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I laid down on one of the twin beds, bawling uncontrollably, crying more than I had in a year, when I heard a gentle knock at the door. "Mom, go away," I muttered into the pillow. I heard the door open anyway, and I said louder, "I said, go away!" as I half-heartedly threw a crumpled tissue in its direction.

"It's Isaac, Ree."

I rolled over, and peered through my tears to see the shape of a man who looked like Isaac. He stood next to the bed and put his hand on my back, not saying a word as I buried my face in the pillow again, more tears flowing out of me. He waited a while to ask, "Do you want to talk about anything?"

I wiped my nose with my hand. "Not really...besides, I'm sure you heard most of it anyway."

He went to the adjoining bathroom to bring me some tissues. "No baby, I didn't...at least up until the yelling at the end and you storming up the stairs and slamming the door," he said, handing me all he could find, a roll of toilet paper.

I sat up and muttered, "Thanks," blowing my nose in a very unladylike fashion, and wiping my eyes. "Mom just told me Jamie was gonna ask me to marry him right before he died."

"I know...after you came up here, she came into the family room and said something like 'She didn't take it too well'--"

"She noticed," I said sarcastically, blowing my nose again.

Isaac continued, "And I asked what she told you, and she told me, and I walked right up here to see how you were doing."

"Thank you, Isaac," I sniffed, hugging him close. He sat there holding me, as more tears came. I was crying so much, after a while I wasn't even sure what I was crying about. In the span of a week, Isaac had shown more affection and caring for me than Jamie had in the entire last year of our relationship. But why was I missing Jamie? Jamie was the old standby, the familiar boyfriend, the one relationship I'd been able to keep going for longer than six months. Isaac was someone I'd known for twenty-plus years, much longer than Jamie and I had been together. As Isaac kissed me on top of my head, I whispered, saying the words to Isaac for the first time, "I love you."

"I love you, too, Ree," he said, handing me more off the roll of toilet paper. "You better?"

"You have no idea..." I said, shaking my head.

"What do you mean?"

I sniffed. "Well...you know how frustrated I was getting at his lack of long-term commitment."

"Yeah...we did have quite a few discussions about it, didn't we?" I nodded. "And I'm glad you finally took my advice," he added, referring to several conversations via telephone and email in which he advised me to give Jamie an ultimatum.

But looking back to those conversations, those discussions, I began to wonder if he had really been looking out for me all along, or was just trying to get Jamie out of the picture. Armed with my recently gained knowledge of just what had been going on in Isaac's head for quite some time, coupled with my understandable rage at just about anyone at that moment, I flipped--again, only this time not as hysterically.

I looked down at the light blue carpet and fiddled with my short, bare fingernails, questions in my head coming so quickly, I couldn't get them organized or verbalized fast enough. "Why did you tell me to break up with him?" I asked timidly yet forcefully.

"You know why, Ree--he was being an insensitive jerk and we both know your lives were going in different directions by that time. He didn't deserve you, Ree."

"But...did you tell me that because you're my friend, or did you have some other motive behind it?"

"What?" he asked, squinting in disbelief.

"What I mean to say is, did you tell me to break up with Jamie so you could be with me?" I regretted it the second it came out of my mouth.

"What?!" he repeated. He stood up and continued, "I've never heard anything so stupid and juvenile in my life! How could you think I could be that self-serving? Yes, I was glad you got rid of that asshole, but not because of me--because of you. I told you before, you guys didn't belong together anymore."

Tears crept down my still-red cheeks. "It just seems...suspicious to me. I just wanted to know. I mean, maybe Jamie and I could've worked things out, he did buy me a ring...maybe with just more time," I attempted to reason, trailing off.

Isaac sat in the chair near the window, about six feet from the bed. "Can we please not talk about this?"

"No, no, I want to talk about this," I responded angrily. "I want answers--did you purposely convince me to break it off with Jamie?"

He sat in silence, alternately staring out the window and at the floor, balling his hands into tight fists. I'd only seen him angry and tense a few times, but every time the same vein popped out a bit on the left side of his forehead. Right then, that vein looked like it would explode. After a minute, he muttered to his hands, "Maybe."

My jaw dropped in disbelief. He did that for himself. "Maybe?! How 'maybe' are we talking here? I thought you were my friend, one of my best friends."

He looked up at me, that vein still throbbing. "You are...we are...and it wasn't very 'maybe'...kinda in the back of my head 'maybe', I suppose."

My gentle whimpers turned to full-blown, body-racking sobs. I grabbed a pillow off the bed, hoping I could cradle my body against it, stabilizing me. Isaac didn't know what to do, so he just sat in the chair that seemed like it was getting farther and farther away from me. I managed to speak, "'Maybe'...maybe if I was still with him, he wouldn't have--ooh, I don't know who to be mad at right now!" I curled up on the bed, still facing Isaac, but not looking at him. "Maybe if I was still with him, he wouldn't have gone out to meet his friends that night, and maybe he wouldn't have had just a little too much to drink, and maybe he wouldn't have run his car into a fucking tree!" I sobbed inconsolably, now, a year later, blaming myself for Jamie's death.

As I lay on the bed sobbing, Isaac got out of the chair and sat down on the bed next to me. He whispered, "Is there anything I can do?"

I shook my head. "Just leave me alone, please," I said tersely to the pillow. I heard him get up and leave, gently closing the door.

I heard my father's voice outside the door. "Is she alright, Isaac?"

Isaac replied, "She will be. I know Ree, and she'll be fine soon."

I strained to hear more of their conversation as my father questioned, "She sounded alright after a while there, but now she's crying again--why?"

Isaac's voice got quieter. "She thinks I told her to break up with Jamie last year so that I could be with her."

"And?" my father prodded.

Isaac sighed. "And, maybe I did just a little, but I was just being a friend, really...I just didn't think they belonged together anymore.

My father then said something surprising. "You and me both kid...you and me both." I heard what sounded like my father patting Isaac on the back. "Let's go downstairs and leave her alone a bit." I could've sworn I heard my dad offer Isaac a beer as I heard their footsteps go down the stairs.

By now I was totally confused. On one hand, I couldn't believe Isaac, whom I'd known all his life, could be so shallow and stoop so low as to convince me to dump Jamie so he could be with me. But on the other hand, there was a part of me that thought the whole thing was simply sweet and adorable in an odd sort of way...classic Isaac.

I missed Jamie so much that my whole body ached. Isaac was right, though...or was he? I'd began to realize that Jamie had been like an old habit...like a favorite pair of sneakers that you knew didn't provide any support whatsoever, but were so well-worn and comfortable that you couldn't imagine trying anything new or different.

That's how my relationship with Jamie had been, especially in our last year together. My brain knew that breaking up with him was the best thing to do...and when I did it, my heart was crushed, but I knew it would eventually heal. Isaac and I talked on the phone every day the week after I'd broken up with Jamie; even though he was on tour at the time, he still made time to call me every day. I recalled one special (and long) phone call--he called me from Dallas, I think it was--he called me right before they went on stage, told me he missed me and had something to cheer me up, and left the phone on, clipped to the waistband of his khakis, for the whole concert. I put it on speakerphone, dancing around the living room, feeling happy for the first time in days.

And then came the accident...it was the understatement of the century to say that I was devastated. I remember my mom calling me late at night to tell me the news...I don't think I believed her at first. No, I know I didn't believe her...the whole thing was too unreal. Mom said she'd call Diana and let her know what was going on. Isaac called me the day of the memorial service, and we talked for about an hour. Actually, I didn't do much talking, or real conversation...I cried, told Isaac stories about Jamie (most of which he'd already heard), and cried some more. I know he would've stayed on the phone longer, but he had a sound check. He apologized several times that he couldn't be there for me.

After that conversation, I didn't talk on the phone with him at all until he'd called me inviting me to Taylor's wedding. Sure, we'd emailed back and forth quite a bit, but I missed his voice. After that phone call, I didn't hear from him for a few weeks, which was unusual for us. I just figured he'd gotten busy with the tour, or wanted to give me time to heal, or was busy with various family functions, or with something else in his life. The first contact I'd gotten was not quite a month after Jamie's death, a short, simple email:

How are you? I miss you.
Love, Ike

I was extremely excited to hear from him, yet it took me a week to reply.

I'm fine, relatively speaking. You?
I miss you, too.
Love, Ree

And it slowly progressed from there. I'd wondered why it had taken him so long to write to me...but then again, I could've just as easily called or emailed him, too. That's the last thing I remember before I fell into a light sleep.

On to Chapter Nine
Back to Chapter Seven

Copyright ©1999-2006 Winona Patterson.