"We will talk about it when she brings it up, but not before," Jerry said, deciding on the complete wrong way to deal with the situation. But it was well known that he didn't really like the girl, anyway, so Amber decided to keep silent. Christopher, Nefertiti, and Imelda nodded obediently. The two little girls went out to play, and Chris made his way to the basement to wait for her.

It was a couple hours later, when the girls were sunbathing in the lawn and Amber had gone home, until Maria showed up. She wore jeans and a three-quarter-sleeved sweater, despite the sweltering heat of the day. "MARIA!" the girls exclaimed, running up to her. Maria grinned and greeted the girls with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Either the girls didn't notice a difference, or Jerry and Amber had told them not to say anything.

"Hey, girls," Maria said with a grin. "How are you two?"

"Good!" they said in unison. "We missed you!"

Maria giggled. "I missed you, too. And Nef, your brother wants you to visit, soon." It hurt to talk about Sven, but she did promise she'd tell his sister that he missed her.

"I'll ask Jerry," Nef said certainly. Despite what she heard about him, she still missed her big brother.

"Well, I have to go see Chris," Maria said. "You two have fun." She waved good-bye to the girls and headed inside. She ignored Jerry as she passed him in the living, and he ignored her. She went straight for the stairs, and went down into the basement. "Hey, Chris," she said quietly. Weakly. Chris just looked over at her solid form. He stared over her ebony, curly hair and mocha skin. He didn't know what to say to those black, begging eyes. His longing to take her in his arms and kiss those full lips wasn't strong enough to take away the fact of what had happened. "How are you feeling?"

"Like a train wreck," he said, a little too harshly than he intended. Maria flinched at the words.

"I'm really sorry, Chris. I—"

"Yeah? I'm sorry, too. I'm sorry I ever got involved in your shit!" Maria flinched again.

"Chris, I-"

"Just go!" He couldn't take looking at her. Staring at the cause of his blood and bruises. The one person that made his heart race in passion. Who was she to him? She should be nobody. Jerry had made that clear enough.

Maria sighed and turned towards the stairs.

"I'm sorry, Chris," she said softly. "If it...makes you feel any better...I left him. For good." Now she just needed a place to spend the night. God knew where she would go. It was obvious she wasn't going to be welcome at Chris'.

She frowned when there was no response, and headed back up the stairs. She met Jerry's gaze before heading out. Maybe Amber would let her stay. But she barely knew her. She didn't want to impose like that. No, she had to head back into the city. Even a dirty, smelly alley would offer some protection.

She thought back on the day's events as she walked. The fists, the anger, the yelling, the screaming. Chris' face before he passed out. The realization that Jerry saved Chris' life. The realization that Sven, her Sven, was that close to actually killing him. And she had been so helpless. She couldn't even fight off the thug holding her back. All she could do was cry and yell.

Her mind turned to the events at the Inn. Where she and Sven fought, again. Where his fists weren't done hitting. Where she ended up cowering in the corner. Where they shared the most passionate kiss they'd ever had.

Maria shook her head. No. She couldn't fall for him again. Again? She was still in love with him. More than anything, all she wanted right now was him. To crawl into his arms and listen to him whisper in her ear. She sighed. The smell of roasted chestnuts made her look up. She found herself in front of the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

St. Patrick's? How long had she been walking? She bit her lip before walking up the steps. Churches took in homeless people, right? At least for the night? She glanced over at the setting sun. They had to. She had nowhere else to go. She walked into the intimidating building. Thousands of candles lined the walls, emanating the scent of burning wax throughout the building that mixed with the scents of old stone and wood. There were lines after lines of pews. The alter looked miles away from her. The walls were tall, making the ceiling feel even further away than the alter. She almost got dizzy looking up at it.

"Miss?" Maria jumped at the voice. She turned to see a nun staring at her. "Do you need help, dear?"

"Uhm...yeah," Maria said. "Can I...well...I have a lot going on."

"Come with me," the nun said gently. "We'll get you something to calm your nerves. You're in a safe place, now."

Maria watched the nun walk away for a few minutes before following. A safe place. She almost grinned at her relief.