A/N: This is an uber-long chapter. Be prepared with a stash of snacks. Ration appropriately.
All's Fair in Love and War
Emily's heart fluttered in a panic. There was a strange dark vortex swirling in her field of vision. The floor felt like a pool of quicksand dragging her into its deadly undertow. It didn't feel real. She grabbed the arm of the couch for support, just to prove to herself that she wasn't going to drown. She dug her fingers into the fabric, gripping it like it was her only tether to reality.
Her eyes darted between Isaac and Alison. His eyes were fixed on her belly in concentration. She could see him trying to calculate it in his head. His brow furrowed as his face stiffened. He pushed his lips out and started to say something, but all that came out was a muttered noise that wasn't a word in the English language.
She glanced down and saw the tea that she'd spilled all over the floor, but she was too fixated on her ex-boyfriend to care.
Alison looked between them, panicked. She felt the impulsive desire to slam the door in his face and help Emily plot an elaborate escape. She started to push the door closed, but Isaac shoved his foot in front of it and held his hand up to keep it from slamming shut.
"Emily?" The look on his face had morphed into a twisted pained expression.
God, don't look at me like that. She couldn't stand it. She'd betrayed him. And now he knew it.
"Isaac, what are you doing here?"
He stepped forward, pushing past Alison. The blonde huffed angrily at him. She wanted to protect her girlfriend, but she didn't know how.
"This…it's not what it looks like."
"So you're not keeping my kid a secret from me?" His nostrils flared.
Alison took a protective stance immediately. She put herself between Isaac and Emily. She narrowed her eyes, daring him to come closer. If he wanted to get to Emily he'd have to go through her first.
"You don't get to barge in here and make assumptions about anything." Alison clenched her jaw.
"Ali, don't…" Emily gently reached out for her arm.
"How do you even know the baby is yours?" She snapped.
"Because I know my girlfriend…"
"Ex." Alison growled.
"She can't lie to me." Isaac replied. His hands were shaking, but he kept his composure. He took a breath and looked at Emily. "We need to talk." Then he faced Alison. "You mind giving us some privacy?"
Alison felt a flash of anger surging over her. This was Emily's house. Emily was her girlfriend. Isaac had ruined their evening. He was making Emily uncomfortable. He was rude and selfish for coming by without calling, especially on Valentine's Day.
Emily had told him she was dating someone. Had he just assumed he could come by and try to steal her away from her love? What a dick move.
"I'm not going anywhere. This is her house." Alison sneered. "You don't get to show up and boss her around…"
"He's right," Emily said. Her tone was unwavering, but her eyes were full of fear and doubt.
She knew the talk was long overdue. She had waited too long. She had lied to him for too long.
Alison peered at Emily, a sting of hurt on her face. Was Emily choosing him over her? Or was she just so blinded by the shock that she couldn't see what he was doing? He was manipulating her feelings.
The blonde wasn't sure if it was jealousy or if her protective instincts were on overdrive, but she couldn't fight the nagging sensation that there was something more to Isaac's visit. What if the torture had been Isaac all along? What if it was his plan to come at Emily when she was most vulnerable? What if his plan was to get her alone and then strike when she was least expecting it?
"No. No way." Alison glared at the boy and then looked at Emily. "I'm not leaving you to deal with this alone."
"Alison, go." Emily's voice was gruff and commanding. It caught Alison off-guard. It was a tone that she had never heard before. "Go home."
"Em, what if he…" She trailed off.
Emily shook her head, cutting her off. She knew exactly what Alison was thinking. But she knew in her heart that Isaac wouldn't hurt her.
"Let me handle it," Emily said.
"Handle it?" Isaac shook his head, laughing darkly. "Everything we had. This…" He pointed to her stomach, "…and I'm just something that needs to be 'handled'?"
"No. Of course not." Emily turned towards him sympathetically.
Emily knew she shouldn't be shocked by his hostility, but it still hurt. Because he was Isaac. And she was Emily. And they'd never had a fight in their lives.
She didn't know why she cared so much. He wasn't a part of her life anymore. Except that he always would be. Not just because he'd given her her daughter, but because he'd played an important role in her life. Her journey of self-discovery had started long before she met him. But that didn't mean she didn't love him. They had memories. They had a friendship that Emily wouldn't trade for the world. She'd loved him. Just not in the right way. And those feelings and memories weren't just null and void because they weren't together anymore.
What they'd had was real. It just wasn't love.
"Why would you hide this from me?" Isaac's voice cracked, and with it, a little piece of Emily's heart shattered.
"I don't understand." He shook his head and started pacing. "This is…it's…" He looked nauseated. "I feel like I'm going to pass out."
"Just…breathe." Emily motioned for him to sit down, reaching for his arm to steady him.
"Don't fucking tell me to breathe!" He jerked away from her.
It shocked her. His behavior was nothing like the Isaac that she knew.
"Don't talk to her like that." Alison snarled defensively.
"I can take care of myself." Emily glanced at Alison over her shoulder.
She was glaring at the blonde. She thought her presence might be making it worse, though she didn't want Alison to feel like that. She didn't want her to feel like an added burden. She turned her attention back to Isaac, who seemed like he was having a panic attack. She had never in her life seen him panic.
"Calm down…" Emily said warily.
"Calm down?" He laughed cynically. "You up and leave my life without telling me that you're having a baby…our baby…and you want me to calm down? What were you thinking? I would have done anything for you, Emily. If I had just known…"
"Then what? I still had to move away."
"I could have done something!" He raised his voice. "Instead you turned me into one of those deadbeat dads whose babies grow up hating them."
"I would never…" Emily gawked. "I would never let this baby think poorly of you."
"What exactly did you have planned for when you started getting the question 'where's my daddy?' You have something in line for that? Were you just going to show up on my doorstep one day? Or worse…just find some second-rate daddy-wannabe to be my kid's father figure? Who does that?"
"Listen, I want to have this conversation with you, but I have been through a lot these past few months." More than he could ever imagine. More than she could tell him. She wanted to reach for Alison's hand. She wanted to find comfort in the heat of the moment, but she knew Isaac was slowly coming unhinged. She needed to get him to settle down. "If you want to talk it's going to be best for both of us and the baby to...Calm. The. Fuck. Down."
"Sure. Just give me a few minutes to reconcile that I have a child on the way." He made a strange noise, his chest spasming as he gulped back a weird gurgle. "I just…I don't understand." Tears were glistening in his eyes. "You made me a statistic. An absent father." His jaw was rigid. "How did you know I wouldn't want to be a dad? It's just ridiculous…that you…" He clutched his fists. "You had no right to hide this from me!"
He was mid-rant when something in his face changed. He reached up and gripped his temples with his knuckles like he had a sudden blinding headache. A rolling wave of dizziness seemed to overtake him. He grabbed the back of the couch and lowered his head. His adam's apple bobbed.
"Isaac?" Emily asked in uncertainty. It looked like he was about to faint.
"I'm fine. I think I just…" He swallowed hard. His face twisted into a look of discomfort. "Bathroom?" He slapped his hand over his mouth.
Emily had barely pointed him in the direction of the bathroom before he'd taken off. He disappeared, slamming the door behind him. Seconds later they heard him retching.
Alison danced on her feet, balancing on one foot and then the other as she looked between the bathroom and the front door.
"I don't like him being here…" Alison frowned.
"You think I'm happy about it?" Emily huffed. She was still in disbelief.
"I don't want to go. I don't want him here with you alone. I don't even want him in there unsupervised…" He could be doing all kinds of things.
"He's blowing chunks…"
Alison looked skeptical.
"What do you think is wrong with him?" Alison asked.
"Sympathy nausea?" Emily was trying to keep her wits, but Alison could hear the terror in her tone. "He…uh…he gets queasy when he's mad."
"It sounds like he's fucking raging right now." Which just reaffirmed her decision about leaving Emily alone. "I'll stay if you want me to." She touched the brunette's hand.
"I've put this off for too long." There was a distant look on Emily's face. "I owe him this conversation…just the two of us."
Everyone knew. All of her friends knew. But Isaac was still in the dark. It was a terrible feeling. She saw the determined look on Alison's face, and she knew it wasn't going to be easy getting her to leave.
"Ali, I love you," she said quietly. "But this is something I have to do on my own."
Alison frowned. She understood, but she still didn't like the idea.
"Are you going to tell him?" She peered over Emily's shoulder.
"Pretty sure he's already figured it out." Emily snorted sarcastically.
"I meant about us." She pressed her body against Emily's, gripping both of her hands.
"Yes. But one thing at a time." She touched her stomach.
Alison followed her motions, slipping her palm underneath Emily's tank top. She wanted the baby to know that no matter what happened, she would always be there. She felt a flutter of motion. Alison and Emily exchanged quiet smiles.
"I'll be right outside." Alison pecked her lips.
"I don't want you catching a cold. Please just go home. I'll call you. I promise."
"I swear if he does anything to you…"
"You have my permission to murder him horribly." Emily nodded, trying to calm her down.
How had she ended up in the middle of her ex-boyfriend and her girlfriend and somehow taking care of both of them?
Alison sighed. She knew she couldn't change Emily's mind. She looked at the door hesitantly, then she looked back at Emily.
"You sure you don't want me to hide in the closet with a very large stick?"
Emily shook her head with a soft laugh and then leaned forward and pressed a delicate kiss against her lips.
"Just be careful." Alison leaned her forehead against Emily's and put her palm against her stomach again. The only thought running through her head was "my girls".
Alison left without a fight. She paused on the front porch. She'd promised Emily she'd go home, but it was so hard to leave her, especially with a temperamental ex-boyfriend.
Normally, Emily would have walked her home, but she was too swept up in the shock of seeing Isaac again. She walked towards the bathroom door.
"Isaac?" She lightly rapped on the door. "You okay?"
"I just need a few minutes." His voice sounded distorted because his head was nearly in the toilet.
Emily went into the kitchen to make him something to settle his stomach. Alison had already brewed some tea, but half of it was soaking into the carpet. Her mother was going to have a heart attack.
She grabbed the empty tea kettle and turned the sink on. She stared at the water flowing out of the faucet. She watched as the water splashed against the shiny stainless steel.
She was trying to wrap her mind around the fact that her ex-boyfriend was in her house. And he knew about the baby. The look of betrayal on his face had almost been too much to bear. He'd always had the most expressive eyes. She could see everything in them. And his grief had been tangible.
Emily thought about one of the last times she'd seen Isaac. It was a memory she'd tried to bury. But she'd never be able to forget the look on his face when she broke his heart. It was raw and visceral. She'd actually been able to pinpoint the exact moment his heart had shattered.
She had seen a slight quiver in his lip. He'd tried to hide his emotions, but he couldn't hide from her. And she didn't deserve to be spared his pain. Because she'd led him on. She deserved to see what she'd done to him. His anguish was almost enough to stop her from going through with it, but she knew it wasn't fair to him. And she'd already made a deal with his parents.
She'd wanted privacy, but his parents had already banned her from his house, and she didn't want to do it at her house. Instead, they'd gone for a walk at a trail at a campsite near Isaac's house.
o ~ O ~ o
It was uncharacteristically cool for a summer day. Storm clouds were moving in, which Emily found painfully ironic given the circumstances. They'd walked in silence, Isaac taking in the beauty of nature while Emily squirmed internally about what she was about to do.
The thunder was rumbling in the distance. Every so often a stray droplet of rain would fall around them. Emily could hear the crunching sounds of their boots crushing the sticks and leaves and rocks below them. Her cargo shorts made a swishing sound as they trekked on the trail. She could hear animals scurrying around in front of them. And behind them. Emily kept looking back, but she never saw anything.
Halfway through their walk Isaac picked up on Emily's nerves. He'd faced her in concern and asked if she was okay.
That's when she'd blurted out that they needed to talk. Then everything had come pouring out of her. He'd just stood there shell-shocked and listened. After she'd told him she wanted to break up the woods around them were completely silent. She heard a twig snapping in the distance, but she didn't dare turn her gaze away from Isaac.
"Where is this coming from?" he'd stared at her in disbelief.
He'd been in such deep denial about the fact that she was drifting away.
"We're just not working."
"But I love you." He'd reached for her hand, but she'd pulled away. It had crushed him.
All she could think about was the baby. And his parents. And what she was going to do. She was swimming through a sea of emotions. She felt like she was drowning. She couldn't get up for air.
"Em, we're so good together."
They were. As friends.
"Did I do something wrong?" He'd looked so confused. So hurt. "Whatever it is, let's talk it out."
"It's not you, Isaac. It's…" She'd stopped. Was she really going to give her best friend the 'it's not you, it's me' speech? "I care about you so much." She avoided the word 'love'. It would be too cruel to tell him that. "But I don't know…I'm just going through some things. And I'm starting to realize that…"
She'd paused and let her thoughts consume her…
I'm starting to realize that I can't hide my sexuality from my parents forever. I feel like I'm drowning. I can't lie to you anymore. I can't lie to the world anymore. I'm gay. Oh, and also…pregnant with your baby. There's a tiny human growing inside of me and your parents don't want me to tell you and I don't know if I want to tell you either. And I have no fucking clue what I'm going to do.
Emily had held it all inside. She'd wanted to tell him everything. They'd never had secrets, not like this. But she couldn't say it. She couldn't say any of it. Not to him.
He could see the agony on her face.
"Babe, what's wrong?" He'd reached out to touch her cheek.
When she blinked she'd realized that her vision was fuzzy. It took her several seconds to realize that her eyes were flooded with tears. She was overwhelmed.
She'd moved back and pulled away from his touch.
"I just can't do this anymore."
"I don't…I don't understand." His voice wavered. "Is this because of the sex?"
It was almost laughable.
Yes, part of it was because of the sex. Not only the fact that she hated it so much that she detached from the moment every time they were intimate…or even kissed, but also the fact that having sex had caused something neither of them was prepared to handle.
"I didn't rush you into it, did I? We can stop if you want. The guys just talk about it so much, and I really love you. I thought we were both ready. I mean…I haven't hurt you or anything, have I? Did we go too fast? Were you…did you not want to…"
His kindness and his compassion only made it harder for her.
"No. No, that's not it at all."
He had never once made Emily feel uncomfortable, at least not intentionally. He was the most generous and thoughtful person she had ever met, in all aspects.
"I'm just in a really weird place in my life. And I…I need to figure some things out. And you deserve to be with someone who can…" He deserved to be with someone who could love him back the way that he loved her. "You deserve someone better than me."
"What are you talking about?" He'd been taken aback. "You're the best person I know." He'd stepped forward and closed the space between them. With him being so near she could see the tears in his eyes. "I love you so much, Em."
I know. She'd thought sadly.
He loved her so much that it hurt.
She could think of every excuse in the book to walk away, but there was only one reason to stay. And it wasn't love. If she stayed with him it would just be for the baby's sake. But Emily could never live that life. She was already suffocating. She couldn't pretend to be someone she was not. She couldn't lie to him anymore.
"I'm so sorry, Isaac. But it's over."
Her heart was aching because of what she was putting him through. It took a wild amount of strength to turn and walk away.
Before she could go anywhere Isaac grabbed her hand. It wasn't forceful. It was just enough to hold her in place. If she'd really wanted to she could have easily let her fingers slip away from his, but there was something in his heartbroken gaze that caused her to pause. Her friend was in pain. Pain that she'd caused.
"Don't you love me?" His face softened. His sweet soulful eyes peered into hers.
She didn't know how to tell him that she was doing this because she loved him. She just wasn't in love with him. She couldn't love him the way he wanted to be loved.
Her silence spoke more volumes than anything she could have said in response. He'd lowered his head and let out a shaky breath.
"Please tell me how to fix this. Please."
"It's not broken. We're not broken. We just…we weren't meant to be." She'd bitten her lip. "Not like this. Isaac, you're my best friend…"
"Then why am I not good enough for you?"
Emily felt an odd shift in her heart. A quiet guilt. She let out a shuddering breath. She couldn't stop crying, despite the fact that she was the one breaking up with him. She hated seeing him hurt.
She'd reached up and touched his jaw. She could feel the tension in the way he was gritting his teeth, trying not to cry. She wasn't sure if being so close was helping or hurting.
"You are the most amazing guy I know. And I owe you so much more than this. I wish I could explain it, but…I just…this is just the way it has to be."
"Because I don't feel the same way about you that you feel about me." It was as close to the truth as she was willing to say. "I…I want to, but I don't. And I'm sorry."
A tear had slipped down her cheek. She couldn't quite pinpoint why she was crying. Because he was hurting? Because she was letting go of the last thing that was keeping her in the dark lonely closet?
He didn't know the reason for her tears either, but he comforted her nonetheless. He swiped his calloused thumb against her cheek, catching the tears as they slid down her face.
"Isaac, I'm so sorry."
She'd spent the entirety of their relationship avoiding his touch, but something about his heartbreak brought out a sensitivity in her. She'd reached up and laid her palm against his chest. She could feel his heart beating...breaking underneath her fingertips. He'd wrapped his arm around her waist.
"Please don't do this. Don't break my heart." His voice quivered, just the slightest bit. "This can't be…it can't be it for us. I don't…I don't want this to be over. I don't want to lose you. I can't imagine my life without you."
"I'm still here." At least for the moment. She wanted to let him have that moment.
"It's not the same." He'd searched her eyes for any hint of uncertainty…any hint of regret. He didn't see anything except her concrete resolve. And all he could do was accept it. "It's never going to be the same, is it?"
Emily tearfully shook her head. She stayed in his embrace for what felt like hours. But only seconds had ticked by. She'd looked up at him and wiped her face.
"I'm um…I'm going to go now."
"Not yet." He'd begged. "Just…just give me one more minute…"
"Sixty seconds. That's all I'm asking." He'd wrapped his arms around her.
He'd lowered his chin and kissed the top of her head, taking in the aroma of her scent, then he'd laid his chin against the top of her head and took a shuddering breath. She could feel his chest heaving as he silently cried.
He couldn't accept that it was happening. He couldn't acknowledge that he was losing the best thing that had ever happened to him. Emily knew what it meant to him to have those precious seconds. So she gave them to him.
But after the sixty seconds were up…when she pulled away she'd left him alone. Heartbroken. Perplexed. She'd felt like the scum of the Earth.
The entire time she was making her way out of the woods she thought she was being followed, but when she looked back she didn't see Isaac anywhere in sight.
She'd ended up near the bench at the church where she'd first introduced herself to Isaac. She'd been drawn to it because she wanted to remember the better memories. Back before she'd screwed everything up. She'd still been with Maya. And she'd made a best friend in Isaac. Things had felt so right.
She'd leaned up against the large oak tree overlooking the picnic area and stared up at the leaves as she'd silently cried. She cried so hard that her stomach started to hurt.
She felt an aching sensation in her jaw. She realized she was gritting her teeth. The tension in her neck was starting to burn. Her stomach was twisted in knots. She felt like she was going to throw up, but she wasn't sure if it was because she had cried so hard or if it was her first pregnancy related bout of nausea.
She'd slid down, her back against the bark. There was a large slot in the giant oak that her body fit into perfectly. If she could disappear into the tree she would have. She'd curled her arms around her body, feeling a sudden chill. The tree swayed above her as the storm started rolling in.
She saw a shadow looming over her and she assumed it was a cloud, but when she looked up she saw the silhouette of a girl, her hair whipping in the wind. She saw her icy hollow blue-grey eyes peering down at her.
Any other day Emily would have spit venom at her. Any other day she would have told her to get lost. But she didn't have the energy. She didn't have the strength.
"Why are you here?" Why was she always there?
Courtney didn't answer. Instead she'd quietly moved down to sit next to her. Her close proximity made Emily's skin crawl, but she couldn't get the signal to her feet to get up and move.
"Courtney, I can't do this with you today. So whatever it is that you're going to say…or do…just save it. For once in your life. Please." She knew it was asking too much of her to be a decent human being, but she had to try.
Courtney cocked her head curiously. Emily's tears confused her. She'd never seen her cry. The blonde looked around with a strange expression on her face. She looked nervous.
"I'm just checking on you. You seem upset."
Emily had to work to keep her jaw from dropping. There was no world in which Courtney would ever show her compassion. It always ended in some vicious manner. She smelled a trap. Even so, there was something different in Courtney's tone…in her mannerisms. But Emily knew she could turn it on and off.
"I…um…I know I give you hell sometimes…"
Emily cut her off with a sarcastic laugh and an eye roll.
"Sometimes?" She'd side-eyed her.
That was an understatement.
She turned towards the blonde, an accusatory look on her face. Emily hated feeling like she was some kind of a toy. Courtney had always looked at her like she was a caged animal that existed solely for her entertainment. Emily was a fish in an aquarium. Courtney was the sadistic child tapping on the glass, mocking her. Emily's pain and discomfort amused her. It's almost like she got off on it.
She relentlessly used her prowess with no regard for her actions. She manipulated and used her, and then went out of her way to gaslight her. She liked to feign innocence, but Courtney knew exactly what she was doing.
"Well, you don't make it very easy." Courtney scowled, dropping her hands to her sides.
Their fingers brushed together in the dirt. Courtney looked down and slowly moved her fingertips over Emily's. Emily yanked her hand away.
"Right, I'M the problem." Emily scoffed.
"God, I'm trying to be nice. What's your damage?"
"Are you seriously asking me that?" Emily felt her face get hot. Her cheeks felt like they were on fire.
She was so mixed up and so angry. She expected Courtney to fire back something snotty, but the blonde just peered at her, her head slightly tilted. She looked like she was trying to figure something out. It's like she'd never seen anyone cry before. Or maybe she'd never cared when she'd seen people cry.
Courtney started to say something, but her mouth just hung open in a slight 'o' as her eyes narrowed in thought. She batted her eyelashes and closed her mouth. There was a strange look on her face, like she was scrutinizing her. Her expression was an equal mix of irritation and empathy. It was a weird combination.
Courtney reached up, moving the backs of her knuckles against Emily's cheek, wiping away one of her tears.
Emily flinched uncomfortably, thinking about just how quickly all of their other interactions had turned. She waited for something terrible to happen.
Courtney met her gaze as she pulled her hand back. She pried her eyes away from Emily to look down at her hand, staring at the tear on her knuckle.
She was like a child trying to understand something. Or she was a poisonous predator luring Emily into a trap. It was so damn hard to tell.
Emily looked at the blonde. The first time they'd ever met she had been wary of her. There was a sadistic darkness in her eyes. Every time she walked into a room the air felt colder. Being around her made the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
It was still baffling to Emily that Courtney was Isaac's sister. They were nothing alike and they had very few shared features.
They both had dimples. They had the same pouty lips and the same quizzical arch in their brow when they were observing things. But their bone structure was drastically different.
Isaac's face was soft, chiseled with a defined jaw and prominent cheek bones. Courtney's features were sharper. Her heart-shaped face was rounded out by her angled jaw.
They looked nothing alike, yet when Courtney looked at her with intrigue Emily could see traces of her brother. It only made her pain worse. She'd just left him standing there alone in the woods.
She felt like a monster. She felt like she'd been using him without any regard for his feelings…stringing him along, dangling him like a fish on a line.
She felt like…Courtney.
Courtney leaned back against the tree. She looked comfortable despite the light drizzle of rain coming down around them.
"Are you going to talk or are you just going to sit there like a sad lump?"
"Courtney, go away. Just leave me alone."
She'd turned away from the blonde, angling her body away. She was hoping if she pretended she wasn't there that Courtney would disappear. She didn't have it in her to fight.
She had spent so much wasted energy fighting Courtney. At the pool. In the locker room. In bar bathrooms. The girl had tried breaking her down time and time again. She was exhausted.
Courtney stretched her legs out against the soft soil. The heels of her shoes scuffed against the ground, leaving indents in the dirt. She was very aware that Emily wasn't watching her. It really irritated her.
"You know, I was reading one of my favorite books the other day. And I got to this passage, 'The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills…"
She looked down and saw a little red and black bespeckled bug skimming a trail right next to her index finger. She casually lifted her hand as she watched it crawl towards Emily. She laid her finger in its path. The ladybug paused but then started crawling along the edge of her finger.
Courtney watched it walk as she slowly turned her palm face up. The ladybug reached the tip of her finger. Its wings started to expand, but before it could take off in flight she pressed her thumb against it, crushing it slowly.
"…it kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially…"
She'd stared at the remains of the little creature that had painted her finger black and red. She reached down and coolly wiped her hands clean. She reluctantly reached out to touch Emily's arm, but pulled back at the last second.
"…if you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry'."
Emily still had her face turned away, but her curiosity got the better of her. She glanced at the blonde, trying to figure out what her game was this time. Courtney looked perfectly serene. It was strange that she was sitting out in the rain quoting classic literature at her.
"A Farewell to Arms." Emily recognized the quote. She'd done a report on the novel in ninth grade.
She didn't know it at the time, but Courtney had seen her with the Hemingway book in the library one day, and that's what had sparked her interest in Hemingway. She had initially started reading it with the intention of finding things to counterpoint in Emily's book report, but she had ended up captivated by his writing style.
She'd seen Emily in the library again the day before the report was due, but the brunette wasn't alone. She was with some edgy girl that Courtney didn't recognize.
She'd sauntered around in the stacks and listened to their conversation. The girl's name was Maya, and she smiled at Emily a lot. Emily seemed to really enjoy her company.
They'd been talking about jazz music, which irritated Courtney, because Emily was supposed to be working on Hemingway and not talking about some stupid jazz album. But the Maya girl convinced her to incorporate things like jazz music and Langston Hughes into her report. They'd talked about the cultural shift that had been taking place back in that time.
Maya's stupid suggestion had ruined everything. Courtney was sure that Emily had something great planned all on her own. She didn't need someone coming along and telling her what to do.
When Emily had done her oral report in class Courtney had just watched from the back of the classroom. She hated the paper, but she was intrigued with watching Emily speak. She had an air of confidence to her.
When it came time for the class participation part, Courtney had feigned complete disinterest. She'd filed her nails and ignored the Q&A session. She'd made several snarky remarks about how if Emily wanted to talk music she should join the marching band with all the other geeks. Emily had simply ignored her, which pissed her off.
Emily never knew how much Courtney actually liked Hemingway, so she was stunned to hear her quote the man word for word.
Courtney saw the perplexed look on Emily's face. She'd looked away from the brunette. Her gaze was fixed on the bench near the church.
"I thought you hated Hemingway." After Courtney had trashed her report she'd assumed that she hated Hemingway. Or her. Or both.
"You can hate something and love it at the same time. It's called cognitive dissonance." She'd lifted her hand and brushed some granules of dirt off of her palm. "We selectively accept certain realities. We make justifications. But it doesn't matter in the end. It doesn't matter because life is cruel and unfair. It breaks you…" There was a spark of emotion in her eyes, a flash of anger on her face. "It takes from you." Her lips twisted into a sneer, "It steals your happiness. Steals what you want…" Her anger slowly melted into a strange kind of sadness. Her eyes looked glassy. For a minute, Emily thought she might cry. "Some people have everything and they're ungrateful…they're ungrateful for things that other people would kill to have. Hemingway's point is still relevant. Bad things happen to people who don't deserve it. Life is a vast construct that is designed to crush people underneath the weight of their own grief."
"Kind of a bleak way of looking at things."
"The world is bleak. You get hurt by the people who were never supposed to hurt you. People hurt you…" she'd lifted her head and locked eyes with Emily. "You hurt me."
"Excuse me?" Emily huffed out a sardonic laugh. "I hurt YOU?"
"You put me in the hospital."
"You put YOURSELF in the hospital." She whipped her neck to the side. Her fingers were twitching. It was taking every ounce of self-control she had not to fly off in a rage. "You do realize that what you did that day constitutes as assault, right? I could have turned you in. I SHOULD have." The only reason she didn't is because she knew it would come back on Isaac somehow. Courtney would torture him on behalf of Emily. "You have spent years trying to destroy me…"
"I wasn't trying to…" Courtney replied softly. It was a startling response, and Emily had no idea how to react. "You hurt me. Then you left me there. You left me alone."
"What else was I supposed to do?" Emily hissed through her teeth. "Do you know the hell you've put me through? It's been a battle with you every fucking day. At school. At your house. With Isaac…"
The second she said his name it sparked a painful feeling in her gut. He was still out there somewhere, trying to come to terms with the shock that it was over. He wouldn't have gone home. He was probably out by the stream where they used to dip their feet in the water and skip rocks across the current.
"My brother has nothing to do with this," she'd replied in a snotty tone.
"Then please…enlighten me." Emily cut her eyes at the blonde. "What IS this about?"
Courtney leaned forward and lifted her chin, moving her arms in a languid motion as she rolled her shoulders.
"Remember the church ski trip?"
"What about it?"
"Why did you pick to sit next to Isaac over me?"
Because he'd seemed like less of a psychopath.
"We just had more in common." Emily brushed the question off.
"We both know that's not true."
There was a rumble of thunder in the distance. The breeze rustled in the trees, sending leaves floating down in front of them.
Emily stared at Courtney.
"I don't know what you want me to say."
"I want you to start being honest."
"You want honesty?" Emily laughed harshly. "You infuriate me. You're mean and sadistic and cruel. You manipulate people. You don't take responsibility for ANY of your actions. You have no remorse…and no consideration for other people's feelings. You don't care who you hurt as long as you get what you want…"
Courtney didn't answer. She just kept her gaze fixed straight ahead. Emily shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"You have no idea the damage you cause…" She felt a lump tightening in her throat. She was on the verge of crying again. "I don't even know why I bother with you. I don't. Just…" She looked up at Courtney, her eyes brimming with pain. "Go away. You got what you want, okay? We don't have to pretend to be civil anymore. So just…go the fuck away."
"Emily…" Her name rolled off of Courtney's lips softly in a tone that Emily had never heard before. She gave her a loving glance as she reached up to push a strand of Emily's freshly dyed hair behind her ear. Emily was so shocked at the motion that she froze. Courtney's palm hovered over her cheek. "If you keep holding everything inside it will destroy you." She slowly lowered her hand. "Believe me, I know."
"You've hated me since the second we met." Emily bit down on her lip, her eyes still burning.
"I don't." Courtney shook her head. "I don't…I could never hate you," she sighed. "But…what you are…" She took a hesitant breath, like she was really trying to consider her words, "Sweetie, it's not natural…"
"You don't know what you're talking about. You don't know me. You don't know the first thing about who I am."
"I know that you put a lot of effort into being someone you're not. I've seen you. The REAL you. The you that you're afraid to be." She reached up and rubbed Emily's arm. "Earnest. Sweet little lamb…" she said quietly. "You've just been led astray for so long…"
"This 'sweet little lamb' can still kick your ass, so watch it." Emily pulled her arm away from Courtney and glared at her.
"You're hurting." She'd posed it as a curious statement. It was almost childlike.
"Why do you care?"
"Because you don't love him. And I don't understand why you're so upset. You're the one who broke up with him."
Emily's blood ran cold. The noises she'd heard when she was walking with Isaac weren't in her head. She looked at Courtney in disgust.
"Were you following us?"
"It's not what you think." She'd pursed her lips and blinked slowly. "Sometimes I go out there to sit by the stream."
"You're not a hiker, Courtney." Emily didn't buy it.
"I like the water. It's peaceful. It's a part of me. It's why I joined the swim team." She'd rubbed her palm against her sweaty bare leg, a hint of a smile on her face. "It's a force. You know what I'm talking about. I know you understand it. The way it calls to you. It can be gentle and serene…or it can destroy everything in its path with its wrath. It's something you have to learn to respect. It's one of the few places where I know who I am. And besides the pool and the Riverwalk it's one of the few places here where you can just…get lost."
She'd glanced at Emily, a sincere look in her eyes. Emily wasn't sure she believed her. Because Courtney was good at lying. She was good at deceit.
"I heard you guys talking. I was curious. And when I got closer I saw you…I saw this look on your face. It's like…it's like you were relieved. It's like there was this giant weight on you, like you couldn't breathe. And even though you were sad…you were relieved. So I don't understand why you're so upset. I thought…" She looked conflicted. "I thought you'd be happy."
"I love Isaac." Emily's voice quivered.
"But you aren't in love with him."
Emily didn't answer. She didn't believe she owed Courtney an answer. Courtney curled her legs up, turning her body towards Emily's. She swiped away another stray tear, letting her hand linger against Emily's cheek.
"Don't…" Emily cringed, turning away, trying to pull away.
"You know…" She'd combed her fingers through Emily's hair. "One of the things I loved most about Hemingway was his ability to use his prose to illustrate the complications in life." Her finger hooked against the back of Emily's ear as she moved a strand of hair out of her face. "One of the greatest things he wrote was 'The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special, too'."
Emily blinked, trying to comprehend the words. They sounded familiar. She'd studied a lot of Hemingway and the quote wasn't something that was well-known.
"That's not from A Farewell to Arms." She'd glanced at Courtney.
"It was an excerpt from one of his other works." Courtney delicately trailed her fingers against Emily's cheek. She gently pushed Emily's face towards her, forcing her to look into her eyes. It was such a soft and subtle motion that Emily didn't know how to react. "You lost yourself in my brother, Emily. You lost who you are. But you're not lost anymore. You can breathe again."
Courtney touched her chin, drawing her face closer. She saw Emily's throat bob unevenly as she swallowed an invisible growing lump. She inched closer to Emily, her lips curved in perfect succinct shape, round and plump and inviting. Emily didn't give in to her, but she didn't resist either. She heaved sadly, her eyes fluttering closed. She felt defeated.
The blonde's breath was like an intoxicating paralytic, leaving her completely complicit. Their lips brushed together, faintly at first. It was gentle and soft. It was different than every other encounter she'd ever had with the blonde, but it still tasted bitter. She felt Courtney's mouth hovering against hers, eager for more.
"Just let go, sweetie. You don't have to hide anymore, little lamb." She stroked Emily's hip, slowly moving her hand towards the heat of her inner thighs.
Emily had a moment of silent panic. It was poisonous. Courtney was poison. Every single one of their interactions had been laced with venom. Her kisses were dangerous, leaving traces of toxins on her lips…and in her heart. Her touches were deadly. She was a siren at sea, drawing her into an angry ocean where she would drown. So why couldn't she just stop her? Why couldn't she shake her loose?
"This isn't healthy, Courtney." Emily pulled away. "I don't know what you're trying to do here, but…I think you need help."
"We both know we're beyond help." Courtney's hand slipped away from her face and down to the nape of Emily's neck, pulling her close.
Their lips met again, this time with more conviction and force. Emily immediately protested, grunting 'no' against her lips. Courtney ignored her, like she always ignored her. She slid her fingers up Emily's shorts, finding her inner thigh slippery with sweat…or perhaps something else. Courtney pushed her against the ground, their chests meeting, their bodies flush.
Emily put her palms against Courtney's shoulders to push her away, but jerked back and sucked in a gasp when she felt Courtney's fingers moving against her.
"My sweet sweet little Emily." Courtney mumbled against Emily's mouth, using her free hand to trace her knuckles gently across the brunette's cheek.
Emily's eyes widened when Courtney met her gaze. The demanding sultry expression in the blonde's eyes was dark and possessive. She looked more like a wild animal getting ready to devour her prey than she looked like someone enthralled with passion.
"You're mine." She bit down on Emily's lip. "You know you are."
She was meticulous and strategic about her movements. Mentally, Emily wasn't responding. Her mind was detached.
'Cognitive dissonance' Courtney had called it.
It was wrong. Emily knew it was wrong. It felt wrong. But at the same time she didn't know how to stop her. Courtney's actions were menacing and confusing and terrifying. It stirred so many emotions at once that Emily didn't know how to separate them to work through them. The complexity of her feelings overwhelmed her.
Courtney did things to her. Paralyzed her. She wasn't afraid of her, but there were times the blonde had her ensnared in her trap. It's as though her brain was screaming at her to fight back, but her body wouldn't listen.
Flashes of the day in the locker room flooded Emily's mind. Courtney pinning her against the lockers and forcing her way into her shorts. Her body froze, much like it had that day. Alarm bells went off like loud gongs in her head.
She struggled against Courtney's motions, repeatedly uttering 'no' under her breath. But Courtney couldn't hear it. Or she didn't want to hear it.
"This is who you are." Courtney's body moved against Emily's in a strange gentle flowing wave. "Don't fight it…"
She massaged her inner thigh with one hand and put her other palm against Emily's stomach.
Emily tensed up. She hadn't thought much about the pregnancy, but with a predator so close she couldn't think of anything else. Her first instinct had been to protect her baby. Her maternal instincts kicked into overdrive.
"Mmm, stop…" Emily tried to maneuver out from underneath her before Courtney could take it any further. "Stop it. I don't want this. I don't want you."
The blonde looked stung and stunned by her rejection. All the animation in her face slowly faded into a rigid expression. There was a dark flash in her eyes. The softness disappeared. She was a totally different person.
"Who says I want you?" Courtney angrily stabbed her thigh with her fingernails, digging into her flesh.
Emily jumped and let out a surprised hiss. Courtney leaned forward, and for a moment Emily thought she was going to try and kiss her again. Instead she just curled her lips back and gave her an eerie smile.
"You're getting kind of pudgy." She'd said snidely as she poked her stomach. "This top makes you look fat."
Emily felt a growing discomfort, and a sense that she was trapped. That's how Courtney always made her feel. She was constantly under the water, gasping for breath.
"You growing a food baby in there, chunky monkey?" She'd pushed her palm against Emily's stomach, almost to the point of hurting her.
"You should lay off the calories." She walked her fingers across Emily's stomach.
Before Emily could shove her hand away Courtney laughed maliciously and slapped her palm against her belly.
Emily saw a flash of red in her vision. She blacked out for half a second, but she felt her body moving without hesitation. When she blinked she was on top of Courtney. The retaliation had happened so fast that she didn't remember the few seconds it took her to get out from underneath Courtney and slam her against the ground.
The dirt and grit was digging into her knees as she straddled Courtney, holding her down. She had Courtney's hands pinned by her head. She could feel the cool sharp sting of where Courtney had hit her stomach.
"What is wrong with you?" Emily hissed.
Courtney grinned at her.
"There she is." Courtney smiled, her teeth covered in blood. "You're just like me, aren't you? You like danger. You're drawn to it. You tempt fate. You jump into the water and you let it take over. You like the rush of adrenaline that comes from hitting people…and being hit. Your boxing gets you off. You ride your bike to escape the tranquility because there are no plans…no rules, knowing that all it would take is one miscalculation…one wrong turn…and the world could be over for you. You like the thrill…"
Emily was breathing harshly. Her veins were pumping, adrenaline flowing, leaving her completely on edge.
"Why are you always doing this to me? What do you want from me?"
"I want you to own what you are. Embrace the danger. Embrace the monster…"
"I'm not a fucking monster!"
But then she'd looked down and saw the blonde underneath her…laughing darkly. She saw the blood on Courtney's mouth. Her fist was raised above her head. Courtney wasn't trying to stop her. Instead, she was eagerly waiting…enticing her to embrace the wild untapped beast inside. She realized that she'd been letting Courtney control her…mold her.
She lowered her fist and moved away from Courtney. This wasn't her. She knew it wasn't. It's what Courtney was making her into. She'd looked down at Courtney, who hadn't moved. She was laughing maliciously. Spittle had gathered at the corners of her lips, mixing with the blood on her teeth, creating a frothy pink foam.
She'd stood up and stared down at the girl. She looked so tiny on the ground beneath her. Something inside of the brunette shifted as she stared at the monster who had been hiding in her closet, tormenting her. There had always been a chain linking her to the blonde, weighing her down. She'd never quite understood it. But things were changing. And Emily had enough sense to know how to break the chains.
She had left Courtney there, just like she'd left Isaac in the woods. She had walked away from the person she'd been pretending to be. It was a piece of herself she'd given permission to let go. She'd walked into the light, and into her true self.
o ~ O ~ o
The trouble with the past was that it was never truly the past. It would always be a part of her. She remembered that the second Isaac had showed up at her door.
The sound of the whistling tea kettle drew her back into reality. She reached up to turn the stove off.
"Em?" Isaac's voice came floating through the air.
He sounded like the Isaac she knew back in Texas and not the angry ball of fire who had been standing in her living room five minutes ago.
"In here." Emily grabbed the kettle and poured steaming hot water over the tea bag.
Isaac appeared in the doorway, stopping to observe the kitchen. His eyes drifted towards Emily's stomach. He blinked several times, like if he concentrated hard enough her belly might deflate. Her baby bump was small. It was something that could be hidden by the right clothes. He had just happened to catch her in her tank top, where it was glaringly obvious.
He silently moved towards her. Emily poured more hot water into another cup. She put the cups down on saucers. She slid one of the saucers over to Isaac. He leaned against the counter and stared at the drink. He played with the string on the tea bag.
"Your mom's recipe?" he guessed.
"One of them." Emily nodded. "How are you feeling?"
"I think lettuce came out of my nose. And I haven't eaten any lettuce that I remember," he said it so quizzically and so matter-of-factly that Emily wasn't sure if she should laugh or not.
"So…you still get pukey when you're upset?"
"I was already nervous about seeing you. I wasn't expecting…" He trailed off. He looked down at her baby bump again in disbelief.
He started playing with the string on the tea bag again. He carefully picked the cup up and held it up to his face. He stared at the steaming hot liquid inside the cup. The rising tendrils of smoke created a semi-opaque shield in front of his face, fogging his features.
"It needs some time to cool," Emily suggested.
Isaac didn't respond. It made her nervous. But then he slowly lowered his cup and put it against the saucer. His gaze was still fixed on the hot beverage. He glanced at Emily's cup, which was against the edge of the counter near the top of her stomach.
He tapped his fingers against the edge of the counter. His face was a perfect mask of stoicism. He reached towards her cup.
The motion stirred something in Emily. She started having flashes to all the times she'd been tortured by the person hiding in the shadows. It was instinct more than anything.
Logically, she knew the stalker wasn't Isaac. But emotionally, she was a mess. Her fear of what he might do with the boiling hot water pushed her to overreact.
She saw him moving his hand towards her cup and she slammed his wrist down against the counter, jostling everything on it. Isaac jerked his hand back and stared at her in surprise.
"Jesus, Emily. What the hell?" He rubbed his wrist. "I was just going to move your cup back. It's too close to the edge. I didn't want it to spill on you…"
"I…" Emily uttered nervously. All the bullying was starting to get to her. She felt like everyone was out to get her. It hadn't bothered her at first. But now all she could think about was her baby. She wanted to make sure she made it into the world safely. "I'm sorry. Things have been a little tense around here. I don't know who to trust. I thought…"
"You thought what? That I would hurt you? Hurt my own kid?" He looked hurt. "What the hell has happened to you? You're not the same girl that I remember."
For some reason, his response pissed her off. Of course she wasn't the same girl. She'd never been herself with Isaac, at least not entirely. Their friendship had been real. All the inside jokes they shared. All the late night talks. All the smiles and laughs. She didn't regret any of that. But she'd hidden a huge piece of who she truly was. And she'd kept the truth about the baby from him.
He had every right to be upset, but it didn't give him the right to show up out of the blue without calling, on Valentine's Day.
"Why did you come here, Isaac?" Emily asked. "It's really shitty…showing up like this when you know I'm dating someone."
He laughed, a dark look on his face.
"It's really shitty that you lied…about everything." He countered.
She couldn't argue with him.
"We were distant…"
"And whose fault was that?" Isaac sneered.
She still wasn't used to seeing his temper. He was angry. Really angry. She'd never seen him angry. He'd always been so sweet and sensitive. But of course he was mad. He had a right to be mad. Emily let him feel his anger. He had a right to be pissed. She'd lied to him about so much.
"I'll let you have that one." Emily replied coolly. "But don't push it."
"What do you want me to say? I just found out that I'm about to be a father." He let out a heavy sigh. "It's a lot to take in. I don't know how to do this."
"I'm not asking you to do anything," she replied gently.
"You should have. That's the point. I had a right to know." He clenched his jaw and started grinding his teeth. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry. I don't…" She nervously ran her fingers through her hair. "I don't know what I'm doing, okay?"
She groaned in frustration and moved away from the counter. The room was starting to feel small.
She knew she was going to have to face Isaac sooner or later. She just thought she'd be more prepared when she talked to him. But how did you prepare yourself to explain something like this?
She walked into the adjoining living room. He followed, both cups of tea in his hands. He put the drinks down on the table. She plopped down on the couch, feeling like a beached whale. She buried her face into her hands and rubbed it, her fingertips tangling into her hair.
She felt the couch move and when she looked up Isaac was sitting next to her. He didn't look angry anymore. He just looked worried.
"Em, just tell me what's going on."
It seemed like such a simple request. It should have had a simple answer, but she couldn't tell him everything. She couldn't tell him about her stalker. She couldn't put him at risk. She had almost lost Alison and Maya. She couldn't put him in danger. Maybe it was selfish to continue lying to him, but it's the only way she knew how to protect him.
"I wish I knew." Emily's chin quivered, her lip trembling. She slowly looked up at him. "I act like I have my shit together, but the truth is…I don't know. I'm…" She chewed on her lip. She hated that the pregnancy had her emotions all over the place. She was feeling things she'd never felt before. "Things are changing so fast. I mean, there are only a few months of high school left. I'm moving out of my house. I have a job. And I feel like I should be an adult. But…I…" She put her hand on her stomach. "I know I'm pregnant and I'm supposed to be the grown up here, but sometimes I feel like I'm still this stupid kid with no clue."
"You're not stupid," Isaac said. He pushed his shoes against the carpet, "It's definitely…overwhelming."
Emily turned away from him. She could feel a crushing weight in her chest. Her eyes started to flood with tears. Seconds later she felt the slow release of pressure as tears leaked over her lower lids.
"Hey, don't cry." He saw her eyes glistening. "I'm sorry I acted like an asshole."
Emily cleared her throat, trying to get a handle on her emotions. She hated to cry. She hated that she cried more now because of her hormones.
"I would have done the same thing," she admitted.
"You probably would have punched me." Isaac laughed.
"Probably." Emily nodded.
"You always were more in shape than I am." He chuckled. "You still working out…even with the baby on board?" His forehead crinkled in concern.
"It's one of the only things that keeps me from completely losing my mind." Emily sighed, leaning back against the couch.
"Is that safe?" He pressed his lips together. A worried expression washed across his face.
"The way I practice my drills, yes." Emily rubbed her stomach. "I would never put this baby in danger."
"How far along are you?" He marveled at the sight of her stomach again. It still didn't register that there was a little human inside of her.
"Almost six and a half months."
His brow shot up. He'd already done the math in his head, but hearing her say it was an entirely different thing.
"Wow. You're barely showing."
"I hide things well." Emily looked away from him. "We've established that."
"No shit. This is wild." He stared at her stomach. "Even when I had someone telling me, I still couldn't believe it…"
Emily perked up. She didn't like the way he'd worded it.
"Someone telling you what?"
That made it sound like…
Did he know? If he knew, then why the grand show of emotions?
"I mean, I didn't actually believe it…"
Emily felt the blood drain from her face. Her fingers felt cold. She suddenly found herself wishing she'd let Alison stay. What if Alison had been right? What if it was dangerous to be left alone with him? What if Isaac was the one who had been after her all along?
But then she looked at the sad perplexed expression on his face, and she realized he hadn't come there to hurt her.
"How did you…who told you? When?"
"It's a long story." He started bouncing his knee nervously. "Courtney said you were hiding something from me…"
"Courtney…" Bile crept up the back of Emily's throat, burning her esophagus. "Courtney knows?"
"I thought she was making it up to mess with me. I thought she was full of shit."
Emily could see why he thought that. Courtney had spent her whole life messing with him.
"How did she…" Emily's tongue felt swollen. She fumbled over her words. Courtney knew about the baby. "When did she…"
"She says she found out at Christmas, but she sat on the information until this week. Last month Nick surprised us with plane tickets for Valentine's Day weekend." He paused and then reworded it, "Well…he surprised Courtney with them. Normally our parents would have vetoed a weekend visit because it screws with our school schedule. But Nick had already gotten the tickets. My parents didn't want Courtney and Nick alone all weekend, so they sent me as a chaperone."
"Hell of a job chaperoning," she muttered. "Where are they?"
"Visiting Nick's friends upstate. My parents make her Facetime them like every 20 minutes."
How is the reception in hell? Emily wondered to herself. It made her feel sick to her stomach that Courtney was so close to her.
"On the plane Courtney tried to negotiate with me. She said she'd tell me what you were hiding if I left her and Nick alone all weekend. I figured that with the check-in calls she has to do with my parents it wouldn't be such a big deal. So I caved and she told me everything…"
Of fucking course Courtney had told him on Valentine's Day weekend.
"I called her a bitch and accused her of lying."
The fact that Isaac had wanted to believe the best in her made Emily's heart ache a little. And the fact that Courtney had pushed Isaac into coming to see her and finding out the truth made her blood boil.
"How did she know?"
"Apparently before we came to New York for New Years she went to find our itinerary for the flight and found a bank statement in dad's office…" His face went rigid again. She could see him trying to hold back his anger. "With a check to you. She set up a trap for my mom and dad with the statement, leaving it out in the open. She heard them arguing about it, and they kept talking about abortion and adoption. She put it together."
"Oh," Emily said quietly as she lowered her head.
"So…my entire family knows…" Isaac looked at her, not saying anything, letting his eyes do the accusation for him. "How is it that I was the last to find out? Why didn't you come to me?"
"Your mom found out. I don't know how. But your parents are intimidating. They told me they didn't want me around…that I was just a disruption and that you were better off without me…"
"You know better than that." Isaac frowned. "You know how much I love you."
Emily didn't miss the present tense. Isaac still wasn't over her.
"It wasn't about me. It was different. Because of the baby. Because I know how much people have to give up when they become parents. I know the sacrifices that it entails."
"And you didn't think I'd make those sacrifices?" He sounded hurt.
"No. I knew you would," she replied sadly. "Which is exactly why when your parents tried to ban me from your life I fought them on it. I wanted to tell you. I really did. But the more they talked about your future…" She sighed. "I don't know. And then your father offered me the money. I resisted at first. But then I started thinking about what it could mean for the baby…and I started to wonder if maybe your parents were right."
"My parents don't speak for me. Screw them…and the fact that you went along with it? I mean…how much did they pay you?"
"It wasn't about the money."
"But you took it, didn't you?" His response had some bite in it. "You took it and you walked out of my life, and you took my choice away with it. You kept this baby a secret from me. You made me miss out on one of the most important things that has ever happened in my life."
"It was never about you," Emily said softly. She hated that she'd hurt him. "It wasn't about me either. It was about the baby…" She saw him look away, trying to shield his emotions from her. "I never meant to hurt you." Emily licked her lips.
Isaac reached for his tea. He picked it up and blew against the rim of the cup before lifting it up to his lips and taking a sip. He sighed and then put the drink down.
"All this time I thought I knew who you were…" He shook his head in disbelief. He furrowed his brow. "You didn't have to go through this alone, you know."
"I wasn't alone." Emily admitted. She was trying to figure out how to segue into the fact that she had a loving girlfriend who doted on her and the baby on a daily basis.
"Have your parents been supportive?" he asked.
"Mostly. To an extent." She paused and frowned. "Not at first. We talked a lot about me branching out on my own."
"That's not right. You're going to need help."
"They will. They want to help…"
"I…I want to be there for you, for…" He looked at her pregnant belly. "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?"
"It's a girl."
Isaac's face melted into a soft expression. A girl. Emily was having a baby girl. She was sure to be as beautiful as her mother. He knew that for a fact.
"I want to be there for her," he said with a dopey grin. "If…if you keep her…I want to help. If you want me to. I mean…" He stuttered nervously. "I want to be involved, that's what I'm trying to say. Let me help."
"There is no way your parents are going to support that. They wanted us gone."
"Fuck my parents." Isaac growled. "They don't get a say in what happens to our baby."
Emily felt a disconnect at the word 'our'. Despite the fact that Isaac was the father, she'd always looked at the 'our' as her and Alison.
"You can't tell your parents you know." An overwhelming sense of fear shot through her. "I don't know what they would do…"
"I won't let them do anything. They don't get to tell us what to do…"
"Isaac, please." She remembered the look on his father's face the day they'd pushed her out of Isaac's life. "Just don't. She's my first priority right now." Emily swept her hand across her stomach. She felt a little thump against her hand. "I can't deal with that added stress."
Isaac's mouth dropped open into a thoughtful 'o'.
"You're really that afraid of them?"
Emily wished she could tell him the full story. The menacing look they'd had on their faces still haunted her.
She swallowed a knot in her throat and nodded.
"Okay." He lifted his hands in submission. "I won't say anything to them."
"Thank you." She breathed a sigh of relief.
"Are…are you going to keep her?" he asked.
"I…" She wavered.
She wanted to. She wanted to hold her baby, rock her to sleep every night. She wanted to kiss her forehead and inhale the sweet smell of her head. But she also knew that it was going to be a struggle. She worried about how she was going to support her. She worried about making sure she was in a stable environment.
She'd told Alison that she was pretty set on keeping her, but she hadn't told her about her doubts. She wasn't sure that the blonde would understand. She wasn't sure anyone would understand. She felt like a shitty person and a shitty mother for even considering giving her up.
When she'd opened the necklace that Alison had gotten her for Valentine's Day it had sparked something in her heart that she didn't know how to explain. She would always be a mother. The question was whether or not she would be the kind of mother that her daughter deserved…that she needed.
"I think so. I don't know. I'm not sure."
He seemed a little dissatisfied with her answer.
"So, you've looked into adoption?"
"A little bit." But every time she did she felt like a piece of her heart was fracturing.
"How does it work? Can the birth parents still be involved?"
"I'm going to need you to slow down." The room was starting to spin in Emily's field of vision.
She knew that he was going to ask questions, but she wasn't ready for any of them.
"Sorry. I'm trying to wrap my head around this." He huffed out a sigh. "Is she healthy?"
"Very." Emily smiled. "She kicks all the time."
"She does?" His face lit up. His eyes darted to her stomach "Can I…" He held his hand out.
"I…" She wanted to tell him no. She wanted those kinds of touches reserved for the people she loved. But she'd already deprived him of so much. "Okay."
He carefully reached his palm out, like he was afraid he might hurt the baby if he didn't go slowly. She cringed when his large warm calloused palm made contact with her baby bump. It wasn't Alison. It didn't feel right. She tried not to squirm in discomfort.
They waited for a few seconds. The baby didn't respond to him at all. Nothing. Emily didn't even feel a flutter. It was a glaring juxtaposition to the way the baby came to life when Alison was touching her and talking to her.
Isaac pulled back, slightly disappointed.
"Maybe she's sleeping." Emily tried to make him feel better, though she knew it wasn't the case, because her spirited little girl had just nudged her hand minutes before Isaac touched her.
Isaac nodded absentmindedly. He glanced at her.
"What? The pregnancy?"
"No. Just…the fact that I don't know you like I thought I knew you. You seem…" He searched her face, like it was going to give him answers. "Different."
"I have a human inside of me," she reminded him.
"That's not it." He shook his head. "Something about you just feels…lighter. I can't quite put my finger on it. You know, in all of our time together you always had this…veil…like you were guarding yourself from something. I always thought that you were afraid of getting hurt. I don't see that wall anymore. Why?"
"A lot has changed…with me." Her heart started hammering against her ribcage. She was getting ready to jump from one secret to another.
She had always told herself that if she saw Isaac again she would tell him the truth. She'd made excuses for not telling him over the phone. She'd made excuses as to why he still didn't know she was gay. But she didn't have any excuses left.
"Did Amish country make a purist out of you?" He smiled half-heartedly.
"I've actually run into very few Amish people, if I'm being perfectly honest." She smiled back.
"But you do like it here?" he asked.
"I do. I've met some amazing people since I moved here."
"Like that blonde that was here?" he asked. He frowned. "She was kind of annoying. Like a vicious little bitey dog."
"Don't mistake her size for weakness. She absolutely would have shredded you to pieces if I'd let her." Emily scowled. "And don't call her annoying."
"Sorry. It's nice that you have good friends."
"Well…" Emily trailed off.
He cocked his head, seemingly picking up on the hint.
"Come to think of it, she was really…possessive. Who exactly was she?"
Emily curled her fingers into the edge of the sofa. She'd been telling herself that she was going to tell Isaac about her sexuality for months. But now that he was sitting in front of her, staring at her with his soft puppy dog eyes she felt terrible for all the things she'd done to him. She felt terrible for leading him on. But she knew she couldn't lie to him forever.
"She's my girlfriend."
There was a moment of shocked silence.
"My girlfriend. I…" Emily exhaled a shaky breath and then faced him, her eyes locked on his, "I'm gay, Isaac."
"You…" His face morphed into a confused expression. "I…" He stuttered. "Gay? You…you're…"
"But…I don't understand. We…" He looked at her baby bump. He was having trouble processing it. "You and I…" He huffed. "Jesus, was I so bad I turned you gay?"
"No." Emily frowned at him, offended. "I didn't turn anything. I've always felt this way…about girls. Before you…there were never any boys. Only girls. Maya wasn't just my friend. She was my girlfriend."
Another period of shocked silence.
"Holy shit." He reached up and rubbed his chin as he tried to process it. "You two were…"
"And…you've always been into girls?"
"But…we…we were together. We…we dated. We had sex. We're having a baby. I don't…"
Emily started to wonder if maybe she'd hit him with too much information in one visit. But she didn't want to hide it anymore.
"Is this like…" He fidgeted with his class ring. He tilted his head and furrowed his brow. "You're sure this isn't like…a phase?"
She cringed. She hated when people asked that. She knew who she was, and she hated when other people tried to put their own spin on it. But she knew that Isaac wasn't saying it to be malicious. He just didn't understand.
"I'm sure. I've always known."
He quietly processed the new information. A flood of emotions washed across his face, all in the span of a minute. Confusion. Sadness. Heartbreak.
"If you always knew then why did you want to be with me?"
Emily rubbed her face. She'd been dreading the question. She knew the answer was only going to hurt him.
Isaac noticed her hesitation.
"Emily, what was I to you?"
"You were safe," she said meekly.
"What does that even mean?"
"You've met my parents. Mr. and Mrs. Perfect Churchgoing Military. I was afraid of them. I was afraid of telling them, so…I thought…"
"You thought you'd find yourself a beard." The realization hit him. He nodded and smacked his lips together.
"It…it didn't start out like that. I promise. When I met you I really liked you. I liked hanging out with you. I liked talking to you. I liked you. I wanted to feel something. I really did. You were my best friend…"
"I mean…I don't know…" She uttered in frustration. "None of this is coming out right…"
"God, I was so blind." He shook his head. "I just…I loved you so much. I wanted to believe you felt the same."
"I know. I wanted to give you that. But I couldn't."
Isaac rubbed his fingers against the couch cushion. He peered sadly at Emily.
"So why wasn't I enough? What did I do that was so wrong?"
"It wasn't anything you did." Emily looked at him. "It's just the way it is. I can't make myself feel something that's not there."
Isaac nodded absentmindedly. He reached up and ran his fingers against his faded waves, leaving his hand against his scalp for a few seconds. He lowered his eyes and glanced at the ground in thought. Then he finally looked back at Emily.
"Did you ever love me?" Isaac asked.
She didn't even have to think about her response. She'd always known exactly who Isaac was to her.
"Of course I loved you." Emily's face softened. "Just not in the right way."
Isaac nodded, unsure of how to respond.
"Your girlfriend…her name was…Alison, right?"
"Yeah." Emily smiled. It crushed Isaac to see her smile. Because now he knew that he'd never been enough.
"Does she treat you right?" Isaac questioned, a serious look on his face. "And…and the baby?"
It mirrored Maya's sentiments. She'd been fortunate enough in her young life to have found three people who truly loved her.
"She is so ridiculously caring. She loves me and the baby so much." Emily rubbed her palm against her stomach in a small circular motion. Just the thought of Alison seemed to stir her little one to life.
"Good." He tried to hide his pain. He rubbed his palm against his pants. "That's good." He chewed on his lip and then slowly looked up at her. "You really love her?"
"I really do." She didn't skip a beat.
"And…Maya…you were in love with her, too?"
He let out a heavy sigh.
"I can't believe I was so blind. I feel like an idiot…"
"I went out of my way to hide it." Emily tried to make him feel better.
"Did anyone else know?"
Emily paused thoughtfully. She weighed whether or not she wanted to tell him. He was already reeling.
"I know that look." Isaac scrutinized her. "You may have changed, but not that much. Who else knew?"
"Are you serious?" He gawked.
"She…" She started to tell him that Courtney had come on to her numerous times. But she wasn't sure what Courtney's sexuality was, and regardless of the fact that she was a psychopath, she couldn't willingly out someone. She knew how it felt to be pushed out before being ready. "She held it over my head a lot. Tormented me…"
"Em, I'm so sorry…" He reached out and touched her hand.
A flash of anger crossed his face. His sister was going to catch hell from him. It wasn't very often that Isaac went head to head with Courtney, but when it came to Emily he would do anything to protect her.
"How long was this going on? Did it start when we were dating?"
"All that time…" He shook his head. "I always knew Courtney could be ruthless, but I had no idea…"
"I wasn't completely helpless. It's not like I let her run all over me. You remember the day that Courtney wound up in the hospital after she passed out in the locker room?"
He narrowed his eyes in uncertainty. He carefully studied the look on her face.
"We were…" Emily had to stop herself from telling the entire truth. As vile as Courtney was…as awful as she'd been to her…she couldn't out her. It wasn't her story to share. "What Nick said…about us fighting…it's true. We got into it. She was…saying some things. And doing things…" Emily cringed. "She tried to hurt me…"
Courtney had flat out assaulted her, but she couldn't tell her brother that, not without divulging the details. Even if Isaac wasn't related to Courtney, Emily wasn't sure she'd ever be able to share anything that personal with him. The fact that she was able to tell Alison these things…things she could never share with Isaac…it was polarizing.
"Fuck." He lowered his head, almost like he was ashamed. "I'm sorry." She hated that he was apologizing for his sister. It wasn't his fault. "What did she do to you?"
Just the fact that he knew Courtney started it was one of the reasons she loved him.
"It's not important. And I want you to know I never intended to hurt her. She was conscious when I left her. I didn't even hit her or anything. I just pushed her away from me."
"I remember that day. Your wrist was bruised. She did that to you?"
Emily nodded. Courtney had done more than bruise her wrist that day.
Isaac put his hand on top of Emily's. Her reflex was to yank her hand away, but instead she just cleared her throat and gently broke their touch by reaching for her tea. Isaac mirrored her actions, reaching for his own drink.
"Courtney was so weird after that. She spent like two weeks holed up in her room avoiding our parents."
Emily wasn't surprised. It was the first time that she'd met Courtney's punches, blow for blow. Not physically, but emotionally. Emily had verbally attacked her. Emily had noticed a change in Courtney's behavior after that, too.
"No one can hold a grudge like that girl." He uttered.
"You're telling me." Emily laughed darkly. She thought about the menacing texts. Even though it sounded and felt like Courtney, Emily still couldn't piece everything together. "How often has Courtney been to New York?"
"What?" He glanced at her, caught off-guard.
"You guys were here New Years, too, right? Has she come up any other weekends or anything?" Emily was trying to mentally put together a timeline of events in her mind, wondering if any of Courtney's visits overlapped with some of the attacks.
"It's not like she can just hop in a car and drive up any time she wants."
"A few weeks ago you said that she was playing your parents to get everything she wants."
Was it possible she had been blackmailing her parents the entire time? Would they have caved and let her fly out to the east coast? Was it crazy to think it was a possibility?
"Yeah, but taking a jet at her leisure? I don't know. I mean..." He pushed his lips out in thought. "I guess I really don't know what's going on at my house. I don't know what's going on anywhere obviously..." He gestured to Emily's stomach. "I haven't been home a lot, to be honest. I've had some away games, but I also stay with my boys, because then I don't have to be around my family."
At least he had an escape. Emily was thankful for that.
"She has missed a few days of school here and there, but nothing crazy. I don't know what she does on the weekends, but I can't imagine that my folks are letting her jetset the world."
"Was she home on Halloween?" Emily shuddered thinking about the nightmare she'd had in the hospital.
Courtney had kissed her...touched her. She had felt it.
"She was at some sorority school shopping thing with some girlfriends, checking out the the colleges with the best amenities." Amenities being which place had the craziest parties and the best booze.
"I don't know. I don't exactly have a tracker on her." He looked perplexed. "What's this about?"
Emily quietly retreated in her questioning. If she kept pushing him she'd have to tell him everything.
"It's nothing." Emily tried to shut it down.
"You mentioned something about this to me before. You said you thought you saw her or something?" He started to piece it together. "You really think she's been out here?"
"I was just curious. That's all."
A knock at the door interrupted the conversation. They both jumped. Emily stood up and went to answer it, expecting it to be Alison standing there. But it was just the delivery girl with the food Alison had ordered. Emily thanked her and gave her a tip before sending her on her way.
When she turned around she saw Isaac twisted around and looking at her over the back of the couch.
"She was cute. Maybe we should have invited her in," he said. Emily made a face at him. "What? Too soon for jokes?"
"No. Just surprised that you're in a joking mood."
"You forget I live in a household full of chaos and bitchiness. If I hadn't developed survival skills I would have offed myself a long time ago."
"So…you're calling me a chaotic bitch?" Emily walked back over to the sofa, food in hand.
"I didn't say that…"
"No, it's fine. I deserve it." Emily didn't argue.
There was a moment of silence.
"This wasn't exactly what I was expecting when I came here. But I guess this could have gone worse."
"In what way?" Emily scoffed as she put the food on the end table next to the couch.
"An axe murderer could have jumped out of the closet and killed us?" Isaac shrugged.
Emily had to force out a laugh. The way things had been going in Rosewood, that was entirely plausible.
"At least you're healthy and happy." He sighed. "I really interrupted something here with you and that Ali girl, didn't I?"
Alison. Emily wanted to correct him. She wanted to tell him that only people in Alison's inner circle could call her Ali. But she let it slide.
"It is Valentine's Day." Emily replied.
"How do girls even…I mean…you know? How does that even work? I've always been curious and porn doesn't exactly answer all the questions."
"I am not having that conversation with you." Emily burst into laughter.
"Before we get in over our heads here, do you have anything else you need to tell me? Any other skeletons I need to know about? Are you secretly married to a Nigerian Princess? You launder money? Sell drugs?"
"There is one thing…"
But she stopped herself. She wanted to tell him about the threats. It's why she'd brought Courtney up. Maybe he'd have an idea of what to do. But then she thought about the price that Maya and Alison had paid.
He was leaning towards her in anticipation.
"I'm obsessed with dill pickle chips now." She spit out the first thing that came to mind. It just happened to be one of her most ridiculous cravings. "Don't judge me."
"As long as you promise not to judge me for liking ketchup chips. I have a friend from Canada who introduced them to me. They are insane. They sound really gross, but they're actually dope."
"I'm trying very hard not to judge that. But…I mean…ketchup chips, Isaac? Really?"
She was glad they had a bit of an ice-breaker. It had been non-stop tension since he'd arrived. She was starting to relax into their banter a little bit.
"You do realize that potatoes are the base for potato chips…and we put ketchup on fries…which are also potatoes?" He defended his gross chips.
"I wouldn't put ketchup in vodka or in potato salad." Emily pointed out.
"You know what might be really good to try? The pickle chips and the ketchup chips…together."
"Now you're just trying to make me barf." Emily made a face. "Let's just add a beef flavored chip and make it a burger potato chip."
"Million dollar idea." Isaac nodded. "Is that what's in the bag? A prototype for a new potato chip?"
"It's Thai. Alison and I were going to have dinner."
"Right." He looked uncomfortable again. He put his hands against his knees and blew out a breath. "So, uhm…what are we going to do about her?"
"She's my girlfriend, so…"
"Not her." He shot her a crooked smile. It slowly faded and a sad look washed across his face. He peered at her belly. "I meant about…her. The baby."
"Oh. I don't know."
"When is she due?"
"Late May. Early June. Due dates aren't set in stone. They come when they come."
"I could see if I could skip graduation. Maybe have them mail me my diploma. I could come up and help…"
"That's not really…" Emily shook her head. "I don't want to start planning anything like that just yet."
Her choice of words registered. He picked up on the subtext.
"You don't want to plan anything…or you don't want to plan anything with me?" He slowly lifted his brow in curiosity.
She didn't know how to answer without hurting his feelings. Her silence spoke volumes.
"I see." He pursed his lips and looked at her in confusion. "I don't get it. What is it that you're so afraid of? I'm here. I'm offering to be here. For both of you."
"I know. But it's complicated."
"It doesn't have to be. We…" He splayed his fingers out against his thigh and looked down, "…we could still be something. We could still be a family. I mean, I don't know exactly how, but what we had…I mean…even before we starting going out…what we had was special. And now we're just…" He frowned. "I don't know. I hate that we're like this. I hate that we can't just be Emily and Isaac." He sighed. "You were my best friend. What happened to us?"
Emily looked away. She had done so much to hurt him. She didn't know how to fix it. She scratched the arm of the sofa with her fingernails. They were dull from working out so much.
"I screwed everything up. You deserved better than me. You deserved real love."
"I thought I had it," he replied sadly. He lifted his head to meet her gaze. He couldn't help but still look at her like she was the love of his life. "I love you. Because you're the most wonderful, unique, and beautiful person I've ever met. I think we had something amazing. I know our relationship isn't contemporary, but I do love you."
As he'd been speaking he'd been moving closer to Emily. He was drawn to her. She was like a bright light in a dark world.
"Isaac…" Her tone came out as a warning, but before she could finish her thought he stopped her.
He reached up to push a strand of hair out of her face. His fingers grazed her cheek. He peered at her, moving forward. Seconds later his lips were against hers.
The kiss only lasted for a brief second. Emily recoiled. She reached up and pushed her hands against his shoulders, moving him away from her. She lifted her hand to slap him, but pulled back at the last second. It was Isaac. She couldn't hit him.
"Why did you do that?" Emily glared angrily at him.
She wanted to be furious with him, but she knew what he was going through. She knew that he was struggling to come to terms with everything, and she knew that seeing her had probably stirred a lot of unresolved feelings to the surface. But she was still pissed that he'd tried to make a move on her when she flat out told him 'no' and that she was in a relationship with Alison. That was more Courtney's style. Not Isaac's.
"I'm sorry." He had a remorseful look on his face. "I just…I thought…maybe…"
"You thought that maybe I'd suddenly change my mind?" She jerked away furiously. "I told you…I'm with someone I love…"
"We're going to have a baby…"
"That doesn't change anything." Emily shook her head, tears in her eyes. Because she was so torn. He had been her best friend. They had shared things. But she'd never loved him. She loved Alison. Her heart belonged to the blonde. "I'm in love with Alison. There is no we for us, Isaac."
There really never was. And Emily felt guilty about that.
"Can you blame me for trying?" He slowly lifted his eyes to meet hers. "I mean, God, Em…you're fucking perfect."
"I wish people would stop saying that. I'm not perfect. I'm just as screwed up as the rest of the world. I lied to you. About everything."
"You did." He nodded in agreement. "But you're worth more than the sum of your mistakes. We all are. I screwed up, too. I should have known something was off. I should have known you were uncomfortable. I should have known that Courtney was torturing you. There is a lot I turned a blind eye to because I just wanted to be with you. And I wanted it to be perfect. That's why I came here. I thought we could salvage this. But um…it's clear you don't really want that. You don't…"
He paused, his jaw rigid. His nose twitched. He was trying not to cry. Emily had only seen him cry once. When they broke up.
"You don't even want me to be her dad, do you?"
"That's not…" Emily was thrown by the question. She was surprised by his perception of the situation. "I didn't say that…"
He lowered his chin and shook his head.
"Please don't lie to me anymore. I just want the truth from here on out. No matter what. You owe me that much." Isaac reached for her hand.
Emily knew it was selfish to keep him from his child. She knew she should want him involved. But she was afraid of the complications. And more importantly…she was afraid of his family's influence. She was afraid of her baby being around that. She wanted to protect her little girl from Courtney and their parents. But how was that fair to Isaac?
"You're right," she said. "I...I've planned other things for her..."
Isaac closed his eyes and exhaled a breath. He knew it, but it still hurt.
"I know you cut me out for a reason. And I'm…well, I'm not really okay with it." He chewed on his lip. "But I understand. It wasn't just me. It's my parents. And my sister. And you. You've got a lot going on. So I understand where your head is at, Em. I always have. I get you. Don't forget how close we used to be. I just…I want you to be comfortable. And safe. And I want you to do what's best for you. And for the baby. I'll respect that…whatever it is. Because I trust you. And I love you. I always will. I just want you to be happy. But I want you to know that if you do want to keep her I will be whatever you want me to be to her. I will give her whatever she needs. If you want me to. I'm not exactly prepared for this, but I want to do the right thing."
His "I'm not prepared" hit her particularly hard. Because she wasn't exactly ready either. It was noble that he wanted to "do the right thing" but the question was whether he was doing it out of obligation or if he actually wanted to do it. She already had a woman she loved who not only wanted to be there, but had insisted so from the start. Alison didn't just want the baby because it was the right thing. She wanted her because she loved her.
Emily glanced at Isaac, and she realized that she was sitting too close to him. And she didn't like it. She stood up and paced the floor. Isaac watched her curiously. His instinct was to get up and comfort her, but he didn't want to cross the line again.
After a few seconds she took a seat in her father's recliner. She needed the distance between them. She was able to relax after she put some space between them.
They calmly talked about everything that was hanging over them. Isaac was more patient and more understanding than she deserved.
They talked for nearly half an hour before they were interrupted by a phone buzzing. Emily automatically reached for her phone, thinking it was Alison checking in. But it ended up being Isaac's phone.
He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen and sighed.
"That's Nick. I really need to get going."
"Does he know?" Emily questioned.
If she didn't start looking at everyone in her life as a potential stalker she was afraid she was going to let something slip through the cracks. Nick was close enough to Rosewood, but he was so busy at school that she doubted he'd have time to torture her. And he didn't have a reason to either.
"Courtney swears she hasn't told anyone. I think she wanted to keep it to herself for some reason."
Emily knew that reason. Because Courtney was possessive. And crazy.
"I'll see what I can find out. Bros talk, too." Isaac shuffled to his feet.
She stood next to him.
"I am so sorry about all of this. And I'm sorry to drop all of it on you."
"I'm sorry I came in here thinking with my dick instead of my brain. It was an asshole move to ruin your Valentine's Day."
"I guess we're both assholes."
"Lucky kid we're going to have." He uttered sarcastically. He looked at her belly for a good solid ten seconds. Then he looked up at her again. "Call me when you figure out what you want."
He grasped her hand. She gently pulled away, and he pulled back, like he'd suddenly remembered they weren't in Texas anymore. He looked at her apologetically. It was a reflex. Nothing more.
"I'll respect your choice. I just…I want to know," he said.
Emily nodded. It was the least she could do.
Isaac peered into her eyes with a sad look on his face.
"You broke my heart, Emily Fields."
"I know," she sighed. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." He glanced at her stomach. "If she's half as amazing as her mother it will have been worth it."
If anyone else had said it Emily would have thought it was some cheap line. But it was Isaac saying it. And she looked at him and she knew he meant it.
He gave her a sad watery smile. It was a smile that told her just how much he'd really loved her.
"For what it's worth…" He paused. "I think you're going to be a great mother."
He reached for the door knob. He paused before opening the door, peering over his shoulder. He seemed to understand where they stood, but that didn't mean he wasn't in agony over it. He gave her a sad smile before waving goodbye.
Seconds later she was alone. She plopped down against the sofa and buried her face in her hands, exhaling a shaky breath. She felt completely torn. Her emotions had her swirling in a sea of choppy waters, in over her head, slipping deeper into the murky water. But she could also feel a sweet release. The moment she felt like she couldn't sink any lower the water was suddenly receding. And the air tasted sweet and refreshing. She could feel the rage of the storm dissipating, and with it went the heavy weights forcing her below the surface. For the first time in a long time she felt like she could breathe again.
A/N: What readers probably expected: fireworks. What they actually got: rational conversation and logic. What is this sorcery? Still staying true to my word that this is my lightest Emison fic ever, even with Courtney's sadistic ways and Isaac acting like a hormonal teenage boy (I'm biased and believe he was fairly patient given the circumstances). For those worried, don't worry, I have zero plans for troublesome love/baby-mama drama triangles. Emison is endgame. Always. That being said, I've enjoyed writing Isaac and Courtney. Writing original characters (even book inspired) have been fun and challenging in all kinds of ways. This chapter in particular was tricky given the intense ups and downs of the conversations, both past and present. I have to admit that writing the Hemingway bit turned out better than my inner critic expected. She's still critical, but that part in particular got a, "Oh. Good. You good. Good writer" which...never happens.
Thanks for sticking with me on this ride. The dedication my readers have and your kind words mean so much.