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Chapter Eight: Dane

Dane put his arm around me and tried to get me to look at him, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the road where Jake had walked away from me for the last time. Eventually, he realized I might need some space and excused himself to go back into the house. I stayed there until Elaine came back, down that same road, yelling incoherently, struggling to carry the market bags of two people.

I jumped up, groaning at the way my legs cracked and the stiffness in my knees. I rushed over to her and took most of the bags out of her hands.

Her face scrunched in anger. “Goddamn punk, thinks he can just leave me with this. Shit.”

I struggled under the weight of the bags. “You didn’t know?”

She growled in her throat. “Of course, I knew! I just thought that little shit would have enough courtesy to bring me and the bags back! But no! Ugh.”

She stormed into the house, startling Dane as she threw the bags onto the table. He looked worried until he saw my amused smile and started laughing. Elaine yelled something unintelligible at him and stormed out of the room. I threw down my bags and gave into laughter.

He walked over to me cautiously, looking at me like he was waiting for a signal. I bit my lip and he smiled, picking me up and wrapping my legs around his waist. We looked at each other, face to face, for the first time in a long time. And then he kissed me and I felt almost okay again.

“Isabelle,” he sighed.

I smiled against his lips, my face warm, my mind fluttering with childhood fantasies.


I was not willing to consider the reasons behind my decision to stay with Dane rather than Jake. I knew Dane was much older than me, so maybe his judgment was not the sanest either. But the saying is true: the heart wants what it wants, no matter how much the head questions it. Dane had been in my life since I could remember. He knew me, as much as anyone could, and I didn’t have to explain myself to him. He treated me well, and didn’t care what had led me to him. He was what I needed.

Elaine made no attempts to show me she disapproved of Dane and I, so I assumed she didn’t. The way she had greeted me that first day, I was sure she already knew everything Dane thought she needed to.

One night, several days after Jake had left, I was lay wide awake in my bed, having gone to bed too early in order to avoid an awkward conversation with Dane. I knew what he wanted to talk about, but the thought made me queasy. I was suddenly incredibly anxious and sweaty and I told him I had a headache and needed to go to bed early. Images of home and my childish love for him bombarded my senses. I lay awake, my toes and the rest of me numb, considering.

When the house was finally quiet, the sound of Elaine’s shuffling feet safely behind her bedroom door, I emerged, knowing he’d still be awake. He was sitting on the back porch, as he always was, an unlit cigar in his mouth, staring into the darkness.

He didn’t move as I brought a chair to face him, staring at his face until he looked at my eyes. I couldn’t tell what his expression was in the dark.

I sighed. “Okay, let’s talk.”

He smiled nervously, dropping the cigar on the table next to him. “Okay, um.”

I waited.

He sighed. “Okay, Isa, I don’t want to ruin our little bubble here, but I think we should at least mention, or talk about, yenno, that there’s an age difference here?”

I laughed, and sank back into my chair. “Yes, Dane, I know.”

He visibly relaxed. “So, we should talk about it because people tend to not…respond well to that sort of thing.”

“Dane,” I said, putting my hands on his knees. “I know. But do you feel weird about it? Because I don’t. I love you, you know that. Age doesn’t matter to me. And I’ll be eighteen soon, so…I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

He smiled and took my hands in his. “I don’t feel weird, Isa, and I don’t care what people say. No matter what, I will always protect you, my love.”

He kissed me deeply and I smiled, feeling the same way I did on that toilet seat, on Halloween, in that top floor apartment, when I was just a kid.


Some time passed in that little green house in the woods. I helped Elaine grow her garden and harvest the produce and go to the market. I took long walks with Dane and fucked him in the woods and in his bed and…everywhere. He encouraged me to start studying and reading again, which I did. And I had my eighteenth birthday.

I had forgotten it was my birthday again—funny how they came at the same time every year. Somehow, Dane remembered. The fact that he did made me think back to being home, and all those times he pretended to not care too much for me, when really, he probably did more than he should have.

On the day of my eighteenth birthday, Dane woke me up with a handful of flowers from Elaine’s garden. It made me think of Kay—and the purple flowers she always left for me—and also of Violet and Dahlia and everyone else I had left behind at the Flower Garden.

He made me get out of bed and blindfolded my eyes, sweeping me up off the ground and carrying me outside. He put me down onto something soft and silky. I ripped off the blindfold and gasped. The entire backyard was covered in little flower petals, of a million different colors. Elaine stood in the middle, by a small patio table covered in delicious, colorful foods.

I screamed with joy and hugged Dane, rushing over to Elaine and hugging her too. And then we ate cake for breakfast. After we ate, Dane had a gift for me. He handed me an envelope with my name on it. I recognized Kay’s writing immediately.

I looked at him wide-eyed and ripped it open:

My Dearest Isabelle on her 18th birthday,

I know that I will not be around to give this to you in person. And I am so sorry for that, but you have to know that I wanted to spare you from the pain for as long as I could.

I know I was a fuck up for a mother, but I did the best that I could, honestly. You will have a better life, I know that for sure. There is a gift hidden for you at this address, to celebrate your womanhood:

Michigan


Go there and ask for Phil, he’ll know what to do. I want better things for you. Please make good choices. Don’t fuck up. Seriously, I will be watching you from down here, and I will come up there if I have to. Don’t make me. Neither of us want that.

Until we meet again, my baby girl. I know you will do great things. I love you. I always will.

Love, Mama

By the time I had finished reading I couldn’t breathe. Tears and snot were dripping off my face. Dane hurriedly wiped my face with his sleeve.

“Don’t cry, Isa. I want you to be happy. So did Kay.”

I started sobbing louder and he put his arms around me. Eventually, I calmed down enough to speak. “I am happy. I’m so fucking happy.”

He seemed confused, smiling half heartedly. “I’m also so fucking sad, Dane,” I whispered. “But thank you. You’re amazing. Really. I…I have no words.”

He chuckled. “For once, I guess.”

“How did you…?”

“Aw Isa, you don’t need to know that! Let me be mysterious. Just know that no one back home would have let anyone take this from you. Also, everything else from yours and Kay’s place is in storage somewhere, for when you need it.” He stroked my face gently. So much love I had for that man, I couldn’t even say it.

I started crying again. He held me there until I ran out of tears, and the things I was crying for started to blur together.

When it appeared that I had calmed down, Dane motioned to the letter. “So, sounds like we have a little adventure waiting for us, huh?”

I nodded. “Will you come with me?”

He smiled sweetly. “Of course, honey. Kay would want someone watching out for you. Also, I could use a road trip. I mean there’s only so many trips to the market a man can take.”

I giggled. The address was in the same town as Kay’s treatment center. Whether that was because of ease of access or because she thought I would need a reminder of her, I didn’t know. All I knew was that she was bringing me back home.


With a very minimalistic plan in place, and a little convincing for Elaine, Dane and I packed our things and prepared to leave the little green house in the woods. Dane’s car was old and rusty, but it had brought us this far, so I had a desperate kind of faith that it would continue to serve us dutifully.

Elaine handed us a bag of sandwiches and a bag of joints, both equally important for a long road trip. I hugged and kissed her goodbye, wishing I had gotten to know her better in our short time together. I had every intention of coming back, but the way Dane looked back at her as we left the house, I wasn’t so sure we would be. Maybe he thought that once I was back home I wouldn’t want to leave again, or maybe he just had a greater plan in mind that I was not privy to. Either way, I knew he would protect me.

There was still a blood stain on the passenger seat where Jake had held his injured arm the night of the great escape from the Flower Garden. I tried not to think about him and the events of that night, acid rising in my throat. I pulled a map out of the glove compartment to distract myself. We sat in silence as we pulled away from the house. Dane seemed to be remembering the same thing.

Finally, I lit a joint and blew the smoke out forcefully. He gave me a sad smile. He seemed oddly tense.

“What’s wrong, Dane?”

He sighed. “I’m sorry, I’m just…I realize now that I am not looking forward to going back home. I left for a reason.” He smiled apologetically and brushed my cheek with his fingers.

“I thought I was the reason?”

He chuckled. “No, honey, I was telling the truth before. You weren’t why I left. Not completely.”

“So, what happened then? And if you didn’t want to come I could’ve just gone on my own. You didn’t have to come.”

He groaned. “Baby, please. I want to come, okay? I’m just fighting some personal demons; can’t you understand that?” We were both tense. I held my breath and counted to ten and apologized. He apologized too.

“Alright, Dane, let’s start over. I know going home is hard for you. It is for me too. A lot of shit went down after you left. So why don’t you just tell me what happened?” I was proud of myself for being so rational.

He gave me a sad side glance. “Well…if you can handle it.”

“Please, you can’t scare me.”

He exhaled forcefully. “Okay well…I kind of…killed someone.”

I stared straight ahead, the mood suddenly serious, my mouth tasted like metal. “Who?”

His grip on the steering wheel tightened. “You remember that pimp, Paulie?”

My eyes widened, the memories spilling back. He had seemed scared of Dane, at my Halloween party, after he had tried to feel me up that one time…And I hadn’t seen him after that. I had never seen him, anywhere. I hadn’t heard about him either.

“Holy shit,” I whispered.

“Isa…I know what it seems like.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “So, you’ve just been going around your whole life killing people who have tried to…who you’ve thought have been a threat to me? Paulie? And almost Randy? Who else? Dane!” I slammed my hands down on the dashboard and tried to catch my breath.

Dane pulled over to the side of the road. The highway was mostly empty, fields of corn on either side. As soon as the car pulled to a stop I threw open the door and tried to run out, getting caught in my still buckled seat belt, and falling onto the road once it broke free. I took off into the field, the green and yellow of the plants whizzing past my head.

When I could no longer breathe, I stopped, panting, and sat down on the ground, the plants swallowing me up. Dane was calling my name, but I ignored him, bringing my knees to my chest and rocking myself back and forth until my mind began to clear. Eventually, he found me and nervously sat beside me, searching my face for a mood, a telling sign of how I was feeling.

“Isa…Isabelle, I’m so sorry. You must be—.”

“I’m not mad, Dane,” I said slowly, surprising us both. How could I be? He’d said he would protect me, didn’t he? I looked at him. He couldn’t mask the surprise and confusion and panic and sadness that flitted across his face in rapid succession.

“Can I at least explain myself?” He held my face in his hands, searching for an emotion. I nodded, fear gripping my stomach.

He took a deep breath and adjusted his positon in the crops. “Okay…so you know the Halloween party you and your mama had? Well…that night when Paulie was…I dunno if hitting on you is the right word, but basically, being a fucking creep to you, I was pissed. I guess I kind of let myself lose it a bit so that’s why in the bathroom with you…anyways.” His eyes were pleading for understanding. “So, when I left, Paulie was leaving too, and I was drunk so not really thinking clearly, and I followed him. But I wasn’t going to do anything, I swear! I just wanted to see what he’s like, yenno? So, I followed him back to his pimp den or whatever the fuck you call it and I saw him with this young girl, the same age as you were, I think, and he was hitting her and ripping her clothes off, and…I just saw your face on that girl so I lost it. I picked up an old pipe and just, beat the shit out of him. And…he was dead. I checked.” He was trembling. It pained me to see him like that

I wrapped my arms around his neck. “It’s okay,” I sighed in his ear, stroking his hair. “I understand, it’s okay. You did the right thing.”

He was crying now, an uncomfortably vulnerable display for him. I patted his head until he stopped. I wondered if there were any other people in my life who had gone missing unexpectedly, and if Dane had been the cause behind those too. It scared me, but also made me feel loved—flattered, even.

My thoughts were interrupted as he pulled away. “And Randy…”

He sighed. “Look, we did what we had to do to get you out of there, and it’s not like he’s dead…” He stopped at my expression, softening his voice. “No, Isa, I didn’t mean for that to happen. That was Jake’s call. There’s people who love you and just want to protect you.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “So…where did you put Paulie’s body?”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s long gone. Are you ready to go now?” He pulled us both to our feet and held my hand as we walked back to the car.

He seemed to have calmed himself. “So why are you scared to go back then? If there’s no way you’ll be caught.”

“I didn’t say that.”

I stopped walking and pulled him back. “What do you mean? I thought you got rid of the body?”

He sighed. “I did but…that girl saw me. There’s always a chance that she told someone, reported me even. I just have to be careful. She’s the only other person alive who saw what happened that night.”

And with that we walked back to the car and continued on our road trip.


About a half day into our trip and we were nearly there, just outside the border of our destination. We agreed that we would stop for the night, stay in a shitty motel and start again in the morning, thinking we would be less conspicuous during the day.

Lying on the stained mattress in that roadside dump of a motel, I couldn’t sleep. Dane’s snores beside me were loud, but I could barely hear them. We had stopped driving for the night, but my brain was still moving forward, desperate to find what Kay had left for me in her secret spot. Money? She was a small-time drug dealer, mostly selling to a consistently low-income neighborhood client base. I didn’t think she had much to give, but I could’ve been wrong. Jewellery? She didn’t wear any. Drugs? Unlikely, considering how adamant she had always been about keeping me clean and sober. I couldn’t come to a plausible conclusion, falling into a restless sleep.


Shortly after heading off again the next morning, we had made it to the location, circling the block of the address Kay had left, trying to find anything that looked mildly inhabitable. Most of the block was abandoned, the windows boarded up, the previous residents leaving nothing behind, not even their building numbers. The recession had hit this town especially hard. I remembered some of the more refined crack heads that use to come around talking about it, but I had been too young and carefree to really think it would ever apply to me. I hoped it had already been like this when Kay left her gift behind, otherwise it would surely be gone by now.

I parked the car on the street in front of the house that I thought might be the number we were looking for. I thought maybe I could faintly see the number 19 sun-printed on the front door.

I woke up Dane and he pushed me away in his sleep. I flicked his ear and he jumped, hitting his head on the car roof. I waited until he got his bearings.

His eyes finally focused on me. “We here?”

“I think so. Looks like this whole neighborhood is abandoned though. And I thought ours was a shit show, this is ridiculous. Kay’s gift might not even be here.”

We got out of the car and headed for the door, possibly marked #19. It occurred to me that nineteen was Kay’s favorite number. She really wanted this journey to mean something to me, I guessed.

We knocked on the door and waited. Nothing. No movement, no noise. Dane was about to knock again but I tried the doorknob before he could, and it opened effortlessly.

“Phil?” I called into the empty rooms. The house was bare except for a few small trinkets left behind. No Phil. I thought about where Kay would hide something. Probably the cookie jar, honestly. I smiled at the thought.

I looked around the kitchen for a cookie jar. There was nothing except old dish rags. Dane and I looked through every cupboard and drawer in every room, pulling off all the electrical outlets and furnace grates. I started pulling up the bathroom floor tiles when Dane called for me from another room. I followed his voice to the bedroom, where he was pointing to a piece of the drywall that was discolored, and obviously so.

I shrugged and Dane told me to stand back as he leaned back and kicked the spot with all his force. It broke away easily. I cleared the small pieces and grinned. Sure enough, there was a small cookie jar. In the wall. I never really understood that woman, but she did love mysteries. I would sometimes read to her from my mystery books, but she didn’t have much of an attention span for that kind of thing.

I took out the jar and squealed at Dane. He was shaking his head in disbelief. “What the hell…” he murmured.

A bag of cookies sat tightly inside the jar, most likely her special batch, and most likely stale, but still, a nice thought. I handed them to Dane, hoping that wasn’t all she’d left. And it wasn’t, a small piece of paper taped to the bottom. I unfolded it, a phone number written inside in Kay’s loopy cursive.

“Phil?” I asked Dane.

He nodded. I handed him the jar and dialed the number on my phone. Surprisingly good service for a town that barely existed.

The ringing went on forever, so I hung up. I dialed several more times, until finally on the fourth or fifth call, after several rings, a deep male voice answered. “Hello?”

“Is this Phil?”

“Yes, can I help you?”

I took a deep breath. “Uh, I’m Isabelle. Kay, my mama, told me to call you?” I heard him draw a quick breath and pause for so long that I thought he had hung up. “Hello? Phil?”

“Yes, Isabelle, hello.” He sounded almost tearful. “So nice to hear from you sweetheart. Um, your mama wanted us to meet…in person. Are you available today?”

“Well I guess that depends where you are.”

He chuckled. “Right, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Um, where are you?”

“A couple hours from Detroit.”

He sounded distracted. “Okay, so somehow you’re going to need to get yourself to South Carolina. Myrtle Beach. Can you do that?”

“Wait, what? Why would Kay bring us to this town only to take us somewhere else?”

He chuckled again. “Isabelle, I don’t know the reason for anything your mama does, do you?”

I sighed. “I guess not.”

“Okay. Can you get here?”

“I think so.”

“Great, see you soon!”

“Wait! What am I coming for?” But he had already hung up.

Dane was watching me and I raised my eyebrows at him. “So, uh, we’re going to South Carolina? Because Kay wants us to? And we have to go now.”

Dane opened his mouth to question me, but instead raised his hands and sighed. “Not even going to ask.”

“So, you’re coming?”

He nodded. “That’s about a twelve-hour drive from here.”

“Do you think your car will make it?”

He chuckled nervously. “Only one way to find out, right?”

And we were on our way.


A twelve-hour drive seemed like nothing and forever at the same time. As Dane drove through the border of Michigan and Ohio, I drummed my fingers excitedly on the dashboard, theorizing about the adventure that lay before us.

“Who do you think Phil is?” I drum-drum-drummed a staccato to the rhythm of the radio’s fading reception.

Dane put his big hand over mine to silence them, glancing at me briefly before returning his gaze back to the road. “Tell me your theories.” He smirked.

I took hold of his hand and put it to my face thoughtfully. “Well…an old friend of Kay’s? Maybe…a lawyer? A client? And old boyfriend? A new boyfriend? What about a long-lost brother that I didn’t know about?”

“What about your dad?” Dane said cautiously.

“No…Kay said he died from an overdose, so…”

“Oh.”

“What?”

He shrugged. “Nothing, those are some good theories.” He brought our joined hands to his lips and kissed mine. “Guess we won’t know for sure until we get there.”

I sighed. “Yeah, but it’s so farrrrr.”

He laughed. “Yeah and I don’t think we’ll make it there today…”

“What, why?” I glared at him.

“Because, Isa, it’ll be dark soon and I’m kind of tired…” He shrugged.

“Daneeee, I’ll drive, you sleep in the back. I won’t be able to sleep anyways. Come on!”

He sighed. “Okay, love. But, yenno…”

“What?”

“Just be careful, that’s all.”


It was dark and we were about halfway through our trip, just inside West Virginia. Dane slept noisily in the back seat as I drove, finding it hard to concentrate on the physical journey, my mind drifting towards what could be waiting at our destination.

A sharp noise grabbed my attention and I started, thinking I had run us off the road. But we were moving, only the car was slowing down, a strange noise coming from the engine.

“Shit,” I whispered. I pulled over to the shoulder as the car, ever so slowly, came to a halt, and after a few sputters went cold. “Oh my godddd,” I moaned, hitting the steering wheel. I tried to start it again but the car remained silent.

“Fuck! Dane!” I shook him awake and he looked at me sleepily, then with more alarm when he realized we were stopped on the side of the road.

“What’s going on, Isa?” he asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

I bit my lip in frustration. “The car died.”

“What! Here, lemme try.” He got out of the car and took my place in the driver’s seat, slapping the wheel in frustration when the ignition refused to turnover. He got out and stood facing me, his face contorted in worry in the moonlight. “Where are we?”

“West Virginia. I took a back road so…it’s pretty empty.”

“Fuck!” He punched the hood of the car.

“Dane, I’m—.”

A train horn sounded in the distance. Suddenly, Dane froze and turned towards me. “Isa, you trust me, right?”

“Yeah, why?” The crazed look in his face sent an electric pulse to my fingers.

“Grab your shit, we gotta go, babe!” He flung open the door and grabbed our bags from the backseat, tossing mine to me and pulling me by the hand, dragging me off the road and into the darkness.

“Dane!” I panted, trying to keep with his long-legged jog-strides.

“Isa, trust me. I used to do this as a kid.” We pushed through the trees and into a clearing where the train tracks sat. The train blared it’s horn again, closer now. “Okay, that horn means it’s gonna be slowing down so…” He held my hands and looked me dead in the eyes. “We jump, on the first open car.”

My eyes widened in realization and my heart sped up in panic. “Dane, I—.”

“Just follow my lead!” His voice was drowned out by the horn as he pushed me a few steps back into the cover of some bushes. The lights on the train blinded me as the first car came into view. Dane grabbed my hand and pulled me forward, grinning at my terrified face. “It’ll be okay! I got you!” he shouted.

I nodded, my sweaty hand gripping his. We approached the train as it slowed and with one last reassuring look, Dane took off running and hurled himself onto a car with an opening in the side. I ran after him and he called to me, the train closer to crawling now. I threw my bag into the car and Dane outstretched his hand, ready to pull me up.

“This is crazy,” I whispered to myself. With a quick jump, I threw myself onto the car, my arms gripping the metal floor, my feet dangling off the edge as the train dragged me.

I began to panic. “Dane, help!” I was about to slip when a strong arm gripped my torso and quickly yanked me to safety. I stared incredulously at Dane, my heartbeat refusing to slow as the train once again picked up speed.

He smiled, the moonlight reflecting off his teeth. “That makes me feel young again,” he mused.

A million thoughts fluttered through my mind. Maybe I didn’t really know Dane after all. Doubt flooded my body. He moved to sit beside me, putting his arm around my shoulders and pulling me into him. The strength of his arm—the arm that had pulled me to safety—pushed the doubt from my mind, a warm blanket of comfort and sanctuary taking its place.

I sighed against his chest and melted into him, settling in for the night.


I was awoken by a hand shaking my shoulders. The sun was just beginning to rise, and I jolted upright, seeing the red metal box where I sat, forgetting where I was.

Dane smiled at me. “Time to go.” He sat on the edge of the car, his feet dangling over the side.

I reached for my bag and groaned, my entire body stiff from sleeping on the metal floor.

“Okay, Isa!” he said louder. “We’re gonna wait until we pass a nice grassy ditch and then we jump. You got it?” I stared at him wide-eyed and he nodded reassuringly. “Ready?”

I positioned myself behind him, my knees shaking. He stood and readied himself. “You can do it!” he yelled, leaping forward into a steeply sloping ditch. I watched him roll away and realized it was my turn. I stood frozen for a second, unable to make myself jump. Kay’s face flashed in front of my eyes and without thinking, I closed them and jumped, landing hard on the grass and rolling until I reached the bottom of the ditch.

I gasped at the pain of the impact as the train sped by, certain that every bone in my body was broken. I lay there for what felt like an eternity until I heard a voice calling my name.

“Isa!” It was Dane.

I rolled over and groaned, something sharp stabbing my leg. I twisted myself around to get a look and realized I was caught in s bristly bush. “Fuck!” I yanked my leg out, the thorns shredding the skin on my calf.

Just then, Dane bounded up to me, panting heavily. He picked me up off the ground and looked me over as I stumbled onto my feet. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

I looked myself over. Although I felt like I should never walk again, the only visible damage was the small trails of blood running down my calf, courtesy of the thorns. “I guess I’m okay,” I said, brushing myself off. “Are you?” I looked him over too, his body completely unscathed.

“Fine! Had a good landing.” He smiled and I half-heartedly returned with my own.

“Where are we?” I looked around wildly.

He pointed to a road sign a few hundred metres ahead of us. “Just entered Florence. The train started heading north so I figured we might as well jump here.”

I nodded. “Guess I’ll give Phil a call.”


Dane and I stood at a gas station on the outskirts of Florence, waiting. Phil had been ecstatic to hear we had made it to South Carolina and didn’t ask why we wouldn’t be able to make it the rest of the way to Myrtle Beach. He said he’d “send a car” and hung up excitedly, wishing me a safe ride.

“What kind of guy ‘sends a car’?” I asked Dane, putting a posh accent on the last words.

He shrugged and we sat down on the curb, feeling the post-adrenaline crash coming on. “I don’t know, but he sure wants to meet you.”

We were to meet him later that day, at a restaurant near the beach. I had enthusiastically agreed, not yet feeling the weight of my exhaustion.

An hour later a sleek black sedan pulled up to where we sat on the curb, the window rolling down slowly. “Are you Isabelle?” the driver asked.

I nodded and he got out to open the back door for us, making a face at our disheveled appearance. The inside of the car was leather and luxurious. Dane and I looked at each other with the same incredulous look. Who was this Phil guy?

“You’ll want to change and freshen yourselves up a bit,” the driver tutted from the front seat. “Do you have new attire?”

We raised our bags to show we did and he closed a partition between the front and back seats to give us privacy. I tried to stifle my sceptical giggles as we changed.


We arrived at the restaurant before Phil and sat at the table he had reserved for us. It was outdoors, on a patio that looked like a scene straight from a movie. I wondered if this particular type of patio was reserved specifically for the delivery of earth shattering news.

Shortly after we had sat down, a man walked over to us, a huge smile on his face, and introduced himself as Phil. He was older, probably about Dane’s age, with dark hair and a warm, kind smile. I stood up to greet him and he curiously looked me up and down, beaming, which made me feel awkward, but also kind of proud.

Dane shook his hand and gave him a quizzical look, but Phil didn’t seem at all interested in Dane’s existence on that patio. Phil was trying hard to act casual, but could not seem to take his eyes off me. Dane and I exchanged a sideways glance.

“Isabelle,” he beamed, and motioned for us to sit. “Thank you for coming. You too, Dane.” He glanced at him and Dane put his arm protectively around my shoulders.

“Thank you, Phil, for whatever this is.” I motioned to the three of us.

“Oh no,” he laughed, “don’t thank me yet. This was all your mama’s plan.”

I shook my head disbelievingly. Kay was a perpetually terrible planner. Unless that had all been a ruse. Or maybe the sickness had made her come to a realization about herself.

“So, why did she do all this? What do you have for me Phil?”

He glanced down at his phone, momentarily distracted. “I’m sorry what was that?” He smiled.

I frowned and glanced at Dane, repeating my question.

“Ah.” He smiled. “Right to the point, just like your mama. God, you look so much like her, it’s incredible. You’re a very beautiful young lady, Isabelle.”

I blushed uncomfortably and Dane cleared his throat. Phil ignored him. “Well…Isabelle, your mama wanted me to tell you something.”

I waited. He glanced at his phone again, looking back at me. “What?” I asked, trying to contain my irritation, thinking it had better be worth the last forty-eight hours.

“Well…I’m…your father, Isabelle.”

I froze, staring at a spot just above Phil’s head. He was trying to get my attention but I couldn’t make my muscles respond. I continued to stare.

“Isabelle, I know this is sudden, and you probably don’t know anything about me, but your mama wanted me to meet you. And since she passed…” He sighed. “She told me of her plan, and that she was sick, and I wanted to come see you so much sooner, but she…she wanted it this way, for whatever reason, so you know I had to abide by her wishes. You probably have so many questions.”

My eyes managed to unstick themselves and I looked at Phil, typing on his phone, and then to Dane, who was also staring at me, stunned.

Phil called my name. I looked at his eyes, so pleading and I realized I was supposed to say something. “I’m so…confused,” I muttered. “I thought you were dead.”

His face contorted in pain. “She told you that?”

I nodded.

He interlocked his fingers on the table in front of him. “Well, I guess I deserve that.”

I stared, uncomprehending.

Suddenly, Dane took his arm off my shoulder and excused himself. He said this was private and he would come back later. I asked him to stay but he refused, his face an unreadable expression.

I sighed as he left. Phil asked, “What’s wrong with your friend?”

“He’s my boyfriend.” I retorted coldly.

Phil looked slightly flustered. “Isabelle, isn’t he a little old for you?”

“You don’t really know me well enough to say that, though, do you Phil?”

He sat back in his chair, stunned. We sat in silence for a minute until he exhaled loudly and nodded. “I’m sorry, Isabelle, you’re right. How about we start over?”

I took a deep breath and nodded.

“Okay, so where should I start?”

“Just tell me everything, Phil,” I said, and tried to clear my mind enough to listen to what he had waited for so long for me to hear.

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