Page 9 of Leo

The reason Leo is in foster care is because his dad beat the crap out of him after Leo tried to smother him in his sleep when he threatened to send Seth away. He had admitted to me that he knew he wouldn't have gone through with it, but he was so filled with fear and rage about him sending Seth away that he wanted to divert his dad's wrath back onto himself. I've told Leo a thousand times how brave he is, but he doesn't believe me.

He sighs. "I don't even care what happens to me, I just don't want Seth to pay the price for it and now he is because my mom signed the papers to have Seth put away, even though I know it was that douchebag's idea so he could move home. And I'm sure sticking it to me was a happy side benefit."

I don't say it, but the truth of the matter is, with Leo gone, caring for Seth is probably too much work for them. Leo had done everything for that little boy, from changing his diapers to playing with him, bathing him and getting him to bed every night, before he was sent to foster care.

"At court today, that son of a bitch passed me in the hall and whispered, 'Seth's GONE, boy. Hope he makes it.' Then he laughed his ass off as he walked away. Laughed, Evie! And my mom's no better. She just drags after him like he has her hypnotized with his charming personality." Tears are running down his cheeks now and I am squeezing his hand like it's my lifeline.

"You know the only reason they even showed up at court today was to whine to the judge about what a sorry hand they were dealt in life to have a good for nothing kid like me for one, and a retard for the other. Maybe they thought the judge would feel so sorry for them, he'd spring for a tropical vacation or something." He laughs a hollow laugh.

"The thing is, Evie, I tried so hard to protect Seth but in truth, I'm such a f**k up, I couldn't even manage that. The bastard is right about me. I ruin everything. I do something to ruin all the people who love me. Eventually, I f**k up everything because that's who I am."

And that's when I'd had enough. "Stop," I say gently, but then firmer, "Stop! You're wrong, Leo. And I will not let that poor excuse for a human being make you think of yourself that way. You're brave and strong and noble. You're my Leo."

Leo is quiet now, breathing evenly, but his body is still tense. "Tell me a story, Evie," he says finally.

I take a deep breath and impossibly, move even closer to him. It's a hot summer night and I am already clammy from our closeness but I don't move away.

We are both silent for several minutes but eventually, I roll onto my back and say, "There was once a very beautiful woman, and although she had the face of an angel, she was hollow on the inside. Right in the place where her heart should have been located, there was just a big, gaping hole. Because of this defect, an ogre was able to court her and she married him; he was as ugly on the inside as he was on the outside."

"One day the woman needed to get away from the ogre because his ugly personality and his ugly face became too much for her to bear, and as it turned out, even hollow people can only take so much ugliness."

"She walked and walked until she came upon a quiet meadow and she lay down in the middle of that meadow, soaking in the stillness of the night. What she didn't know was that there was a great beast lurking nearby; A massive lion, with a mane of gold and the thunderous roar of a hundred lions."

"As the beautiful but hollow woman lay in the field, this beast approached her quietly and when she opened her eyes and spied him, she was spellbound because the sight of him was like nothing she had ever seen. He held the woman down with one massive paw, although, strangely, she wasn't scared, only curious. When dawn broke, the beauty awoke and thought that the night before had been only a dream. But the woman was now carrying a child, a son. And this beautiful boy would have the gifts of both his parents, the beauty of his mother and the heart of his father, the heart of a lion."

We're both quiet for several long moments.

Then Leo rolls towards me and he is looking at me with fire in his eyes. "I love you, Evie," he whispers.

"I love you, too, my Leo," I whisper back.

CHAPTER 12

Landon gives me a ride home. He asks me repeatedly if I want to go out for late night drinks but I really just want to crawl into my bed and shut out the world.

I never did see Jake again after the caviar incident but it's for the best as far as I’m concerned. Watching him with Gwen would just have been even more painful and humiliating.

As Landon drops me off, he gives me a hug and tells me to call him tomorrow. "I have layers of dust all over my apartment and loads of laundry to do but if you need any company, I will drop all that excitement in a heartbeat." He smiles and I smile back. "Love you girl," he says quietly.

"Love you, Lan," I say as I get out.

I unlock the front building door and of course my mind goes straight to Jake. Thinking about what him and Gwen are doing right about now just makes me cringe.

I let myself in to my apartment and take a quick shower. Then I brush my teeth, pull on an old t-shirt and a pair of shorts and climb into bed.

I should have known that a man like Jake Madsen who can have any girl he wants would not choose a girl like me.

I curl around my pillow and finally let myself cry.

**********

I wake up early the next morning, and again drag myself out of bed. I shower, pull on my Hilton uniform and dry my hair before putting it up in a ponytail. I put on a minimal amount of makeup and leave my apartment to catch the bus.

My shift goes by quickly as it usually does, and by noon, my mood has improved. I was fine before Jake Madsen interrupted my life and I'll be fine after. I've lived through worse, much worse.

I exit through the employee door and am walking down the block towards the bus stop when a dark silver BMW pulls up next to me. I look over and there's Jake, smiling out at me and leaning across the passenger seat. "Want a ride little girl?" he asks, raising his eyebrows.

"Funny. No, Jake. I'm good with the bus." I keep walking.

"Evie, we need to talk," he says but I keep walking.

Is he high?

"No, Jake, we don't," I say without looking in his direction and because there are cars parked along the street from this point forward, Jake would be forced to pull to the side and get out of his car in order to keep talking to me. Which he does. Damn.

I sit down at the bus stop and Jake jogs up to me. "Evie," he frowns. "Listen, Evie, last night was not what you think it was."

"Jake," I interrupt him from going any further. "It's been a long day. I'm really asking you to just leave this, okay? You should have told me you have a girlfriend. You didn't. It's done. Walk away." With that I turn around. The bus is coming.

"Gwen is not my girlfriend, Evie. I hope you'd think more of me than that after the time we've spent together."

Okay, girlfriend, f**k buddy, whatever. I'm just really not up for this. "Jake, again, walk away."

"I'm not gonna do that, Evie," he says quietly from behind me.

And now I'm just angry. I'm so damned tired, and just angry. I've spent the day cleaning up after slobs who think they can be just as disgusting as they please because someone lower than them will be there to wipe up their mess and I am just so. Damned. Tired. Just the fact that Jake Madsen ever darkened my doorway suddenly has me seething. I was doing FINE! And now here he is in his stupid Beemer, in his stupid suit with his stupid girlfriend/fuck buddy, whatever, in her $1400 shoes! And what the hell does he want from me exactly? Because the thing is, I'm done wondering. I'm done with Jake Madsen.

I stand up and get right up in his face, because suddenly I am furious. "Clue in, Jake," I hiss, "You don't know me. You think you do, but you don't. You think you know what type of person I am, but you have no idea. And so, you don't get to do this. You don't get to interrupt my life over and over again and then think that I will be grateful to you for gracing my life with your very presence. After last night, I think it's perfectly clear that there is no reason for you to be here. So I am asking you again if we can have this conversation another time like never?"

I try to whirl around, but I'm caught up short because Jake grabs my hand and tugs. I have no choice but to whirl right back around to him and when I do, there is instant and extreme intensity in his eyes. He pulls me right up close to him and grinds out, mostly to himself, "It wasn't my intention to do this on a street corner, but this stubborn girl is gonna make me." Then he sighs and I'm staring at him with wide eyes because, frankly, what else can I do without making a huge scene. And did I mention that I'm tired?

He continues. "You think I don't know you, Evie? I'll tell you what I know about you. That week I was following you, I know that you took the goddamned BUS to an old man's house to drop off cookies."

I'm momentarily stunned and I shake my head in confusion. "Mr Cooper?" I furrow my brow. "He lived next to the house where I lived for four years. He was always nice to me. He's widowed. Lonely. He really likes my chocolate chip cookies."

"It's a two hour round trip bus ride, Evie." He says gently.

I take a deep breath. "Jake, I'm sure there's a point here but - "

"That guy across the hall was going to kill me before he let me even think about so much as making you uncomfortable."

"Maurice?" I say, and now my face is all scrunched up because I am just plain confused. "He's a really protective guy."

"Like the guy last night who practically melted me with the angry lasers coming out of his eyes after he thought I disrespected you in public?" Jake asks, again gently.

"Landon?" I say. "He's one of my best friends, he - "

"Evie, I think you're failing to grasp what I'm saying to you and so I'm going to spell it out for you here, baby."

Baby? Did he just call me baby?

"You say 'please' and 'thank you' to everyone, Evie. You almost bumped into a cocker spaniel being walked by his owner and when you ducked around him, you said, 'excuse me.' You said 'excuse me' to a dog, Evie. And I bet you didn't even think twice about that. And that's because your manners are so deeply ingrained in you, that that is second nature. And given what I know about your past, I'm gonna guess that no one f**king taught you that. That that is just all Evie."

I'm speechless, staring at him stunned because I am just literally at a loss for words.

"What I know about you, is that people who are lucky enough to have your trust and your friendship, it is clear that they would have your back to within an inch of their life and that is because you give them you, and they know that when they have you, they have a f**k of a lot.

"And, Evie, when you walk away from people, even strangers, you gotta know that their eyes follow you. And I'll tell you why because I've felt it myself. It's because they don't want to see the light that is Evie, the light that is you, walking away from them. They want to see it coming towards them and staying with them."

"Uh, - " I start.

"So maybe I don't know what your favorite meal is, maybe I don't even know your birthday. But what I do know is beautiful, and Evie, what I do know lets me know that I want to know more."

He stops now and we stare into each other's eyes in the middle of the sidewalk, at a public bus stop, and for all I know, we are both standing on the moon.

"Um, Jake," I say.

"What, Evie?"

"I missed my bus. I'm gonna need a ride."

He looks at me for a minute and then his gorgeous face breaks into a big grin.

Oh, wow.

We don't say another word as he leads me to his car. He opens the passenger door and deposits me inside his car.

Jake walks around and slides into his seat, all smooth grace.

We pull out and Jake looks over at me and says, "I want you to listen to me about last night."

I bite the inside of my cheek, realize I'm doing it, stop and glance nervously over at him as he continues.

"Gwen's father is the CFO of my father's company. And when I say 'my father's company,' I really mean to say 'my company,' because that's what it is now, but that's a transition my brain is still working on."

He's silent for a second and then, "Anyway, I've known Gwen and her father for a long time and over the years Gwen and I have spent some time together here and there, although I always made it clear to her that I wasn't interested in anything more than what we had, and what we had was very little. Gwen made it clear that she was interested in more, and Gwen was raised to believe that she is entitled to what she wants and that eventually, if she whines enough, she'll get it.

"When I moved here, I tried to be a friend to her because, despite the fact that Gwen is a superficial bitch, I treated her disrespectfully over the years and in part that was because a side benefit of screwing Gwen was screwing my father, who was embarrassed at my treatment of a colleague's daughter." He is silent for a second, frowning slightly and I wonder what he's thinking but I remain quiet.

"I had arranged the event last night with Gwen months ago and I couldn't get out of it. It's a cause that is important to me and I didn't think it was any real skin off my teeth to bring Gwen as I'd planned. Three seconds in and I realized that I was mistaken on that front and that was even before I saw you there."

I don't want to feel satisfaction at this but I do. God, I do. But then I frown.

"Gwen made it sound like things were very current with you," I say, staring straight ahead.

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