It didn't take long for the layer of guilt to flood Winnie's heightened bliss. She had fallen back onto her pillow, the back of her palm over her forehead in defeat. She had no idea how to put her feelings into words and silently cursed herself, knowing it was time to face the aftermath of her decisions.
Her clothing was scattered along the sides of the bed and she quickly grabbed her under garments and pajamas and rolled them into a ball to put into the hotel hamper. Apparently, The Fairmount had excellent laundry service.
She had unpacked her suitcase into the extended dresser and began pulling out clothing to wear. She chose a pale pink romper and white loose fitting cardigan. Her hair was still wavy and she decided to gather it into a messy braid letting a few strands loose.
After a half an hour, she tiptoed out into the sitting area. Eliza's door was slightly ajar, but there was no movement from where Winnie could see.
She made her way to the door and wrapped lightly upon it.
"Liza, you awake?"
She knocked a couple more times and pushed the door open further. The bed was disheveled, but Eliza was nowhere to be found.
She rushed back to her room to retrieve her cell phone and sent a concerned text to her best friend.
Hey, where are you?
After a couple minutes, Eliza had yet to respond. Winnie didn't want to concern Isaac by asking him if he knew where his sister was. More importantly, she wasn't quite ready to face her fiancé. Winnie decided she would go look for her and headed down to the lobby.
I'm in the lobby. I'm looking for you.
Winnie stood there for another minute or so before continuing outside to the veranda swallowing the feeling of possibly being ignored. Eliza usually had her phone by her at all times and ten minutes had already passed.
I'm beginning to think you are ignoring me. Please respond.
Clearly, Eliza wasn't going to cooperate. Winnie knew it would be best text Isaac to let him know where she was in case he came looking for both of them.
Hi, I'm on the veranda. Just so you know.
Eliza and I are on our way down. We need to leave.
Instantly, Winnie froze in fear. Eliza had been with Isaac the entire time. Leave? Did he mean Charlotte or the hotel? She couldn't force herself to ask the question she most wanted to. Why? Did he know about what happened? Did Eliza know about her and Jesse and rushed to tell her brother?
Eliza appeared suddenly with Isaac right on her heels. Her eyes were slightly red and puffy like she had been crying. Winnie couldn't place Isaac's expression. The only word that came to mind was tame. Something had happened and it wasn't puppies or kittens.
Before Winnie had a chance to confess and beg for forgiveness, Eliza interrupted.
"It's Dad…he's…he had a heart attack early this morning."
Isaac reached for Winnie's hand as she stood there speechless.
"He was rushed to the hospital. He is stable, but they have him in a medically induced coma for the time being. My mother is losing her mind and really needs us there."
Winnie quickly found her voice laced with concern, "I'm so sorry. We need to leave now."
"I've already made the flight arrangements," Isaac breathed glancing at his sister, "It leaves at 11:15."
Winnie nodded glumly, "Okay, let's get our things."
"Just Liza and I," Isaac countered, "You still have a couple days left here, Winnie. I wouldn't take this away from you."
"Isaac, your dad is in the hospital."Winnie stated matter-of-fact. "He's lying in coma from a heart attack. I think I need to be there."
"No, Win." Eliza affirmed, "You stay. We'll be fine."
Why were they so hell bent on her remaining in Charlotte, away from them? And how was she supposed to get back on a plane without either of them?
"I can't just be here and not know what's going on. I want to be there for both of you."
Eliza shook her head, "Please, just stay. I've already talked Isaac into it. We both know how much it means to you being here."
Isaac gently squeezed her hand, "It wasn't an easy decision for me, love. I promise to update you as much as possible."
"You know I can't get on a plane alone?" Winnie reminded exasperatedly, "This doesn't make any sense. I'm coming back with you. Please don't fight me about it. "
"Okay, fine." Isaac surrendered, "I'm not going to argue with you. I'll book your flight. Just go get your things together, you and Liza."
No time was wasted as Winnie and Eliza headed toward the elevator to get to their suite. Eliza clearly wasn't in the mood for conversation as she strongly rejected Winnie's attempts to console her on the way inside.
"I'm so sorry, Liza. If there is anything I could…"
"You could stay here. That's what you want anyway." Eliza harshly interrupted, leaving Winnie standing in their shared space before walking swiftly into her room.
Winnie calmly followed behind, unsure of how to react. There was definitely some ulterior motive...like how she ended up with Isaac so early that morning.
Winnie folded her arms as Eliza began packing her belongings, not meeting her eyes
"I'm not staying in Charlotte, Liza. Why are you pushing me away?"
Eliza was throwing things in her suitcase left and right, still not looking at her best friend.
"I know you're upset about your dad. That's why I have to be there."
Eliza paused dramatically, her arms quickly darting up in exasperation, "Ugh No…you have to be here…with Jesse. That's where you want to be, right?"
Winnie reared back, slapped by Eliza's words, "Why would you say that? You and Isaac need me. That is important to me."
"Oh, please." Eliza spat, "You are clearly too wrapped up to care about my brother right now."
"Liza, I know it seems that way but…"
"No, Win. It is that way. It's been that way since he came back into your life a few days ago, besides…I saw him."
Winnie couldn't find her voice. She stood there in utter disbelief.
"I saw him when I left out to go to Isaac's room this morning. He was getting on the elevator with Miles…how could you, Winnie?"
"Eliza, listen…" Winnie stepped toward her, wanting to explain everything.
"Why was he here?" Eliza scrutinized her hands on her hips. Winnie didn't have to say it for Eliza to know. She was an open book.
"Please, you don't understand," Winnie pleaded.
"I understand completely. You do know that will devastate Isaac if he finds out."
A desperate sob wrecked through Winnie.
"I am so sorry…I planned on telling him everything today." She cried, "I've completely deceived him, but the last thing I want is to cause him any pain. I do care about him…You have to know that."
"Jesse is who you want to be with." Eliza affirmed quietly, ceasing her movements.
Winnie hesitantly nodded as she choked on another sob, unsure of what else to possibly say. She knew she had really screwed up things and wanted to fix them as best she could.
Eliza sighed heavily, raising her head before reaching her arm out to her friend, "Come here, Win."
Winnie gratefully fell into her embrace a tearful mess. Eliza guided her over to the bed so they could sit down.
"You should hate me. I deserve it." Winnie stated, dabbing her eyelids.
"I could never hate you. Besides I know you don't want to hurt him. However, you do have to deal with this and it's not going to be easy."
"Where do I begin?"
"I guess from when it all started. You have been in love with Jesse since day one. Why on earth would you ever agree to marriage to someone else, Win?"
"I had stupidly given up on Jesse." She rolled her eyes at her own stupidity, "I know I sound like a coward and very self-centered. I know that, but I was so sure I could move on. I love Isaac…I really do. I just thought I would eventually fall in love with him, but the love I have for Jesse...I know it surpasses a lifetime."
"Honestly, I think he's known this the entire time." Eliza breathed, "Don't get me wrong, he will be extremely disappointed and upset, but I think somewhere within him, he'll understand."
"I'm going to destroy him, Liza." Winnie admitted and put her hands to her face.
"Perhaps, but he'll also be free to let you go. Okay…so this is what you do," Eliza started confidently while removing Winnie's hands from her face, "Don't tell him anything until after we've gotten back home. I'm sure the wedding stuff is being pushed off with the planner anyway. Be as honest about your feelings as possible but you do not have to tell him Jesse spent the night and please don't mention Miles either."
Winnie's brow furrowed involuntarily, "What about Miles? What's going on with you guys? Are you like…together?"
Eliza sighed heavily, "Not at all. Miles is way too guarded about anything he feels. I'm not sure if a relationship is what either one of us needs."
"What do you want?" Winnie pressed.
"I want to know him and I get the impression he wants to know me…aside from the physical aspect, which he's resisting." She confirmed matter-of-factly, "He's not like the others. there is something else there…a connection or whatever you want to call it but he's like this huge mystery puzzle that I want to solve and I'm going to."
Winnie accepted Eliza's curiosity, but was afraid of just how far she would go to uncover the whole truth. "Well, you've gotten one big piece already in place. He confided in you about his family. That had to have been difficult for him."
"I guess I should tell him what's going on with my dad. I don't want to just leave abruptly with no explanation. He's probably going to think I'm running away, but that's the furthest thing from my mind...anyway back on the subject."
"I'll call Jesse and let him know we're leaving. I've really made a mess of things. Do you think he'll understand why I have to go…deal with this without him?"
"I really hope he does. I know you love him and you guys have started whatever this is. Just tell him to back off for now. He needs to keep his distance until you talk to Isaac anyway. He doesn't need to rush to New York and stir the pot even more.
Winnie was absolutely fortunate to have someone like Eliza in her life and knew she would never find anyone else like her as long as she walked the earth. She could take something so intricate and make it so simplistic. She selfishly wished Eliza would always be there with her, a lifelong friend, but knew it could never happen. No one else would have the opportunity to make the ultimate choice that she had to all those years ago.
"Come on," Eliza continued patting Winnie's leg, "let's pack our stuff. We have a plane to catch."
Winnie huffed, her eyes widening apprehensively.
Eliza rose to her feet pulling Winnie along with her and embraced her once more.
"It will be okay, Win." She reassured solemnly, "You'll be conquering much worse shortly."
Winnie's conscious struck her greatly at the irony that Eliza would be the one consoling her with her own father's life hanging in the balance. It was in that very moment that Winnie realized how completely selfish she truly was.
Restless hands weaved their way to hers as Winnie sat stiffened in her seat. What was meant to be a soothing gesture put her even more on edge. They had been in the air for just a few short minutes while her stomach was busy continuously tossing. She was downright repulsed with herself. She thought Eliza confronting her would somehow make things easier, but it only confirmed her worst fears were still yet to come.
Winnie didn't know it could be like that with someone, to completely lose yourself and feel like every fiber of your being was a live wire. She felt like she had flourished into a utopian future full of marvel and exhilaration and yet she was horrified all at the same time. Her fear had gone so far away it was as if it had been a distant memory. It was if her eyes were open wide for the first time in the last 100 years since she had first laid eyes on Jesse Tuck. However, the distaste of deceit of her actions was making her feel extremely ill. She was disgusted with herself for lying to him about the nature of her and Jesse's relationship and the feelings she had kept hidden about him.
"Winnie love? I can't feel my hand."
Isaac's words blurred, snapping her out of her reverie. She didn't realize she had grasped onto his hand so tightly.
"I'm sorry." She smiled hesitantly, "I can't wait to be back on the ground."
He swiftly leaned in and pressed a warm kiss to her temple. Winnie fought the urge to cringe against him. Ironically, the physical intimacy he was trying to exhibit was to reassure her that things would be okay. Sadly, Winnie felt that things would only worsen before they got better.
"I'm sorry we had to be so abrupt…" Isaac started.
"Please, don't apologize," she interrupted, "None of this is your fault. Your dad needs you and Liza. I just wish I could make things better for you somehow."
"You are, love. Just by being here with me. That's what marriage is all about. Making sacrifices for the one you love. I know it meant a lot to you to see them and yet here you are with me...on a plane. No questions asked."
Winnie caught a glimpse at Eliza from her peripheral vision who was sitting to her left. Her lips were pursed in a hard concerned line. Winnie knew she was trying to hold herself together. Eliza had an extremely close relationship with her father. She had fallen to pieces when he had his stroke several months before. The idea of not knowing if he would be the same tore at her heart. She had vowed to Winnie that she would spend more time with him.
Winnie placed her left hand atop Eliza's which were linked firmly together on her lap and somehow found the courage to put all of her fears aside and be there for her best friend who graciously accepted.
Isaac was immediately on the phone with their mother upon landing, hoping to determine their dad's recovery. Once Winnie had time to compose herself, she sent a hurried text to Jesse apologizing once again. His only response was that he loved her and to call as soon as she could. She hadn't told him about Eliza's confrontation or about her wanting him to stay in Charlotte even though she knew he was fighting the urge to follow her. There was this insane undeniable gravitation that was tugging at her and she knew she had to preoccupy herself or she would go mad.
Isaac rushed to get all of their belongings into his car, which he had left parked at the airport while they were away. The flight had lasted a little bit over two hours and they still had about two hours of drive time till they would make it to the hospital.
Tensions resonated throughout the car from every direction. In the five years she'd known them, Winnie had never seen Eliza and Isaac so distraught and upset. She had nothing to offer them, but hoped her being there was enough just as Isaac had said.
"I promise to make this up to you." Isaac intervened, cutting all Winnie's thoughts.
"Make what up to me?" Winnie asked hesitantly.
"Leaving Charlotte. I feel so terrible."
"Please, don't. What else was I to do, Isaac? I would not have been able to take being there without you or Liza, knowing your dad is in this condition."
"I know and...I didn't expect them, Mae and Tuck...to be so welcoming. I completely misjudged them."
"It's been years, but it's like no time has gone by." Winnie voice carried off, reminiscing aloud.
Isaac gave Winnie a look of appreciation behind his worried eyes and reached over to grasp her hand. She briefly caught Eliza's solemn face out of the corner of her eye and grasped Isaac's hand a little tighter. How could a touch feel so welcome and yet so foreign at the same time? She'd spent the last twenty months of her existence with Isaac and yet Jesse had waltzed back in just three days before, after so long of being away. It was as if their love for one another was not only timeless, but somehow surpassed time. How would she be able to help Isaac understand that? Would he only see her as a cheating, lying, and manipulative tramp?
The remainder of the car ride was unnervingly silent. Winnie couldn't help being inside of her own head, as every word and touch from the night before flooded her thoughts. She also blocked the twinge of regret that was fighting to wash over her at her carelessness. She had been so inexperienced and things escalated so quickly that she wasn't sure if her own curiosity and lust were to blame. Winnie couldn't hold her own actions against Jesse, regardless of the reasons they ended up physically connected. He had made his desire known to her aloud but she could have chosen to wait. Her eyes began to water involuntarily. She quickly swiped at her lid to remove any impending spillover. Like Eliza had said, this would not be the right time.
Once they arrived at the hospital, things paced rather quickly. As soon as Eliza saw her dad in the ICU connected to an abundance of machines, she immediately excused herself to cry in the hallway. Eliza's rapid departure only saddened their mother further until she too, was on the brink of having a breakdown. They were all politely escorted to the waiting area where Isaac embraced them both to keep them from falling over, whispering words of encouragement.
"I don't know what I would do if I lost him, Win. I couldn't bare it." Eliza sobbed into Winnie's shoulder, gearing into another crying spell.
"I know. I know." Winnie comforted, remembering her own dad, "He's going to wake up and be as good as new...we're going to get through this, okay? You, me, and...Isaac."
Isaac stood statuesquely, engaged in a deep medical conversation about Mr. Blanc's health with his doctor, getting as much information as he could. It wasn't until after Eliza and her mother calmed down were they allowed to see Mr. Blanc again. This time, they were a little more contained. Winnie watched as Mrs. Blanc sat at her husband's side and talked to him in a low voice.
Winnie hadn't actually been able to call Jesse to update him. He had seemed genuinely concerned when she informed him of Mr. Blanc's heart attack. Winnie carefully excused herself to the restroom once she realized it was approaching 8pm and visiting hours were about to end. Mrs. Blanc was the only one allowed to stay overnight and of course, she was not going to leave him alone.
Winnie quickly dialed Jesse, her heart and stomach fluttering intensely. She was anxious to hear his voice and realized she would never be able to go another day without hearing it again.
"I'm glad you called," Jesse breathed, "I was starting to wear a hole in the floor."
"I figured. I wanted to call sooner..." Winnie began softly, "It's been...difficult. Eliza could barely hold herself together earlier."
"How's everything looking? Do they know what caused it?"
"He was diagnosed with a coronary artery disease this past Winter and managed to keep it a secret. He wasn't taking his medication regularly. He was due to come in for a coronary angioplasty last month, but missed the appointment."
"That seems a little careless, considering." Jesse points out.
"We don't know his reasonings. The surgery was performed earlier this afternoon and he's being monitored very closely. It hasn't been determined if there is any damage to his brain." Winnie shuddered at that possible revelation, "They'll send him for an MRI first thing in the morning."
"I wish I could be there for you. How are you?" He inquired tenderly.
Winnie exhaled sharply, "I'm fine…"
"Is that the truth?"
"I don't...I don't really know." She redirected, "I have a lot to consider right now and it won't get figured out tonight."
"It's because of me, isn't it? I feel like I backed you into a corner..." Jesse's voice was laced with concern.
"Why would you say that, Jesse? This wasn't your fault. You're not the one who got engaged, remember."
"I showed up to your room...I didn't plan for that to happen last night, but I'm not sorry that it did." He admitted.
"I don't regret anything that happened with us. I'm so happy you're back in my life. You have no idea...you never really left. My only regret is that I didn't continue believing that."
"It's in the past. What matters is we found our way now...I'm with you every step of the way, Winnie. Forever remember?"
"I do wish you were here…"
Suddenly, the door to the bathroom was opened.
"Win, are you in here?" Eliza called, assumingly. "Visiting hours are almost over."
"..uh...yes," Winnie pressed her back firmly to the bathroom stall wall and closed her eyes in defeat, knowing she had been caught, "Sorry, I'll be right out."
The door swiftly closed, suggesting Eliza's exit. Winnie prayed that she hadn't upset her further.
"Was that Isaac?" Jesse asked after a short pause.
"No...Liza." Winnie confirmed, "I have to go. We're about to leave soon. I'm not really sure when I'll be able to call again. Just stay by your phone, okay?"
"Okay," Jesse agreed, "I'll stay up till you call. I love you, Winnie."
"I...I love you too, Jesse." She murmured earnestly
Winnie made her way back to the room where Eliza and Isaac were talking quietly to their mother.
"I'll bring you clothes in the morning," Eliza offered, embracing her mother.
"Thank you, sweetie. And Isaac, don't worry about the store for right now. Just make a sign informing customers that we are dealing with a difficult family matter and hope to reopen by the 1st of the month."
"Okay, mom." He acknowledged, pulling her in for a hug, "I love you. We'll see you in the morning."
Although, they had not grown close, Winnie took the opportunity to initiate a hug, showing her that she was there for support. "I'm here if you need anything, Mrs. Blanc."
"Thank you, Winnie. And...I think it about time we skip the formality. Call me Diane or mom, if you prefer." She corrected, patting Winnie's arm warmly.
Inside the car, Isaac suggested they grab take-out considering it had gotten so late. They hadn't eaten much since they left the airport in Charlotte. Isaac and Eliza agreed that staying the night at Winnie's would be best and would stop home in the morning to get some belongings for their mother.
After their hunger had been sated, Winnie began clearing away the remnants of their meal while Isaac's eyes bore into the bottom of an empty wine glass and Eliza sat motionless with her legs tucked underneath her. She hadn't said much during dinner, sitting in one of the arm chairs staring out the window into the woods while Isaac drank half his weight in red wine.
"I'm going to turn in, if that's alright." Eliza lightly stated, as Winnie crossed the room to sit next to Isaac who hadn't said much either.
"Okay, goodnight." Winnie replied evenly, "Let me know if you need anything."
"Night, Liza." Isaac retorted, briefly snapping out of his reverie.
Once Eliza retreated down the hall and to the guest room, Winnie coyly turned to Isaac.
"Can I get you anything?" She asked quietly. She was conscious that he had a little too much to drink, but didn't want to hold it against him in this strenuous time.
Isaac wasted no time stretching out his arm to pull Winnie close to him. Her immediate instinct was to evade, but fought to restrain herself no matter how intimate the exchange felt.
"I'm fine, love. I just need you." He breathed, pressing his lips to her hair.
He meddled playfully with her braid that was swept over her shoulder before growing bolder and placing his index finger beneath her chin.
Winnie sucked in a audible breath, frozen. The smell of his breath alone was intoxicating. She could not bring herself to lean into his obvious demand.
"Is something the matter?" Isaac inquired softly. His concerned eyes fought to meet Winnie's. "You've gone rigid."
She instantly felt like a complete idiot. She was supposed to be acting normal and to deny him a kiss would only do the exact opposite and raise alarm.
"...I just want everything to be okay." She whispered childishly.
"I have no doubt that it will be. I know we'll get through this..." He began, turning closer to Winnie who wasn't prepared for his next revelation.
"I want to run something by you, love. I know with what's going on with my dad, my mother will want to take a step back from spearheading our wedding plans and the last thing I want is for that to hinder us."
"Just tell me what you think." He swiftly intervened, "I cannot wait to marry you...How do you feel about moving up the date?"
Winnie's breath lapsed and she couldn't get oxygen to her lungs fast enough. In that moment, she knew what drowning felt like.
"Win, love…say something?"
She gulped so harshly, afraid that she'd choke on her confession the second she opened her mouth.
"...We've already mailed the save-the-date cards." Was all she could muster.
"That's not what I meant exactly...we can plan a wedding, but I want to marry you now."
What did he mean now?
"We can keep the date for everyone else to be a part of our union, but why can't we just...do it? I know it's not how we planned and we can have something simple and quaint. It doesn't have to be lavish. My mom thinks I want the whole big extravaganza for you...but I'd rather do it this way. You and me...Liza and my parents. You can even invite Mae and Tuck."
"You want to get married like...tomorrow?
Isaac chuckled boyishly, pulling at Winnie's heartstrings. She had never heard him laugh like that...ever.
"Maybe not tomorrow," He grinned widely, "Tuesday? It would be the first official day of summer."
Winnie's eyes glossed over in disbelief, "That's just nine days from now."
"I've been thinking about it since we boarded the plane home earlier. After we check on dad tomorrow morning, we can go to City Hall and apply for the license. I know Reverend Adams can officiate on short notice. I'm sure he won't mind."
"...I don't know what to say."
"Look, it is a lot to take in with everything that's happening. You don't have to decide tonight, Winnie. We can talk more in the morning." Isaac carefully reached forward to gently touch her cheek, pressing his forehead against hers, "...Right now, I just want this..."
Winnie made a conscious decision to slightly turn her head just as his lips were upon hers.
"I think you need to sleep off the wine." She expressed lightly, "We have to be at the hospital early."
"Okay, but only if I can sleep next to you, again?" He teased, edging closer allowing his thigh to press against hers.
"... just sleeping." She agreed apprehensively. She wasn't sure what exactly possessed her to approve of that.
The idea of being so close only made her feel nauseous. She couldn't imagine what Jesse would think. He wanted the charade to be over as soon as possible and wouldn't waste time letting Isaac know how he and Winnie felt about one another.
Isaac ascended the stairs ahead of Winnie, visibly eager to make it to her bedroom.
As soon as they crossed the threshold, Isaac began removing his shirt and pants while Winnie stood, looking away uncomfortably.
"It's okay for you to look." Isaac laughed, "I won't tell anyone."
"I think I'll go change in the bathroom. I kind of want to take a shower anyway."
Isaac extended his hand to catch hers before she could make it to her door.
"You smell so good. You don't need to."
"We've been on a plane and at the hospital all day."
"So what...I like the way you smell." He encouraged, "And I love the blush of your cheeks right now."
There was no denying the heat in her face. She knew it was present, but not for the reasons he thought.
"Why are you so shy, love? You don't have to be like that with me. We'll be married very soon." He reminded casually, moving toward her.
Before she could respond, his hand was at her waist.
"What if...I'm still not ready?" She stated under lowered eyelids, "It would be a lot faster than I intended and things are complicated right now."
"What's complicated about it," He asked firmly, "I love you. You love me...we're financially mature and we get along great. We can handle this."
Isaac's left hand was on her face attempting to draw her lips in as the other rested on the small of her back steadily dipping lower.
Winnie fidgeted trying to loosen his seemingly harsh grip on her.
"Isaac…we are not doing this."
"So, now I can't even kiss you." He challenged harshly, "I'm not trying to have sex with you, Winnie."
Winnie reared back, offended. She knew that she had no right to be. Isaac wasn't asking anything obscene of her.
"You know what? I don't understand you." He expressed aggravated. "You're hot one minute and cold the next. The other day at the airport you were ready to jump my bones in the car."
"...I was saying goodbye." She reminded, "I thought I wouldn't see you for days."
"I feel like you're giving me mixed signals." He accused anxiously, moving toward her.
She shook her head uneasily, taking her clothing out of her suitcase, "I'm not doing this right now."
"Why not?" He quickly countered. "We can't even have a discussion?"
Winnie tried desperately to keep her eyes from glossing over. "It's late...and you're drunk."
"...That's not the point. I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you."
"Well...I'd rather have this conversation while you're sober." Winnie deflected, under her breath, "I'm going in the bathroom now."
Regardless of how important it was to tell Isaac about her and Jesse, it was best to wait until they were both in a more calm state. She had to have full control of the situation.
Once inside the bathroom, Winnie started her shower. She was careful to disguise her cell phone under her clothes as she left her bedroom.
"Hey, you…" Jesse began yawning.
"Hi. Sorry it took so long. Were you sleeping?" Her voice was low and she hoped that Jesse could still hear her with the water running in the background.
"...I must have. I was dreaming you were here with me."
"I would love that...The second I can, I'll be there."
"Hopefully, sooner rather than later. Have you thought about how you're going to break it to him?"
"I'm struggling with the 'when' part. I can't continue countering his advances. It's already putting him in a sour mood.
"What do you mean his advances?" Jesse voice perked up, "Has he tried something?"
"No...no. Not at all. It's nothing more than usual," Winnie answered quickly, in a hushed tone. "We had dinner. Eliza has been really quiet and so has he. I know this is really heavy on their minds. He'd drank a couple glasses of wine. He normally wouldn't have, but…"
"But what?" Jesse interrupted anxiously.
"Jesse...please cut him some slack. He's unaware that anything is going on. He only tried to kiss me and I told him to back off in so many words. This was after he informed me that he wants to move the wedding date."
"Unbelievable.." Jesse breathed, "Of course he does. You really need to tell him, Win."
"I know. I will...I have to. He wants to get married nextTuesday."
"Excuse me?" Jesse questioned, "This upcoming Tuesday? What the hell is wrong with this guy?"
"Can you blame him?"
"...Yeah, I can. You need to tell him. This can't continue a day longer. Or were you planning on waiting until 'I do'?"
"Okay, I'm sorry." He apologized, "that wasn't fair, but what did you expect from me. This whole thing has gotten me on edge. I really should be there."
"Jesse, please...don't do that."
"Why not? I can get a flight tonight and be there early tomorrow morning."
"I don't want you to do that. Just let me handle it, okay?"
After reassuring Jesse that she didn't need him for reinforcements, they declared their love and she continued getting ready for bed.
Isaac was fast asleep on her bed when she returned for which she was grateful.
Winnie wasn't exactly tired. In fact, she felt so wired with the impending confrontation that she knew would be happening within the next 24 hours.
She decided to put the kettle on for tea to help her relax. She was taken aback to see Eliza awake sitting at the kitchen island with a cup in her hand.
"I couldn't sleep." Eliza commented as Winnie entered.
"Neither could I," She agreed.
"Yeah, he's out like a light considering…" Winnie voiced, taking a seat across from Eliza, "he wants to move up the wedding date."
Eliza nodded, "I know. I heard you guys. You should tell him. I know I said to wait, but it's getting out of hand."
"Yeah…" Winnie consented, under lowered eyelids. "When?"
"Honestly, it doesn't matter at this point. The last thing you want is to continue sneaking off to the bathroom so you can call your lover."
"Are you angry with him?"
"Who Jesse? ...How could I be? He's a great guy who is so in love with you."
"You have every right to be angry with me."
"I'm not angry at anyone, Winnie." Eliza confirmed, staring her in the eye, "Life is too short. You've been a great friend to me...mostly."
"You've been an amazing friend to me, Liza. I'm very grateful for you...you're more understanding than I deserve."
"Listen, Win…" Eliza began carefully, "I'm the last person to pass judgement on anyone for what they do and who they are doing it with. I've trusted you with a lot of things about me and you're the closest friend that I've ever really had. Though your secret has to do with my brother, I really do get it."
A tense feeling gripped at Winnie's chest at Eliza's revelation. They have had their differences and quirks within their friendship, but Winnie thought of Eliza as her family. She realized what a shame it was that she couldn't be completely honest with her about everything. However, it wasn't just her secret to tell. Maybe Miles was sensing something within Eliza and wanted to be the one to spill the beans. Why else would he even mention his family or entertain her company?
The smell of bacon jolted Winnie awake. Once her eyes adjusted, she realized she had fallen asleep huddled on the couch in the living room. She glanced down at the other end expecting to see her best friend, but only the bunched up throw blanket remained in her place.
She followed the smell into the kitchen and Eliza stood at the island counter of the stove preparing a simple breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast.
"Hey, sleepy head." She greeted, turning the eggs around in the pan, "I squeezed some OJ if you want to grab it out of the fridge."
"...I think I'm still dreaming." Winnie whispered, teasing. "There is no way you are actually in my kitchen cooking a meal right now."
Winnie moved toward the small island and took a seat, glancing over at the microwave to catch the time.
"Liza, it's almost eight." Winnie pointed out, "Why didn't you wake me?
"I figured we could have a decent breakfast before walking into God-knows-what at the hospital."
"Don't you want to know what's going on with your dad? He should be in for his MRI right now."
"My mom called me a half an hour ago because Isaac had missed her call. They are not taking him in until ten. So, we have time. Besides, I'm not in a rush to see him like that."
"You can't avoid it. We should be there with your mom."
"She's okay, Win. Just go wake Isaac so we can all eat together. This may be the last meal between the three of , I think you should talk to him."
"You think I should tell him this morning?" Winnie questioned timidly.
"Yes, before we leave for the hospital. He's going to ask you again about getting married now. Just get it over with. The longer you wait…" Eliza trailed off dismally, sitting a plate in front of her.
"I know…" Winnie sighed, lowering her gaze.
"I'll be right here with you, okay?"
Winnie dragged her feet walking up the stairs to her bedroom.
She heard soft snoring before she made it into the room and cautiously nudged the door to walk inside.
Isaac's phone sat face up on her nightstand blinking, indicating he had a missed call.
Walking over to him, she raked over his sleeping face and couldn't deny his handsomeness. Even if he didn't have her heart, Winnie would miss seeing his smile and the way he would light up when she would enter a room. He would no longer call her love, when speaking to her if he ever talked to her again.
There was no reaction from him as she took a seat next to his lying figure.
His breath was heavy and he looked so vulnerable. She couldn't stop from thinking how happy he had made her and how he would do the same for another woman one day.
Winnie touched his hair lightly, leaning over him.
"Isaac...Isaac wake up." She murmured, stroking his hair.
He stirred at the physical contact more than anything and peaked one of his eyes open.
"Hi, love." He gave her a lazy smile, reaching up to touch her face.
"Hi...there's breakfast." She patted his hand gently that rested on her cheek and pulled him up, " Come on."
"What time is it?" He asked particularly, looking around for a clock.
"It's okay. Liza already spoke to your mom. Your dad is having his MRI at ten o'clock now. Let's eat first and then we'll go from there."
He followed her downstairs into the kitchen, also making a snarky comment about Eliza's cooking, or lack thereof.
"You could have woke me, Liza." Isaac commented, digging into his breakfast hungrily.
"Mom said everything was fine." Eliza challenged, " Dad's vitals are strong and if everything looks normal with his MRI, they'll start trying to bring him out of the coma Wednesday."
"Isaac….please slow down before you choke." Winnie reprimanded.
"I don't know why I feel like I'm starving," he countered taking a swig of orange juice, "Other than that, I feel pretty rested. How'd you sleep?"
"Fine," Winnie replied, "...um...when we're finished, do you mind taking a quick walk with me before we go to the hospital?"
Winnie assumed that Isaac was anticipating picking up on their last conversation. However, he had no clue of how far away they were on the spectrum of things.
"Sure," He agreed, as he raised his glass to take a drink.
Eliza's eyes drew from Winnie to Isaac and then back to Winnie again. "Well, I'm going to get changed. I'll clean all this up when I'm done, Win."
Winnie nodded uneasily as she watched Eliza leave their presence.
"You seem tense." Isaac pointed out evenly as Winnie fought to meet his eyes. "Did you tell Liza about what we discussed last night?"
"She heard us talking about it. I would like to talk more out in the woods if that's alright?"
"Okay," He accepted nonchalantly, "After you Miss Foster."
Stepping out on the porch, Winnie immediately felt ill. Her stomach was turning in the most uncomfortable manner and she fought the urge to vomit right there. She knew without a doubt that ending things with Isaac would be the hardest thing she would ever have to do.
Isaac fell into step with her as she led the way through the all too familiar woods of her family land. Winnie crossed her arms over herself in anticipation. She had no real idea of how exactly she was going to say what she needed to say, but realized that over thinking it would only make it worse.
"We've been walking for a couple of minutes," Isaac finally spoke, "You haven't said anything."
"We're almost there." She confirmed, slowing her pace.
"Where I need to be...to tell you everything you need to know."
Isaac's footsteps began to falter and he reach out to catch Winnie's shoulder, "Love, what is…?"
"I need to explain something to you," She interrupted firmly, attempting to look him in the eye, " But I need to ask you a question..."
He shrugged hesitantly, his eyebrows raised in curiosity.
"Have you ever been in love prior to me?"
"What kind of question is…" He began hastily.
"Please," She intervened softly, "Just answer the question."
"Yes, I suppose so. I may have thought I was in love at the time, but I know what that really means now. Why are you asking me this, Winnie?"
"...It's just...it's not that simple. You don't fall out of love with someone because you've found another person you may want to marry. It doesn't mean you loved that other person any less."
Isaac's eyes narrowed tentatively as he took in a sharp breath, "Why do I have the feeling we're not really talking about me?"
"I can't...I can't marry..." She choked on her words and gulped to catch her breath.
Before she could even completely get the sentence out of her mouth, his hands flew to the sides of her face.
"I love you know matter what. If I need to wait to give you time, I'll do that."
"...I'm in love with Jesse." She declared, failing to meet his eyes.
Isaac immediately registered her words for he steadied his finger beneath her chin to bring her eyes to his.
"Winnie, do you have any clue what you're saying? How can you be in love with him?
She somberly turned her head to be out of his grasp and breathed, "I'm sorry."
Isaac stared beyond her, his eyes full of confusion, "You tell me you're in love with another guy and all you have to say about is that you're...sorry."
"I wish I could give you this long drawn out explanation full of reasons, but…"
"Then, tell me," He interrupted harshly, his brow furrowed. He folded his arms and shisted his weight, "I want to hear it all because I don't understand. He literally came back four days ago, Winnie...four? Had you been in contact with him this whole time."
"No, I promise you that. I hadn't seen him in years...my feelings, the love for him I have has never gone away."
"Promise? You agreed to marry me and to love me for the rest of our natural lives...that was a promise and clearly, it was a lie."
"It's the truth," She cried, "I stopped expecting him to come back after so long and buried my feelings. I couldn't help that I ended up caring about you."
"Am I really suppose to believe that?" He spat sarcastically.
"I do care about you, Isaac."
"I don't understand how you could do something like this if you do" He disagreed, "...I've been with you this entire time, why choose now?
"I was planning to tell you back in Charlotte, but then your dad..."
"Don't you dare make this about him!" He rubbed his face angrily across his face, "I want to know when you decided it was Jesse? Three mornings ago, I stood in your bedroom doorway and you told me you felt nothing for him, that you were over him. You told me he...no longer mattered."
Winnie's heart quickened ten fold and her mind went all but numb. She couldn't possibly tell him that she had slept with Jesse, regardless of how she felt about him. It would be too much for Isaac. Although, she couldn't begin to imagine him being any angrier at her. Still, she somehow knew whatever gentleness he had once felt for her would be forever erased. And she knew she deserved it.
"Say something!" He shouted after a short while, causing her to flinch involuntarily. "You don't get to be the one who is heartbroken by this. You've been lying to me our entire relationship."
"I won't apologize for loving him...or you." She expressed boldly, taking a step closer to him, "It's happened and it can't be undone. And I don't want it to be."
Winnie stared up in his disheartened eyes and wanted so badly to reach for him.
Isaac took a measure step back from her and huffed exasperatedly, "I've spent the last six years of my life wanting you...how is it even possible that you feel like this? Was it the night I arrived, when he dropped you off at the hotel?"
"I've felt like this since before I can remember. I've never not loved him."
"And what about him?" He asked abruptly in a lowered tone. "Did you tell him all this?"
"Was it that night? You were wearing his jacket...Is that why you didn't want me to give you the engagement ring?"
"He only drove me back to the hotel that night, but he made his feelings known right away."
"Did he kiss you?" He asked flatly, his voice finally lowered to a semi-normal decibel, "...has he kissed you at all?"
She slowly nodded her head, dropping her gaze to the ground. She only hoped he wouldn't press any further, but knew he wouldn't give her the satisfaction.
His face read several different emotions all at the same time as he planted himself firmly to the ground and pulled his knees in.
"When?" He challenged, looking up at her and narrowing his eyes, "I want to know...I want you to say it."
"Isaac, it won't make it any easier."
"I know that, Winnie? I want to know what you have been doing because you have been avoiding any physical contact from me like the plague since we got back. When?"
She knew it would be worse to lie if he asked her a direct question. "...during brunch you'd left to go upstairs to change."
"Unfreakinbelievable...right up under my nose? Really?"
"It wasn't planned. I swear." Winnie dropped to sit at his side, "I never intended to hurt you, Isaac. If you're going to believe anything, please believe that."
"I don't. How can I believe anything you say?"
"I can't force you…"
"I've waited for you. I never once pressured you. I've respected you. I've loved you." His voice broke as he continued pouring his heart out, as he gestured all his feelings with his hands, "Then you do this to me...All the while, I'm thinking of Eliza and what she could possibly get into and worrying about her and... The whole time it was you...you're just going to go be with him now, is that it?"
"I'm not going anywhere until I know your dad is going to be okay." She vowed.
"You don't get to do that. Disrupt and blow up our plans, move on to someone else, then pretend you care. You can save it. I don't need or want you there."
"I want to be there. If not for you, then for...Eliza."
"Eliza doesn't have a say about this. My parents won't want you there."
"Please don't," She pleaded, "I know I have no right, but I do care about all of you, even if you don't believe me."
"So, you can just run off to be with him? How exactly does that work?"
"I can't be without him…"
"Yeah and how long will you make him hold out?" He sneered, "You feel so strongly for him in only four days time..."
Winnie cringed as his words deeply struck a nerve within her. She knew she'd hurt him to his core, but he didn't have to be verbally attack her in the manner her had. Granted, she had given herself to Jesse completely and freely as Isaac knowingly implied. However, it wasn't something she wanted to confirm to him in this moment. She had loved Jesse with her whole heart for a century. She couldn't allow anyone, even Isaac to make her feel bad about doing so.
"Thinking about you being with him...it makes me sick." He muttered, dropping his head to his knees.
"All I can do is apologize for hurting you. I won't apologize for loving him, but I'm sorry I've made you feel this way."
"I've never so much as looked at another woman like that since I've been with you...not even once. Do you know that? You have no idea how this feels. Then, for you to just…"
"I know...I know. I've been very selfish and cruel. I should have had the decency to tell you how I felt initially. I hate that I've done this to you."
"I need to get out of here. I can't...I can't even look at you. You are not the woman I fell in love with. I have no idea who you are."
"I deserve that." She agreed feebly, " I really hope you can find an ounce of forgiveness one day for what I've done and how I've made you feel towards me. If you can't, then I'll have to live with that for the rest of my life."
"Please, don't come to the hospital...I don't want to further upset my mother and you being there will only anger me and I will not take this out on her. I'll have Eliza check in with you about my dad. You and I, our contact ends here...I don't want to know you. I don't want to know how you are. I just want to forget you...You're no one to me, okay?"
"That's really awful," Winnie muttered, under lowered eyelids, "but I won't contact you if you don't want me to."
"I don't...I mean it."
"What about contacting everyone…"
"I'll handle it." He snarled abruptly, "They are my family and friends anyway."
Isaac didn't so much as take another glance at Winnie as they returned to her house. Eliza was standing out on the porch, her eyes questioning as Isaac approached with Winnie quite a distance behind him.
Just as soon as Eliza was about to open her mouth to speak, Winnie witnessed Isaac shoot her a threatening glance.
"Do not talk about her….ever." His voice was chilled as he pointed his finger out behind him at Winnie.
Eliza quickly folded her arms and again he caught her before she could respond.
"Do not argue with me about it, Eliza. I don't want to hear of her. Understand? I can't tell you who to be friends with, but I would be very cautious around her. Nothing but lies has come out of her mouth."
Winnie flenched, meeting Eliza's concerned eyes from the bottom of the steps.
"You're being ridiculous, Isaac. She didn't commit a crime. And you're right...I'll be friends with whoever I want."
"I have half a mind to exile you from my life for condoning such nonsense. I'm sure you've known of everything that she has been doing. Grab your things, please. Mom is waiting for us."
Eliza pursed her lips and huffed loudly, "I'll call you in a bit, Win." She turned to follow Isaac into the house.
"Okay," Winnie squeaked, almost inaudible. Isaac's words and tone were cutting much more deeper than any knife that could penetrate her skin.
Winnie cautiously watched Isaac rush up her staircase, possibly to change his clothes and grab anything he may have left up there.
Eliza grabbed her duffel bag that she had brought in with her the prior night and stood at the front door with Winnie to wait for Isaac.
"Just give him some time, Win." Eliza coaxed tenderly, pulling her in for a quick hug, "He can't be like that forever."
"I'm sorry if I have caused any strain on your relationship with him. You shouldn't have had to keep my secret."
"We'll be okay." Eliza reassured, pulling away. "Was he really mean to you?"
"I don't want to talk about it." Winnie remarked callously, "I deserve everything he said."
"Eliza, so help me if you are not ready…" Isaac called from the top of the staircase.
His sister mockingly joined her hand to her hip, elevating her gaze to meet his, "Don't tell me you're going to start being an ass now?"
They both heard him scoff angrily as he rushed down the stairs to the door, throwing his bag over his shoulder.
He coldly pushed past Winnie without so much as a fleeting glance, "Let's go. We're already late."
Winnie signed heavily, holding back the tears that were caught at her lower lid. Eliza sneered at the back of her brother's head, clearly disgusted.
"Liza, please don't worry about it. Just go. Call me when you find out what's going on."
"You don't deserve to be treated like you're non-existent."
"It's fine." Winnie breathed, "I can't understand the betrayal he feels. If he remains like this towards me forever...it would be too soon. Though, I do hope he will forgive me eventually."
"I personally believe you both are being slightly dramatic, but...I get."
"Liza!" Isaac yelled from the car, "Let's go. Now."
Winnie reached out to touch her friend's arm,"Just be understanding of him, Liza. This is a big deal."
"Okay…" Eliza stated, rolling her eyes, "I'll talk to you later."
Immediately after her ex-fiance's departure she was fighting to dial Jesse, tears flowing like an endless stream down her face. She knew she should have felt relieved, but she found no comfort in what had just transpired.
"I miss you." She sobbed, fiercely into the line.
"Winnie, darling..." Jesse soothed softly, his voice was laced with concern. "Why are you so upset?"
"I really hurt him, Jesse. I didn't think I could feel any worse but this...he hates me."
"Shhh, it's going to be okay. The worst of it is over. We both knew it would be very hard for him. Just take a deep breath. I wish I had been there."
"I can't blame him. He feels like I betrayed him and I have. "
"I'm sorry you were put in such a compromising position and I'll take responsibility for that as well. Just tell me what happened? I really don't like hearing you like this. "
Winnie took her time relaying the details of her and Isaac's breakup. Jesse chimed in with comforting words when she would begin to lose control of her breathing in an attempt to calm herself.
"If you need me, just say it." Jesse vowed, "I can be there tonight."
"I would love that, but somehow...this town doesn't feel big enough for all of us just yet. I should come to you, but I want to make sure that Mr. Blanc is okay. I need to be here for Liza."
"When will she call you?"
"Soon, I hope." She stated shakily, "They should be there by now."
"I'm breaking my promise about not ever letting you go again."
"It's not your fault. I made you break it."
"Winnie, you are not to blame for everything that happens. Why do you find fault in yourself ? Granted, I could have handled things better with us...I didn't have to be so agreeable."
"It was my actions that brought us to this point to begin with."
Jesse disagreeably sighed, "They were brought on by something I did or rather, didn't do. It was because I waited too long. I won't ever forgive myself for that. It's the cause of everything."
"I do get why you thought you had to wait...I only wish there would have been a way for me to tell you that I would have been perfectly satisfied just being with you. I've never needed or wanted anything else. I had everything I could possibly ever want or need, except you.
"Listen, Winnie. There's still things we should discuss with one another about ourselves. I feel like we're just beginning to touch the surface in so many words. I want to know everything about you now."
Winnie chuckled in spite of her unsettling morning, and the tears that had been present on her cheeks were quickly fading, "Jesse Tuck, are you asking me out?"
"Absolutely." He confirmed brightly, "We've never actually had a 'real' date."
"I think we're a little bit past that, don't you?" She countered softly.
Jesse laughed earnestly, "That maybe true, but that too is a promise I made to you."
She leaned her head curiously as she walked the steps to her bedroom. She was certain he was smirking on the other end, "You never promised to take me out."
"I think offering to show you around Paris, qualifies as taking you out." He stated matter-of-fact,
"That's taking me clear across the Atlantic Ocean." She gasped.
"Winnie, you have been so brave these last few days." He encouraged, "Why stop now? You're on a roll."
She could barely gather her words. The thought of touring the most romantic city in the entire world with the love her existence caused a stutter in her chest
Her phone line beeped, indicating she had another call waiting.
"Jesse, this is probably Liza. Hold that thought."
It wasn't Eliza's voice that she heard breaking into a convulting cry.
"...He's gone...My dad, Winnie...oh god." Isaac choked, before spiraling into a fretful repetitive bawl.
Her body tensed on its own accord and she held the phone to her ear for dear life. She tried to make out the distressed voices and chaos in the background that she heard, but Isaac's gasping kept her frozen completely in fear as he forced the word 'brain-dead' harshly out of his mouth.
One moment slowly turned to another, she had no real clue of what would happen. She only knew she had to try. After she composed her thoughts and forced her brain to communicate with her legs, she raced faster than she ever had out to the woods that guarded the eternal Spring.