Breath by Breath Ch. 01

There was no sky today, only a rough woollen blanket of mottled grey that covered everything and concealed the sun. The usual virescent hues of the countryside were muted to dullness, with the wind slowly growing stronger.
Brandon zipped up the waterproof jacket he had slipped on when leaving home since rain seemed imminent. His mother had handed him a few bags of homemade potato crisps and wanted him to take them to his best friend Ben’s house a few blocks away. He had been all too willing to oblige, despite the bad weather and the fact that his friend was away in Dublin for the week. Asking his sister to take over the counter at their family restaurant, he had set out for Ben’s house, his mind tingling with nervous excitement.
The wind was blowing leaves and all sorts of other things by the time he rang the doorbell. It was a small, single-storied, Tudor-style house with ivy-covered walls and box windows. Ben’s parents were educated and established, unlike Brandon’s parents who had been running the restaurant forever. But not only were the two families close and tight-knit but Dr Thomas and Emily Barrett were also one of the most humble and hospitable couples around, choosing to live a simple life even though they could afford something bigger and better. They also had a flat in London, where Ben was doing college.
The door scraped open to the sight of a tall, female figure in a white housekeeping dress. Brandon had known that pale, freckled face as long as he had known Ben and his family. She was pretty, with short brown hair and a motherly smile. However, her height and strong build belied the fact that she was only thirty.
“Brandy.” Her face curled into a broad smile as she stepped aside to let him enter.
“Hi, Elsa,” he smiled back and gestured at the bags of crisps in his hands. “Mam sent these.”
“Oh, come in, lad.” With a tilt of her head, she motioned him to enter. Brandon stepped inside the narrow foyer illuminated by a filament bulb chandelier. “I love your new hairstyle. Very grownup.”

“Thanks,” he laughed, shutting the door. It was often hard to decipher if Elsa was only the housekeeper or the woman of the house. Thomas and Emily had taken her in as a young girl years ago and made her a part of the household, financially helping her family and even giving her a college education later. But she had stayed back with them as the housekeeper instead of doing something else with her life. With Ben’s parents travelling most of the time, the Barrett family would be lost without her.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked.

“No, don’t be troubling yourself.” He followed Elsa into the living room, taking off his jacket and hanging it on the back of the door. “I won’t be too long.” 

“Still managing the chip counter, huh?” Elsa laughed. “I’d thought the five of you would be walking in the air in these six months.”
Brandon only laughed in response. All they had to show for the last six months was a single. A hit single that had gone to number one the very day it was released. The song was everywhere, the video was on every TV channel, and they were apparently the next big pop act of the UK. Yes, they had made a little bit of money, earned quite a bit of fame, supported some of the biggest pop groups in Britain, seen their faces and names on every channel and every tabloid, and eventually tired of hearing their own voices on the radio. But they were still young lads of eighteen or nineteen, trying to keep their lives as normal as possible amid the sudden flurry of unexpected success.
“When’s the album coming out?” she asked as he handed her the crisps. Carlton Café was famous for their chips. People from distant parts of Ireland and the UK would drop in to eat and take home the delicious potato flakes. If anything, then his success and fame had only helped his parents’ business more.
“It’s in post-production,” he said. “Should be out in two or three months.”
His eyes darted down the hallway to the left. “Izzi’s in.” Brandon jumped at Elsa’s voice, and blushed when he realised he’d been caught. “Go on. She’ll be happy to see you,” she smiled.
With a shy nod, Brandon turned to walk down the hallway, running a quick hand through his dark brown, curly hair. The door did not look locked. He knocked, waiting for an answer. None came.
“Izzi?” He pushed open the door a little and found no one in. Frowning, he looked around in confusion. Elsa said she was in. Then…
He sighted the study with the door ajar. Elsa had gone back to her own thing so he decided to take a look. The hallway was also illuminated with a small chandelier, cloaking the house in a soft yellow glow. He tried to peek inside the study through the gap in the door but could see nothing in the low light.
And then he heard sounds inside.
“Izzi?” He gently pushed the door, putting his head in. There was a crash, like something toppling over, and then a groan. He stepped inside to find a pile of books littered on the floor, and a raven-haired teenage girl surrounded by the mess.

Isabel Rosalia Standish. Ben’s younger sister. The most beautiful girl in the whole town. The love of his life. Of course, he had never said that out loud. Not to her. Not to anybody. For god’s sake, he was still a teenager. It was too soon.
Yet, he could never help the furious beating of his heart, or the flush of joy in his veins every time he saw her.
“Are you okay?” He tried to not laugh, but could not help it. Isabel was almost buried under a heap of thick books that had fallen over from the table next to where she had been sitting on the floor. She nodded, moved her long hair out of her face, and dragged herself into a seated position.
Brandon crouched beside her, watching her gloved hands arrange the books and put them back on the table. The study was also the library of the house, packed with books and magazines of all kinds. Ben’s father was a psychiatrist and his mother a relationship therapist. It was not unusual to find books scattered all around the house.
“I didn’t know you would be here,” Isabel said, rising to her feet. Behind her, Brandon rose as well, smiling at the difference in their heights. They both were short; he was five feet and nine inches while she was barely five feet. But next to him, Isabel looked even shorter. After his mother, she was the shortest woman he’d met so far. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” he said, watching her at work. She put a book under her arm and stashed the rest away in their proper places. “Mam sent some crisps for you.”
Isabel turned, her dark, luminous gaze meeting his hazel-green eyes. It was impassive, as though she had stopped feeling all emotions. The dark circles had faded a little but they still gave her a sunken, hollowed-out look.
“Come on,” she beckoned, walking out of the room. Brandon followed, turning off the light. Her room was right next to that of Ben’s. It was decked in pink, had fairy lights around the windows, and potted flowers on the parapet. There were books in the small cabinet next to her bed and a computer on the desk. As small as the room was, it was spotless and neat. No shoes on the floor, no clothes on the bed…
And definitely no mirrors. Not even in the bathroom adjoining her bedroom.
She put the book on the night table, kicked off her slippers, and climbed onto the bed. Then she looked at him and tapped the space next to her. Brandon walked over and sat beside her, staring at her small, sweet face the whole time.
Her pale, dewy skin contrasted her raven hair and dark orbs with long, wispy lashes. Her nose was blunt, but that could do nothing to diminish her beauty. In contrast to the blonde, Irish girls around, she was different. It was why she stood out everywhere.
That was the only reason she stood out, Brandon wanted to believe.
“Are you doing alright?” He decided to begin the conversation somewhere. She nodded in reply. “You weren’t at the café today, so I was wondering.”
“I was reading.” Her voice was soft, almost whispery. “It’s manky outside and I wanted to be home.”
“How’s school?”
“Have you made any new friend?”
She shook her head. “I’ve never had any friend.”
Brandon’s brow scrunched into a frown. He crossed his arms and looked into her eyes.
“So you mean I’m not your friend? None of us are?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Isabel’s voice was flat. “When my own parents could destroy my life—”
He pressed a finger to her lips, cutting off the rest of the sentence. When she looked at him, he shook his head.
“Please.” He sighed. “Don’t make yourself relive the horror. Please.”
She held his finger, moved it from her lips, and held his hand. The silk felt smooth against his palm, but he wanted to feel the softness of her skin, not some damn piece of cloth. He took her hand, slowly beginning to peel away the fabric. She tried to pull away, but he held tight.
“You’re hiding from me?” He raised his eyebrows. “I’ve seen it before.”
“You don’t have to keep seeing it all the time.” She tugged her hand again but he was not letting go. “Please.”
“I want to.” He pulled the glove off her left hand, revealing a deep, scary scar running down the wrist. He flinched. It still looked raw, after nearly six months. If the scar on her skin was still that vivid, he wondered what the scars on her mind were like.
“Does it hurt?” he asked. She had stopped resisting and her gaze was downcast.
“Sometimes. Doesn’t matter, though.” When she looked up again, her eyes seemed sadder. “I did it, remember?”
Brandon sighed again, his grip slackening, allowing Isabel to withdraw her hand. Instead of putting on the glove again, she tugged the long sleeve of her tunic until it covered her wrist. Then she gathered her hands in her lap.
On an impulse, he reached out to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. She sighed, staring at the closed window. It had started to rain.
He never ceased to wonder how a girl that young could have already lived a life so horrific, it was beyond imagination. In the last six months, she had visited every horrible place conceivable— hospital, police station, courtroom, attorney’s office. He did not know how she did it. She was yet to realise how strong she was. It was one of the many reasons why he loved her.
“You know,” she spoke, still staring out of the window. “I had thought you’d go away from me after this.” She glanced at her scarred wrist. “Thought everyone would go away.”
She turned her head to stare at him, her eyes searching his. “That everyone would think I’m a bad person. Like my parents did.”
“We know you.” He tried to smile but could not around the lump in his throat. “We’ll love you no matter what.”
He held her hand again, kissing the scar, making her flinch. “We know what drove you to this,” he added, trying to keep emotion out of his voice. “We know everything. And we still love you just as much. Maybe more now.”
His blood boiled upon remembering the past few months, when all the dark secrets of her life had tumbled out in the open. They had seen a lot more of the police and of hospitals than anyone got to see in their lifetimes. Then her adoption happened, followed by her change of residence from Harrow to the Barrett flat in Central London.
And then, a week or so later, Ben had found her in the bathroom, her wrist slit.
“So…” He shook off the memories and forced a smile. “Have you heard about the music concert at Hawks Well?”
She nodded. “Are you participating?” he asked. “They’re auditioning now.”
“I haven’t sung in a long time,” she said. “Songs don’t come easy anymore.”
“Please audition at least. You haven’t performed since you moved here.” He shifted closer to her, touched her cheek with two fingers. “It will take your mind off stuff.”
“I’m fine,” she nodded. “And there are many good singers in the town to light up the concert. I’m not needed.”
“Just one song? Please?” he insisted, hoping she’d agree. But she only shook her head.
“I can’t,” she sighed. “I can’t sing.”
Lightning tore through the sky, followed by a deep rumble. Isabel shifted on the bed until their legs were touching. Brandon checked the time on his watch. It was getting late.
“I better get moving,” he said. “Mam will be waiting.”
“It’s raining,” she noted, glancing at the window.
“Don’t worry. I have a rain jacket.” He held up her hand again and pressed a soft kiss to her wrist. “Is Emily coming home tonight?”
“Yes. She is probably on her way.”
“Okay. So I’ll… push off.” He rose from the bed, adjusting his pants. “You take care, alright?”
She nodded. “Thank your mother for the chips.”
“I will,” he smiled, his eyes darting at her lips. He quickly turned around. “Goodnight, Izzi.”
“Brandy,” she called out just as he had stepped outside the door. He let half of his body back in through the doorway with an expectant look on his face.
“You really don’t hate me?” she asked. Brandon’s heart ached at those words. Hate her? She was the first girl he’d fallen in love with. He knew where those words were coming from, but then…
He re-entered the room and walked up to her. Then he leaned and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips, felt her eyes slide close and her breath hitch. When he drew away, her mouth was slightly parted, her eyes searing into his.
“I love you,” he whispered. It was the first time he said that to her, to any girl ever, even though it had been on the tip of his tongue for months. And it did not just sound right. It felt right. Isabel stared into his eyes until Brandon decided to break the moment by leaving the room.
“Table number six.” Mae pushed a tray of burgers and coffee towards her youngest son who had returned from college about fifteen minutes ago. He knew he would not be able to carry on with college alongside the band for too long, but he still tried. Brandon nodded, took the tray his mother offered, and made his way through the tables and chairs to arrive at his destination. The customer smiled, asked him about Pentoniac, and congratulated him on his success. It was a small town and everyone knew everyone. He did not mind the local people showing interest in his career. Only when the girls thronged the counter and refused to move did he become annoyed.
Yes, he liked girls, had always been a bit of a ladies’ man, with girls drooling over him because of his voice and handsome features. But ever since their sudden fame, girls of all shapes and sizes had been throwing themselves at him. At first, it was a great feeling. But six months on, it had started to be annoying. It was a good thing being appreciated and recognised, and another thing to lose your privacy.
“Was Emily home when you went yesterday?” His mother asked as he returned to the counter. His sister Mairead and brother Liam were waiting tables in the meanwhile. He shook his head.
“Izzi said she’d be back in a while,” he replied, pouring himself some coffee.
“I’m happy that Elsa is around to take care of her.” He heard his mother sigh as she arranged the food on the trays. A customer came in for a latte, and Brandon quickly fixed it for him. “Is she okay? She wasn’t here yesterday.”
“She’s okay,” he nodded. “As fine as possible. She just wants to be on her own. Maybe the crowd here doesn’t suit her anymore.”
“That’s what I thought.” Mae turned, handing a tray to Mairead. “I wish you and Ben could give her more time. Being alone isn’t good for her.”
“She doesn’t like people around her, mam,” he pointed out. “I wonder if she’s even talked to Ben after coming home from the hospital.”
“That isn’t the point. Her safety is more important than her moodiness.” He watched Mae pass on some ingredients to his father at the stove. He did make the best burgers and fish and chips in town. “I was worried when they brought her to Sligo after her attempt. This is Ireland, the church meddles in everything. But people did take very kindly to her.”
“For the most part.”
“What does that mean?” She looked at his face. “Is she having a hard time here? Is there something I don’t know?”
“It doesn’t matter.” He rose from the stool and took a few long gulps of his coffee. Mairead came around with another order, then turned and smiled when her eyes sighted the door of the restaurant.
“Look who’s here,” she whispered to her brother. Brandon looked, his heart skipping a beat when he saw Isabel at the door, adorable in her blue school uniform, gloved hands holding a book, eyes searching for an empty corner.
“Go.” Mairead thumped him on the back. “She’ll go away if she doesn’t find an empty seat.”
“Bring her here, will ye?” Mae asked him. “Haven’t hugged her in a while.”
“Mam.” Brandon rolled his eyes, making his way through tables to the front door. Isabel had not seen him, her eyes still scanning the place for a quiet corner.
“Hey.” He waved when he was close enough to her. She raised a hand in acknowledgement.
“My seat’s taken.” She sounded like a child who had just been denied more candy. Brandon looked around to find no empty seat. The restaurant was usually crowded all the time, but ever since the band happened, it did not thin even during the afternoons. Sitting at the café was a chance to see his home for many people.
“Umm… would you mind hanging out in the kitchen for the moment?” he asked. “The customer occupying your seat should be gone by then.”
She looked around again without replying, impatient for a place to sit and read. “I can go home and eat lunch, in that case.”
“You haven’t eaten lunch?”

She shook her head. “School lunch is bland. I thought I’d drop in here and grab a bite. But—”
“Izzi!” Mairead called out from the corner, waving. Isabel waved back, then stared up at Brandon when his sister motioned for her to come over.
“Come on,” he smiled, holding her hand. It felt weird holding her gloved hands. Till three months ago, when he could feel her soft palms against his, it always seemed like a proper connection. But now, it was only a piece of black silk against his skin.
He took her through the maze of tables and chairs to the counter, where Mae wasted no time in engulfing her in a huge embrace. Brandon often felt embarrassed by the way his mother showered his friends with unabashed affection. One would not think she had seven children of her own.
“Oh, my baby,” Mae said to her, when she finally let her go. “I missed you yesterday. Are you okay?” She cradled her face between her palms, smiling. “You’ve lost so much weight. Wait till I fatten you up with crisps.”
Brandon noticed a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. She had always been slender, but of late, she looked pale and waifish, and they all knew why. His mother, however, was still on her relentless pursuit of trying to fatten her up. Isabel loved their potato crisps, and they had an unending supply. But they were yet to see any significant weight on her.
“She hasn’t eaten lunch yet,” Brandon mentioned, drawing a concerned look from his mother.
“Oh, is it so?” She turned, disappearing into the pantry just behind the counter. “Come in here, sweetheart. Pick what you want to eat.”
“Go on,” he whispered, giving her a slight nudge. She slowly made her way in, disappearing behind the brown Dutch door. When Brandon returned to her after serving a few more orders, she was seated on a high bar stool, her legs neatly tucked at the back, a plate of hamburger and cheese dip in front of her. She was nibbling on the food while reading her book.

“Okay?” he asked, going up to her. She nodded, looking at his face for a fleeting moment. He did not tell her that Elsa had called to ask if she was indeed at the restaurant. She was there and she was alright. But her family worried about her all the time, which was not surprising or irrational. They feared she might do something stupid again. They all did. It did not seem like she would, but it was hard to push the fear away.

“Your hair’s back to brown,” she observed suddenly, breaking a piece of bread and nibbling on it. He’d never seen her biting on the whole burger at once. She took out the contents one by one and ate them, beginning with the top bread and ending with the bottom.
“I’m glad,” he laughed, pulling a stool to sit next to her. “I only wish the colour had gone before Peter’s wedding. I cringe to look at the pictures.” He really did. Blonde hair was never a good idea.

“Don’t regret it. You can always tell people the history behind it.” The top bread was gone now, revealing a bright piece of tomato. “It got you into the band,” she said, peeling the skin of the tomato with her teeth.

Brandon smiled, both at her little quirk and at the memory of the first audition. He had been out drinking the night before and fared miserably at the audition because of a bad hangover. Isabel had been more upset than his family or friends, rebuking him for being so flippant about such a significant opportunity. And it was because of her that he was motivated to make the audition the second time, even if that meant dyeing his hair blonde and getting a tan.
“I’ll always remember how angry you were with me for not making it the first time,” he said. “I wonder if I’d ever been scolded that hard.”
“You hadn’t,” she spoke around a piece of meat, her eyes not leaving the book for once. “You’re spoilt.”
“Being the youngest of seven will do that to you,” he chuckled.
“You see, I’ve never had dreams of my own,” she spoke again. “Never knew how to. But I see you and Ben and Mark, and try to believe that dreams do come true.” She looked at him. “You’ve covered ABBA on this album, right?”
“Yes. I Have A Dream.” Their first album. Fifteen songs—two covers and thirteen originals. He had not stopped singing the songs since the recording. “And it’s never too late to start dreaming.” Reaching out, he gave her hand a soft squeeze. “You haven’t lost anything. We want you to live again.”
“Hey! Izzi!” The door opened and the figure of Kyle appeared, blonde locks falling into his blue eyes. He was one-fifth of the band, a talented singer, guitarist, and piano player, and his childhood buddy, who lived closer to downtown. “You two snuggling over lunch?”
Isabel had returned to her book. Brandon shook his head and sighed.
“I’m just keeping her company,” he explained. “What’re ye doing here, Hagan?”
“Myself and Mark were just wandering about,” he said, leaning against the door frame. “Thought we’d drop in.”
His gaze turned to Isabel again. She had wrapped her arms around her school bag, clearly uncomfortable in the presence of Kyle.
She had never liked him. Until the band formed, Kyle was a cheeky little troublemaker, always getting into scuffles and fights and calling others names. He had fancied Isabel for a while, but Ben was protective, Brandon was already in love, and Isabel showed no interest in him. He had moved on to other girls soon enough.
“Mark’s also here?” He rose from the stool but hesitated to leave Isabel alone, lest Kyle bothered her. Even though they were friends, he could still be very mean sometimes.
“Yeah. He got tempted by the chips there.” He gestured at the counter, from where Mark was walking towards the pantry, still chewing.
“Hiya, folks. How’s it going?” He brushed past Kyle and entered the small room, smiling at Isabel. She replied with a nod and closed her book. Mark Flanagan was another member of the band, tall, stocky, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a dimpled smile. The four of them- him, Mark, Ben, and Kyle- had first put the band together in school. Then Mae had got in touch with Louis Walsh and it had all rolled from there.

“Heard you have a pet donkey now,” Isabel said to the brunet. “Can I come and see it sometime?”

Kyle and Brandon burst into a laugh. Mark frowned.

“It isn’t my donkey,” he said. Mark’s voice was deep and husky, more fit for blues and soul than pop. If people closed their eyes and listened to him, they would not be able to tell he was a White lad. “It’s sick. We’re taking care of it.”

“Why?” Kyle asked. “Are you a donkey hospital?”

“Donkey hospital!” Brandon was in stitches, his cheeks turning red and eyes watering. Kyle was laughing too, and Mark joined in. Isabel’s eyes snapped to Mark’s face when he put his right index finger in his mouth.

“Don’t bite your nails,” she said, firmly. “It’s unhealthy.”
“Sorry.” Mark sat on the stool Brandon had vacated. “Aren’t you participating in the concert at Hawks Well?” he asked. “It’s going to be grand.”
“I’m sure it is.” Isabel packed her bag, zipped it up, and rose from the seat. “It’s just not for me.”

“Change her mind, Fletcher,” he said to Brandon. He shrugged with a quiet laugh, watching as she picked up the plate, went over to the sink, and quickly rinsed it. Brandon smiled without stopping her. Isabel was a simple girl, sincere, hardworking, grounded. Despite having spent the first sixteen years of her life in London, she’d adjusted seamlessly to this small Irish county. She never seemed to miss Britain.

Isabel wiped her hands, put her gloves back on, and turned to leave.

“See ya, lads.” She walked past Kyle, slinging the bag on her shoulder. Brandon followed.
“Where ye goin’?” Mark called out, to which he only gestured with a wave of his hand and walked out of the pantry. Isabel was with his mother, probably trying to pay for the meal, but Mae was vigorously shaking her head and smiling. Defeated, she put the money back inside her bag and told her something, to which the older woman smiled and kissed her forehead.
“Izzi.” He caught up with her just outside the green front door of the café. She turned, her eyes questioning.
“Yes?” She pulled the scarf around her neck, wrapping it neatly. “Did I forget anything?”
“No.” He hesitated. “Can I walk you home?”
“It’s fine. You’re needed here.”
“It’s close. It won’t be too long.”
“Exactly. I can go, Brandy.”
“Please?” He did not want to plead, but it was out before he could help. Isabel sighed.
“Okay.” She nodded, turning to walk again. Brandon started walking beside her, looking down at the girl next to him. He had first met her two years ago, when she visited Ireland for the first time. She had affected him differently, which was quite a surprise because all the girls he ever went out with were blondes. In the three weeks that she had spent in the county, Ben’s parents had allowed him to take her to the lake, teach her horseriding, and introduce her to the delectability of homemade food. When she had trouble comprehending the Irish accent and phrases, he developed the habit of speaking in normal English around her.

Since they were three or four years of age, Brandon and his brothers trained and participated in showjumping, and his sisters did Irish dancing. But Isabel’s jaw-dropping ballet and tap dance moves were unlike anything that town had ever seen. It had flooded him with pride, admiration, and other sensations that he had never felt before. He had failed to stop thinking about her, suddenly losing interest in all other girls.
The Isabel who moved to Sligo three months past was different. If she had been quiet and private then, she was distant and unfeeling now. No one had seen her smile in months. The antidepressants had somehow made her quieter.
“Can I ask you something?” he said, their feet making crunching sounds as they stepped on dry leaves on the road. She nodded.
“Is everything okay at school?” he asked. “I mean, do they treat you normally?”
“Who’s ‘they’?”
“Everyone. Teachers, students…”
“Hmm-mm. Everything’s fine.”
She looked at him, her feet stopping awkwardly. “What’s there to be sure about?” Her voice was stern. “Who would want to hang around with a girl who tried killing herself? I’m mental. Weird.”
Brandon frowned, his hands fisting at his sides. He had finished school a little over a year ago, and had not forgotten what the students could be like. Small town children were less civil than city kids. They often forgot decorum and manners. He had always been the popular guy. But he had seen Mark get bullied and Kyle bullying. It was not something he wished for anyone.
“Do they say that about you?” he asked, the frown still sitting on his brow. She shrugged.
“Not to my face. But I understand.” She started walking again. “I don’t want to hang out with anybody, anyway.”
“Izzi.” He reached for her hand and slowly drew her close, until he could properly hold her in his arms. Isabel stared up at his face, not surprised, not delighted, not embarrassed. Her face was a blank sheet of paper.
“Promise me you’ll tell me- tell anybody- if you’re ever bullied?” he said to her, his hands on the long sleeves of her uniform. “You won’t hide it. Promise me?”
“I don’t promise.” She turned from him. “I’ve never been bullied, so I won’t even know.” She glanced back at him. “Stop worrying. No one worries about me.”

“You couldn’t be more mistaken.” He crossed his arms, walking over until he was in front of her. “Everyone worries about you. Dr Barrett, Emily, Ben, my family, Mark, his family.” He sighed. “I worry about you. Because I care. We all care. And we want you to be safe.”
“Safe.” She repeated the word, as if hearing it for the first time. “Safe.”
Brandon shook his head, knowing the mistake he had made. He tried to catch up with her. “Izzi. Wait.”
Isabel stopped and looked at him with eyes that were dark and scary. For a moment, she simply stared. Brandon half-expected a slap, but instead, she opened her mouth to speak.
“Why did no one care about my safety when I’d been locked in the attic?” she asked him. Brandon opened his mouth, tried to come up with the right words, but nothing formed. Isabel walked away, tightly folding her arms around herself. Brandon did not follow. He stood watching as she disappeared into the lane on the right, the sight of her black hair and blue skirt lingering in front of his eyes.

“Still hanging out with the city lass, eh?” A hand fell on his shoulder. It was Damien, his former schoolmate. Brandon did not reply. A hoarse laugh came from his mate.
“She’s a fine thing, but she’s away with the fairies,” he whispered to him. “You’re the ladies’ man. I thought you’d know better.”
“It’s none of your business, Damien.” He tried to not be angry. “Stop saying that about her.”
“I don’t care, really,” he shrugged. “I’m just saying you deserve better.”
Knocking his hand away, Brandon turned to walk back home. He knew Isabel’s reality. And he was going to be there for her no matter what.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *