Page 21 of Leo

My mind is a jumbled mess and all I keep coming back to is that tattoo. At first I want to sob and scream, I want to beat my hands against something, but strangely, the farther I move from Jake, the more numb I become until I am walking dry eyed and lethargic down the street.

I stop when I see a small park and wander over to a bench. I sit down and pull my cell phone out of my purse. There are 17 missed calls from Jake. I erase them and dial Nicole.

"Hey babe," she says cheerily.

"Nicole," I start but my voice breaks.

"Evie, what's wrong, honey?" She says, concern spilling from her voice.

"He's been lying to me, Nicole."

"Who? Jake? Honey, about what? Where are you?"

"I ran. I don't know. I'm in a park… I don't know. Hold on, there's a sign…" I read her the name of the park and she says quickly, "I'll be there in 15. Hold tight, honey."

I sit on the bench, staring into space until Nicole's small car pulls up next to the curb. I climb in and when she sees my face, she opens her arms and I do a head plant into her shoulder and she holds me as I cry more tears I didn't think I had.

"What's going on, hon? Tell me." She says, wiping wetness off my cheeks with her thumbs.

"He's Leo, Nic. That story he told me about Leo dying in a car accident isn't true. Because he's Leo." I frown. "But he's Jake, too. I don't understand it."

Nicole looks stunned. "He's Leo? Your Leo? The Leo? But why didn't he tell you? How did you find out?"

"Nicole, can we go to your house? I want to wash my face and… is that okay?"

"Of course, let's go." She pulls out and I lay my head back on the seat and close my eyes. Nicole must know I need to rest for a few minutes because she doesn't ask me any more questions on the drive.

We go into her house and it's quiet. "Where's Kaylee?" I ask.

"She's with Mike's mom today and tonight. I thought it might be nice to have an adult night since we were going to meet Jake," she shoots me a look and bites her lip.

I sigh. "Can I clean myself up a little bit? I'm a freakin' mess."

"Yeah, go do that and I'll make some tea… or do you want something stronger?" She smiles.

I laugh for the first time since I left the spa. "Later. For now tea is good."

I clean myself up in the bathroom, smoothing my hair back down which is all blown to heck and holding a cold, wet washcloth on my eyes for a few minutes each. When I come out, I feel better.

I find Nicole curled up on one side of her sofa with a steaming cup of tea in her hand. She gestures to mine on the table next to the big, upholstered chair to her right.

I curl up and pull the afghan draped across the arm, over my lap. I pick up my tea and take a sip as Nicole says, "Tell me what happened today."

I recount my run in with Gwen at the spa and then when I tell her about confronting Jake and about his tattoo, Nicole sucks in breath and says, "What? YOU are the girl on his back? Okay, wow, this is blowing my mind. But, wait, I don't get it… what does it mean?"

Haltingly, I tell her about Leo's family, his brother, his pain, and the story I'd made up to try to ease his suffering, at least momentarily. I only cry once during the telling of it, remembering a roof on a hot summer night and a broken boy in my arms.

I look up at Nicole and her eyes are glistening with tears, too. "Wow, Evie," she chokes, "He carried that with him on his skin all these years. That's just… wow. That's beautiful."

"He lied to me, Nic, twice. In my life, that boy destroyed me… and now the man has been deceiving me." I have no idea how to feel right now. My mind is reeling with hurt and confusion.

"Are you going to give him a chance to explain things to you, honey? I'm not saying you'll be able to forgive him. I have no idea what he'll say, but I think you need to listen to him." She looks at me worriedly.

I mull over her words for a few minutes and then I sigh. "I guess I owe that to myself, too. I just can't process all of this right now. I need time."

"Okay, hon. You go to him when you're ready. Just hear him out. You deserve answers."

I nod, taking a sip of my tea.

Nicole speaks again, haltingly, softly, "Honey, you really didn't recognize him? Not even a little bit?"

I'm silent for several minutes, sipping my tea and deep in thought about her question. "I mean, Nicole, he looks so different. I guess now that I know, I can see the boy that he once was in some of his features, but, I mean… okay, who was the first boy you kissed?"

Nicole grins. "Jimmy Valente. We were 14. He was my boyfriend for a year."

"Okay, can you conjure up his face in your mind right now?"

She looks up, concentrating, then frowns, "No, I guess I can't."

"Okay, well imagine that Jimmy Valente was a scrappy, skinny kid in worn clothes the last time you saw him and then eight years later you came upon this huge, stunning, Godlike creature in a designer suit whose hair had darkened and who had gotten dental work and he told you his name was Tom Smith. You might not recognize him either."

I feel defensive because truthfully, why didn't I recognize him? He was the love of my life, up until I met Jake anyway, or… wait… God, this is all so f**ked up.

"Also, Nic, you have to realize that after Leo left and didn't contact me again, it was so painful for me that, in my mind, he was still that boy on the roof with me, almost… I don't know, frozen in time. It was easier for me to convince myself that he remained there in a real sense. To picture him walking around in the world, not caring about me, hurt too much. I guess I compartmentalized him. There was the real world, and then there was that boy… lost in the past. Jake showed up and he was part of the real world, completely separate from that boy on the roof." I rub my eyes, "God, am I even making sense?"

"Yeah, I think I understand. I have some things in my past, granted, nothing overly traumatic, but you know, just things I prefer to leave in my past for one reason or another and I put those things in a special category called 'things I've decided never to think about again'." She laughs a quiet laugh.

I smile. "Yeah, something like that."

We're both quiet again for a minute or two and then I say, "The thing is, I think a part of me did recognize him, something visceral, something more instinctual. I just didn't question it enough because truthfully, I didn't want to. Maybe I did know and chose not to admit it to myself. I've always been good at shutting things out that felt unpleasant to me." I say sadly.

"Everything was just so intense with Jake… Leo… whatever. Jeez, this is like one of those crazy soaps where people are suddenly coming back to life all over the place."

I rub my sore eyes. Nicole looks at me sadly, "It came in handy for you for a long time."

I nod. We are quiet for a minute and Nicole is furrowing her brow, "What was Leo's full name, Evie?"

I reach back into my mind for a minute. Obviously I know his first and last name but do I remember his middle name? And then my eyes widen and I whisper, "Leo Jacob McKenna." I drop my head to my hand. "Am I completely blind?"

"No, everything seems clear now that you know the truth, babe. You were… caught up. It's not difficult to understand. But he owes you an explanation. He needs to tell you what the f**k happened eight years ago and why he's been lying to you about who he is now. Then you decide if you can accept what he has to say."

I feel the weight of the situation again and tears spring to my eyes. "I'm gonna lose him again, aren't I? Either that or I'm gonna have to let him go. I don't know if I can do it twice. I don't know if I'll survive it again."

"Okay, don't panic. Let's just take this one step at a time. Mike will be home at five. We'll have a nice dinner, just the three of us. We'll have wine. You'll stay here with us tonight. You'll feel better in the morning and then you can decide when you're ready to let lion boy have his say." She winks at me.

God, I’m so lucky to have her. Friends are the family you get to choose for yourself. It's never been clearer to me that I've made very good decisions in this category.

After dinner and catching Mike up on the twilight zone that is my life right now, we crack open a bottle of wine and I actually giggle a time or two at their attempts to make me laugh with stories of their adolescent love fails.

As much as Mike and Nicole have been successful in distracting me, I know I'm going to have to face reality in the morning, so I borrow a pair of Nicole's p.j.'s and turn in.

I climb into bed and turn on my phone. There are 14 new calls from Jake/Leo. There are four text messages basically begging me to call him, and one voicemail. With shaking fingers, I listen to it.

"Evie, God, I… please call me. I'm going crazy here. You ran and I don't even know if you're okay. Baby, please just let me know you're okay. At least that. Even if you don't want to talk to me… or, even if you don't want anything to do with me please just let me know you're safe. I went by your apartment and you weren't there and it's late and I… please be okay."

A tear rolls down my cheek. What am I going to do? I type in a quick text message to Jake/Leo, 2 words. I'm safe.

I wait for a couple minutes but there's no response. I turn off my phone again and fall into a fitful sleep.

**********

The next morning I wake early and Nicole and Mike's house is quiet. Not wanting to wake them, I write a quick note and sneak out the front door quietly. I catch the bus to my apartment and let myself in. I linger under the hot water, shave everywhere and when I emerge, I feel refreshed and ready to face the day, whatever it may bring. I dress in a pair of favorite jeans and a demi sleeved, cowl necked green sweater that is fitted around the h*ps and is belted at the waist. I pull on my short brown boots and pull my hair back into a messy bun after I've partially dried it. I put on mascara, a little blusher and some lip gloss.

It's been weeks since I've done a proper shopping trip and so I leave my apartment in search of coffee. I walk to a Starbucks about 20 minutes away and 45 min. later I am caffeinated and have even eaten a half blueberry muffin and feel semi-human.

I turn the corner to my apartment and immediately, I spy Jake's dark silver BMW parked out front. I walk slowly down the block and he's in front of me before I even make it halfway there.

He looks like hell, like he hasn't slept a wink and I can't help it, I want to soothe him. He has his hands in his jeans pockets and he is looking at me, a look of longing and uncertainty, his gorgeous face a mix of insecurity that hits me right in the gut. That look, I realize, the one that made my heart beat faster in my chest right from the beginning, it's all Leo, my uncertain boy.

I know he has lied to me, and I know that I should distrust him right now but I can't help it, my heart is screaming at me, your Leo is back! He's right in front of you! Go to him! Your beautiful boy is here. HERE!

And the love that engulfs my heart is so overwhelming that I almost fall to my knees right then and there.

This is not good.

I want to be standoffish. I want to play cool, calm and collected. I want to remain detached until he explains something to me that will melt my heart. I want there to be nothing he can say that will melt my heart. I am pleading for him to say something that will melt my heart. I am a mess.

And so I run. Again. I try to dash around him, I try to run fast and hard to the safety of my apartment. I try to escape my confusion and my fear, and yes, the love, but Jake steps to the side easily and scoops me up from behind and I fight him, but he's too strong and he carries me to the door of my building and he growls in my ear, "Give me your key, Evie," and like an obedient child, I take the key out of my purse and I hand it to him.

Where is Maurice when I'm actually being manhandled?

He opens my front door and then he carts me inside like I weigh no more than a sack of rice. He uses the same keyring to open my inner apartment door and then he sets me down inside, closing it behind him.

We stare at each other, him breathing harshly and me glaring, for several seconds.

Finally, he drops his head and runs his fingers through his hair. Oh, God don't do that! "Evie, we need to talk and we need to talk now."

"Why do you get to decide when we need to talk? Isn't it my call, Jake? Or should I call you Leo? Do you go by both? Please, clue me in here."

He closes his eyes for a minute like he's really just too tired to deal with my shit. And isn't that priceless! "Evie. Please. Can we talk? Will you listen to me? This has been hell on me. Please. I just want you to tell me you'll listen to me - really listen to me."

"Hell on you? Oh, please, Jake. I don't want to make things harder on you. Please, sit down. Can I get you a beverage? A foot rub?" I glare at him.

He sighs as if he is barely tolerating me. "Sit down, Evie. Now."

I want to rail at him. I want to tell him to suck it. But, instead, I do as he says, sinking down on my couch while he continues to stand above me.

Finally, he exhales and runs his hand through his hair. Again! how many is that now?He's trying to kill me. He drops down on the couch with me, but at the other side.

"If you need something, go get it now. We're going to talk and this could take a while. Get what you need to make yourself comfortable and then plant yourself on the couch."

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