operation...a very critical operation. Focus!! You need to Focus. You wander off again and you loose her…you can’t loose her! You can’t loose someone…ever again.”

The doctor continued the surgery with this in mind, but after a few minutes his mind began to drift again. "I wonder what she's like when she's not playing the role of some big Hollywood star. I wonder if she lounges around the house in her slippers like the rest of us normal people in the world. I wonder what it would be like to touch her…to really touch her, to stroke her delicate face, to …Hello! What are you thinking!? She has a daughter, which most likely means she has a husband. She's probably a happily married woman and I am sure her husband would not appreciate her doctor fantasizing about what she wears when she lounges.”

"But look at her. She is so peaceful…even in this critical moment....Right! Critical moment! FOCUS! Don't forget where you are, man! Stay focused. Focused. Focused on her tiny feet, focused on her poutty lips… I want to know this woman. I want to know what the real Marianna is like."

The doctor felt a tingling in the tips of his ears and his vision began to blur. He shook his head in an effort to regain control. When his vision cleared, he found himself in another part of the hospital. He followed doctors as they wheeled a wailing woman into the delivery room. The room was smokey, but he was able to make out a woman giving birth to baby girl. As the nurse held the newborn baby for the woman to see, the baby opened her eyes and looked directly at the doctor and smiled.

"Doctor!" the nurse interrupted. "Her B.P. is dropping...her heart rate is declining..."

Fear struck the doctor. He not only wanted to know the beautiful lady on his operating table, but he needed to know her. "I have to save her," he mumbled through his protective facemask. "I can't let it happen again."

"Again, doctor? Doctor, if you know this woman, you shouldn't be..." the nurse spoke with concern.

"Her vitals are stabilizing," another nurse spoke.

The doctor took a moment to catch his breath. Confusion clouded his mind as he tried to figure out why he felt so much concern for this patient. He never liked losing a patient, but he also knew the miracles of modern science could go only so far in the operating room. Still, he was driven to do anything necessary to save the woman. He wondered if her celebrity status was behind the driving force. "No, way," he convinced himself. "I've never been all that impressed with stars. I didn't act like this when I met Whitney Houston , and she.... well, Whitney Houston! There's something I can't explain about this woman. Though I've never met her, she seems so familiar. And I already know I will do everything within my power to help her...and I do mean everything within my power."

The doctor was suddenly blinded by a flash of bright light. The light dimmed and he saw his patient holding a baby girl with tiny blonde ringlets hugging her face. A rush of warmth and love surged through his body. He found himself wanting to join the pair as they laughed and spun and circles beneath a giant Oak tree.

A nurse waved her hand in front of the doctor's face. "Dr. Guerin, are you feeling alright? Can we continue with the operation?"

......................

Liz breathed heavily as she ran up the deserted stairwell. Her anxiety grew with each step and her heart beat faster and faster. When she finally reached the level marked by an oversized “7” on the door, she slowed her pace and gasped for air. Liz panicked when she opened the door into a three-way intersection of long hallways. She looked to the left, to the right, and forward. In hasty thought, Liz decided going up and down the halls looking for 729 would take more time than she had to spare. So she shouted, “Alex!”

A door opened halfway down the hall to her right and Alex poked his head outside. “She’s down here.”

Liz began to run continuing the sprint she’d began following since Alex’s call the night before. She was unable to get a flight that late and she couldn’t bare the thought of waiting until morning, so she packed her car and drove all night. She arrived in Los Angeles with the sun and stopped just inside the city limits to get directions to the hospital.

Alex’s message on the answering machine was practically cryptic. He left little more details than the name of the hospital and the fact that Maria and Hope were taken there by helicopter. Not knowing their conditions nearly drove Liz mad. All night long she struggled to keep her calm as she worried, reminisced, and cried.

As Liz reached Alex, he stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind himself. “Hope is okay,” he said quietly moving in to hug Liz.

She pulled away and looked at Alex. He still wore a black tux from the night before. He looked awful. Dark bags hung below his eyes that were red from lack of sleep. At second glance, Liz knew lack of sleep wasn’t Alex’s problem. He’d been crying. He looked so fragile and vulnerable.

Alex caught Liz staring at him and quickly adjusted in an attempt to better compose himself. He may not have been able to do much for Maria, but he could at least try to help Liz. Alex decided that he shouldn’t allow Liz to see him worry. He looked away from Liz for a second and tried to wipe away the leftover tears from his eyes. He challenged himself to think positively. In his head, as if to convince himself, he shouted, “Everything is going to be okay. Everything has to be okay.”

“He’s trying to be strong,” Liz thought. His selfless courage was one of the many things Liz admired in Alex. She could always count on him to be there for his friends. It seemed he’d always been driven a need to protect them. Regardless of how much pain Alex felt inside, he never allowed the hurt to show. He remained strong, if at least in the presence of Liz and Maria. But Liz caught him off guard at the hospital. She found him depressed and weak. Liz assumed that if Alex was unable to be the rock he usually was, then something must be terribly wrong. She figured there was certainly more to be told and Liz needed to know what that something was.

“And Maria?” Liz asked.

Alex took Liz’s hand and held it tightly between his own. “The doctors aren’t sure, yet. She’s had a lot of trauma to the head.”

Liz dropped her head and focused on breathing. In an instant she knew the pain Michael must have felt when she gave him the bad news about Maria being in accident so many years ago. The tragic irony of the situation was nearly more than Liz could handle. "Where is she?” Liz asked as her voice began to crack.

“She’s in surgery…has been most of the night.” Still holding her hand, Alex led Liz to sit down at a nearby bench in the hallway. Once they were seated, he turned to Liz and took a deep breath. “Are you ready for this?”

“Oh God…. what?” Alex preparations terrified Liz. She didn’t know how she was expected to bear any more bad news.
“Her doctor…her surgeon is…Dr. Guerin.”

Liz’s eyes grew wide with disbelief. She spoke slowly watching Alex’s eyes hoping he would disconfirm her suspicions. “Dr. …..Michael…..Guerin?”

“In the flesh,” Alex answered. "So to speak."

“Did he see you?” Liz asked.

“Yeah,” Alex nodded his head.

“So does he know his patient is Mar…”

“No!” Alex stopped Liz before she could fully say Maria’s name. “I told him I was Marianna’s agent.”

Liz sighed with a tiny bit of relief.

“But if he sees you,” Alex began.

“He’ll put two and two together and know Marianna is really…” Liz said finishing Alex’s thought.

“Exactly,” Alex validated her theory.

Liz looked down at her lap. She was afraid for Michael to deal with losing Maria again. “Maybe it’s time he knew.”

“Not like this,” Alex interrupted. “I think we’re only hurting both of them by not telling them, so I agree that the truth should come out. But not now, not like this. Let’s give it some time.”

"What if we don't have that kind of time?" Liz asked not really wanting to hear the answer.

Alex stared at his friend unsure of how to respond. He wanted to say Maria would be singing on stage in two months with only a hairline scar on her brow to remind her how precious life is, but he didn't want to give false hope to Liz...or himself.

"Uncle Alex?" a weak voice called from room 729.

Alex looked at the door and back at Liz. "Maria's not going anywhere just, yet. She needs the little girl in that room as much as that little girl needs her mother."

"Aunt Liz?" Hope spoke with surprise when Liz and Alex walked into her room. Hope sat in bed leaned against a mountain of propped pillows. Her tiny right arm donned a white cast with a handful of signatures and she sported a pink Barbie bandaid above her left eye. "What are you doing here?" Hope smiled.

Liz sat on the edge of Hope's bed. "Did you really think I was gonna let you get pampered in jello-land all by yourself?"

Hope giggled and said, "I do get a lot of jello."

"What's this?" Liz asked reaching for a heart-shaped locket hanging around Hope's neck.

"Uncle Alex gave me this last night. Isn't it beautiful?" Hope said with pride.

"It sure is," Liz said releasing the locket.

"Look inside," Hope said opening the heart and turning the locket to show Liz.

"It's you and your mom," Liz said smiling fighting tears.

"Where is my mama?" Hope asked losing her smile.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 7:50:42 PM ]
posted on 17-Mar-2002 7:54:58 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

Two Days Later

“So, how’s Marianna doing?” Max asked as soon as Michael came in the door.

Only minutes earlier Isabel called to let Max and Michael know that her photo shoot was running later than expected and she wouldn't be able to make their February get-together. She told Max to let Michael know he would be at the hospital later to check in on Marianna and bring Alex some dinner since she was certain he was quickly tiring of cafeteria food.

“She’ll make it,” Michael said with certainty about Marianna's condition.

“You sound so sure. Two days ago you didn’t believe she would make it through the night,” Max said reaching across the table for a bottle of Tabasco to douce his fries.

“Two days was practically centuries ago, Max. She’ll live. Trust me.”

Michael spoke with such confidence that Max began to worry he might be fooling himself. He knew Michael hated the idea of losing a patient, but Max also knew the consequences of false hope. “Michael, I’ve never seen you like this. Since the day she came in you’ve been acting strange.”

“Strange?” Michael asked.

“Yes, Michael. You’ve seemed sort of…out of it." Max tried to explain. "You get really tense every time that someone mentions that Marianna might not make it. I mean, I understand you feel responsible for your patients, but I‘ve never seen you so…worked up.

You're more worked up over Marianna that I've ever known you to be over any of your patients.” Max knew how desperate Michael always felt about saving the lives of his patients, but he never saw Michael to be this unrealistic about a patient with such severe head injuries. Max knew most of the other hospital staff were prepared for the worse. The news headlines told the story nightly.

“I don’t know how to explain what I feel, Max. Since the first time I saw her, I felt something. Something...” Michael struggled to find the words. "Something..."

“Something like…” Max tried prompting Michael share more of his feelings. But as Michael began stumbling over words, Max realized Michael wasn't even sure how to explain to himself what he was truly feeling.

“Something...weird,” Michael said shrugging his shoulders to signify he couldn't find the right words and was finished searching.

“Weird?” Max knew Michael didn’t want to talk about it anymore, but he had to keep trying.

“She is one of those vibrators," Michael said looking down at the plate of lunch he didn't feel like eating.

"She's a...she's a what?" Max said completely confused.

"I don’t know, Max," Michael began. "It’s like my own life depends on whether or not I can save her's. There is just this unexplainable force that's moving me when I am operating on her, a force that's telling me I MUST save her!”

Max stuffed another fry into his mouth and nodded his head as he thought he'd finally seen the light. “Would the whole fame thing have anything to do with this...force?” Max asked thinking he'd nailed Michael's strange behavior. He reasoned to himself that the fame was the only possible explanation for why Michael would feel so strongly about Marianna. After all, Michael barely knew her. In fact, he didn't know her at all. They'd never been formally introduced and, considering the circumstance, they likely would never be introduced. The only other person Max had ever known Michael to be attracted to without a proper introduction was Maria. And that introduction did eventually happen, even if it took Liz being shot to make it happen. "Huh," Max thought. "Seems it takes near fatal situations for Michael to get interested in a girl."

“No. Definitely not," Michael argued. "Marianna's fame has nothing to do with it. There's something more. It’s almost like I know her,” Michael said raising his eyebrows expecting Max to understand.

“Michael, the whole world knows her,” Max said being what he thought was the only voice of reason present at the table.

“Max, this is real." Michael said raising his voice in an attempt to make Max take him seriously. "I mean, it's like I REALLY know her," Michael said trying to further emphasize his point.

"Oh, well if you REALLY know her..." Max began sarcastically.

"Max!" Michael practically yelled surprising Max and everyone else in the crowded cafe. He looked around at all the faces that were staring at him. He lowered his head and looked up at Max with only his eyes. He whispered, "I...I think…I think I’m falling in love with her.”

“WHAT?” Max shouted and coughed as he choked on the fry he'd just popped into his mouth. He glanced around the cafe at everyone who was again staring at their table. He smiled as if to say, "Nothing to see, people."

Max knew that if Michael, the emotional stone, was actually using the "L" word, then something way beyond strange was definitely going on. Though Michael had proved on more than one occasion that he was a changed man since the whole Maria thing, Max never expected he would fall in love again this easily. And with a perfect stranger? The fact that Marianna was famous didn’t make her any less of a stranger. "And where did this leave Maria?" Max wondered. Ever since Liz informed them about Maria’s fatal car accident, Michael had been depressed. In fact, Michael chose to be a surgeon so that he would be able to save people’s lives, especially those who had been in car accidents. Though Max didn't feel it was healthy, Michael's entire life practically revolved around righting a wrong. Michael felt he owed that much to Maria. Regardless of how much Max and Isabel argued with Michael, he forever blamed himself for Maria’s death. He believed that his desire to follow destiny was the soul reason Maria died. Life outside of the hospital had seemed to lose all meaning for Michael. He swore that he would never love anyone else again. Max knew that Michael had spent countless nights locked in his house refusing to go out. The only place Michael felt needed was at the hospital working on critical patients. Considering all of that, Max wasn't sure whether he should be worried that his friend was acting so abnormal or if he should be happy that his friend finally found a reason to love again.

“Maxwell, I know what you’re going to say. But I can’t help it. I must save her,” Michael said in a stern voice.

“Michael, I’m not telling you to let her die. I would never do that. I just think you should be careful."

"Carfeul?" Michael questioned.

"We can't be sure of exactly who it is you are falling for. Besides, sorry for asking, but what about Maria?” Max asked.

“Maria? What about her?” Michael was more confused than ever.

Max watched Michael's expression change. It didn’t take a genius to see that just the mention of Maria’s name still had enormous effects on Michael. Regardless of how much he tried to hide it, Michael still loved Maria. And it still hurt him to think about her. As much as he wanted him to be able to move on, Max knew Michael would always have an empty spot in his heart that only Maria could fill. Not that Max could blame him. Max knew that Liz would forever have her hands around his heart.

“Weren’t you in love with her?” Max asked knowing the answer. He was hoping his question would remind Michael that true love, the kind of love he had for Maria, takes a lot more than the Nightingale Syndrome could ever begin to muster.

“Of course, I was! I am. I'll always be. But...well...okay, here's the part where she comes in,” Michael spoke stumbling over his thoughts.

“Confusion!" Max said waving a hand in the air to stop Michael. "Michael, can you please choose a topic and stay with it for more than ten seconds?”

“Max, when I was performing surgery on her, I had...visions. And I saw things.”

“Visions? What kind of visions? What things are you talking about?” Max was concerned why Michael would get visions from a person he'd never met before.

“It was like the visions I had of Maria a long ago. I saw parts of her life. I felt her emotions. She's so much like Maria,” Michael smiled excitedly.

“What did you see exactly?” Max worried the visions he got from Marianna might not be such a good sign.

“I don't know. I can't pinpoint exactly what I saw," Michael scrunched his eyebrows trying to remember. "…What I do remember seeing a little girl...she had bouncy blonde hair. Max she was beautiful," Michael face changed and he smiled remembering the little girl in his vision. "And I felt…something. Something toward the girl. I can’t explain it, Max, but there’s something definitely about them! I felt what Marianna was feeling when she gave birth, Max." Michael shook his head in awe. "She felt a little sad, but mostly she felt content. Call me crazy, Max; but when I'm so much as even in the same room with her, I…I…it’s like I feel the same feeling as whenever I was with Maria."

"Michael," Max stalled looking for the right words.

"She sends the same vibes I got from Maria," Michael continued as he stared into space searching desperately to find the phrase that would tell Max exactly what he felt coming from Marianna. "She’s another one of those vibrators.”

“Michael," Max shook his head. Everything Michael shared with him made Max worry that perhaps Marianna wasn't what she seemed on the surface. "Maybe they weren’t really visions. Maybe you were just hallucinating...recalling memories.”

“No, the visions were real. They weren’t just memories. I saw things...things I’ve never seen before. I felt things, Maxwell. And the visions were pretty intense. It couldn’t have been my imagination,” Michael spoke looking down at the table hoping Max was wrong. He couldn't bear the idea that the first real feelings he'd had since Maria were false.

“Michael, I...I think she might be one of us,” Max finally admitted his suspicions.

“What?" Michael laughed. "Max, are you out of you mind?”

“Remember when we first met Tess?" Max began explaining. "Remember the way she could to trick minds? She could make people see things that weren’t actually there.”

“Max, she's not an alien," Michael smiled and shook his head in disbelief. "No. She can’t be. And don’t ask me how I know because I can't explain. I just know. Besides, how in the world would she be able to know Maria? How could she show me visions of things that happened with me and Maria?”

Max knew convincing Michael that Marianna could be anything less than perfect was going to be difficult. “Michael, who knows what powers she may have? For all we know, she could be ripping those images from your mind. We’ve seen it happen already. How can we be so sure that she is not like that?”

“Max, I thought you were the mind of reasoning. I figured you'd understand...it's like you and Liz. She can’t be an alien. Those images were real. I saw things that I’ve never seen before. You saw stuff with Liz you'd never seen before. Besides, must I remind you that she was in a coma? She still is! How could a person in a coma have enough brain activity to reach into my mind, find memories I've pushed to the very back, and pull them out and show them to me like they were a movie on the big screen? Max, this is ridiculous.”

“You’re right," Max accepted defeat. He knew Michael had his heart set on a miracle connection and would not open his eyes to any other possibility. "Listen, I guess I'm just overreacting. But we can't take anything for granted. And you have to promise not to mention the visions to anyone."

"What, do you think I'm nuts? The hospital would institutionalize me in the blink of an eye. They wouldn't want some nutcase working on the heads of their patients," Michael assured Max he'd not lost his mind.

"I know," Max confirmed. "I just can't believe that the FBI has closed our case. All I am saying is that we should always be on the lookout when it comes to the strange and unusual.”

“I understand what you're saying, Maxwell. But it's not like that. At least not with her. I will save her, Max. I need to find out what all this means.”

.....................

Hope had been awake for hours and was bored beyond belief. She leaned across the bed railing trying to reach the remote control on the bedside table. The stretched and maneuvered, but the remote was just outside of her reach. She bounced back against the pillow and sighed. Then, she had an idea. She looked at the television on the opposite wall and focused on the small, black "power" button. She concentrated and concentrated...finally, the screen flickered and a picture began to show.

"Ha!" Hope smiled. "That's the hard part. The rest is easy," she said amused by her own strengths.

"Holy..." Michael whispered from Hope's opened door.

"Michael!" Alex said approaching room 729. "How's Marianna?"

Alex's voice surprised Michael. "Alex!" Michael said looking everywhere but his face as if he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I uh, was just.... Isabel’s coming," Michael said finally looking at Alex.

"Okay," Alex said trying to figure out why Michael was suddenly acting so strange.

"She's bringing you dinner later," Michael said with his eyes still wide open.

"That's good," Alex said shaking his head. "But, what about Marianna? How is she?"

"About the same," Michael finally spit out. "Gotta go." Michael turned around and virtually ran down the hospital hall.

"Wonder what's bugging him," Alex thought outloud. "Hey!" he smiled walking into Hope's room. "How's the Jell-o in this place?" Alex asked with his hands behind his back.

"Ahhhh.... so, so," Hope smiled wavering her hand back and forth in the air to nonverbally emphasize her "so-so."

"Well, I got something that might cheer up a lonely girl with a broken arm," Alex said moving to sit with Hope on her bed. "Pick a hand."

Hope smiled with anticipation. "Um.....this one!" Hope pointed to Alex's right arm.

Alex pulled his arm from behind his back and opened an empty hand.

Hope's smiled dropped as she looked at his empty hand. "Uncle Alex!" she shouted punching his other arm.

"Okay, okay!" Alex pulled his other arm from behind his back and handed Hope a Barbie doll box. "It just hit the stores!"

"Mommy!" Hope exclaimed taking the box from Alex. She looked at the doll that had tons of curly, blonde hair, bright red lips and long black eyelashes, and spiked high heels. She asked, "But why does she look like this?"

"Well, because it's a doll made to look like Marianna," Alex said looking at Hope's questioning eyes. He realized she had not yet fully grasped the difference between Maria and Marianna.

"But she's not at work," Hope said confused. "She only looks like this when she goes to work. Why does Mommy look like totally different when she’s at work?"

"Hope," Alex said reaching for Hope's locket to demonstrate a point.

"No!" Hope countered pushing Alex's hands away.

"Hope, I just wanted to..." Alex began.

"I'm never taking it off," Hope said caressing the locket. "Not until Mommy's back."

"Okay," Alex said putting his arm around Hope. He understood that Hope needed something to hold on to until she had Maria back. "But until then," Alex began. "You'll have to put up with me!" Alex said raising his hands into the air letting Hope know he was about to attack.

"AAAAHHHHH!" Hope screamed and laughed madly as Alex tickled her being careful not to hit her casted arm.

......................

"Hey! What's going on in here?" Liz asked with her hands on her hips.

Alex and Hope stopped laughing and looked at Liz standing in the doorway. "Liz!" Hope shouted. "Help me!"

"Oh, come on," Alex said looking hurt. "Was it really that bad?" Alex's mouth curved into a mischievious grin. "I was only doing this..." He leaned it and attacked again.

A nurse carrying a clip board came into the room. "Ms. Parker, Mr. Whitman, may I see you for a moment, please?"

"Sure," Alex spoke. He turned back to Hope. "Be right back, squirt."

In the hallway, the nurse explained the purpose of her visit. "There really is no need for Hope to remain checked in at the hospital. We would like to release her in Mr. Whitman's custody as directed by her mother's living will. However, we do have patient family rooms available and the two of you are welcome to check in to one of those throughout the duration of her mother's stay at the hospital."

"Okay," Alex said. "When does she need to check out?"

The nurse replied, "The staff would like to clean her room today for use with a patient checking in tomorrow morning."

"Oh," Alex said surprised. "So, right away?"

"Yes, sir. If you'd like, I can show you to the patient family room we have available and you can begin moving her." The nurse answered pointing up the hall to the bank of elevators.

"Sure," Alex answered. He poked his head in the door. "I'm going to go see our new room. Liz and I will be right back."

"K," Hope answered not looking up. She was content for the moment to brush the hair of her doll.

Liz and Alex followed the nurse to the bank of elevators.

"I was thinking," Liz began. "How have you managed to keep Maria and Isabel from meeting this whole time?" Liz asked.

"Do we have to talk about this now?" Alex asked raising his eyebrows.

"I was just wondering," Liz replied. She'd been thinking about it every since she and Alex agreed that Michael should not see her there. He would put two and two together. She then wondered why Isabel had not put two and two together.

"A lot of creative timing," Alex answered as they stood waiting for elevator 3 to open.

Just as the doors to elevator 3 opened, so did the doors to elevator 5. The nurse stepped into elevator 3 as Isabel stepped out of elevator 5. Alex turned his head and met Isabel's eyes. Without thinking, Alex extended his arm and pushed Liz into the elevator with the nurse. "Hey!" he shouted and lunged toward Isabel to keep her from coming close enough to witness the passengers about to leave behind the closing doors of elevator 3.

"Alex!" Isabel said surprised. "What's going on?"

"Just glad to see you. What did you bring me? I am totally starving. We're about to check Hope out of her room and move her into a patient family room," Alex spoke a mile a minute as his panic slowly subsided.

"We?" Isabel asked.

"Yeah....uh, me and you," Alex finsihed quickly.

"Oh," Isabel said handing a bag of takout to Alex. "Have you seen Max?"

"What!" Alex asked as his blood pressure began to rise again. "Max is here...at the hospital?"

"Yeah, we were meeting here this month," Isabel answered lowering her eyebrows and cocking her head. "Is anything wrong?"

"No!" Alex said smiling with wide eyes trying to look inconspicuous. He pushed the down button on elevator 5. "Can you just...wait right here...just a minute? I'll be right back. I...need to check on something real quick." He stepped into the elevator and quickly pushed the button to close the doors.

"Alex," Isabel stood with confusion. "What is going on?" she demanded to know.

"I'll explain when I get back," he said as the doors began to close. "Don't go anywhere!" he shouted.

Alex leaned back against the elevator wall and sighed. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing. He knew that if Max saw Liz at the hospital, then he would know that Marianna was Maria. He shook his head. "I've gotta get Liz out of here," he thought.

Isabel stood silently near the bank of elevators. She didn't understand what she had said that sent Alex running, but he'd promised to explain when he came back. And that was one explanation worth waiting on. She paced slowly before a large picture window overlooking the parking lot.

"Isabel," Michael called as he walked up the hallway.

"Hey!" Isabel said. "Sorry I missed our meeting. I just couldn't get away. The photographer was so tempermental," she said rolling her eyes. She leaned in to hug Michael as he got closer. "How have you been?"

Michael didn't hug her back or answer. He stood stiff and tense.

"Michael? What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost," Isabel joked. When Michael didn't answer she immediatley thought the worst. She assumed he'd lost a patient.

"Well," he finally began after a long moment of silence. "Not a exactly a ghost...more like..." He looked around the hallway and lowered his head. He moved in closer to Isabel and finsihed, "an alien."

"Liz?" Isabel spoke.

"No, not Liz," Michael said annoyed.

"No, Michael. Look," Isabel said pointing out the window.

Michael and Isabel watched in silence as Liz and Alex made their way into the parking lot. Liz got into a car and drove away. Alex waved to her and walked back towards the hospital entrance.

Michael and Isabel looked at each other with confusion. "What's Liz doing here?" they asked in unison.

.....................

"Okay Ma'am, I'm going to slowly unwrap the bandages," the nurse said as she moved towards Maria. She began removing layers from her face and head. "Has Nurse Mildred explained to you that you may experience temporary blindness?"

Maria took a long breath as she swallowed the latest bit of news she had been given since she regained consciousness four hours earlier. "Yes," she said still a little confused. "When will I see Hope?"

The nurse continued removing bandages as she spoke. "The doctor needs to see you before we allow any visitors." She removed the final layer and gently touched Maria's hand. "The bandage is off. You know," the nurse began as she giggled a little. "No one really believed Marianna was a patient here. Most of your face has been covered since you arrived a few days ago."

"Can I open my eyes now?" Maria asked as she raised her hands to feel her face.

"Yes," the nurse said. "Now remember, you may be able to see very little, if anything at all. But your vision is expected to make a full recovery."

Maria batted her eyes a few times. The muscles had not been used in some time and were weak. When she was unable to see anything, she moved her fingers over her eyes to be sure her lids were indeed open. "Something's wrong," she panted. "I can't see." Maria's breathing quickened and her voice became shaky. "Are my eyes open?"

"Ma'am," the nurse began in an attempt to calm her patient.

"Marianna! My name is Marianna!" Maria demanded that the nurse call her by name.

"Marianna, the blindness is temporary. The doctor is almost certain..." the nurse said touching Maria's shoulder.

"Almost!" Maria exclaimed. "I want to talk to the doctor!" Maria was confused and scared. She had awoken to the sound of a beeping heart monitor and an unfamiliar rush of voices. After being told Hope was okay, she was told her own health was still in question. Nurse Mildred told explained that optical damage caused by the swelling of her brain left her with a great possibility of temporary blindness and a mild possibility of permanenet blindness.

"I'll go see if I can rush him," the nurse said propping pillows for Maria. "In the meantime, why don't you lean back and I'll turn on the..." the nurse paused as she realized her careless mistake. She was about to offer to turn on the television.

"How about the radio," Maria said annoyed.

"Yes, Ma'am...uh, Marianna." The nurse stopped at the doorway before leaving. "I promise, the next fa...voice you hear will be Dr. Guerin's." The nurse walked outisde the door and scolded herself making a mental note to sign up for the next patient sensitivity seminar.

Maria's mouth dropped and her eyes, despite their condition, opened wide when she heard the name of the doctor. "Dr. Guerin," she whispered. Thoughts began crowding her mind. "Could it be? Is he back? Michael....a doctor?" Before Maria's imagination ran away with her, she tugged hard on reality and pulled herself ashore. She shook her head and laughed sarcastically. "Sure," she thought. "Go ahead, fate. Bring on the pain. Give me a doctor with the only name that could scare me more than this blindness." Maria laid back onto the pile of pillows and marveled at the irony.

..............................................................................

The doors opened to the elevator and Alex stepped out. He was surprised to see Isabel and Michael standing together with their arms crossed. "Hi!" he said with obvious shock in his voice.

"Hi," Isabel answered without smiling. "We need to talk."

Isabel and Michael stared into the eyes of Alex who took one step back for each step Isabel and Michael took towards him.

"What's up, guys?" he smiled nervously.

Michael jerked when the pager on his hip began beeping. He checked the alpha message scrolling on the screen. "Dang!" he said angrily. "I gotta go," he said to Isabel. "Don't let him go anywhere."

"Don't worry," Isabel said still looking at Alex. "I'll keep an eye on him."

After Michael left, Isabel began laughing. "Did we scare you?" she asked.

"What?" Alex asked with wide eyes.

"We saw Liz," she said still laughing at the fear Alex displayed. "Why didn't you tell us she was here?"

"You saw..." Alex began as he realized Isabel and Michael must not have suspected Liz's true meaning for being at the hospital. "Why do you think she was here?" Alex said countering Isabel's question.

"Well, didn't she come with Max?" Isabel asked.

"Max!" Alex nearly shouted with relief. "Right! She came with Max! That makes sense."

"Huh?" Isabel wrinkled her brow confused.

"Nothing...um, let's go see Hope," Alex said walking down the hall ready to escape from the near tragedy of the conversation.

"I wonder if she'll even remember me," Isabel spoke as she followed Alex down the hall. "I haven't seen her since you tripped that waiter in L.A." Isabel laughed recalling the faces of all involved that day.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 7:52:44 PM ]
posted on 17-Mar-2002 7:57:32 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

Michael ran up the hall towards room 729, the number attached to the emergency message blinking on his pager. Just before he reached the room, an arm reached out of a dark closet across the hall and pulled on the sleeve of his white coat. The momentum he’d gained running up the hall, changed direction and he fell to the tiled floor inside the closet.

“Michael,” Max spoke.

“Max!” Michael breathed pushing his arms against the floor to stand. “What’s wrong with you? I have an emergen…”

“I paged you,” Max cut Michael off.

“What? You can get in real trouble for that, you know,” Michael said brushing his pants. It’s against the law to falsely claim an emergency.” Michael put his hands on his hips demanding an explanation.

Max grinned at Michael and asked, “So are you gonna tattle on me?”

“What’s going on, Maxwell?” Michael asked irritated.

Max lowered his voice to a whisper and answered, “I have to show you something.” Max poked his head into the hallway and glanced in both directions. After he was certain the coast was clear, he guided Michael down the hallway.

Michael followed his friend, but his impatience escalated by the second. He rolled his eyes when Max motioned for him to quiet his heavy footsteps. “Max,” Michael said frustrated.

“Just humor me,” Max replied.

When the pair reached room 729, Max stopped and said, “You’ll never guess what this little girl is doing.”

“How many guesses do I get?” Michael asked smiling.

“Come on, Michael. This is serious,” Max whispered.

Michael brought his pointer fingers to his temples, closed his eyes, and hummed as he rolled his head.

“What are you doing?” Max asked.

“I guess that she is…watching television,” Michael said opening his eyes.

“You’re amazing, Houdini,” Max sneered.

“I’m not finished,” Michael said. He again raised his fingers to his temples and rolled his head around.

“And she’s changing channels…with her mind,” Michael said smiling.

Max’s face dropped and he stared at Michael. For a brief instant he wondered if Michael had perfected a new power. Then he noticed the smirk on Michael’s face and the almost evil twinkle in his eyes. “You already saw this, didn’t you?” he asked already knowing the answer.

“Yep,” Michael replied nodding his head. He became very serious and said, “I guess you were right. I guess Marianna is an alien.”

“We need to go ask her some questions,” Max said.

“She’s not my patient, Max” Michael shaking his head.

“You’re not performing surgery on her…just asking questions,” Max said pushing the door to walk into room 729. “Hi!” he said to Hope. “My name’s Max and this is Mi…Dr. Guerin. What’s yours?”

Hope looked up and smiled. “My name’s Hope.”

“That’s a nice doll you have. What’s her name?” Max asked moving closer to Hope.

Hope looked down at the doll lying next to her on the bed. She picked up the doll and held it up for Max to see. “This is my mama at work. Her name’s Marianna.”

Michael sat in a chair near the window of the hospital room. He was nervous about questioning a patient that was not one of his own. He decided to remain quiet and let Max do most of the talking.

“Tell us about her,” Max smiled.

“You want to know about my mama?” Hope questioned. “Why?”

“Because we’re both big fans. Isn’t that right, Dr. Guerin?” Max said widening his eyes at Michael.

“Yeah,” Michael answered not smiling.

“Okay…what do you want to know?” Hope asked.

“Well,” Max began. “Tell us about your mom. Does she have friends?"

"Sure she does," Hope said thinking Max's question was silly. "Her best friend lives far away, but she's here today. And so is my Uncle Alex."

"Your Uncle Alex?" Max repeated thinking he'd stumbled onto some odd evidence.

"Yeah," Michael interrupted to let Max know he needn't purse that course. "Her Uncle Alex Whitman is her mom's agent." Michael shrugged his shoulders telling Max there was nothing strange about that.

Max moved on with his mini interrogation. "Tell me more about what your mom is like. What is she like when she is not working?"

Hope laughed. “My mama’s so much fun. She took me to the zoo the other day and,” Hope paused to giggle before finishing. “and the llama spit on her!” Hope busted out in laughter. “She was sooooo mad about that! She had to use some cider oil before we could go in to see the monkeys!” Hope continued laughing as she remembered the fun they’d had at the San Diego Wild Animal Park,
“Cider oil?” Michael asked with surprise. “Your mom uses cider oil?”

“Yeah,” Hope answered not thinking there was anything especially unusual about using cider oil. “She smells of it. It makes her calm down.”

Michael looked at Max. From the blank look on Max’s face, Michael gathered that Max did not pick up on the connection. “I used to have a friend who did that all the time,” Michael said hoping Max would understand his comment. It was evident, however, that Max had no clue why Michael reacted to Hope's comment about cider oil.

"Yeah, Mama won't let me try it. She said I'm not allowed to worry until I'm 16, but that's a long time. And I think I'm old enough to start worrying. I mean, at least then she wouldn't have to do it all by herself," Hope said while she combed her doll's hair. Any thoughts that crossed her mind came out of her mouth. "And she said I can't have a boyfriend - ever. But I don't want one. Boys are icky. This one boy, Jimmy, in my class at school...he always digs up worms at recess. The teacher told him not to, but he does it anyway. And then his hands are all dirty and gross. It's so disgusting. Ewwwwww” Hope continued combing her doll's hair as she spoke. "And he always pulls my friend Alison's pig tails. He's just plain mean."

"You sure talk a lot," Michael said rather bluntly.

Max immediately shot Michael a don't-do-that look.

"Yeah, I know," Hope, giggled. "My Uncle Alex says I'm just like my mama. He says we both are like the energizer bunny. We rabble on and on and on…"

"You mean ramble?" Max asked.

"Yeah, that's the word. Ramble," Hope answered.

"My same friend used to ramble a lot, too," Michael said emphasizing the similarities that Max did not pick up on.

"Gee, Michael, that's nice," Max said sarcastically. "But we're hear to learn about Marianna."

"Your mom's friend who lives far away," Michael began disregarding Max's comment. "What is her name?"

"Oh, that's my Aunt Liz," Hope said.

Max looked at Michael with wide eyes as the reality of the similarities sunk in.

"Finally!" Michael shouted. "Took you long enough!"

Max began shaking his head in disbelief. "It's not possible. The irony here....no, it can't be."

Michael got up and moved toward the door. "We have to go, Hope. We'll see you later, okay?"

"Sure," Hope said.

Max stood slowly and made his way to the door. Just at the doorway, he turned and asked, "Hey, Hope? I saw you change the channels without the remote control. How did you do that?"

Hope suddenly became very uncomfortable. She squirmed around and refused to look Max in the face. "Um...my mama told me not to talk about that." Hope's voice began shaking with fear. "She'll be very mad with me if you tell her you saw me." She finally looked at Max in the face. "Please don't tell," she pleaded.

Max recognized her fear, as did Michael. The two boys were all too familiar with the kind of fear they saw written on Hope's face. "Your secret's safe with us," Max said and smiled. "We'll see you later," he said and turned to leave.

In the hallway, Michael turned to Max and exclaimed. "Don't you see? That's why I've had all the strange feelings about her. Marianna is so much like Maria's it nearly...unbelievable."

"Unbelievable is an understatement," Max said pulling Michael back into the supply closet where they could talk privately. "Michael, how good a look at Marianna did you get when she first came in?" Max hated to even consider the possibility, but he began to wonder just how similar Marianna and Maria really were.

"Well," Michael looked at the ceiling trying to remember. "She definitely reminded me of Maria even then. I mean, she didn't exactly look like her, but she definitely favored her..." Michael's voice trailed off as he realized what Max might be suggesting. The thought that Maria might actually be alive made Michael smile uncontrollably.

Max saw the hope in Michael's face and thought he should put a stop to such consideration right away. He knew how hard Michael took Maria's death, and to get false hope...Well, he couldn't stand to see Michael hurt that way again. Until they knew for sure, until they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, then there could be nothing more than comparisons brought to the table. Nothing more.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say…" Michael began.

"Michael, don't do this to yourself," Max said shaking his head. "She died 6 years ago, Michael," Max said bluntly. He didn't want to stick the knife any deeper into Michael's heart, but he was afraid of Michael to get his hopes up about an idea they both knew was impossible.

"I know," Michael said lowering his head.

"If you pursue this kind of...nonsense...then you're only setting yourself up to be hurt. You're opening old wounds. Just leave it alone," Max pleaded.

"I won't leave it alone. And they're not old wounds," Michael said angry that Max refused to recognize his need to know. "I feel the same pain today...daily. It feels like it just happened yesterday. I can't leave it alone."

Michael had never found resolution. Even in practicing medicine. He rarely lost patients and the good news he delivered to most patients' family members was not even a drop in the bucket. It would never be enough.

"Okay, forget Marianna for just a minute," Max said feeling a strong need to change the subject before he and his best friend started fighting. "We really need to consider the possibility that neither Marianna nor Hope are human."

"Leave it to Max to be the voice of reason," Michael thought. "But he's right."

Michael looked at Max and asked seriously, "How do we find out?"

"Michael, you're the doctor. Need you really ask me?" Max said smiling.

"I'll need blood," Michael said.

The two left the closet with a plan. They finally agreed that if Marianna and Hope were indeed aliens, then that would explain a lot more than they were ready to think about.

"By the way," Michael said as Max started to leave. "I saw Liz. Why didn't you tell me she came with you?"

"What?" Max asked. "Liz and I aren't...you saw her here?" Max's eyes opened wider as each piece of the puzzle landed in place. "Oh my gosh, Michael. Her Aunt Liz....is our Liz."

The two stood silent for a moment. Max stared at the ground and Michael stared at the ceiling. Finally, Max broke the silence. "I think we've all been lied to. How could she do this?"

Michael's pager began beeping. He reached to his hip and glanced at the message. "I've gotta go. Get Isabel and meet me tonight."

....................

Michael stood outside her door. He was excited that Marianna was awake, but he was nervous about finally meeting her. He was afraid that all the vibes he'd gotten from her would prove themselves to be false once he talked to her. He feared that Max was right and that the visions he got in the E.R. were nothing more than his own imagination playing cruel tricks on him. Still he couldn't help but wonder about what he'd seen and heard just minutes before in Hope's room. If Hope had extraordinary powers, then he wondered if perhaps Marianna did, too. And he was concerned that if Marianna had extraordinary powers, then she might be otherworldly.

He fiddled with his fingers. His anxiety was nearly too overwhelming so, finally, he took a deep breath and exhaled. He knocked on the door to alert the patient he was about to enter. He reached for the doorknob and turned the handle.

"Who's there?" Michael heard her call from inside.

Michael pushed the door open and answered, "I'm Dr. Guerin. I'm so glad you're awa..." his voice trailed as his eyes focused Maria's unbandaged face for the first time since she arrived at the hospital.

"I can't believe it took you so long," Maria spoke impatiently. "I can't see a thing," she said annoyed.

Michael stood at the doorway afraid to move. He looked away and blinked a few times before looking back at the girl. He doubted his own eyes, but only for a moment.

When she didn't hear the doctor anymore, Maria spoke, "Well? Aren't you going to say anything?"

"Your face," Michael whispered.

"What?" Maria asked touching for her face. "Is it bad? The nurse said it wasn't bad." Her voice wavered with fear.

"No," Michael answered. "It's beautiful," he whispered.

Maria wasn't sure how to respond to her doctor telling her she was beautiful. She'd been in a car accident, been in and out of surgery and unconscious for days, and she was certain all her makeup had been washed away. And here stood this doctor telling her she was beautiful. "Do I know you?" Maria asked smiling and figuring his comment must be a joke.

Michael moved closer to Maria and sat in the chair next to her bed. He stared at her unable to take her eyes off her face. He knew her. No doubt. The cocky attitude...Alex and Liz...and the face. He began to smile realizing the miracle that sat before him. And Hope. "Oh my gosh...Hope" he thought. "Hope. Of course, she moved on. I told her not to wait for me...and she didn't." Immediately, his smile and his eyes fell as severe sadness overtook every inch of his being. He'd dreamed about just such a miracle. He’d fantasized about Maria's return from the moment he learned of her death. "Her death," Michael thought as his forehead wrinkled and his brows came to a distinct point just above his nose. "She lied," he thought. His sadness quickly became anger. "I cannot believe Liz lied to me! I wonder if she's been lying to Maria, too." Michael shook his head agreeing with his own thoughts. "I bet Liz never even told Maria I came back. Maria has no idea."

He looked at Maria's scared face and instantly his anger returned to sadness. "She never knew...and now it's too late. She moved on without me. She's happy. I felt it," his eyes began to water as he remembered the visions and emotions Maria shared with him in the E.R. "She was so happy when Hope was born. She loves her daughter, her job, her life."

Using the sleeve of his white coat, Michael wiped the only tear he allowed to escape his hazel eyes. When he pulled his arm away from his face, he stared at the sleeve. His eyes trailed up his own arm to his shoulder and down onto his chest to where a stethoscope hung from his neck. "I am a doctor. I a doctor because I believed this woman, this woman sitting plain as day merely inches from me, I believed this woman was dead. My entire career is based on a lie," he thought as he once again became angry. As thoughts crowded his head, Michael became more and more furious. "I worked my tail off in medical school. I spend day and night at this hospital...this hospital where more people come and go unhappy than not. And the general atmosphere around here could send a person to the mad house in a minute. I sleep...that is when I sleep...I sleep with a pager next to my pillow. I worry, I stress, I do all I can, sometimes risking my own exposure, to help save the lives of people I don't even know. And why do I do it? I do it because I never want anyone to feel the way I felt when I lost Maria."

Michael bit his lip to keep from shouting. He wanted to stand and shout with anger, but he also wanted to shout to the world that miracles do happen. While he was infuriated beyond belief, he also felt so much happiness to know she wasn't dead. To know she was alive and well…and happy. He smiled at the idea. Even if he wasn't with her, Michael was glad to know Maria was happy. The irony though, was nearly more than he could bear. When he'd left for Antar, he'd hoped Maria would move on with her life. He’d hoped she would not become obsessed with his memory. Michael figured that the visions he got from her in the E.R. were enough to know she had not spent her life pining away for him. But he had. He’d done the one thing he’d asked Maria not to do. He’d spent his life pining away for her. He'd become obsessed with Maria's memory. In fact, he'd based his entire life on hers.

"I can't believe it," he spoke in shock.

"What?!" Maria said losing her patience. "You're scaring me," she said as she fought tears. "What's happening?"


Michael suddenly realized that Maria was still his patient...and a terrified patient at that. "She doesn't know," he thought. "She doesn't know who her doctor is." He quickly decided that as much as he wanted to wrap his arms around the girl before him....as much as he wanted to take hold of her and never let her leave his side, he was medically responsible for her well being at the moment. He knew that if he told her...if he dropped that kind of news on her at the moment, that she could relapse. She could go into shock or even lose consciousness again. He knew that her condition was still frail and that she needed a recovery period with as little stress as possible. "I'll have to wait," he thought. "I'll tell her when I'm certain she can handle the news...and when I can, too."

He did all he could to gather his senses and spoke. "You're fine. You're going to be just fine." He smiled at the thought. He knew the news was a relief to Maria, but it gave him great comfort, too.

Maria relaxed when she heard her doctor tell her she was going to be fine. The tone he used made her feel comfortable and safe. She could tell from just the very few words he’d said that he cared about her well-being. She unwound enough to speak to him casually. “You know,” Maria said. “It’s kinda funny that your name is Guerin.”

Michael became stiff and afraid to move. “Does she know?” He worried. “She can’t know, yet. It’s not safe for her to learn such news just yet.”

“I used to know a Guerin.” Maria smiled as she reminisced and Michael sighed as he realized Maria did not know his true identity. She continued, “He was…is a good person. I really miss him.”

Michael lowered his head. He felt like a hypocrite. He was angry beyond words at Liz and Alex for lying to him, and now he was doing the same. Though he had not technically said he was anyone other than himself, withholding the truth was the same as lying. Michael wanted to tell Maria. He wanted desperately to tell her. But as her doctor, he knew she wasn’t ready for that kind of news. And as he became honest with himself, he wasn’t sure if he was ready for her reaction. “What if it’s not positive?” he thought. “What if she is glad I’m back, but doesn’t want to be with m? What if she is with someone else?” He glanced at her ring finger and saw that there was no ring. But then, he knew that with injuries like hers, jewelry would have been one of the first things the EMTs removed in preparation for swelling.

“He was really something else,” Maria said laughing. “He used to put Tabasco sauce on everything…I mean everything! His french fries, his eggs, even his ice cream. Yeah, he was really strange sometimes. But he had the biggest heart. He would do anything for you. He might put up a fight about it…in fact, he put up a fight about a lot of things. Most things, actually. He had this sort of tough-guy image to uphold. It was self-proclaimed. No one else really saw him that way.”

Michael laughed to himself and thought, “Just like Maria to be rambling to a perfect stranger.” He was moved by what Maria was saying. He felt like they lucky fly on the wall everyone always wished they could be. Still, he felt like he was invading her private thoughts. Sure, she was sharing them openly, but he was certain she would not be sharing such thoughts if she knew with whom she was sharing them.

“Listen to me,” Maria said shaking her head. “I sound like some lovesick twelve-year-old.”

“Lovesick?” Michael thought. “She’s lovesick?” He smiled and his heart raced at the idea that Maria might still be in love with him.

“I guess I’m finished interrupting you. What were you saying, doc?” Maria asked.

"Oh…um,” Michael gathered his thoughts and cleared his throat to speak with the tone of a doctor rather than the tone of a energized teenager who had just learned the object of his infatuation had mutual feelings. “You suffered optical damage from swelling. The swelling has gone down, but there is still some fluid trying to drain. Now, the optical damage will be corrected with time and you will regain your sight. But you will need to take it easy in the meantime." Michael couldn't help but smile as he spoke. He'd hoped for such good news since this girl had become his patient, even when he thought his attraction might be based on nothing more than a celebrity crush.

"How long?" Maria asked.

"I'm not sure. You could regain sight in as early as a few days or it could be up to three weeks." Michael spoke.

"Three weeks?!" Maria exclaimed.

"Maria, you've experienced extreme trauma to your..." Michael began.

Maria cut him off. "What did you just call me?"

Michael froze. He was speechless. He could not believe the careless mistake he’d just made. He kicked himself and squeezed his fists. Michael was afraid that the time was not right for Maria to know the truth.

"Dr., the patient in room 743 has gone into arrest!" a nurse frantically announced from the doorway.

Michael's mouth moved, but without sound. His eyes stayed focused on Maria’s confused and alarmed face. His plan to wait may be ruined. He didn't know how he should answer her.

"Doctor!" the nurse demanded from the door.

"I have to go," Michael spoke gently taking Maria's hand. "I'll open your charts for visitation," Michael said and ran from the room.

....................

Maria was stunned. Her name was legally changed the day after she signed with her record label. Only people from her past knew her as Maria. She didn't understand how her doctor could possibly know her as Maria. She became afraid. Her biggest worry since she gained celebrity status was that the FBI might one day discover Hope was half alien. Since the doctor did not identify himself as someone she knew from Roswell while growing up, she became concerned for Hope's safety.

Maria heard a nurse enter her room. "Nurse," Maria asked in a frantic. "What does my chart say?"

"Excuse me?" the nurse asked.

"What does my chart say my name is?" Maria demanded.

"Are you having trouble remembering things?" the nurse asked calmly being careful not to alarm the patient. She became concerned that the swelling of Maria's brain might have affected her memory.

"No, I just...please. What does my chart say?" Maria asked again.

The nurse moved to the bed and lifted the clipboard that hung near the foot. She moved her finger down the page and found the patient's name. "It says your name is Marianna." The nurse paused and looked up at Maria. "Oh my gosh," she said slowly. "You're Marianna? I never would have recognized you. You look so different without..."

"Where's my daughter?" Maria interrupted. She feared the worst. And she wondered if the doctor's name had anything to do with why he called her Maria. She worried that if the doctor were indeed FBI, then he might have used the name Guerin to throw off the guard of his victim. Maria could recognize trouble, but Hope would have no idea. Maria feared that Hope, being young, innocent, and naive, might openly talk about things that could get her into trouble. Maria had asked Hope time and time again not to show anyone her special skills and she trusted that her daughter would obey. Still, Maria knew Hope was young and lacked the ability to recognize potential trouble. Hope didn't understand why she wasn't allowed to show people what she could do and Maria knew Hope might be tempted to act out if someone used candy or dolls or other toys to persuade her.

Maria's anxiety grew by the second. She pictured the white room that haunted Max's nightmares for so many nights. She pictured her daughter being lured into black SUVs by men dressed in black suits. She pictured Hope laid out on a table with tubes in her arms and straps on her feet.

"Well?" Maria asked frantically.

The nurse moved her finger further down the paper. Your chart says your daughter, Hope, is in the temporary custody of Alex Whitman.

Maria smiled. "Oh!" she thought. "The doctor probably heard Alex and Hope call me Maria. That's how he knows me by that name. Hope is okay." Maria mentally scolded herself for overreacting. "I'm just an overprotective mother," Maria thought with great relief.

The nurse continued. "She was released about two hours ago and she and Mr. Whitman have checked into one of our family patient rooms on the second floor."

"Thank God," Maria said as she sighed. She had always been able to count on Alex. She more thankful now than ever that her lawyer had forced her to write a living will. She knew she would never regret giving Alex custody of Hope. She'd had a very hard time deciding between Alex and Liz. Still, she had to think about Hope's feelings and she knew Hope would have very little trouble adjusting to life with Alex. Especially since Alex had lived with them from day one.

"Dr. Guerin has opened your visitation. Would you like me to bring Hope to see you?" the nurse asked returning Maria's chart to the bed frame.

"Please," Maria said thankful for Hope's safety.

As the nurse began to leave the room, Maria called, "Nurse? One more thing?"

"Sure," the nurse said.

"Do you have Internet access?" Maria asked.

"We have it at the nurse's station," the nurse replied wondering what the patient's request could possibly be.

Maria smiled with a little embarrassment. She hated to ask for such a favor, but she was anxious to know. "Could you look up the winners list from the Grammy's and..."

The nurse laughed and answered, "Sure. I'll let you know."

..................

Maria lay back on her bed and closed her eyes. She felt as though she’d run a marathon. Her eyes were droopy and her arms and legs felt heavy. She decided to rest for just a moment while waiting for the nurse to bring Hope to her room.

With the aid of the pain medication dripping through her IV, Maria drifted to sleep. Images filled her head. She saw Hope descending the stairs at their apartment. Her daughter was beautiful in her new dress. Hope was smiling and showing Maria the locket Alex had given her. “Look,” she heard Hope say. “It’s a picture of you and me, Mommy!!!” Hope smiled.

Michael returned to Maria’s hospital room after learning the cardiac arrest in room 743 was a false alarm due to the patient’s heart monitor being disconnected when he attempted a trip across his room to the restroom. Michael stood just inside Maria’s door watching her sleep. He wanted to be near her…needed to be near her. He'd found himself being pulled back to her room. Michael sighed as he watched a smile creep across Maria’s face. He moved closer to her and took a seat next to her bed. He leaned back in his chair and simply watched her peaceful face.

Maria’s images of her daughter suddenly changed to back-to-back flashes of moments from her life. She sniffled as her Dalmatian licked away the tears that flowed uncontrollably when her father left. Maria rubbed her sleepy ten-year-old eyes while staying up late waiting for her father to come home as he’d promised her on the telephone the night before. She and Liz fell onto her bed in a fit of giggles when they tried on the uniforms for their first day of work at The Crashdown. Maria struggled to catch her breath when a shot rang out and Liz fell to the floor. She instinctually wrapped her arms around Michael when he kissed her to calm her during one of her outrages. Maria hung her head and, for the first time since her father had left, she felt inadequacy when Michael told her he wanted to be with Isabel because she could give him all he’d ever hoped for. Maria hung her arms out the car window in attempt to feel the winds of change as she stared at her face a license baring the name Marianna. She reached for a pearl-lined barrette and slid it into Hope’s hair while the pair got dressed for the Grammy’s. Maria felt helpless to protect Hope in the backseat of a black limousine as a heavy-duty truck barreled through the stoplight and headed directly for her door.

The images slowed and a painfully bright light blinded her eyes from the left. She experienced an unmistakable emotion she'd become less familiar with in the past few years - utter fear. A terrifying silence hung in the evening air as the headlights came closer and closer. Finally, in desperation, Maria screamed into the silence. "Hope!" She looked to her right and saw Hope’s tiny body sitting next to her in the back seat.

“Mommy?” Maria heard Hope asking not understanding Maria’s fear. Maria lunged her own body over Hope’s and pushed her daughter’s head into the seat cushion.

Michael watched as Maria’s face changed expressions. He wondered what she was dreaming. He wondered if she dreamed of him the way he dreamed of her. Michael shook his head with disappointment at all the time wasted. "We could have been happy together. I know it. Sure, we fought...we fought a lot. But, I loved her. And I know she loved me," he thought. The thought of what could have been struck him intensely. "We would have been married by now." Michael laughed at himself. "Who would have ever thought that? But I would have married. No doubt." Michael smiled fantasizing the reaction Maria would have had when he popped the question. "I would undoubtedly owe Isabel my life for helping me pick out the perfect ring, arrange the perfect evening with dinner and a quiet walk. And then, I'd get down on one knee...and a few years later...well, Hope would have been mine," he imagined. "How could she do this to us? How could she just throw away any chance we...because she didn't know," Michael answered his own question.

Night became day the moment the truck collided with her car. "Mommy, it's fine. I'm okay," Maria heard Hope say. She watched as Hope opened the limo's door and ran across the street.

"Hope! Where are you going?" Maria called.

"To the park, Mommy!" Hope giggled.

Maria looked ahead of Hope and saw a bright green field surrounded by tall pine trees. In the middle of the field, the sun shown grandly on a giant slide. Maria got out of the car and ran behind Hope to the park. Maria and Hope laughed and joked as they made their way up the endless stairway to the top of the slide.

"Will you push me down the slide, Mommy?" Hope asked excitedly.

"Sure," Maria answered her daughter.

Maria helped Hope to get situated and ready to slide.

"Give me a big shove to the bottom, Mommy!" Hope said.

Just as Maria gave Hope a shove, she saw a man standing at the bottom of the slide. Immediately, she recognized the man as Agent Pierce. "No!" Maria screamed and flung her body forward to grab the back of Hope's shirt.

"Mommy, let me go!" Hope cried.

"No!" Maria shouted. "I won't let you hurt her!"

"Mommy, let go of me!" Hope shouted again and again.

Maria's grip on Hope's shirt weakened. "Give me your hand, Hope! Give me your hand!" Maria frantically screamed.

"No, Mommy! Let me go!" Hope cried.

Maria lost her hold on Hope's shirt. Maria cried Hope's name and watched as she slid down the forever-winding slide. The only thing Maria kept of Hope as she fell to her destiny was the locket Hope wore around her neck.

Michael watched Maria squirm in her hospital bed. Her forehead wrinkled and her eyebrows pointed inward. He could tell her dreams were not comforting. He knew that when patients of traumatic experiences slept, they often dreamed in horrifying drama. She looked uncomfortable, almost afraid. Michael loved her still and hated to see her in pain. He looked at her chart only to find that she was already receiving the maximum dosage of pain medicine. He wanted to help her. He wanted to ease her pain. He moved closer and sat next to her on the bed. He stroked her soft hair and mentally begged for her comfort.

Maria frantically made her way back down the steps of the giant slide. She was crying so hard she could barely see her feet as she felt for each step. When she found the bright green grass at the bottom of the steps, she took off running for the end of the slide. She prayed with all her might that she would make it to the bottom before Hope did. With each step Maria took, the end of the slide grew further and further away. The faster she ran and more the distance grew.

When she could run no more, Maria fell to her knees. She buried her face in her hands and cried Hope's name. Her worst nightmare had come true. The FBI had found Hope and had taken her away. Horrible images filled her thoughts as she fought to consider what incredible tests and experiments might be performed on her daughter by the heartless drive for knowledge. In the distance, Maria could see a figure dressed in white approaching her. Maria again placed her face in her hands refusing to look at the man. The person came closer and closer. Maria feared Agent Pierce was returning for her as well. "Bring her back!" Maria screamed still refusing to look at the man. "Bring her back!"

A soothing voice spoke to Maria. "You never lost her." The warm voice brought comfort to Maria and an instant sense of relief spread throughout her body. She knew the voice. It was the voice of the only man she'd ever truly loved. The voice of the only man she could ever love. The voice of the only man she held on to night after night despite his leaving her.

Maria raised her face to look at the man in white. Michael stood before her holding Hope in his arms.

Michael watched Maria tossing and turning in her hospital bed. He wanted desperately to comfort her. "It's gonna be okay," he whispered and moved in to gently kiss her forehead and kiss away her pain.

"Michael?" Maria spoke.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 7:54:55 PM ]
posted on 17-Mar-2002 7:59:47 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

Three days later

"Please, Max," Michael begged his friend as they sat together in the hospital cafeteria.

"I don't know, Michael. I feel kinda weird about this," Max spoke as he sipped his drink.

"Max. I can't...I just need someone to feel her out...see if she still..." Michael hung his head. "For all I know she could be married."

"Michael, you haven’t seen any husband-like men visit her, have you?” Max asked.

“Well, no,” Michael answered. “But I do have other patients. I haven’t monitored her every visitor.”

“I’m sure if she knew that you were back..." Max reasoned.

"I'm afraid," Michael interrupted. After the initial shock wore off, Michael understood why Maria had chosen to leave Roswell and start a new life as a new person. Still, Michael hoped that Maria held him in her heart the way he kept her in his. He knew that Maria would experience severe shock when she learned he was back, and was her doctor. Michael considered her fragile condition and debated whether or not to even tell Maria at all. But in his soul, he knew that wasn't even an alternative. If there was any chance, the slightest chance at all, that Maria could love him again, then he had to act upon it.

"Look, Max. Liz said that Maria had such a hard time before....I just don't want to bring her any unnecessary pain. If you could talk to her. Just find out if she is really..." Michael hung his head again and sighed. "...Really over me, then I won't bother her." Michael's heart stung when he forced out the admission that Maria may not want him in her life. During the time since he'd discovered Marianna was Maria, he'd done a lot of thinking. He dealt with anger...a lot of anger. But ultimately, he understood her decision. He'd decided that if she was happy, truly happy without him, then he would let her remain that way...happy without him. He wanted desperately for Maria to be in his life again, but even more than that, he wanted to see her happy.

"Fine," Max said defeated. He related to Michael's anxiety. He'd been just as anxious when he found Liz, and then just as heartbroken to find out she'd moved on without him. Even after Liz and Jackson broke up, Max settled for friendship with the girl of his dreams just to keep her in his life. Having recently found out that she'd lied to him for years hurt him deeply. Without hesitation, he understood why Liz had complied with Maria's request in telling Michael a false truth. But he had a very difficult time believing Liz could lie to him so easily. He remembered a time when the two vowed to have no secrets.

Max looked at Michael's stress-worn face and saw the desperate hope in his eyes. He couldn't deprive his best friend such an opportunity. "What time is she checking out?" Max asked.

"Four o'clock," Michael answered unable to hide his excitement.

.........................................

"How much longer, Mama?" Hope asked as she helped her mother slide into the sandals Alex and Liz had picked up from her apartment.

"Only two hours to go," Maria answered from the wheelchair she'd been placed in for her hospital release. She smiled at her 7-year-old daughter grateful to be able to see her again. Maria focused on her bouncing blonde pigtails and thanked God that her blindness had been temporary. Since her sight had returned the night before, Maria had spent hours looked out her window at anything and everything. When morning arrived and Hope joined her in her room, Maria realized the many miracles with which she'd been blessed. "I am so lucky to have you," Maria said as she held her foot out for Hope to buckle the straps on the shoes.

"Yep, I know," Hope answered.

Maria laughed at her daughter's innocence. She looked at Alex and asked, "Did you teach her this arrogance?"

"No ma'am," Alex answered and pointed behind his back to Liz who stood next to him.

"I don't believe that for a second," Maria joked.

When Hope finished with Maria's shoes, she moved to sit in her mother's lap. She looked slyly at Alex and whispered, "Can we show her now?"

"Hope!" Liz spoke.

"What's going on?" Maria smiled realizing that her friends likely got her a going-home gift.

"Okay, okay," Alex said reaching for the shoulder bag they'd used to bring Maria some clothes. "We picked up a few things for you in the gift shop."

Hope jumped from her mother's lap and dashed across the room to join Alex and Liz. She giggled uncontrollably as Alex reached into the bag.

"First," Alex spoke. "Take her this," he said handing Hope a small item.

Hope wrapped her tiny hands around the item and laughed as she skipped over to her mother. "Here!" she shouted as she opened her hands and tossed a plastic fishing worm at Maria.

"Aaah!" Maria shouted and backed away from the flying worm. When it landed in her lap, she picked up the sparkly blue work between her thumb and forefinger and dangled it in the air. "What is this?" she asked confused.

"Wait, there's more,” Alex said smiling. "We're just getting warmed up."

Liz shook her head. The jokes were fun, but she knew that as soon as Alex gave her the cue and exited with Hope, that she had a world of trouble to lie on her friend. The secret was out. Everyone knew except Maria. Since Max confronted her with the truth, she'd worried about how to tell Maria. Though she had daily reminded herself that she was simply honoring her best friend's request, Liz felt continuous guilt. She felt guilty for lying to Michael, Isabel and Max.... and she felt guilt when she looked at Hope. But it was time. The day she dreaded for years had finally arrived.

Once again, Hope giggled as she crossed the room to deliver the next surprise for Maria. She tossed a plastic tree frog at her mom.

Maria shook her had and placed the frog onto Hope's shoulder. "Your new pet," she laughed.

"And we have one more," Alex said.

Maria's eyes grew wide. "I don't think I want anything else you might have in that bag," she joked.

Hope rubbed her hands together with excitement. "Yes, you do Mama!" she announced as she again joined Alex and his bag of goodies.

Maria warned, "If any more creepy crawlies come my way...” She drew a deep breath and held it as Hope presented her next surprise.

Hope smiled ear-to-ear. "We wanted to wait until you could see it," she spoke.

"Breath," Alex reminded Maria.

"Oh my gosh!" Maria screamed as she focused on the gold statue Hope held. "I won? I won!"

"Yep," Alex said. "For Best Album and..." he said as he reached into the bag again. He pulled out a second Grammy and finished, "...and for Best Female Performer."

"Aaahhhh!!" Maria screamed. "I can't believe it!" She smiled and reached out her arms asking Hope and Alex to bring her the awards. "Dang," she said aggravated. "And I missed the after-party!"

"There's always next year," Alex said. "Or we can throw you a party when you're all better."

"Yeah," Maria said as her mind began working. "We can invite everyone. It'll be a big celeb bash!" she said smiling. "And you can bring Belle. Maybe I'll finally get to meet her," Maria said.

Alex's smile dropped. He thought about how angry Isabel had been when she found out he'd been lying to her about Maria. He remembered the door that slammed in his face when he'd gone to her apartment to try to explain. Isabel made it very clear to Alex that she wanted nothing to do with someone who could lie so boldly to her face. He knew Isabel would have a lot to deal with when she finally learned the truth, but he'd really hoped that she would understand why he'd lied. He tried to remind her that there was a time when she'd kept a secret from him. Big mistake. That's when he got the door in the face.

"Um," Alex began. He looked at Liz and could tell she, too, was thinking it was time. "Hope, why don't we take your mom's bag to the car for her?"

When Hope and Alex were gone, Liz sat down across from Maria. She wasn't sure where to begin. She'd rehearsed the moment for days, but her mind was completely blank. She opened her mouth to speak, but dropped her head and stared at her lap. She looked back up at Maria and raised her eye brows in preparation to begin a very serious talk, but bit her lip and moved her eyes to the window.

Maria saw Liz's discomfort. Since childhood, she'd been able to tell when her best friend was holding something back. To lighten the tense mood Liz had apparently worked herself into, Maria joked. "What is it you're not telling me? They're fake, right?" She lifted one of the Grammy's and looked on the bottom. "Did you forget to pull off the 'Made in China' sticker?"

Liz grinned. Maria had always been able to detect Liz's need for a laugh. She wished the moment could be as simple as when they were children. "Maria," she began. "There's something you really need to know." She reached out and took one of Maria's hands.

Liz's actions scared Maria. She feared there was something more to her diagnoses. Immediately her mind began diving into the worst possible scenario. She wondered if there was something more to her diagnosis that the doctor didn't share. She thought that perhaps she was being released from the hospital because there was nothing more the docs could do.

Liz recognized the fear in Maria's eyes and quickly decided she must tell her friend immediately before her friend's overactive imagination ran away with her. "I did it for you. It was what you wanted. But, now I wonder, if I should have told you anyway." Liz's eyes began to water as she spoke. "You and Hope deserved to know. Alex and I thought about telling you a hundred times. But the time was never right." Liz looked down at her feet. Her voice changed and she spoke very seriously as she prepared to break the news to Maria. "There are no excuses. Maria," Liz looked into her friend's terrified eyes. "Maria,"

Liz was interrupted by a knock on the door. She glanced at the closed door and back at Maria. The words were on the tip of her tongue. Liz was torn between the interruption and the need to tell Maria the truth.

"It's okay, Liz" Maria answered Liz's unspoken question. "It's probably just the nurse." She reached out her hand and touched Liz's shoulder. "We can finish when she's done."

Liz looked down and shook her head in agreement. She wiped her tears, stood and walked to the door. When she opened the door, Maria was presented with yet another shocking surprise.

"Hi," Max spoke.

Max and Liz watched as Maria's neck went limp and her head fell back against her wheelchair.

...............................

After Max moved Maria's limp body from the wheelchair to the bed, he stood uncomfortably looking around. Finally, he said to Liz, "I'd like to speak to Maria alone when she wakes up."

The cold shoulder Liz felt she was getting from Max hurt her deeply. She silently nodded and walked toward the door.

Max watched Liz walk away. His heart was being pulled in opposite directions. On one hand, he was angry at Liz for lying to him about something so important. On the other hand, he loved her and wanted to believe that if she felt strong enough about her decision to act out of character, then he should respect her decision and try his best to understand. Regardless, a voice rung loudly in his ears reminding him that a girl he trusted with his life had lied to him. Without doubt, he knew he would one day move past the emotions that currently clouded his brain. But at the time, he couldn't see when that day would arrive.

Liz stopped in the doorway and turned to face Max. She stared into his brown eyes for a brief moment. "Max," she wanted to talk to him, but she was afraid of how he might react. She feared that using the wrong words may motivate Max to say something they would both regret. So, she shared the one emotion that filled her heart. "I'm sorry."

When Max did not respond, Liz turned back around and left the room.

Max moved closer to Maria and sat on the edge of her bed. While waiting for her to awake, he rehearsed. "Hi, Maria. Long time no see." Max laughed at himself and shook his head. "Maria, how's it been going?" He frowned, "Too casual. Okay, um...We're baa-ack," he said sounding like the little girl from Poltergeists. He took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Maria, you're never gonna believe this, but..."

"You're right," Maria interrupted in a groggy voice.

Max whirled around to look at Maria.

"Am I dreaming?" Maria asked as she pulled herself into a sitting position on the bed. Her questioning face turned toward the bedside table where her two Grammys rested. She pleaded, "Please tell me this is not a dream."

Max smiled and answered, "It's not a dream." He moved his eyes to her awards. "Congratulations."

"Thanks," Maria answered slowly. "If this is not a dream...wait," Maria rolled her eyes. "I have brain damage, right?"

Max shook his head.

"Okay," Maria replied. "I'm schizophrenic?"

Max laughed and shook his head again.

"It's the drugs," Maria said looking for her IV that had been removed earlier that morning. "No, the drugs my parents did in the 70's have finally come back to haunt me!"

Max laughed again and reached out to touch Maria's arm to reassure her he was very real. "Maria," he began slowly hoping she would not faint again. "We came back."

"We?" Maria asked looking intently at Max.

Max nodded. He examined her face looking for any positive reaction to share later with Michael.

"So," Maria spoke taking in the stunning news Max brought her. "You, Isabel, Tess, and...Michael?

Max saw hope in Maria's face. He thought Maria looked a tiny bit hopeful that Michael had returned as well.

"Not all of us," Max said. Before he could tell Maria that Tess was the only one to remain on Antar, he observed what Michael would be thrilled to see. Maria's face immediately drooped into a frown. "Tess didn't come back with us," Max finished and watched as Maria's scowled face recovered.

"Oh....well, when? How? Where is everybody?" Maria asked excitedly.

Max took a deep breath and began. “When? We came back about five years ago…”

“Five years ago?!” Maria broke in.

“Now, before you get mad,” Max spoke declining Maria the opportunity to get too upset early in the conversation. He had plenty more to share. “Don’t forget that you were the one who told Liz not tell you if we ever came back.

Maria examined Max’s face searching for answers. “How did you know that?”

“She told us,” Max answered. “We just found out about you three days ago.”

“How much did she tell you?” Maria asked still observing every movement of his face. She wondered just how much Liz told him. She wondered if Liz told Max about Hope.

Max lowered his eyebrows. Maria’s paranoia concerned him.

The changed expression on Max’s face led Maria to believe he must surely know everything. “Figures,” she said nodding her head. “So, I guess you’re the reason she and Jackson broke up.” Maria looked at Max waiting for him to confirm her suspicions.

“Sorta,” Max answered slowly.

“Good riddens,” Maria smiled. “So you and Liz are…”

“Friends,” Max whispered hating the word.

Maria could not believe her ears. “Why?” she asked shocked.

Max shook his head. “It’s not for lack of trying.” He sighed. “I guess the timing’s just been off.”

“For five years?” Maria asked sarcastically doubting there was any truth to Max’s answer.

“Sometimes,” Max said turning his head to look out the hospital window. “Sometimes, I can feel guilt when I touch her.”

Maria saw torment in Max’s face and heard anguish in his words. She asked, “What does Liz have to feel guilty about?”

Max dropped his face and smiled. Through the hurt, he looked at Maria and answered, “You, mostly.”

Maria pulled back and grimaced. She searched Max’s eyes for an explanation. She studied the emotions that played across his face. Suddenly she knew. “She won’t have you if I can’t have…” Maria stopped short. She realized Max’s sympathetic gaze could mean only one thing. She smiled knowingly and said, “He’s with Isabel, isn’t he?” Though she’d posed the thought as a question, Maria already knew the answer in her heart. She laughed sardonically. “And that’s what you’re here to tell me. You’re here to tell me this so there can be some kind of closure, so there can be some kind of resolution. Then you and Liz can move forward and…”

“No,” Max interrupting demanding Maria halt her presumptions. “Isabel and Michael are not together.”

She stared at Max for a moment and then dropped her face and closed her eyes. Her breath caught in her chest and her heart raced. Fear seized her body, but she needed to know. She forced air into her lungs and asked, “Is he…”

“He wants to see you,” Max spoke plainly. “But he’s afraid that you still want…nothing to do with him.”

Maria’s eyes grew wide with amazement. “He’s afraid?” she asked. Maria looked away and answered her own question. “He’s afraid.” Maria reached for her purse that sat on the bedside table. She retrieved a small brown bottle and quickly brought it to her nose. She breathed deeply again and again.

“Cypress oil?” Max smiled knowingly.

Maria nodded her head and continued to breathe deeply.

“Yeah, Hope said…” Max started to speak remembering the conversation he and Michael had with Hope a few days earlier.

“Hope?” Maria nearly shouted. “You’ve met Hope?”

“Yeah,” Max answered confused by the stunned look on Maria’s face.

“Ohhhhhh,” Maria moaned and brought her hand to her head. “Does Michael know?”

“Know what?” Max asked.

Maria quickly lifted her eyes to meet Max’s. She studied them for a moment before concluding that Liz and Alex had not told the aliens that Hope belonged to Michael. “Nothing,” Maria answered and looked away. She knew the response would only bring about more questions, but she was not thinking clearly at the moment and was not able to come up with a better answer on such short notice.

“Maria?” Max asked with skepticism.

“Ohhhhhh,” Maria moaned again and lifted her head to stare at the ceiling. “My whole world is caving in around me,” she laughed apprehensively still staring at the ceiling.

Max watched as Maria fidgeted and squirmed. He thought about the conversation with Hope. He remembered the way she changed television channels without the remote control. He considered all the tales of her and Mom and of her and Uncle Alex…there were not tales of her and Dad. Max had assumed that Dad was simply not someone Maria had married, but the anxiety that had engulfed Maria had Max thinking differently.

“Maria,” Max spoke slowly. “How old is Hope?”

Maria looked into Max’s eyes and answered, “She’s seven, Max.” Maria knew that Max suspected the truth. She accepted her defeat and continued, “She’s only asked a few times, but each time I said I didn’t know where her father was. And it was the truth. I knew he was gone, but I didn’t know exactly where.” Maria stopped to catch her breath and regain control thoughts before going on. “All this time. He’s missed so much.” Maria shook her head sadly. “I wish he could have seen her singing at kindergarten graduation…her first steps…her birth…”

“He saw that….he saw her being born,” Max said hoping to comfort Maria. “He got flashes from you when…”

Maria wrinkled her brow. “When?” She asked confused. “Has he been here?” She smiled at the idea that Michael had visited her in the hospital.

Max knew it was time to do what he’d come to do. “He saved your life, Maria.”

Her smiled dropped as all the pieces came together and she knew. “Dr. Guerin.”

Max nodded his head to confirm her assumption.

“Ma’am?” a nurse said as she pushed on the door. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had a visitor. The paperwork is ready for you to sign. Are you ready to go home?” the nurse asked smiling as she wheeled Maria’s chair to the bedside.

Maria’s eyes never left Max’s. “I’m ready to go home,” she answered. She looked at the smiling nurse. “I can walk,” she stated.

“If you’re rolled in, you’re rolled out,” the nurse replied pointing to the seat of the wheelchair.

Maria moved into the chair. Maria knew she had no right to be angry at Michael, but she couldn’t help but think about the conversation she’d had with him as her doctor. She felt that he’d taken advantage of her temporary blindness by not revealing himself to her at that time. Still, Max had said Michael was afraid of her rejecting him. Maria assumed he was just as afraid then.

The nurse rolled her to the door. “Wait,” Maria spoke. She turned around in the chair and looked at Max. “Let me tell him about Hope.”

.....................

Before Maria ascended the stairs to her bedroom, she stood for a moment and looked around her apartment. She pondered how different home suddenly felt. Just a few days ago she was the renowned Marianna sharing a home with her beautiful daughter and her manager, Alex who was, in truth, one of her closest friends. “Who would have though that only a few days later, I would be standing in such a familiar environment and feel like a completely different person?” Maria silently mused. So much had happened and changed in the past few days that caused Maria to find it difficult to jump right back into her daily life. Sometimes, she thought she must surely be dreaming…or having a nightmare. The world she’d worked so hard to build was caving in on top of her…with no mercy in sight. She felt helpless - again.

“And I thought I knew what pain was about,” Maria chuckled at the irony.

It had been eight long years since Maria had felt true emotional distress…since Michael left her and she took on a new persona as Marianna. She’d forgotten how bad the pain could hurt. And she was happy with being ignorant to pain as Marianna. True, she hurt desperately when the aliens left to pursue their alleged destiny, but that was part of Maria’s life…a life that no longer existed in Marianna’s world. “Marianna,” Maria thought. “How long did I even think I could keep up this act? Hiding behind a name? Denying myself of reality? I held so much hope that it could last forever.”

She slouched on the taupe cushions of her couch and rested her throbbing head. She could not believe how badly fate had treated her in the past days. She prayed for the medication to numb her senses. Frustrated she slammed her hand against the arm of the couch only to have her senses reawakened with pain. She closed her eyelids and soon felt tears begin to sting her weary eyes. Before she had a moment to fight the dreaded reaction, she broke out in a much-needed cry. The weeping engulfed her completely, but each tear that escaped her eyes brought her that much closer to relief. Her whole body was shaking uncontrollably with sobs. She didn’t fight. Instead, she allowed the tears to flow freely down her face, occasionally wiping them from her cheeks with the sleeve of her blouse. The full-fledged uninhibited cry had been hiding in her heart for eight long years. Maria decided the time could not be more perfect to let it escape.

She cried for lost times that could never be regained or relived. She cried because no matter how strong a grip she held to the idea of hope, the pain she felt had an even stronger grip on her soul. She cried for her daughter. She cried because Hope had never been given the father she wanted, the father she needed, a father that was literally within reach. She cried for Michael because he had, once again, been deprived of the family he so rightfully deserved. But mainly she cried for everyone. For every single one of the lives of her friends that were based on the lie she fabricated. The lives were in disarray because she considered herself too weak to deal with real life.

Maria was thankful that Liz and Alex had taken Hope out for ice cream. They knew Maria would need some time alone to think. Maria didn’t want Hope to see her mother in such a state. There would be too many questions that Maria didn’t yet know how best to answer. She needed to be sure the answers wouldn’t hurt Hope. Maria deemed Hope as the most precious thing in her life…and she would do anything to protect her, emotionally and physically. Even if it meant giving up her own happiness and her life as Marianna.

“Oh M’ija!! What’s wrong? Porque esa carra triste?” Maria looked up to see Lupe standing right beside the couch. Maria hugged Lupe tightly.

“Oh Lupe!! I can’t take this anymore. It’s just too much!!!” Maria choked out between her tears.

Lupe rubbed Maria’s back. She had never seen Marianna so fragile, so vulnerable. She had always been a strong, independent, dominant figure. Lupe knew Maria had always struggled and fought against something deep inside her soul…something that weighted her down and tried and tried to keep her from reaching the happiness she hoped to achieve, but she’d never known Marianna to expose that sorrowful side of her being.

Lupe continued to caress Maria’s back and shoulders. “You know M’ija, sometimes you just have to let it out. I remember when I was a little girl, my papa used to tell me that tears, if you would let them, could purify your spirit…wash away the bad and make room for the good. And I never doubted my papa. He was a very wise man and his words always made me feel better. He said we need tears as much as we need laughter. When all your tears have come to an end and when all your laughter has ceased, you will stop living M’ija. Tears and laughter are life. So don’t fight your tears, welcome them. They’ll make room for you to laugh again soon.” Lupe spoke softly hoping to encourage Maria to further explore the emotions stemming from her core.

“I just…I just wish that things were different, Lupe,” Maria spoke leaning into Lupe’s open arms. “I wish that the people I love didn’t have to be caught up in the web of lies.”

Lupe looked into Maria’s red eyes hoping they would reveal some truth about Maria’s undeniable pain.

Maria continued to speak. “There seems to be no escape,” Maria mumbled through her sobs.

“What’s stopping you, Marianna? What’s stopping you from allowing happiness back in your life? We all are our own worst enemies when it comes to our happiness. Mientras que exista vida, existe la esperanza. La esperanza es la única cosa que nadie te podrá quitar.” Lupe spoke wanting to help Marianna find her way back.

Maria raised an eyebrow. “What does that mean?”

“As long as there is life, there is hope. Hope is the one thing that no one can ever take from you.” Lupe pulled away and moved to sit next to Maria on the couch. She offered one last piece of advice. “It’s time you started chasing hope as Maria, instead of Marianna.” Lupe kissed Maria’s forehead and stood to make her way back to the welcome-home dinner that was cooking in the kitchen. “I’m glad you’re back. The house was empty without you. If you need anything, I’ll be in the kitchen.”

Maria smiled. “Perhaps Lupe is right,” she thought. “I need to pick up and move on with my life. Perhaps there is hope for me, yet...hope for Maria.” She glanced at the Grammys that still sat in the doorway to the apartment where she’d left them when she arrived minutes earlier. “And there is plenty of hope for Marianna,” she thought. “She does, after all, have the best album of the year!”

The phone rang and Maria announced, “I’ll pick it up, Lupe.”

She reached across to the end table and picked up the receiver. “Oh, please don’t be Michael,” she thought. “I am just not ready to confront him.” She considered hanging up the phone just in case. “Snap out of it, Maria,” she argued with herself. “It’s probably just Larry from the production office wondering where you can start singing again.” Maria shook her head…. Larry had always had the worse possible timing.

“Hello?” Maria pulled the phone from her ear and looked at the phone. She returned it to her ear. “Hello?” she said louder.

She could hear background noise. Lots of background noise. It sounded like the caller must be in crowded mall. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

When no one answered, Maria assumed a fan must be calling. “Listen, if this is some kind of prank, just know that….” Before she could finish her sentence, Maria heard a click. The person on the other end hung up.

.......................

No, Sir," Lupe argued. "Marianna has asked to be left alone today."

Michael lifted his hand and caught the door that Lupe attempted to close. "Just ask her if she'll see me," he pleaded.

Lupe shook her head. "The lady has instructed me to turn away all visitors."

"Please," Michael asked again. "I think if she knows I am here..."

These were the times that Lupe hated her job more than ever. Obsessed fans always trying to get through. “Sir, she doesn’t want to see anybody…”

Michael slammed his hand against the door “She…she doesn’t want to see anyone? No! No, no, no!!! She already turned away from me once, and I’ll be damned if she does it again.”

Michael saw the look in Lupe’s face and realized she was about to close the door any second. “Who could blame her?” Michael thought. It seemed that his juvenile nature always surfaced whenever he was near Maria.
He calmed his voice and pleaded with Lupe. “Listen, I didn’t mean to sound like an ogre, I just want…I need to talk to her. I won’t leave away unless…”

“Listen sir, Marianna can’t attend you right now and if you don’t leave I’m going to be forced to call…”

"It's okay, Lupe," Maria interrupted from behind.

"I'm sorry, Marianna. He's very persistent," Lupe apologized for the disruption.

"I was awake anyway. It's okay," Maria said moving toward the door. "Can you make sure that Dr. Guerin and I speak privately?" Maria asked knowing that Lupe would understand what she meant.

"I'll go check on Hope," Lupe acknowledged her understanding as she excused herself to go upstairs.

"Thanks," Maria said. She turned her face to look at her visitor. She figured that eventually he would show up...or call...or maybe stop by in a dream. Apparently he'd perfected Max's talent for healing, so she assumed he'd also perfected Isabel's. She'd had a few days to prepare for the moment, but all the lines she'd rehearsed left her memory. "Dr. Guerin," she spoke not knowing what else to say.

"Can I come in?" Michael asked.

Maria stood back and extended her arm to welcome him into her living room. "Some nerve," she thought. "You've got some nerve, Mr. You didn't ask if you could violate my emotions while I was unable to see you. Nope. Instead, you opted against revealing your true identity. So why ask now? If you want something, you just take it," Maria thought. She was still holding a grudge at Michael for not telling her right away who he truly was.

"Thanks," Michael whispered walking into the apartment. He took a seat on the couch.

Maria chuckled to herself. "Go ahead, make yourself at home," she thought. As angry as she was, when Maria looked at Michael for the first time in eight years, she couldn't help but remember all the reasons she had fallen in love with him. He looked as handsome as she remembered, but wiser somehow. Tiny lines hugged his hazel eyes and his unruly hair was parted and combed. He walked with more confidence than he had so many years ago, but she still recognized a degree of uncertainty in his face.

Maria moved to the recliner positioned next to the couch and looked at Michael. She'd dreamed of seeing him again. But she'd planned for their meeting to be much more passionate and romantic. The tension in the air choked Maria and she struggled to speak.

Finally, Michael broke the silence.

“You look nice,” he complimented. Maria did not answer. He shifted uncomfortably and looked everywhere but at Maria. He fidgeted and even started playing with the cushion just to give his hands something to do. “Man, we are not starting out on the right foot,” he thought.

Eventually, he brought himself to look at her. And time stopped. For a moment, he forgot about all that had happened. She was still beautiful, she was a still a vibrator, and she still held so much emotion in her eyes. “Her eyes,” he thought as he allowed himself to be captivated by her stunning eyes. In the hospital, her eyes had been swollen shut and bruised. He had not truly been able to see eyes, but now he saw them clearly. They revealed unmistakable pain. So much vulnerability, but just as much anger. “Anger!” he thought as he came back to his senses.

He took the initiative to break the silence again. "I know you must be angry."

"Ya dang right!" Maria thought to herself. She decided to let him finish before interrupting.

“And…and Maria I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I’m really sorry for not telling you that I was your doctor. I know a simple apology doesn’t cut it, but…” Michael stopped while he searched for the right words. “Listen, I… when you first came in…you were so fragile and so weak, I didn’t even know it was you. But I felt something, Maria. Something only you could have awoken in me.” He paused before going on. “I never told you before, but in when we were in high school, you gave me these vibes. Do you remember the vibes?”

Maria still did not answer.

“Well, anyway,” Michael continued. “Later on, when I knew that Marianna was Maria--you--I understood where the vibes where coming from. The first emotion I felt was joy. And you know why, Maria? Because it was you. You had been gone for so long, and I…I had been missing hope for so long. And then after all that darkness, I could finally see sunshine again. I could see you, and suddenly I knew that everything would be all right…because you were alive. Because it meant there was hope in my life again.”

Maria sat quietly listening.

Michael knew her silence meant she was still angry. "Max was really upset, too. He's still not over it," Michael spoke trying to console Maria. He wanted to let her know that she was not the only one who had been lied to by Liz and Alex.

"Max?" Maria thought. "Why would Max get that upset over Michael's mistake?"

Michael continued. "We really need to be able to forgive and forget...move past this and get on with our lives...if that's possible. Isabel is fuming with Alex. And pretty much everybody's angry with Liz right now and..."

Maria couldn't stand it any longer. It sounded like Michael was trying to pass the buck and refuse to take responsibility for his own actions. "Liz?" she asked. "Why would I be angry at Liz?"

"Well," Michael began confused. "Because," he stumbled. "Well, she lied to everyone. She told us you died, Maria."

"Michael, I told her to!" Maria defended her friend.

"What?" Michael shouted. "You told her.."

"Yes!" Maria broke in. "I told her and Alex," her head began to ache from the sheer stress that had suddenly attacked. Maria looked down and focused on remaining calm. "I asked Liz and Alex that if any of you ever came back to tell you that I had...died. I wanted to start over...be a new person. A new person who didn't have to worry about people leaving her." Maria stopped and looked into Michael's eyes. "It took me a really long time, Michael, a really long time..."

"Liz did say that," Michael said. His initial anger began to subside as he focused on the possibility of him and Maria being together again. He decided he couldn't let another opportunity pass him by. He decided there was no time to waste. He needed to let Maria know how he felt all those years ago...and how he still felt. He knew both of them would one day be able to move past the anger and lies, but he needed to try his best to get her back in his life right now...before anymore precious minutes could pass them by. "But you… it took me a really long time, too....when I thought you had died." He murmured.

"I never expected," Maria began. "I never thought you would come back." Maria looked at Michael and felt sorry for her decision.

"I know," Michael said. "To be honest, I didn't think I'd be coming back either." He smiled at Maria. "I hoped. I lived each day on Antar hoping I would have the chance to come back....to you. And then when I finally did," Michael looked down. "You were gone."

"Michael, I..." Maria said as tears welled up in her eyes. She didn't want to feel guilty about her decision, but each word from Michael's mouth made her wish she'd never let him go so easily.

"I wanted to be a new person, too," Michael said not allowing Maria to disturb his train of thought. He needed to tell her. "So, I left Roswell. I graduated from UCLA." Michael laughed with disbelief. "I was cum laude." He raised his right hand to verify the truth of his next statement. "No magic. I swear." He dropped his smile and reached for Maria's hand. "I wanted to make sure that no one ever had to suffer the kind of loss I did when you..."

Through blurry eyes, Maria looked at the hand that Michael held. She shook her head and breathed heavily. "I had no idea," she said. "Max told me that you and Isabel never..."

"No," Michael stopped her. "Isabel's a great person, but...she could never..." Michael lifted Maria's face and spoke firmly to reinforce his feelings for her. "She could never be you."

Maria dropped her face onto Michael's shoulder. He smelled exactly the same and her face still fit nicely above his collar bone. She felt his arm encircle her and his hand rest against the back of her head. "How could he forgive me so easily?" she thought.

"Because I never stopped loving you," Michael answered Maria's thoughts.

Maria pulled away in astonishment and stared at Michael questioningly with her brow wrinkled. She was certain she had not spoken her thoughts out loud.

Michael nodded his head to one side and presented a crooked smile. "I learned a couple of new tricks," he explained. He took Maria's hand again and spoke plainly. "I've thought about this since I found out...Maria, I want us to be together. I've missed you.” Michael smile worked to convince Maria. “Maria. I want you in my life again. I know this is a lot to ask after all that has.... Heck, even I am surprised by what I’m about to ask. Especially considering that, after eight years, we hardly know each other. But my heart knows and my conscience concedes," Michael spoke softly and sincerely. "Let’s just forget all this, Maria,” he pleaded. Years of dreaming were finally coming true; he was standing in front of the women he loved, offering her a future. And this time, he wasn’t afraid.

“I know that I made a lot of mistake all those years ago, but believe me when I say that I’ve paid a thousand times the price of an utterly pseudo happiness away from your side,” Michael spoke honestly as he placed his heart on the line. He figured he had very little to risk. As it was, he was alone. If Maria rejected him, he could be no worse off. But he had to make an honest effort to win her back. He breathed heavily and anxiously waited for Maria's reply.

When she didn't answer, he went one. “I lost you once before, Maria, and I just can't let that happen again. Let’s forget all of this. Maria, I want to be with you again. And this time, there shall be no restrictions. We could finally love each other without obstacles...and make a family.”

Maria lifted her head to be sure the person speaking was still Michael. “A family?” she asked.

Michael chuckled. “Yes. A family, Maria. I know you have a daughter...I met her already in the hospital. She's a chip off of the old block." Michael lowered his smile and looked very seriously at Maria. "I want us to be a family. You, Me, and Hope."

Maria looked at Michael with astonishment. She was at a loss of words.

Michael realized Maria must surely need to moment to think while the proposition he presented sunk in. When he felt she'd had long enough, or rather when he couldn't wait any longer, he reiterated his statement. "I want to have a family, Maria."

Maria was so happy, she didn't consider the consequences of what she was about to tell Michael. “But you do, Michael,” Maria choked between tears. "You already have a family," she smiled naively. “Hope.” Maria sighed, “Hope is your daughter”

Michael's smile faded and he dropped Maria's hand. Slowly his brow became wrinkled and his mouth opened out of incredulity as he attempted to process the suggestion Maria had presented. He tried to speak, but a million questions crowded his mind, each demanding to be the first. Skepticism moved in and took over. “How is that even possible?” Michael asked refusing to believe Maria.

Maria hadn’t expected that kind of reaction. She assumed Michael would be overjoyed with the news that he already had the family he so desperately wanted. “She’s seven, Michael. Hope was born eight months after you left.”

Michael stood up and walked toward the kitchen. He was overwhelmed by the reality of what Maria suggested. He reached the kitchen entrance way and turned back around and walked into the living room. He walked to the base of the stairway and back to toward the kitchen. He ran his hands through his hair and looked at the ceiling as he continued to walk back and forth.

Michael’s behavior worried Maria. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m freaking out,” Michael answered continuing to pace.

“You?” Maria asked sarcastically.

Michael stopped pacing and looked at Maria. He could not believe her audacity. “First I find out you’re alive and now you tell me I have a daughter…Gosh, Maria! How do you expect me to react? Even if you didn’t want me anymore, you should have at least allowed me to know my own daughter.”

He looked at a framed picture on the coffee table of Maria, Hope and Alex opening Christmas presents. “Look at all I’ve missed!” He shouted and picked up the photo. “That should be me,” he said pointing to Alex.

Maria was hurt. She did want Michael back. She’d wanted him back since he left, but she still needed to defend Alex’s presence in her life. If Alex had not been there, she doubted she could have made it through Michael leaving. “Alex has really been there for me.”

“Well, that’s great, Maria, but you should have given me the chance to be that person! I could have been the one who was there for you…and Hope,” Michael said countering the pain Maria made clear she felt. He spoke honestly and expected Maria to understand he was hurting just as much as she was.

“I needed stability, Michael. You couldn’t give me that,” Maria blurted. The conversation was not going at all as she had planned. She never expected Michael to become angry. She expected him to be elated. Maria had never been the kind of person to lay down and take his crap from anybody. She certainly was not about to begin that day. She didn’t want to hurt Michael, but she expected him to understand why she made the decision she did.

“You never gave me a shot,” Michael argued. Each word from Maria’s mouth clarified her feelings for him. Michael assumed there were no feelings anymore. He realized too much time had passed for them to reconcile, but he was not about to give up an opportunity to know his daughter.

“You had your shot…and you chose to leave,” Maria jabbed.

“I had responsibilities, Maria,” Michael punched back.

“You had responsibilities here, too,” Maria said referring to Hope.

“How could I have known?!” he shouted with disbelief at Maria’s lack of understanding.

“I didn’t know that you were back Michael!!!! How was I to tell you about your daughter if I didn’t know that you were back???” Maria debated.

“But you made that decision, Maria. You knew perfectly well that there was still a chance we might be back. And what did you do? You decided to fake your own death, Maria. Not caring about the hearts you might destroy. Not caring that your lies would...kill me. For so long I felt dead, Maria. Dead. Do you have any idea what it's like to feel that way?" Michael argued.

“Michael, if one of us has felt dead before, it has been me." Maria spoke lowering her eyelids and glaring at Michael. "Don’t presume to tell me that I don’t know what feeling dead is about. Let me refresh your memory and remind you that you left first, Michael.” Maria was nearly screaming. Talking to Michael caused her to quickly transition from a state of calm to a mode of near-hyperventalation in a matter of seconds. “Maria died when you walked out eight years ago. I asked Liz to tell you I had died before I knew Hope was on the way,” Maria explained again.

“Doesn’t matter, Maria. When you learned about Hope, you should have revoked your decision. How could you make a decision like that to keep me out of my own daughter’s life? Who gave you the right? She is as much mine as she is yours,” Michael fought to make his intentions clear. He intended to have Hope in his life.

“No, she’s not!” Maria shouted. “She doesn’t know you! She doesn’t love you!” Maria regretted saying the words before they even came out of her mouth. She didn’t honestly mean them, but she wanted to hurt Michael the way he was hurting her. “She’s my daughter. I’ve raised her.”

“Well, that’s going to change,” Michael said firmly. “Regardless of how you feel about me, I have rights.” Michael walked toward the apartment door and opened it. He turned and offered Maria one last forewarning before leaving. “I will spend time with my daughter, whether you approve or not.”

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 7:57:08 PM ]
posted on 17-Mar-2002 11:09:09 PM by Candy and Doris
We will have a new post tomorrow! Please watch for it!
Thanks!
posted on 19-Mar-2002 9:24:07 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

"Maria," Liz tried to reason with her friend. "I'm sure he didn't mean it."

"I just don't understand," Maria replied as she stirred her coffee. "I mean, why did he blow up at me like that? I never said he couldn’t see Hope."

Alex reached across the table and pulled the sugar bowl toward him. "What exactly did you say to him?" he asked.

Maria lowered her head and stared into her coffee cup. "Well, he got really mad when I told him Hope was his. And we started fighting. He was mad that I had you two lie for me. He said I deprived him of his time with Hope." Maria paused and looked at Liz and Alex. "One thing led to another...we were throwing shots at each other...and I told him that Hope didn't know him and didn't love him. I told him I had raised her and she was my daughter. I guess he took that as me saying he couldn't be with her."

Liz shook her head. "I don't know, Maria. I think you should give him a couple of days. I mean, you know he’s always wanted a family. I guess when he found out that he had a family on earth already, rather than the one he spent most of his life looking for light years away, he didn’t know how to react. Michael has always had a…unique…temper.”

Alex chuckled at Liz’s remark. “Nice choice of words.”

Liz glared at Alex urging him to acknowledge the serious of Maria’s feelings.

Alex looked into his coffee cup and immediately felt regret for making a joke at such a critical moment.

Feeling satisfied that Alex understood her glare, Liz continued. “Don’t worry. He loves you and love always finds a way,” Liz said struggling to convince herself, too.

"Yeah," Alex agreed trying to raise Maria's spirits. "Michael has always been the world’s worst about jumping to conclusions. Once he has time to think about what he said - and what you said...he'll be okay."

"I hope you're right," Maria sighed. "I've never seen him so angry."

Alex looked at his watch. He hated to leave, especially when Maria really needed her friends. Still, he knew that if he stood up Isabel at such a crucial time in their relationship, then he would lose her forever. He was very excited to get her call late the night before and was even more elated when she told him she'd like to meet to discuss the latest turn of events. He figured things couldn't be too bad when she asked him to meet her at the little cafe where they'd found each other years ago.

Alex touched Maria's hand and said, "I know this is bad timing, but if I don't get going, I'll never make it in time to meet Isabel."

"It's okay," Maria said. "I understand. You certainly don't want to do anything to further upset her right now," Maria said raising her eyebrows.

"I'll walk you out," Liz said as she pushed her chair away from the table.

"Thanks for...everything, Alex," Maria said sincerely. She was grateful to have friends like Liz and Alex who would put their lives on hold for hers. "Isabel won't stay upset long. She knows what she'd be missing," she said matter-of-factly.

Alex smiled and walked toward the front door with Liz.

"Señor Alex is leaving?" Lupe said as she entered the kitchen.

"Yeah," Maria answered. "He's got a lot to take care of," Maria said confident that Isabel would come around.

The phone rang and Lupe announced, "I'll get it." She moved to the wall and picked up the receiver that hung above the microwave. "Hello?" she spoke.

Maria watched Lupe waiting to learn who was calling.

"Hello?" Lupe repeated a little louder.

Maria stared at Lupe's questioning face. "Lupe?" Maria asked.

"Quien llama?" Lupe spoke ignoring Maria. When still no one answered, Lupe hung up the phone. She looked at Maria and said, "I think you may have a fan who's found out your home number." Lupe took the coffee cups from the table that Liz and Alex had been using.

"Hhmmm," Maria pondered. "I wonder if it's the same person who called yesterday.”

“Si! I’m telling you M’ija, sometimes obsessed fans are capable of doing the most outrageous things. I heard on the news the other day that some man with acrophobia was willing to go parachuting for the chance to meet his favorite actress just once.” Lupe shrugged. “At least they aren’t doing anything harmful. Oh!!! And I also forgot to give you these,” Lupe searched the coffee table where she had left the letters. She retrieved a stack of envelopes and dropped them on the table in front of Maria. “All these arrived this morning. No return address. Your caller may also be the person sending these letters."

Maria opened one of the envelopes and pulled out a homemade card. She opened the card made of red construction paper and read aloud the message inside. "Roses are red, violets are blue. Marianna, my dear, I think I love you."

"Strange," Maria replied. She shrugged and smiled. "I love fans."

"Maria?" Liz spoke as she returned to the kitchen. "The weirdest thing just happened."

Maria looked at Liz's ghostly white face. "Liz? Are you okay?" Maria watched as Liz shook her head and laughed.

"It can't be. It's just...weird," Liz spoke as she joined Maria at the table.

"What is, Liz?" Maria asked concerned.

"I guess I'm just paranoid or something," she began trying to dismiss the idea. "I saw this guy parked in a car outside. And he looked...he looked like Jackson."

"What would he be doing here?" Maria asked.

"I don't know," Liz answered. "But then, I started to say something to Alex, and when I looked back...he was gone."

Maria looked at Liz questionably.

"I mean," Liz said. "The car was still there...but the guy wasn't."

"Nah, you probably just thought you saw him," Maria said waving a hand in the air to banish the subject. "Check these out!" she exclaimed pushing a few letters towards Liz.

"What are these?" Liz asked.

"Fan mail," Maria smiled.

.........................................................

Maria rolled over in bed and tried to focus on the red numbers glaring from her bedside table. "I cannot believe this," she grumbled. Maria had been unable to sleep all night as lyrics and melodies coursed through her head. Finally, she surrendered to the unexplainable forces that were shouting for her to write. She crawled out of bed, took her robe from the closet, and made her way through the dark hallway.

She stopped outside of Alex's closed door and listened for his breathing. She could hear none. She tapped lightly on the door so as not to wake Liz in the neighboring room or Hope at the other end of the hall. When Alex, generally a light sleeper, did not answer, she pushed his door open. She smiled at the fully made bed. "I guess he and Isabel worked out some things," she thought.

When Maria reached the bottom of the stairs, she switched on a lamp, took a pen and pad from a drawer in the desk she'd gotten last Christmas, and plopped onto the couch. She placed the capped pen in her mouth and tried to make sense of the lyrics that had been haunting her all night long.

My heart feels like crying
And my soul concedes
I’ve felt the solace more than once
Dwindling what little strength I have left

I wait for the echo of pain
As my dream bubble bursts
And vulnerable I become
It’ll soon be over and our souls shall be one

I’m drowning in an abyss
I can’t see the sun
But I know it’s there
It’ll soon be over and our souls shall be one

Suddenly, the phone rang and startled Maria. She lunged for the phone in the kitchen hoping to reach it before it rang again and woke everyone in the house.

"This better be good," she whispered into the receiver. No one answered and Maria assumed it was the same caller as before. "Look," she spoke. "I don't want to be rude, but either talk or quit calling." Maria waited a second hoping the person would speak. "Okay," Maria said impatiently. "I'm going to hang up now. Please quit calling, and especially not this late." She said sternly and hung the phone back on the hook.

As she walked back to the couch in the living room, movement outside the window caught her eye. Maria slowly made her way to the window to investigate. She pulled the sheers aside and peered through the blinds. "AAAHHH!" she shouted and jumped backward. She stumbled over the recliner and landed on the floor. Her wide, frightened eyes lowered and she laughed quietly at herself. "Dumb old cat," she whispered looking at the black cat that sat on her window ledge.

Maria pushed herself off the floor and returned to her pad and pen at the couch.

So my heart is now broken
Without sympathy destroyed
From the very first laughter
To the very last tear drop

I’m drowning in an abyss
I can’t see the sun
But I know it’s there
It’ll soon be over and our souls shall be one

So save me now
Before it’s late
Don’t let me drown
And loose our fate


A loud crash outside alarmed Maria and stopped writing and looked around. She froze in her seat as fear took control. She shook her head and called, "Hope? Lupe? Is that you?" Maria figured the two had seen the light from the living room and were playing a joke on her.

When no one answered, Maria decided to go check on the others in the house. After opening each bedroom door and fining everyone asleep, Maria returned to the living room. She lounged in the chair writing.

I’m drowning in an abyss
I can’t see the sun
But I know it’s there
It’ll soon be over and our souls shall be one…

A shadow moved across her wall and Maria sprung around to see what caused it. She stared at the large picture window across the room. The room, which was barely lit, suddenly seemed cold. She took deep breaths and tried to reason with herself. "What is wrong with you?" she asked herself. "It's probably just the wind blowing the trees."

The room went dark. Maria gasped. "Great time for the power to go out," she said sarcastically. She forced herself to stand and walk toward the stairs. Just as she reached the bottom step, Maria took off in a frightened sprint and ran to the top of the stairs. When she stood at the top, she slowed and looked back down into the dark living room. Silence hung in the night air. "What, are you afraid of the dark now?" she asked herself.

Maria felt her way throught the hallway toward Hope's bedroom. She knew that if Hope awoke without her nightlight, she would be frightened. She pushed through her door and stumbled over a Barbie doll. "Hope," Maria scolded as she caught her balance. "I told you to put your toys away at night."

A cool breeze blew through Maria's hair. She looked up and saw the window pushed open. Fear strangled Maria as she looked frantically back at Hope's bed. The bed was empty.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 7:59:21 PM ]
posted on 25-Mar-2002 9:26:22 AM by Candy and Doris
The realization hit Maria like a ton of bricks. Her feet felt like they had been filled with lead. She struggled to take small steps to toward the open window. When finally her heavy feet reached the window, she forced herself to look out into the darkness. Fearful of what she might see, Maria turned her face downward. She breathed a slight sigh of relief when she did not see Hope lying at the bottom of their two-story townhouse. The moment of relief disappeared quickly as Maria left the window and sprinted toward the other rooms in the house. With all her heart, she prayed that Hope was simply in another room of the house.

Maria swung Liz’s door open and frantically searched the area with her eyes.

“Maria?” Liz questioned when she was forced out of her slumber. Through sleepy eyes, she watched as her friend opened the closet door, lifted the lid of the hope chest, and dropped to the floor to look beneath the bed.

When Maria did not find Hope hiding from her under the queen bed, Maria lifted her face and looked at Liz.

Liz saw sheer terror and panic written plainly across Maria’s face. “Maria, what’s wrong?” she asked.

Maria did not answer. Instead she jumped to her feet and dashed from the room heading for Lupe’s door.

Liz sprung from her bed and chased Maria down the hallway. “Maria?” she shouted after her friend.

Maria pushed through Lupe’s door and rummaged around the room. She breathed heavily and grew more terrified with each dead end she uncovered in her search for Hope. Finally, succumbing to the horror that had suddenly forced its way into her life, Maria dropped to her knees and released the scream that had been building within her soul since she discovered Hope was not in her bed asleep.

Liz and Lupe surrounded Maria and bent to the floor next to her. Liz wrapped her arms around Maria in an attempt to calm her down. Maria and Liz rocked slowly in place while Maria shook violently.

“Tell us what’s wrong,” Lupe spoke soothingly. “We can help.”

“She’s gone,” Maria muttered between sobs.

“Who’s gone?” Liz asked still holding Maria tightly.

“There was someone outside…and then her window was open.” Maria tried to explain, but her words came out as jumbled as her thoughts were.

Liz and Lupe exchanged a glance and Lupe left the room to go check on Hope. Seconds later, Lupe returned with a stunned expression. “Hope is not there,” she whispered intending for only Liz to hear.

“Hey, hey,” Liz spoke serenely to Maria who was grasping for her breath. “I’m sure everything is fine. She may be with Alex.” Liz doubted that possibility, but she grasped at straws trying to calm Maria. She feared she might have a heart attack or a stroke if she continued in this manner for much longer.

“I’ll call him,” Lupe said and rushed for the door. She turned back around and spoke to Liz. “Why don’t you come downstairs? I’ll make some coffee.”

“Thanks, Lupe,” Liz said.

Lupe rushed into the kitchen and reached for the phone. Just as she laid her hand on the receiver, the phone rang. “Please be Alex,” Lupe prayed silently.

“Hello?” she spoke into the receiver. When no one answered, Lupe angrily verbalized her thoughts, “I don’t have time for petty fan calls right now!” Lupe was about to slam the phone back onto the hook when she heard a faint voice. She quickly brought the phone back to her hear and listened.

A coarse male voice whispered, “Roses are red, Violets are blue. Marianna, I know about you.”

Lupe rolled her eyes annoyed with the obsessed fan who unintentionally disrupted her mission. She pressed the release button on the wall, listened for the dial tone, and continued in her task. She quickly dialed Isabel’s phone number, certain Alex would be there.

…………………………………….

“Alex is on his way,” Lupe said as Maria and Liz came into the kitchen. She placed three cups of coffee on the table and pulled out a chair for Maria. Liz helped to guide Maria’s shaking body to sit in the chair.

“I’m going to call the police,” Liz said looking at Lupe. “Will you check outside and be sure she’s not playing on the swings?” Liz asked.

“Of course,” Lupe said and headed for the front door.

Liz pushed the coffee closer to Maria and pleaded, “Drink this. It will help calm your nerves.”

Liz turned to walk away from Liz when Maria grabbed her arm and stopped her. Liz looked into Maria’s frightened eyes.

“What if she’s…” Maria began.

“She’s not,” Liz interrupted firmly. “We’ll find her…soon…and everything will be fine.”

When Maria released her arm, Liz continued her pace to the phone. She picked up the receiver and began to dial.

Maria unexpectedly stopped sobbing, lifted her head with sudden insight, and shouted, “Wait!” With haste, she pushed her chair away from the table and lunged at Liz. “Wait!” she shouted again. The momentum Maria gained from the table to Liz was relentless and a collision between the two girls became inevitable. As she reached Liz, she stumbled into her and both girls sailed across the counter and landed on the floor. Maria captured the phone from Liz and pushed the reset button. As she did so, she breathed a sigh of relief.

Liz lay on her back on the cold hard floor and stared up Maria who was on her knees holding the phone. Liz’s eyes were opened wide and she was completely stunned. She blinked a few times to be sure of what had just occurred. “Um, Maria?” she spoke calmly first. Then she roared, “What the…?”

Maria looked at Liz. "Michael has Hope," she said.

.................................

"Are you sure?" Alex asked as he and Maria turned into Michael's apartment complex across town.

"It makes perfect sense," Maria reasoned. "He practically threatened to take her away..."

"No, he didn't," Alex interrupted.

"Okay," Maria said rolling her eyes. "But he did threaten to have time with her."

Alex pulled into a parking space and said, "That doesn't mean he'll have time with her by stealing her away."

"I know, Alex," Maria said annoyed. "But there was movement outside...and the lights went out..."

"And that really doesn't prove anything," Alex interrupted again defending Michael.

"Whose side are you on?" Maria shouted becoming more and more aggravated by Alex's logical attitude.

Alex removed the key from the ignition and turned to Maria. "I'm on Hope's side," he said firmly.

Maria stared into Alex's eyes for a moment. She sighed understanding his position. She had to admit to herself that Alex did make sense. Finally, she looked away and at the apartment complex before them. "Which one is it?" she asked.

"7-C," Alex answered and pointed to a brown door on the first floor.

..................................

Michael rolled over in bed and opened his eyes. Out of habit, when he heard the sound, he reached for his pager that was on the bedside table. He blinked his sleepy eyes and tried to focus on the panel. When he saw no number or text message, he lay back against the pillow and closed his eyes.

The noise that had awoken him sounded through the house again. Michael lifted his head and looked around. "The door?" he thought when he heard the sound again. "Someone is at my door? At a quarter past three?" Michael sat up looked around his dark bedroom. He wondered if he was hearing things. He listened quietly to see if he heard the knocking again. When he heard nothing, he shook his head and lay back down.

"You open this door right now!"

Michael sat straight up in bed. "Now, I am sure I heard that," he thought. He swung his legs over the edge of his bed and stood to go investigate. He crept slowly through the apartment listening to a jumble of mumbled voices. He was certain he could hear a male and a female voice. "I wonder what they're plotting," Michael thought assuming the two voices he heard were those of robbers planning to break in.

As he passed through the living room going toward the front door, he reached on top of the mantle and retrieved his autographed Hank Aaron baseball bat. He continued his trek across the dark apartment to the front door where he could make out two silhouettes.

"I know he's in there!" a girl shouted.

Michael cocked his head to one side and listened closely. He rolled his eyes with realization and breathed a sigh of relief. "I know that voice," he thought. He lowered his bat and made his way to open the front door.

Michael turned the doorknob and pushed the door open. "Maria? Alex?" Michael asked.

Maria slapped Michael across the face.

As Maria withdrew her hand and shook it, Michael noticed the action must have hurt Maria more than it did him. “Good to see you too,” he said sarcastically.

"No, time for pleasantries," Maria grumbled and shoved Michael out of her way. She barged through the front door and began her intended search of the house.

Michael watched Maria until she disappeared into the back part of the apartment. "What's going on?" Michael asked turning to Alex.

Alex was staring at the bat Michael still held.

Michael looked down at the bat and realized how cowardly Alex must have thought he was. "It...was for...in case..." Michael stumbled. Finally he bowed his chest and said in his most macho voice, "Hank Aaron signed it."

"Really?" Alex asked reaching for the bat. "How did you get this?" Alex asked anxiously.

"Oh," Michael began smiling thankful that the issue of the bat had been changed. "You would never believe my luck. I was sent to Atlanta for a medical conference and I was having dinner with some colleagues in the hotel's restaurant. Hank Aaron just walked right in like it was nothing!" Michael exclaimed as he and Alex examined the bat.

"You're kidding!" Alex said with utter disbelief.

"Yeah!" Michael continued. "He just strolled in like 'I'm not a legend or anything.'"

Maria entered the room and stood stunned at the conversation to which she was listening. "Boys," she thought. "Here we are in the middle of a major crisis, and these two boys are talking baseball, of all things!" She crossed her arms in front of her chest and propped her weight onto one foot to take in the brilliance that stood before her.

"And what? You just happened to have a bat in the restaurant?" Alex asked.

"No...but the lobby store sold bats...I mean, the hotel was only two blocks from the stadium. So, they sold Atlanta Braves everything...including this bat." Michael said pointing to the price tag he purposefully left on the top of the bat.

"You did not pay that for this bat," Alex exclaimed at the ridiculous hotel rate for the plain wooden bat.

Michael's eyes widened with surprise. "Are you serious? It was Hank Aaron, man!"

Maria had had enough. She waved her hands around in the air and announced, "If someone doesn't talk about something other than baseball right now, I am going to scream. And in particular, I want to talk about what you've done with my daughter," Maria said directing her attention to Michael.

"What?" Michael asked unsure of what Maria was talking about.

"Um, Michael," Alex began softly. He felt really embarrassed about Maria accusing Michael of such an act. "Hope is missing."

"What?" Michael said as even more confusion settled in.

"And Maria thought that maybe..." Alex spoke looking for the right words that wouldn't offend Michael anymore than necessary.

"What?" Michael demanded.

"Do you know any other words?" Maria punched out of sheer anger.

Michael turned to look at Maria. "You think I took her?"

Maria rolled her eyes.

"Maria," Michael spoke calmly. "You actually think I am a kidnapper?"

"Well," Maria began as she started to feel that perhaps her accusations were out of line, as Alex had suggested earlier. "You were really mad the other night. And you said you were going be with her...regardless of what I thought."

"I can't believe you think I could kidnap her," Michael said shaking his head and looking at the floor.

Maria saw the hurt in Michael's eyes. Immediately her heart felt heavy. Ten years ago, she trusted this man with her life. And honestly, he was likely the only reason she survived the head injuries from her car accident. And now, at the drop of a hat, just because they'd had a fight - not an uncommon occurrence between the pair - she was accusing him of kidnapping Hope.

"Michael, I..." Maria began but couldn't find the words. She looked at Alex and nonverbally pleaded for his help.

Alex understood and immediately took over. “Michael, Maria's just upset. Hope is missing...she was taken from her bed tonight. It just would have been easier if you had taken her. At least then we would know where to find her. As it stands, we don't know what's going on."

The truth of the matter suddenly hit Michael. "She's actually been kidnapped?" He asked with concern clearly written across his face.

"It...looks like it," Alex struggled. Until that moment, the effectuation of what had happened had not entirely sunk in.

"Oh my gosh," Michael whispered as he sat on the couch. Maria and Alex watched Michael. He placed his head in his hands. Finally, after what seemed like ten minutes to Maria and Alex, Michael lifted his face from his hands. He looked at Maria. "I just found her. I just found her and now she's gone?"

His eyes told Maria all she needed to know. There was no way this man could do anything to hurt Hope.

Michael regained his composure and shook his head. "Nope," he said. "No way am I accepting this."

Maria began to worry. She looked at Alex for answers.

Alex calmly leaned in and whispered in Maria's ear. "Denial."

"It's not denial," Michael objected. He turned his face to Maria. "I'm simply not accepting this. I will find her," he confirmed. Michael ran over a mental checklist. "Have you called the police?"

"No," Maria said. "Liz was going to, but I stopped her. I thought you might have her...or I guess I hoped you might have her."

"Well, don't call them," he said firmly.

"What? Why not?" Alex asked confused.

"Have you seen...some of the things that she can do?" Michael asked not sure if they were aware of her special abilities.

Maria rolled her eyes and chuckled. "You mean, like change TV channels with her mind?"

"So you know?" Michael asked.

"Yeah, of course, she’s my daughter, Michael," Maria interjected. "How do you know?"

"You were patients in my hospital for several weeks," Michael answered matter-of-factly.

Maria lowered her brows and looked at Michael intently. "You weren't Hope's doctor," she drilled.

Michael smiled and lowered his head. "I sort of...checked in on her a few times."

Maria smiled. Even though he didn't know Hope was his, he was looking after her because she was part of Maria. Immediately, her thoughts returned to the matter at hand. "So, are you afraid the police might witness some of her special abilities?" Maria asked.

"Well, it's a possibility," Michael said raising his eyebrows.

Maria remembered all the hiding they did back in Roswell. They were constantly running from the authorities, until Valenti became an ally. She feared Hope was destined for the same kind of life.

"She's not," Michael replied to her unspoken concerns.

Maria looked at Michael for a moment wondering how he could know what she was thinking. Then she remembered that he had acquired a few new powers since returning from Antar. "Oh, right," she said half smiling. "I can't lose her," Maria spoke sincerely to Michael. “Hope is all I have, Michael.” Silent tears made their way down Maria’s cheek.

Michael held Maria close and caressed her back. He had looked into her scared eyes. It was a sight he didn't remember. Maria had always been a head-strung go-getter. She was determined. Maria was the kind of girl who didn't know the meaning of "no." She was brave, strong and unwavering. But at the moment, Maria looked afraid. He hated seeing her like that. He wanted to take all her fear away.

He lifted her chin with his right hand. He looked intently into Maria's eyes. He needed her to understand his position. "We will find her, Maria. I promise. Together, we’ll chase Hope. And hope we will find."

posted on 11-Apr-2002 3:58:03 PM by Candy and Doris
"Dang, kid. Shut up!" the tall, dark-haired man shouted as he paced back and forth in the small room.

Hope was both confused and terrified. She sat in a chair in the center of the room whimpering and pulling at the blindfold wrapped tightly around her head.

That was it!! He could take this no longer. He firmly grabbed the little girl’s arm and gave her a threatening look "Listen, You keep pulling at that and I am going to have no choice but to lock you up in an attic. You and I both know, what’s in the attic. Now you seem like a smart girl, and you would now what’s best for you if you shut up.” the man said firmly.

Hope’s little eyes tried to hold back the tears. Whether it was from the pain caused by the man’s grip, or from the fear rushing through her quavering, small body. She blinked a few times trying make the water from her eyes go away. But the poor girl was too scared to take control over her tears. She gave her best bottom-lipped pout and whined her demand. "Pwease Mr. Man, let me go. I want my mommy."

The man stopped pacing and knelt down next to Hope. "Me too, kid," he hissed in her ear. He chuckled and continued with a cynical tone. "Don't worry. I don't expect it to be long before she gets here. But of course if you crying like that I’ll make sure you never see her, do I make myself clear?"

The petite girl nodded, her fear evident in her eyes. The man finally let go of her arm leaving red marks on the delicate hand of the girl. Hope ran to the little corner as far as possible from Mr. Man and cuddled herself there as her tears ,once again, ran freely from her eyes.

He stood and quietly walked through a heavy, steel door leaving Hope alone and crying. "What do you think?" he asked a woman in a white coat who stood watching Hope through a two-way mirror.

"I don't know, yet," the woman answered rubbing her chin. She turned to Hope's kidnapper and questioned, "Are you certain of this?"

The man defensively placed his hands on his hips. "I have no doubts. She will show us soon enough."

"I sincerely hope you're right," the woman warned turning her eyes back to the frightened child. "We are running a big risk based on your hunch."

"It's not a hunch," the man argued. "I've seen it with my own eyes."

"Okay," the woman snapped. She took a deep breath in an effort to control her aggravation with her high-strung rookie partner. She spoke slowly and calmly. "I just want you to realize that the longer we hold this child, the further away we get from being able to let her go. And if you're wrong about this, and we continue to wait, we can't let her leave here alive." the woman tried to reason.

"I am positive," the man replied rolling his eyes. "I'm not wrong about this one. She's the real thing."


posted on 11-Apr-2002 3:58:38 PM by Candy and Doris
"Michael, shouldn't we be out looking for her?" Maria asked impatiently as the pair walked into Hope's bedroom. "I mean," Maria said picking up a framed picture of Hope from her white chest of drawers. She took a deep breath hoping it’ll calm her down. "She's out there somewhere, probably scared out of her poor little mind, and I know she's waiting for me to come get her...and take her home."

A single tear fell down Maria’s cheek and Michael instinctively reached out to wipe away the tear. “We’ll find her, Maria. We must keep chasing Hope.”

Maria nodded. “Wow, Spaceboy, I see you’ve finally learned how to calm me down,” Maria joked remembering the time so many years ago when she literally begged him to say anything to help calm her unruly nerves as they waited for Liz and Max to return from the reservation after meeting River Dog. At that time, his hormone-driven, teenaged impulse was to prematurely engage in their first kiss in an effort to shut her up.

Michael smirked at how Maria had no idea how much comfort her just being there gave him. He moved around the room searching for clues.

Maria continued, "I feel like I should be out there looking under every rock and behind every door. Instead, I'm here warm and comfortable, untouched, while she's...who knows where....Aghh….I just…Hope…" she slumped in Hope’s bed as she anxiously ran her hands through her hair “I need her, Michael! She’s…”

Maria's voice shook and her breathing became shallow. Michael recognized Maria's panicked state and knew that if she continued in this manner, she would soon hyperventilate. Michael wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around Maria's fragile shoulders. He wanted desperately to bring her comfort at the very moment when he knew she needed it most. Still uncertain of where he and Maria stood, romantically or otherwise, he resisted the urge to bring her close to him and protect her weak emotions.

With unsteady and unsure movements, he raised his right hand and gently touched Maria's back. "We’ll find her Maria. I’m sure of it.” Michael watched uncomfortably as she continued to drift further from control. Michael was at a loss of how to help. Panic began to set in and he turned in place looking for something to do. After two or three complete circles, he began pacing the small room.

Maria lifted her tear-stained face and stopped sobbing. She watched Michael curiously.

He continued to pace and wring his hands. Occasionally, he would throw a hand in the air and shake it violently as if trying to rid himself of some unwanted pest.

Maria quietly observed the scene that played out before her. Michael appeared to be a character in an old silent film as his face brightened with each new idea that entered his head and then contorted as he shook off the decidedly inadequate plan. His mouth moved occasionally as thoughts mutely rushed through his lips and his eyebrows worked overtime.

Maria began to smile watching Michael’s childlike manner. “Uh, Michael?” she spoke.

“Yeah,” Michael answered abruptly as he continued to pace and wring his hands as his eyes moved from the floor to the wall to the ceiling and back.

“What…what are you doing?” Maria finally asked still smiling and watching him with concern.

Michael stopped and stared at Maria as if to say, “Well, can’t you tell?” He placed his hands awkwardly on his hips and then quickly crossed them over his chest. He uncomfortably shifted his weight from foot to foot and then answered. “I’m freaking out.”

“Hey,” she said moving towards him. “We’re going to find her.” For the first time since Hope went missing, Maria believed what she said. In the past, they had overcome lots of situations that seemed hopeless. Together, they had conquered what seemed impossible. Maria thought, “And now Michael’s powers are stronger than ever before. We will get through this.”

Michael never heard a word Maria said. Instead, he immediately began pacing again. After a few laps around the room, he sprinted towards Maria. He grabbed her by the shoulders and urgently announced, “We can go now,” he blurted in an effort to calm her, not realizing that it was he who needed the reassuring. “Let’s go,” he said grabbing her hand and pulling towards the door.

Still holding the picture of Hope in her hands, Maria gently touched Michael’s arm and stopped his rush. His breathing slowed and he looked into Maria’s eyes.

For a brief moment, all was forgotten by Michael and Maria. Maria returned Michael’s gaze as the pair stood alone in the room. The same eyes that once acted as shields were suddenly open. She engaged into a welcomed peer straight through Michael’s hazel eyes into his soul. She saw an entirely different person than the one she knew so many years ago. She saw concern; she saw a maturity that never existed before; she saw seasoned wisdom; she saw fear, hurt, gentleness, love, and hope. All that she saw surprised her. Caught off-guard by Michael's openness and vulnerability, Maria stood in silence unable to speak.

Michael grinned and whispered, "You're different, too."

Maria was unable to conceal the rush of emotions that flooded her heart. Michael looked on as Maria's face played out everything she wanted to say.

When Michael grinned, Maria saw Hope's face. For years, so many of Hope's expressions had reminded Maria of Michael. Now, to see Michael's expressions and see Hope... Thoughts of guilt crowded Maria's head. She felt regret for the decision she made after Michael left. She feared that Michael and Hope might never get the chance to know each other.

"I'm sorry," Maria said slowly. "It was selfish of me...you've missed so much. And now you may never..."

"Don't say that, Maria," Michael interrupted.

“I think I knew…somehow,” Maria confessed.

“What are you talking about?” Michael asked.

“In the hospital, I dreamed Hope was taken away from me,” Maria recalled. “It was Pierce.”

“It was just a dream,” Michael reasoned. “Pierce is dead. The dream was probably brought on by the fear you’ve lived with for so long…knowing Hope was different…like me.”

“No, Michael,” Maria spoke feeling guiltier by the second. “It was so real. I think it may have been a warning. A warning to protect her. I,” Maria stumbled over her words. “I knew…somehow, I knew she…It’s my fault. I should have known this would happen one day.” Maria shook her head as she stared at the picture of Hope.

“It’s not your fault,” Michael argued.

Without consideration he leaned forward and embraced Maria in a much-needed hug. As his arms wrapped around Maria, his elbow brushed the photograph of Hope that Maria held. An image of Hope sitting blindfolded in a chair flashed before his eyes. He gasped and jerked away.

"Michael?" Maria asked surprised by his sudden withdrawal.

With wide eyes, Michael looked at Maria. "I saw her," he breathed. "I saw Hope."

…………………….

"I need more to go on than that, Michael," Alex said as he flipped through government listings.

"That's all I know," Michael said frustrated.

"And you're sure it was a government building?" Alex asked moving the mouse to scroll through even more pages.
Aggravated with his inability to help any further, Michael answered, "No." He looked at the desolate hope written across Maria's face as she stared at Alex's laptop. "It's really more of a gut feeling," he spoke sadly. "Something about the room...I just really think it was a government facility. And if it is, we're going to need help. Alex, can you call Isabel?"

"Sure," Alex answered quickly and walked into the kitchen to pick up the phone.

"Liz," Michael said. "Can you get Max here?"

Liz, who had been sitting quietly on the sofa, lifted her head. She knew Max wouldn't refuse the need for his help, but she worried about the tense, uncomfortable air that hung between them the last time they'd spoken at the hospital.
"Me?" Liz asked. She glared at Michael's authoritative face before turning to meet Maria's urgent eyes. She wanted to object and beg anyone else to call Max, but her cursed conscious told her that such a selfish request would only add to the already tense emotions in the room.

She sighed her submission. "Okay." She pulled her cell phone from her purse and pushed through the front door on her way to the porch of the townhouse apartment.

When Liz was alone, she took a seat on the top step and dialed Max's home number in Roswell. As she listened to the ringing, she squinted at the orange sun that was making its way above the horizon. Rays of gold burst through the neighboring town homes. She scoffed at how the world continued to turn. Day was breaking with steadiness and reliability with no regard to the disarray that cluttered the lives of everyone she knew.

Max glanced at the clock when he heard the phone ring. He climbed out of bed and flipped the light switch. He saw Liz's name on the small white box next to the phone that sat on his bedside table.

Immediately, he smiled. Then, suddenly, he remembered their situation. He regretted the way he'd treated Liz at the hospital, but his pride refused to let him apologize. His brief smile faded and he reached for the receiver.

posted on 30-Apr-2002 8:27:58 AM by Candy and Doris
“Yes, Ma,am. I am certain. Mr. Evans checked out this morning,” the hotel desk clerk spoke into the telephone.

“When?” Liz asked heatedly.

“About an hour ago,” the clerk answered.

“Well, do you know where he was going?” Liz asked frantically.

The clerk’s patience grew dimmer with each question Liz threw at her. “I assume he was going home,” the lady answered annoyed.

Liz sighed realizing she was asking the impossible of a clerk who was not responsible for keeping forwarding addresses for her guests. “Okay, thanks,” Liz said quietly and pressed the end button on her phone.

She cradled the black cell phone with both hands and stared sadly at the keypad. She knew that if Max had just left, he wouldn’t be even close to being back in Roswell, yet. She stood and stuffed the tiny phone into her jeans pocket. As she did, the letter fell out of her pocket.

The rush she’d been in came to an abrupt halt. Through her eyes, the folded paper fell as slow as a feather on its way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Still silence hung in the early morning air and she managed to hear the whispers of paper shifting as the letter leisurely floated downward. When the letter finally hit the concrete step at her feet, Liz slowly bent over and retrieved the two pages he’d poured his heart into the night before.

Liz sat back down on the front steps to again immerse herself in the calculated scribbles that streaked across the pages…the letter she’d found on her pillow just hours ago.

She stared at the page and began to mutely read.

“Dear Liz,

Fear is not an emotion I embrace. I suppose that fact is because I have never truly been faced with dealing with fear alone. Even in the most trying times and horrifying situations, I have had Michael and Isabel…and you. When Michael got sick, when the entire town of Roswell disappeared, when I spent time in the white room - regardless of how unsure I was of the outcome, I always knew that things would be okay…that things would somehow return to normal – or as normal as life for us can be. Those situations were merely obstacles to be overcome…a wall to climb so we could continue living routinely on the other side of that wall. But when I learned that all the truth I knew was false, I saw no way around the wall that had suddenly jumped out in front of me. There was no way to climb it and there was no other side where things were normal. Instead, my path unexpectedly took a sharp turn and pulled me further away from everything I knew. I couldn’t see around the curve…I couldn’t see what lay ahead. And I was afraid. I was so afraid of what I didn’t know…which was everything at that point. I didn’t what was real and was false…what was truth and what was lies. The fear of the unknown is something I would never wish on my worst enemy.

Even on Antar, where I faced the unknown every day, I had one familiarity…the image of your face etched into my mind’s eye. That was enough for me. I knew that one day I would return home…where things made sense, where things were normal, where you were the grounding force that kept me sound. But we can never go back now, Liz. Things are forever different. The world I knew…where Maria was an old friend for whom I grieved…that world is eternally gone.

Don’t doubt that I’m overjoyed with knowing Maria is alive, but also know that I am extremely hurt. I can’t help but doubt everything now. I have been unable to sleep since I found out. My mind races with memories wondering how much was real and how much was an act. I recall words you said that meant so much to me at the time and I analyze every facial emotion, every bat of your eye lashes, every grin, every nod…I analyze these things trying to determine if you were lying to me or if I was lying to myself.

I suppose I understand why you did it. I probably would have done the same thing…but it just hurts, you know? It hurts to know that someone you care so strongly about could so easily lie…right to your face.

I want to forgive you. I want to move past this. I need to move past this. The thing is, I don’t know how. I can’t see a clear direction for me in this new world. I thought that after all we’d been through, you were the only person I could count on to be sincere. I trusted you with all of my heart. I would have been willing to bet my life on your word. And dealing with knowing I was wrong is unbelievably hard for me.

Do you understand what I’m trying to say? I can’t be the one to fix it this time. I just can’t.

God, I wish you were here. I really need to sit down and talk to you. I need to see the expressions on your face as I say these things. I always could read every thought through your eyes. But then…I guess that’s not the case anymore.

I was naive to think you would be the same person you were so many years ago. In fact, if you are different…if you aren’t as soft and authentic as you once were, then I am likely at fault. I left you. I selfishly left you to pursue my own fame as king of Antar. You had to harden up…you were forced to learn to protect your emotions and sentiments after I betrayed you with words like “forever” and “always.” For that, I am undyingly remorseful. I’ll never be able to forgive myself.

Liz, I feel like we are slipping further and further apart. That terrifies me. I can hardly breathe when I consider a life without you. Even when try, I can’t remember not knowing you; not holding you tightly in the grips of my heart. The thought of being so intolerably ordinary as life without you would be. For years, you have been the reason I get up each morning. I know we haven’t been together since I returned from Antar, but just knowing that we can laugh together over lunch breaks, knowing that I can call you on the phone and hear your sweet voice, knowing that I can knock on your door and see your captivating smile when you swing it open…those are the things that motivate me. Those are the things that keep my eyes open. Those are the things that keep me hoping that we are simply climbing a wall…and we’ll soon be past the challenge and can return to normal.

And normal for me? Well, normal for me is…you. You know how your mom’s potato salad is…normal potato salad? Now, you can get potato salad other places (Don’t laugh, Liz…If I know you at all, you’re probably cracking up right now…but I promise that I have a point.). So, yes potato salad at the corner restaurant may be good, but it’s not normal potato salad. The potato salad you buy at the deli may be okay, but it’s not normal potato salad. Your mom’s potato salad is normal potato salad. It’s the one you’ve always known. It’s the one you base the idea of potato salad on. No others measure up. Now, Liz, I don’t want you to think I’m saying you’re as simple as potato salad, but I want you to understand that no others compare. You are all I know. And how I feel about you is very simple. But if you know me at all, then you know I’m way too much of a hopeless romantic to put that into a letter.

But still, this message is simple. I miss you. I miss us.

Liz, please find your way home soon.

Max”

After reading the letter for the second time, Liz slowly folded the pages and held them in her right hand. She brought the folded note to her chest and held the pages against her beating heart. She closed her eyes and drifted back to an easier time in their lives. Images of her and Max laughing together on the balcony above the Crashdown filled her vision. Behind her closed lids, she saw Max

She wanted more than anything to go back to the way things once were. She prayed with all her might for the hands of time to spin in reverse. She opened her eyes and focused on one faint star just above the western horizon that had somehow escaped the moon’s setting. She stared at the tiny miracle and made a silent wish.

When her wish was made, she sighed and looked eastward toward the rising sun. She knew simple wishing, even on the luckiest of stars, was not going to erase the current crisis. She needed to find Max. Michael and Maria needed him…and Hope. She looked at the folded letter, the letter Max had put his soul into and left for her to find. He’d vulnerably left his soul for her to find and do with as she pleased.

“Liz, did you get him?” Alex asked poking his out the front door of the townhome.

“I will,” Liz answered.

posted on 30-Apr-2002 8:28:17 AM by Candy and Doris
Her hurried desperation was evident to all those staring at Liz as she raced up the escalator, pushing bodies and luggage out of her way as she climbed.

"Pardon me. Sorry. Excuse me," Liz whispered in her attempt to be polite as she shoved her way through the crowded airport. She had no idea which concourse Max would be at or which airline he would take. She didn't know what time his flight would leave, or if he might already be boarded on the
plane. The only think Liz knew for sure was that she had to find him.

Despite the pointing and staring all around her, Liz ran through the terminal she'd randomly selected as she entered the airport gates. She relied solely on her instincts to lead her. The same instincts that told her when Max was near so many years ago. The same instinct that told her when he was in
trouble. The same instinct that told her he needed her. She begged for that instinct not to fail her as she rushed through the airport looking for the one man who had such a grip on her heart.

She slowed her pace and stopped when she reached a fork. She dropped her hands to her knees and gasped for air. "Which way?! Which way?!" she silently screamed.

Liz closed her eyes and mentally asked, "Where are you, Max?"

"This way, Elizabeth," a woman's voice spoke.

Liz opened her eyes and came face-to-face with a dark-eyed child.

The smiling little girl looked amused by Liz's distraught face. She stared at Liz until her mother called again, "Let's go, Elizabeth. We've got to hurry."

Liz watched as the brown-haired girl happily skipped down the left wing to catch up with her mother. Immediately, Liz sprinted down the left wing. As she passed the little girl who walked hand-in-hand with her mother, Liz smiled knowingly at the child. "Thanks," she mouthed and continued her race
to find Max.

The further Liz ran down the wing, the faster her heartbeat. Every sense was heightened and she knew she must be close. The only other times she felt that way was when she was near Max.

"Final boarding call for Flight 289 to Roswell," a lady's voice rang out through the airport.

Liz stopped still in her tracks and slowly turned her head to look at the seating area to her right. She could feel him. Her eyes looked at every face standing to board the waiting plane, but she did not see him. Still, she could feel him. She stood still watching and waiting.

Finally, as the crowd boarding the plan adjusted, Liz caught a glimpse of his right hand. She could see nothing more, but she knew it was him.

"Max!" she called and watched as he, not hearing her call, continued to board the plane. She watched as he handed his boarding pass to the attendant and moved forward. "Max!" she called again and willed her heavy feet to move. She needed to stop him. Michael, Maria and Hope needed him. She needed him.

She dashed across the seating area, never losing sight of his hand, and lunged forward to clutch his wrist. "Max!"

Max swung around in surprise. "Liz? What are you doing here?"

"Don't go," she breathed.

"Liz?" Max asked moving out of the boarding line to allow others behind him to continue boarding the plane. He immediately dropped his bag and took hold of Liz's hands. He immediately assumed something was wrong.

"I," Liz began still trying to catch her breath. "I ran," she tried to explain her condition. She finished the thought before forcing herself to move on to the more important message. "I need...Michael needs..." she gave up trying to speak and shook her head. She reached into the pocket of her
jeans and retrieved a folded piece of paper. "Here," she said shoving the paper into Max's hand.

Max looked at the paper with confusion and then back at Liz who refused to lift her eyes from the paper.

"Just...read it," Liz managed to say.

Max opened the wrinkled paper and held it in his hands. He silently read the only sentence on the page. He read it again. "It was Jackson."

Max looked up at Liz with his brows communicating his confusion. "I don't understand," he spoke slowly.

"Sir," the attendant at he boarding gate spoke. "We have to close the doors, sir. You'll need to board now."

"Just a second," Max replied waving his hand towards the lady while still looking at Liz. He was searching for some answer in her face. "What about Jackson?"

"It was Jackson," Liz began as a single tear rolled down her face. Still, she kept her eyes on the paper and refused to look at Max. "It was Jackson...not you."

"Sir, we are going to close the doors," the attendant spoke louder.

"Just a minute," Max demanded. He stared at Liz trying to unearth why she would run to him just to tell him he was second to Jackson. "Liz, why are you doing this?" he asked shaking his head.

"I needed you to know," Liz spoke. "It was him that made me...hard," she said.

Liz suddenly made sense to Max. He recalled the harsh words he'd used in the letter he written her. Guilt struck him hard as he realized his words must have tormented Liz. "I'm sorry..." he began.

"Don't be," Liz spoke finally looking up at Max. "Maybe...maybe we needed this. To put it all right out on the table. Get everything in the open...to talk." Liz stared at Max hoping he would understand her jumbled thoughts. The small twinkle in his eyes told her he knew exactly what she meant. "I just wanted you to know," she continued, "that you were not the one who made me...like this. In fact, you are the only reason..." Liz stopped speaking when the gate attendant interrupted again.

"Sir, please...we have to board...now," she said touching his shoulder.

Max looked at Liz waiting for her to say it again. She needed only to tell him not to go and he would gratefully stay.

"We need you," Liz said answering Max's unspoken question.

"I'm not going," Max said without hesitation. He waved off the attendant without ever taking his eyes from Liz. He was afraid that if he looked away for even the slightest second that he might miss a vital expression.

"Turn it over," Liz said smiling. She prayed her thanks for a man like Max. A man who would take her for her word. A man who didn't value his pride over his friends. "Friends," Liz thought. "Well, at least that's something."

Max flipped the paper he held in his hand. At first glance, he saw nothing on the back side of the page. But as his eyes scanned the white notebook paper, he finally caught a glimpse of small text at the bottom, right side of the page. He lifted the paper closer to his face to read the fine print. "I do want to come home."

Max looked at Liz who smiled. "I figured if it was tiny, then I could always back out if you didn't..." Liz spoke.

"What does this mean?" Max interrupted.

"It means," Liz stumbled over her words. She moved her mouth but no sound resulted. Fear suddenly took over her senses as she may have misinterpreted Max's letter. Liz lectured herself, "It's now or never. You've known him practically forever. So, why do you have these stupid butterflies, girl? Just do it...now."

Liz smiled and laughed as she began to relax. She extended her right hand. She put on her best energetic face. "Hi. I'm Liz Parker," Liz said as Max slowly reached out to shake Liz's hand. Liz continued, "I'm from Roswell, New Mexico. I'm in L.A. visiting a friend. And I'm in the airport hoping to regain one."

Max's confused face quickly fell and was replaced by an unmistakable grin of utter happiness. "Hi. I'm Max Evans...the friend you never lost."


posted on 10-May-2002 10:04:11 PM by Candy and Doris
Michael and Alex hovered outside a back entrance to the concrete building waiting for Max to give the signal.

"Alex, you may want to wait here," Michael spoke.

"What are you talking about?" Alex asked confused.

With determination, Michael looked at Alex and explained, "Alex, I am willing to do whatever it takes. I just...it's not the best memory to have when you see..." Michael lowered his head in thought before looking back at Alex and continuing. He appreciated the efforts Alex had contributed in helping to locate Hope. After Michael had received visions upon touching Hope’s photograph, Alex wasted no time in finding the location of the building in Michael’s vision. There had been no doubt whether Michael’s vision was accurate or not, but simply mere trust that Michael was right; the only kind of trust you could find in a true friend. Michael understood that Alex’s trust was also largely due to the fact that Alex, being the male figure for most all of Hope’s life, wanted to do all he could to assist in finding Hope. Still, Michael recognized the potential of what was about to happen inside the building. This building they knew absolutely nothing about except that Hope was in there. And that, of course, was enough to keep them all going. Alex was the best for the research end of the search for Hope, but Michael wasn’t sure how he would handle the actual battle. He thought Alex deserved to be spared of witnessing what might happen when the aliens storm the building and attack anything and anyone standing between them and Hope. "Just keep watch out here," Michael made his appeal.

"Michael," Alex objected. "Max said..."

"I know what Max said," Michael interrupted. His voice was firm when he requested, "Please stay here."

Alex stared into Michael's eyes and realized the passion behind his motives. He knew that Michael would indeed do anything necessary to take Hope safely home. Alex slowly nodded his head in compliance with Michael's request. He watched as Michael took a stance of readiness impatiently waiting for Max's signal to enter the building.

He marveled at how the soldier in Michael had surfaced. Alex knew that Michael and Max had learned a lot about war tactics and survival of the fittest on Antar. Still, the idea that Michael had once been a mission-driven soldier had not entirely seemed real until Alex saw him with his armor on.

...................................................................

Isabel and Max hid behind a dumpster waiting for the last car to leave the parking lot of the government facility. They watched silently as the burgundy Sebring made its way towards the gated entrance. After tipping the brim of his hat to the man driving the car, the security guard opened the gate.

"Let's move," Max spoke leading Isabel closer to the glass doors of the facility. Isabel followed silently, glancing to her left and right watching for keeping guard for onlookers.

As they approached the doors, Max spoke into a small, hand-held, two-way communicator. "Now, Michael," he said never shifting his eyes from the temporary target - the front doors of the facility.

"On my way," Michael answered Max.

Max stopped outside the front doors and examined a small computer on the wall near the doors that accepted retina scans and fingerprints for entrance into the building. Max raised his right hand to the computer. Within seconds, the doors' latches unhinged. Max pushed through the unlocked doors and held them open as Isabel followed.

"Max," Isabel whispered. When Max looked at her, Isabel moved her eyes from him to a small camera positioned at the entrance.

"Take care of it," Max ordered.

Isabel extended a hand skyward towards the camera. After a brief second, faint traces of smoke began seeping from inside the device. A popping sound followed and Isabel nodded her completion to Max.

Max returned the nod and the pair quietly made their way up the unmarked hallway, keeping their backs against the wall.

Seconds later, Isabel and Max crouched outside the room that Alex had determined to be the only known holding location matching Michael's description.

.......................................................................

Michael reached the backside of the room and hid in the shadows again waiting for Max to signal a clear opportunity to strike the room without alarming more personnel than necessary. As he waited, Michael reflected on how much his life had changed in the past few days. "I'm a father," he thought. "I'm a father, Maria is alive." Michael smiled at the thought, but his mood abruptly changed as he realized the circumstances that brought him to be standing outside a door preparing to attack. "I'm a father and someone is trying to take that away from me." Michael's anger escalated as he dwelled on the faces he'd created in his head…the faces of the people that stood inside the room. He was fully aware that Pierce and Topolski were dead. Still, in the absence of knowledge about the kidnappers, those two faces continuously haunted his thoughts.

"I've got to make this right," Michael thought. He never gave his own well-being a second thought as he waited for Max's signal. "If there's one thing I learned from Antar, it is to never doubt your enemy," he thought. With that in mind, Michael prepared himself to take any necessary actions to rescue Hope. His heart humbled as he thought of Hope's smiling, laughing face. He'd known her for only a few short days and they'd talked minimally at the hospital, but in their brief encounter, Michael had been charmed by her youthful intelligence, her optimistic attitude, and the endearing chatter-box mouth she'd evidently inherited from her mother.

……………………………………..

Alex gasped when his eyes saw the man approaching the backside of the building. With haste, Alex positioned himself behind the boxwoods that lined the building. He watched the man dressed in a black suit retrieve a plastic card from his coat pocket and hold it against the Veriscan box next to the door. When the light on the box turned green, the man pushed through the door and entered the building.

Alex panicked as he realized that though he was left behind to guard, he had no way to notify Michael about any company. Quickly, he used his cell phone to call Maria who was waiting with Liz in the van about half a mile from the gate. The strategy was for Max to phone them when they had Hope; the girls would then drive the van to the front entrance and provide the get-away vehicle for the escape. So, Alex knew that he could call Maria, she could call Max, and Max could use the communicators to tell Michael.

“Maria,” Alex breathed when his friend answered her phone.

“Alex? What’s wrong?” Maria asked in a panic. She wasn’t expecting him to call, so she immediately assumed the worst.

“You’ve got to call Max. Get word to Michael that there is someone in the building…right behind him,” Alex spoke hurriedly not wasting any time on needless detail.

“I’m on it,” Maria answered.

………………………………………

Michael impatiently moved out of the shadows and closer to the target room. He shut his left eye and, with his right eye, unsuccessfully tried to peer through the crack between the door and the wall. Michael froze suddenly as he heard footsteps approaching. Standing completely still, he listened closely and determined the footsteps were coming from the side hall to his right. Slowly, he began taking steps backwards toward the shadows, being cautious not to alert the person of his position.

Without warning, Max’s voice sounded through the communicator Michael wore around his wrist. “Michael.”

Michael stopped and so did the footsteps. He knew the person had heard the sound. Both men stood silently listening. When Michael heard the footsteps resume, he too began taking steps backwards. He pushed through the door of a janitor’s supply closet and stood silently, breathing heavily.

From inside the dark closet, Michael watched the light from the hallway that entered from the opening where the door met the floor. He listened attentively as the footsteps grew closer. In a matter of seconds, he saw shadows pass in front of the door.

“Michael, we’ve got company,” Max’s voice sounded again.

Michael threw his hand over the communicator, but his thinking was too little, too late. The man had certainly heard the message. Michael’s heart pounded in his chest as he heard the footsteps stop and resume coming in his direction. He nervously prepared himself for battle as the light coming in beneath the door dimmed, indicating the person was standing right outside the closet door.

Michael took a deep breath and released a dominating roar as he shoved the closet door with all his physical strength. He heard a loud popping sound as the door made contact with the person on the other side, and then he heard a thud as the person hit the ground.

Cautiously, Michael exited the closet and observed a man in a black suit knocked out on the floor.

He snickered and shook his head. “Didn’t they teach you to stand beside the door, not in front of it?” he remarked.

"Michael," Max's voice sounded.

"Yeah," Michael whispered into the communicator.

“There’s someone in the building,” Max answered.

“We’ve met,” Michael replied.

“Is everything clear?” Max asked.

“For now,” Michael answered.

"Okay, let's roll," Max said signaling the attack.

"Right," Michael responded. He looked at the target door and took a deep breath. One final thought ran through his head before the plan commenced. "I've got to get in there and get my little girl."

..................................................................

"I don't understand," Max said confused as he, Michael and Isabel stood in the empty room.

"You were so sure," Isabel said not understanding how they could have been so wrong.

"I felt her," Michael said hanging his head. He felt that he'd let down everyone, including Maria and Hope.

Isabel recognized Michael's vulnerable state and moved closer to him. She touched his shoulder in an effort to comfort him. She knew he felt full responsibility for finding Hope, but she also knew how difficult the search might be. "Michael, it's okay," she spoke.

Michael looked at Isabel's face and mistook her sympathetic eyes. He assumed the sadness he saw in them was her doubting him. "I did," Michael defended himself pulling away from Isabel to look her squarely in the face. "I did feel her. As soon as we came close to this building." He looked at Max and pleaded for them to believe him, "I swear it."

"Hey," Isabel interrupted widening her eyes in surprise. "Who are you trying to convince? We believe you. Right, Max?" Isabel said turning her eyes to her brother.

"Of course," Max answered without hesitation. He realized that the person Michael was trying to convince was himself. He also knew that the last thing they needed was Michael doubting himself. There was no way such negative thinking could help them. And as time become more precious, they needed to take advantage of all their resources - including any hunches Michael had.

"What's that?" Isabel said curiously as she moved toward a shiny object lying on the floor near the back door of the room.

Max and Michael followed Isabel to the other side of the room where she bent down and retrieved a necklace.

Isabel held the necklace in the air to show Max and Michael who looked on as a locket swung from the thin chain.

Immediatley, Michael recognized the locket. It was the one Hope wore around her neck in the hospital. Michael reached forward to take the locket in his left hand. Just as he touched the locket, Michael's mind was rushed with visions of Hope. He gasped and held his breath as the visions took over every sense of his body. He saw Hope sitting in a chair in the center of the room, bound and blindfolded. He felt her feeble fear. Fear of the man in the white coat with the dark eyes and the black, spiky hair. Fear of the darkness. Fear of never getting out of that cold and dark room and fear of never again seeing her mommy or Uncle Alex or Auntie Liz. All she wanted was her mama and Michael's emotions detected Hope's call. He knew Hope felt confident that her mama would make everything all right! His heart cried out to her as she whimpered about wanting her mama. He would have given anything to reach out and grab her and hold her tight. He watched as tears traveled down her soft cheeks and he felt every determining effort Hope gave towards stopping the tears. The stale odor of cigarettes hung in the room. He watched helplessly as a man approached Hope and bent down to whisper in her ear. He struggled to hear what the man told Hope. A second person, a woman in a white coat, joined them. She waved for the man to come to her. Michael’s visions halted suddenly when he heard the man say, “The girl is expendable.”

"Michael," Isabel shouted bringing Michael back to the reality of the empty room.

"She was here," Michael breathed. “And she’s a decoy.”
posted on 16-May-2002 11:28:26 PM by Candy and Doris
“Sergeant, what do you have?” the head of the unit spoke into his cell phone after receiving the red-alarm notification.

“A definite invasion, Sir,” the sergeant answered.

“An invasion?” the unit head scoffed at the possibility. “The facility is controlled by the FBI’s best crews and monitored by top-of-the-line security equipment - security equipment not even available to the public. In fact, there are no records that this type of intelligence even exists.” The man’s voice became more and more strained as he spoke.

The sergeant detected the developing anger in the voice of the unit head. “I am aware, Sir,” he assured the head that he knew the elevated level of defense that was in place for the building. “We are not… quite sure… how the intruders got over the security system. The cameras appear to have been… uh, melted… and the retina scans never sent out an alert for suspicious use.”

“How could anyone get past a system without knowledge of how it operates? And we, Sergeant, are the only unit aware of its existence, much less how it functions,” the head touted. “Are you positive the intruders were not insiders, Sergeant?”

“Yes, Sir. In fact, one of the intruders attacked one of our men,” the sergeant answered the head knowing that his latest news would do nothing more than to further anger him. The sergeant held the phone away from his ear as the other man cursed and shouted. When the sergeant heard the cursing stop, he returned the phone to his ear and waited for instructions.

“Who?” the head breathed angrily into the phone not understand how he’d come to be paneled with such dimwits.

“Fields, Sir,” the sergeant answered.

“Fields was overcome by one man? One man!?” The head yelled unable to control his anger.

“Fields believes he was the victim of a team effort. He heard communication in use prior to his attack,” the Sergeant answered knowing such information was not going to help Field’s case.

The head breathed slowly grasping at any small piece of sanity he had remaining. “I will take care of Fields… personally.” The head regrouped his thoughts and focused on the matter at hand. “The important thing is they showed up. And eventually, they will return... just as we planned. Did they get the girl?”

The sergeant was glad to finally have a bit of good news to share and a positive answer to one of the head’s questions. “No, Sir. The girl was sent to your personal facility as you ordered. By the time the suspects arrived she was out of this facility.” The sergeant grinned as he heard the unit head chuckle on the other end of the phone. Feeling proud of his efforts, the sergeant continued. “Today’s incident was a close call, but your quick thinking and impeccable direction saved the unit’s plan, Sir. Your immaculate plot and flawless strategy are to be commended, Sir. I am sure I speak for the entire unit when I say…”

The unit head interrupted the sergeant. “Do you think you could type your comments on letterhead and send it to me, Sergeant?”

The sergeant became excited to know his words had delighted the head. “Why, yes, Sir. Of course, Sir.”

“Great,” the head answered. “Then I can file it in my rear with your nose. Now, do you think we could focus on the matter at hand?”

“Yes, Sir,” the sergeant answered stunned that the unit head had called him on his self-serving compliments.

The unit head spoke, “They are getting too close too quick. I don’t like the idea that they are strategizing as a team. There is only one of them that we want. The others are just in the way. It’s time to activate the next step of the plan. That will assure us we get the target by herself. I want that alien, do you understand me? Marianna, is that the name she goes by?”

“Yes, Sir,” the Sergeant complied.

“You know what to do sergeant, now get to it,” the unit head hissed.

“Right away, Sir. But I need the little girl in order to…” the Sergeant spoke.

“No, Sergeant!! She’s much too important to risk losing in the hands of your mediocre crew,” the unit crew spouted.

The sergeant thought for a moment before asking, “But, Sir, the object of phase two is to entice the mother to turn herself over to us. How can I accomplish the directive without the girl as incentive?”

“How long have you been with the special unit, Sergeant?” the unit head asked with a tone of sarcasm in his voice.

The sergeant suspected the question was not asked out of curiosity, but he was obligated to answer truthfully. “Twelve years, Sir.”

“And during those twelve years, were you trained by Johns and Adams of the FBI or were you trained by Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street?” the unit head asked mockingly. He breathed a heavy sigh and gave up. “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. You know what? Just leave everything to me. You apparently haven’t any clue about the delicacy and importance in this matter. American lives are at stake here, rookie; your life, my life, the lives of your daughters and your son. We have only broken ground on the first layer of knowledge in understanding what this alien woman is capable of. Not only is she an alien and may well be capable of killing us, but she is famous and has the world in her hands. No doubt she'll use that to her advantage. She is probably just waiting for the perfect time to get rid of us all. And if there are more like her…there is just so much we don’t know. We cannot lose her. For the good of our country, we must not fail.”

“I am aware of...” the sergeant began but was cut off by the unit head.

“Silence!! As of this moment, you are no longer directing this case. From this point forward, you are to speak of this case only when given direct orders to do so. Otherwise…” The unit head took a moment to calm his quickly deteriorating nerves. “I will be directing all matters. I need you over here. Phase two of the plan is about to commence. You’ve got the kids under surveillance?”

The sergeant paused for a moment as he flipped through the most recent logs of his crewmembers. He wanted to be certain the appropriate staff was on the surveillance team before confirming.

The silence tried the unit head’s patience. “Answer me when I talk to you, Sergeant!!” he demanded.

“They are all under surveillance, Sir,” the sergeant replied quickly.

“Perfect,” the unit head chuckled.

…………………………………………………………

Maria frantically paced back and forth in the living room of her townhouse apartment. Each second that they waited without some legitimate action towards rescuing her daughter wore more rigidly on her nerves. She pictured the white room. Max had nightmares for years. He woke up in cold sweats. To this day, he won’t talk about some of the things that happened to him in the white room. Max… a brave king and leader. She dared to imagine how Hope would handle such torture… if she survived. Maria pulled her fingers through her hair and focused on controlling her uneven breathing.

“Cálmate M’ija. Ten esperanza. No ganaras nada si sigues en esas condiciones.”

Maria stopped pacing and looked at Lupe. She had been so caught up in her worries that she had not even noticed when Lupe entered the room.

“But that’s the problem, Lupe! I don’t have Hope,” Maria sighed and slumped on the couch. She understood Lupe’s reasoning about worrying not solving anything, but at the moment, nothing made sense to her. Nothing except searching for Hope. She buried her face in her hands and Liz wrapped her arm around Maria’s shoulders.

When everyone first arrived back at the apartment, Michael, Alex and Max had immediately secluded themselves in the kitchen with Alex’s laptop. Michael described everything he saw in his flash while Alex took notes and together the three men tried to determine their next course of action.

After much deliberation with little hope of answers, Alex came into the living room where Lupe, Liz and Isabel worked to comfort Maria.

“Alex!! What happened? Do you know where Hope is? Alex answer me! Where’s Michael? Alex, what’s going on!” Maria blurted. She stood silently as she looked at Alex’s grim face. She reached for Alex and shook her head as she prepared for the worst.

“I’m sorry, Maria,” he whispered. “We just don’t know.”

Isabel stood from her seat on the couch and joined Alex. She knew he was hurting and would need her.

Michael and Max slowly walked into the room. Immediately, Michael’s eyes locked with Maria’s. “We don’t know where else to look for Hope, Maria,” he said looking down. He knew the words would upset Maria, but they hurt him, too. He refused to quit, but he had to be honest with Maria and let her know that they were at a loss for a plan. In fact, they didn’t know where to even start. The vision he had was too brief. He knew Hope was alive, but he didn’t know for how long and he didn’t know where.

Maria instinctively ran to Michael and melted into his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder.

Without a second thought, Michael accepted Maria into his arms and held her tightly. He debated whether or not to tell Maria about finding the locket or about the visions. He was afraid that she would not be able to cope with knowing the fear he saw in Hope’s helpless, tear-filled eyes. He didn’t know how to tell Maria that her daughter screamed for her mother… needing her mother’s comforting touch. He didn’t know how to tell Maria that he stood safely and watched as Hope sobbed uncontrollably out of sheer terror. He hugged Maria tighter and wished he could take the pain from her life… and his. He stroked her soft hair and held onto his last piece of hope. They would find their daughter Hope. He silently vowed that if it were the last thing he ever did, he would find Hope.

Michael knew he couldn’t lie or contain any more information. He knew that if he and Maria were ever going to be what they once were, then honesty was something that couldn’t be taken lightly. “Maria I saw her again,” he whispered.

His voice was so faint that Maria wasn’t quite sure she’d actually heard him say anything at all. Slowly, she lifted her head from his shoulder and looked questioningly into his eyes.

He answered her unspoken request. “I saw Hope.”

Maria concentrated on Michael's eyes giving him her full attention as she urged him to continue.

Michael spoke, “She was at... some facility, or some clinical-type white..” his voice trailed off as he realized what he was saying.

“What do you mean you saw her? Why isn’t she with you, then? Michael?" Maria stopped talking when she realized Michael had seen Hope in visions only. "Oh," Maria said as her brows lowered. "You just said you saw her in a white room, didn't you?" Her eyes lowered and she began to sob quietly.

Michael lifted Maria's chin and brought his finger up to her lips. “Shhh…it’s gonna be okay. I got visions when I found the this.” He dug into his pocket and retrieved the locket. Slowly he opened his hand to show Maria.

Maria glared at the locket and extended her hand to touch the locket.

Michael released his fingers and allowed the locket to fall into Maria's open hand.

Maria stared at the locket in silence.

“It’s the locket I gave her,” Alex whispered.

Isabel looped her arm through Alex's just to let him know she was there... for him.

"I know," Maria replied still staring sadly at the locket. Liz moved closer to Maria and affectionately touched her arm.

Max and Michael looked at Alex. Alex looked at Isabel with thankful eyes before dropping her arm. He approached Maria and reached out to touch the locket. He wished he could put the locket where it belonged - around Hope's neck. “I gave her this locket so she would always have a piece of her mother with her...close to her heart," he said explaining to Michael and Max. "It's a piece of you, Maria."

Michael looked back at Maria. He wanted more than anything to take away the pain he saw in her face. He wanted to see her smile the way she did years ago. It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't seen her impulsively smile from happiness at all since they'd become reacquainted - so to speak. He thought about what Alex had just said and frowned as he realized Maria's condition was partly his fault. He thought, "Hope's in trouble because of the piece of me she has." He scoffed at the irony associated witht he locket.

Michael looked at Maria and felt utter guilt. “She was in the base, Maria.”

“But now Hope’s gone isn’t she Michael? Isn’t she?” She looked at Michael already knowing the answer that she dreaded. Still, she had to hear the words to make it real.

Everyone looked at each other with concern. Max didn't want to intrude on a moment that belonged to Michael and Maria. Liz hung her head and silently prayed. Alex closed his eyes and remembered Hope's spirit. Isabel nervously fiddled with her nails. Michael and Maria continued to stare into each other's eyes. Maria waited for the inevitable. Michael tried to speak, but the right words escaped him.

Lupe looked at everyone with disbelief. She could not believe what was happening. "Que pasa aquí?" she shouted into the silence. She looked back and forth at each person in the room. "Are you kidding me? You are just going to give up? Just like that? Let them have her? What's wrong with you people?" She shook her head as everyone stared at her. "This is Hope! And you are all going to just sit by and give up? After one try? Whatever happened to 'if at first you don't succeed?' This is a human life we're talking about here...not lost keys!"

The phone rang loudly. Everyone continued to stare at Lupe in shock from, not only her outburst, but also the in-your-face truth she spoke.

Maria was the first to move as the phone rang a second time. Everyone else continued to stand in thought.

Maria cleared her voice and tried to push aside all remnants of emotion from her voice. “Hello?” Maria spoke into the phone.

When no one replied, Maria repeated louder, “Hello?”

After another long pause, Maria allowed the anger in her voice to come through. "Listen,” she muttered between her gritted teeth. “I am in no mood for your unpleasant and untimely jokes right now, so please just…”

“Mommy?” she heard a frail delicate voice.

Maria's breath caught in her chest. She felt her legs weaken and she reached for the wall to steady herself. "Hope?” Maria whispered.

Alex and Michael looked up when they heard Maria's whisper. Alex pointed Michael to the phone in the kitchen as he headed to the phone in the bedroom upstairs.

At hearing her mother’s voice, Hope’s tears became hysterical sobs. “Mommy!” Hope cried.

At hearing the sound of her daughter calling out for her, Maria wanted to drop to the floor and cry. She had no idea how long the God-sent opportunity to speak to Hope would last. She assured herself there would be time for a breakdown later. At the moment, however, she needed to be strong for her daughter. She needed to convince Hope, if not herself, that everything would be okay.

“Hope where are you? You need to tell Mommy where you are so I can come and get you, okay? Everything will be fine, baby. Just stay strong, okay?” Maria heard muffed voices at the other end of the line. "Hope?" Just as quickly as she had come, Hope was gone.

“The girl's fine. Give us what we want and we’ll give you the girl,” a voice spoke. The man's voice sounded vaguely familiar to Maria, but she couldn't quite place how she knew it.

“Anything,” Maria spoke in anger. “Anything! But please don’t do anything to Hope,” her voice cracked as she spoke.

"Your daughter’s safety is in your own hands, Marianna," the man said plainly.

“What do you want?” Maria cried. "Is it money? Tell me how much you want... anything at all. Just please, return my daughter.”

“This isn’t about money, dear Marianna. This is about you!" The man paused. He knew she was hanging on his every word and it thrilled him to have so much control. "We know all about you. We know who you are…or should I say ‘what’ you are? Surrender yourself to us and you have our word your daughter will be safe from all of this."

"How?" Maria asked.

"There's a pier on the west side of LA near the Manhattan State Beach. Be there at 5:45 tomorrow morning - alone. And Marianna? I'm warning you - come alone. If you try something... if you bring your little friends... if there is the slightest indication you are not complying with the rules, then I know a cute little blonde girl who will pay the price."

Maria could hear muffled cries in the background. "Hope?" she called. As Maria shouted, the man severed the call. "Hope!"

Michael hung up the phone and walked out of the kitchen. He stared sadly at Maria. "You can't. I won't let you," Michael said almost begging Maria not to accept the terms. He couldn't bear the thought of losing both Hope and Maria. He didn't understand why the caller wanted Maria, but something in the man's tone of voice told Michael he had no intentions of returning Hope.

Maria raised her eyebrows to tell Michael she had no choice. She turned her face to Liz. "Hope will be home tomorrow.
posted on 6-Jun-2002 10:12:49 PM by Candy and Doris
“How can I not, Michael?” Maria asked as she stared out of her bedroom window with her arms crossed over her chest.

“Well, at least let me go with you,” Michael argued and moved to stand behind Maria.

“He said not to bring anyone,” Maria told Michael for the hundredth time.

“Maria, please,” Michael pleaded and gently placed his right hand on Maria’s shoulder.

“Michael, I have to do this,” Maria said shaking her head. She turned her back to the window and faced Michael. “Can't you understand that? I will do whatever it takes to bring Hope safely home. Whatever it takes, Michael.”

Michael looked deeply into Maria’s eyes and knew exactly what her words meant. Maria would die for Hope... and Michael suspected Maria was prepared for that to happen. “She needs you,” Michael said begging Maria to think about her decision.

“She has Alex and Liz... and she has you now,” Maria spoke quietly never losing eye contact with the man standing before her.

“She hardly knows me, Maria. I... I,” Michael searched for any words to say that might help change Maria’s mind. As much as he wanted Hope safe, he felt an uncertainty about the “offer” presented by the kidnappers. “I suck with kids, Maria,” he forced a laugh. “You, of all people, should know that. You know, one day she will need one of those... ugh,” Michael motioned to his chest. “And... and... how will I ever be able to explain... you know, boys and girls. And on that same subject, she will hate me when she starts dating. I’ll be the over-protective father who makes her wear skirts below her ankles and Lord help the poor fellow who comes to the door wanting to take her to the movies.” Michael slowed his speech when he saw Maria roll her eyes and heard her giggle. “You see,” he said reinforcing his point. “She needs you.”

“Yeah, she needs me to protect her from you,” Maria laughed.

Michael loved seeing Maria smile. There was nothing funny about their situation, but still he loved to see her change her focus... even if it was for only a brief moment.

Immediately, Maria returned her attention to the matter at hand. “I have no choice, Michael. They are only letting Hope go if they have...”

“Let me go,” Michael interrupted. Maria shook her head.

“I already told you Michael, the man said for me not to bring...”

“That’s not what I mean,” Michael interrupted again. “Let me go in your place.” Maria looked at Michael with astonishment as he continued. “The man said to come alone. But what if I came alone in stead of you? They could take me and let Hope come home to you.”

Maria couldn’t believe what Michael was suggesting. Michael, who wanted to leave town at the very idea that someone might be on to the alien secret, was ready to turn himself in... willingly and without a fight. Maria was stunned at what Michael was considering, but she couldn’t let him give up his life for her. Hope had been her responsibility for years. She wasn’t accustomed to sharing responsibility for her well-being. Michael had worked hard for the life he’d built for himself and she refused to stand idly by and let him give that up... not when there was an alternative. “Michael, I can’t let you...” Maria started to shake her head.

Michael reached forward and brushed a stray strand of hair from Maria’s forehead. “I can take care of myself.” Michael grinned and said, “You know, I have these certain...” He looked at his hands. “I've got these certain abilities that can be useful.” Michael looked at Maria and continued. “I know you want to do everything for Hope. And believe me, I do too. But what if the man doesn’t honor his bargain? What if he takes you and doesn’t let Hope go?”

Maria hung her head as Michael confirmed her every fear.

Michael watched as Maria realized the truth he spoke. “There’s more I can do than you can in this particular situation. I can… help her… and I can make sure they won’t come for her again.” Michael moved closer to Maria and firmly pledged, “I’ve I just found her. You’ve got to know that I’ll do anything to find her again.”

Maria looked at Michael’s hands. She knew that he spoke sincerely. Michael had once been reckless and careless with his powers, but he’d grown and his powers had matured.

Michael moved his hand to Maria’s shoulder again and gently pulled her towards him. He embraced her in a hug. He folded his head into her neck and assured her, “And I won’ lose you again, either.”

Michael and Maria stood together for a small eternity. Neither of them moved and both wanted desperately to freeze the moment forever. Silence surrounded them as a rush of emotions filled both beating hearts.

Finally, Maria lifted her head from Michael’s shoulder and looked into his hazel eyes. “How did this happen?” she whispered.

Slowly, Michael shook his head answering Maria’s question. “I’ll bring her home, Maria,” Michael promised.

....................................................................................................................

Liz woke when she heard a door opening downstairs. “Max,” Liz whispered into the dark room.

Liz looked over the edge of her bed and saw Max lying on the floor. She remembered what he’d said the night before as they uncomfortably discussed sleeping arrangements. “If we’re starting over, then I think it’s best that we really start over... on every level.” Liz’s heart fell at the words, but her spirit was immediately revived when Max finished his thought. “But I can’t bear the thought of being so far away from you - even as far as the next room. So, if it’s okay with you, I’ll sleep on the floor next you. I just need to be able to hear you breath.”

Liz’s thoughts were interrupted when she heard a door closing downstairs. She feared the kidnappers had returned. “Max,” Liz whispered a little louder.

Max lifted his head. “What’s wrong?” he asked sitting up.

“I think there’s someone downstairs.”

...................................................................................................................

“She’s gone,” Michael said joining everyone in the living room of Maria’s apartment. “I found this,” he said holding a folded piece of notebook paper. Michael sat down on the couch and slowly began reading aloud.

“Dear Michael,

I’m sorry. I have to. Please don’t follow me and please don’t show up at the pier tomorrow morning. I have to be sure she’s safe... and I’m afraid they will hurt her if they don’t get me. Take care of her, Michael. She needs you more than you know. And as for those few doubts you had earlier today... Liz can help. So can Isabel. And Alex is an old pro. You’ll be a brilliant dad. I have no worries.

I’m sorry - for everything.

I never stopped loving you, Spaceboy.

Maria.”

Michael’s hands caught his falling face and he breathed heavily into his palms.

“So, now what?” Alex asked breaking the silence in the room. Everyone turned to look questioningly at him. “Well, what do we do now?” All eyes in the room exchanged confused glances. “Someone has to have a plan, right?” Alex demanded.

Lupe stood and looked at Alex. “How about some coffee while we think,” she said turning to go towards the kitchen.

“There’s none in there,” Isabel said. “I was gonna make some last night,” she explained when Lupe looked at her. “Anybody got cash? I’ll go get some from the curb store.”

“Yeah,” Liz answered standing and walking to retrieve her black handbag from the end table. “Sure, I’ve got a ten.” As Liz opened her wallet, the ten dollar bill and a photograph fell to the floor at Michael’s feet.

“I’ve got it,” Michael said bending down. He lifted the fallen items and handed them to Liz. Michael’s breath caught in his throat as he noticed a face in the photograph. “Wait,” he managed to blurt as Liz was stuffing the photo back into her wallet. “Who is that?”

Liz nervously pressed the photo into her wallet and fumbled to close the bulky black closures. “I... it’s an old picture... I forgot it was even there.” She kept her eyes glued to her purse and refused to look at Max. Guilt struck her as she realized she had been carrying around the picture taken of her and Jackson on the day they were engaged.

“Let me see it,” Michael demanded standing to reach for Liz’s purse.

“Why?” Liz asked stunned by Michael’s forceful actions.

“Just... let me see it,” Michael said. His voice trailed as he pulled the picture from Liz’s wallet.

Everyone in the room gathered around Michael curious about his interest in the photograph. They all stared at the picture waiting to hear why the photograph had caused such a reaction.

Max looked over Liz’s shoulder at the picture Michael held of Liz and Jackson sitting together before a blue backdrop. The couple smiled happily and Liz’s small hand lay lazily over Jackson’s. She proudly displayed a diamond engagement ring. He knew Liz and Jackson were finished, but still a small twinge of envy coursed through his veins. Liz glanced over her shoulder at Max’s face. He stared at the picture with every thought written clearly in his eyes.

Liz opened her mouth to explain again why she still had the picture in her wallet, but she was interrupted by Michael. “This is him,” he said pointing at Jackson. “This is the guy I saw it the visions. This is who has Hope.”

.............................................................................................................................................

“Michael,” Isabel said pushing Michael’s chest and walking him backwards to the bedroom door. "I won’t be able to go sleep with you hovering over me like a vulture.” Isabel turned to look at Alex who sat on the edge of the bed apparently assuming he was exempt from being excused. “You too, Alex,” she demanded.

“Oh, come on,” Alex whined. “I won’t make a peep,” he whispered. He pretended to zip his lips with his fingers and tossed the imaginary key.

Isabel lifted her chin and looked at Alex over the tip of her nose. He understood her unvoiced instructions. He frowned and pouted and stood to walk towards the door.

“Okay,” Michael said stepping outside the doorway. “Just promise you’ll come downstairs as soon as you wake.”

“What? Do you think I'm gonna keep it some big secret?” Isabel asked sarcastically.

“No, I just...” Michael stopped. He looked very seriously at Isabel and said, “It’s really important, you know?”

“I know, Michael,” Isabel reassured him she would do everything she could to help. “I’ll be down soon,” she said touching Michael’s arm before closing the door to the guest bedroom.

Isabel lay down on her back in the middle of the bed. She held the picture of Jackson and Liz in her hand. She took a deep breath, touched her finger to Jackson’s face and closed her eyes.
posted on 6-Jun-2002 10:13:28 PM by Candy and Doris
Maybe we should go check on her," Michael said pacing the length of the living room.

"No," Liz said watching the sun rise through the front window. "Let her get all she can from him. We need to know as much as she can learn." Liz lowered hr eyes. She felt guilty knowing Jackson was Hope's kidnapper.

"It's not your fault," Max said sensing Liz's emotions.

Liz turned to look at Max and briefly grinned before returning her eyes to the orange horizon. She's always loved how Max could practically read her every thought. Liz watched as a white van pulled up to the curb outside Maria's townhouse. The driver got out and opened a side door. He pulled out a television camer and mounted a temporary satellite to the roof of the van. A second man in a suit joined him from the passenger's side and connected a microphone to the camera.

"Um... we have company," Liz spoke as the two men walked up the driveway.

"What?" Who?" Michael asked anxiously dashing towards the window. He pulled back the drape to peer through the panes. As he did, a second vehicle parked across the street with a satellite permanently mounted on the roof. Seconds later, a red van parked behind the first. WFXL was written on the side in bold, red letters. Michael said with confusion, "The media?"

Alex cleared his throat and stood. He rolled his eyes and sighed, "A manager's work is never done." He grabbed a sports jacket from the wooden coat tree near the door and slid his bare feet into a pair of loafers protruding from beneath the couch. When he heard Michael snicker, Alex turned and said, "They probably just want an update on Marianna's condition since the accident or the latest word on the release of her next album."

As the doorbell sounded, Alex opened the front door poised to answer fan-related questions that he expected would be aired during the celebrity gossip segment of the evening news. Instead, he was floored by an agressive reporter who beat around no bushes to say what he was there to learn.

"Is it true that Marianna's daughter is missing?" the reporter shouted and shoved the microphone into Alex's face.

The blinding lights of the television cameras and the question for which he was unprepared to answer stunned Alex. He opened his mouth to answer and froze. His eyes widened and his breathing quickened as panic began to set in. "Uh... he studdered."

"Is the girl safe? Has Marianna had contact with Hope at all? Are there any negotiations in process for her return?" another reporter spouted questions as Alex struggled to gather his thoughts.

"Hope is not missing," Alex blurted. He reasoned that while his statement was not complete truth, it was not entirely false either. She was not missing - they knew who she was with. It was simply a matter of getting her back.

"Is she here?" a third reporter continued.

"No," Alex calmly stated. He developed a plan. "She's not here. She is visiting with her grandmother out of state." Alex inwardly smiled with pride at his quick thinking.

"Is Marianna available for a statement?" the reporter refused to give up. "Can she verify the whereabouts of her daughter."

"Look," Alex said. "Marianna is a very private person and she values the alone time between she and her daughter. She will not comment on anything regarding her family or personal life. If you'd like comments regarding her next release..."

"Not interested," one of the reporters interrupted. "We received an anonymous tip that Marianna is having problems healing from the head injuries in her recent car accident. Are those injuries in fact the reason that she has sent Hope to stay with her grandmother?"

Alex thought, "Dang. Can't win for losing. My plan backfired." He began to close the door. "Marianna is fine. Hope is fine. We will not discuss her personal life. If you have no further questions regarding her release, then our conversation is finished."

The reporters continued to shout questions about Marianna's failing health as Alex forced the door closed.

"Can you believe that?" he asked taking off his jacket and shoes.

"Who was the anonymous tip from?" Max asked.

A door slammed upstairs and everyone turned their attention to the newest occupant of the room. Isabel stood at the base of the stairs. "They think she's an alien," she announced. "They don't know we exist. It's us they want, but it's her they got."
posted on 5-Jul-2002 10:34:59 PM by Candy and Doris
Maria parked her car outside the pier café. She marveled at the irony of her good parking space. Every other time she and Alex had brought Hope to the beach, they’d had to park several blocks away and walk. But at such an early hour, the only people roaming about were a few hotel staff and the occasional tourist hoping to find shells while the tide was out.

Maria sat in the car staring at the ocean before her. She wondered if she would ever again see the seagulls flying over the water in search of fish or hear the waves crash against the shore. In the long run, though, she would happily give up her own freedom for Hope’s. She knew that by turning herself in to the kidnappers, Hope would be able to visit the ocean again and she could swim until she was wrinkled like a raisin, and she would get to experience the rush of a first date, and she would know the pride in tossing her graduation cap, and maybe one day she would walk down the isle. And when that happened, Maria knew that Michael would be there to walk with her.

She sighed one last free breath before accepting her fate. Maria tossed her keys into the passenger’s seat and stepped out of her car. Slowly, she pushed the car door until it latched so as not to disturb the early morning calm. Out of habit, she brushed at her pants to flatten the wrinkles from sitting. Maria shook her head when she realized she was tidying herself for presentation.

With her face forward and her head high, Maria began a slow march towards the wooden steps that lead from the parking lot in front of the pier café to the silver sand below the pier. She drug her hand along the wooden railing of the steps. Just as she reached final step, she felt a sudden sting in her finger. Maria gasped and lifted her hand from the railing. She stared at the tiny splinter of wood that was protruding from the soft skin of her pointer finger.

While examining her finger, a large cold hand touched Maria’s shoulder. She spun around quickly and came face-to-face with a familiar man.

“Hello, Marianna,” the man spoke cruelly.

Maria lowered her brows and squint her eyes as she realized why the man looked so familiar. “Jackson,” she whispered with shock.

With a rush of actions, Jackson grabbed the back of Maria’s neck and, with his other hand, covered her mouth with a wash cloth. Maria gasped for air and suddenly felt weak. Her eyelids became weighted and she fought to keep her vision in focus. Immediately, Maria knew what had happened. Her body became heavy, and she sunk to her knees.

“Whoa,” Jackson said taking Maria beneath her arms to keep her from falling. “You won’t do us any good with a head injury.”

Just before everything went dark, Maria managed to whisper, “Where’s Hope?”

………………………………….

“Why do they think she’s an alien?” Michael asked confused.

“I don’t know, Michael,” Isabel answered. “I’m telling you exactly what I know… and that is the kidnappers think Maria is an alien.”

“Michael,” Max spoke from the couch across the living room. “Catch,” he said as he tossed the remote control into the air towards Michael.

Michael easily caught the remote control and looked angrily at Max. “What? Are you incapable of turning on the television yourself?”

“Think about it, Michael,” Max said with composure.

Michael looked back at the remote in his hand. After a second, his scowl began to change. Insight spread across his face and his eyes grew wide with fearful realization. Still staring at the remote, he whispered, “If they saw anything like what we saw…” Michael looked at Max and they both shared a moment of understanding.

Isabel looked at Liz. Liz looked Alex. Alex looked at Lupe.

Finally, Lupe blurted, “Well! You wanna clue the rest of us in?”

………………………………..

“You ready?” Isabel asked.

“As I’ll ever be,” Michael said nervously. He needed desperately to talk to Maria and he was grateful for Isabel’s help, but he’d never participated in a dreamwalk. Truth be known, he was a bit concerned about how the entire process worked. He was afraid of not being able to distinguish the dream from reality. He was worried about how it would feel to make the connection. Still, the importance of the opportunity greatly surpassed the petty fears he harbored.

“Will she be able to see us?” Michael asked.

“If you reveal yourself to her. You have to let her know you’re there,” Isabel explained.

“Will she remember when she wakes?” Michael asked taking Isabel’s hand as the pair stretched out onto the bed.

“Let’s hope so,” Isabel sighed lifting her eyebrows.

………………………………

“Isabel?” Michael whispered.

“Right beside you,” Isabel answered.

Michael turned his head to his left and tried desperately to focus his eyes. “It’s so dark,” he exclaimed.

“She’s in a very deep sleep,” Isabel explained.

“Where is she?” Michael asked squinting his eyes in hopes of seeing better.

“I don’t know,” Isabel answered. “Call to her, Michael.”

Michael took a deep breath and shouted loudly, “Maria!”

“Whoa!” Isabel exclaimed bringing her hands to her ears. She laughed at Michael’s urgency. “You don’t have to yell!”

“Oh,” Michael said. “I thought…”

“We’re in her dream,” Isabel interrupted. “She’s nearby. She just needs to hear your voice so she will come to us,” Isabel explained.

The darkness began to lift and revealed a white expanse of nothingness.

“What’s going on?” a voice asked from behind Isabel and Michael.

Isabel and Michael spun around and saw Maria looking very confused.

“Maria!” Michael called and hurried to her side. “Are you okay?” Michael threw his arms around Maria and hugged her tightly.

“Um,” Maria said not understanding. “Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?” When Michael didn’t let her go, Maria began to suspect Michael’s actions. “The question is… are you okay? What’s with all this affection?”

“Maria,” Isabel said. “Can we… hey, we need…” Isabel moved to where Michael stood crushing Maria. She touched Michael on the shoulder willing him to let Maria go so they could talk to her before their time in the dreamwalk came to an end. When Michael didn’t budge, Isabel pushed her arm between Michael and Maria.

Maria looked over Michael’s shoulder at Isabel and shrugged her shoulders. She patted Michael’s back and said, “Okay, Michael. What’s going on?”

“Hey!” Isabel shouted into Michael’s ear.

Michael turned lose of Maria and rubbed his ear. “What was that for?” he asked still rubbing his ringing ear.

Isabel put her hands on her hips. “Give the girl some breathing room, will ya?” She looked at Maria and asked, “Do you know where you are?”

Maria looked around at the white expanse and finally became aware of her unusual surroundings. She turned around and looked in all directions. “Well,” she said slowly still examining the nothingness that the three were standing in. “Now that you mention it…”

“You’re asleep, Maria,” Isabel interrupted. You left your apartment this morning and went down to the pier at the beach.

“I did?” Maria asked. “Why?” Maria smiled finding amusement in watching Michael continue to hold his aching ear.

Isabel continued. “You came down to the pier to… for… well, Hope was taken from you a couple of days ago…”

Maria’s smile faded. Hearing Hope’s name brought her back into the undesirable reality she’d experienced the past few days. She dropped her face and began to breath hard as memories came flooding back. She remembered frantically searching her apartment for Hope. She remembered finding the empty bed and the open window in Hope’s room. She remembered thrashing through Michael’s apartment and she remembered how he’d become her brick wall as she realized Hope was gone. She remembered the anticipation she’d felt when they thought they’d found where Hope was being held by her kidnappers and she remembered the utter despair she felt when they found Hope was not there. She remembered the threatening phone call and the fight with Michael over who whose life would be traded for Hope’s life.

Then Maria remembered being at the pier. She remembered seeing Jackson and she remembered struggling as he held a rag over her mouth.

“It’s Jackson,” Maria said looking up at Michael and Isabel with wide, terrified eyes.

“We know,” Michael said. “I saw him when I touched Hope’s locket.”

“Why?” Maria asked confused.

Isabel moved closer to Maria and spoke softly in an effort soften the blow. “He thinks you’re… he thinks you’re one of us.”

Maria smiled. She laughed and rolled her eyes thinking Isabel was surely joking. “He thinks I’m an alien? Come on. Where would he get an idea like that?”

“From Hope,” Michael whispered.

Immediately, Maria became angry. She could not believe that Michael was trying to blame Hope for anything that had happened. “Why would you say something like that? Hope would never…”

Michael interrupted Maria. “It’s because of me.”

“What?” Maria asked quietly. Her anger turned to pain. She wondered why he would do anything to hurt her… or to hurt Hope.

“Hope inherited some of my least favorable qualities… besides my chin,” Michael only half joked trying to smile. “I saw her, Maria. I saw her using abilities that aren’t… human.”

Isabel spoke. “They must have seen her, too.” She touched Maria’s shoulder. As she did, she felt the dreamwalk slipping. “We’re close, Maria. We’re bringing you and Hope both home very soon.”

Michael looked at Isabel and realized what was happened. He embraced Maria and spoke softly but urgently into her ear. “Let them believe it, Maria. Tell them you won’t show them any E.T. moves until Hope is home.” Keeping his hands on her shoulders, he pulled away and looked into her eyes. “We’re coming to get you. Just hang on. I swear… we’ll be home soon.”

“We?” Maria asked.

Michael smiled when he heard her repeat the word he’d used. “Yeah… we. Me, you and Hope… we’ll be home soon.”

…………………………………

“So nice of you to finally join us in the world of the living,” a woman said.

Maria opened her eyes slowly and looked in the direction of the voice.

A woman in a long, white lab coat sat at a small table holding a clipboard. She removed the pencil she had tucked behind her ear and glanced at her watch.

“You’ve been out for a long time. Everyone’s anxious to get started,” the woman said writing on the clipboard.

Maria looked around the room. Three walls were solid white with no pictures or windows. A fourth wall was glass… apparently a 2-way mirror. Near her feet, an attractive lady sat taking notes. She had small, wire-framed glasses and blonde hair that was pulled neatly into a bun high on her head. Maria looked down at her own body and found she was laying on a thin, horribly uncomfortable hospital gurney. Her arms and ankles were strapped tightly. She was fully clothed, wearing everything she’d left her apartment wearing… except the slip-on mules.

“Where are my shoes?” Maria asked groggily.

The lady looked up from her clipboard and snickered. “Just like a celebrity. You could be drowning in an alligator-filled tank and your biggest worry would be rather or not you were wearing water-proof mascara.”

Maria quickly gathered the woman’s personality was not nearly as attractive as her pretty face. She had awoken recalling everything Michael and Isabel had shared with her in her dream. She prayed it was truth and not simply a fantasy her troubled mind had created in her unconscious state.

Relying on her memories being real, she raised her eyebrows and said sternly, “My shoes?”

Maria meant for her voice to sound threatening, but the woman apparently found no risk of harm from her words. The woman laughed loudly and then stopped. She looked Maria squarely in the eyes for a moment and then pointed toward her own feet.

Maria took the woman’s direction and looked towards the floor.

“I thought they went nicely with my lab coat,” the woman said in her best on-camera voice. She stood and used her arms and hands in a gliding motion to emphasize each piece of clothing as she spoke mocking stars on Emmy night. “Shoes by Aginer, coat from Versace’s summer line, and watch on loan from a very good friend of mine - Grammy-winning performer, Marianna.” The woman proceeded to act as though she were walking a catwalk before finally stopping next to Maria’s gurney. “Do you like it?” she asked extended her arm for Maria to see the watch she’d taken from her.

Maria refused to justify the woman’s attempt to rile her. She kept her cool and focused on the reason she had freely submitted to being there. “Where’s Hope?” Maria said calmly but firmly as she glared into the woman’s eyes.

“Right to the point, aren’t we?” the woman said and moved back to sit at the small table across the room. She lifted her clipboard and began to write.

Maria concluded the woman enjoyed mentally torturing her. She knew Michael’s suggestions would be right on the money. Maria figured the woman wanted to see a reaction out of her as badly as she wanted to see Hope. She decided to play the woman’s game. “I said - Where is Hope?” Maria said even more firmly.

“Well,” the woman said pushing her glasses higher on her thin nose. “If you can indeed do what we suspect, then you’ll have no problem figuring that out.”

“I was told that Hope would be released if I turned myself in,” Maria growled through her clinched teeth.

The woman lowered her face and glared at Maria over the rim of her glasses. “A bargain, huh?”

Maria returned her glare and squinted her eyes. “I held up my end.”

“You’re terribly gullible, aren’t you?” the woman smirked and smiled slightly. “Did they teach you nothing about human nature?” The woman shook her head and smacked her lips as she shook her head. “Pitiful. They can make you look as human as the average Jane, but they can’t teach you the really important things in life. Never use an ATM after sunset, never bet on the Mets, and never bargain with the enemy.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Now let me see her,” Maria snarled.

“Patience is not your virtue,” the woman laughed and returned her attention to her clipboard. She wrote a few lines and stood. She took an apple from the center of the table and placed it near Maria’s feet. “Let’s see you move the apple. Then we’ll discuss Hope.”

Maria knew immediately that the woman wanted her to move the apple with her mind. She recalled what Isabel and Michael told her in the dreamwalk. She knew that if she gave them what they wanted right away or admitted to being powerless, then the kidnappers would sure destroy both she and Hope. Maria refused to let the woman know she was unable to telepathically move the apple. So, she managed to knock the apple from the gurney using her toes.

The woman smiled broadly and nodded her head. She placed the clipboard beneath her arm and clapped her hands. “Bravo. Very clever. Very clever indeed.” She stopped clapping and continued to smile. She walked towards Maria and stopped next to the gurney. The woman lowered her face until she was mere inches from Maria’s face. Her smile disappeared and she spoke firmly. “You will cooperate.”

Maria kept her eyes sternly locked with the woman’s. She responded in the same tone of voice. “Not until you do.”

The woman stood back up and stared at Maria. She thought for a long while before moving back to the table across the room. After a few minutes of writing on her clipboard, the woman stood and walked towards the door. She placed her palm into a reader and waited for the metal door to slide open. Without saying anything, the woman left the room and the door slid closed behind her.

When Maria heard the automatic lock engage, she smiled to herself. Isabel and Michael were right. She was confident the woman would return with Hope.
posted on 5-Jul-2002 10:36:09 PM by Candy and Doris
Except for the two young men who brought her a white coat and waited while she changed into it, Maria hadn't had contact with anyone for nearly two hours. She stood alone in the small room with her arms crossed uneasily across her chest. She tried to wait patiently... but for what she wasn't sure. She nervously looked at the white walls around the room trying to find anything to take her mind from her worries. After a small eternity, Maria's gaze fell upon the two-way mirror. She wondered about the person watching her through the mirror. She had absolutely no doubt there was someone watching her. In fact, Maria doubted that even the briefest moment passed without at least one person carefully and deliberately observing her every move in hopes of witnissing “alien abilities.”

Maria, dressed in the white coat, stared at herself in the two-way mirror. The hair she prided herself in keeping perfect was ruffled and misplaced. Maria sighed and walked to a corner of the room out of sight of the mirror. She bent her knees and slid her back against the wall until she was crouched in the corner. She brought her legs against herself and held them tightly as she buried her head into her knees. Maria looked like a mental patient struggling to get her grips on reality.

She figured that if the blind wait didn't kill her, then it might drive her so crazy and she may become the mental patient rocking silently in the corner. "No," Maria thought shaking her head. "I refuse to think me or Hope will be anything less than a happy family again." She shook her head again trying to shake her fear. She knew she needed to be strong for Hope. Hope needed her and she had to be there for her... completely.

As her thoughts continuously convened on Hope, Maria's patience grew agonazingly low. Not knowing was killing her. Maria wanted desperately to wrap her arms around Hope and hold her tightly, to soother her, to comfort her and to tell her everything would be alright. Most importantly, she couldn't wait to take her home.

Maria’s head jerked upward when she heard the door slide open. For a moment, all time stopped and all she could see was the face of her baby girl. Her heart caught in her chest and she forced herself to breath.

“Mommy!!!!!” Hope shouted excitedly.

Maria heard her daughter's cherubic voice and watched as Hope ran through the door and directly into her arms. She hugged Hope with all her strength and Hope returned Maria's hug with the tightest embrace her 8-year-old arms could muster.

“Hope!” Maria whispered as she swept Hope off her feet and stood. Maria hugged Hope with no intentions of ever letting her go. It felt like an eternity since Maria had last held Hope in her arms.

Maria felt the soft warm lips of her daughter as Hope gave Maria a kiss on her cheek. “I knew you’d come Mommy! I missed you sooo vewy much. Can we go home now?"

Maria looked at her daughter. She knew the deal. She knew she wasn't gone home, yet. Not until she awed their captives with some alien magic... the alien magic she did not have.

"I gotta show Adam my loose tooth!! See mommy?” Hope gave Maria a great big smile to show her the loose tooth that she moved back and forth with her tongue. “I’m a big girl now, Mommy!!” Hope said happily forgetting her surroundings.

“Oh wow!! Look at that tooth! We gotta start making an appointments with the tooth fairy!” Maria smiled.

Hope ran her small hands through Maria’s tousled hair. “Want me to bwush your hair mommy?” Hope’s smile faded. “…Ms. Mildred says that girls with messy hair aren’t pwetty.”

Hope sniffed and Maria immediatley recognized her daughter’s struggle with tears as they welled up in her liquid honey eyes…her father’s eyes. “Ms. Mildred said I would never see you again, Mommy. She said that I would die fwom crying befowe we ever got to be together again. I was so scawed, Mommy. So, so scawed.” Hope’s bottom lip quivered as her tears flowed carelessly down her rosy-pink cheeks.

Maria wiped her daughter’s tears and said, “I love you, Hope. Don’t you ever forget that, k? Wherever you are don’t forget that your mother loves you. I always have and I always will.” Maria hesitated before continuing. “Someday, Hope, you will find obstacles in your path. Those obstacles will be hard to get over, but you will get around them. People will say that the things you believe aren't true. They may say the tooth fairy isn’t real, that love isn’t real, that dreams are not real. But you must never believe anything those people tell you. If you believe, then it is real,” Maria whispered as she held on to her daughter tightly. “Always believe in yourself and your dreams,” Maria emphasized her last word. She wiped away her own tears as she spoke. "Because whether you see me every day or whether you see my only in your dreams…your life has to go on. As long as you keep hope, there’s always a way.” Maria kissed her daughter’s forehead and prayed she understood what she was trying to tell her. She knew that Isabel would try to enter Hope's dreams. Maria wanted Hope to understand that the dreams were real. “Do you understand that Hope? Do you promise Mommy that wherever you are or whatever happens you will always keep going letting your dreams and your beliefs be your guide?”

Hope nodded, “I pwomise, Mommy.”

Maria no longer cared about the hot tears flowing carelessly down her face. This pain... the ache that was ripping through her like scissors through paper was certainly killing her. She felt like she was drowning in an ocean. Maria tried to pull away from the pain to be there for Hope, but it just seem to get a hold of her through the person she loved most…her daughter. And it pained her more than anything to know that it was because of her that her daughter was in danger. Whether Maria had to pay with her life a million times in order to save Hope’s or whether she died today in the arms of her enemy, she would do it gladly if it meant saving her most valuable gift - Hope. She looked into her daughter’s innocent wide eyes and saw hope in them.

Hope wiped away the tears from her mother’s face and looked deeply into her eyes only to be acquainted with eyes of a mother who was drinking in the sight of a daughter as if wanting to capture it’s memory forever.

“I love you, Mommy,” Hope spoke softly and the innocence held in her eyes soon turned into something more. A Sorrow. “Don’t Cry, Mommy. We can go home now. We wont have to stay with the Mildwed Lady.” Maria tries to smile for her daughter. Though Hope’s words were ironic, Maria was glad that they were at least somewhat true. Hope would get t o go home…away from the suffering…away from the pain.

Maria tried to smile for her daughter. Though Hope's words were sadly ironic, Maria was glad that they were at least somewhat true. Thought they would not leave together, Hope would be released since Maria turned herself in. Hope would get to go home...away from the suffering...away from the pain.

"Of course, we can go home soon, Baby. Everything's alright now," Maria whispered tucking back a strand of Hope's golden hair.

Hope nodded as she rubbed her sleepy eyes with her small hands. She yawned and found comfort and warmth laying her small head on Maria's shoulder.

"That will be enough teasing, Marianna," Mildred interrupted shaking her head at Maria.

Maria looked up and heard her nightmares voiced.

"You didn't think that we would actually let her stay here with you... did you? That's not part of the plan," Mildred said. The woman's cold grin widened as Maria continued to stare her down.

Then, as abruptly as it all had started, it all ended. Hope was pulled from Maria's grasp when two men in white coats jerked at Hope's hands and arms. Hope screamed with fear as she was snatched from her mother's arms.

"Mommy!!!!" Hope cried as her small hand made a vain attempt to clasp her mother's sleeve.

"Hope!!!" Maria screamed. She tried to run toward her daughter, but two more men in white coats ran into the room and held her back. With a man holding each arm, Maria could only squirm and scream. "Let her go!!!" Maria shouted and kicked wildly.

Mildred smirked. "I'm glad you finally decide to collaborate, Marianna. We were starting to loose our patience. And I don't think that's a side of us you'd like to see," Mildred spoke firmly and eyed Maria with a stern look.

She returned her attention to her clipboard and began writing. Mildred's frosty face was indifferent to the cries, screams, and begging that echoed in the room. She made notes for a small eternity while the men in white coats kept Maria and Hope at lengths from each other within the room.

Mildred callously yawned and glanced at Hope. She rolled her eyes in annoyance at the child's behavior. "She was very well behaved before you showed up," Mildred said casually and turned her eyes to Maria.

Maria continued to struggle against the two men as Hope's screams got louder and louder. Maria kicked and bit with no avail.

Mildred shook her head at Maria and said, "Like mother, like daughter. Well, isn't that nice?" She began to write again in her clipboard. Mildred placed the end of her pencil between her teeth and mimicked Barbara Walters interviewing Hollywood's most controversial. "So tell me, Marianna, your life as a celebrity has surely affected your daughter as much as it has affected you. After all, it is not every child who can say that her mother is a Grammy-award-winning performer. Tell us now, did you ever think that your fame could possibly provide a peaceful life for your daughter?" Mildred chided. Once again, Mildred was playing games and enjoying the reaction she got out of Maria her Hope cried out in desperation.

Mildred chuckled and resumed her game. "But more than your celebrity lifestyle and fame, it seems your daughter has inherited other qualities from you as well. Would you like to tell us what those qualities are, Marianna?" Mildred asked as her voice grew more and more serious and lost its wickedly playful manner.

Maria calmed herself and glared at Mildred. She wanted to appear calm and somewhat in control for her daughter's sake. "That a girl!" Maria thought as Hope continued to jerk and screech.

Maria hesitated and bit her tongue. She vowed to keep any and everything from their captives until Hope was set free. "Let Hope Go!" she spoke sternly. "Let her go and I'll tell you all you want to know."

Mildred rolled her head backward and laughed loudly before speaking. "Well, well, well. Seems our resident celebrity has some demands!! How surprising!!" Suddenly, her face became very grave. "This is not Hollywood, Marianna. And I am not your go-to-girl. I thought you would have learned that by now. Pavlov's dogs were quicker than you." She changed her tone and spoke very slowly as if Maria were a child trying to come to grips with reality. Now, I do understand that you are... what would be the politically correct way to say this? Um, you are... humanly challenged. So, you may have some issues understanding things, but just be certain that this is not a place where you will be the one making the demands. Here, you follow orders; you don't make them. Do I make myself clear?" Mildred looked Maria squarely in the eyes waiting for her submission.

Maria looked up at Hope again and knew she had to cooperate to insure Hope's safety. If they had any doubts before, their captives were now certain that threatening Hope's safety was a surefire way to get anything out of Maria. She turned back to Mildred and nodded her compliance.

Everyone in the room then turned as the door slid open. A tall, dark-haired man entered the room. A sneer of satisfaction was pasted plainly on his face.

Maria recognized him immediately. "Jackson!" Maria whispered.

"Well, hello, Marianna. Nice to see you again, too. Did you miss me?" Jackson asked sarcastically.

When Maria shot him a look of death, he was merely motivated to smirk more. Jackson walked up to Marianna and observed her closely as if examining the fine details of an ancient statue in a museum. He then began to circle around her not wanting to miss a single feature. "You know...I never did imagine that what I was looking for was standing right before me... much less did I ever imagine it would be you. Little Liz Parker never did mention what you were to me! The poor, infantile idiot!" his eyes then turned cold as the venom of his glare dominated his words, "I knew her naivety would be useful for at least something!"

He then turned to Mildred and took the clipboard from her. After studying it carefully, Jackson gave Mildred a questioning look. Both people then turned their attention to Maria. "Seems you don't want to play nice, do you?" Jackson asked. He snapped the fingers on his right hand and one of the men holding Hope slapped the petite girl across her face.

Hope cried out when her face stung at the man's strike.

At the sound of her daughter's agonizing cry, Maria once again began struggling against the two men holding her back. She jerked her entire body and gave the men a good fight. "What do you want from me Jackson???" she screamed at the tops of her lungs. "Do with me what you please, but leave Hope alone!!! Jackson, please!!!" she begged. "Let her go!!" Maria screamed as hot tears rolled down her face. Watching helplessly as a man slapped her daughter was unbearable for Maria. She felt herself losing what little control she had left and she wondered if coming here served to help or further Hope.

When Maria saw Hope get slapped, mental images of Michael being hit by Hank flooded her head. She knew how being abused had scarred Michael and she refused to let that happen to Hope. Hope may have inherited Michael's nose and chin, but she would never let her develop Michael's fears. His fear of being too close, his fear of letting go of emotions, his fear of loving. Even with Hank out of his life for years, Michael still had nightmares. Maria knew he would never fully recover from the mental and physical abuse he suffered as a child. And she refused to let that happen to Hope.

"What I want is very simple, my dear." Jackson responded to Maria. "I want you. I want you to show me who you are...or should I say,,, WHAT you are?" Jackson whispered in her ear.

Maria looked at Hope who was still crying and calling out her name. She looked back at Jackson and nodded. "I'll do as you please, but let Hope go."

Jackson smiled. "Isn't it much easier when we just play nice to begin with, Marianna?" Jackson sighed. "Seems that wherever you come from, you were not taught any manners, though," Jackson tisked. "Tell me, Marianna, who is the child's father?"

Maria's face froze. Her lips parted and she mentally told herself to close her mouth. She was prepared for anything. In return for Hope's safety, Maria welcomed the dreaded white room Max had seen so long ago. She smiled at the thought of being prodded and poked as long as Hope could run and play freely. She was ready for torturous electric shocks. She was fully prepared to be torn apart limb by limb in turn for her daughter's well-being.

But not once did the idea cross her mind that the captors might want to know who Hope's father was. In a society where single parenting was not uncommon, Maria was rarely questioned and had never given any thought to needing to explain. She opened her mouth to say something... but nothing came out. She pleaded with her usually quick-witted mind to develop a lie... a fast lie that would suffice the curiosity of her captors.

Jackson sighed, "You space people are really hardheaded aren't you?" Again, Jackson snapped the fingers on his right hand.

Maria waited with terror to see what torture the second snap would bring.

A tall blonde woman dressed like a nurse came in with a needle in hand. When Hope saw the needle and realized the woman was approaching her, she began to scream and kick again.

"Hope!!!" Maria cried.

The nurse injected a clear fluid into Hope's forearm. Instantly, Hope's head fell limply against her shoulder and the guards finally loosened their grips on her. Maria struggled against the two men who were holding her back.

Jackson snapped his fingers a third time and growled, "Let her go."

Hope ran free from the two men and was at Hope's side in milliseconds. She scooped the girl's small body into her arms and held her. Hope's head and arms hung limply and her features began to turn pale.

"I hope that next time you learn how to play nicer," Jackson spoke sternly as he and the others left the room.

A mother stood alone in the small room crying and holding her daughter’s limp body in her arms.
posted on 1-Sep-2002 9:33:48 PM by Candy and Doris
Part 41

“Hope. Hope?” Maria whispered as Hope blinked her eyes and emitted a groggy moan. Maria held Hope in her arms and prayed for her safety.

“Mommy?” Hope whispered confused. She opened her eyes and smiled.

“You’re okay. You’re okay,” Maria said more for her own benefit than Hope’s.

“I had a dream that we were…” Hope began.

Without warning, the door to the room was opened and two large men rushed Maria and Hope. One man grabbed Hope from Maria’s arms while the second man held Maria back.

“No!” Maria cried. “Leave her with me! No,” she sobbed and gave up her fight against the man. She watched as Hope was taken from the room.

Maria halted her emotions as Jackson came through the door. Her face become stone and she refused to allow him the satisfaction of knowing how badly he touched her spirit. She steadied her eyes and waited to hear what new method of torture Jackson had managed to conjure.

“We want her father,” Jackson said sternly.

Maria began shaking her head. “I already told you…”

“I know what you said. But, this is how it’s going to be.” Jackson moved closer to where Maria sat on the floor. He bent down and placed his face inches from Maria’s. “You WILL tell him we want him. You WILL tell him to meet us. And we WILL bring him here… alone.”

“How?” Maria forced staring back at Jackson.

“I’m sure you’ll think of a way,” Jackson said and turned to go back to the door. Before he left, he made one more promise. “By tomorrow… We took it easy on Hope today.”

………………………………………………..

“I really hate this,” Isabel said as she stared at the picture of Jackson.

“You’ve got to do it, Is,” Michael pleaded. “Until we know where they are, you’re our only hope.”

Isabel sighed. She knew Michael was right. As much as she hated the idea of dreamwalking a proven madman, she knew they had no other way of reaching Maria and Hope and securing their safe-being.

Isabel took Michael’s hand, touched the picture of Jackson and lay back against the headboard. Before she drifted to sleep, she heard Michael whisper, “We’ll show you the alien voodoo you so desperately want to see, Jackson.”

…………………………………….

Isabel opened her eyes to darkness. “Michael?” she called.

“Behind you,” Michael answered touching her shoulder. “I can’t see anything.”

“Me neither,” Isabel answered taking hold of Michael’s arm. She shivered. “But I can feel plenty.”

“What do you feel?” Michael asked.

“He’s not right, Michael. He’s unstable. He’ll do anything to get what he wants.”

“What does he want?” Michael asked.

……………………………………….

“What happened?” Michael asked sitting up.

“I have no idea,” Isabel said confused. “That’s never happened before. I can usually stay longer than that.”

“Let’s try Maria,” Michael said reaching for a picture of Maria.

Isabel scrunched her eyebrows together trying to figure out what had ejected her from the dreamwalk. “And, you know, we never could see anything. I think it may have been his character… so dark, so closed-off…”

“Here,” Michael said handing the picture to Isabel. “Please, Is. I have a bad feeling.”

…………………………………………..

“Where is she?” Michael asked as he and Isabel entered Maria’s dream.

“I don’t know,” Isabel said looking around at the expanse of white. Slowly, Isabel’s eyes adjusted to the bright light. “There,” she said pointing to the outline of a figure sitting a few yards away.

Michael and Isabel rushed to Maria’s side.

“Maria?” Michael asked as he reached out to touch her.

Maria pulled away not wanting to be touched.

“What’s wrong?” Michael asked feeling hurt. He knew that Maria was in a dream state, but still he felt offended that she cowered at his attempt to help.

Maria shook her head and stared at her feet. She was both glad and sad to see him. She knew what she had to do. She had to get Michael there. As much as she didn’t want to put him in that kind of position, she had little choice. If she didn’t get him there, then Jackson would continue hurting Hope. But she knew that if Michael did come there, then he would be subjected to more torture than she could imagine… especially when Jackson and Mildred learned he was the real alien.

“They want you here,” Maria said coldly. She looked up into Michael’s eyes and said, “They want you here… or else Hope will be…”

“Tell me where you are,” Michael said. No doubt even crossed his mind. He knew what he had to do.

“I don’t know where I am,” Maria said tearing. “They will take you like they took me… at the pier. You’ll be knocked out and you won’t know how you got here.”

Michael turned to look at Isabel. She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head not knowing what to say.

Michael turned his attention back to Maria. “When?”

…………………………………………….

“I don’t like this,” Max said. He looked around the living room at everyone else waiting to hear their opinions.

When no one said anything, Liz spoke. “Max, we have to let Michael at least try. Jackson won’t think twice about hurting Hope or Maria. He won’t even blink.”

Max looked at Liz and knew she spoke with authority. She knew Jackson better than any of them. She knew of what Jackson was capable.

Michael stood and took control of the conversation reminding everyone of their roles in the plan. “Okay. I don’t expect to go unconscious. So, I’ll let them believe I am. As soon as I get a chance to close my eyes, I will be waiting to hear from you, Isabel. Then, Alex, you take the info I give Isabel and figure out where we are. Max, you send a message through Isabel to let me know exactly when you will be there. I’ll be waiting. We can’t waste a moment.”

“What about me?” Liz asked.

Michael looked at Liz. He knew she wanted desperately to help, but Michael was afraid for her safety. Jackson and Liz had a history… a violent history. Still, he knew she wanted to be involved in her best friend’s rescue… especially since she felt somewhat responsible for having introduced Jackson to Maria years ago. “Max will need a driver.”

……………………………………………

Michael wiped the morning humidity from his brow and leaned against a wooden post beneath the pier. He’d been waiting over an hour and he was beginning to wonder if Jackson was going to show. Michael smirked at the irony of how he was impatiently waiting for his captors to hurry-up and kidnap him.

Finally, Michael heard voices and turned to see two men coming towards him. He could make out only silhouettes as they stood between him and the rising sun. Michael adjusted his stance and tried to conceal his anxiety. He was prepared for the rag, prepared for the chemical, prepared to fake an unconscious state.

Michael slanted his eyes and glared at the silhouettes. He could see their legs moving. He could make out the strides they made. He could see the footsteps they made in the sand. But, somehow, the distance between Michael and the silhouettes appeared to lengthen.

Michael cocked his head and tried to understand. He blinked a few times to be certain he was not imagining the phenomenon. He held his hand at his brow in an attempt to block the blaring sunlight. His eyes began to burn and soon also began to water as he continued to stare into the yellow and red rays coming from the horizon.

Michael’s vision blurred as it seemed that it spun out of control and he began blinking profusely trying to keep his focus on the two silhouettes that appeared to move further and further away even as they made obvious steps in his direction.

He felt as though his body was carrying double his weight and soon felt to weak too even support it. Michael fell to his knees and placed his face in his hands. He forcefully rubbed his eyes and opened them only to see what he dreaded - a surreal image highlighted by the blinding sun. “What is happening?!” he screamed.

When he could stand the pain no longer, Michael finally submitted to his burning eyes and closed them. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore grew louder and louder; the seagulls seemed to be squawking directly in Michael’s ears. Keeping his eyes closed, he frantically brushed at his ears and waved his hands wildly in the air trying to keep the birds away from his face and head. “Get away!” he shouted.

The booming sound of the ocean intensified. The crashing escalated and became all that Michael could hear. The distinct rush of each wave dissolved and become one loud collision that rumbled on and on.

Michael began to hear faint voices. He strained his ears struggling to hear the voices over the ocean. Michael forced his eyes open and was stunned to no longer see the silhouettes, the ocean or the pier. In fact, Michael only saw darkness. What was once a bright and burning sun was nowhere to be found; in fact, the burning sensation of the sun had now been replaced with a cold shiver running down his spine. The sound of the waves slowly began to dim as the voices grew louder and louder. He could make out one male and one female voice.

“Who’s there?” Michael called into the darkness reaching blindly with his hands.

“Michael?” one of the voices softly answered.

“Isabel?” Michael replied. He was certain the voice was hers. “Isabel, are you there?”

“Michael?” she softly whispered again.

“I can’t hear you!” Michael called in a panic.

“Where are you?” Isabel’s voice asked.

Michael squinted his eyes and swung his head around trying to see anything. He took deep breaths trying to calm himself when he could see only darkness. “I don’t know!” he screamed.

“You don’t know what, Michael?” the voice said.

He closed his eyes and remained silent and confused.

The voice suddenly grew very loud and became much more masculine than Isabel’s. “You don’t know what?” the voice demanded.

Michael opened his eyes and lunged backward when he came face-to-face with Jackson. “You don’t know what, Michael?” he commanded.

………………………………….

Isabel sat up and shouted, “I know where he is!”
posted on 15-Sep-2002 8:28:04 PM by Candy and Doris
Part 42

“Just let me grab a pen before you start,” Alex said touching Isabel’s shoulder as he walked past her towards the junk drawer Maria kept in the kitchen. “She always has a pen or two in this drawer… and God only knows what else. I keep waiting to find a human hand or something,” he smiled trying to lighten the mood in the room. He failed miserably. Liz, Max and Isabel glared at him and visually scolded him for making such a thoughtless joke while Hope, Maria and Michael were at the mercy of a man known to be physically abusive.

“Sorry,” Alex mumbled and lowered his head. He returned with a pen and sat at the table next to Isabel. “Whenever you’re ready,” Alex spoke quietly.

Isabel turned her head to look at Max. She met his eyes and stared at him intently as she began to speak. “It’s like the time I felt Max when he was taken to the white room.”

“What did you feel?” Max said keeping his eyes locked with his sister’s. As important as it was to get all they could from Isabel, Max also realized the importance of allowing Isabel to keep some sense of sanity. She nearly lost her entire mental being when Max was taken away… and now Isabel was being forced to live similarly tragic circumstances with Michael being threatened.

“It was a sensation that he was… they took him across a bridge,” Isabel said moving her eyes to stare at the wall. Her mind filled with hazy images of the dream she shared with Michael. As soon as his conscious state had begun to falter at the pier, Isabel had been able to enter his mind.

“There are 289 bridges in the greater L.A. area,” Alex said shaking his head at his computer screen.

“It was a drawbridge,” Isabel said remembering.

“That’s gotta help,” Alex said typing the preference into his search. “4!” he shouted excitedly.

“Keep going, Is,” Max encouraged his sister.

Isabel focused on the textures on the wall and allowed her mind to remember. “A mouse waved at the car,” Isabel said.

“Huh?” Max said laughing.

Isabel suddenly realized what she had said. She looked nervously between Max and Alex. Finally, she shrugged her shoulders and said in defense, “I don’t know! I’m just telling you what I saw!”

“Chuckie Cheese,” Liz whispered from where she stood leaning against the doorframe.

“What?” Alex asked even more confused.

“There’s a Chuckie Cheese at the corner of Orange and Blakely… just off the Skyway Bridge,” she said. Liz smiled widely realizing she’d been able to help. “I bet Chuckie was doing a promotion. They do that a lot.”

Max blinked his eyes and shook his head. “How do you know that?”

Liz smiled. “I’ve taken Hope there a few times while Maria’s had out-of-state performances.”

“I’ve got it!” Alex said zooming in on the virtual map he’d pulled up. He breathed excitedly. “We’re getting somewhere now. Keep going, Is.”

Isabel stared at the wall again and thought.

…………………………………………………

“You don’t know what, Michael?” Jackson demanded.

Michael looked around the room and tried to gather his thoughts. “Who are you?” Michael asked trying to turn the tables.

“You mean, Maria’s never mentioned me?” Jackson asked sadly. He shook his head. “You think somebody’s your friend and then they go and deny you.”

“Where am I?” Michael asked trying to stand. As he lifted his body from the floor, he became lightheaded and sunk back down. He held his throbbing head and squint his eyes.

“Got a headache?” Jackson asked sweetly. “Don’t worry. It’ll go away.”

“Where am I?” Michael asked again with more force.

Jackson sighed and began to walk around the small white room. “Where you are is not important. What matters is why you are here.” He stopped walking and looked at Michael. “Do you know why you are here?”

…………………………………………

“I’ve got it!” Alex shouted. Everyone gathered around Alex and peered at the computer screen.

“Where is that?” Max asked. He glared at the aerial view of a complex of gray buildings.

“Fort Tynelle. A military base that was closed in the late 80’s,” Alex explained as he shifted the viewfinder.

“Guess it’s not so closed,” Isabel commented.

“You see that?” Alex asked pointing to a blurry rise around the complex. “Twelve-foot privacy fencing. My guess is that it’s either electrified or armed with guards.”

“Or both,” Max said.

..............................................................

Michael listened impatiently, but quietly, as Jackson barked out his list of demands. More than anything, he wanted to get through his kidnapper's orientation and find his way to Maria and Hope. As he listened, Jackson's voice faded to a roar of slurred sounds and his mind drifted to Hope. He remembered Hope's bravery in the hospital while her mother fought for her life in the Intensive Care Unit. He remembered the first time he saw her use her powers on the television. He smiled remembering the moment he found out the beautiful little girl was his daughter.

"What are you smiling at?!" Jackson shouted bringing Michael back from his daydream. "Do you think this is funny?"

"I'm just wondering when you'll be finished," Michael shot back.

Jackson looked at Michael with unbelieving eyes. "Trust me... you'll be finished long before me." He glared at Michael and waited for him to grasp his meaning.

............................................................

"Let's go!" Liz called from the car. She blew the horn and tapped her foot madly against the floorboard.

Isabel, Alex and Max came running from the house with their arms loaded. They carried flashlights, a cooler, ropes, a blanket, and other supplies that Alex deemed "a probable necessity."

Liz rolled her eyes. "We're breaking and entering. We're kidnapping the kidnapped. We're not going camping."

Max dumped his armload in the back of his Durango and walked around to take the passenger's seat. "Just drive," he said. Max leaned across the seat and kissed Liz on the cheek. He whispered, "The blanket is for us... later."

"Max!" Liz exclaimed.

"Um..." Isabel spoke from the back seat. "Maria... Hope... Michael... kidnapped."

Alex snickered and said, "I see you’re still having problems with those complete sentences, Isabel.”

Isabel wrinkled her nose and frowned. “Can we just go get them now?”

……………………………………………………

Mildred adjusted her wire-framed glasses and turned away from the two-way mirror to look at Jackson. “Perhaps he’ll be more cooperative once he’s been assured the girl is okay.” She watched Jackson’s aggravation build in his eyes before she turned back to look at Michael through the glass.

“Perhaps,” Jackson finally said and sighed.

“What do we have to lose?” Mildred asked. “At this point in time, we have no evidence to prove either parent is other worldly.”

“What do we have to lose?” Jackson mocked Mildred as he banged his fist against the desk. “Are you kidding me? We have everything to lose. If the father is the alien, the he and the child could combine their power and overtake the facility… or he could lose all self-control upon seeing his daughter and act out against us… or the child could… we have no idea. So, for that reason, we have everything to lose.”

Mildred watched the anger escalating in Jackson’s facial expressions and carefully worded her reply. “Nothing happened when the child was with her mother.”

“That proves nothing!” Jackson snapped. Jackson lowered his head, closed his eyes and mentally counted to ten. “I’m surrounded by optimistic, naive fools,” he mumbled. After a moment, Jackson lifted his head, opened his eyes and surrendered to the risky experiment. “Go ahead.”

………………………………………………………

“Where are you taking me?” Michael demanded as he was ushered through the tiny, lifeless hallway. He watched as the orderly’s expression faltered for a second before resuming its unresponsive appearance. Michael immediately picked up on the orderly’s fear. He’d seen the same expression from a number of his patients as they refused to accept a negative prognosis.
Michael was certain he could use the orderly’s fear in his own best interest. “I asked you a question,” Michael said reaching out to poke the orderly’s shoulder.

The orderly turned suddenly and looked at Michael. “Touch me again and you will be sorry.”

Michael smiled inwardly as he carefully calculated the orderly’s response. Though the young man verbally challenged him, Michael saw the panic in his posture. The orderly was set to run at a moment’s notice.

“Just tell me where we’re going,” Michael barked.

“You want to see her don’t you?” the orderly asked eyeing Michael.

…………………………………………………….


"We can't just pull into the place," Isabel groaned. The four friends had been arguing consistently for the past half hour over where to park the car and how to approach the complex.

"Look, the longer we wait..." Alex stopped not wanting to finish the thought.

"Max," Liz spoke hoping he would have a plan.

Max simply looked at Liz. He had been the leader for so many years. Right or wrong, he'd always had a plan. But he honestly had no idea what to do. He felt completely lost. Isabel had done her part... she'd connected with Michael and learned where he was. Alex had done his part... he'd sifted through records and files and learned where their friends were being held. Liz had done her part... she'd driven.

Max had no idea where he came in. Still, if he was going to be needed, it wasn't going to be while he was hiding out in the car.

"I've got to get in there," Max whispered.

..............................................................................

The orderly used a code and his handprint to open a white door. He then stepped aside and motioned for Michael to enter.

Michael stepped forward and looked inside the room. His heart melted and his chest ached. Hope was curled into a corner of the room hugging her knees.

Michael stepped inside the tiny room and the orderly sealed the door behind him. Michael kept his eyes glued to the child… Hope… his daughter. He took slow, cautious steps towards Hope and stopped in front her. He bent down and warily touched her shoulder.

Hope gasped and looked up. She looked inquisitively at the man and waited for her next phase of torment.

Michael’s face fell when he realized Hope was afraid of him. He assumed her extent of psychological torture had exceeded miles beyond what any child could be expected to withstand. “Do you remember me?” he asked quietly.

Hope stared at Michael curiously for a few seconds. Suddenly, her face changed. Her tightened brow loosened and a smile crept across her face.
“You’re the doctor,” she whispered. “You’re my mommy’s doctor.”

Michael smiled to encourage Hope, but inside he was crying. She knew him as nothing more than her mommy’s doctor. Hope had no idea that he was her father. Michael continued to smile and comfort Hope, but he mentally chastised himself. “What did you expect?” He thought. “Did you expect this child… this young lady… to come running into your arms? Did you expect her to know you by simply looking into your eyes? Did you expect her to love you? Did you expect her to hold you and call you Daddy? She doesn’t know you. She doesn’t know you and it’s your own fault that she doesn’t. You chose to leave. You walked out on Maria and the only good thing you had going in your life. You chose Antar over love. And ultimately, you chose
Antar over Hope.”

Michael noticed a bruise on Hope’s inner arm. He turned her arm to examine at the mark and detected a small needle mark. “They’ve been drugging her,” Michael thought. “I’ve got to get her out of here… now.” All plans he’d made to go to sleep and talk to Isabel… he decided those plans needed to be broken. Michael knew that the longer he waited, the more likely he was to lose both Hope and Maria.

Hope spoke and broke Michael from his self-imposed reprimand. “Have you seen my mommy? Is she okay?”

“She’s fine,” Michael smiled. He thought, “What a selfless being. She didn’t ask me to save her. She didn’t ask me to rescue her from this cold, white room. Instead, she’s concerned for her mom’s well-being. You did
good, Maria. She’s perfect.”

Michael caressed Hope’s small shoulder and said, “I have a secret to tell you.”

Hope’s smile widened and innocent wonder sparkled in her eyes. “What is it?” she asked.

Michael leaned in to whisper in Hope’s ear. “Alex is waiting for us outside.”

Hope’s eyes grew with excitement and she squeaked. “He is?” she said bouncing and clapping her hands in glee.

“Shhhh,” Michael quieted Hope with a finger to his lips. “It’s a secret, remember?”

Hope tightened her lips and pretended to zip her lips. She then tossed the imaginary key over her shoulder.

Michael picked Hope up and began carrying her around the room. For the sake of anyone who might be observing him through the two-way mirror on the opposite wall, he pretended he and Hope were having a close father-daughter conversation that entailed pacing the room. He casually made his way towards the locked door… the locked door he was certain was guarded.

“Have you ever read Superman comics?” Michael asked Hope.

“I can’t read yet, silly,” Hope laughed.

Michael thought for a second and asked another question. “Have you ever seen people that can do… that have powers?” Michael knew his question must be beyond Hope’s level of comprehension, but he needed to try to warn her of what was about to happen. He didn’t want her to be scared of what she would see.

“Like Sabrina?” Hope asked smiling.

“Who’s Sabrina?” Michael asked in reply.

“She’s a teenage witch. She can point her finger and do things,” Hope explained. “And she can… um… she has a cat… but he’s not really a cat… and um…”

Michael smiled at Hope’s innocence and interrupted her. “Guess what? I have powers just like Sabrina.”

“You, too?” Hope asked excitedly.

Michael nodded his head.

“Me, too!” Hope exclaimed. “Mommy tells me not to show people, but watch this,” Hope said as she lifted her hand.

“No,” Michael nearly shouted as he stilled her hand. Michael’s heart tightened when he saw Hope’s reaction. “It’s okay for me to know, but we don’t want the other people here to know,” Michael tried to explain. “Okay?”

Hope shook her head in understanding. “Can we go see Alex, now?”

A jealous tinge ached in Michael’s heart. He wished he was the one Hope couldn’t wait to see. Still, he knew there would be plenty of time for him and Hope to get to know each other… after they escaped… safely.

“We’re going right now,” Michael said.

……………………………………………………

“Max, wait,” Liz said opening her car door. She took a few quick strides and reached Max just before he stepped out of the woods into the clearing towards the complex.

Max stopped walking and turned around to look at Liz. What he saw made knees weak. In Liz’s face, he saw all the fear and worry he saw the day he left her so many years ago. Max knew that since they’d only days ago
rekindled their friendship, much less their need for one another’s affections… he knew that every word they whispered, every glance they shared, every moment they spent together was precious and vital to the hopes
they both held for each other.

Liz stopped in front of Max and could say nothing. Her heart was screaming and fear hung in her throat, but she couldn’t muster even the smallest sound. She wanted to tell him… everything. Memories of the last time he left blinded her. She’d had so many regrets. She’ had so many things she meant to tell him before he left. Liz knew the danger Max was walking into and she refused to allow those words to go unspoken once again.

Max touched Liz’s face and pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ll be back,” he promised.

Liz leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on Max’s cheek. With her palm, she touched his heart and allowed her hand to drift aimlessly down as she stepped backward. She nodded her head in response to Max’s promise. No words were said, but Liz knew Max understood.

…………………………………………………

“Don’t let go of my hand,” Michael said as he squeezed Hope’s tiny hand.

“Okay,” Hope answered.

…………………………………………………

Max held his distance from the complex behind a large tree. He carefully watched the seemingly deserted buildings and planned his maneuver. He spotted a black bubble near the main gate of the privacy fence and instantly recognized it as a security camera. “That’s first to go,” he thought as he removed the flashlight from his pocket. He took a deep breath, ran towards the gate, and leaped at the camera. With the butt of the flashlight, he swung a powerful blow that cracked the bubble. He raised his hand to the camera inside and heated the unit to the point of melting.

Max continued to move quickly, knowing that as soon as someone realized the main gate camera was out of commission, then he would be a hunted trespasser. He held his hand over the gate’s lock and listened for the latch to release. When it snapped, he pushed the gate just enough for him to slip through, and then he closed the gate.

Max knelt close to the ground and observed the four gray buildings before him. “Which one?” he thought.

Keeping low to the ground, Max cautiously approached the closest of the four buildings. He stood with his back against the wall and twisted his neck to peer inside. He saw two men dressed in white lab coats walking up the hallway. Quickly, Max jerked his head back and sunk to the ground. Max hid behind the opened door as the two men exited the building. Max grabbed the door and slipped inside unnoticed.

He breathed heavily as he walked down the hallway. The hallway was lined with small rooms with glass windows on each door. He frantically moved up and the hallway looking into each room. With each new empty room he found, his heart grew heavier. He feared the worst.

After searching the vacant building, Max returned to the door he’d used to come in. He needed to search the other buildings. As he pushed through the door, he came face-to-face with the two men in white coats. They were leaned against the building smoking cigarettes.

“What the…” the taller man gasped.

The two men shared brief glances before lunging at Max.

Max held his palm out in defense, but before he could emit energy, the two men cowered in defeat.

“Don’t hurt us,” one man whined.

Max saw the fear in the two men and decided to use their anxiety. “Where are they?” Max demanded.

“Who?” the taller man’s voice cracked as he replied.

“You know who,” Max shouted. “Where are they?”

The smaller man pointed a shaking finger towards the neighboring building.

“Let’s go,” Max said motioning for the two men to stand.

“Are you going to kill us?” the smaller man asked.

“Not if you take me to them,” Max answered. When he saw a moment of relief in the men’s faces, he decided he should keep their fearing for their lives. “But!” Max snarled. “If you try anything funny… you’ll wish I did kill you.”

…………………………………………………

Michael stood in front of Hope to protect her from any debris and from the guards Michael was certain stood just outside the door. He held his hand outwards and concentrated all his strength on blasting the steel door. He
held his breath and waited as he felt all his energy rush to the tips of his fingers. In an instant, the door blew backwards and Michael released his breath. “This is it,” he thought. “No backing out now. I’ve got to get
Hope out of here.”

A flustered and confused guard appeared in the doorway. Michael held his hand outward, but the guard dropped to his knees and covered his head with his hands. “This is too easy,” Michael thought. “They’re afraid of me!”

Michael and Hope rushed through the open door, past the kneeling guard and down a hallway. “Which way?!” Michael thought frantically. He couldn’t allow Hope to know he was unsure, so Michael just kept running with Hope in close tow.

Michael felt Hope stumble and he looked backward. He gasped upon seeing the young orderly from earlier holding Hope's ankle. Michael pulled harder on Hope's arm as the orderly grabbed at her leg with his free hand.

“Just keep running.” Michael tightened his grip on her hand and dragged her along behind him.

The orderly dropped Hope's ankle and watched as the pair ran closer towards the door.

"One obstacle down," Michael thought.

Michael and Hope turned a corner and Michael spotted a door. “This is just too easy,” Michael skeptically thought. He waited for something to go wrong. He thought, “Perhaps the door is locked. Perhaps the door is bolted shut. Perhaps the door is electrified. Perhaps…”

His thoughts were interrupted when two armed men emerged from a side hallway and stood between Michael and the door. At the same moment, a screeching alarm sounded throughout the building.

…………………………………………………………

Max heard the alarms sound and broke into a sprint towards the side door where the men were leading him. As he got closer, he saw people through the door’s small window. When he reached the door, his breath caught in his throat. He saw Michael and Hope trapped between two rows of armed guards.

When Max turned his attention to the door, the tow men saw their opportunity to flee. They exchanged glances and then took off running away towards another building.
…………………………………………………………

Michael turned around and saw more guards approaching him from behind. He pulled Hope close to his side and lifted his hand towards the guards closest to the door.

As Michael’s hand lifted, so did the gun of one of the guards. The guard’s trigger finger was faster than Michael’s energy. Michael watched the bullet escape the barrel of the gun and cut through the air towards his chest. Everything in his world slowed and Michael stood helplessly watching as the bullet grew closer and closer. In one final attempt to save Hope, he shoved her aside and waited feebly for the bullet to find his body and ensure Hope’s precious skin remained unharmed.

………………………………………………………..

Max gasped as he witnessed his best friend being shot. He yelped as Michael gripped his chest and sank slowly towards the ground.

But what he saw next stilled every muscle in his body and every breath in his lungs.

“No!” Hope yelled and ran towards Michael’s limp body.

The guards began approaching the pair.

Hope stood next to Michael's fallen form and held her arms out. One palm faced towards the guards near the door. The other palm faced the guards behind them in the hallway. Hope closed her eyes tightly and screamed. The approaching guards were blasted backwards and fell against the floor and the walls. Hope continued to scream and send energy waves through the air.

Max held his hand over the doorknob and waited to hear the lock unlatch. When it did, he swung open the door and stood backward so as not to be blasted by the energy Hope was still emitting.

“Hope!” Max yelled and waited for her to stop screaming.

“Alex?” Hope asked towards the door.

“It’s me,” Max said stepping into the doorway. “But I can take you to him.”

Hope looked away from Max and down at Michael. “They killed him,” she whispered as her bottom lip quavered and tears began forming in her eyes.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 15-Sep-2002 8:33:11 PM ]
posted on 30-Sep-2002 9:51:49 PM by Candy and Doris
Part 43

Upon hearing the alarms, Alex, Isabel, and Liz ran from the car towards the complex. Isabel manipulated the gates and the three rushed in trying to locate Max.

“Over here,” Alex called when he spotted the open door.

“Oh dear God!” Isabel breathed hard as she ran towards the door. “Something’s wrong… I can’t feel him!”

…………………………………………………….

Michael heard Max calling his name. “Max?” Michael answered. He opened his eyes and squinted through a blue mist trying desperately to find his friend. “I’m right here,” Michael called when he heard Max shouting his name again and again.

“Michael, stay with me,” Max whispered.

“I haven’t gone anywhere,” Michael answered.

“Michael, please answer me!” Max screamed angrily.

“I am!” Michael replied becoming afraid that perhaps Max had been injured in the blast. He quickly thought that he needed to find Max and help him.

“Michael!” Max called again. “Open your eyes. I need you to look at me.”

“Max?” Michael asked confused. “Where are you?”

Michael reached out into the blue mist, but he found nothing… and no Max.

“Is he dead?” Isabel asked.

“Isabel?” Michael answered trying to see her. “Can you see Max? Is he okay?”

“I’m not sure,” Max answered. “He’s losing a lot of blood.”

“What the…” Michael thought as the mist began to fade.

“Help him, Max!” Isabel screamed.

“I’m trying, Isabel,” Max said.

Michael waved his hand in the mist and pushed the cloudy air out of his way. His stomach fell at what he saw. Max and Isabel were kneeled over a body… his body.

“I don’t understand,” Michael said. “What’s happening?” A flash of light blinded his eyes and he saw a man holding a gun in the air. A second flash of light brought a new image. Michael saw a bullet slowly making its way from the gun to his own chest.

“I was shot,” Michael realized. “Hope. Where’s Hope?” Michael frantically searched the hallway and saw Hope standing against a wall. She was nervously rubbing her arms that were crossed over her chest. Her face was stained with tears and her eyes were glued to the scene before her. Her knees were trembling and small sobs of horror escaped her throat.

Michael immediately went to Hope to comfort his frightened daughter. “It’s okay,” Michael whispered in her ear. “Everything will be fine.”

Michael shouted to Max, “Get her out of here. Max! Can you hear me? Get Hope out of here!”

Max lifted his head and looked around the room. He saw Hope standing alone against a wall. Max turned to Alex and said, “Get her out of here.”

“Right,” Alex responded moving towards Hope.

“You heard me?” Michael asked.

Max continued to take control of the situation. “Liz, stand guard. Let me know if we get company. Isabel, take the guy on the floor over there and go find Maria.”

“Way to go, Max,” Michael smiled. His smiled dropped as he considered Max’s last command. “Maria,” he thought. “Oh, God. Maria.”

Michael watched as Isabel poked and prodded at the orderly still lying unconscious on the floor as a result of Hope’s blast. Michael saw the orderly blink his eyes and then push himself away when he saw Isabel.

“Let’s go,” Isabel said pulling on the orderly’s arm. “You’re going to show me where Maria is.”

“Who?” the orderly’s voice shook.

“He’s afraid of you,” Michael shouted hoping Isabel would hear him. “Use it to your advantage.”

Isabel rolled her eyes and pulled the orderly to his feet. “Marianna, idiot. Where’s Marianna?”

With Isabel still keeping a tight grip on his arm, the orderly began leading Isabel down the hallway.

“You’ve got to look at me, Michael! You can’t leave!” As he screamed at Michael, Max’s voice grew fainter and fainter. Soon, all the chaos around Michael disappeared and silence surrounded him. Michael looked around and blinked as everything blurred into a mist. The air became cold and Michael shivered against the mist.

Michael was lost - physically and mentally. Michael took small, shuffling steps and extended his arms in front of him as he tried to find something - anything - in the mist. Michael focused on a dim, blinking light in the distance. The light intrigued him and Michael took steps towards it. He kept his eyes the on light. It seemed to call to him. As Michael moved closer, the light grew brighter. Michael’s movement toward the light seemed to be involuntary. Though he was curious and wanted to know what the light was, his legs seemed to move on their own.

“Michael! Answer me !”

Michael heard a muted male voice call to him. In response, Michael turned his head away from the lights for a moment. He looked in the direction of the voice. When he saw nothing but an endless sheet of blue mist, he turned back towards the light and began taking steps. The light had become brighter and seemed to have an even stronger pull on him.

“Michael!!!”

Michael ignored the voice that continued to call to him from behind. His attraction to the light grew stronger and he found himself unable to turn away - not wanting to turn away. He followed the light until it was so bright and large that he raised his hand to shield his eyes. Still, he continued to walk towards it. He was almost there. He could almost touch it. A few more steps and he’d be there. Where? He didn’t know, but he wanted desperately to go there.

He reached out in an effort to touch the brightness when he was awakened from his daze by the sound of laughter. Her laughter. “Hope” he called? He heard the laughter again - louder.

“Daddy!!!” Hope giggled.

Michael instantly turned away from the light and followed the sound of Hope’s voice, “Hope, where are you?”

“I’m right here, Daddy!” Hope giggled.

“Where?” Michael asked searching through the mist.

He heard her laughter only once more before it, too, was consumed by the mist. Just like Max’s voice had done, Hope’s voice grew fainter and fainter until Michael could hear it no longer. “Hope?” he called.

Silence was all that remained in the mist.

Michael dropped his head, but lifted it immediately upon hearing laughter again. The laugh was different, though. He knew that laugh like he knew no other. He’d rejoiced in that laughter years ago. And it had indeed been years since he heard that laugh.

“Maria?” Michael called out in response.

Maria’s laughter rang in Michael’s ears louder.

“Michael!!!” Maria laughed and called his name.

And then, as if God were smiling down on him, Michael saw her! “Maria.” She stood in the distance wearing a silky, white gown that illuminated her entire body. Michael smiled and ran towards her. Maria ran toward him, too. They stopped mere inches from each other. “She looks so beautiful. Just like an angel,” Michael thought. He extended his hands to greet her. Just as he was about to touch her, Maria’s form began to fade. “Maria?” Michael called. “What’s happening?”

Michael turned back towards the light and saw Maria running towards brightness. Her white gown flowed behind her as she took giant leaps towards the light.

“I’m still here Michael,” Maria laughed turning her head back towards Michael.

As Maria continued to laugh, Michael heard Hope’s laughter join Maria’s.

Before he had a chance to even begin to understand what was happening, Michael’s mind was rushed with images and flashes.

Michael saw himself at sixteen chasing Maria on the front campus of Roswell High. Michael watched as his young, naive arms wrapped around Maria’s waist after finally catching her. “Caught ya!”

Maria wrinkled her nose, “No, you cheated! You can’t use your powers, Spaceboy!”

“Powers? What powers?” the teenaged boy asked innocently.

Michael saw himself leave Maria’s window, turn back to cup her face between his hands, and bring his lips down to hers in a tender kiss.

Michael saw himself in the Crashdown’s kitchen talking to Maria. “I think I do. I want to be with Isabel, Maria. She can give me all that I've ever hoped for, and more." Michael watched as he repeated the words that killed his heart and forever divided him from his love.

Michael saw the masses of bodies drenched in a pool of blood. He relived the relief he experienced when the war on Antar finally ended and he could go back home. Back to his real home.

Michael’s heart ached as he saw his body shake with sobs after learning of Maria’s death. He remembered thinking that if only he had been there for her, then she would still be alive. In an instant, he recalled every bit of guilt he felt in knowing she was gone… in knowing she was gone because of him.

Michael saw himself in the hospital’s doorway afraid to move. He blinked a few times before looking back at the girl. “Your face,” he whispered.

“What?" Maria asked reaching for her face. "Is it bad? The nurse said it wasn't bad."

"No," Michael answered. "It's beautiful," he whispered.

Michael saw himself watching Hope from afar with an unrecognized paternal instinct already developing in him. He marveled at how beautiful she looked… so smart and so full of life. Hope was just like her mother. Deep inside Michael longed for a family of his own - a family comprised of Maria and Hope.

Michael saw himself holding Maria tightly in his arms as she cried over Hope’s disappearance. He remembered how he’d struggled to control his own tears as he realized he had lost his daughter. In that instant, he knew without doubt that he would do anything to get her back - anything.

Michael saw himself in the complex, adrenaline pumping through his body. He had to get Maria and Hope out of there safely. He nearly dragged Hope by her small hand in his desperate attempt to get her out of the complex as quickly as possible.

Michael saw the bullet coming straight towards him. He used his own body to shield Hope. He saw tears running down her tiny face and he saw her close her eyes to block the chaos before her. Her sound of her cries grew louder and louder. Michael inferred Hope must have been crying out in need of her mother.

Even as the flashes came to an end, Michael still heard Hope crying.

The sound of Hope’s cries moved Michael to turn his back from the light once again. While he could no longer see Maria nor Hope, he heard the pain-filled cries of his daughter. He followed the sound. The cries were beginning to be overshadowed by voices coming from somewhere in the distance. Finally, Michael was able to see an image… a dim image… and for a brief moment he thought it was the beginning of another flash. The image slowly came into focus as Michael took long strides towards the image in the mist.

Michael looked on as a woman in a white lab coat paced around a small white room shouting into her radio.

“What?!” The woman shouted, annoyed by the continuous and pointless interruptions she’d endured during her experimentation.

“There’s been an invasion in building 3,” Jackson’s voice boomed over the radio. “Leave the girl and initiate Code Blue.”

Mildred’s eyes grew wide and her breathing became shallow. She knew Code Blue meant the worst kind of invasion… one in which lives would be risked, files would be destroyed, and the entire case would be put in jeopardy.

She looked at the unconscious girl’s body lying on the table before her. Mildred knew that if she abandoned Marianna at this point in the procedure, she would learn nothing of what she suspected. Still, she knew that if she didn’t abandon the procedure and flee for her own life, then she would undoubtedly die.

“I can’t believe this!” Mildred shouted into the radio. “I am so close to knowing! I am so close to exposing…”

“Just go!” Jackson interrupted her.

Mildred threw the radio across the room and watched it break into small pieces when it hit the wall.

She turned to Marianna and said, “Sorry.” She then unplugged Marianna’s vitals monitor and breathing machine. “You stupid girl,” she mumbled as she unplugged equipment. “If you had cooperated earlier, then this wouldn’t be happening.”

Mildred pushed her glasses over her nose and said, “Sayonara.” She rushed for the door, punched in a code, and waited for the door to open.

“AAHH!” Mildred shouted as the door opened.

Isabel put out her palm and touched Mildred in the chest. With one large blast, Mildred fell backwards to the floor. Immediately, Isabel ran to Maria.

“Maria!” Isabel shouted shaking the girl’s limp arm. “Maria, wake up. We have to go.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Mildred growled from behind. “You’re what I’ve been looking for.” Mildred placed a hand on Isabel’s shoulder and shoved a cold metal object into Isabel’s back.

Isabel froze. She prayed it wasn’t, but the object in her back felt like a gun.

“That’s right, sweetie. Turn around very slowly,” Mildred hissed.

Isabel readied herself for battle and slowly began to turn. Just before making a complete turn, Isabel stiffened her arms and swung with all her might. She knocked the small hand gun from Mildred’s grip and then smiled proudly when she saw the shock and fear in Mildred’s eyes. She took the opportunity to grab Mildred’s wrists and held them tightly with one hand.

“Now, sweetie,” Isabel said mocking Mildred’s tone. “You are going to do whatever is necessary to help my friend here.”

Through clenched teeth, Mildred said, “She’s as good as dead.”

“You’re mistaken,” Isabel said tightening her grip on Mildred’s wrists. “If she’s not up and walking out of this room… on her own… in thirty seconds, then you’re the one that’s good as dead.”

“Fine,” Mildred mumbled. “But I can’t do it with my hands bound by the Amazon woman.”

“Listen, Beaker,” Isabel countered. “If you know what’s best for you, then you won’t try anything funny in your little Muppet lab here.”

“Her breathing machine is unplugged. Do you want me to help her or not?” Mildred asked raising her eyebrows.

“Do it,” Isabel commanded.

Michael stared down at Maria’s closed eyes. “This is not happening,” he whispered while shaking his eyes. “No. I just got you back. I can’t lose you again.” Michael closed his eyes and took a deep breath in a vain attempt to steady his composure. “This is… no. No. Why is this happening?”

Michael opened his eyes hoping to wake from the nightmare that surrounded his life. Faintly, he heard Isabel and Mildred arguing somewhere behind him, but his full attention remained with the woman on the table below. “It’s because of me,” he murmured. “I did this to you.”

Michael reached out his hand to stroke Maria’s pale face. As he did, his senses came alive with images and he heard Maria whisper his name.

“Michael. You came. Take Hope home.”

Michael stared at Maria’s still form and closed eyes. He battled with his own elated emotions at hearing her voice and trying to understand how he heard her voice. “I’m sorry,” he said taking her hand and hanging his head. He’d failed her.

“No, Michael. No apologies. No blame. Let’s just go home.”

Realization struck Michael hard when he heard her voice again. “No,” he thought as his eyes widened with fright. Suddenly, he understood why they were able to communicate. “She’s dying.” Michael turned his head to see Isabel holding Mildred’s wrists. “She’s dying!” he screamed at the two women. “Help her! Help her now!”

He watched as Mildred walked toward the girl. He studied her emotionless face as she powered the breathing machine. He analyzed her satisfied smile when she saw the girl’s chest begin to rise and fall.

When Mildred plugged in the vitals monitor still attached to Maria’s thumb, a loud, unbroken screech circulated throughout the room until every molecule of air was saturated with the monotone hum of mortality.

“Like I said…” Mildred said turning her lifeless eyes to Isabel.

Isabel reached across Maria’s body to flip the switch for the defibrillator. “Like I said… thirty seconds.”

Michael stood silently watching Maria as Isabel and Mildred hovered above her body.

“Clear,” Mildred said before touching the paddles to Maria’s chest.

Isabel watched the heart monitor hoping for a spike or a break in the continuous tone. When nothing happened, she glared at Mildred. “Again.”

Michael took a step towards Maria and stood behind her at her head. He gently cupped her face as a tear escaped his clouded eyes. He bent over her and laid his face against her cheek.

“Clear,” Mildred said and placed the charged paddles on Maria’s chest.

Maria’s body arched away from the table and Isabel stared nervously at the heart monitor.

“Damn it!” Isabel shouted striking the machine with her fist.

Mildred stood back in fear. She feared she would be Isabel’s next target of frustration if Maria didn’t come back quickly.

“Do it again!” Isabel commanded.

“It takes a minute…” Mildred began.

“Do it again!” Isabel interrupted.

“Maria,” Michael spoke oblivious to the shouting around him. He kept his face against Maria’s and whispered words of encouragement. “You need to take a breath and open your eyes. Hope is waiting on you. She’s out in the car with Alex and she can’t wait to see you.”

“Clear!”

“Maria,” Michael continued. “I’m… gonna go… away. But Hope needs you to stay. You’ve done such a wonderful job raising her. You can’t just give up now. She needs her mother. She needs you, Maria.”

“She needs you, too,” Maria’s voice echoed in Michael’s ears.

“No,” he laughed sadly. “She’s the spitting image of her mother… independence and all. She’s perfect. And she’ll be fine.”

“I need you,” Maria pleaded.

Michael could hold his composure no longer. Maria’s words rang in the still air as Michael cried. As much as he wanted to be with Maria, he couldn’t allow her to leave with him… not yet. And as much as he knew Alex and the others would take care of Hope, he wouldn’t allow his daughter to suffer the loss of her mother. He knew first hand what it was like to grow up without parents and Michael refused to let his own desires deprive Hope of her mother. The alien curse had left him without family and he wouldn’t let Hope’s tainted blood be the demise of her happiness.

“Clear!” Mildred shouted nervously and once again touched the paddles to Maria’s chest.

The screeching halted.

The breath caught in the chests of Isabel and Mildred.

Michael lifted his head, kissed Maria’s forehead and said, “Goodbye, Maria.”

A small mountain-like peak appeared on the heart monitor. The spike was followed by a short beep.

Isabel held her breath while waiting for a second beep. Mildred feared for her life while waiting for a second beep. Michael prayed for his love and his daughter while waiting for a second beep.

The silence haunted all three souls until finally, a second short beep and a divine spike danced across the screen of the heart monitor.

“Thank God!” Isabel breathed.

“That’s my girl,” Michael smiled.

Michael felt a strange warmth filling his chest and looked down and at himself. When he looked back up, Michael saw the blue mist beginning to fill the room… the same blue mist he’d experienced in the other room. Michael waved his arms in the air trying to clear the room of the clouds that grew thicker by the second. Then he heard Max.

“Michael.”

Michael turned in the direction of Max’s voice. He squinted his eyes trying desperately to see through the mist.

“Michael, open your eyes! You have to look at me!”

Through the fog and haze, Michael focused his eyes on the brightness. Max’s voice seemed to come from the same direction, so Michael slowly took steps to move towards the light.

“Michael, come on! Damn it, Michael!”

As he continued to walk towards the brightness that reflected in the mist and seemed to surround him, Michael felt the warmth in his chest again. He looked down and saw a faint glow emitting from beneath his shirt.

“Open your eyes! Look at me!”

Michael grew closer to the light. In the distance, he could see a silhouette. Michael took bigger steps and squinted as the silhouette came into focus. Michael struggled to see the face.

“That’s it, Michael. Go ahead and open your eyes. Liz, his eyes are…”

Michael scanned the silhouette as the blinding light finally allowed him to see who was waiting for him. “Max?” Michael asked.

“Oh, thank God! Keep looking at me.”

Michael looked into Max’s eyes and felt the warmth in his chest return. He looked down at his body and saw Max’s hand glowing against his skin.

As the connection between Michael and Max grew stronger, Michael felt the warmth spread throughout his body, extending into his limbs until his fingers and toes tingled with life.

A reel of images flashed across his mind. Michael saw Max reaching for him in the desert. Michael watched as he and Max hammered the “Boys Only” sign onto the cardboard fort in Max’s backyard. He saw Max watching Hank and he felt the sadness in Max’s heart. Michael watched as he and Max strolled the streets of Las Vegas looking for ways to spend a bag full of money.

With one final flash of bright, white light, the images halted, the warmth fell still, and the mist disappeared. Michael pushed his elbows against the cold floor and tried to sit up.

Max chuckled nervously. “Welcome back, buddy.”

Michael looked down at where the bullet had entered his chest. He lifted his hand and touched the glowing flesh. He looked back up at Max with grateful eyes.

“We have company!” Liz shouted running toward the two boys.

posted on 23-Oct-2002 8:07:52 PM by Candy and Doris
fd11d11f

Michael, still trying to recover from his injuries, and Max, worn from the battle he’d just fought to save Michael, inched their way across the floor to lean against the wall of the hallway. They clung to each other for support and prayed the approaching company was Isabel and Maria.

“Liz,” Max breathed.

Liz stood entranced staring down the hallway at the visitor. She turned briefly to look at Max and Michael and knew they were in no condition to help. Somehow, Liz wasn’t terribly disappointed by their exhaustion. In fact, ever since she’d learned Jackson was the kidnapper, she’d had an aching need to deal with him personally. Finally, being of sound mind without his emotional or physical abuse, Liz had the opportunity to take him on.

She grinned at Max’s tired eyes and whispered, “I’ve got this one.”

Liz thought quickly and knew she must establish control of the situation before Jackson. She quickly looked around and found a wooden plank used to second-lock the exit doors. Liz took the plank and positioned herself out of view.

Max and Michael both realized the cause for Liz’s state as Jackson rounded the corner and joined them in the hallway.

Instinct, self-defense, or perhaps pure hatred took over and Liz swung the plank with every ounce of strength she could muster. She shrieked once as the board came into contact with the back of Jackson’s skull.

Jackson grabbed his head and fell forward. The blow had been painful, but not strong enough to knock him unconscious.

Liz continued to hold the plank high in the air, poised and ready to swing again if Jackson presented any kind of threat to her or her friends.

“Liz?” Jackson muttered as he looked up at his attacker.

Liz spoke no words, but her eyes said enough. She glared at Jackson and nonverbally expressed her disappointment, her feeling of betrayal, her utter disgust for him and his doings, and her need for revenge.

Jackson smirked at Liz and backed up to lean against the wall. “Well, well. Little Liz Parker. Long time no see.”

“I’m not here to make small talk,” Liz growled.

“Then why are you here?” Jackson countered.

Liz knew him all too well. She knew his tactics. And she recognized his reversal technique. She knew that Jackson would try to turn the tables. Still, Liz refused to allow him even the briefest moment of control.

“I will ask the questions,” Liz said still holding the plank in the air.

“Fire away,” Jackson said grinning.

Liz did not like Jackson’s response. She felt as thought he were still trying to be in charge… as if giving her permission to ask questions. Liz chose to move forward with the interrogation anyway.

“Why are you doing this?” Liz asked.

Jackson, rubbing his aching head, answered, “Because you hit me in the head with that freaking board.”

From across the hallway, Michael snarled, “Answer her question.”

“Or what?” Jackson countered. “Or else you’ll blast me the way you did the guards?” He met Michael’s eyes. “The way I figure, if you were going to do that, you would have done it by now. You wouldn’t have let this girl here swing on me knowing I could take her any second.” Jackson looked back at Liz and finished his thought. “Either that, or you could simply care less about her.”

Choosing to ignore Jackson’s attempted jab, Liz asked another question. “Why did you take Hope?”

Jackson sighed and shook his head. “Liz, doll, there’s way more complication here than your pretty little head could possibly understand.”

Liz immediately recognized Jackson’s new tactic. He was trying to belittle her the way he did when they were together. He was trying to make her feel unintelligent and unworthy of sharing in his intellect.

“You know,” Liz smiled. “Five years ago, I may have taken you at your word and believed your brainwashing. But, I am well past that point now. So, when you say foolish things like that, all I see is a tiny man - a tiny man knocking others down to build up himself. It’s a real shame your self-confidence is so minuscule that you have to resort to such immature methods in a lowly attempt to restore your self-worth. But then, you would have needed some inkling of self-worth to begin with in order to…”

“I see your new friends own a dictionary,” Jackson interrupted Liz’s rant. “Come now, Liz. You don’t really mean the things your saying.”

“Yes, I do.” Liz spoke. “I mean every word and then some. But this isn’t about your lack of faith in me. This is about Hope, Maria and Michael.”

Jackson looked at Liz completely stunned. After a moment, he chuckled and began to speak. “What did you think I did all those years, Liz? You actually believed I sat behind a desk in some boring office?” Jackson rubbed his aching head and laughed. “I’ve been with the FBI since before we even met. I couldn’t tell you. That was just part of my job. But finding out your little friend had a few tricks up her sleeve… now that was interesting. That little bit of information moved me up the ladder in a hurry. And who’s Maria?”

“What tricks?” Liz asked.

“Don’t play dumb, Liz. You proved the ignorant theory wrong with your little tirade earlier. Besides, I like this Liz,” Jackson smiled. “It’s kinda sexy.” Jackson reached out to touch Liz’s ankle.

On impulse, Liz swung the board in her hands and successfully knocked Jackson’s hand away before he could touch her.

“Damn, Liz!” Jackson shouted and cradled his throbbing wrist. “You could have broken my wrist!”

“I owe you more,” Liz said. “Now - I asked you what tricks?”

Max leaned closer to Michael and whispered, “He’s right.”

Michael looked inquisitively at his friend not understanding how Max could agree with anything Jackson might have to say.

Max continued, “She is sexy when she goes off.”

Michael raised his eyebrows at Max and chocked back his surprise. “This is not the time, Max.”

“The tricks,” Jackson spoke angrily while still holding his wrist, “were the little acts Hope did while she thought no one was watching. She put on quite a show when looking for cartoons on the hospital television.”

“Why were you at the hospital?” Liz asked.

“What is this? Twenty questions?” Jackson smirked.

From across the hallway, Max shouted, “Swing again!”

Liz, Jackson and Michael all looked at Max with wide eyes.

Max slumped and apologized. “Sorry. I got caught up in the moment.”

Jackson laughed. “I like him.” He stopped laughing and looked back at Liz. “Okay. So, why was I at the hospital? Actually, it was completely coincidental that I was there. I was meeting an informant to follow up on a lead, completely unrelated, when I looked up and saw you bust out of a stairwell and into the hall. Imagine my surprise.”

“So you followed me,” Liz said.

“That sounds so… spy-like. I prefer to say that I investigated your arrival. Anyway, yeah, I followed you. And I discovered the tricks of which your little friend was capable.”

“So?” Liz prodded for more information.

“So, what?” Jackson asked. “So, I knew what that kind of discovery could do for my career. There were rumors of a so-called E.T. team a while back. But they were disbanded after never finding hard evidence. I figured little Hope was my hard evidence and my ticket to leading up such a team.”

“And Maria?” Liz asked.

“I never took anyone named Maria,” Jackson said shaking his head.

“Hope’s mother, Jackson,” Liz pushed. “Why did you take her?”

Jackson explained. “Because I figured Hope was just the lucky recipient of someone else’s powers. Mama, of course, had to be doubly as talented. But when I got her here, she never did anything. Not one thing. And we gave her plenty of opportunity and plenty of reason.”

“What did you do to her?” Michael asked from across the hallway. “I swear, I’ll…”

Jackson interrupted. “Oh. How sweet. Even though Dad is a deadbeat father, he apparently loves Mommy.”

Liz couldn’t control herself. She swung her foot and kicked Jackson in the knee.

“What the…?” Jackson shouted. “Liz! Such violence! And that one wasn’t even directed toward you.” Using his good hand, Jackson rubbed his pounding knee. “We… well, we… inconvenienced her several times in a number of different ways to try to make her use her powers to better her situation. She never did anything. So I concluded one of two things was happening. One - she was being even more stubborn than the little brat she spawned. Or two - she had no powers to use.”

“And that’s when you wanted Michael.” Liz deduced.

“You are much smarter than you look, Liz,” Jackson chucked.

“Maria,” Michael whispered.

Liz turned to look at Michael and found him staring down the hallway. Liz looked down and saw Isabel bringing Maria towards them. Maria had one arm wrapped over Isabel’s shoulder and was straining to take even the smallest steps.

“Max,” Isabel said. “You’ve got to help her.”

Max immediately began to stand. He pushed against the wall and struggled to gain balance as his head rushed and spun. He dropped back down to the floor.

Isabel recognized Max’s state right away and nodded to Michael to help her carry Maria to Max. Michael found unknown strength and made his way over to Isabel who was spent from fighting Mildred and supporting Maria in their trek back to the exit door.

Isabel and Michael carefully placed Maria on the floor next to Max. Liz, keeping a steady eye on Jackson, knelt next to Max and held Maria’s head off the floor.

Max laid one hand on Maria’s stomach and said, “Maria. Open your eyes and look at me.”

Across the room, Jackson sat in awe of what he was about to witness. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he realized he was about to have more proof than he’d ever imagined. “How many of you are there?” Jackson breathed.

Remaining focused on the task at hand, everyone ignored Jackson, with the exception of Liz who kept checking his position to be sure he did not become a threat. However, she worried that if he did try anything that he may be successful. Max and Michael were both only at half strength. Isabel was clearly physically weak from her own battles. Alex was in the car protecting Hope. Liz worried that she was the only one who may be able to defend her friends. She breathed steadily and focused on maintaining her mental preparation to fight if the need presented itself.

Maria blinked her eyes a few times and looked at Max. At each opening of her eyes, Max tried to make a connection. His strength was still weak from healing Michael. Max looked sadly at Michael.

“I can’t,” he said tearing up and feeling defeated.

“You have to,” Michael replied.

Max slowly reached out and took Michael’s hand. He laid Michael’s hand on Maria’s stomach.

Michael’s eyes widened with fright when he realized what Max was suggesting. He shook his head and nervously said, “I don’t know how.”

“I’ll help you,” Max said. “Ask her to look at you.”

Michael was terrified, but he was even more terrified of losing Maria. She needed him and he would give anything for her. He nodded at Max and leaned down to whisper into Maria’s ear, “Maria. Please look at me. I need you to look at me.”

Maria’s eyes lazily fluttered open and finally she locked them with Michael’s eyes. Max placed his hand over Michael’s hand on Maria’s stomach. Michael focused on opening his strength to Max. Max drew from Michael and quickly made a connection with Maria through Michael. The two hands on Maria’s stomach began to glow and almost instantly the color in Maria’s cheeks began to return.

After a few moments, Michael and Max withdrew their hands and Maria began to sit up. She kept her eyes directed on Michael’s. Her brow furrowed and she fought to understand the collage of images that flooded her mind. “You were there,” she whispered never looking away from Michael’s eyes. “I saw you.”

Michael could only smile knowing Maria had returned to him.

“Maria,” Liz muttered and threw her arms around Maria’s neck. Using her sternest voice, Liz said “Don’t ever do that to me again.”

“Awww,” Jackson spoke sarcastically as he stood. “Sorry to break up your special moment ladies, gents, and aliens. But what you’ve just allowed me to witness leaves no doubt that I was on the right trail, just barking up the wrong tree. But now that I know…”

“Back off, Jackson,” Liz spoke standing to face him.

“Honey, I’m not interested in you. It’s those three I want. Get out of my way,” Jackson said reaching to push Liz out of his way.

When Max realized Jackson was about to touch Liz, he instantly lifted his hand and released a blast of energy that sent Jackson flying backwards and landing against the hard wall on the opposite side of the hallway. Max said, “Thought by now you would have learned your lesson about laying a hand on her.”

Michael grinned and patted Max’s shoulder. “Nice one.”

“Where’s Alex?” Isabel asked.

“In the car with Hope,” Liz answered.

“Thank God,” Maria whispered.

Michael pulled Maria closer to him and they held each other reveling in knowing Hope was finally safe.

“So, what are we waiting on?” Isabel asked. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Jackson said once again lifting himself to his feet. “You didn’t really think I’d tell you all that stuff and then let you go now, did you? Come on, Liz, I thought you were smarter than that these days. And as for what I just saw… there’s no way you’re going anywhere.”

“Wrong,” a voice boomed from the exit door.

Everyone turned to see Alex holding the gun that was used to shoot Michael.

“Go. Now,” Alex spoke firmly pointing the weapon at Jackson.

Everyone began making their way towards the door. One by one, everyone exited through the door until only Isabel and Alex remained.

“Go on,” Alex said.

“No,” Isabel said shaking her head. “I’ll go when you go.”

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 7-Nov-2002 8:13:51 PM ]
posted on 20-Dec-2002 11:25:14 PM by Candy and Doris
Part 45

"Stop fidgeting," Isabel said for the tenth time in as many minutes. "You're wrinkling your dress." Isabel reached beneath the hem of Maria's candlelight, crepe gown to adjust the six layers of crinoline. The full skirt of the a-line gown swayed with even the smallest movement Maria made.

"I feel like a giant, marshmallow crème puff," Maria complained. “And what’s the point of shoes if you can’t even see them. Can’t I just take them off?”

“Then your dress would be too long,” Isabel said as she moved to adjust pearls sewn to the fitted bodice of the gown. Maria’s small waist was accented with an appliqué of lace and pearls. She wore pearls in her ears and matching string of pearls around her neck, on loan from Isabel as her something borrowed.

Liz reached for Maria's wringing hands and gently held them. "Creme puff or not, you look beautiful."

Maria forced a smile. She reached forward and gently touched the baby’s breath neatly tucked into Liz’s hair. “Yellow’s definitely your color,” Maria said commenting on the dresses she’d picked out for Liz and Isabel. Her two bridesmaids wore spaghetti-strap, a-line gowns and carried colorful bouquets of wildflowers, the stems wrapped in yellow satin ribbons.

"Are you nervous?" Liz asked.

Through a shaky giggle, Maria admitted, "An absolute wreck. Thank goodness I have you two here to help me through this."

Liz twirled the princess cut diamond on her own finger and said, "Just remember that when Max and I call on you to baby-sit."

Shortly after becoming engaged, Liz and Max filed to adopt Joey, a six-year old boy Max had been working with at the county shelter in Roswell. Feeling Joey needed a new start for his new life with them, Max and Liz relocated to L.A. to be near their friends.

Liz found work as a T.A. while studying in the biology department at UCLA and Max quickly landed a job in the social services division of the city, in much need of help.

Joey and Hope became fast best friends. Even though they were close in years, Hope, having had a much more stable childhood than Joey, was the clear leader. Joey followed her around and seemed to look up to Hope. Joey wanted nothing more than to be just like Hope.

Max and Liz were glad Joey found a positive role model, but the task was difficult to explain why he and Hope couldn’t always do the same things. Their latest dilemma was making Joey understand why he couldn’t throw flowers at their wedding like Hope was doing at her parent’s wedding.

“It’s not fair,” Joey had whined.

“But you get to carry the rings,” Max told Joey trying to make him feel better about being the ring bearer rather than the flower girl.

“It’s not the same,” Joey had whimpered.

“Is it terrible two’s or terrible six’s?” Liz had laughed reveling with Max in the joys of parenthood.

"You're not having second thoughts, are you?" Isabel asked Maria.

"About Michael?" Maria laughed at the insanity of Isabel's question. "God, no. He's the one thing... well, he's..."

"We know," Liz said rescuing Maria before any tears had the chance to ruin her makeup.

"The only thing I'm afraid of..." Maria began.

Liz and Isabel held their breaths waiting to hear what had Maria so jittery. They couldn't imagine how Maria could possibly have any doubts about Michael or his feelings. They wondered how Maria could be anything less than confident about the future that awaited her family.

"I'm afraid," Maria continued at full speed, "about tripping on my dress, falling face first to the floor, shining my underoos to all those guests out there, giving myself a black eye and broken nose - which will be lovely in the pictures mind you that will probably grace the cover of People Magazine, and then when I try to stand back up I'm gonna rip my gown and look like a pirate's wench just washed ashore, and…"

"Hey," Isabel said stopping Maria's babbling. "Get a hold of yourself, girl!" Isabel took Maria's shoulders. "I did a lot of planning on this wedding. And I didn't plan for any falls, no broken noses, and no pirates were invited. So no need to worry about looking like a wench."

"I owe you so big," Maria said shaking her head. She truly was thankful for all the hard work Isabel had done putting together the perfect wedding. Even though Maria sometimes felt bad for leaving so much work to her, she knew that Isabel was having a lot of fun planning and making reservations and designing favors.

"Well," Isabel said. "I don't know if you'll ever get a chance to return that favor."

"He'll ask," Liz said answering the thoughts that she knew were in Isabel's mind.

"I don't know about that," Isabel said. "You know - always the bridesmaid, never the bride. I was thinking that I might just have to do the asking myself."

"Mommy!" Hope shouted rounding the corner at full speed.

"Hope! Slow down before you fall!" Maria shouted.

"You have to go now," Hope said out of breath.

...........................................................................................................................

The church was beautifully decorated with yellow roses and satin ribbons, a la Isabel-flair. She’d missed not even the smallest detail when designing and planning. The candelabras were fitted with dripless white candles, the end of each pew was marked with yellow roses, greenery and ribbons, and the center isle was lined with a rolled-out white carpet. The white, baby grand piano was outfitted with yellow roses and ribbons. Isabel had even brought in specially-fitted stained glass in yellow and white to temporarily replace the church’s usual glass.

Guests filled the pews… hundreds of family members, friends and coworkers.

And in the front of the church, Michael stood waiting for Maria. He waited for her to join him before the preacher. He waited for his family to become official. He waited for his life to begin.

"Hey," Alex said from behind him. "There's a lot more people here than I had figured."

"Yeah," Max joked from behind Alex. "You've got quite an audience. Are you sure you want to go through with this?"

"Are you kidding?" Michael scoffed. "You're just lucky I'm going first, Maxwell. You know, show you how it's done. Alex, did you go by the jeweler this morning?"

"Sure thing," Alex answered. He reached into his pocket and retrieved a heart-shaped diamond on a tiny gold band.

Michael stared at the ring for a moment in disbelief. "What the hell is that?"

"I'm going to ask Isabel tonight," Alex said smiling ear-to-ear.

Max patted Alex on the back. "Congratulations."

"She hasn't said yes, yet," Alex reminded Max.

"Hey, that's great," Michael said. He reached forward to take Alex into a hug. Through gritted teeth, Michael whispered, "But you better have gotten something else from that jeweler."

"Take it easy," Alex said pulling away from Michael's death grip. "It's right here in the other pocket." Alex reached into his pocket and pulled out a small platinum band. He held the ring close to his face and read the inscription. "Maria, my love and hope."

Michael reflected on how perfectly Maria had named their daughter. Hope had been all any of them had for years. When he was on Antar, Michael had dreamed of his return home to Maria. Then, upon arriving back on Earth and learning he’d lost Maria, his dreams were all he held. In his dreams, he saw her. And in her, he saw hope. That hope was what kept him going even in her absence. In each of his patients at the hospital, he saw hope. In the eyes of the anxious families of those patients, he saw confidence as they placed their hope in him. And when Michael discovered Maria back within his grasps, hope surrounded his being and became his lifeblood. Then, after learning hope truly belonged to him, in the form of a beautiful daughter, Michael suddenly found himself utterly dependent upon the one thing that had been his crutch - hope. The hope for family. When Hope was taken from him as abruptly as she had appeared, Michael faltered on losing faith that he was meant for the kind of life he’d dreamed of since he was not much older than Hope. Yet somehow, even in a time when he could have easily slipped into depression, Maria and his briefest encounters with the sweet smile of Hope had kept him afloat.

And then she said yes. Maria said yes. Michael had marveled at how Maria could say yes without blinking an eye. Even with his less-than-perfect track history, his love had said yes. Despite how undeserving he was of the request, she’d agreed to marry him with no consideration. Maria had once again bestowed upon him the hope on which he had become reliant. She’d opened her life to him... and ultimately given him Hope… a charming little girl, a child he was proud to call his daughter.

Michael remembered the night, a few weeks after having escaped from the FBI, that they saw the news report on television. Jackson held true to his threat. He'd told the world of the existence of aliens. He'd told anyone who would listen about the experiences he had with the aliens. And then he was committed to the looney bin. As a permanent resident of Oak Leaf Hills, Jackson was ordered to remain under high sedation for delusional tendencies and potential to harm himself or others.

Only a few nights later, Michael and Maria had decided it was finally safe to tell Hope the truth about her father. Michael had worried that Hope wouldn't understand why her father had been absent from her life for so many years. Still, he could hardly wait to begin developing the kind of relationship he'd envisioned since the day he'd learned she was his Hope.

One night, after Michael took Maria and Hope out for a special dinner, they sat Hope down to explain. Maria went first. She was worried that Hope may be angry that her daddy was not with her so she told Hope how Michael wasn’t aware that she was in L.A. “You know how lots of people don’t know mommy’s real name?” Maria explained. “Michael didn’t know Marianna was really mommy either. If he’d known, then he would have been able to find us.”

Hope said she understood, but Michael wasn't fully convinced. So, with Hope's permission, he connected with her and showed her everything he knew she could handle at such a young age. He showed her how much it killed him to leave her mother. He showed her how much he loved her and Maria. He showed her how he'd prayed for them to be a family. And then he shared with her some of the plans and hopes he had for their future life together.

Michael showed Hope an image of the three of them playing in the park and then an image of him carrying her to the car after the day’s fun had exhausted his baby. He showed her an image of her standing on his feet as he danced her around the gymnasium at a father/daughter ball. He showed her an image of their family sitting around the tree on Christmas morning while Hope tore wrapping paper and tossed bows across the room. Then he showed her an image of him tucking her into bed. Just as he turned to leave her bedroom, Hope called out, "Goodnight, Daddy." Through the flash, Michael communicated to Hope how much pride he took in having her call him Daddy and how he truly adored feeling loved by her.

“Do you have any questions?” Michael had asked when he and Maria had finished explaining.

“Just one,” Hope said. “Does this mean I call you Daddy now?”

“Pssst. Dr. Guerin,” a young man on the second row called to Michael interrupting his thoughts.

Michael smiled at his intern, Andrew.

Andrew motioned to the balcony overlooking the sanctuary. Michael looked up and saw paparazzi readying themselves to steal the first photographs of the couple’s wedding. Michael returned his eyes to Andrew and nodded. Immediately, Andrew stood and began making his way towards the balcony. As he neared the back of the church, he waved two other doctors to join him in ridding the ceremony of the uninvited guests.

“Geez,” Alex said to Michael. “You running a hospital or a mafia operation?”

“No,” Michael answered. “I just don’t want anything to ruin this for Maria. Besides, we already hired a photographer. And at $450 an hour, he sure as hell better not be out-shot by some random newspaper reporters.”

…………………………………………………………..

Maria rounded the corner leading to the back of the church where she would begin her accent to Michael and her future. Hope giggled uncontrollably as Isabel and Liz scolded her.

“What’s going on?” Maria asked.

“I don’t think they wanted her to ruin the surprise,” a man’s voice said as he met Maria at the corner.

“Oh my gosh,” Maria said as air left her lungs. She smiled up at a tuxedo-clad man she hadn’t seen since she left Roswell so many years ago.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” Jim Valenti said. “I believe a nice doctor is waiting for me to give you away.”

“Sheriff,” Maria breathed. “How… I… I’m so glad you’re here,” she finally spit out as she waddled towards him.

Isabel realized Maria and Jim intended to hug. She thought quickly and ran between them successfully stopping both people. “No!” She shouted. She lowered her voice and spoke. “No hugging until after the photos are taken.”

Jim looked at Liz with confusion hoping she could enlighten him regarding Isabel’s no-hugging rule.

“Wrinkles,” Liz explained.

“Ah,” Jim said acknowledging that Isabel had evidently not changed a bit. “Wedding Nazi, too?” he whispered into Liz’s ear.

Liz rolled her eyes. “You have no idea.”

Isabel moved to the double doors and glanced inside the church. She signaled for the pianist to begin. When she heard the familiar tune, Isabel began directing. “Look alive, people. We are running behind! We have a show to do and the curtain is about to rise.”

“Isabel,” Liz reasoned. “It’s a wedding ceremony…not a theatrical production.”

………………………………………………………..

Liz began her walk down the isle first. She smiled at Max who grinned back. They were both reveling in knowing they were next.

Isabel followed Liz. She told herself she wouldn’t, but she just couldn’t help herself. She had to adjust the bow on the end of pew four that was out of place.

Alex only smiled knowing the inner battle Isabel was fighting not to stop and straighten every bow and adjust every flower, and shape every melting candle. He loved her quirky compulsiveness and he loved her. He couldn’t wait to ask her to marry him. Still, he knew this was Maria’s and Michael’s long awaited and much deserved day. So, he forced himself to forget about the ring that was burning a hole in his pocket. In his heart, he knew she would accept, but his jitters were growing greater with each passing hour in the day. Even though he knew Isabel before she was Belle and gracing covers of magazines, he couldn't help but occasionally marvel at the fact that he was dating a model. Being an agent, he was accustomed to being around stars and important people, but to have one of them notice him, the behind-the-scenes person... well, Alex just couldn't believe he was lucky enough to be in love Isabel and to have her return his love.

Hope followed Isabel. She took a small step and tossed a yellow rose petal… took a small step and tossed a yellow rose petal… took a small step and tossed a yellow rose petal. Half way up the isle, Hope ran out of petals. She reached her tiny hand into her empty basket and nearly panicked. She stood still in her spot and knew not what to do. She glanced around nervously only to discover everyone laughing at her.

From a nearby pew, Lupe recognized Hope’s state. She knew Hope was about to either run out of the church crying or simply faint. Immediately, she began making her way through the pew to rescue Hope. “Hope,” Lupe whispered. “Here, child. Take these,” she said pulling flowers from the ends of three pews.

Isabel gasped and threw her hand to her mouth.

“It’ll be fine,” Liz whispered shushing Isabel.

Hope and Lupe worked together to remove the petals from the roses. When the basket was full, Lupe smiled at Hope, “Sonrie M’ija. Show them that beautiful smile.” Hope smiled at Lupe and continued her ascent. She took a small step and tossed a yellow rose petal… took a small step and tossed a yellow rose petal… took a small step and tossed a yellow rose petal.

Maria, escorted by Jim, heard the music change and knew it was time for her walk.

“Marianna!” a voice called from behind her.

Maria and Jim turned around and were blinded by the flash of a camera. The photographer, satisfied with the startled expression he caught on film, dashed around the corner and headed up the hall.

No sooner than he’d rounded the corner, Maria and Jim heard a smothered yelp, a loud thud and plastic crunching. A tall slender man with blonde hair and green eyes emerged from around the corner carrying what remained of the photographer’s camera and the exposed film. “Taken care of,” the man said.

“Thanks, Dr. Adams,” Maria smiled.

“No problem,” the man laughed and pointed to the double doors leading into the sanctuary. “Dr. Guerin’s waiting on you.”

Maria nodded and took a deep breath.

“You ready?” Jim asked.

Maria suddenly found speaking impossible. She merely shook her head and bent towards the floor reaching for her feet.

Jim, assuming Maria was about to suffer a panic attack, was in shock. He had no idea what to do to help Maria. He wondered if he should holler for Liz and Isabel, but he didn’t want to alarm the guests. So, he decided to attempt handling the situation himself.

“Yeah, that’s good,” Jim said patting Maria’s back. “Bending over should keep you from fainting.”

“I’m not gonna faint,” Maria grumbled still struggling to find her feet. “Um… a little help here, please?”

Confused, but never one to argue with a Deluca, squatted down to help Maria with whatever it was she so desperately needed.

“My right shoe,” Maria pointed.

Jim removed Maria’s candlelight pump and noticed a small coin taped to the inside. “All this for a nickel?”

“No,” Maria explained. “That’s a six pence and it has to stay in the shoe for good fortune and a good marriage. I want what’s in the toe.”

Jim flipped the shoe and caught a small vile in his palm. “Do your shoes double as your purse or what?”

“Just hand it to me,” Maria said taking the vile. She gripped the cap and twisted. She brought the vile to her nose. “Thank goodness,” Maria said breathing deeply.

“Cypress oil? I guess some things never change,” Jim laughed.

Feeling much more relaxed and ready to be paraded before her hundreds of guests, Maria handed the vile to Jim and said, “Here. Pocket.”

Jim took the vile, handed Maria her shoes and said, “Here. Foot.”

Maria giggled and dropped her shoe to the ground. She slid her foot into the slipper and took Jim’s arm. “I’m really glad you could make it,” she said sincerely.

“What? And miss the world’s first alien/human wedding ceremony? No way,” Jim said. “I just keep waiting for the flowers to glow or for the guests to float.”

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Michael wondered what was taking so long. Hope had long taken her spot next to Isabel and Liz and Maria had still not emerged from the double doors. He wondered if she had changed her mind about him. He worried if she was okay or she was battling paparazzi. And he feared he’d blown it last week when he told her he didn’t really care if she went with 100% cotton or polyester blend napkins.

Just in time to rescue Michael’s mind from leaving, Maria appeared at the doors in the back of the church.

Finally, Michael understood. He understood why Isabel had made certain he stole not even the briefest glimpse of Maria all day. If he’d seen her looking that beautiful, there would have been no wedding. He’d have melted on the spot. In fact, even then, Michael struggled to keep his balance.

As Maria made her way up the isle to Michael, she looked around at all her guests. She smiled back at each face smiling happily at her and Jim. Half way up the isle, her eyes found those of her future husband’s. Michael was stunning in his black tux. Her grin grew wider at the thought of being his wife in a matter of mere minutes. Growing old, a thought she'd never found especially appealing, became something Maria could not wait to start doing... as long as it was with Michael. In an instant, she could picture herself with gray hair sitting next to Michael on their front porch swing watching the grandchildren play on the front lawn. Her eyes had grown weak throughout the years and she wore glasses, but she had no problem making out the fine lines that hugged Michael's eyes... a reminder of all the laughter and happy times they'd shared.

"Who gives this woman away?" the preacher asked when Maria and Jim stopped at the front of the church.

"I do," Jim said and released Maria's arm. He placed her shaking hand into Michael's extended hand and gave her one last reassuring glance before taking his seat in the second pew.

“You’re late,” Michael whispered.

“Nearly took me a lifetime to get here,” Maria whispered back.

“Nah,” Michael smiled. “We’re just starting that.”


posted on 20-Dec-2002 11:27:35 PM by Candy and Doris
Authors' notes
&
Part 46 (the last chapter)

A NOTE FROM DORIS:

More than a year has passed since Candy and I met by sheer chance and began work on Chasing Hope. Our love for writing, the excitement at the idea of one day seeing a finished product, and the fabulous feedback provided from readers kept us working month after month to complete the project.

While I am beyond thrilled with the completed story, I can’t help but feel sad at knowing the journey has ended.

To the readers - Thank you for your patience, kind words, and encouragement. Your comments have meant more than you can possibly imagine.

To Candy - Remind me never to write another story without you! When I slack, when I rush through thoughts or events, you are always there to whip me into shape. “We could use a little more emotion in this scene.” “Could we add some of what Michael is thinking here?” “I don’t get this part.” “Is this really what Maria is feeling?” The number of times we passed a chapter back and forth and the massive number of changes made before any post only added to the overall effectiveness and made the story what it is… one of my favorite endeavors. Your creativity and professionalism is comparable to none. I would be honored to work on any project with you any time in the future - hopefully a project centered around original characters so that we can share it with even more people. Thank you for everything.

Personal plug - While in college, I was assigned to keep a journal by my English professor. I am posting a fictional version of that journal online. The entries are based on my experiences as a tormented journal hostage. While the journal is fictional, it is based on real people and real experiences from my 4 years of college... condensed into one semester by pulling the most comical, most emotionally motivating, and most mentally draining happenings. Please check it out, but be sure to go to the Archives and read the entries in order starting with Day 1. I post one entry daily. You’ll also find that one of the characters is named after a favorite Roswell fellow. www.journalhostage.blogspot.com

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A NOTE FROM CANDY:

Wow, it’s the end. *Sniffles* It’s been a long journey but we’ve finally made it. It’s been a wonderful experience, and one that has left us with a lot to learn from. I had never written anything before, much less posted something on-line, so I must admit that I was very apprehensive and scared at first. However, thanks to all of your support, hope started increasing and we got the courage to continue. It is somewhat sad to reach the end; especially because this means there will be no more writing, brainstorming, editing and feedback *sniffles some more*.

I would like to thank each and everyone one of you who have kept us going from the beginning of the fic about a year ago until its final sections. Thank you for all the feedback that has given us the power to continue. A special thanks to those who inspired us to start this story and those who have been there every step of the way. Thank you all for waiting patiently for the story, no matter how long it took us to produce. Thank you for keeping us on our toes and reminding us once in a while that there was still a fic waiting to be finished.

I would especially like to thank Doris for always being there. It was because of her that Chasing Hope was able to take about a life of its own. She took a simple idea and worked with it until producing Chasing Hope. Without her, this story wouldn’t have been possible. It was her constant dedication, her talent, her editing, her strong skills, and her hard work what has produced this story. I am thankful for having the opportunity to have worked with such a great person.

So I am kinda out of words. I know I’m ranting just like those boring people in the Oscar awards, but come on…how many times does a girl get to rant?

To close this up, I can honestly say that working on this story has been one of the greatest experiences I have ever had (That tells you the kind of life I have). Now to your previously scheduled fic…

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Lying on her back, she stared far into the massive night sky crammed with zillions of tiny, twinkling stars. The soft breeze caressed her skin as she watched midnight blues, purples, and reds dance across the sky. The blanket of purple grass beneath her was cool and gentle and the nearby song of the crickets calmed her. She snuggled closer to him and enveloped herself in his warmth.

He embraced her tightly and tucked back a silky curl that had escaped her golden pins. He tenderly cupped her delicate face and brought his warm lips to hers for a brief, but emotionally-telling kiss.

She closed the book in her hands and traced her fingers over the black leather cover, paying particular attention to the golden embossed letters that read “Chasing Hope.” She snuggled back against his body as she sunk into the serene silence of the magical night... the night her book was released for everyone to read and, hopefully, become motivated to seek out their own form of hope. “You really think hope’s out there?” she asked.

He looked into her eyes and was stricken by something he saw in them. Perhaps it was simple curiosity about what he thought. Perhaps it was doubt that the lines between fiction and reality could be so easily crossed. Perhaps it was actual hope she was contemplating.

He turned his gaze back to the twinkling stars and nodded. “Of course, love. Hope existed in your story, why can’t it exist here?”

She shifted uncomfortably and brought her eyes from the stars down to the tree-lined horizon.

He felt her body tremble beneath his touch, and even though he knew the answer, he asked anyway. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m afraid,” she spoke softly, her words barely audible. “What if I can’t do this? “

“You’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, Maria. You’re a strong writer. Everything will go just fine,” he reassured her and tried to sweep away unjust doubts.

She sat up and buried her head in her hands. “But what if I fail, Michael? What then? What will I do if people don’t like my book? Worse yet, what if they hate it? I poured my heart and soul into that book, Michael. I am that book. And if it fails, I fail.”

“You don’t believe in it, Maria,” Michael spoke.

Maria looked down at him, confusion evident in her emerald green eyes. She hadn't expected him to confirm her doubts.

Michael sat up next to Maria. “You don’t believe in the hope of your own story. You don’t believe in the very hope that carried your characters through trials greater than bad reviews or peer rejection,” Michael said pointing out the hypocrisy in her fears.

Maria hesitated, took a deep breath, and consumed herself in silent thoughts for a few minutes.

"Chasing Hope is your creation," Michael continued. "It's true that it’s a part of you. But if you don't have faith in yourself, can you expect others to do so? You've got to love it first.”

“That’s part of the problem, Michael. I cannot love that which I do not know... that which does not exist. I'm asking the readers to believe in something I know nothing about. It was all a story. Nothing was real! The characters. Earth. Hope. It was all a product of my imagination! None of it is real! Things in the real world don’t end happily ever after.” She tried hard to control the tears she felt welling up in her eyes and, once again, buried her head in her hands.

Michael touched Maria's shoulder. "Maria, you've spent so long in this story it has consumed you. I don't think it's the readers' acceptance you're worried about. You poured so much of your heart into creating Earth and into creating a world where the good guy wins... I think your frustration is not in the idea of bad reviews; I think your frustration is in the story being over, in you having to leave that world behind and return to life here... with me."

Maria looked at Michael with surprise.

"I just..." Michael began. "I've waited a very long time for you to come back."

"But I haven't been gone anywhere," Maria said confused.

"Yes, you have," Michael said wiping a stray tear from Maria's cheek.

“I…I just wish," Maria said. "I just wish that things were like the fairy tale, Michael. But they aren’t. There's no such thing as happily ever after, there's no such thing as Earth, there's no such thing as story-book endings…” she took a deep breath and continued, "And there's no such thing as Hope.”

Michael pulled her body closer to his. “Life’s as real as we make it, Ria. And hope is as strong as you let it be. Maria, you know as well as I do that hope cannot be found in some kind of magic potion. No. I think hope is found everyday in people who cry, laugh, and hurt. It is what gives us the strength to wake up in the morning and live through another day. Hope is what makes you who you are, Maria.”

“Waking up and fighting through another day doesn’t make things end happily ever after.” Maria sighed taking control of her emotions. "Besides, it is those everyday things - the crying and the hurting - that's what scares me most. At least when I'm writing, I have full control. I know how it will end. And I know all the trials are for a reason and that everything will turn out okay." Maria carefully looked into Michael's troubled eyes. "And the boy always gets the girl in the end."

"Is that what you're worried about?" Michael asked.

Maria hung her head and had to laugh a little at her own frenzy. Michael had never left her feeling anything but loved. In her heart, Maria knew that was the least of her burdens. "No," she answered truthfully.

"Then what is it?" Michael asked softly.

"I guess I’m just afraid of failing," Maria said still looking at her lap.

Michael smiled. "This is a ridiculous conversation. Your book will be loved as much as you are. And so what if I'm the only one who sees the true beauty in the imagination of Maria Deluca? Score one for me... the most brilliant man in the universe." Michael joked with Maria trying to bring back the girl he loved... the girl he loved who had disappeared into a fictional world called Earth... the girl who he so desperately wanted to come back to him. He knew she would.

"Michael," Maria said trying not to laugh at her love's untimely joke, "It's not ridiculous because I know that when I fail…I just…you don’t understand.”

“And what’s so bad about that? So what if we fail from time and time? Doesn't that provide the perfect opportunity to turn our lives around and aim for that happy ending? So what if we spend a few days crying in our lives? It's hope - just like you wrote about - that carries you through. It’s what has carried your characters through, Maria. Why can’t it be the same here? This isn't Earth. And no, our grass isn't some absurd shade of green. And I highly doubt we'll ever meet a human - heaven forbid.”

Maria laughed a little Michael's recollection of the world she'd created.

"But," Michael continued, "I think hope is universal." He touched her head, "It's here. Regardless of what galaxy you live in, how many arms and legs you have, what color your sky is... Hope exists for everyone."

Maria looked into Michael's honey-colored eyes and then turned her gaze back to the stars. And for the first time she saw something more than just twinkling dots. For a brief moment, she wondered if the stars were small flickers of hope. Maybe there was, indeed, such a thing called hope after all.

Maria returned her eyes to Michael. Maybe she did believe in her book after all. She grabbed her book in her hands and skimmed through it until she found the page that she was looking for... the last page in the book was left blank. She'd left it that way so that each reader could create their own ending, their own hope. And as for Maria, she finally knew how to complete her own. She sighed and clutched her pen tightly in her right hand. She looked up to the stars again for any kind of sign. Any kind of sign that would give her the power to continue. Zillions of twinkling lights illuminated the heavens. She smiled and took a deep breath as she clutched her book tightly. She brought her gaze down to her blank page and allowed her thoughts to form words. Her pen swept across the page in swift motions as she filled the final page of Chasing Hope.

Somewhere amongst it all, they comprehended that hope could reveal itself anywhere and in anyone. It was not necessary to be the hero rescuing a lady's cat from a burning building, pulling a scared child from the rough waves in the ocean, or even helping the elderly man to safely cross traffic. In truth, simple living while seeking Hope brings courage like no other.

And they discovered that failure only made them stronger, and it was failure that taught them to learn from their mistakes. So what if they stumbled? They could always get up again. And if they stumbled again? Chasing after something as solid as hope would carry them through countless falls and bring them closer to understanding how from tear and heartache came the hope of a new and better life.

The End