Animal Rage:Devil Dogs MC, Volume 3(10)

By: Kathryn Thomas

“Issy, come on. This is me.” His voice is gentle, but there’s no doubt in her mind he’s not going to push her for more.

“I know, Mike. It’s just...” She scrambles around for something that will appease him, for something that isn’t a lie. “It’s been kind of a difficult time.” She shrugs, aware that her explanation could be strong contender for understatement of the year.

She waits for Mike to push her more, but he doesn’t. Instead he nods in understanding, rubbing his eyes like he’s just woken up. “I get that, and I don’t want to make things any more complicated for you.”

Isabel can hear a ‘but’ coming. She isn’t quite ready to hear it yet. “So how’re things at school? How’d finals go?” She starts filling up the kettle, taking cups down, going through the motions of making tea, the ritual of the action soothing her, or at least that’s what she hopes will happen.

Mike sighs, like he knows she’s stalling, but he’s gracious enough not to point it out. “Oh, you know, same old, same old.” He shrugs but can’t help a smile spreading across his face.

Isabel remembers that smile. They’d first bonded over the fact that they’d both known since they were kids that they wanted to be doctors. They loved it, which is probably also why they were always at the top of all their classes. They had a friendly rivalry at school, each pushing the other on to achieve bigger, better.

“I kind of miss my study buddy, though.” He sighs deeply. “Is she ever coming back?”

Isabel keeps her attention focused on steeping the tea, going through the motions, not looking at him. “Honestly, Mike, I don’t know.”

“Don’t you miss it?” The tone of his voice tells her he knows she does. “I don’t get it, Issy. Being a surgeon, it’s all you’ve ever wanted and you’re so damn good at it. It’s really freakin’ annoying.” He laughs lightly. “How can you be okay with just throwing that all away?”

Isabel shakes her head, finally turning around to face him. “Because I’m not okay with it, Mike.” It’s the first time she’s ever admitted the words, at least out loud, and there’s something freeing about it. “I miss it. I miss college. I miss my friends. I miss the classes. I miss learning new things every day. I miss it all.” She takes a deep breath. “I miss it so much sometimes that it actually hurts.” Don’t cry, Bishop, don’t cry.

“So what are you waiting for, Issy?” Mike shakes his head, not understanding her reticence in the slightest. “All you have to do is speak to the Dean. They’d have you back in a heartbeat. You’re the best student they have!”

Isabel laughs off the compliment. “And what are you, a slacker?” She crosses her arms over her chest, tilting her head and giving him a look.

“I just try to keep up with you, Issy.” He shrugs, smiling sincerely. “So why don’t you come back? I’ve never known you not to go after what you wanted. The Isabel I knew was fearless. What’s changed? What are you afraid of?”

Isabel tries to conjure up a memory of the person Mike is describing, but it’s as if it is someone else. He is right; she had been fearless. There was nothing she couldn’t do, nothing she would have thought she didn’t deserve or couldn’t achieve. Isabel gives the only answer that she can. “My mother died.”

Mike cringes, as if he’s aware that he’s just committed a giant faux pas. “Ah, Issy. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come down on you so hard.” He rests his hand on her shoulder and Isabel leans into it automatically before she remembers it’s probably the last thing she should be doing.

She straightens up, proud of herself that the tears that used to flow so freely when she thought of her mother finally seemed to be drying up. “You didn’t.” She busies herself with pouring out the tea into two cups, but she doesn’t miss the flash of hurt in his eyes when, gently, she extricates herself from his hold. The silence stretches out between them and Isabel tries to think of something to fill it. She hands him a cup. He doesn’t even look at it, just taking it and placing it on the kitchen counter next to him.