The light above their shared sitting area was the first thing Winnie noticed as she entered. She wasn't entirely sure if Eliza had turned off all the lights when they had departed for the Tucks.
There was a modern open bar decked out in the best glass finery to the right of the sitting area, where a glass had been filled. It sat on the counter just under half full.
Immediately, Winnie panicked and started backing toward the door and fidgeted with her clutch bag to release her phone.
She tried to ignore the steady footsteps approaching her from her side of the suite. Her phone was out ready to dial Jesse, who couldn't have gotten very far. A male throat clearing stopped her in her tracks.
"You weren't going to ask who's there?" Isaac jokingly chuckled.
She whipped around wide-eyed and exhaled sharply, "You scared the life out of me." Of course, this was only figuratively speaking.
He smiled and casually removed his hands from the pockets of his finely pressed dress pants.
"Well, I wanted to surprise you."
"Obviously." Winnie scoffed, "Isaac, you can't do that. I seriously thought you were an axe murderer."
"Aren't you glad to know that I'm not?" He stepped toward her and lightly brushed her cheek, "Nice jacket."
She looked down nervously, completely forgetting she still had it on, "It was chilly. I didn't bring one with me…Jesse was being nice."
"It's fine," He smiled assuring, "You look stunning."
She met his smile and lightly blushed, "Thank you."
Isaac could make her feel great even if she were wearing a burlap sack.
"When did you get here?"
He took her hand and led her to one of the plush loveseats in the center of the room. The whole right side of the room had a spectacular glass view of downtown Charlotte.
"Just a half hour ago. I had assumed you and Liza would be out for a while."
"When did you leave? What about the store? Is your dad alright?" Winnie pried.
"Yea, dad's fine. He was having some shortness of breath so I rushed home after dropping you and Liza and the airport. He and mom were…um…well, you know…he uh…overexerted himself. I told him he just needs to take it easy."
"Oh, well…that's good that it was only that." Winnie replied coolly.
"I didn't even get to open the store dealing with him. Our rings were finished, so I picked them up. By mid afternoon when I knew you had landed, I was a maniac. I missed you terribly. I knew I should have come with you. I wanted to meet the people you talked so fondly about."
Winnie rested her delicate her on his knee, "I missed you too. I would like you to meet them. Mae is absolutely amazing. She offered to help with planning."
"Really? You know my mother won't hear of it. She pretty much had mine and Liza's weddings mapped out since birth. On top of that, she's making dad spend a fortune on this planner."
"I don't even think she wants my input or my money," Winnie added, "which is fine, but I don't need all of that extra fluff."
Isaac swiftly reached out to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear, "I want you to have the fluff. We're only going to get married once."
"I know, but still…it's a bit…much. Obviously, Liza inherited the spending from your mom. Look at this suite. A family of ten doesn't need this much space."
"You know that's just Liza. Where is she actually?" Isaac noted suspiciously.
Winnie stood up and started fidgeting with her hands, "She stuck around. She'll be back later. It's fine"
Isaac stalked toward her, "No, it's not fine. She's still there?"
Winnie inhaled, "Yes, but she's okay. Miles will bring her back. What do you think is going to happen to her?"
"Winnie, we are talking about the same girl. I asked you to keep her out of trouble."
"I know," Winnie whined apologetically, "I honestly think she wanted to stay out. We are in a new city and she just met Miles."
Isaac scoffed and pressed his forehead to hers, "I hope you're right."
He cupped her chin with one of his hands and grabbed her small waist with the other.
"So…that kiss earlier?"
"…Yeah," she whispered her eyelids fluttering.
He answered her carefully laying his lips gently over hers.
"I missed you, Miss Foster." He stated mid kiss.
She could taste a faint hint of the wine he had drank moments before. She couldn't respond with words, she just feebly pushed back.
He maneuvered his hand from her waist and softly bought it up to her shoulder, lightly grazing her chest in route. Without breaking their kiss, Isaac slowly removed Jesse's jacket from her arm. He smiled to himself as he watched it fall to the floor.
"Where are you sleeping?" Winnie asked breathily, her weak attempt at changing the subject.
"With you, if you'd like?"
Winnie's eyes flew open at the casualness of his words. They had yet to sleep in the same bed, but something told her he wasn't referring to sleeping.
Isaac began tracing delicate kissed down her neck
"I think we should stop," Winnie exhaled, her lips slightly swollen.
Isaac stopped kissing her abruptly and held her to him.
"What's wrong. This isn't the first time I've kissed you like that."
"I know. I just feel fuzzy and it's late…"
"Fuzziness is good," he chuckled, "I want you to feel fuzzy."
"In your case, fuzziness isn't good. I think you had one too many sips of wine, Mr. Blanc. Besides, I'm tired. You just got here. I'm sure you're exhausted from the day too."
"Yea, but don't you want to stay up for Liza."
"Eliza is a big girl, Isaac. I trust Miles. He'll get her here safely."
Isaac pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, "Okay, so I am a little overprotective."
"Just a little." Winnie joked.
"Can I at least hold you tonight?" He asked tenderly, "I promise I'll sleep out here."
"You don't have your own room?"
"Now, that I realize how enormous these suites are. I'll cancel my reservation. If it can fit a family of ten, then it can fit a family of three."
A phone buzzing hours later stirred Winnie from her blissful sleep. It took several moments of adjusting for her to realize where she was, in her hotel suite. The sun showed no sign of rising, so she knew it wasn't quite morning in Charlotte. There was a sleek side table that spanned a good chunk of the wall where Winnie had set her phone before falling asleep in Isaac's arms. Afraid that her text would be from Jesse, she didn't pick it up right away.
Isaac had retreated to the sitting room sometime after Winnie fell asleep, abiding by her wishes not to share a bed just yet. Deciding it was a lost cause, she grabbed her phone. The text was from Eliza sent just past three in the morning. Why would Eliza be texting her from their suite, unless she wasn't in their suite.
I'm fine. I'll see you by the time the sun is up.
Was that really all she had to say at four in the morning?
You got me in trouble with Isaac. Did you know he was coming?
Winnie waited for what seemed like an eternity for her to reply.
He texted me before we left the hotel. He was leaving for the airport.
Winnie huffed aloud, you could have warned me. I hate surprises. Not to mention he scared me.
Sorry. I called down to the front desk, asking them to leave a room key for him. What's wrong with surprises?
Winnie thought a heads up would have been nice, considering she had on another man's jacket when she'd made it back, without Eliza.
Winnie decided a different approach, Where are you?
Eliza didn't respond right away and Winnie didn't want to outright ask her if she had hooked up with Miles. The idea was still inconceivable to her.
It had been ten whole minutes since Winnie had sent her last message. She tried to go back to sleep, but groaned at her failed attempt. Though, the heavily ornate bed was extremely comfortable, she just couldn't let something go.
"Hello," Jesse murmured evenly.
"Did I wake you?" Winnie asked softly. She heard deliberate movements from the other end.
"It's fine," he continued a little more alert, "Is something wrong?"
"No, everything is well considering Eliza is still out…I'm assuming Miles is also."
"They were in the backyard when I made it back. I didn't even stay up to see when they came back inside."
"Well, she said she was at Lake Wylie. Where is that?"
"It's just outside of Charlotte, interesting place to be this time of night." Jesse hinted.
"Why do you think they would go there?" Winnie muttered.
"He and Tuck fish there sometimes, but my guess is as good as yours. I'm sure we'll find out soon enough.'
Winnie paused unsure of how to continue.
"Is that that the only reason why you were calling me at 4:30 in the morning?" Jesse surveyed curiously.
She inhaled harshly, "Isaac is in Charlotte."
"...Of course he is," He breathed, "when did he get here?"
"He wanted to surprise me. He was in the suite when you brought me back." She explained, "I didn't know he was here right away. I was alarmed when I saw a light on when I got it. I was a nanosecond away from calling you."
"Nice to know I am on your go-to list." He chuckled low.
Winnie laughed lightly with him. She was unsure how to go about her next part.
"Jesse, why did you wait so long?" Her voice sounded small.
He sighed heavily. He wasn't prepared for that.
"I already told you, Win. It just didn't feel like the right time until now."
"I know, but…why now? Why this specific time? I mean what about last year or the year before. If it had been six years ago I wouldn't had even met Isaac."
"You wouldn't have met Eliza either," he corrected.
"Why?" Her voice was growing thick.
"Winnie, please don't do that. Don't cry. You are only making it harder for me. I am going to regret this decision for the rest of our existence."
She was trying desperately to keep quiet so Isaac couldn't hear her. She lightly kicked herself. She hated putting Isaac in this mess she called her life.
"I'm so sorry I doubted you." Winnie sniveled, "I should have been more patient.
Jesse shushed her lightly, "Do you know what today is,Winnie?"
"No." She replied croakily.
"One hundred years ago today, I met the most beautiful, incredible, insanely courageous girl." He acclaimed, "I am somewhat lovesick to have kept track of time for so long. It's not something that we normally do, but I'll keep track of everything pertaining to you. You can't possibly realize how much I've missed you, Winnie."
Winnie tiredly closed her eyes and leaned up against the fabric headboard. When she didn't respond, Jesse sighed calmly.
"Why are you hiding how you feel? You know this isn't going to be over. I know you're trying to do what seems right by marrying him, but it will only make our position more difficult…I won't stop Winnie. Not even then. I have all of forever and so do you, but Isaac doesn't…and if you truly don't want this for him, then I'll just wait until…"
Winnie heard him exhale low into the phone, not immediately finding his words.
"…until he's gone. I have no problem with waiting for you. You did it for me. What's another sixty or seventy years?"
"I couldn't ask you to do that, Jesse. I wouldn't want you to. You deserve to be happy now…even though it will break my heart. You have to open your heart to someone else."
"You know I can't do that. There is no other option. I love you too much. I will not lie to myself or pretend that I won't be thinking about you the entire time."
Winnie heard cautious movement out in the sitting area.
"…Isaac's awake. I have to go. We'll talk later." She swiftly hung up, not waiting for an interjection.
There was a soft knock to her door and the door peered open. Isaac treked to Winnie's bedside, confusion on his face.
"Eliza wasn't in her room. I tried to text her and I didn't get a response."
She could sense Isaac's genuine concern and scooted over so he could sit next to her on the bed.
"She sent me one a little while ago. She's okay and will be back soon."
He shook his head disapprovingly, "Why does she act like this? I'd swear we were still in high school?"
Winnie patted his arm assuring, "I know when it comes to things like this, that she hasn't always made the wisest decisions. She is still highly intelligent and a fully grown, capable woman. Eliza will never do anything she doesn't want to,"
"I know," he exclaimed, exasperated. "She is still my sister." He overwhelmingly laid his head in his hands.
"Stop worrying about her." Winnie rubbed his back in circles, "She's twenty-four and so full of life. Let her enjoy it. She'll only live once."
"I'm not going to know how to handle it when we're living with her in New York. She's going to drive me insane."
"You'll be fine," Winnie guaranteed.
"Yeah, I'll have you there to keep me together. We'll be getting to know each other."
"Yeah..." Winnie concurred.
Isaac charily leaned in and pressed his lips to her collar, "…And doing married things."
Winnie felt her stomach tighten and held her breath. Winnie wasn't sure why the topic of sex made her so nervous. This was the man she was going to marry in a little over three months time. However, she was raised in a very different time. At one point, all she wanted to do was go outside of her fence. By not having any physical experience at all, it only made the idea more difficult to grasp.
"I've never asked…," She vaguely began, "I know you were with other girls, but…did you...I mean…were any of them…inexperienced?"
Isaac halted his kisses and calculatingly ran his hand along her collarbone, "Why do you ask?"
Winnie bit her lip naively, "Well, it's just…I'm not sure what to anticipate. I mean Liza has told me some things, but…"
"Wait, stop right there," Isaac cut in, "I really don't need to know that. What do you want to know?"
"..I guess what I'm trying to say is…will it be pleasant. I've just had this representation in my head that…I don't know…I know the technicality of it…how did those girls feel…after?"
Isaac chuckled, "You are so different from them, Winnie. It's not something you should worry your pretty little head about. I promise. You'll enjoy it. We'll be married and having a good time. I won't be judging you…Why the sudden interest in the topic?"
Winnie shrugged timidly, "I don't want to be…inadequate."
Isaac reached out and caressed her cheek lovingly, "Winnie, love. You will be more than adequate, much more."
She nodded in agreeance, her gaze lowered, "…if you could live forever married to me, would you?"
Isaac smiled wide, "Of course I would, forever and ever."
"I mean it…if it were possible and we could always be together. No sickness. No death or growing old, just being young and married to me and only me…forever?"
"I look forward to growing old with you," Isaac chuckled, "Watching our grandchildren and hopefully great-grandchildren play, while sitting on our porch. Those are the days I most look forward to." He lifted her hands to his mouth.
Children hadn't even crossed her mind, let alone grandchildren. Isaac wanted the very things Winnie would never be able to give him.
"You shouldn't stress about that either. You will age beautifully. You've looked the same since the day I met you. You will be as pretty as ever."
Winnie felt herself tense slightly at his words and he involuntarily let out a slow yawn.
"Go back to bed, sleepy head." She cooed rubbing his hands, "I'm sure you've kept yourself awake, acting like a panicked parent."
Isaac kissed her forehead and rose from the bed. She let her hand linger with his, "Not out there…You can sleep here."
Isaac blinked in disbelief, "Are you feeling okay, Winnie?" He playfully placed his palm over her forehead.
She smiled sweetly and pulled him back to her, "We'll just be sleeping."
Winnie cautiously moved over to the opposite side of the colossal bed. It was more than enough space for the two of them to fit contently. Isaac positioned himself on his elbow facing her, puzzled.
He was very pleased that she was allowing him to partake in something that she had never really allowed. Before he could express any form of gratitude, Winnie pressed her index finger against his lip, quieting him.
"Go to sleep, Mr. Blanc." She advised.
He huffed playfully and drew the duvet over him.
Winnie laid her head down on the untouched pillow and watched Isaac eyes succumb to sleep.
Before he was completely under, he reached for her to pull her close.
"I love you," he exhaled into her hair.
She glimpsed at him wanting to meet his eyes, but he was already fast asleep. Winnie's heart tightened at the realization that she had given Isaac the only thing that she would ever be able to, her bed to share.
Winnie woke for the second time in a rather hazy manner. She definitely needed to catch up on her sleep, but was certain that now with Jesse and Isaac in the same city, that sleep wouldn't be so easy to come by as it had days prior.
The sunlight streaming from the terrace into the suite, made her smile softly to herself. It appeared to be a beautiful day in Charlotte, North Carolina. She glanced to the right side of the bed and expected to see a sleeping Isaac, instead there lay a carefully written letter a top his pillow.
Good morning Love,
I didn't want to wake you. You sleep so peacefully. I went to rent us a car for the rest of our stay. I should be back shortly.
It was so like Isaac to do something so incredibly simple, without the insincerity of a modern text message. Of course, he would want to them to have their own means of transportation, without having to rely on anyone…including Jesse.
The entrance door to the sitting room opened and Winnie jumped from her bed. She hadn't expected to see Isaac so soon, but instead was met by a lethargic Eliza.
Eliza hadn't realized Winnie's presence, so when she turned to head toward her side of the suite she yelped involuntarily.
"Win, don't do that!" She stood wide-eyed holding her chest.
"I didn't scare you, did I?" Winnie asked humorously folding her arms.
Eliza responded by rolling her eyes.
"How was the lake?"
"It was fine." Eliza stated vaguely. She stalked toward her side of the suite and began peeling away her clothes from the night before. Unhappy with the answer she was given, Winnie cautiously followed behind her.
"Is that all you have to say?"
"Where is my brother? He left me like a billion messages," Eliza asked changing the subject. She was down to her undergarments and proceeded to her attached bathroom.
"He's getting a car rental. He also said that he is canceling his own reservation here. Apparently, he wants to room with us…and you're changing the subject, Liza."
"Win, could I just have a minute?" Eliza was a bit agitated, "I just walked in. Don't I look like I slept outside?"
Winnie huffed and watched Eliza pull her short hair back away from her face.
"Now, who's being snippy? Eliza, Isaac was really worried about you. I tried to get him to back off as best I could, but I mean...he takes parenting to a whole new level."
Eliza stared at Winnie calmly through the bathroom mirror, "Why don't you just ask what you really want to ask, if I slept with Miles?"
Winnie shook her head roughly, "It's none of my business and I don't really want to know."
"I wanted to. In fact, I thought we were going to. He was giving me suggestive signals all night. Besides, he's hot…I'm hot…it just made perfect sense." Sarcasm spits from her mouth.
Winnie trying to look remorseful, "So, what happened?"
Eliza shook her head and leaned against the sink, "That man has got some serious skeletons in his closet…Ugh! We were having a really good time, actually. We were just talking about nothing and everything. He asked me about school, my career path, and things about back home…"
"And?" Winnie pressed with raised eyebrows.
"He offered to show me some places. We ended up at the lake. It was late, and the mood felt good…a normal guy would have…." Eliza's voice trailed off suggestively, "…anyway, we started to get all wrapped up into it…we were kissing and then…he just goes off the deep end."
"He got upset with you?"
"No, it was the exact opposite. He got extremely emotional and started saying things...how this isn't what he wanted and how wrong it was…and just…."
"You knew he had been married and had kids?" Eliza interrogated.
"Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?"
"For starters, his wife left him for no apparent reason other than she had some serious mental deficiencies and took his son and daughter. Who does that?"
"That had nothing to do with, Jesse." Winnie reminded, "That's Miles' life. It was never for me to tell.."
"She left him alone, Win. She took everything he knew and loved. I can't imagine how that could possibly feel. His daughter, Anna, died of some rare flu of all things and his wife was in an insane asylum where she may or may not have killed herself. He didn't even go into detail about his son….I only know that he's dead also. How messed up is that?"
Winnie shook her head in disbelief, "He told you all of this?"
"Yes, and he couldn't had picked a better time to do it. I mean…We were laughing and I really enjoyed talking to him. I mean I like him and I'm pretty sure he likes me, but he…he just has a lot of emotional baggage. It's a lot to take in."
"First off, do you like him as a person or the way that he looks? There's a difference. Liza, you don't even really know Miles. You've scratched the surface by accident. That's why you get to know the person before you get involved that way."
"Yeah...Noted," Eliza stated callously.
"Look, I don't want to lecture you," Winnie began carefully, "I'm your best friend and I want you to have fun and do what makes you happy, but…Miles…is raw. He's experienced so much and has been through a lot of life altering things. Are you even ready for that?"
"I don't know," Eliza replied rationally, "I just feel…awful for myself and for him, if that even makes sense…Do you think I should even bother with him? There are other guys in Charlotte."
"If you want to get to know Miles, then get to know him. Liza, I don't think you should let his or your past stop you from seeing if this could go somewhere. Just do it with your mind instead. If not, then just move on. It's what you do best."
Eliza nodded and rubbed gently at her eyes, "Okay...I need to take a long shower and wash away this feeling of rejection. I'll be out in a little while."
"Miles reject you?" Winnie joked.
Eliza playfully rolled her eyes.
"Okay. I'm going to get in the shower also. Isaac will be back soon."
Sometime while Winnie and Eliza were getting dressed, Isaac arrived back at the Fairmount Hotel walking on air. When he saw his baby sister enter into the sitting area, not even a full second went by as he immediately started verbally attacking her.
"What the hell, Liza." Isaac stood seething silently.
"Excuse me, big brother." Eliza countered, "It's nice to see you too."
"I get it. You're a big girl, but that was really childish," He accused, "You don't even know him."
Eliza was fixing to respond until Winnie touched her arm to interject.
"May I say something?"
Winnie paused slightly and continued, "Before we all have kittens, Isaac was just worried about you, Eliza. I told him how honorable Miles is and I completely trust him with you."
"You haven't seen him in how long?" Isaac asked mockingly.
Winnie eyes narrowed at him, "It doesn't matter. He's still the same person I knew then. Miles is trustworthy. And as you can see, she wasn't chopped into little pieces."
"Aw thanks, Win." Eliza teased as well.
"People can change. You don't know anything about them now. You were just so quick to come down here." Isaac pointed.
Winnie was about to interrupt again until Isaac heatedly cut her off.
"And you," he added toward Eliza suspiciously, "you were so quick to come with her."
Eliza folded her arms heatedly across her chest.
"My father is back in New York. His name is Avery Blanc and you are not him!" She exclaimed, "I don't need you rescuing me. I understand you're being Mr. Overprotective, but you don't need to insult the Tucks. You haven't even met them!"
"Because you hooked up with him you think that they're all saints!" Isaac screamed.
"I did not sleep with him."
Isaac gave Eliza an odd look. "Sure you didn't."
"She didn't," Winnie tried convincing, "they just stayed out late."
"Win, I don't need you running interference. I got this."
"Well, there's just this one then." Isaac disputed.
"Alright boys and girls, before either one of you say anything else. Isaac, you've said some really hurtful things. So, you really should stop talking now. Go back outside and get some fresh air."
Winnie turned quickly to Eliza, "Try to understand that his feelings all stem from his love for you. You are his sister. He doesn't want anyone taking advantage of you."
She turned back to Isaac who was staring in disbelief.
"And when you are done composing yourself, you will come back and apologize or I'll refuse to talk to you for the remainder of this trip and you'll be forced to get your own room. I also think that you should actually spend time with the Tucks before passing any type of judgment on any of them."
Isaac reared silently unable to respond to fiancé's reproach. He gave one last unsettling glance at Eliza before swiftly making his way over to the suite entrance and cautiously closing the door behind him.
"Awesome. My own brother thinks I'm a tart," Eliza spat sarcastically.
"He does not, Liza." Winnie countered wholeheartedly.
"He practically called me a whore to my face, Win. I don't have to put up with that. Brother or not…he's probably pissed because he hasn't been laid in so long."
Winnie inhaled involuntarily.
"Sorry, Win. I didn't mean…well…it's just…he's being really uptight." Eliza folded her arms casually, "I think you guys should get married sooner. It'll give him something to do.
"I'm not something to do," Winnie remarked clearly hurt by her best friend's words, "…and neither are you. This trip isn't about all of our non-sex issues. It's about reconnecting and unwinding."
"Both have to do with sex by the way," Eliza noted humorously.
Winnie rolled her eyes clearly fed up.
"I'm kidding," Eliza reached out, "I'm trying to lighten the mood. I want you to enjoy yourself. I'm sorry I've been a pain or whatever. It's only been three days since Jesse walked back into your life and I have to admit…it's a little unnerving. He wants you back, Win. He's made that perfectly clear."
"I'm not the same girl he thinks I am," she whispered sadly, "…I feel bad that I'm not that girl anymore."
"You don't have to feel bad. He just needs to move on. He's a good guy and all but…he's not Isaac. He's not the guy you've been waiting for."
What Eliza failed to realize that Jesse was exactly the one she'd been waiting for.
"Is Miles the guy you've been waiting for?" Winnie prodded aloud.
"Who the heck knows…all I know is that part of me would like to find out," Eliza chuckled lightly to herself, "Oh geez, what would my parent's think?"
"They'd think Miles is a good guy…because he is. He's been through a lot, but that's made him this really amazing person underneath it all…maybe you two should have a heart to heart. You know? Lay your intentions on the table."
"It's a little too late don't you think? I attempted to jump his bones last night and look what happened. I think he knows my intentions." Eliza replied particularly.
"Yes, but you also want more." Winnie countered softly, "I know you do. It may be too premature to talk love and marriage, but you want someone to be with, aside from just casual. You want intimacy.
Eliza sighed heavily and flopped down on an enormous armchair.
Expectantly, Winnie's phone buzzed on the coffee table just as Eliza was about to speak. She didn't recognize the number, so she was a little hesitant to answer. Winnie looked to Eliza who just shrugged at her to proceed.
"This is Winnie."
A delicate voice greeted her warmly, "Good morning, Winnie dear. Its Mae."
"Hello…uh…good morning, Mae." Winnie was unsure of what to say. Eliza's ears perked up expectantly.
"I'm sorry to bother you this morning…It's just I've missed you. I wanted to tell you how happy I am that you are here with us. We all are."
"I'm equally as happy. I've missed you all terribly." She affirmed.
"We would love to spend the day with you and Eliza if you didn't have any plans." Mae asked calmly.
Of course, Winnie would want to see them again. The Tucks were her sole reason to be in Charlotte in the first place.
"…yes, absolutely. Eliza and I would love to see you all again today. Um…Isaac has actually made a surprise visit. He is here in Charlotte as well. He arrived last night. He would love to come along if that's alright."
"I'd love to meet him, dear."
Mae didn't skip a beat. She genuinely sounded excited about it.
Eliza gaped wide-eyed, listening intently. Winnie knew it had more to do with what Mae thought of her at this point, considering Miles had stayed out all night with her.
"…okay. Should we meet at your house again?" Winnie queried anxiously.
"Of course not, we will come to you. Miles and Jesse know the way. We'll be leaving here soon," Mae responded elated, "We'll see you all shortly. I'm looking forward to meeting this young man who has stolen your heart, Winnie." Fascinating choice of words…
"You will really love him, Mae."
"I have no doubt. If you love him, I will also."
Winnie gave Eliza a reassuring smile, "Okay, well…we'll see you soon."
"See you soon, Winnie."
Just as the call ended Eliza started in.
"What did she say about me?"
"Oh Liza, when will you learn that the world doesn't revolve around you." Winnie teased.
Eliza rolled her eyes and folded her arms playfully.
"She said she would love to spend the day with us is all." Winnie smirked
"Do you think she thinks I slept with Miles?"
"Again, no one cares. At least I don't. Besides…Mae is not like that. She doesn't involve herself. I'm sure she just wants to see Miles happy. He's a grown man. He can stay out as late as he wants."
"That brings me to my next question…" Eliza starts pointedly, "Why do you think Jesse and Miles still live with their parents. Does that seem odd to you? And they call them by their first names?"
"Eliza, you and Isaac still live with your parents and the Tucks are really old-fashioned."
"Yeah, but we only live there during the summer."
"Miles was married, remember? I'm sure they didn't all live in that house." Winnie expressed.
"How old do you think he is anyway?" Eliza redirected peculiarly.
Winnie really didn't like the turn of the conversation. "I'm not sure. Have you asked him?" She replied softly.
"He said it didn't matter, but I mean…he had a wife and kids before you knew him. He has to be like mid to late thirties…but he definitely doesn't look it. He looks twenty-five tops."
"I don't think you should be so hung up on his age. It's never stopped you before. Need we go back to Professor Hoffman in undergrad…?"
"Okay, you promised to never bring that up again," Eliza fearfully interjected.
"My lips are sealed," Winnie laughed.
"Not funny, Win. Take it to the grave. Isaac would go off the deep end even more than he already has and don't mention anything about Miles either."
"As long as I live, I will never utter a word to Isaac about it." Winnie giggled at her formality and Eliza gradually joined in.
They caught themselves as Isaac entered into the sitting room abruptly.
"I've gotten my own suite," He stated carefully, "I don't think me sharing personal space with Eliza here is a good idea. I already have to deal with it at home…"
"Okay," Winnie pressed softly, "do you have anything else you would like to say?"
He huffed gently and pinched the bridge of his nose. Eliza had to keep from rolling her eyes, knowing it would only make it worse.
He placed his hands in his pants pockets and cleared his throat.
"…My apologies, Eliza. I didn't mean any of my implications about your reputation. I really do love you. I just want you to be more careful while we're here. I realize you are a grown woman who can handle herself and I will strongly try to stop treating you like a child."
Eliza mockingly laid her hand over her heart, "…so touching."
Winnie playfully pinched her shoulder.
"Ouch...okay, okay. I'm sorry, too. I will stop blatantly ignoring your texts. I know it drives you crazy." Eliza teased.
"Okay, boys and girls…group hug." Winnie nudged.
Eliza hopped to her feet and launched herself at her brother. She laughed when she realized she had clearly knocked his breath out of him.
"Must you be so clingy, Eliza?" He breathed hoarsely.
"You know I give the best hugs."
Winnie moved toward him and wrapped her arm around him.
Isaac hugged both Eliza and Winnie to his side, "So, what is on the itinerary for today?"
Winnie smiled hesitantly up at her fiancé and Eliza smirked shamelessly, "Remember Win was saying how you should get to know the Tucks…now is pretty much about that time."
Winnie and Eliza stood waiting patiently near the entrance of the grand lobby for the Tuck's arrival. Winnie desperately tried not to notice Jesse as he exited his Camaro right at the expansive entrance of The Fairmount. His brown hair was carefully swept back away from his forehead and she inhaled deeply as he lightly brushed his hand over any possible loose strands.
Angus Tuck casually exited from the passenger side with a passive look on his ageless face. He smiled lightly as he reached for Mae to help her out. The valet quickly approached the vehicle with the concierge following behind.
Winnie eagerly started closer to the door, so she could be the first to greet them. Miles exited from the opposite side and Jesse gave him a brotherly pat on the shoulder.
Eliza hesitantly walked over to stand next to Winnie as their guests continued inside. Mae was the first to enter, alongside Tuck. She practically leaped toward Winnie and Eliza with her arms outstretched.
"It's so good to see your lovely faces this morning," She beamed embracing them both wholeheartedly.
"Let them breathe, Mae. They've only been gone twelve hours." Tuck teased.
Jesse had his hands clasped behind his back with a very impatient look on his boyish face. Miles was the farthest away steadily avoiding eye contact. He looked very uncomfortable to say the least.
Winnie and Eliza exchanged a knowing glance.
"It's been a long twelve hours," Winnie replied happily, "Thank you for joining us this morning."
"Yes it has," Eliza added eyeing Miles in the background, "Isaac will join us shortly. He's should be about done getting ready."
"We look forward to meeting him, dear." Mae assured rubbing Winnie's arm.
Jesse stepped closer and nudged Miles forward.
"Good morning, ladies." Jesse greeted sincerely. He caught everyone off guard, including Eliza when he pulled Winnie into a simple hug. He smelled absolutely divine and she fought the urge to close her eyes, but instead held Eliza's gaze.
She half expected him to whisper in her ear like he had the day before. She hadn't realized she'd been holding her breath until he let her go.
"You both look radiant," He complimented politely.
"I've never seen your hair like that," Winnie blurted, "It looks very nice."
"Thank you, Winnie."
Behind him, Miles cleared his throat. He appeared like he had something on the tip of his tongue, but thought better of it.
"Shall we?" Eliza interrupted nervously motioning toward the section of the hotel where brunch would take place.
Mae carefully grasped Winnie's hand as Eliza led the way outside toward the veranda.
The hotel staff was busy setting things in place and ushering guests toward proper seating.
A very attractive waiter dressed in a casual white suit swiftly approached them,
"Good morning. Thank you all for joining us for brunch at The Fairmount," He greeted pleasantly, his eyes meeting Eliza's, "My name is Stephen. I will be taking care of you. Will you please follow me?"
Stephen guided them to set covered tables out near the Olympic size pool.
"I will be happy to take your drink orders." He stated pulling several chairs away from the table so the women could sit down.
"Thank you, Stephen." Eliza smiled, "I would like a glass of orange juice."
Winnie crossed her legs and smoothed out her white sundress, "I'll have the same, please."
Jesse was seated at Winnie's left and Miles was next to him. The seat between Eliza and Winnie was open and waiting for Isaac.
"The glass of water on the table is fine," Miles reluctantly chimed in. His voice sounded low and guarded.
"I'll have lemonade, please." A familiar voice intervened from behind the waiter.
"It's so nice of you to join us, big brother." Eliza greeted slightly amused.
Isaac eyes glanced curiously at their full table, "Hello, everyone. I apologize for being late. I'm Isaac Blanc."
"Angus Tuck." Tuck bellowed, carefully extending his right hand for Isaac to take, "And this is the love of my life, Mae."
Isaac gratefully accepted, "It's nice to meet you both, sir. I've heard amazing things about your family."
Miles raised an eyebrow sarcastically. "I'm Miles, Jesse's older brother."
Isaac met his eyes awkwardly before nodding in Jesse's direction. "It's great to meet you as well. Good to see you again, Jesse. It looks like you've been taking good care of my Winnie and Eliza."
Winnie forced a smile and glanced over at Jesse. Had Isaac meant to sound so possessive? By the looks of it, Jesse had paid just as close attention as she.
"I wouldn't have it any other way." Jesse respectfully remarked. In spite of Jesse's feelings toward Isaac, he had yet to be anything other than polite to him.
"Isaac…Eliza and Winnie told us that you recently finished medical school." Mae redirected abruptly, "That is quite an accomplishment. Your parents must be undoubtedly proud."
Isaac nodded modestly, "Yes, they are. I couldn't have done any of this without them or Winnie and Eliza. They've been an amazing support system."
"That's wonderful, dear." Mae agreed reassuringly.
"Is this your first time in North Carolina?" Tuck chimed in.
"Actually, it is." Isaac professed, "Eliza and I used to travel often growing up. We have extended family all over Europe and the States. When I left for NYU, there wasn't really much time to dedicate to it. Then I met Winnie, who refused to board a plane at all, until now...so we have been somewhat limited to our travels."
"You boarded a plane for us?" Mae asked admiringly with a tearful smile.
Winnie softly nodded, "I would do anything for you. I've waited so long to see you all again. If a plane put me that much closer then...I didn't think twice."
Isaac carefully pursed his lips, possibly to keep from speaking.
Winnie met his insecure gaze and continued, "...Now it looks like we'll be able to enjoy our honeymoon out of the country, since I've gotten over my fear of flying and all."
"You're serious?" Isaac asked in disbelief
Winnie smiled coyly, "I know how much you want to. I'd do it for you."
Isaac lightly touched his left hand to Winnie cheek. Her face grew warm under his fingers. She averted her eyes in mild embarrassment. It didn't feel right to share such an intimate moment in front of the entire table and Jesse's hard stare was only adding to her discomfiture.
Stephen returned to their table with a platinum tray of the drinks they all had ordered.
"Thank you very much, Stephen." Eliza cooed.
Miles skillfully raised his glass of water to his lips, refusing to take his eyes off of Eliza.
"Not a problem, ma'am. Can I get anything else for you all?" Stephen smiled.
"I think we're good." Miles mockingly chimed in.
"Very well, then. You all may help yourself at the serving station. I will be around if you need me.
Mae lightly patted Tuck on the back, "I'll get our meal, sweetie. Anything you don't want?"
Tuck shook his head, "Not at all. Pile it high."
Winnie took Mae's lead, "Come on, Liza. We can take care of Isaac, Jesse, and Miles".
"I can get my own food," Miles interrupted. He slowly rose from the table and tapped Jesse, "You coming, Jess?"
"Sure," Jesse gave an apologetic smile to Eliza. As if to say, 'I know he's an ass'.
Eliza and Winnie followed behind Mae toward the serving station, as Jesse and Miles headed in another direction.
"You'll have to excuse, Miles." Mae apologized, "He's been like this all morning."
Eliza glanced at Winnie before respectfully assuring Mae, "It's okay, Mae."
"…Did something happen?" Mae probed, "I do hope he wasn't like this toward you yesterday evening."
"No ma'am." Eliza reaffirmed, "He was a perfect gentleman. Maybe it's something I did."
Mae lightly patted Eliza's arm.
"Never think it's something that you've done, dear. Miles wears his emotions on his sleeve. As much as he tries to hide behind this façade, it only makes his feelings that much clearer.
Winnie grimaced and met Eliza's searching gaze. Evidently, what Mae had said held some truth to it, but Winnie couldn't shake the feeling that her words about Miles weren't specifically just for him.
Were Winnie's eternal feelings for Jesse going unnoticed? Was she putting up a front for everyone, especially Isaac? She had no clear cut answer, but she also knew she couldn't reasonably doubt it entirely. She would have to face her feelings head on and the only way to do that would be by speaking to Isaac, which ironically frightened her to death.