Page 7 of Leo

I'm caught off guard and I feel my cheeks flame. I look forward and say flippantly, "So many men, Jake, but I doubt you'd say I actually dated many of them."

His nostrils flare and anger fills his eyes for a brief moment before he schools his expression and looks at me silently for a minute. "You're f**king with me," he finally says softly.

"It's ok for you but not for me?" I ask.

"Yes, because you're a better person than I am," he says simply, like it's the most obvious thing in the world.

"Jake, - " I start. But I'm not sure what to say. He might think he knows what kind of girl I am. I'm sure my inexperience oozes off of me. But what he doesn't know is that I've never been enough for anyone. No one who I've needed has ever wanted to keep me.

"I just want an honest answer. I just want to know how many men have been in your life." His jaw is hard. And what the hell?

I sigh, "I've dated a couple guys. Mostly set-ups by my friend Nicole. No one seriously and no one more than three times. The last guy I went out on a date with was a year ago. We went out for dinner once, he asked if he could take me out again, I declined. Is that specific enough for you?" I feel embarrassed and irritated that he insisted on this information because spelling it out makes me realize how pathetic my social life is.

He takes my hand in his. "And in high school?" he asks.

"High school?" I shake my head slightly and laugh a hollow sounding laugh, "No, I didn't date in high school."

He gazes at me for a moment and then he leans over and turns my head towards him with one finger on my jaw and kisses me sweetly on the lips.

"Time for me to feed you. And talk about lighter stuff. I want to see you smile and hear you laugh. I want to know who Nicole is, I want to know what your favorite movie is, why you love to run so early in the morning and what music is on your iPod. Wait there."

He comes over to my side of the car, opens the door for me and lets me out. He takes my hand and we head into the restaurant.

**********

The restaurant is beautiful, with a lovely view of the river, the food delicious and we laugh and talk through dinner. I tell him about Nicole and Mike and Kaylee. I talk about what running means to me, about how I grew up feeling powerless and how running makes me feel strong and accomplished, a feeling I revel in. He nods like he understands this.

He seems to be interested in everything I’m saying and nods and smiles, encouraging me to continue. He makes me feel comfortable and interesting.

"You've done really well, Evie," Jake tells me.

I frown slightly. What is he talking about? "I'm a hotel maid, Jake," I say, as if he doesn't already know this.

"Don’t ever be ashamed of the honest work you do to pay the rent. It's damn rare that someone who comes from the background you do, doesn't go on to repeat the cycle... drugs, early pregnancy, domestic abuse. Be proud of yourself. You deserve all the respect in the world. I think you’re incredible," he says, looking at me with that beautiful warmth in his brown eyes.

No one has ever told me that they were proud of me. Not one single person. And so this hits me deep and I feel wetness in my eyes. I look down, embarrassed, and take a sip of my wine.

"Thank you," I whisper.

We're quiet for a minute and although I don't really feel like going into any details about my and Leo's past, the curiosity is too much for me. I was in shock about Leo's death the last couple times I was with Jake but this time, I find myself asking, "Can I ask you about Leo?"

His eyes snap up to mine and he nods, "Of course." But he sounds a little wary all of a sudden.

"Was he happy? Did he have a good life?"

He pauses, and then, "I don't know how to answer that. I didn't know him very well. I mean, outside of sports and partying, that sort of thing."

I nod. I realize I'm biting the inside of my mouth, a bad habit I thought I'd left behind in foster care. I stop and take a deep breath. "When he left, he promised he'd keep in touch and he never did. Do you have any idea why?"

He looks sad, like he feels sorry for me and that's exactly why I didn't want to bring this up, but I feel like I have to know.

"I'm sorry. I don't. I don't really know what his home life was like. And the first time he talked about you to me was in the hospital and I've told you the extent of what he said."

I nod, taking another sip of my wine. I feel like bringing Leo's name up has thrown a melancholy over our date that wasn't there before and so I rally, smiling at Jake and saying, "This might be a little bit of an odd thing to say, but, well, if he was going to send anyone, I'm glad it was you. I've had a nice time tonight."

He's silent for a second, a strange expression on his face but then he smiles big and says, "I'm glad he sent me too. I thought I was doing him a favor, but it looks like he did me a favor."

After our plates are cleared, Jake reaches across the table and takes my hands, and says, "Can I take you out again?"

I nod yes, looking down and feeling shy.

The waiter returns Jake's credit card and he quickly signs the receipt and says, "Ready?" as he starts to stand up.

I smile and stand up, too. He helps me on with my jacket and then grabs my hand again and we exit the restaurant.

We drive back to my apartment, chatting easily about the city and some of our favorite spots. He tells me a little bit about growing up near the beach and when I tell him I'd love to see the ocean someday, he grabs my hand and tells me he’d love to be the one to take me there.

I don't answer, thinking it's a little soon to be making plans that involve travel.

We drive the last couple of miles in companionable silence, the radio playing softly in the background.

We pull up a half a block down from my apartment because the spaces in front are all taken and Jake shuts off the car but he doesn't get out. He looks over at me and I smile at him. I feel like we are cocooned away from the world in his warm car, just the two of us.

"You are so beautiful when you smile," Jake says.

Suddenly, he is leaning over and taking my jaw in his hand as he gently brushes his lips over mine.

He leans his forehead against mine and looks right into my eyes. There is an unreadable expression there and my heart starts to beat faster as we stare at each other, mere centimeters away. I don't know whether I'm scared or whether his closeness is causing my blood to pump faster. I don't know what I'm feeling in this moment, don't know whether I want to move even closer or pull away. It's all so intense, and so soon. I shake my head very slightly and, in the end, I pull away.

"What's wrong?" he asks, and his voice is quiet, gentle.

I exhale, "Nothing, this is just all kind of new for me." But I smile at him and he smiles back.

Jake walks me to my apartment door and although he started the night with a passionate kiss, he ends it with a kiss that is almost chaste, brushing his soft lips across mine, smiling his beautiful smile and leaving me at my open door, disappointed and wanting more. But aside from throwing myself at him, which I would absolutely never do, my only choice is to smile and watch him walk away.

CHAPTER 10

The next morning I wake up early to go on a run. I do a quick three miles around the park. The morning is crisp and cold, the sky a mixture of yellow, orange, and soft blue.

I return home and as I go to open the front lobby door, I notice that the lock has been fixed. Finally! Wait, is it a coincidence that Jake got all pissy about it a couple days ago and today it's magically fixed?

I head inside wondering and take a quick shower, singing along with the small radio I leave on my bathroom sink. I dry off, lotion up and pull on my Hilton uniform. I have an early shift today and I work a catering job tonight. It's a party at one of the swankier hotels downtown and it always pays well and so I never pass those jobs up if I'm offered one.

I dry my hair quickly and pull it into a low, loose bun at the nape of my neck. Some mascara and lip gloss and I'm ready to head out. As I grab my phone off the kitchen counter, I notice I have a text message from Jake. I smile before I even read it.

I had a great time with you last night. What are you doing today?

I grin and type back quickly. I had a really good time too. :) Working both jobs. Won't be home until late.

I grab my coat and head out. As I walk out the front lobby door, I am reminded of the newly fixed lock and follow up my message quickly with:

btw, know anything about the lock repair on the front door of my building??

I take a seat on the bus and a minute later my phone dings.

I may have called and threatened your landlord with legal action if he didn't do door repair. Glad he stepped up. You should always feel safe.

I read his message over again and my heart warms. Damn. I like him. Will this end well? He's clearly way out of my league. Nothing about him makes sense and everything screams risk. But he seems to really like me, too, and he says he feels the same electricity between us that I do. Just relax, Evie, you've gone on one date. And now I've just talked myself into a sour mood.

Finally, I reply, Well, thanks. I appreciate it.

A couple minutes go by and then, Anything for you. Headed in to a meeting. Have a good day/night at work. Can I call you tomorrow?

Sigh.

What if I say no?

I'll call you anyway. ;) Have a good day, Evie.

I smile again and drop my phone in my bag. I'm not going to over think this. I'm totally going to over think this. But not right now. Right now I'm almost at work and I have back-to-back jobs. Focus, Evie.

I finish up my shift at The Hilton and hop the bus back home with plenty of time to take a quick body shower (why wash my hair again when I'm just going to be in and out of a kitchen all night and end up smelling like food anyway?) and lay down for an hour to nap. I'll be out late tonight so I like to get at least an hour of sleep beforehand if possible.

I pull on a pair of light blue pajama bottoms with hot pink cupcakes all over them and a white tank top and head to the kitchen to make a sandwich for dinner. I put together a simple turkey, cheese, and lettuce sandwich and cut up an apple and eat standing at the kitchen counter.

Then I head to my bed, set the alarm for six o'clock and lie down. I fall asleep thinking about Jake.

My alarm goes off and I drag myself up. I feel like I could sleep for the rest of the night. But an hour will have to do for now. I pull on my catering uniform, a pair of black slacks and a white button up shirt that is ironed and hanging in my closet. I fold my half apron neatly and put it in my purse.

I brush my hair out and put it back in the low bun I was wearing earlier. I wash my face and brush my teeth and apply a minimal amount of makeup, but go a little darker on the lipstick. After all, this is an evening party and even though I'm working there, I still think I can dress up my face a little bit.

The event doesn't start until eight, but my boss, Tina, likes us to get there an hour early to help set up and load the trays. I head out right at six fifteen, leaving plenty of time to bus it back downtown. I'll get a ride home from one of the other servers after the event ends.

I enter by the back door of the hotel the event is being held at as Tina has instructed and head to the banquet room and the kitchen beyond.

"Evie!" I hear my name shrieked and grin immediately. I would know Landon's voice anywhere. I look up and there he is, fast-walking towards me through the banquet room, all sashaying h*ps and waving arms. Landon is hilarious, flamboyantly g*y and I love him to death. He picks me up and spins me around yelling, "God, I missed you! It's been WAY too long, Fancy Face! The phone is just no substitute. How the hell have you been?"

I'm laughing out loud as he sets me down. "Hey, you're the one who deserted me," I tease. But then I look over at him seriously as we begin walking towards the kitchen. "How's your mom?"

"I left her complaining vehemently about how the woman who came in to clean her house while she was in the hospital did a piss poor job of it. I think I can safely say that she is just fine."

Landon had traveled back to his hometown in Missouri to help out when his mom's MS landed her in the hospital two months ago. He is an only child and his mom and he are extremely close, she accepts him completely and there is nothing he won't do for her. It's a beautiful thing.

"That's great to hear, Lan," I say. I look up at him and smile, taking in his blond good looks.

"And what has my little Fancy Face been up to while I've been gone?" He asks, opening the double doors to the massive hotel kitchen.

"Oh, you know a little of this, a little of that. Working, reading, running, crushing on a really hot guy." I start to walk away, knowing I'll be pulled back. I'm pulled back.

"What?" he shrieks, and no one does shrieking quite like Landon. Everyone working in the kitchen looks over at us, rolling their eyes before looking back at their tasks.

He grabs my arm and leads me over to a small desk in the corner where there is a sign-in board. I sign my name quickly and turn to Landon saying, "It really is just early. I, uh, ran into him recently and he's a friend of a friend and well, we went on one really great date and he's completely hot and that's really the extent of it." But I just have this gut feeling, you know?" I frown. "Wait, shit, I m not supposed to say that out loud, am I? I've jinxed things now."

Landon is listening to me intently and he is quiet for a minute after I've stopped speaking, one finger on his lips, his hip cocked and gazing thoughtfully at me. Finally, he says, "Listen, Fancy Face. I've known you for almost four years now, and in all that time, I have never once heard you even mention a guy. Or a girl, I would have taken either." I laugh. "So," he goes on, "This is momentous. This is huge. This has made my night. I know you putting yourself out there isn't easy." He looks at me sadly. "And I know you have good reasons for that. But whether or not this turns into anything, swear to you, Evie, I'm just glad to know that you're willing to take a chance."

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