A light rain cascaded onto the windshield as Isaac pulled into the drop-off area of Albany International Airport.
"I really want you two to be careful." He reminded, shifting the car into park.
Winnie took her attention from the passenger window, hadn't realizing she was in a trance.
"Of course, we will," Eliza chimed in, "We're city girls at heart. Besides, Charlotte is hardly dangerous."
"Winnie?" Isaac asked drawing her attention, "Are you okay?"
"Oh, sorry," She apologized quickly, "I'm just a little nervous. It's been so long since I have seen them. It's just that everything is happening so fast."
"Just relax, love. You said they're like family. I don't think you have anything to be worried about. Perhaps, the ride there may be an issue." Isaac lifted her left hand to his lips.
"It will be fun, Win," Eliza pledged playfully.
Winnie nodded in agreement, "I know. You're right. Everything will be fine."
"Great," Eliza squealed, "let's go." She unexpectedly gripped Isaac from behind his seat to hug him.
"Easy, Liza." He breathed harshly. She barely heard his comment as she hastily exited his Jeep Cherokee.
Winnie chuckled at Eliza's impulsiveness as Isaac playfully checked himself for injuries.
Catching him off guard, Winnie leaned over and mercilessly placed her lips on his. She wrapped her slender fingers around his neck as if she couldn't get any closer. She grabbed at his knit cardigan, wanting him to meet her halfway. Though it wasn't expected, Isaac relished the act and continued with her. He didn't think Winnie was a prude by far, but this was just so unlike her. He gently placed his hand at the nape of her neck, but paused when she let out a slight whimper.
"Win, I'm not going anywhere." He stated breathless. Winnie's cheeks inflamed with coyness.
The truth was that Winnie needed that kiss. It was a reminder of what she needed to come back to. Of course, she couldn't let those words escape her.
"Come on you two, we need to catch our flight." She teased tapping on the driver side window, "a little help with our bags would be much appreciated, brother."
"Are you okay?" Isaac asked hesitantly, "If you're going to start doing that, we may have to get married a lot sooner."
"I don't know what I was thinking," she stated shaking her head, "I'm okay. These next few days are going to be torturous being away from you. I think I have abandonment issues."
"You do not have abandonment issues," Isaac stated squeezing her hand gently, "No one is going to leave you, Winnie."
"Sometime today would be nice," Eliza called from behind the car.
"You'll be fine. Now, come on before she kills us both." Isaac reassured.
They exited the car and Isaac unloaded their luggage.
"Really, Liza? It's just a few days," Isaac joked patting at the bulge that was hers.
"We don't know what the weather is going to be like. It's best to be prepared."
"Of course," Isaac replied sarcastically as he closed the trunk. He tugged at his sister and she enveloped him in open arms. He kissed the top of her head, "Try not to get in too much trouble."
He stepped toward Winnie and grinned, "Take care Miss Foster. Please, keep her out of trouble."
"Sure thing Mr. Blanc, I guess this is farewell for now," she joked in a dreadful British accent.
He reached for her and planted a light kiss on mouth, trying not to linger too long.
"I love you," he whispered delicately in her ear.
"Me too," she breathed into him.
Outside he was beaming with anticipation and comfort. Isaac released her slowly, not at all prepared for what was to come.
"Just breathe and relax." Eliza eased rubbing Winnie's shoulders.
"I can't," Winnie huffed, "I can't do this. My stomach is literally in a knot. And why are we shaking?"
"Win, calm down. You're psyching yourself out."
Winnie closed her eyes and cringed, "It's really hard to breathe right now."
"You are okay. Nothing is going to happen. I've been on a plane dozens of times. Besides, you're going to have to get over this if you plan on leaving the country for your honeymoon." Eliza reminded.
Winnie's eyes popped open, "Thanks, Liza. I was trying not to think about that part. A road trip would be much nicer."
"Winnie, as being your matron of honor, I cannot allow you to take a road trip for a honeymoon. It's not happening. We are going to relax and enjoy ourselves, capisci?"
"Eliza, I don't think I can. I really am going to be sick." Winnie gasped.
"Deep breaths, Win. Take deep breaths. We're almost at cruising altitude."
Winnie panted and breathed for a couple of minutes more before exhaling drastically, "I did it," She smiled sheepishly.
"I told you it would be fine. The next thing to worry about is the landing."
At this point the seatbelt sign had gone off, and the flight attendants were free to move around. "Would either one of you ladies care for a cold compress?" One of the attendant asked handing out a rolled up towel."
"No, thank you. We're okay." Eliza answered, and then turned her attention back to Winnie, "What do you think Charlotte is going to be like?"
"I don't know. I imagine it isn't too different from any other city."
"Yeah, I guess. Why do you think Jesse's family moved to there of all places?" Eliza pressed.
"You know what, Liza? I'm not really sure…and what is with all the questions."
"I'm just trying to keep your mind off of how high we are."
Winnie dared not look down in fear of possibly losing her breakfast.
"Jesse and I were going to go to Paris." She mentioned under a lowered gaze, "He told me how amazing it was and how spectacular the view was from The Eiffel Tower.
"You sound like you really wanted to do that. I don't know how you would have fared with the height." Eliza joked.
"I'm sure I would have been great."
"Well, maybe you and Isaac can go on your honeymoon. It is beautiful and romantic. Though, I'm sure you would want to go somewhere warm."
"Maybe," Winnie replied softly.
Eliza paused making sure to choose her words carefully, "You missed him, didn't you...Jesse? It's written all over your face."
Winnie stared at her a bit confused, "Why does it matter. He left."
"Yes, but he also came back…twice, I might add. Yesterday afternoon, you sounded like he had been gone for good. Now, we're on a flight the next morning going to see his family."
"You didn't have to come, Liza." Winnie commented.
"I didn't mean it like that. Besides, Isaac would not have let you get on this plane alone."
"I would have ridden with Jesse."
Eliza rolled her eyes in sarcasm, "Oh, okay. Well, I don't think he would have liked that either."
Winnie sat in silence.
"Alright, I'm done. Just answer me something?" Eliza began, tilting her head, "You were so sure you were in love with Jesse back then, right?"
"Yes," Winnie sighed.
"Now, you're in love with my brother?" Eliza quizzed.
"Of course, I am."
"So, does that mean that you have fallen out of love with Jesse? Is it even possible to fall out of love? It's not like you too broke up. He moved away because he had too."
"I do care about Jesse...in a different way, but I love and want to marry Isaac."
"I never doubted that, Win. I just want to understand what being in love is like. I mean you were sure both times. I have never felt like that. At times, I may have thought I was, but I never really knew for sure. It's just hard for me to wrap my head around."
"It's really an indescribable feeling. Something you know completely if experienced."
"Yeah, and so is sex." Eliza snickered jokingly.
"What?" She egged innocently, "I can't believe you have waited this long. You're twenty four. I'm just as shocked Isaac waited so long. He never struck me as being that patient.
"Liza, spare me. I do not need you to go into detail about Isaac's past." Winnie cringed.
"I'm sure he's already told you all about it."
"I care not to remember. We're just focusing on the future here."
"You don't have to worry about it. It's not like he's been with that many girls. He's only had a couple he was semi-serious about."
"Hmmm," escaped Winnie's mouth.
"Are you nervous at all?" Eliza prodded interestedly.
"Eliza, I don't want to discuss my future sex with your brother."
"You are, aren't you? It can be scary at first, but it definitely isn't for very long. Besides, Isaac is loving and caring. He will make it worth your while."
"How can you talk about your brother in that way? I'm serious, Liza. It's a little weird."
"Win, you're my best friend. You're practically my only friend. I need to discuss this with someone."
"Liza, the reason you don't have girlfriends is because you got involved with their boyfriends." Eliza made a face as if she was hurt. "It's just a little uncomfortable because he's your brother. I guess if you're comfortable then…"
"So, you guys haven't done anything at all? He stayed over the other night?"
Winnie wanted to roll her eyes. "Nothing happened. Isaac respects me enough to know that I want to wait. I just can't see myself being like that with someone I am not going to spend the rest of my life with."
"Just because I like hooking up, doesn't mean I devalue it or that it means anything less...it's fun. And I do eventually plan on getting married and settling down someday. I have my whole life ahead of me. And for the record, I only hooked up with one of their ex-boyfriends, who I had happened to know since middle school and we dated for a little while after." Eliza reminded.
"Sorry, I didn't mean it that way." Winnie apologized.
"Please, I wasn't completely offended. I know at times I'm a little rough around the edges. However, I do admire your ability of you wanting to wait. I know Isaac does too even if it drives him batty at times."
Winnie smiled lightly hoping this topic would end soon.
"So," Eliza started, interrupting her thoughts, "do you mind if I get to know Jesse."
"Really, are you that interested?" Winnie stared wide-eyed.
"Well, he seems very nice and he is so adorable. I'll understand if you don't want me to. It may be kind of weird. Besides, doesn't he have an older brother anyway?" Eliza teased.
"Liza? What are you thinking?" Winnie scrutinized.
"Nothing, I just want to have fun and get to know the Tucks. His brother's name is Miles, right?"
"I told Isaac you would behave. So, please do not try to seduce his brother."
"Shhh, Win. They're putting in 'The Social Network'. I love this movie. You know Jesse Eisenberg is kind of cute in a weird, dorky sort of way."
Winnie chuckled and shook her head, "Eliza, what would I ever do without you?"
Winnie was ecstatic to be back on the ground again for the next few days, considering the nightmare of having to board two separate planes back to back. She and Eliza made their way through the Charlotte Douglas International airport until they got to a row of empty seats.
"You look like you're about to fall over," Eliza observed, "Have a seat. I'll call Isaac."
Winnie inhaled and exhaled deeply. She wanted to tell Eliza her anxiousness no longer had to do with the plane ride. The time was almost here for her to see them again. Her heart was pounding outside of her chest.
"Hello, brother." Eliza sang.
Eliza paused and smiled at Winnie. Surely, Isaac was worried about them and didn't waste anytime asking a billon questions.
"Oh, we're fine. We just got off the plane in Charlotte and are about to head over to the hotel."
Winnie willed her heart to calm down. She didn't want to go into cardiac arrest.
"Tell Isaac I'm okay. I have to go to the restroom and I will call him when we get settled in our room." Winnie confirmed.
"She'll call you later. No, she's going to the restroom." Eliza declared rolling her eyes subconsciously. Yes, I'll call mom and dad later. He seemed fine last night." Eliza started tapping her foot and waved Winnie off, letting her know she would watch their things.
Winnie darted to the restroom being careful not to look so obvious to Eliza. She pulled out her phone and dialed Jesse.
"Hey, have you made it?" His voice chimed inside the phone.
"Yes, we landed about twenty minutes ago. I wasn't too thrilled about it." Winnie whispered.
"You're brave Winnie Foster. I knew you would be okay."
Winnie smiled to herself.
"I'm just now making it here myself. Mae is extremely excited. She wanted me to invite you and Eliza to dinner."
The nerves were setting in again, "Do you think she'll be angry with me?"
"Why would Mae ever be upset with you?"
"We're not together. I know they're probably expecting that. Did you tell them about Isaac?"
"It's none of their business. Besides in a couple of months it won't matter anyway." He affirmed suggestively.
"You really shouldn't say things like that." Winnie countered.
"I only say things I mean."
Jesse waited for Winnie to respond and when she didn't he continued.
"So, would you and Eliza like to join us for dinner? I promise I won't let it be uncomfortable for you.
"Well, let me pass the invitation to Liza. I'm sure she wouldn't mind though."
"Okay, you guys get settled in and I'll call you when I'm in route to the hotel."
"I'll see you later," Winnie said trying desperately to hide the smile forming from her lips.
"See ya, Winnie." Jesse commenced.
Winnie sighed heavily and leaned up against the bathroom stall for support. Her head was a jumbled mess. She couldn't distinguish the feeling that was hovering at her heart, anxiety or excitement, maybe. Whatever it was, it was scaring the hell out of her. She quickly collected her bearings and exited the bathroom to start her journey.
The hotel that Eliza had arranged was beyond gorgeous. Although Winnie and Eliza were use to expensive things, they were drastically blown away. Their shared suite was completely laid out in gold complements and splashes of colors.
"I'd have to say you really have outdone yourself, Liza." Winnie beamed. She barely wanted to enter the room with fear of knocking the room off balance. Before she knew it, Eliza ran inside, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her to the sofa.
"This is fantastic, isn't it?" Liza screamed with excitement.
"Whoa, Liza. I know this may not be an issue for you, but this place is really expensive. Weren't there rooms at The Hyatt or The Westin?" Winnie asked catching her breath.
"Of course there were, but we're in a new city, might as well make the best of it. Besides, I'm not paying for it."
"Never mind who is paying for it, this is just too much. Plus, you got adjoining suites. We didn't need our own rooms." Winnie argued passively.
"Oh, Win. Please lighten up or you'll get premature wrinkles. I don't know about you, but I planned on having very late nights while we're here." Eliza teased.
Winnie didn't want to counter that. She knew how difficult privacy was when they had lived in their dorm.
"I just think it's a bit much," Winnie stated, "It is comfortable though."
Eliza rose from the couch, "I'm completely pooped. I'm going to take a long bath, relax, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon. You want to go to the bar later?"
"Actually, if you were up to it, Jesse invited us to dinner." Winnie countered innocently.
"Sure, that sounds fun. I get to meet the infamous Tucks. Will it be tonight?" Eliza beamed.
"Yes, and pretty please be on your best behavior. His mom is a little excited about our visit."
"Well, I'll hop in the bath and take a quick power nap. What do you think I should wear?"
"Something that completely covers you," Winnie answered jokingly.
"I don't think I have anything like that." She teased.
"Sure, you don't. I think a nice pair of jeans and a blouse would suffice."
Eliza laughed and opened the door leading to her adjoining suite, "Off I go. I'll come over to get you when I'm finished. Oh, and please call my brother before he goes mad."
Winnie rolled her eyes sarcastically before pulling out of phone to dial Isaac. After exchanging a few words and letting him know of their plans, Winnie retreated to the outside terrace that she shared with Eliza.
That little twinge of fear was starting to become more prominent. She didn't want this trip to end badly. Jesse had made it perfectly clear that he was not going to give up. The thought made Winnie nervous about her impending marriage to Isaac and whatever plans Jesse had in store for them.
Winnie hadn't realized that she had fallen asleep until her phone buzzed beside her.
"Hey, it's me," Jesse greeted, "Mae just returned from the market. She wanted me to ask if either you or Eliza had any food allergies."
"Not that I'm aware of," Winnie answered, "Besides, it wouldn't matter if I did."
Jesse chuckled lightly, "Yes, I suppose so."
"Are Miles and Tuck around?" Winnie asked nervously.
"They were out fishing. It has turned into one of their hobbies, along with a bunch of other things. They got back a little before Mae and they're washing up."
Winnie sighed to herself, knowing the moment of truth wasn't too far away.
"Have you gotten settled in?"
"Yeah, I actually woke from a nap. I didn't even know I had fallen asleep. I guess I'm a little wiped out with everything that's going on."
"You'll have plenty of time to rest when you get back to Treegap, but while you're here, we're going to make every moment count."
Winnie wasn't going to ask him what he meant by that statement.
"I'll be leaving here soon. Do you guys need more time?"
"I can change quickly. I'm pretty sure Eliza is about finished getting dressed. I haven't seen her in almost two hours. I'll go check on her, but we should be ready when you arrive."
Winnie was adjusting the latch on her sandals, when a light knock set upon the door. Swiftly the door adjacent to her bedroom flung open.
"Is that Jesse?" Eliza poked her head in.
Winnie gave her a disapproving look, "Really, Liza? I told him you would be finished."
"Five more minutes, I swear." She mumbled with her toothbrush hanging out the side of her mouth.
"Sure, sure." Winnie fanned her away while walking to the door. She glanced through the peephole and smirked as Jesse nervously fidgeting with the collar of his button-down.
She pulled the door open and was immediately met with his wide grin. What on earth was he so excited about?
"Hey, sorry. Eliza isn't the most efficient. She'll just be a few more minutes. Come in." Winnie invited casually.
"I guess I couldn't expect anything less," he surveyed briefly.
"I know. It's just something we have to grow accustomed to with dealing with her time management," Winnie chimed in.
"I wasn't talking about Eliza. I meant the hotel, the room, you…"
Winnie's cheeks flushed almost immediately. "This was all Liza's doing. I told her we didn't need something this extravagant."
"It's okay, Winnie," Jesse chuckled, "You look very nice."
Winnie glanced over her sleeveless red dress that hung from the base of her neck. Back in the early 1900's, it would have been thought as extremely revealing.
"Thanks. So do you. I guess it will take some getting used to seeing each other this way." She pointed at their clothing.
"What way?" Eliza invaded nonchalantly.
"Seeing one another older, we were in high school the last time we saw each other. It's different seeing it's been almost ten years." Winnie lied easily. She hated having to lie to Eliza. Even about little things. Especially, since she had gotten so good at it lately. She hoped that Jesse understood. She glanced in his direction and noticed he was indeed hiding a smirk.
"You ready, Liza?" Winnie questioned changing the subject.
"Yes and sorry," she apologized directing her attention to Jesse, "I changed like thirty times. Apparently, my attire is never appropriate enough for these sorts of things. I've never met a guy's family before, even a just a friend."
"Well, there is nothing wrong with the way you're dressed. You look amazing." Jesse countered.
"Thank you, Jesse." Eliza replied sweetly.
A slight twinge of jealousy poked at Winnie's heart knowing Jesse meant every word. Eliza was beautiful, she couldn't deny that. You don't have the right to be jealous, she thought.
"Shall we?" He opened the hotel room door, allowing them both to exit before him.
"Stunning," Winnie heard him whisper as she passed him to exit. Did he have to be so forward about it? She knew how Eliza looked he didn't have to rub it in.
Winnie excused herself to the opposite side of the 5th Generation Chevy Camaro to sit behind Jesse. He and Eliza both gave her questioning looks, but didn't say a word about it.
"This is a sleek ride," Eliza complimented sliding easily into the passenger side, "Win, I hope you don't mind if I ride shotgun."
"I never do," Winnie mumbled, "besides the seat feels better from back here."
"How would you know?" Eliza teased. Winnie knew it was only a matter of time before Liza would go there.
"I guess I wouldn't, but you should. I guess I could have asked you if you wanted the back seat."
"Wow, Winifred Foster. Did that really just come out of your mouth?" Jesse asked slightly enthused.
Eliza rolled her eyes, not the least bit impressed, "For some reason I bring out this side of her. What has gotten you so pissy?"
"Hey, let's just all play nice. I want you guys to have a good time while you're here. No cattiness."
Obviously, the green-eyed monster had begun to consume her. Winnie wasn't use to competing with Eliza. Until now, she really didn't have a reason to. With Eliza, there really wasn't much of a competition. It was typically a sure thing.
Winnie met Jesse's curious gaze in the rearview mirror. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of seeing her like this. He would read too much into it, she told herself.
"So, Jesse?" Eliza perked up, turning to face him.
"Yes, Eliza?" Jesse answered back, raising an eyebrow. He was becoming very taken with her quizzical persona and smirked at Winnie in the mirror.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" She interrogated. Winnie raised an eyebrow from the back seat.
"Do I act like I have one?" Jesse smiled mischievously. He could play this game too.
"It was a yes or no question." She hammered, and then lightened up, "You don't have to answer it. And no, you don't act like you have a girlfriend. I mean you traveled hundreds of miles to see your ex?"
"She is also my friend by the way. What about you, Eliza? Do you have a boyfriend?" Jesse countered.
"I don't like labels. I have fun with guys who like to have fun." Eliza stated matter-of-fact. Winnie snorted catching both of their attention.
Eliza turned her neck to look at her. "Is there something the matter, Winnie? You're being extra judgmental right now."
"Sorry," Winnie stated under her breath, "I just miss Isaac." It wasn't a lie, she did in fact miss Isaac, but that wasn't her issue at the moment. She watched Jesse stiffen as the direction of their conversation changed.
"When was the last time you were in love?" Eliza continued her voice softening.
"That's personal, Eliza." Winnie scolded gently. In actuality, she really didn't want to know.
"I'm sorry, Winifred. I was talking to my friend, Jesse."
"Friend? You've known him five seconds." Winnie mockingly reminded.
"Okay, I'm afraid. Do I need to pull the car over and let you hash this out?" Jesse swiftly interjected.
"I think Jesse's a big boy, Win." Redirecting her gaze she continued, "Do my questions bother you?"
Jesse caught Winnie rolling her eyes. "I was in love ten years ago." Winnie couldn't stop her heart from melting. It felt good hearing him tell someone else.
"With Winnie?" Eliza questioned. "What about now? Do you even date?"
"I have fun with girls who like to have fun," he jokingly winked at her.
"I'm serious." She chuckled.
Jesse cleared his throat and glanced briefly at Winnie, who met his sheepish gaze, "None of them meant anything."
The car fell silent for a few moments. Eliza had briefly given up on her quest to gather information. She didn't want to scare Jesse away more so than anything else. Jesse had to admit that he was somewhat grateful that Eliza hadn't asked him to elaborate any further. He wasn't ready to have that discussion just yet, at least not with Eliza. Winnie was staring out the window battling her feelings of confusion, jealousy, and a small pang of guilt. She began fidgeting nervously in the back seat.
"She does that when she's nervous," Winnie heard Eliza whisper casually.
Winnie hadn't noticed that a new exchange had started between them.
"Does she get nervous a lot?" Jesse asked softly.
"Since you've been back, she's had to deal with that, and then it was the plane ride here, and being away from Isaac. Now, it's seeing your family all over again."
Winnie just continued to ignore them. She would have to surrender sooner or later, seeing as Eliza has gotten everything she has ever wanted. If she wanted Jesse, she would surely get him. It didn't stop the feeling of heartache that she was experiencing at the moment. Regardless, of what was going on now. She and Jesse had loved each other. Wasn't there some sort of "girl code" that stated girlfriends were not allowed to go after their friends' exes. Of course, that couldn't possibly apply to Eliza. She was always the exception.
"How long have you guys been friends?" He continued.
"Since the beginning of undergrad, we were roommates and realized we were both studying journalism. My parents have lived in Treegap since before Isaac and I were born. We had never met Winnie until we went away to school. I never got to meet her parents. They died while she was away at boarding school. I believe it may have been a little while after you left."
Jesse knew none of the last part held any truth to it, but he still understood the depth of Winnie's feelings about her parents' passing away.
"We moved out of the dorms together our sophomore year and rented an apartment in Manhattan for the school year. Of course she's getting married to Isaac now, so he'll return for his residency, while Win and I finish up our MA in Journalism this year. They'll be back and forth between Manhattan and Treegap. So, while they're in the city, we'll all live together."
"Interesting," Jesse stated amused.
Eliza narrowed her eyes at him playfully, "Yeah, real interesting. Imagine sharing an apartment with a newly married couple, my own brother at that."
"Liza," Winnie intervened, "Do you always have to do that?"
"Do what?" Eliza countered innocently, "You know you are going to have to get over your embarrassment about this?"
Winnie met Jesse's eyes again in the rearview mirror.
"It's uncomfortable listening to you talk about me and your brother like that, especially in front of Jesse.
"I don't mind really," Jesse laughed, "It's nice that you've kept yourself for so long.
"I'm curious," Eliza started.
"Of course you are," Winnie sarcastically countered.
"You guys were young and in love. Why didn't you?"
"Things were…different," Jesse answered softly. "We fell in love so fast. I was still getting to…or at least wanting to know her. Neither of us was ready for that. It would have definitely changed the dynamic of our relationship." He met Winnie's eyes again from the back seat. "I was also very old-fashioned or at least I was raised that way. We had moments where I would just be in awe of her and couldn't imagine not ever knowing her. You know she's fascinating that way…"
Winnie immediately felt her heart jump spontaneously. It amazed her that he thought so highly of her and hearing him say it out loud….Jesse and Isaac were both so caring and sensitive to her, but she had never gotten the chance to experience the aching or intensity of being with Jesse, like she had Isaac. She thought back to those tender moments when she and Isaac would be cuddled up under a heaping mountain of books in his apartment, barely exploring one another other with their hands and mouths, leaving them breathless. Although, Isaac had never pressured her, she didn't want to continue testing his restraint. For the past couple of months, she had been very limited with their encounters, trying to keep things as chaste as possible. Isaac had to admit he was somewhat grateful in their change of pace, he mentioned it would only heighten their wedding night…
"Young, innocent love," Eliza breathed in wonder, "A shame I've never gotten to experience it. What about your brother Miles?"
Winnie hadn't realized she had spaced out thinking about Jesse's potential previous relationships. She could always count on Eliza to bring her back from wherever she was. She shifted in her seat for the anticipated reunion.
"Miles doesn't date, Eliza." Jesse stated matter-of-fact.
"He doesn't go out at all?" She questioned completely puzzled.
"What does he do for fun?"
"You know Eliza, you could ask him yourself. We're almost there. Could I ask a favor?"
"Sure, what's that?" She smiled.
"Go easy on him."
Jesse decelerated down a winding road filled with country and cottage style houses that sat on massive amounts of land. He came to a deliberate halt in the driveway of the two-story French cottage. The Tuck home was truly a sight to indulge. The new architecture was spectacular, but held all the original elements of an older home. Winnie's heart skipped a bit desperately trying to hide her insecurities.
"Nice house." Eliza exclaimed.
Winnie could hear the honesty in her voice, which was peculiar considering the Blanc's house, was more than substantial.
"Thank you. It's almost a decade old now. Tuck helped the builders through the whole process. He wanted to give Mae something of her own again."
"It is beautiful, Jesse." Winnie breathed from the back seat.
Jesse replied with a smile and motioned for them to keep their seats while he opened their doors.
He immediately felt the familiarity as he held Winnie's hand while helping her from the back seat. He gave her hand a soft squeeze. "It will be alright." He whispered, melting her nerves.
She nodded smiling smugly.
Jesse then proceeded to Eliza's side and helped her out.
"Why thank you, sir." She laughed, "I have never had a guy who isn't family open a door for me."
Jesse laughed and looked at Winnie who now looked amused.
"I assure you, Eliza. I'm just being a gentleman. Besides, Mae would chew me out if I was anything but."
He swept his hand through his soft waves and led the way up the stone path only a few feet ahead of them.
Winnie moved swiftly to Eliza's side as they approached the main door and Jesse.
"Sorry, I was being snippy." She whispered, "I'm just nervous and I'm taking it out on you."
"And jealous," She added with a smirk, "No need. If you can't tell by now, that boy still very much adores you."
Winnie smiled appreciatively and Eliza gave her little nudge.
"Tuck, Mae, Miles…we're home." Jesse called entering onto the open two story foyer.
The foyer opened into a spacious great room that housed inviting furniture and a fireplace nestled on the far right wall. The split staircase in the center was definitely the focal point of the house. On the opposite side of the foyer was a formal dining room splayed with warm colors and dark woods.
They heard rustling on the other side of the staircase, possibly the kitchen.
"Please have a seat, ladies. I will go see what is keeping them."
Jesse directed them toward the great room and Winnie and Eliza took a seat in arm chairs angled to the right of the massive fireplace. Winnie's eyes were fixated everywhere.
The Tucks who Winnie had known nearly a century ago lived so differently than she had expected. Jesse had said that they had wisely invested in stock. The stock market definitely paid well.
Winnie crossed her legs comfortably and clasped her hands together in her lap.
"You seem more at ease." Eliza noted, "There is nothing to be nervous about. You said they were like family. I'm surprise you're not a little more excited. I am, especially about Miles. I think Jesse was trying to scare me off.
"What about Miles?" A low masculine voice asked from the other side of the room.
Winnie immediately rose to her feet. She hadn't anticipated his abrupt entrance.
"Well, if it isn't Miss Foster." Miles crossed the room with Jesse right on his heels. "It's been too long."
Winnie blushed with embarrassment for Eliza. Rarely anything caused such feelings from the unconventional woman next to her.
"Miles, it's so good to see you..." Winnie beamed.
Before she could continue, Miles pulled her into a friendly embrace. It was so unfamiliar coming from him, but still welcomed.
"Why?" She heard him whisper before he let go.
She hid the confusion from her face as she directed attention to Eliza.
"This is my best friend, Eliza Blanc."
Eliza quirked an eyebrow and extended her hand. What was with the sudden change of attitude?
"It's nice to meet you Miss Blanc." Miles carefully met her grasp and didn't break eye contact.
Jesse smirked at Winnie past Miles, both with the same thought in mind. Who would crack first?
The French doors that led to the attached patio flung open and a winded Mae entered into the great room. She had a huge tray of barbeque in her hand.
"The temperature is dropping, but I think it will still be nice enough to have dinner outside." She used one hand to hold a beige sweater closer to her skin.
"Mom, come see Winnie." Jesse acknowledged casually.
Mae froze and met all their eyes. She must have been out back tending the grill and hadn't heard their arrival.
"Oh, my." She breathed.
The whole room fell silent as she sat the tray of meats on a side table. She quickly turned to face them and stopped in the middle of the room.
"To think I had all day to prepare for this."
Winnie felt her eyes swelling. This woman, Mae Tuck had been so much like a mother to her after barely even knowing her. After so long, she still held her with the utmost respect. She then realized she had really missed them all.
Mae didn't utter another word and crossed the room until she was standing next to Jesse, who had a look of absolute adoration on his face.
"You have a beautiful home." Winnie expressed. Was that really all she could say.
"Oh, thank you Winnie. Or is it Winifred?"
"It's Winnie. It's always been Winnie."
Mae subconsciously took a step closer, slowly extending her arms, "Is it alright if I…"
"Sure, of course." Winnie hurriedly interrupted and met her warm embrace.
"I've missed you, Winnie." Mae whispered. Her eyes were closed and Winnie could feel the small tears against her cheek.
"Me too. You have no idea." Winnie felt choked on a sob and quickly moved her hand to wipe at her eyes.
Once she composed herself she motioned toward Eliza.
"Mae, this is my best friend, Eliza. She offered to join me. She and I live in Treegap and attend the same university." Eliza stood out of respect and smiled softly.
"How do you do, Eliza?" Mae greeted with a similar grin. "It's so nice of you to join us here in Charlotte."
"Your home really is lovely and thank you for having me."
Jesse rubbed Mae's shoulder tenderly.
"He's out back setting things on the table. You and Miles give me a hand, will ya? You ladies make yourself at home. We're getting everything situated for you."
Miles was the last of them to leave the great room.
OH MY GOD! Eliza mouthed.
"Liza, behave." Winnie countered taking in her surroundings again.
"He literally stared at me the entire time," She beamed, "Not that I mind, he's not a bad sight either."
"I'm just going to ignore you." Winnie muttered. She smoothed out her dress and pretended to remove something from underneath her nail. Unexpectedly, her phone buzzed inside her matching clutch. Isaac was probably checking in again.
She was very happy to see you. It was a text from Jesse.
"If that's my brother, tell him to get a grip." Eliza commented, pulling out her own phone.
I was happy to see her as well. Is Miles upset with me?
No. He just doesn't understand. He may be slightly jealous.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Miles's wife took their children and left him once she found out he had become immortal. It tore him apart in the worst way. She died bitter and presumed insane. His children passed as well. He has and will never be the same.
You have nothing to apologize for. Miles will never get over it. He refuses to move on.
Can't say I blame him. He has lost so much.
We all have.
I wasn't apologizing for Miles. I meant Isaac.
Once they know they'll hate me.
I know and I don't hate you.
"What did he say?" Eliza interrupted. "Oh, are you guys sending cutesy texts to each other?
Winnie playfully stuck her tongue out.
You will once I'm married.
No. I won't because that can't happen.
It's happening. I'm meeting with the wedding planner next week. We even have our wedding bands.
Tell Eliza I'm sorry.
She will hate me once you leave her brother for me.
Winnie rolled her eyes and sighed. Why was he making this so difficult for her? There was no doubt in her mind that she loved Isaac. But Jesse…she was positive she was or had been in love with him. He was the reason she was sitting in the Tucks house a hundred years later.
"Winifred Foster." An accented baritone greeted her.
Tuck stood at the entrance of the kitchen looking all the same.
Winnie swiftly rose to her feet, forgetting the phone in her lap.
Everything he had said to her that day on the river replayed in her mind. He did not want this for her. No matter how much he would have wanted her for Jesse.
"Tuck…" Winnie carefully paused. No knowledge of what to say, completely speechless. This was the reunion she had feared the most.
He made his way toward her, expressionless.
He slowly embraced her in his burly arms. "Welcome."
She hugged him with equal reverence. That was not the word she was looking for. Something more of the lines of what Miles had said.
"You look well." He documented. The last time he had seen her she was almost fifteen. Physically, she was nearly twenty.
"I've grown up a bit."
"And this must be the lovely Eliza Blanc. Jesse said you would be accompanying Winnie. It's a pleasure to meet you.
Eliza dropped her phone as well and sauntered over to meet the infamous Tuck.
"Thank you Mr. Tuck. You all have been very welcoming."
Winnie nodded in agreement.
"Just Tuck, will do. I would like to escort you both out on the terrace for dinner." He extended both his arms for them to take a hold of.
"Sure, just one second." Eliza apologized. She swiftly moved to retrieve her and Winnie's cell phones that were laid on their chairs.
Tuck led them off the back porch and onto a giant stone patio. They were feet away from an almost Olympic size swimming pool and the most beautiful landscaping. On the opposite side of the pool were an outdoor kitchen and an arrangement of patio furniture that could comfortably seat up to twelve people.
Eliza admired the entire scenery before her and even pointed a few things out. Winnie was just beyond amazed. Miles and Jesse were already seated across from one another. Mae was busy filling the glasses with what appeared to be tea. Winnie reluctantly took the seat next to Jesse and Eliza sat next to Miles.
"This backyard is awesome." Eliza affirmed astonished.
"It is amazing." Winnie agreed.
"Mae did all the landscaping herself," Jesse commended, "she wanted it all to be perfect. She did plant some new things earlier this morning."
"Don't go tellin' all me secrets, Jesse." Mae chuckled.
"All of this for Winnie?" Eliza joked.
Miles slightly turned and gave a concerned look, but didn't say anything.
"You should talk Liza," Winnie countered, "your family lives in a mansion with its own zip code."
"It's not my house, it's my parent's."
"You live there."
"Do you still leave at your parent's house, Winnie." Miles inquired.
"Mind your manners, Miles. These young ladies were having a conversation. Don't you think it was rude of you to interrupt?"
Miles was fixing to object, but decided against it, "Sorry."
"It's fine, really." Winnie shared a smile with Mae. "Yes, I do. I just couldn't see leaving. While at school in the city, Eliza and I rented an apartment, but it's not permanent, only for school."
"What school do you attend?" Tuck joined in, taking a seat at the end of the table opposite of Mae.
"Columbia University. We are still attending. We graduate in next Spring with our MA in Journalism."
"That is an accomplishment. Seeing successful young people bettering themselves, I commend the both of you."
"Thanks, but that's nothing. My brother, Isaac is way more accomplished than I am. He just finished medical school. He'll be a pediatrician. He has residency this fall and he's also trying to balance our family store in Treegap." Winnie felt Jesse shift next to her.
"Has your family lived in Treegap long?" Tuck inquired.
"Since before either Isaac and I were born. We didn't actually meet Winnie until we all ended up at Columbia. We had no idea we all grew up so close in proximity to one another. We didn't attend the same boarding schools."
Winnie noted Jesse's hands under the table and knew he was texting something.
OH CRAP! Eliza still had her phone.
She heard it buzz over Tuck's next question. Eliza glanced down not sure if it were her or Winnie's phone that buzzed.
The table fell silent.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" she asked looking back up. Winnie tried to hide her curiosity.
"Oh, I was just saying how great it is that Winifred has found such an admirable friend."
"Thank you so much, Tuck." Eliza grinned softly. "I think she's much more admirable.
"Nonsense." He chuckled.
"Boy, that food sure looks good." Miles interrupted swiftly.
He just wanted to get on with the evening and get back to his secluded room.
"We're so fixed on catching up. We forgot what brought us out here in the first place," Mae reminded, "We can chat over dinner."
"Excuse me, Mae. I wanted to speak with Winnie for just a second." Eliza requested. Uh-oh…this could not be good.
"Go right ahead. I'll get your plate together. Is there anything you dislike?"
Eliza abruptly rose from the table, "No, ma'am. It all looks wonderful. A little bit of everything would be nice."
"What about you, Winnie?"
"The same, please."
Eliza rapidly stormed toward the house with Winnie on her heels.
She entered the great room and turned around to face Winnie her phone outstretched.
"What the hell is this?" Eliza interrogated.
"It's nothing, Liza."
"Doesn't look like 'nothing'? Why is Jesse texting you under the table and why is he texting he loves you.
"He said that." Winnie asked dumbfounded.
"Yeah, and apparently that's not all he's been saying. What is this 'thing' you have?"
"We don't have a thing." Winnie exclaimed.
"The hell you don't. He's been texting you since we've gotten here. When I thought you were texting Isaac. It was him."
"No, Win. Stop! Whatever it is that you are doing, please, just stop! I thought this trip was so you could reconnect with his family and invite them to yours and my brother's wedding. Not so you can rekindle some old flame with their son. It's not fair."
"You don't understand, Eliza." Winnie pleaded.
"I love my brother, Winnie. I don't want to see him hurt. Do not drag him into a marriage and you still have feelings for Jesse."
"I'm not intending too. I really did come here to reunite with them."
"What about Jesse?"
"I…I...I don't know. He just comes with the territory. If you read my text, you would know my side."
"I'm here with you because Isaac wanted me to be. I like them. I can see why you feel secure around them, but still…Isaac didn't want you coming alone for no reason. We both know that and Jesse knows that. The fact of the matter is he doesn't care."
"I don't know what you want me to say, Liza."
"Do you still love him?" Eliza asked pointedly.
"I will always care about Jesse. I told you that."
Eliza was about to open her mouth again and quickly paused staring at the patio door.
"Sorry, to interrupt you. I just came to grab something from the kitchen," Mae Tuck apologized knowingly, "I will be out of your way."
"Please don't apologize Mae. This is your home. Besides, Winnie and I are done here." Eliza stated matter-of-factly.
Winnie wiped at her eyes, fearful that her true emotions would confirm everything Eliza believed. That was not at all how she planned for this reunion to kick off. Also, she was almost certain that Mae had overheard at least the last bit of their conversation. Which meant that she now knew about Isaac.
Eliza headed back out without a second glance in Winnie's direction. Embarrassed, Winnie entered the immaculate kitchen off the great room to find Mae Tuck facing away from her.
"I'm sorry, Mae. It was rude for us to have such a discussion here."
"It's none of my business, Winnie." Mae spoke softly turning to face her, "It doesn't matter."
"But it does," Winnie countered ruefully, "You invited me to your home, not knowing anything about me now. I deceived you."
Mae rushed to her, "Do not apologize to me. Winnie. You have done nothing wrong. We all just assumed...and that was wrong of us. I just knew Jesse had waited too long. I'd been telling him that for the past two decades. He insisted that it wasn't time and he wanted to have everything perfect for you."
"I really didn't plan this. I was away at school and I was living with Eliza. Isaac is such a wonderful man. I just…I wanted to wait. I just couldn't anymore. I had doubts. I'm sorry that I doubted him...and that I doubted you."
Mae took Winnie's hands gently in her own, "Winnie, if you are happy with him. I am happy for you. I love Jesse and I would die to see him content, but this young man is who you want."
Winnie nodded, but her certainty didn't show on her face.
"I am happy with Isaac. He's wonderful to me. He's also been very patient in courting me. He proposed to me this past Valentine's Day. It took me nearly two years to go out with him in the six years that I've known him, which is absolutely nothing to me, but everything to him. He wants to get married very soon, at the end of the summer. That's actually one of the reasons I wanted to visit. Isaac knows how close I am to you all. You are practically all I have left. I would very much like for you to attend our wedding."
A supple smile spread across Mae's worn, un-aged face, "Absolutely, If you want us there. We will be there."
"Is everything alright. Tuck sent me in to check on the womenfolk." Jesse casually intruded.
"Everything is fine, son. Take the peach pie on the island out there with ya."
Jesse eyed them both curiously and picked up the dessert.
He lightly brushed past Winnie before exiting the kitchen.
"Did Jesse tell you all about the Spring?" Winnie whispered quietly.
"The fact that someone attempted to destroy it? I'm assuming Eliza and Isaac know nothing about it?" Mae asked knowingly.
"No, I haven't spoken a word to either of them. It's been covered since I came back home to bury my mother...maybe she was trying to destroy it."
Mae's eyes widened and then she sighed, "Well, I don't want us to presume the worst. Has anyone you known or met ever acted odd around you, asked you questions about your land or our family?"
Winnie shook her head, "No, never... I don't have anyone else outside of Eliza and Isaac in Treegap. Everyone in town believes me to be long dead, a descendant who inherited the wealth and the lands of the Fosters. If it was my mother, she didn't get the opportunity to tell me about it. I really can't think of anyone who would possibly know for sure. I only told my mother, years before she passed away. My dad was already gone. She didn't really talk with anyone except her caregiver at the time who lived a few towns over, but I know she wouldn't have said anything. I did hire someone very skilled to forge all the documents I needed to get into NYU without issue, but she never asked questions and risk her own exposure. She gratefully took my money and gave me what I needed."
"I am sorry about your family. You had to watch them leave this world. I can imagine how hard that must have been. However, I do want to pass it along to Tuck. He always knows what to do with these sorts of things. Does Jesse know about Isaac?"
"Thank you. Yes, he does know. I'm surprised he didn't mention it to either you or Tuck before Eliza and I arrived."
There was a pregnant pause.
"I really am sorry." Winnie breathed kindly.
"No apologies, Winnie. I'm just grateful you're here with us." Mae expressed wholeheartedly, "Come on now, we're going to enjoy our gathering."
Dinner with the Tucks was rather enjoyable, despite Eliza's concealed resentment. She did eventually soften later into the night when they had retreated into the great room to talk about their travels and daily events.
Winnie was positioned between Eliza and Jesse on the comfortable sofa adjacent to the fireplace as Miles went into detail about his war stories just six months prior.
Miles has served in many wars to everyone's knowledge, apart from Eliza. However, on his most recent tour in Afghanistan, he had encountered many circumstances. So many soldiers died with honor for defending the United States. He respected that the most above all. Eliza listened, really listened intently to him describing some of the things he had encountered.
"Sounds fascinating," Eliza declared in awe, "Not the death, but the willing to die. You've seen and experienced so many things."
Miles chuckled solemnly, "You have no idea."
Winnie knew where this was going. Another one of Eliza's many news pieces. Though Winnie found it rather difficult to focus on Miles with Jesse in such close proximity, her attention was now grasped by the heat of his thigh pressed firmly against hers.
"I wish I had met you a few weeks ago. I'm trying to get accepted into this internship that's starting in July. I had to submit an original piece. I would have loved to talk about the war against terrorism." Eliza acknowledged.
"No offense, Miss Blanc. I wouldn't have been interested in a news piece." Miles said carefully.
Winnie could feel Jesse staring at her out of the corner of her eye, so much for not making her uncomfortable.
"I should get you back to your hotel. It's getting late." Jesse intervened. It was roughly past eleven.
"I am getting pretty tired actually," Winnie replied easily. The proximity was becoming too much to tolerate.
"So soon," Eliza whined, "Come on, Win."
"Well, I...I guess…I could take Eliza back," Miles hesitantly offered, "That is if it is alright with Miss Blanc here?"
Winnie's mouth wanted to fall open in bewilderment. What was the world coming to? Eliza's charisma could even reach the most secluded ones. Jesse didn't hide the knowing smirk on his face, while Mae and Tuck exchanged a questionable look.
Eliza was without words. Her face showed all signs of perplexity. Indeed, that was a sight to behold.
"Uh…I…sure, I guess. Only if it's okay with Winnie," she finally countered, "Will you be alright, Win?"
Winnie wanted to shout 'hell no'. Hours before she was giving her grief about Jesse, who still needed to be addressed about the last message he had send her, now Eliza wanted her to drive back alone with him.
He shifted slightly, making Winnie inhale softly. It seems the only person who realized the effect was Jesse.
"Um…yeah. Okay." Winnie added warily.
"Winnie has on a dress. Take the bike. Besides, you'll get back a lot faster." Jesse added tossing Miles his key.
Miles turned to Eliza, "Do you mind riding on a motorcycle?"
"Do I?" Eliza snorted, "Of course not. There's a first time for everything." Somehow Winnie gathered a complete different meaning than Eliza intended.
Jesse rose to his feet, "Alright, that's that. You ready, Winnie?"
"Yes," She replied grabbing her clutch and phone.
"I'll see you in a bit." She added turning to Eliza, "Come to my room when you get back."
"Okay." Eliza agreed nonchalantly.
Mae and Took stood to embrace her.
"We love having you here," Mae breathed, "If you need anything at all just let us know. Any help with the planning?"
"I appreciate that. Isaac's mother has hired a planner. I meet with her next week."
"Okay. Just let me know, dear."
Tuck patted her back gently, "Goodnight, Miss Foster. Please come back."
"Goodnight, Tuck. I will. I promise."
Jesse walked beside Winnie to the foyer.
"I need to talk to you." She whispered as she exited the front door.
"I hope so." He smiled cheerfully following behind her.
The temperature had dropped again since they had went inside.
Winnie hadn't thought to bring a pullover or shawl. Jesse noticed her goose bumps immediately started to remove his leather jacket from his arms.
"Put this on. It's a little chillier than I thought."
She eyed him hesitantly, but didn't decide against it.
He raised it up for her to put her arms through. She welcomed the feel of it. Leather didn't suit her as much as it did Jesse, but it was a kind thought regardless.
He ushered her into the passenger side and closed the door behind her.
Once he started the car up, she had his full attention.
"Why did you send me that?" Winnie started.
"You know why, it is how I feel. I needed to say it. And I'll say it again. I love you, Winnie Foster." He affirmed turning to glance at her.
"Stop, please." She entreated.
"Why?" She regretted the twinge of hurt in his word.
"You said you wouldn't make this uncomfortable. I don't want you to say things like that. Besides, Eliza had my phone. She saw it."
Jesse paused and turned his head briefly to glance at her again, seeing the concern on her face.
"I'm sorry, okay. I didn't know. Do you think she'll tell Isaac?"
Winnie shook her head, "I don't think so. She was pretty pissed about it if you didn't realize. I think Isaac has his own assumptions."
"What do you think he thought would happen if you had come alone?"
"That I wouldn't come back." She replied sadly, "I can't hurt him like that, Jesse."
"Like what?" He countered, "By listening to you heart…by being honest with him and yourself. He isn't a moron, which is why he wanted Eliza to come. I know he doesn't trust me. It appears he doesn't trust you either."
"Why would you say that?"
"For one, his sister is with you. Now on the other hand, he could have offered to come himself. That would have been wiser."
"He wanted to." Winnie added.
"If it were me, I wouldn't have let you out of my sight."
"Well, you and he are very different."
"You don't say."
Winnie rolled her eyes mockingly, "You know I admire this new found sarcasm that you have. It suits you so well."
"You should talk. What was that earlier with Eliza? I was seriously afraid for my life." He joked.
"Eliza can be a busy-body sometimes."
"It doesn't bother me. Call me crazy but I had half of mind to think that you were being jealous."
"I was not." She had definitely not hid her emotions that well.
"You were. It's okay. It was kind of cute. You don't have any reason to be jealous. I'm not the one who is engaged. Besides, I like Eliza, but she isn't my type."
"You have a type?" Winnie asked curiously.
"I forgot. You're a journalist too." He laughed.
"I'm serious. You mentioned other girls. What did you mean by that? I know what Eliza meant."
Jesse paused and met her eyes, "Uh…when we lived in Maryland for a little bit. There was someone."
"Were you close to her?" She inquired under lowered eyelids.
"I wasn't in love with her." He reminded.
"That's not what I asked. You know about me. Isaac is as far as it goes."
"I know…it's just…should we really be having this discussion." He criticized shifting uncomfortably.
"Did you hook up with her?"
"Does it matter?" He countered somberly.
"I just want to know. Times have changed, remember?"
There was another idle pause.
"It didn't mean anything." He finally spoke.
"Sex always means something," Winnie whispered, "It probably meant something to her."
"She was a fisherman's daughter and in her twenties. I was around her all the time. I had never…I…I didn't want to be inadequate."
Winnie sighed softly, "Inadequate?"
"Yes, inadequate. These things are different for men or…Eliza. I am still physically seventeen, remember. I've been alive for two centuries, Winnie."
"Was it as frightening as Eliza makes it seem?"
"I'm not sure what it's like for women, especially a first time. I definitely wasn't hers. She was somewhat of a free spirit if you know what I mean."
"Oh," Was the only thing Winnie could say, "Did you…were you…?"
"Adequate?" Jesse finished with a chuckle. "Um, let's just say she didn't complain..." He laughed again, "I never thought I would be having this conversation with you. I've only discussed this with Miles."
"Miles wants to hear about your rendezvous'?"
"He is my brother. Men talk about things like this. Don't you and Eliza. She doesn't strike me as a person who keeps secrets."
"No, she doesn't. She sometimes shares too much. I don't know. I guess it's just…It just didn't seem like something that interest him."
"Um, I hate to break this to you Winnie, but Miles has meaningless hookups all the time."
"Excuse me?" Winnie questioned flabbergasted.
Jesse boyishly smirked, something that she was finding to be quite familiar with him.
"You heard me. Why do you think I told Eliza to go easy on him?"
"OH MY GOD!" Winnie exclaimed.
Jesse laughed, "Winifred Foster, do not take the good Lord's name in vain."
"Do you think…?" Winnie asked covering her face completely embarrassed.
"I'm not sure. She is your best friend, which means he kind of has an indirect connection to her. He may not want to. However, it does seem he was somewhat taken with her."
"I cannot explain that to Isaac." Winnie laughed, "I just…I never thought of Miles that way…and with Liza." Her amusement radiated through the entire car and Jesse joined her.
"Okay. Please change the subject. I'm getting a visual I just don't need." Winnie joked.
Jesse's laughter exploded repeatedly and he ran his free hand through his hair, more out of habit.
"I love your laugh," He stated catching his breath.
"Jesse?" Winnie whined mildly.
"No, Winnie. While you're with me, I can say those things." He eagerly moved his right hand that rested on the gear stick to gently place it on hers. She wanted to shy away from the current, but didn't move it away knowing he would need to shift gears again soon. She felt the heat that surged from his tender fingers.
"Wow," Jesse evenly acknowledged.
"I..I feel it too."
He had to recoil his hand to switch gears again and ran his fingers through his hair once more.
"I won't overstep my bounds. I said I wouldn't kiss you…unless you initiate. You don't have to be afraid of my intentions. You already know what they are."
"I'm not afraid of you," Winnie corrected, "There's just too much history between us."
"That's good to know." He teased, "Did you know you fidget when you're nervous?"
"It's kinda sexy." He smirks.
She sharply patted him with the back of her hand.
"Ow!" he winces in mock pain, "What was that for?"
"Jesse Tuck, you have turned into a downright ass."
"Excuse me?" he laughed, "I have never been accused of such things."
"Well, you are."
"You need to watch your mouth, Winifred Foster."
"No," She continued, "don't tell me what to do."
"I wouldn't dare dream of it."
They were nearing downtown Charlotte, they were just minutes from the hotel.
"I could get use to this." He commented half-serious.
"Get use to what?"
"You. This. Us."
Winnie sighed and shook her head slowly. She acknowledged that Jesse was not going to give up. He turned to glance at her once more and grasp her hand again, this time intertwining his fingers with hers. She didn't object when he began making soft circles along her thumb.
As they entered beneath the massive awning of her dwellings, she immediately missed the contact.
"I would walk you up, but something tells me that wouldn't be a good idea." He warned seriously.
"Your something is right. I can take it from here." She nodded.
"I'd like to show you and Eliza around Charlotte tomorrow, if you are up for it."
"If you hadn't noticed, Eliza is always up for anything. Sure, what'd you have in mind?"
"Let's play it by ear. I wouldn't want you to commit to anything." He joked. Way to take a shot at her engagement.
She mouthed the word 'ass' and shook her head. He chuckled softly.
"I'm usually not like this. I have to apologize."
"You must be planning on doing a lot of that this weekend."
"Not at all. I have other things in mind I'd rather be doing. Apologizing isn't one of them."
He swiftly exited the car to open the door for her. She stepped out and began removing his jacket from her arms.
"No. It's fine. I'll get it tomorrow. It's still cold on the way to the door." She shifted out of the way so he could close the door behind her.
He leaned toward her and softly whispered in her ear, "Goodnight, Winnie. You really couldn't have made Mae happier."
Winnie blushed feverishly and leaned away from his lips. Why must he be so close? The side of her face burned mildly where Jesse has almost grazed her.
"Tell her thanks again. I would like to come back anytime she'll have me."
"Of course." He agreed
He started toward the other side the car and Winnie gave a small wave.
"Winnie?" He called once he was situated inside.
"Yeah?" She asked still recovering from his subtle words.
"I wasn't going to kiss you." He was definitely messing with her and she was letting him.
Winnie wasn't sure what expression her face displayed, but she knew better not to react.
She turned and gradually stepped toward the expansive entrance, all the while smiling quietly to herself.