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CHAPTER FOUR

Zac came over to wake me up the next day, at about seven o'clock. I had left my cabin door unlocked, and he tiptoed in, climbed in bed on top of me, and played with my hair until I woke up. "Zac? What the hell are ya doin'? Off!" I said quickly. I sat up and scooted him off of me.

"Good morning, sunshine!" he chirped as he ruffled my already-ruffled hair.

I rubbed my eyes. "It won't work, Zac, you know I'm a morning person, too." By that time, I was wide-eyed, despite a slight hangover. "So, what's the plan for today?"

"Well, I can go wake up Ike so you two can kiss some more--"

"Zac!" I hit him with my pillow, knocking his head into the headboard, which made quite a bad sound. "Oh, shit, I'm sorry, Zac, are you okay?"

He sat back up and rubbed the back of his head a bit. "I'm fine. Not quite what I had in mind for my first time banging my head on a headboard in bed with a beautiful older woman, but it'll work." I chuckled and rolled my eyes. Zac turned to face me on the bed. "I hope you know, Ike's liked you for a long time. Don't hurt him." He could be really blunt sometimes, just like me.

"Woah, what? We've maybe seen each other in person for a total of three months in the past six years."

"Yeah, but you've been writing and emailing each other back and forth for that whole time, and talking on the phone a lot. He's got it bad, you know how he is. How could you not have seen it?"

"Zac, I was dating Jamie for quite a while in there. I only had eyes for him. Besides, he's five years younger than me. But I guess we're both old enough now that the age difference doesn't matter anymore," I said, thinking out loud.

Zac continued. "No really, you should've seen this coming. Have you listened to some of the songs? 'If Only' was totally written for you, Ree. C'mon, you're a smart woman."

Zac waited while I took a Tylenol (for the barely-there hangover headache), showered and got ready. Nothing much was happening that day, except for a small rehearsal in the evening, so I just put on jean shorts, a green t-shirt, and my purple and gray Skechers, and pulled my hair back into a ponytail with a scrunchie. I put on a little makeup; after all, I would be seeing Isaac sometime that day. As Zac and I headed to the restaurant cabin for breakfast, I wanted to ask so much more. "So, Zac," I said casually, "why did Isaac bring me this weekend?"

"Well, you know how much of a romantic he can be. I think this is a beautiful place, too, we've all been here before, and I guess he just wanted to share it with you. But personally, I think he's kinda scared that his younger brother is getting hitched and he's still single."

"Yeah, but he's only 21, there's time."

"But when Ike wants to do something, I mean really wants to do something, there's no getting in his way. He can be very driven and determined." He paused and shook his head. "I'm probably gonna regret telling you this, but it's not gonna stop me, and I know it'll come out the wrong way. A few months after Jamie died, I remember a conversation we had, Ike and I, and he said something like 'I'm very sad and concerned for her but I'm also happy, for me, in a wrong, twisted way.' He's wanted to be with you for a long time, Ree, and I just don't want to see him get hurt. So if you're going to let him down, let him down easy, but please wait 'til after the weekend."

"What makes you think I'll reject him? I wouldn't have kissed him last night if I didn't want to."

"Yeah, but you did kick him out."

"Zac, that just meant that if he didn't go, things would've happened that shouldn't have happened that soon or that way. We'd both had a bit too much to drink, and I haven't been with someone in over a year, and it was a bit...well, unexpected and overwhelming. I just wanted to step back from the situation and make sure that it was something I truly wanted."

"Well?..." Zac said, as he held the door for me.

"Yes," I said in a determined voice, nodding my head. "I want it."

Zac and I sat at a table and ordered breakfast. We were the first up, at least in our group, but there were so many people there for the "family trip", that there were practically no other campers there anyway. Slowly, others started coming in, but nobody sat with Zac and me, but several people did come by to say hello and introduce themselves to me. By the time Isaac came in, there were several tables of family and friends that he could've sat with. I had my back to the door, so I didn't see him come in and sit with some cousins.

Zac leaned into me. "Ree, Ike's here. Sitting two tables over, with some cousins of ours," he said through a mouthful of scrambled eggs.

I felt a little hurt. Why didn't he come over and sit with me? I glanced over and commented, "Oh. Well, he's got a lot of family here to visit with," I replied to my blueberry pancakes.

"So do I," Zac replied. "But I'm just keeping my favorite babysitter ever company!"

"Quit calling me that!" I said, kicking him under the table.

We finished our breakfast, and as we got up, I saw the only way to the door was to pass right by Isaac. I let Zac go first, and as I passed by Isaac's back, I gently brushed my fingertips across his shoulders and walked past. I glanced back at him and smiled as I walked out the door; he was staring right at me, and smiled back at me. He ran out shortly after us. "Ree, wait up!"

Zac knew where he wouldn't be welcome. "I'll, uh, catch you guys later," he said as he walked away towards his parents' cabin.

Isaac was facing me. "Ree, um, we need to talk." Those words are never good.

"Um, yeah, we do," I said with a smile, hoping that the conversation would end on a positive note, but not being at all sure.

"Can you come back in? I'm almost done, and there's some people you should meet."

I nodded, and he led me back inside, where I met all the family he was sitting with. I began to wish they had name tags; the Hanson family itself was quite large, but now I was meeting the "extended" family. I would never remember all the names. They made room for me at the already crowded table and I waited for Isaac to finish his breakfast while I chatted with his family, relaying the same stories I knew I'd be repeating several times over during the weekend as I met more people.

He finished wolfing down his pancakes as I made small talk with two women whose names I would never remember, and we left the restaurant. "Can I walk you back to your cabin?" he asked me.

"Of course."

We started off, walking side by side. I instinctively reached for his hand, and we continued walking, holding hands but not saying much other than commenting on how beautiful it was in the woods. I finally spoke, "Isaac, listen, about last night--"

"I know," he said...did I hear sadness in his voice?

"Do you?" Silence. "Do you know that I really enjoyed myself, and I didn't mean to push you away, but I think we both know it was best for you to leave when you did."

Isaac laughed nervously, sounding a bit relieved. "Um, yeah. We both had a bit too much of that wine, didn't we?"

"Yeah, I had to take a Tylenol this morning. Just a bit of a headache, especially no thanks to Zac pouncing on me this morning as my personal alarm clock."

"Zac came over? Did he talk to you?" he said, a bit of panic in his voice.

"Yeah...he told me everything. Well, not everything, but...enough." We continued walking, Isaac looking down at the ground, not saying a word. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" I asked.

Isaac stopped, and pulled me close to him. "I never knew what you'd say, you were so much older than me, I thought for a while it was just a silly childhood crush that stayed with me. But when I saw you a few years ago, during the Albertane tour, I knew it wasn't just a crush. You had turned into a beautiful, wonderful, intelligent woman, and I wanted to be a part of your life, but knew that then I couldn't, not in that way. I was so young, and you had Jamie, and so we stayed just friends. I wanted to be a part of your life somehow. I couldn't say anything, and it just hurt inside."

"And you let that hurt out in your songs," I continued.

"Well, I guess Zac did tell you everything," he replied.

"No, just enough. I figured out the rest for myself." I pushed him off the trail a bit, leaned him against a large tree, and kissed him. It felt so good in his arms, so comforting, so welcoming, so right.

I don't know how long we were there, leaning against that tree and making out, but I heard someone approaching, and they probably could only see Isaac's back leaning on a tree, and that he was kissing someone. I heard Taylor's voice say, "Hey Ike! Man, you don't waste time!" We broke apart, I peeked around, and Taylor stopped in his tracks. "Ree! Oh--wow, Ree. Um," he said, smiling and looking down at the ground. "Have you two had breakfast yet?" he said, attempting to be casual.

Isaac smiled and said, "Yes, we're just coming back from there, Zac was with us, too, but he's gone already."

"Is Natalie in there?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied.

Taylor said, "Okay...um...thanks, I'll see you guys later." He nodded and smiled at us. "Good," he muttered under his breath as he turned to continue towards the restaurant. He started off casually, but his gait turned into a sprint, probably running to tell everyone in the restaurant. Not quite how I wanted the world of Hansons to find out, but oh well.

We continued our walk, still holding hands. Isaac said, "So, now that we've both had some time to think--"

"Yes!" I blurted.

"'Yes'?" he repeated.

"Yes. Yes as in, I want this, whatever 'this' is," I said as I squeezed his hand. "I like 'this'."

Isaac stopped me again, smiled, and kissed me tenderly. "I like 'this', too."

We had reached my cabin. I asked him, "Would you like to come in? I haven't taken care of the wine glasses yet, but--"

"Yes, I'll come in, thank you."

We kicked off our shoes, and he helped me pick up the mess from the previous night. Since the only sink was in the bathroom, I went in there to clean out the glasses. As I was drying them off with my bath towel, I looked up in the mirror and saw him standing in the doorway, staring at me. "What?" I said softly.

He came into the small room and turned me around to face him. "You're just so beautiful. And you're finally here. With me." He lifted me up on the sink and kissed me deeply as I instinctively wrapped my legs around him. My hands went up under his shirt to touch his bare, muscular back as he put his hand on the back of my head. Our kisses became more intense, as we lost control and let passion take over. Still under his shirt, my hands traveled to his chest, as his hands went under my shirt in the back. I stopped thinking with anything above my waist and pulled his shirt off over his head, and mine followed shortly. Still kissing, he picked me up and took me to the bed, trying to lay me down like they do in the movies, but I ended up falling out of his arms and landing on the bed. But we never missed a beat, we just kept pawing at clothing, fumbling at zippers and bra hooks. In what seemed like a few seconds, we were both totally naked, and kissing each other hungrily wherever we could.

Not wanting to stop, but still being a gentleman, he breathlessly commented, "Ree, I don't have anything--"

"That's okay, I'm on the pill," I interrupted as I rolled him over onto his back, kissing his chest, stomach, and lower.

After a few minutes of pleasing him, he rolled me over on my back, whispered, "Sorry, but I just can't wait any longer," and entered me. We were both obviously on the edge of orgasm from all that teasing, because he must've lasted only a minute, and I didn't even last that long.

He stayed on top of me for a couple minutes, trying to catch his breath. After he rolled off of me, I went to the bathroom for the oh-so-romantic after-sex pee, and came back to see him in my bed with the biggest smile in the world on his face. I climbed back in, got under the thin light blue sheet that was covering him, and snuggled close to him, still not quite believing where I was or what had just happened.

"Hm," Isaac sleepily laughed to himself.

"What?" I asked dreamily.

He laughed a little again. "I never realized that redheads had red--"

"Oh, shut up!" I playfully said. "I'm sure you'd heard..."

"Well, yeah, but I just thought it was a rumor." He rolled over to face me and asked, "Hey, what's that tattoo on your back?"

I blushed. I had never told him about it. "Well, there's an interesting story that I have to tell you before I show it to you. It was a little agreement between me and a couple college pals in grad school. We'd all had hard spring semesters, and the summer was certainly rough and interesting for each of us in its own way, this was fall '97, and we all agreed right after we got back to school that we should get tattoos, as something fun to start out the semester. We decided that the tattoos should be something individual and personal. Tamara got a Cherokee symbol for love on her ankle, since she's a quarter Cherokee. Linda got a rose on her shoulder, her Granny Rose had just died about 3 months prior. And I got mine on the small of my back." I rolled over to show him; it was the Hanson symbol, just about the size of a quarter.

He chuckled. "And that's your 'personal' tattoo?"

"Yeah...it took a bit of explaining to Tamara and Linda. They'd met you when you came to visit that weekend the fall of '96, and they knew you had some younger brothers and sisters, and I had your pictures in my room, but they never made the connection until after that summer. We showed the tattoos off to Linda's family the next weekend when they came to visit, and of course I had to explain it to them, too, and I think all Linda's little sister kept saying was 'You saw Zac Hanson naked?'. She didn't quite get it that he was three at the time..."

At that moment, one of the worst possible things happened. I heard Diana Hanson's voice as she came into my cabin. "Aria? Are you here? Aria? Are you awake?"

Isaac panicked. "Shit, what do I do?" he said in a whisper.

I quietly but quickly jumped out of bed, silently thanking Isaac for closing the bedroom door earlier and cursing myself for not locking the outside door. "Stay here, and be quiet!" I hissed as I pulled on my faded navy blue robe and went out into the main room, closing the door behind me. "Diana! Good morning!" I said, hoping my poker face was a good one.

"Thank you, the same to you. Have you eaten?"

"Yes, I had breakfast with Zac. Isaac was there, too."

"Was the breakfast satisfying?" she asked.

I chuckled to myself. "Yes, it was quite satisfying, thanks. I'm just, um, getting ready to shower."

"Ah, well, then I'll leave you alone. Don't forget, we're having a picnic lunch at 12:30, we'll meet at our cabin then, okay?"

"Okay," I agreed with a dopey smile, hoping she didn't catch the afterglow look on my face.

Diana asked, "Oh, hon, can I use your bathroom? Our toilet's broken, and Ike and Zac's cabin was empty and locked."

Oh shit. The only way to the bathroom was through the bedroom, and I was a horrible liar. "Um, Diana, it's kinda a mess in there, I'd rather you didn't--"

"Oh, nonsense, what's a little mess? You know how my kids can be," she said, brushing me off as she headed for the bedroom door.

"No, um, Diana, you'd better not--" I helplessly warned.

But she didn't listen. She opened the door to find her oldest son in his boxers, holding his jean shorts, with the same flushed appearance and mussed hair as I had, standing amid a pile of hastily removed clothes, and the bed in obvious disarray. "Oh," she said slowly.

"Hi, Mom," Isaac said, embarrassed, not looking her in the eyes.

Diana closed the door, and walked past me back into the main room, without any expression on her face. "Aria?" Oh boy. I walked over to her, a nervous chill going down my spine. She leaned into me, her face expressionless, and whispered, "Please tell me you were careful." I nodded. "Good. I'll see you two later," she said firmly. And with that, she left. No lecture, no temper explosion.

I watched her walk away, not sure if she was mad or not, locked the cabin door and then ran back into the bedroom, throwing my robe off and sitting on the bed where Isaac was sitting, still in just his boxers. "Wow..." was all he whispered. Then, he started laughing.

"What?" I said. "It's not polite to laugh at a girl after having sex with her, you know."

"Wow, I've never been almost walked in on by my mom before. Whew..." he said, still looking at the ceiling. He suddenly turned serious. "Did she say anything?" he asked, glancing at me.

"Naw, she just asked if we were careful, and I said yes, and she said good and she left."

"Shit," Isaac mumbled, rubbing his face with his hands.

"What?" I asked, scooting closer to him.

"If she doesn't say anything right away, that means she will talk to Dad, and we'll have a 'family discussion' later."

"Is that good or bad?" I asked shyly.

"Um, not sure in this instance, but considering all that's happened with Tay and Natalie..."

"Shit...so, what do we do?" I asked. "Do we pretend nothing happened?"

He fell back on to the bed, and I lay down next to him. He replied, "We can't. And I don't want to pretend that nothing happened. I've finally got what I want, and I want to tell everyone who'll listen, but I don't think now is the right time. This weekend should be Tay and Natalie's weekend, their wedding, the weekend they'll remember all their lives together, the start of their lives as one. Believe me, I've liked you for longer than I can remember, and having you here is just overwhelming. After our kiss last night, I didn't quite know what was going on with us, I had so much running through my head I could barely sleep, and after this morning, this was certainly not what I'd planned, really, I swear, but all I know is I want to be with you. And besides--"

"Isaac," I said softly, brushing his face with my hand.

"Yeah?"

"You're rambling again," I teased. "Give me one, short, coherent sentence, please. What is going on with us?"

He laughed. "See, that's what I mean. We know each other. And maybe that's comfort, that's familiarity, that's security. I just...I just want to be with you, Ree. Plain and simple."

I propped my head up on my hand. "How long have you felt this way?"

"I thought Zac told you 'everything'."

"Not really, and I want to hear it from you anyway."

"Okay," he said as he sat up, facing me as I sat up, too. "The whole gory story?" he cautiously asked as he squinted at me.

"The whole gory story," I repeated, smiling.

"I kinda developed a little crush on you shortly before we left for South America, which was stupid 'cause I knew I wouldn't see you for maybe years. It was wonderful to get your letters about what was going on in your life and in school and with your family. And when we got back, you were a senior in high school. I thought you were beautiful, Ree, the first time I saw you when we came back, when your family met us at the airport. But you were too old for me, and I kinda pushed that crush in the back of my head. And you know I've had other girlfriends, and I've fallen in and out of love...but I always wanted to see if anything could happen with us. I was always a little scared that you'd end up being my 'one that got away'."

"And just what is going on with us?" I asked. I was always a very cut-and-dry person, I wanted things in black and white. "I mean, how will this work? How much will we see each other after this weekend?"

"As much as you want. You've got the rest of the summer off, right?"

"Well, yeah..."

"I'll come to St. Louis whenever I can. You can come down to Tulsa, too," he said eagerly.

"I'm just not sure, Isaac," I said with a heavy heart.

His expression sank. "Sure about what?"

"About this, about us. I mean, I don't know if this is for real, or if we're just caught up in the romance of the weekend. Last night, it could've been the wine, and overnight I did think a lot about it, and whatever is going on, I do want to be with you, but this, this morning...well, I've never been quite so...well, forward, I guess."

"If it makes you feel better, I'd never been quite that way, either."

"I guess that does a little...but I had never had any idea that you felt this way about me, and I'll admit, I've never thought of you as anything more than a friend until now."

"So...now do you mean you don't want--"

"No, no, that's not it...I just don't know what I want. I like this, I really do, I want this, but it's just a little scary, jumping into a relationship like this. I just think we should take it slow for now. It's just kinda been a whirlwind, the past day."

"But you still think you like me?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course I do, Isaac," I replied, taking his hands. "I've always liked you, loved you, just not in this way. I want to be with you, too, but let's take it a bit at a time for now."

He shook his head in agreement, kissed me gently on the lips, finished getting dressed, and left without hardly saying a word. I hoped I hadn't screwed things up with us. I hadn't been with anyone since Jamie, and even towards the end of our relationship, we were just going through the motions of romance and passion. I'd always knew that Isaac was the most romantic guy I knew; he'd always called or emailed me for advice on what to do about, with or for his current girlfriend. Likewise, I'd called him for advice on my boyfriends once he was old enough to understand. And after that morning, I certainly knew he could be passionate. We knew each other well, we were one of each other's best friends...if the spark was there, it was the next logical step. Right?


On to Chapter Five
Back to Chapter Three


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