Some Comfort Here Ch. 04

“Going somewhere, Brandy?” Mae called from the counter as Brandon made his way towards the door.

They had returned home the day before on a ten-day break till the release of the album. Once the album launched, there would be promotions, signings, and more interviews.
 
He had not done much since he returned home, except sleep. His friends had dropped in to meet and it had been a good laugh, but he had not gone out anywhere. He needed to save up on the energy for what was to come.
 
“I’m going to meet Izzi, mam,” he said, waving at her. “Be back in an hour.”
 
 
The thought of meeting Isabel unnerved him a little. He had not spoken to her after that interview. His sister Yvonne had called him the day the interview came out in the paper to ask if that was true. His mother had called as well. He’d half-expected Ben’s mother to also call but she had not, mercifully. It was not a nice feeling to have to explain to every person that it was not true— Louis had linked him with Jessica and started the rumour just for sheer publicity, and he definitely was not single, only trying to protect Isabel from unwanted attention by hiding their relationship.
 
 
And then things had blown out of proportion when a whole feature had been done on them the week after, declaring the five of them as single, footloose, and available. They had even been asked the type of girls each of them liked and they’d had to make up some garbage. Poor Mark, he did not even fancy girls. Brandon felt more sorry for his friend him than he did for himself.
 
 
He had called Isabel to explain himself, but Emily had answered the phone and told him that she was down with fever and could not talk.
 
 
Damn. All this, just when they were finally getting somewhere with the relationship.
 
 
Brandon shoved his hands in his pockets and walked past houses, parked cars, and billboards, spotted himself in a poster on a wall. He worried about Isabel. He’d asked Ben about her after they’d come home, and he’d said she was better. But he still wanted to see her. Talk to her. Explain that he did love her and she shouldn’t pay heed to all that trash about them in the media.
 
 
Two girls walked past him, stopping short when they recognised him. Brandon lifted the hood of his jacket to hide his face and practically ran the rest of the way to Ben’s house. The last thing he needed on the way to meet his girlfriend was to be mobbed by a group of fans.
 
 
He rang the doorbell and waited impatiently, tapping his foot and keeping his head down, in case someone recognised him. At other times, it would’ve been great. But he just was not in the mood now. Not when he was dying to see Isabel.
 
“Hi, Brandy.” Emily opened the door with a smile. “Come in.”
 
 
He politely smiled and walked in, looking around for Isabel. She was nowhere to be seen, though. It was evening. He wondered if she had gone out with her brother.
 
 
“Ben just went out with his dad,” Emily said, leading him to the living room. “Would you like some tea?”
 
 
“Umm… okay,” he nodded, taking off his jacket and putting it on the coat rack.  He quickly glanced at the door of Isabel’s room that was slightly ajar. “How’s Izzi?” he asked hesitantly.
 
 
“Better. Still a little weak, though.” She turned off the TV and headed for the kitchen. “She’s napping. You want to spend some time with me till she wakes up?”
 
 
Brandon did not see any reason to refuse. He would not leave without meeting Isabel, so he had to wait. With a nod of acquiescence, he followed her into the kitchen.
 
 
“Feels great to be back home, doesn’t it?” She smiled, as she went about making the tea. Brandon returned the smile, sitting on a barstool at the kitchen island.
 
 
“Yes. It can get lonely on the road,” he said, glancing around the kitchen that he must have seen for as long as he’d seen his own kitchen.
 
 
“Lonely?” Emily gave him a surprised glance, picking the box of tea from the top shelf. “With the five of you together?”
 
 
He laughed. “We miss home,” he sighed. “Not professional popstars yet.” He chewed on his bottom lip, measuring his next words. “How did Izzi fall ill?”
 
 
“Not sure.” Emily turned off the stove and dipped in the tea, before coming up to sit on the opposite side of the island. “She started running a high temperature since her exams ended. Part of me thinks she hasn’t been getting enough sleep, part of me feels she’s just stressed about all that’s happening in her life…” She sighed, lacing her fingers on the countertop. “She also had a panic attack a couple of days ago. It was bad.”
 
 
Brandon’s eyes widened. “I thought she didn’t get them anymore,” he said, slightly troubled. “She’s been better.”
 
 
“That’s what we thought as well,” Emily nodded. “But that night I was woken by the sound of her being sick in the bathroom. We found her cold and sweaty, trembling all over.”
 
 
“Did she have a nightmare?”
 
 
“Possibly. She couldn’t say anything, she was too shaken.” She shook her head. “Her nightmares raise their ugly heads sometimes. And why not? The terrible things she’s been through…”
 
 
She rose to pour the tea and returned with two mugs and cookies on a tray. “It’s good that you came,” she said. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
 
 
His stomach flipped. Was it about that interview or that article? He hoped not, but in all likelihood it was.
 
 
“About what?” He sipped on the tea, the delicious warm beverage doing nothing to alleviate his nervousness.
 
 
“About you and Izzi.” She picked up her teacup, going into therapist mode. Emily was different from other mothers. She understood everything just by looking at a person’s face. Sometimes she played it cool, sometimes she sat them down and talked like a friend. She studied reactions and emotions, helped people deal with their own feelings and know their own mind.
 
 
“I want you to be honest with me, okay?” She said with a gentle smile. “I’m not a parent right now. I’m a friend. Talk to me openly. Right?”
 
“Is anything wrong, Mrs B?” His hands trembled a little even as he asked that. When your girlfriend’s parent sat you down and gave you a talk, it definitely meant something was wrong.
 
 
“No.” Sipping her tea, Emily looked at him over the rim of the cup. “Do you think there is?”

He opened his mouth, but then closed it and shook his head. He did not want to think anything was wrong.
  
“Alright. So a simple question.” She paused to study his face. “Are you serious about Izzi?”
 
Brandon stared, his mouth agape. It was because of all that trash in the press. She was already doubting him.
 
“I am,” he said quietly. “I know why you’re asking and I want you to know that I care about Izzi. I know she is young and vulnerable, and I’m–“
 
 
“Brandy, I’m not asking for explanations,” she shook her head. “Neither am I saying all this only because Izzi is young and vulnerable.” Sighing, she sipped her tea again. “I know you care about her. You always have, since you first met her two years ago. But after everything that happened to her, it’s just natural that we worry. I don’t want her to have her heart broken. You know what I mean, right?”
 
 
He nodded dumbly again.
 
 
“Good.” She nodded with a deep exhale. “The thing is, a relationship is about responsibility and commitment. It’s about trust. Given Izzi’s history, it isn’t surprising that her sense of trust is really fragile right now. You understand that, don’t you?”
 
 
“I do,” he nodded, his gaze low.


“Have you ever wondered if you’re getting into something you cannot fulfil? If you’re even ready for a serious relationship, now that you’re getting famous and successful?”


“I have. I love her, Mrs B, and I want to make her happy.” He ran his hand through his hair, not sure how else to explain himself. “I cannot imagine anyone else in her place.”


“I know. But are you sure you’ll be able to keep the trust that she’s placed in you? Showbiz is hard and you’re very young. Can you handle it?”


“You… you mean the things in the press about us the last few weeks, don’t you?” He finally blurted. “About me being single, dating somebody else…?”


Emily’s smile was sad. “Look, we know most of the things in the press aren’t true, whether it’s about you or about anybody else. We know Louis. We know how manipulative he can be. He’ll go all out to promote the five of you.” 


Reaching over, she touched his hand. “The problem is, Izzi doesn’t see that. She isn’t at a stage where she’ll be able to sieve the truth from the false.”


“Aunt Emily?”


It was Isabel, like a child searching for her mother after waking up. Emily motioned him to come up. He did.


“Come on,” she smiled, taking his arm. Isabel was sitting up in bed, rubbing her eyes. She looked well-slept.


“Izzi?” Emily entered her room, smiling. “Are you feeling alright, honey?” Sitting beside her, she gave her a cuddle. Isabel yawned like a kitten, nodding. Brandon felt his heart break at the sight. He had hurt her. Played with her trust. Who knew, maybe she had got the panic attack because of him.


“Would you like some tea?” Emily asked her. She shook her head, her eyes still half-closed. “Some chips, then?”


She shook her head again, moving hair out of her face. “Is Ben home?” she asked, her voice throaty.


“No, but he’ll be back in a while. Brandy is here to meet you, by the way.” Emily pointed at the doorway. Brandon forced a smile when Isabel gave him a fleeting glance and raised a hand in greeting. Kissing her forehead, Emily rose from the bed, proceeding to leave the room.


“I’ll leave you kids to talk,” she smiled at him, giving him a pat on the back. Brandon hesitated before entering the room. Isabel was not looking at him. She was seated in the middle of her bed, clad in a pair of pyjama pants and a long sleeve t-shirt. Her gloves were by the side of the pillow, but she had not reached for them yet. He entered the room, the door closing behind him.


“How are you now?” he asked hesitantly, stepping closer to the bed. She nodded wordlessly and scratched her hair.


“You?” she asked quietly. Brandon found that encouraging. He gathered the courage to sit beside her.


“I’m fine.” He bit his lip, thinking of a way to continue the conversation that did not seem forced. “Your exams are over, right?”


“Yes. Irish was tough. Why does the verb have to come before the subject?” She yawned again. “The rest was easy. English was good. French was good too.”


She looked at him, pressing her lips together. “I’m sorry. You aren’t interested in this.”


He smiled, but resisted the urge to reach over and pull her into an embrace. Instead, he wondered what else he could say. Isabel clearly was not in the mood to talk. He was, though. As difficult as it was, they still needed to have that conversation.


“Izzi,” he began cautiously. “I want you to know that not everything in the press about us is true.” He gulped, gathering all the strength he had. “We’ve been asked by Louis to lie about our relationships. It’s sheer publicity.”


“I know.”


Brandon’s eyes widened. “You… you know?”


She nodded. “I’m not good for your image. I know.”


He involuntarily shook his head, his face saddening. “You’re not good for my image?” he asked to make sure he had heard it right.


“Yes. You’re handsome and talented and popular. You’ll be big in life. It isn’t healthy for you to be associated with someone like me.” She shrugged. “I’m mental. Scarred. I understand.”


“Izzi…”


“No, really. Imagine when people find out that you’re with a girl like me, while Nathan is with the prime minister’s daughter….” She looked into his eyes, her face impassive. “Can you imagine the comparisons that will be made?”


“That’s not true!” He raised his hands in defense. “It’s Louis who linked me to somebody else. And I need to say I’m single because I want to protect you. In a couple of years—”


“You’ll be with me for that long?” Isabel frowned. “I don’t even know what tomorrow will be like, and you’re thinking two years ahead?”
 
 
“Because I want to be with you forever. All that trash about myself and Jessica Forsman has been made up by Louis.” He sighed, finally taking her hand. “Izzi, I swear, I’m not with anybody else.”
 
 
“I don’t care. You have the luxury of dating and flirting and having fun. I don’t.” She scrambled down from bed, picked up a bottle of water from the table and took a few long gulps, before wiping her mouth with the back of her palm. “My life isn’t fun. I don’t have anything. I don’t have parents, I don’t have a home. I don’t have the promise of a secure future. I cannot afford to waste my time or energy on you. I need to build my life. Get out of here. Be able to ensure my own safety without having to depend on others.”
 
 
She put the bottle down on the table with a thud. “I appreciate what you do for me,” she sighed. “But you aren’t obligated to me. You can find someone better.”
 
 
“You’re wasting your time and energy on me?” Brandon’s eyes welled up as the words registered. “I thought you loved me.”
 
 
“Love is a luxury.” She crossed her arms and leaned against the night table. “I have to think of Leaving Cert now. Not love.” Shaking her head, she stared at her feet. “You’re famous. You’ll go places, meet different people. And you’ll realise there are far better girls than me in the world, and you’ll miss out if you remain with me. I don’t want you to miss out. I want you to live.”
 
 
“You don’t love me?”
 
 
“How does it matter? I thought you liked blondes with great legs who wear short skirts and high heels. So why me? Because Ben trusts you and wants you to keep me safe?”
 
 
“Because I’m in love with you.” He rose from the bed and moved closer to her. “I have never taken pity on you, Isabel. I’ve only loved you, cared about you. Just… Please try to understand. If I make our relationship public, it will become difficult for you to live in peace. They’ll be after you, everyone will want a piece of you.”
 
 
“It’s not about me. I’m not thinking of myself here.” She ran her fingers through her hair, trying to untangle the tresses. “I’m thinking of you. Your life, your future. I’m a broken, shattered, socially-awkward girl with a terrible past. I can never make you happy.”
 
 
“You do make me happy. Izzi…” He cupped her face. “I cannot imagine life without you.”
 
 
“You’re not thinking. What if you don’t feel this way in six months? I’m not your responsibility. You have an image to maintain now. You need someone who can dress up and go to parties with you, get drunk with you. I completely understand if you date others. You are free to. Or you can be single if you want to. I never asked you to remain associated with me, anyway.”
 
 
“You… you’re breaking up with me?” His voice seemed to catch in his throat. Isabel was flat and cold. There was no telling if it was anger, hurt, or just her insecurities speaking. She cocked her head to the side and sighed, as if explaining something to a five-year-old.
 
 
“You deserve better,” she said. “Someone who’s normal. Who doesn’t make you regret all this in future.”
 
 
“I won’t—” he began, but then stopped short. There did not seem to be much point trying to make her understand. If she was anything, it was stubborn. It was hard to break down her walls and get to her.
 
 
“Okay.” Sighing, he turned around, fisting his hands by his sides. “But I cannot love anyone else. You’re the only girl I want.”
 
 
From the corner of his eyes, he could see Isabel unmoved. He shook his head, then walked out as fast as he could.
 
 
“Brandon? Are you okay?” Emily saw him from the kitchen. He picked up his jacket and nodded quietly.
 
 
“I’m going home,” he said to her. “Thanks for the tea, Mrs B.”
 
 
He had opened the door and stepped outside when he saw Ben and his dad approaching. They had groceries in their hands and were laughing and talking.
 
 
“Hi, Brandy,” Ben smiled at him, but it faded when he saw his sad countenance. He quickly waved at him and his father and tried to walk past, but Ben called out. He did not stop.
 
 
“Brandy, wait!” He ran after him and blocked his way, a deep frown on his brow.
 
 
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Why do you look upset?”
 
 
Brandon looked up at him, unshed tears glistening in his eyes. “I think Izzi just broke up with me,” he said quietly.
 
 
“What?” Ben’s mouth dropped open. Brandon brushed past him, his feet picking up speed, and then he ran the rest of the way.
 
 

 
 
Sundays were always the busiest day at the restaurant. Not only did people come there to eat but also to meet friends and have a laugh. Since the opening hour, they had already served a multitude of hamburgers, burritos, fish and chips, and coffee. And it was only ten-thirty in the morning with the rest of the day ahead of them.
 
 
Brandon was hanging around at the counter, manning the chip fryer, occasionally running errands for his parents. He had not been happy after he returned from Ben’s house two days ago. Of course, his friend had paid him a visit and assured him that Isabel would eventually come around, but it had not helped. Worse than her thinking she was someone to be ashamed of was her thinking that he deserved better.
 
 
How much better could it be than her? She was a brilliant student, more talented and intelligent than he’d ever be. She was the most beautiful girl in town. Most importantly, she was the first girl he had truly loved. She made him happy. And yet he had to keep it all under wraps, even if it caused misunderstandings or made her walk away from him.
 
 
He wanted to kill Louis. And then shout out from rooftops that he was in love with the most amazing girl in the whole universe. But in reality, he could not do either.
 
 
“When are they coming to shoot the documentary?” Mairead asked him, swinging by with a tray.
 
 
Oh. That.
 
 
So he had bought a car, his first car. And it was a BMW 3 Series. It was second-hand, but nobody else drove a BMW in the town, so it was something special, even if he had blown all his advance money on it. A production company from Dublin wanted to shoot a short documentary on him, a day in the life of Brandon Steven Fletcher. He was going to take them around town, show them places that meant to him, take them down to the barn, and proudly display his new purchase. As the frontman of the band, he was an inspiration for other country lads. If he could make it big, so could they.
 
 
“Not sure,” he shrugged, “They’ll let me know.”
 
 
“I’m so excited!” His sister beamed, blue eyes twinkling with delight. “My little brother is a star.”
 
 
He frowned at her. “I’m only two years younger than you, if that helps,” he rolled his eyes. “And I’m not a star. It’s just—”
 
 
The phone rang. Brandon picked it up since everyone else looked busy.
 
 
“Brandy?” It was Ben on the other end, voice laced with worry. “Is Izzi there?”
 
 
“No…” He still looked around the place just to make sure he had not missed her. “Why?”
 
 
“She isn’t there? Oh, no! Dad, she isn’t at the café!” He shouted out to Thomas. “I’ve called Kyle and Mark, asked around the neighbourhood, but she’s nowhere,” he explained.
 
 
“When did she leave?” Brandon was worried now. “Didn’t she say where she’s going?”
 
 
“We woke up to find her missing,” Ben said. “We thought she’d gone for a walk maybe, but she still isn’t back.”
 
 
“Does she have her phone?”
 
 
Ben sighed tiredly. “Does she ever?”
 
 
“Jesus!” Brandon looked around in confusion, not sure what to do. “I’ll go and look for her.”
 
 
“Where?”
 
 
“Everywhere. It’s a small town. She’s still somewhere here unless she’s managed to cross the sea to England.” He put down the phone, grabbed his jacket, and turned to leave.
 
 
“Brandy?” It was Mairead, looking on horrified. “She’s okay, right?”
 
 
“I hope so.” He turned and left the café, having no time to waste. He took his horse Carlton Flight and rode into the town, searching every direction possible as he tried to fight the panic. Isabel was still disturbed and unstable. Her disappearance did not seem healthy at all. Yes, she was in the habit of going away without telling anybody sometimes, but she usually returned in a while. This time, it was deeply worrying.
 
 
He wandered into the distant end of the town, barely any civilization in sight and definitely no sign of Isabel. He had looked at every possible place, asked everybody, but she was nowhere. But he refused to give up. He hoped to find her under a tree somewhere, reading.
 
 
He did.
 
 
She was under the oak tree by the side of the lake, all alone. It was the end of the town. He wondered how she had got there.
 
 
“Someday,” he panted, dismounting his horse. “You’ll be arrested for causing life-threatening worry.”
 
 
Isabel looked up from the book, unperturbed. She glanced at his horse and then back at him.
 
 
“Still riding Flight?” she asked. “You should be showing off your new car.”
 
 
“If I were taking you out, I would.” He walked up to her, then sat on the grass beside her. “But not when your frantic brother calls me and says that you’re missing. God.” He wiped a trickle of sweat from his sideburn and reached for his phone. “I’ll inform Ben.”
 
 
She did not react as he made the call, only continued to read while he assured Ben that he had found her safe and would take her back home.
 
 
“You deserve a punishment for this,” he joked, smiling at her. She looked up again.
 
 
“Sure,” she said flatly. “You want to beat me up? Hit me with a golf club? Or maybe throw me against the wall until my skull breaks into half?”
 
 
Brandon physically recoiled at those words, his stomach churning. “I was joking,” he explained, then sighed. “I’m sorry I just keep reminding you of past things, don’t I?”
 
 
“My life is to blame for that, not you.” She turned over a page, moving a dark lock from her face. It did not look like she had brushed her hair. “I’m not going anywhere until I finish this book,” she said. “You’ll have to wait if you really want to take me home.”
 
 
“I’m waiting,” he said, leaning against the shady tree. “How did you get here?”
 
 
“Took a bus. Then walked.”
 
 
“Everyone’s worried, you know. You shouldn’t have just disappeared like that.”
 
 
“I didn’t feel like being home. And I also wanted to come to the lake. Remember you kissed me here for the first time?”
 
 
Brandon smiled. Of course, he remembered. Not too long ago, he had brought her there on horseback, and had suddenly claimed her lips while recounting his childhood picnics by the lake. When she had asked him what he was doing, he had said he was making memories.
 
 
“So you were thinking of me, huh?” he chuckled, giving her a side-long glance.
 
 
“Not really.” She shook her head, staring out at the still, blue water. “This place just reminds me of that day.”
 
 
He shifted closer, moved the tendril of hair that kept falling into her eyes. Then he took the liberty to lean in and kiss her forehead.
 
 
“You really want to leave me?” he whispered to her. “After everything we’ve been through together, everything that’s happened between us…?”
 
 
“I was never holding on to you,” she replied, her eyes never leaving the book.
 
 
“But I was. And I intend to, for the rest of my life.”
 
 
“Life is too long. And at the rate it is changing for you right now, I doubt you’ll be having these feelings after a while.”
 
 
“You don’t trust me?” he asked. Isabel shrugged.
 
 
“I do.” Closing the thick book with a soft thud, she sighed. “But I’m screwed up, Brandy,” she stared at him. “I’m not fit for you.”
 
 
“Do you love me?”
 
 
Isabel did not reply. She wordlessly picked at the corner of the book’s cover until she had managed to erase a little of the illustration. Brandon held her chin, lifted her face, and looked into her eyes.
 
 
“Do you?” he repeated. Isabel nodded quietly.
 
 
“I never said I didn’t.” She held his gaze. “If you meant nothing to me, I wouldn’t worry about losing you after I did this…” Looking down, she held up her left hand. Brandon’s throat painfully tightened and he willed his eyes to not water. He had always known that, but hearing it from her just made it so much better.
 
 
“Have you listened to our songs?” he asked. “There are only two until the album releases, but…”
 
 
She shook her head. “Hearing and listening aren’t the same things.” Lowering her gaze, she picked at the book cover some more. “I don’t listen to music anymore.”
 
 
“Why not?”
 
 
“It makes me sad.”
 
 
“How are you going to perform at Hawks Well then?”
 
 
Isabel gaped at him. “I’m not.”
 
 
“You are. Ben told me.”
 
 
“I…” She sank back against the tree. “It was just a passing mention. Not that I was serious.”
 
 
“So let’s make it serious. Let’s hear you sing again.”
 
 
“Brandy, I—”
 
 
He put a finger over her lips, shaking his head. Then he started to croon.
 
“I wanna know…
Whoever told you I was letting go
Of the only joy that I have ever known…
Girl, they were lying…


Just look around
And all of the people that we used to know
Have just given up, they wanna let it go
But we’re still trying…”


The tears managed to spill over. He stared into Isabel’s beautiful dark orbs, falling a little more, a little deeper in love.
 
 
“So you should know this love we share was never made to die
I’m glad we’re on this one-way street just you and I…
Just you and I…”


Their lips met. Brandon quickly wiped off his tears and cupped her small face, feeling her soft, full mouth kissing him back with warmth that equalled his. Her cheeks were flushed when they broke, and it made his heart flip.
 
 
“I forgot something,” he said, reaching into the pocket of his jacket. “I got you this from London but didn’t have the chance to give it to you.”
 
 
He had planned to give it to her the evening he went to meet two days ago. But things went downhill and the gift remained inside his jacket.
 
 
“I don’t know if you’ll like it,” he said, fishing out a small case that held a dainty gold charm necklace. “But I got it custom engraved.” He turned the tiny heart tag around to reveal an Irish inscription on the back.
 
 
“What does it say?” He teased her. She stared for a while and it made Brandon laugh inside his head. Not for the first time, she was possibly wondering again why the verb had to come first.
 
 
“My love goes with you,” she murmured. He nodded.
 
 
“You are improving,” he said, securing the chain around her neck. It was light and dainty, perfect for her. He moved her hair from her neck to stare at how pretty it looked on her.
 
 
“Thank you,” she said softly. “It’s beautiful.”
 
 
“Just like you,” he smiled, dropping a kiss onto her hair. She heaved a small sigh and crept into his arms, snuggling like a cat. He enfolded her, closing his eyes. “I love you,” he whispered to her, felt her breath against the crook of his neck.
 
 
“I love you too,” she whispered back.
 
 
“Emily said you had a panic attack a few days ago,” he said, stretching his legs, letting her snuggle in further. “Was it because of me?”
 
 
“No.” She looked up. “Why would you think that?”
 
 
“Just saying. Did you have a nightmare then?”
 
 
“Sort of. Uncle and aunt helped me. Aunt Emily slept with me that night, just to keep me safe.” She exhaled deeply. “Nobody has ever done that for me.”
 
 
“You know when the time comes, I’ll do that for you.” He stroked her hair. “Let you sleep in my arms, keep you safe from all nightmares.”
 
 
“I know. I’d love for you to do that.”
 
 
His heart leapt, the overwhelming joy searching for an outlet. Then he realised it was getting late. He was also hungry.
 
 
“What do you want to sing for the concert?” he asked. She shrugged her shoulders.
 
 
“I know just the song,” he looked down at her face, smiling. “Come, let’s go home now.”
 
 

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