I talk to Jake on Monday between my two jobs but he's at work and he sounds distracted so I make it quick and tell him I'll call him on Tuesday night while he's in San Diego. He has a smile in his voice as he says he'll be waiting for my call.
On Monday night I work for Tina at a small art gallery downtown and Landon is there too so, between filling trays in the kitchen, I fill him in on my day and night with Jake. He hangs on my every word and fans himself dramatically as I throw in a few tidbits about our night together.
"Down boy, that's all you're getting. A girl's got to keep a few secrets," I say teasingly when Landon asks for more details.
"No fair, I've been waiting a very long time for this," Landon grumps back.
I smack him lightly on the shoulder, "You act like I was the last virgin known to mankind."
"Not the last known to mankind, but possibly the last one over 21. Have you looked around our society lately, Fancy Face? I was just dying to know who exactly you were saving yourself for." He winks and grins at me.
"I wasn't saving myself. You could have had me anytime." I say back bumping my hip to his playfully.
"That's it. I officially renounce my g*y-ness. I'm yours, Fancy Face. Take me now!"
"Ha ha. Don't think it works that way, Lan, but I appreciate the sentiment." I grin at him and get back to work.
But later I think about what Landon said about saving myself. Had I been? Because deep down, I realize that maybe me denying it wasn't entirely true. I had made a promise a long time ago and although that person was no longer a part of my life, nor was he ever going to be, somewhere inside I always knew that if I was going to fall in love again, it was going to be because something in that man reminded me of Leo.
On Tuesday evening, I make a couple batches of chocolate chip cookies, dropping one off to Mrs. Jenner and one off to Maurice. I chat for a few minutes with both of them and then make my way to the bus stop, off to see Mr. Cooper. He's sitting on his porch as usual, waiting for me when I walk up, smiling and greeting me with a big hug.
"Evelyn!" he says, gesturing for me to take my usual seat on the porch swing as he sits down in a cushioned chair. It's a crisp evening and so he offers me an afghan to lay over my legs and I keep my coat on. He has a blanket over his legs as well.
"How are you?" I ask, smiling, placing the cookies down on the small table next to the porch swing and taking the foil off the plate.
He smiles warmly "Couldn't be better. Got a pretty girl to visit with and a plate of homemade cookies."
I smile back, "Take one," I gesture towards the plate and he grabs a cookie. I follow suit.
After a minute he says, "And what's new with you Miss Evelyn?"
I finish chewing before I respond, feeling a little shy, "I'm dating someone," I say quietly.
He looks surprised for a second, probably because I've never mentioned a boyfriend in all the years I've known him. But then he smiles widely. "And who is the lucky gentleman?"
"His name is Jake. He runs a company that does something with X-ray technology," I wave my hand indicating I'm not real clear on what exactly that is, "He's… nice, and smart and handsome and…" I blush, looking down and feeling awkward suddenly.
But Mr. Cooper is still smiling, watching me closely. "Why, Evelyn, I do believe you're in love."
"Oh! No, it hasn't been long at all. I practically just met him."
"Knew the first time I laid eyes on my Mary that she was the one for me. Didn't doubt it for even one second for the next forty three years."
I look at him sadly. I know that the loss of his late wife is still a tender subject for him, even though it's been many years since he lost her.
"Does he know what he has in you, Evelyn?"
I'm not sure what he means exactly but I answer, "He seems to really like me, too. He makes me feel… special." I blush again. It's kinda weird to talk about my love life with someone whom I consider a grandfather figure.
"Good. You are special. I knew it the first time I saw you out in that yard, playing so patiently with those two little demons." He laughs. "Then later, sitting alone on the porch, looking so sad, but always holding your head high. I knew you were hurting, but that you were brave."
I look down, remembering those days. "I was never brave, Mr. Cooper. I was scared all the time as a kid, and then as a teenager, too."
"I know that, Evelyn. But it didn't keep you from showing kindness to everyone I ever saw you with, including me. It didn't keep you from sitting with an old man on his porch just to chat for a minute or two because you saw that I could use a smiling face. It didn't keep you from bringing out a glass of water when you saw me mowing my lawn in the summertime. Even now, you think I don't know that it's hard for you to come near that house," he gestures to my old foster home, "or how long it takes you to bring me a plate of cookies?"
I look up at him, "I love bringing you cookies, Mr. Cooper. I get to visit with you."
"See what I mean?" he smiles.
I look down again, studying my nails, embarrassed. He continues, "You know why I call you Evelyn, instead of Evie like everyone else does?" he asks.
I nod no. I just thought he liked it because he's from a more formal generation and liked using my full name, rather than a casual nickname.
He's quiet for a second, obviously gathering his thoughts, "I don't want to bring anything too personal up, Evelyn, because we've never talked about the circumstances that brought you to that foster home next door all those years ago. But I know that I can't say much for your mama, leaving you there, never coming back. I reckon you probably don't have a lot to say for her either."
I remain quiet. He's right about that.
"But your mama, she did at least two things right. She gave you life, and she gave you a name fit for a lady. And that, Evelyn, is exactly what you are. You make sure that gentleman friend realizes that." He smiles then and I blink back tears.
I tilt my head to the side and say, "Since we're on the subject of compliments, Mr. Cooper, I have something I'd like to share with you, too." I smile.
"Okay,” he smiles.
I pause for a minute as I grow serious and say, "I never had a whole lot of love in my life. Many times, I had a whole lot of just the opposite. But everywhere I went, I seemed to find at least one person who gave me kindness and made me feel special. When I lived here," I gesture to the house next door, "that person was you. You gave that to me and you have no idea what it meant. Thank you."
Mr. Cooper wipes at a tear in his eye, saying, "Gettin' soft in my old age, huh?" but he laughs and smiles at me with that same kindness he's always shown me.
"So!" he says, obviously changing the subject. "Guess who was running around the yard in her unmentionables a couple days ago after her dog snatched her wig and took off out the door?"
I almost choke on a bite of cookie as I laugh out, "What?"
I know exactly who he's talking about. My ex-foster mother, Carol, always wore a wig and swore no one could tell, even though it always looked like she had a dead beaver on her head and I used to wonder what horror lay beneath if she thought that looked better than what she was hiding.
Years ago, my ex-foster father had moved out with their boys. Apparently he'd had enough of his bitch of a wife and I couldn't say I blamed him. I got the hell out of there the minute I was able to, too. What took him so long, I didn't know.
"Yeah, me, the mailman and half the block stood around laughing our butts off, not lifting a finger to help her and not feeling badly about it." I wasn't surprised. She'd been nasty to everyone who crossed her path for years.
"That mangy mutt thought it was a game and just ran faster. Not that it was probably very hard to dodge her. She's gained about 200 pounds since you moved out, and she had about that much to lose when you lived here."
I can't help it, I'm laughing so hard I have to clutch my stomach even though I know it's mean. "What was under there?" I finally ask, eyes wide.
"Oh, Evie, darlin', wouldn't burden you with the description. I'm still rinsing my eyes out with acid nightly to try to burn the image from my retinas." Now we're both laughing.
We visit for a while longer and when it's time for me to go, Mr. Cooper takes my hand and kisses it. "Lady Evelyn," he says, smiling. "Until next time. You be safe."
I give him another big hug and walk down his steps, smiling as I walk away.
When I get home, I take a shower and change into a pair of polka dot shorts and a white t-shirt with a sparkly owl on it. I brush my teeth and then I climb into bed, pulling my phone out and dialing Jake's number. I smile slightly as I anticipate his voice picking up. Instead, I'm surprised when a woman answers his phone, so surprised that I'm silent for a second as she repeats, "Hello?"
"Um, hi," I stammer. "Is Jake there?" I furrow my brow, a lump forming in my throat.
"He's in the shower," she clips out, clearly irritated. "Who is this?"
"Uh, no message. I'll call him back later." I hang up quickly.
What the hell?
I sink back onto my pillows, a feeling of emptiness washing over me. There's a woman in his hotel room while he's showering? I don't know what to think or what to do. Should I call back in half an hour? Or should I just leave it?
Finally, I turn off the light and attempt to fall asleep. I toss and turn for hours but Jake never calls.
In the morning, I'm woken by the ringing of my cell phone. I open my eyes slowly, groggy and disoriented. I didn't fall asleep until well after one a.m. and it's only six a.m. now.
"Hello," I mumble into my phone.
"Evie." It's Jake.
I pause. "Hey," I say, coming more awake.
"Hey, you never called me last night. I Would have called you myself but I fell asleep waiting for you. I just woke up. I was worried."
"Jake, I did call you. A woman answered your phone. She said you were in the shower." There is accusation and hurt in my tone.
There's silence on the phone and I think I hear him swear, but it sounds as if he's covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "Christ. Evie. I'm sorry. I had a couple friends from the office back here for after dinner drinks and I think my co-worker's wife must have answered my phone. I got in the shower because I had an early meeting this morning and I was trying to give them the hint to leave. Why she would answer my cell, I'm not sure. I'll talk to her. Are you upset?"
I'm silent for a second. "If that's the truth, Jake, then no, I'm not upset. I just don't see why she would pick up your cell phone and then not leave you the message."
"I don't know either, but they were drinking so that's my only guess. I'm sorry, baby. You must have been hurt."
I don't answer him for a second but then I say, "I was confused, Jake. It's okay. If that's what happened then it's not your fault."
He lets out a shaky breath. "I miss you. I can't wait to see you. Am I still picking you up after work tonight?" He sounds worried.
"Yes," I say, "I'll see you then, okay?"
"Okay. Evie, I've… I've really missed you. I know it's just been a couple days, but I, I'm just really looking forward to seeing you."
I melt a little. "Me too, Jake. See you tonight."
I hang up and roll over. I'm not sure what to feel. I wish I was more experienced at this. I take a deep breath. I either have to decide to trust him or not. I sit up, swinging my legs over the bed and standing up. Might as well start the day. I'm sure as hell not falling back to sleep now.
When I walk out of work later that night, Jake is waiting for me, leaning against his car, wearing a dark gray suit and a pair of aviator sunglasses. He grins when he sees me, flashing those perfect, white teeth. Good God he's sexy.
"Hi," I say, smiling as I approach him.
"Hi." he says back, still grinning.
We stand there smiling at each other goofily for a couple seconds and then we both burst out laughing and he swoops me up in his arms saying, "God, I missed you. I missed your smile and," he sticks his nose in my neck and inhales, "your smell, your body against mine at night."
"I missed you too," I say quietly.
"You hungry?" he asks.
"Do you like sushi? There's this great place a couple blocks from my place."
"I do like sushi, but I can't go out dressed in my uniform."
"How about if we pick it up to go and bring it home?"
He lets me into his car and then walks around and slides into the drivers seat. We drive to a little hole in the wall looking restaurant and he pulls up in front. "I know it looks questionable, but it really does have the best sushi in town," he grins.
"I trust you," I say, smiling.
"What do you like?" he asks.
"Surprise me. There's not really anything I won't eat. I can even do the raw stuff." I smile.
"Brave." he winks, "Okay, I'll be back in a few."
He locks the car behind him and as he walks into the restaurant, I dial Nicole.
"Evie!" she sings into the phone. God, she should really bottle that cheer of hers.