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CHAPTER NINE

Isaac and I went for a walk that night, after a tense and awkward supper with my parents. We held hands and walked in silence, until I spoke, asking a question that had been bugging me since my second outburst. "Why did it take you so long to talk to me again?"

"Huh?"

"After Jamie died...we talked on the phone once, and then we didn't talk for almost a month. Why?"

He squeezed my hand and sighed. "It kinda has something to do with what we were talking about earlier. About how you thought I had broken you two up on purpose."

"Mm-hmm," I said, the tension building in my arm as I squeezed his hand back.

"I never wanted to admit this, but, in the back of my head, I did think that a little bit. And I am so sorry for thinking that. And all I wanted was to be your friend first, and if something else came out of that, that was just gravy. Just being with you was enough, for a while...but then I began to want more, really want it. But after he died, I felt so guilty for thinking so selfishly. And this afternoon, when you figured that out, I was so mad at myself for ever thinking that, and that I'd just gotten you to be with me, and then I came so close to royally screwing this up. I'm sorry I yelled at you this afternoon...I was only trying to yell at myself."

We continued our walk in silence for a while, which gave me time to think. I didn't want what we had to be screwed up, however new and tenuous our current relationship was.

I spoke finally. It made no sense to him, but since I had been following a certain train of thought in my head, it made perfect sense to me. "I missed you, you know."

"Huh? When?"

I sighed, not wanting what I had to say to come out wrong. "After Jamie...well, it's just that you were one of my best friends, and when I needed you the most, you weren't there."

"Ree, you know I was busy with the band...if I could've taken time off, I would have."

"That's not what I mean...I don't care if you weren't physically there; I knew you couldn't do that...but you didn't call, you didn't email, nothing for almost a month. And even then, after that, it was sporadic, like we were starting over or something. Why?"

We walked in silence as I waited for him to organize his thoughts. "I felt guilty..."

"Guilty? Why?" He shrugged, looking at the ground as we turned a corner. "You weren't the one who put a drink in his hand."

"I know that...I just...I just felt the same guilt that you did, that if you two were still together, maybe he wouldn't have gone out that night, maybe he wouldn't have been at that bar or that intersection, maybe all those events wouldn't have been set in motion." He stopped and turned to face me, taking both my hands. "I am so sorry, Ree. I'm sorry that my advice in hindsight comes off as selfish. I'm sorry that he's gone. I know that you truly loved him, but I still think you did what's best. Would you be second-guessing if he hadn't died? If you hadn't known he had planned on asking you to marry him?"

Of course, he asked me a question that I didn't know the answer to, and didn't know if I ever would. "I...I don't know," I stammered. "I thought I was all over this, really. And Mom tells me about the ring, and all these memories, all these feelings just came back. I hate to feel this, but when Mom told me about the ring...I got confused. Here was this man, who I didn't think would ever commit to me, about to do just that, but then his life was taken because of something so stupid. And now with you..."

"Yes?" he asked, looking into my wet eyes.

"I...I'm just so confused right now, Isaac." I leaned into him and let him put his arms around me as I whimpered. "And you're so good to me," was all I managed to get out before sobs racked my body once more that day.

"Ssh," he whispered, kissing the top of my head and hugging me so tight I thought I would break.

"I wish," I began, wiping my nose on my bare arm. Real attractive, I know. "Why didn't you tell me sooner? Tell me how you felt about me?"

We turned to walk back to the house as he explained, "I didn't want to confuse you...not to mention that I really had no clue how you'd take it. Tay had tried something similar with a friend of his, and things got all weird between them and now they hardly speak. I didn't want that to happen with us. Your friendship was a much better option than not having you in my life at all."

"So, what made you change your mind?"

He laughed softly, like he did when he was embarrassed. "Actually, it was Tay announcing his engagement to the family in April that woke me up. We had one of our big family dinners, and Natalie was there, too, and they just came out and told everyone that she was pregnant and they were going to get married in two months. Needless to say, we were a bit shocked. But later on that night, Tay and I had a long talk about everything, and he asked me about you, and he just told me that if I didn't do something soon, that you might slip away and I'd lose my chance with you forever." He paused. "And, I'll admit, it kinda weirded me out that my younger brother was getting married before me."

I put my arm around him and replied, "That really shouldn't matter, the age thing. You can't dictate how old you'll be when you find your soulmate, your true love. One of my college buddies, her grandmother was in an abusive relationship for years, and he died, and in her seventies in a retirement home, she met the man of her dreams, in his sixties, and they've been married for, it must be ten years by now." I paused, wondering. "How long would it have taken if Tay hadn't gotten married?"

He shook his head, chuckling. "I don't know...I really don't know...I think I would've woken up eventually and worked up the courage, but Tay getting married gave me the jolt I needed, I guess. And I'm glad it did."

We arrived back at my parents' house, and I saw a familiar blue Beetle in the driveway. I broke free from Isaac's arms, even though I didn't want to, and ran up to the door, screaming, "Mel!!!" as I cheerfully barged in, Isaac eventually catching up to me. Mel met me in the hallway, and we came at each other so forcefully that we fell on the floor, laughing, and talking quickly. Isaac inconspiciously slipped into the family room where Mom and Dad had been talking with Mel.

"Mel, when did you get here?" I asked frantically.

"Just a few minutes ago."

"I didn't know you were coming."

"Mom called me and told me you were coming for a couple days, and bringing your little friend. I had some vacation time coming anyway, and I shuffled my lesson schedule so I could come up here. It's only about an eight-hour drive."

"Yeah, but I'm closer in St. Louis, goofball, why didn't you visit me there?"

We both rearranged ourselves so we were sitting on the floor in the hallway. She leaned in and continued, "I kinda need to talk to Mom and Dad," and winked at me.

My eyes widened. "You sure you're ready?"

She looked down, playing with the buckle on her sandal. "Yeah...I've kept them in the dark too long. They deserve to know."

"Know what?" Isaac asked, leaning in the doorway between the living room and the hall.

"Oh, nothing," I said nervously, waving him off.

Mel shook her head. "No, he needs to know, too. Sit down, Isaac, and be quiet," she said, patting the floor next to her.

He did as he was told, and she leaned to him and whispered right in his ear. His eyes widened, and he whispered back to her. This exchange went on for at least a couple minutes, and I just sat there, knowing what they were saying, and chuckling to myself at the sight of two grown adults sitting on the floor, whispering as if they were fourth-graders at their first boy-girl party.

When they were done, Isaac scooted over to sit facing me and whispered to me, "Well, I certainly wasn't expecting that," hoping that Mel didn't hear him.

I smiled. "Yeah...I was when she told me, so it wasn't such a shock. I'm not sure what Mom and Dad'll say. I think Dad suspects...I hope it goes okay." I had only one other gay friend, and that was Chris, a fellow teacher. He'd told me what happened when he told his parents while he was in college: they basically disowned him, forcing him to work his way through college. I loved my sister so much; I didn't want to see her get hurt by our parents, but I knew not being honest with them was tearing her up inside.

"Don't worry, I'm sure it'll be fine, once the initial shock wears off. She's a big girl." He kissed me on the forehead, I'm sure not planning anything more, but when I looked into his caring eyes, I couldn't help myself and kissed him full on the lips. It was our first kiss since everything that had happened that afternoon, and frankly, it felt exhilarating.

We broke apart only when I heard Mel giggle and mock, "Eew, gross!" and playfully kicked Isaac in the leg. "Man, it's not like you haven't had all day to hang all over each other."

I winced. She didn't know anything that had transpired. "Today's been...interesting." I turned to face her and quietly told her the Reader's Digest condensed version of what had happened that afternoon, up until Isaac and I came back to the house and saw Mel's car.

Once she'd picked her jaw up off the floor, she spoke, but barely above a whisper. "Wow...yikes...now I wasn't expecting that!" she joked, looking in Isaac's direction.

"Told ya it'd been an interesting day," I responded.

Mom and Dad walked in the hallway, visibly surprised to see the three of us sitting on the floor. "We do have chairs, you know," Mom commented.

Mel shrugged and reasoned, "Yeah, but it's more comfortable here." She turned to me and suggested, "Why don't you two go catch a movie or something?"

"Are you sure you'll be alright by yourself?" I asked. "I can stay, and we can kick him out," referring to Isaac.

"Hey!" he protested.

Mel waved it off. "Nah, I'd rather be by myself, actually. I'm not used to the big family discussions...I know you are, Ike, but I'd rather handle it on my own."

I scooted over and hugged her tight. I knew she'd be alright...at least I hoped. I didn't think our parents would be as closed-minded as Chris'. I stood up, the other two followed, and I said, "Well, I guess we'll go then. Just tell Mom we'll be back by ten, and if we need to do our own family discussion, we can then, alright?"

She nodded, and Isaac hugged her and whispered something to her, and with that, we left Mel to take care of what she needed to take care of.


On to Chapter Ten
Back to Chapter Eight


Copyright ©1999-2006 Winona Patterson.