"That's the last of it," Michael said. He stood to the side beside Isabel while they watched Max carry the last box into his new apartment.
Max put the box down and glared fiercely at them. "You could've helped," he said pointedly.
Michael shrugged and Isabel gave her brother a look that said volumes. "Couldn't," she said.
Max scowled and turned to Michael. "It's your stuff. Please explain why I was coerced into carrying it."
"Bad back," Michael said with a straight face.
Max's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. Instead he took a good look around the apartment. "So this is your place," he said.
Michael followed Max's gaze. "This is my place," he echoed, a hint of amazement apparent in his voice.
It wasn't much, especially compared to the house Evans lived in, but it was bigger than Michael's old trailer, if only by a bit. It was dark and messy, but Michael planned on cleaning up as soon as Isabel and Max left. The few possessions he had were scattered around in cardboard boxes that Max had been so kind to carry up for Michael.
"It's nice," Isabel said sincerely.
"Yeah," Michael said, "It is." He was smiling and it was a real smile, not the half-grin that was so often present his face. It was one of the very few real smiles even Max or Isabel had ever seen.
He was just too happy to keep a smile off his face. It was for real. He really had this place now. A place he could really and truly call his own. A place where he didn't have to worry about anyone, not even Hank. A place he belonged to. The feeling he had could not be expressed in words. Michael wasn't even sure how successful trying to express his feelings in art would be right then. He had never been so happy in his life.
Max glanced at his watch. "I hate to cut this short," he said, "But I have to get to work. Coming Isabel?"
Isabel shook her head. "No, I think I'll stay here awhile. I can walk home."
"Okay," Max shrugged. "I'll see you later."
He left, leaving Isabel and Michael alone. Isabel started to pace, stopping briefly every once in awhile to examine something or another. She looked uneasy. Michael watched her, wondering what was wrong. He never saw Isabel like that.
Finally he asked, "What's wrong?"
Isabel stopped and looked startled. "Nothing," she said.
Michael didn't believe her. "Nothing," he said doubtfully, "Right."
Isabel scowled slightly and started pacing again. After a few minutes Michael had had enough. "Stop it," he ordered.
"Stop what?" Isabel asked. It seemed like she was really confused as to what he was talking about.
"Stop pacing. It's bugging me."
"I'm not pacing," Isabel protested.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Michael demanded. "You've been prancing around the room ever since Max left. It's annoying, so stop."
Isabel stopped and sat down. Then she started to play with her necklace. Michael groaned. "What's with you today?" he asked. "You're so restless."
Isabel stopped fiddling with her necklace and looked down on it guiltily. "Actually," she said, "I need to tell you something."
"What?" Michael asked, concerned. It was obvious that Isabel was trying to avoid whatever it was she had to tell him. Michael started to worry about what could be that bad. "What is it Isabel?"
"Michael," Isabel began. "You remember back in December when you got sick?"
Michael nodded uncomfortably. He didn't like to remember how close he'd been to death.
"I was scared," Isabel admitted. "I was really, really scared. I thought I might lose you." She lowered her voice and looked straight into his eyes. "And then I realize, I'm not sure what I would do without you. I don't know how I'd live without you. Michael, I think I'm in love with you."
Michael stared at her, dumbfounded. He was speechless. There was nothing he could say.
Isabel grew uncomfortable when Michael didn't speak. She had just poured her soul out and now he was just sitting there, staring blankly at her. "Say something." she said.
"What am I supposed to say?" Michael asked. "Out of the blue you announce you're in love with me, and I'm expected to have a response?"
Isabel's eyes flashed. "Well, I'd expect you to say something, not just stand there, staring like an idiot.
"You want me to say something?" Michael asked angrily, "Fine. Then I'll just have to say you have lousy timing."
"What?" Isabel asked, confused.
"Ten years, Isabel. We've known each other for ten years. And you just happen to realize you're in love with me right after I happen to move on and start dating someone else."
Isabel stared at him in shock. "You think this has something to do with Maria?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes," Michael said bluntly, "I do."
"I don't believe you," Isabel yelled. "You're an asshole. Do you really think I'm that much of a bitch that I would say I love you just so you would stop going out with Maria? Don't be so conceited. I couldn't care less about you and Maria. In fact, I wouldn't care if you started sleeping with the whole fucking town."
She stormed off before Michael could say anything else, but not before Michael could see the tears welling up in her eyes. He stared at the closed door, wondering what he had just done.
Isabel cried herself to sleep that night. She had finally worked up the courage to confess her feelings to Michael and he had the nerve of accusing her of doing it only to break up him and Maria. They weren't even going out, for Christ's sake.
She had lied when she said she didn't care if Michael slept with everyone in town. She would care a lot, but not for the reasons Michael was insinuating. She really cared for him and she didn't know how he could think anything else of her.
Isabel was awakened shortly after midnight by a knocking at her window. It was Michael. Isabel turned over on her bed so that her back was facing him. Michael didn't take the hint. He opened the window and came inside.
"What do you want?" Isabel asked in a carefully controlled, icy tone.
"To talk to you," Michael answered. He came over and sat on the side of her bed.
"We already tried that today. It didn't work. You can go now."
"Technically we talked yesterday," Michael corrected her. "Since it turned into a huge disaster, I thought we should try again today."
Isabel turned over to face him. "Fine, then. Talk."
"About yesterday," Michael began. He ran his fingers through his spiky brown hair. "We both said some things we probably shouldn't have."
"I meant every word I said," Isabel told him.
"I was talking about after we started fighting," Michael said.
"So was I," Isabel responded.
Michael narrowed his eyes, but kept his temper in check. He continued. "Okay, I said some things I shouldn't have. I know you would never try to break someone up out of spite."
Isabel didn't say anything and kept on looking at him expectantly. She wasn't going to let him get out of anything less than a full apology.
Michael seemed to realize this. He glared at her. "I'm sorry, alright? You just took me by surprise."
"I'm still mad at you, you know," Isabel said matter-of-factly.
"Why?" Michael asked. "I said I was sorry."
"That doesn't make things magically better," Isabel told him angrily. "That you could even think I would do something like that for those reasons," she trailed off without finishing her sentence.
"What do you want me to do?" Michael asked, also angry. "Grovel? Beg?"
"Keep your voice down," Isabel whispered furiously. "You'll take up Max and my parents."
Michael lowered his voice. "I came over here to apologize, but if you're not going to listen, I'm outta here." He got up and started to leave.
Isabel knew that if she kept on pushing Michael, he would leave and not come back. "Wait," she said. He paused. "I'm not going to be stupid about it."
"Good," Michael sad with satisfaction. "It would be a horrible way to start off our relationship."
Isabel did a double take when she realized what Michael had said. She stared at him in disbelief. "Our relationship?" she repeated.
"Our relationship," Michael confirmed with a quirky smile. "That is, if you haven't changed your mind."
"Of course not," Isabel said. "But I thought you said you were still with Maria."
"I did, didn't I. But then I kinda broke up with her months ago, so I'm not sure why I said that."
"Now if you guys would only start acting like you actually broke up," Isabel muttered.
Michael glared at her. "We don't act like we're together," he said.
Isabel rolled her eyes. "Puh-lease." Then, before Michael could reply and start another argument, Isabel went on. "So what made you decide to go for this?" she asked in a small voice. She hated herself for sounding so insecure, but she couldn't help it.
"For the same reasons you are," Michael answered honestly. He looked at her and smiled softly. It was the second time that day Isabel had seen him smile. She marveled at that fact. She couldn't remember that ever happening before.
"Izzy, you know how I feel about you. How I've always felt. Maria was just a . . . a distraction. But it will always be you I love."
Then he leaned in and kissed her.
Isabel had kissed boys before, but never had it felt like this. With Michael it was amazing. It was perfect. It just felt right. Isabel melted into his lips.
Finally they had to stop. Michael reluctantly pulled away. "Good night, Izzy," he whispered.
"Good night, Michael," Isabel whispered back. She watched him leave.
It was a long time before she was able to fall back to sleep.