At lunchtime on Wednesday Maria found herself standing across the quad, watching Liz and Max where they sat together talking at one of the tables. They glanced up with welcoming smiles when Isabel joined them and she felt a pang of sadness as the three of them carried on a conversation, their heads close together as they leaned over the table. She froze when they suddenly looked up, their gazes zeroing in on her, and she briefly considered just turning and walking away when Liz stood and started walking in her direction.
"Maria, wait up!"
"Did you need something, Liz?" she asked when the brunette had caught up with her. "Because you seemed to be pretty busy with your new friends."
"Please don't be like that, Maria." Liz hated that things had become so strained between them but she didn't know what to do make them right again. The most obvious solution wasn't available because it would entail a breach of trust and she had already pushed the boundaries of trust with her new friends by revealing their secret to one person.
"You know you can join us," Alex said, pausing beside her on his way to join the others. He glanced at Liz and knew her thoughts mirrored his own. He didn't like keeping things from Maria; he could only imagine how he would feel if he had been the one who had been left in the dark. He knew she was hurt and probably felt abandoned to some extent by their sudden alliance with Max and Isabel because she had been pushed aside as they attempted to keep their new friends' dangerous secret from being revealed.
"Why? So you can struggle to find something we can all talk about? Do you really think I'm so stupid that I'm completely unaware of the fact that every time I come around when you're with them that you change the subject? Or that the two of you have suddenly dumped me in favor of two people you hadn't spoken one word to before – "
"Maria, we're still your friends," Liz offered. "It's just that now we have a couple of new friends and – "
"This goes beyond having new friends; I don't know what their hold over you two is, but it's obviously something you don't care to talk about, so why don't you just go on and have lunch with them and I'll see you later."
"You're sure you don't want to join us?"
Maria smiled sadly as she turned back to look at her oldest friends. "I'm sure." She shrugged. "Besides, I have somewhere I need to be."
"Okay," Liz said, her tone uncertain, "I'll see you at work then."
"Sure." She walked away without bothering to correct the assumption; she had cleared the time off with Mr. Parker the day before and she doubted that he had said anything to his daughter since Liz believed that she would be at work after school.
"I hate keeping this from her, Alex."
He nodded and draped his right arm around her shoulders. "Until we can get them to understand that they can trust her we can't say anything; you know that. They're still not happy that I know about them, and it's caused enough tension so we don't need to add more to it."
"You're sure you don't want to meet some of the artists?" Amy asked. She hesitated when Maria leaned up against the car and shook her head, trying not to be obvious as she looked around for the young man who had captured her interest.
Maria looked at her mother when she realized that she was waiting for a verbal answer. "No, Mom, I'll be fine here. Really." She made a shooing motion with one hand and adjusted her sunglasses with the other.
Amy turned and walked to the building where she was meeting with some of the artists who supplied her with a large amount of items to sell each year, hiding a smile at her daughter's attempt to appear casual and nonchalant.
"You seem to be spendin' a lot of time hangin' around on the Rez here lately."
Maria shivered as his voice washed over her and she turned her head to look at him when he leaned up against the car beside her. His gaze remained focused straight ahead, allowing her to see only his profile, and his muscled arms were folded over his chest. His features were chiseled, his jaw spoke of a stubborn nature, and his hair was still unruly and spiked.
"My mom sells stuff made by some of the people here," she explained when the fingers of his right hand began drumming restlessly against his left arm.
He nodded. "You got a name?"
Maria's eyebrows shot up in surprise and she pulled her sunglasses off. "Of course I have a name; everyone has a name."
He waited for several minutes, trying to ignore the fact that she was winding him up. He refused to be the first to break and he stared sightlessly at the empty spot where the old mission had stood less than a week ago. After several more minutes he could feel his back teeth starting to grind and he tried not to pay attention to the heat emanating from her body where she was standing so close to him.
"So, I guess you're glad that the mission is finally gone."
His head turned and his gaze swung to her in disbelief. "What?"
Maria stared at him, her eyes traveling over his strong features to settle on eyes that were unbelievably dark. It would be so easy to get lost in the intensity of those dark depths and she wondered if he had any idea how attractive he was. She dismissed that after less than a moment of contemplation; he wasn't the type to put much stock in his appearance.
"The mission, you said it was a symbol of oppression, right? So you must be relieved that it's finally gone." She pushed her tongue against the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing when he continued to stare at her, his mouth opening and closing as he tried to come up with a suitable response.
Michael couldn't seem to wrap his mind around the sudden change in topic and he shook his head in an attempt to clear it. "What's your name?" Her green eyes sparkled playfully and he growled as he realized he had played right into her hands.
"Maria DeLuca," she introduced herself.
He watched her and his eyes narrowed when she started to extend her hand but pulled it back at the last second and rested it on the hood of the car instead. "Too good to shake my hand?" he snarled.
Maria drew back from the vehemence in his tone and shook her head. "No, you just have a hands-off air about you so I thought you might not wanna shake hands." She shifted a couple of steps to the side and crossed her arms over her chest in a protective gesture. "I'm so glad I took time off from work to come back out here," she muttered.
Michael shifted uncomfortably and rubbed his neck as he tried to figure out what to do next. He hadn't meant to insult her or hurt her feelings; he knew he had a tendency to go on the attack when he felt threatened in any way. He hadn't anticipated her ability to read his body language or pick up on what he thought were subtle vibes. He was used to the looks he received from people, whether they were condescending, full of pity, or just plain hateful. Growing up as a foster kid on the reservation he had caught plenty of flack from people in town, and that had only fostered his low threshold for perceived insults.
His mind suddenly latched onto her muttered words and he straightened up beside her. "You took the day off to come see me?"
Maria rolled her eyes and refused to be swayed by the surprised tone in his deep voice. "You wish." She looked away when he moved to stand in front of her. "Don't flatter yourself; I'm here to help my mom, nothing else."
He grinned and rocked back on his heels. "You did, you took the day off to come see me."
She looked at him then. "Smugness is not an attractive feature."
He leaned forward, bracing one hand on the roof of the car beside her right shoulder and his breath brushed past her ear when he spoke again. "So, you think I'm attractive, huh?"
"Bite me, you caveman," she snapped, forcing her gaze to stay level with the arrowhead hanging from the chain encircling his neck. She was not going to give him the satisfaction of meeting his gaze.
Michael chuckled and he didn't miss the shiver that raced through her body as she reacted to the sound. "We don't know each other well enough for that yet."
The comment combined with the amusement in his rough voice made her look up despite her intention not to and her breath caught in her throat at the open expression in his eyes. She could practically feel the electricity crackling in the air between them and they hadn't even touched yet.
"Michael Guerin," he said, holding his right hand out to her.
Maria reached blindly for his hand, unable to lower her gaze. Her hand slid into his much larger calloused, work-roughened one and the only word that described the feeling was electrifying. She didn't know how long they stood there, staring into each other's eyes, their hands clasped together, but she could see the reluctance in his expression when he finally pulled back. It wasn't until he straightened away from her and turned his head that she realized that someone was standing behind him.
"What do you want, Eddie?" he growled, annoyed by the interruption.
"I just wanted to ask if you're gonna be goin' out to Grey Wolf's place on Saturday to help dig the new well." Eddie smiled at the young woman still holding Michael's hand and introduced himself since it was obvious that his friend had forgotten what little manners he had learned. "Maybe Maria'd like to come out and see how it's done."
Michael's eyes widened at Eddie's conspicuous words before quickly narrowing to dangerous slits as he attempted to rush the other man off without speaking. After a few moments Eddie took the hint, but his laughter lingered behind.
Max was pulled out of his thoughts when something hard thumped against the wall he was leaning back on and he turned his head to glare at it. Isabel had obviously decided to take her anger and frustration out on her closet, he thought when something else impacted with the wall. He reached behind him and knocked on the wall loudly enough to catch her attention. "Cut it out, Iz!"
Silence met his order and mere seconds passed before his bedroom door was thrown open with much more force than was strictly necessary. He winced when he heard the familiar crunching sound that always followed the doorknob impacting with the wall.
"I'm getting tired of telling you to stop telling me what to do."
"Look, I get that you're pissed at me, but you don't need to – "
"I need things to go back to the way they were before you opened your big mouth and broke your promise," she snapped as she jerked the doorknob free of the wall and slammed the door shut.
"Isabel, she would've died if I hadn't – "
"You told her about us, Max!"
"I had to tell her, Iz; she knew somethin' wasn't right. How else was I supposed to explain the cells she looked at?" He watched her pace, knowing why she was agitated. "She's not gonna tell Maria."
"Yeah, because she has such a good track record when it comes to keeping her mouth shut."
Max shifted around to sit on the edge of his bed. "Alex hasn't done anything to make us think he's not trustworthy." He forced himself to keep a straight face. "You're just pissed because he doesn't fall all over himself tryin' to impress you like every other guy in school."
"Stick to things you know, Max," she snapped. "I've gone from being popular to hanging out with you, the brain, and the geek."
"Sell it to someone else, Iz; I'm not buyin'."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "They're gonna tell Maria and when they do it's all over because she can't keep her mouth shut."
"They're not gonna tell her," he denied.
"Why? Because you say so?" Isabel shook her head and jerked his door open.
"Are you gonna fix the hole you put in the wall?"
"Fix it yourself." She slammed the door behind her as she left.
Max sighed heavily when a picture on the wall came loose from its mount and fell to the floor, the glass in the frame shattering on impact. It certainly wasn't the worst fit she'd ever thrown, he thought as he ran his hand over the damaged part of the wall and the pieces melded together until the surface was smooth once more.
He briefly wondered if he should warn Alex about Isabel's temper. He knew she was unsettled by what she perceived to be threatening behavior from him; she wasn't used to being around someone who knew the truth about them, and the fact that Alex refused to back down in the face of her intimidation tactics was confusing her.
He repaired the picture and hung it back on the wall before leaving to join the rest of his family for dinner.