Stormbound

By Gun Brooke

Part 20

Tiffany answered the cell phone while keeping an eye on the fire. She was boiling water to make coffee, and having been awake most of the night, she felt she really need for caffeine.

"Tiffany, it's Dawn. Good morning."

"Good morning."

"Everything all right?"

"Everything is fine." Tiffany didn't feel fine. She had a knot in the pit of her stomach and couldn't manage even a trace of her usual energy.

"Joan and I have re-evaluated your situation and though you and Izzy are certain that you're hideaway is safe enough, we just don't want to take any chances. We want to take you into protective custody."

"Who are you talking to? Dawn?"

Tiffany turned her head at the sound of Izzy's voice. "Yes."

"What's up?"

"She wants me to go into protective custody." Tiffany pressed her lips together. "I don't think it's a good idea, Dawn. I'm safe where I am."

"I can't be sure of that, since I don't know where you are."

"And if you don't know where I am, neither do the bad guys."

"You have a point, but things may change quickly, and you're going to have to come back to New York soon anyway. Why risk anything unnecessarily?"

"May I speak to Dawn, please, Tiff?" Izzy spoke gently, reaching for the phone. Tiffany handed over the cell phone and busied herself with the coffee. She felt so numb and all she wanted was to be left alone.

Tiffany grabbed the instant coffee and made two mugs for herself and Izzy. She walked down to the water and looked at the misty, calm surface. Further out a bird broke the surface and shrieked, the sound echoing across the water. Tiffany shuddered.

"Tiff, Dawn thinks we should pack up right away and meet them in San Francisco. They have a jet standing by to take us to a safe house."

"I don't want to leave here."

"I know. I just want you to be safe, and this was a good plan while we thought it was just you and I against the world—"

"But it's not, is it?" Tiffany interrupted and looked pointedly at Izzy. She probed the depth of Izzy's gaze, trying to see if there was any sign of her feeling the same way Tiffany did. When all she saw was concern, she shrugged. "Wish it was, but, I guess we might as well face the music. May I?" She reached for the phone. "Dawn? Yes. All right, we'll meet you and Joan later today."

"Good." Dawn sounded thoroughly relieved. "Let's stay in touch over the cell later, so you know where to rendezvous, all right?"

"Sure. Here's Izzy again." Tiffany returned the phone to Izzy and poured the rest of her coffee into the bushes. "I'll start packing up the sleeping bags."

"Tiffany? Wait, I'll help you."

"I know. I'll just…I'll just start, okay?" Tiffany swallowed hard. "You—you talk to Dawn." She hurried toward the tent, knowing she'd break down and cry, and she desperately didn't want to cause a scene. She's still the same caring Izzy, who's put her life on hold for me, even if she can't reciprocate my love for her. Tiffany bit down hard on her lower lip, to keep her sobs quiet. She began rolling up the sleeping bags, but separating them from each other was heartbreaking in itself, and the sound the zippers made was like the one ripping Tiffany's heart in two.

***

"You okay, Tiff?" Izzy asked cautiously, maneuvering the Jeep through the curves of the winding forest road.

"It feels strange."

"What does?" Izzy turned and looked at Tiffany. She refocused on her driving after concluding that something was bothering her lover.

"I don't know. It just does. Like a premonition, or something." Tiffany clasped her hands on her lap.

"Premonition? You get those often?" Izzy was surprised. Tiffany had never spoken about anything like that before.

"No. Well, not really. Guess I'm fairly intuitive, but I don't get visions or anything like that."

"And now you feel…strange?"

"I feel kind of empty, so maybe that's why."

Izzy gripped the steering wheel harder. Tiffany felt empty? If she had felt scared, or apprehensive, about the FBI agents' plan to have her declared dead, she would have understood. But empty?

"Can you explain?" Izzy asked gently, as she turned the wheel. She was taking a detour away from Farlow's Creek, while making their way to San Francisco. There, Morrison and Tremayne would be waiting with a private jet to take them to New York. Their early morning call had startled both her and Tiffany, but Izzy soon realized that Dawn's plan to place Tiffany in protective custody was the safest one.

"I…I just don't feel like myself." Tiffany looked out the window, away from Izzy. Not once had she reached for Izzy's hand, sometime she always did when they were driving.

"You're probably nervous about this plan of having you appear dead. You're also now mourning a murdered father, which is even worse than mourning someone who died from illness." Izzy didn't know if that was the right thing to say, but she was desperately trying to convey that she understood. Maybe I don't understand. Maybe I'm missing the mark completely. Glancing at Tiffany who still wasn't meeting her eyes would made her feel that she was. "Tiffany, there's more, isn't there? You're upset with me." Izzy felt as if her heart was squeezed by an ice cold fist.

"You…you didn't say it back. I guess I had my hopes up and really thought…Wishful thinking, huh?" Wiping quickly at her cheeks, Tiffany still kept her head turned away.

"Are you crying?" Shocked, Izzy took her eyes off the road a little too long, making the car sway. She corrected it before it started skidding, and swore inwardly. They were pressed for time, there was no time to pull over.

"No. Yes." Tiffany gave a muted sob. "It's not your fault."

Izzy was trying to figure out what Tiffany meant. Didn't say it back? What is she talking about? She tried to think about earlier that morning, and realized that Tiffany had been this way, unusually quiet and pale, ever since last night. But she wasn't like that when we drove back from meeting Tremayne and Morrison. Maybe the magnitude of the trouble she was in had dawned on Tiffany only later during the night?

"What do you mean it's not my fault?" Izzy asked, somehow dreading the answer.

"You can't help that you don't love me." Tiffany pulled a paper towel off the roll Izzy kept between the seats and blew her nose.

"What?" All the hairs at the back of Izzy's head stood straight up. "What do you mean I don't love you?"

"I never should've sprung that on you like that. I…I just felt you so close to me, I mean, emotionally, when we made love. You've done so much for me, and I was starting to feel that it might be because you really cared for me that way. I was reading too much into your sense of duty, and your kind nature."

"I don't have a kind nature!" Izzy blurted out, which wasn't what she meant to say. She had listened to Tiffany declare her love, and her heart had sung and then skipped beats. Izzy had thought she'd die from happiness, and afterwards, she was sure she had reciprocated since loving Tiffany had been on her mind constantly ever since she realized it. Fearing it, loving it, and then dreading it again, she had said the words back. Or had she? Izzy shuddered. Apparently not, and now Tiffany thought she didn't love her back. Pressed for time or not, some things were more important. Izzy pulled over and stopped the Jeep.

"Tiffany, look at me." She spoke sternly, because her nerves was making her stomach turn and she could hardly breathe.

"I'm sorry, Izzy." Tiffany turned her face to Izzy, her nose and eyes red.

"Listen to me, Tiff. I'm the world's biggest idiot. I heard you say you love me, and I have never been so happy in my life. My head was buzzing, my heart pounding, and I said it back. I mean, I thought I said it over and over, while making love to you. How could I not love you? You're the most wonderful, beautiful, and amazing person I've ever met."

"W-what?" Tiffany hiccupped.

Izzy unbuckled her safety belt and then Tiffany's. Reaching for her, Izzy pulled Tiffany into her arms. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. I love you, Tiff."

"You do? Really?" Tiffany trembled, but clung to Izzy now.

"I do. I love you." Saying it created a growing warmth in Izzy's stomach, ridding her of any nausea and settling her nerves. "You're my heart."

"Oh, Izzy, Izzy!" Tiffany kissed her, warm kisses, slightly salty from her tears. "I love you. I love you so much."

"I don't ever want to be without you."

"Then don't let go." Tiffany hid her face against Izzy's neck. "Don't let go."

"I won't, but we need to keep driving." Izzy kissed the top of Tiffany's head.

"Then let's drive." Tiffany pulled back, now smiling through tears. "I'll just hold onto your hand."

Izzy returned the smile and buckled up. Turning the ignition, she then extended her hand to Tiffany. "I love when you hold my hand."

"Mm. Me too." Tiffany held Izzy's hand between hers. "And I won't let go."