IN LOVE AND WAR IV

CHAPTER FOUR: Time Travel

I was no victim of Hyperthymesia but with Leo every vivid detail, slight encounter and single moment stuck like a barnacle to my memory.

The first time I saw Leo in person.

Nathaniel had begged me to pick his son from the airport but I refused.

To begin with, I’d only seen pictures of Leo. Also, I overheard most of his conversations with Nat about me; the guy’s words concerning me were a pure poison. He didn’t come for our wedding for one reason: his hatred for me. And I always wondered how he could bear such mindless malevolence for a lady he hadn’t known from Adam. My age was my transgression. So I was twenty-nine years younger than Nathaniel, big deal.

I tried to see from his angle; if my father had to wed a girl I was older than, I’d also have issues accepting her as my step-mother. But I was neither after the titles nor roles. Patricia wasn’t dead; even if she were, I could never take motherly responsibilities over a grown man. Perhaps it was most galling to see his father move on. I wasn’t mad. However, I had in mind, he wasn’t a fan.

My persistent declination resulted in the driver canceling taking Nathaniel to the company. He headed to the airport while Nathaniel drove himself to Alberto Motors.

The jubilant voices of the employees hinted his arrival. I was in the kitchen making some pancakes with no intention to take a step from where I was to welcome him. Call me petty. Pleasantries, hugs, chatters and laughter, he had an affable relationship with them, especially Freda – the gardener’s daughter. To an extent, I felt left out but I let it go. I was certain he didn’t want to see me either.

“Where’s Kiki?” He’d asked the housekeeper, Rona.

“I don’t know. She’ll be somewhere around the house.” Rona had responded.

“Shhhh.” He shushed them. “I want to surprise her. No one say nothing.”

In agreement, they took his luggage upstairs while he went on his dumb search. He’d just arrived from another country, what was his source of energy? Pancakes in the oven, I timed the machine and left for my room. I avoided running into him by all means.

What you run from, you run into. I opened the door and there he was in the bedroom, staring at my wedding portrait on the wall. He turned around. His aqua green eyes locked with mine. In admiration I froze. White polo shirt that showed off his defined, well-built brawn and matched his smooth, flawless skin strikingly, on a ripped, faded blue jeans, how could I forget? There was no resemblance with Nathaniel, he was hotter, probably took after his mama. I wouldn’t categorize him as photogenic; of course he looked fine in the pictures but in person, his beauty was beyond words. He was a divinely appealing young man that’ll do wonderfully as a model, I’d thought.

“Hi,” fell out of my mouth, “I’m – “

He butted in with some asperity, “Gabriella. I know who you are.” And he walked out.

Right, he wasn’t a fan, I was reminded.

What are you doing here? I should have questioned with a stern face, I beat myself up. I sounded as weak as a kitten when the scene replayed in my head. Why’d I talked to him first? I could have been cocky. Gabriella, you messed up! I punched the bed hard with my tiny fists.

“Mrs. Alberto, your pancakes are ready.” Kiki’s voice came through the door.

“Ok. Thanks.”

I puffed at the consideration that I might bump into him on my way down. Thankfully, the faintest shadow of Leo didn’t come my way; but he was right there in the kitchen, chewing on the pancakes. CHEWING ON MY PANCAKES! It sunk in harder. The long shrill in my head cemented me to a spot.

“Rona, what’d you put in these?” He complimented the housekeeper, deliberately ignoring my presence.

It’s my great grandma’s secret recipe! I wanted to scream at him, then wished Mother Earth opened and swallowed him up. Yes, I disliked him that much because he disliked me first!

“Actually, those are Madam Gabriella’s.” Rona replied slowly.

“Just Gabriella please.” I admonished immediately in a low voice for the hundredth time.

The employees watched us as though awaiting some drama. His head took an imperative turn in my direction. If only he could vomit the pancakes, he would have.

“I’ll get my wallet.” He went out.

I moved past him to the refrigerator for a remake. Leo dominated my thought, how he could be nice to everyone but me. How protective was he of his father and his father’s possessions? Very, obviously.

Mixing the ingredients with a big glare and firm grip on the whisk, I noticed he brought some cash to the table. He settled it beneath the jar of glucose without a word.

“I don’t need your money.” I had to point out even though he kept walking.

Inability to concentrate, the hellacious hullabaloo in my head wasn’t getting any better, pancakes became abandoned. I proceeded upstairs with the aim to remain there till Nathaniel’s return, wishing I had someone to talk to. I missed my great grandma, Nana Paddy. After losing my parents and siblings to an auto crash at five, I’d stayed with her until she was diagnosed of Alzheimer’s disease. Taking into consideration a drive to Clintwood Home for Seniors, I gave Nathaniel a ring about it. Unfortunately, the idea didn’t sit well with him.

“Let’s go there together so that I can see my brother William as well. I am sure Leo would also be interested. Let’s all go on Sunday.” Nathaniel’s suggestion trumped.

The first time Leo brought Amanda to dinner.

Seeking comfort from the pillows, they did their best to put me to rest. I’d fallen asleep by time Nathaniel returned from the company. Waking me up with his wet peck, I opened my eyes to Nathaniel’s evergreen smile of innocence.

“Nat, did I miss dinner?” I mumbled.

“It’s Leonard.”

Bouncing out of bed, I stared with wide eyes and eyebrows raised.

“And no. He asked me to come get you.” With arms crossed and a cold face, “Apparently no one can eat unless the table is complete. Sadly, it includes you.” He gave me a disdainful grimace.

I felt my cheek, almost sure I was kissed but I’d also seen Nat’s face earlier and he wasn’t even in the room. A hallucination, perhaps, it didn’t matter.

“Guess you’ll have to deal with it,” I wanted to say but settled for, “Be down in ten minutes.”

“You have five. My fiancée is around and it’ll be rude to keep her waiting more than you already have.” He jerked out.

Amanda’s first time in the house, she no doubt, was the most reserved person I’d met. Shoulder-length black hair with bangs, memorable face and a straight body shape; he got taste.

Engaged to Leo, I perceived no affinity between them, only Leo’s flirtatious acts taken in earnest. Minding my business, I ate in utmost silence, merely observing and listening. Nathaniel dug up the story of how we met at Clintwood, took the liberty to mention Sunday and invited Amanda but Leo disapproved, using the wedding preparations as an excuse. For reasons best known to him, he’d brought the date closer and was getting married in four days. He also picked Georgia as their home to settle in after the union. I almost mentioned Amanda should have an opinion in the decision but it was none of my concern.

The beginning of my back talk.

The next day started with a nightmare where Leo buried me alive in a fancy casket and let out a maniacal laughter at my suffocation. Rolling out of bed, I did my best to shake off the images glued to my mind; it was the ideal thing for my sanity. His wedding was in three days, my obsession with looking enchanting everywhere I went pushed me into the decision to go shopping.

“Going to meet him?”

My attention diverted to the direction where the voice came.

“Meet who?” I struggled to ignore the clear fact what he was accusing me of unfaithfulness.

The expression of proprietary in his face got my brain addled; was he green-eyed on behalf of his father? Was that even a thing?

“If it’s not already happening, I know someday you are going to betray my father, ditch him for another man your age and leave with his entire wealth. You’re on a mission. And if that happens, I am burying you alive.”

His threat the dream revoked.

Far from intimidated, “I love Nat but you’ll never understand it because all you’re capable of feeling is hate and hate you see, is a weak emotion. So until you become a man, I’ll never take you seriously.” I spilled without worrying about an aftermath and I loved it.

Covering up his astonishment with a malicious laughter, “Really, I am going to take lectures about love from a child who gets married for material possessions? Kill me a rock.” Leo scoffed.

“At least I am not a coward,” I rubbed in with a shrug, “getting married to someone because I see her as a puppet.”

“What rubbish are you spitting out now?” He asked, striking a cowboy pose.

“Moving up the wedding date, making every decision. You don’t love her. Not even a little bit.” I answered.

“Wow.” He threw back his head laughing, “I thought you were just ugly on the outside. Turns out you are on the inside as well!”

A killer hourglass figure in a sequined jumpsuit, symmetrical face, full enviable lips, pearly white set of teeth, clear skin and slender legs; he had to be joking.

I wasn’t cautious of my diet, exercising regularly and rocking stylish outfits to be referred to as ‘ugly’. “You take that back!”

With strong, unblinking and focused eye contact, “you talk as if you know me. Mrs. Know-it-all, you don’t know a thing about me, witch!” He pronounced loudly.

“You chose Amanda because you can control her,” I chose his words, “if it’s not already happening, I know someday you’ll get tired of her saying yes to your yes and no to your no, agreeing with everything you say – like a marionette – and you’ll leave her for someone more challenging and less boring and when that happens, I’m going to be laughing at your dumb ass.”

Hitting the nail on the head, for a moment, twisted his vocal cords; he could not get a word out and when he did, “guess we’ll have to wait and see whether I’ll be the one burying you or you’ll be laughing!” His eyes flashed with annoyance.

“Don’t we?”

Nothing more to say, I got in the Bentley and zoomed off. The longest conversation we had since his return, not sure why I looked forward to more of it.

Stuck in traffic for hours, I got home later than expected to meet Leo at the garage in a heated argument with Amanda. He wanted her to keep quiet at the sight of me but she didn’t get his gestures at all, raising her voice higher and accusing him of cheating on her with another woman again. I watched Amanda take off with indignation. My scornful face made his blood boil, on the other hand I was appeased.

“Interesting.” I got my things from the backseat.

“Just shut up and keep walking!”

Exactly what I did. He came behind me as it was almost time for dinner time and we all had to be at the table. At least, I thought that until his seat was empty. Nathaniel ordered Freda to get him, I offered to do it instead. My suggestion earned me stupefying looks from Nat and the employees, I was astonished myself. I left the dining room to Leo’s.

After several knocks and no response, I let myself in. The TV was on. I shook my head in disgust at the adult movie on the screen. He was seated on the couch, asleep and a half empty bottle of whiskey on the gravel floor. I rolled my eyes at his restful face. Sleeping beast!

Amanda’s voice came in on the answering machine; crying and giving an apology he didn’t deserve. My sound mind fled when she begged him not to call off the wedding. Dumbass! He was the lucky one.

I removed his shoes and helped lay him down on the couch and impulsively set a light kiss on his cheek. I had no idea where it came from. Leo was a pain in my neck. I was a hundred and ten percent sure he detested me and the feeling was mutual.

I turned to leave when he grabbed my hand.

“Stay.” He muttered from his sleep.

I was uncertain the message was for me. Amanda, perhaps. Or his other girlfriends. I took no heed and left for the dining.

“Leo won’t be joining us tonight.” I stated, taking my seat at the table.

The morning after, conscious of what I’d done the previous night whilst he slept, I almost turned down the visit to Clintwood but Nathaniel was an expert at persuasion and my great grandma meant so much to me. Nathaniel and I had the backseat to ourselves in the Audi. Leo arrived some minutes late, took his seat next to the driver in sunshades that blocked me from reading his expressions. He was hung over and I could feel his brief glances at me through the front mirror throughout the journey.

“Leo, did I tell you my wife and I met at Clintwood?” Nathaniel bragged.

“Yes, dad, a million times. Even Amanda who has only met you once, knows already.” He gave a half-hearted response.

Nathaniel continued, “She gets your uncle William so well.”

I came in, “that’s because my Nana Paddy has been there much longer. I have learned so much about communicating with a person with Alzheimer’s disease.”

“I am so blessed.” Nathaniel gave a smile of confidence.

“We all are dad.”

Nat’s older brother – William also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and weirdly clicked well with my great grandma. Every time I went to see Nana Paddy, he was with her. Soon I adapted the mindset that I had two patients at Clintwood. It was how Nat and I met and sped up our friendship.

“Nana Paddy!” I knelt down to meet her height on the wheelchair and gave her a big hug. “It’s your favorite person in the world.”

“Gabriella?” The hundred and two year old woman called weakly.

I gave her a loud peck. Every time I was with my great grandma, my worries would give way for peace.

I turned to her friend in sickness who played jigsaw puzzle with her, “hello Mr. William.”

He mish ewe.” His words weren’t clear but I understood.

Another hug and a loud peck for Mr. William for making me feel like a dog with two tails.

“Hi, brother. Hello ma’am Riya.”

That was Nathaniel, hoping he was remembered this time. He was let down.

“This is my husband, Nana Paddy. He is Nathaniel, Mr. William’s younger brother.” I introduced like always.

Mr. William turned to Nana Paddy, “Iz the true?”

After witnessing Nathaniel’s hopes shattered, Leo looked at me for help even though he’d known I wasn’t going to.

“I’m Leo, uncle.” He introduced himself in a calm tone, “I am your nephew.”

He extended his hand for a handshake but William wasn’t paying attention.

“I brought pancakes. The softest in the history of pancakes. You’re gonna love it!” I announced, wearing the widest grin.

Even though they didn’t show any excitement, I winked at Nana Paddy, “I used our secret formula.”

Her wrinkled face was expressionless.

I faced Nathaniel, “I’ll get the pancakes in the car.”

“I’ll come with.” He replied with eagerness.

“He remembered me the last time, now he doesn’t.” Crestfallen, Nathaniel shook his head when he got to the car.

“But he never forgets you.” He baffled.

“Give it time darling. Things can only get better.” I encouraged, grabbing the box of pancakes.

“You go ahead. I’ll remain in the car.” He opened the door.

“That’s a bad idea. Staying away won’t help.” I couldn’t differentiate between the fear of being alone with Leo and my concern for Nathaniel to bond with his brother.

“I can’t deal right now honey. Just go ahead.” He got in the car. “Will go for a ride. Call me when you’re ready to leave.” Nathaniel wound up the window.

You can handle this, my faith propped me up and I obeyed my husband.

“Where’s my father?”

Disregarding him on purpose, I set the table. I conversed with Nana Paddy and William; comprehending and patient with their slow, inaudible words while we had some pancakes and tea. With the face of an outcast, Leo watched from a corner.

“Wanna join us?” I invited.

He succumbed.

What is ya husband’s na-ime?”

“Leo.” I answered Nana Paddy and took time to explain, “he isn’t my husband. My husband is Nathaniel, Mr. William’s brother.”

Iz your step-son.” Mr. William made me choke on pancakes.

“I’ll get some water.” I made an escape from Leo’s baleful eyes and the unpleasantness in the air.

Gulping chilled water, I turned around to find Leo behind me. I assumed he’d come to get some water as well.

“How weird was that?” I was pressured to say.

“Let’s never speak of it,” snubbed Leo, “I have called my father, he is on his way.”

“But I am not done…”

Then his favorite thing to do, he walked out on me in the middle of my sentence.

I squeezed the plastic cup in my fist. Rude!

“I am getting married tomorrow.”

I walked in on Leo telling Nana Paddy and William. Surprisingly, he had their concentration. I waited and observed from the entrance, playing my part to be invisible.

“Gabriella?” Nana Paddy’s eyes lit.

“No.” Leo rectified.

No?” William looked from Leo to Nana Paddy with an evident confusion.

Luv heir, yes?” Nana Paddy questioned.

“No, I don’t. Matter of fact, I don’t see her that way at all.” He replied in all seriousness.

William and Nana Paddy looked at themselves and gave a ridiculous laugh.

Shhhhure wee doe.” William laughed again.

“I do?” Leo scoffed, “I see…and I am sure she loves me too?”

Aye.” Nana Paddy dragged.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” His sacarsm was plain as day.

“What’s the name of y’all mental disease again?” He made an insensitive mockery.

I remembered Leo’s wedding day.

“Please give us a minute.” Leo told his friends when I entered the room and questioned immediately they’d left, “What are you doing here?”

“It’s quarter past your wedding time. Nat and others have been waiting downstairs.”

“You came upstairs to state the obvious?” Sassy as usual, he stank of booze.

“Well, since the beginning of time, women are the late ones.”

I drew closer to fix his slant bow tie in reluctance and expectance of an hindrance that never came.

His touch, as gentle as silence, a jolt of electricity coursed through my body when he laid his hands on mine on the bow tie.

The spark in his eyes, I faced downward immediately, scared of catching the fever I’d already gotten. For a split second, I imagined what it would be like if the eye contact lasted longer than that.

“Leonardo.” His best man’s voice from the other side of the room.

He let go. “Thanks.” It was the first time he was polite.

“Welcome.” I walked out of the room hesitant and hoping for a call back.

Honeymoon at Fiji for three months got reduced to one after Leo’s lechery got the best of him. Amanda came to Nat in the house occasionally to report her husband’s extracurricular activities but Leo never came with. Once or twice, Amanda quit her job at Atlanta because he slept with her bosses. And then she got death threats, requesting she left Leo or lost her life. After physical attacks followed, Nathaniel demanded that they migrated to the mansion to ensure Amanda’s safety.

Later in the night they moved in, I ran into Leo at the garage. He’d zoomed out earlier after a long conversation with Nathaniel. He glowed more alluringly, despite wearing a sullen brooding face of annoyance because of Amanda’s habit of running to Nathaniel every time they had an issue.

“Going somewhere?” His first words to me in months.

“Yes.” I approached the newest baby of the house, Nat’s Mercedes Benz S-Class.

“May I come with?”

Staring with cow eyes, I sought for seriousness in his eyes, “why?”

“It’s late. A pretty woman shouldn’t be out alone at this hour.”

Pretty. Woman. The words echoed separately in my head.

“A pretty woman shouldn’t be out alone with you at this hour.” I sounded more hateful than I’d intended.

Leo accompanied me to the beach. Floating in the open water was magical and exciting, staring at the stars in peaceful silence. Soothing, the brilliance of the full moon flattered the serenity of the night. In darkness and isolation, the loving touch of Mother Nature brought me clarity and energy.

“Do you come here often?”

“The truth?”

“Please.”

“I don’t.” I continued, “You moving in got me messed up in the head, I needed some coolness.”

I swam out of the water for a walk on the soft, sinking sand.

He came with, “I give everyone headaches, including my stepmom.” He joked.

“Do you want us to leave?”

“No. Amanda wants this.”

He took a long stare at me, “you’re putting Amanda’s desire above yours?”

“Yes. As long as I can live with the consequence.”

“Which is?”

“Putting up with your arrogance.”

He chuckled, impressed by my honesty.

“Ouch!” I cried, my foot punctured by an urchin.

“You okay?” He checked out the foot in the air. “Hey, I’ll get it out.” He assured in a pacifying tone.

He lifted me to the car where he removed the urchin and tied the injury with an edge of his shirt he’d ripped off. The pain in my foot was submerged by a profound hunger for more. More of his tender hands. I was on fire every time we made contact and wanted nothing more than for him to make the first move. He was probably thinking the same thing.

“I’ll get your shoes.” He went to the ocean.

Returning, he covered me with his brown leather jacket after dropping the shoes in the back seat.

My eyes gummed on his body, he took the driver’s seat.

“Leonard.” Giving in to my subconscious, I called.

He took a pause from pressing ignition, “Don’t.” He urged.

“Don’t what?”

“I am struggling to be reasonable, don’t make me do things.”

I chuckled, impressed by his honesty.

We rode home in quietude and stolen glances. Stopping at the garage, he helped me out.

“Is this how you get them?” I joked around, wearing his jacket.

“Follow them to the beach and wait for an urchin to wound them? No. I usually just buy them a few drinks at the bar.” He teased. “Can you walk?”

“Mm… let’s pretend I can’t.”

“Works for me.”

He had me in his arms at once. Eyes locked, every iota of reasoning fled the picture and it was perfectly normal. Craving for his lips threw my heart rate in a relay race.

I bit my lower lip, “Leonard.” Now, I was practically begging.

His soft lips toyed with mine. I’d barely contained the rush of helplessness when he pressed harder and hungrily, mashing his lips against mine. Immersed in taste of his lips, it was every shade of wrong but it made me feel right. His tongue pushing past my clenched teeth in a sweet wetness, I lost every breath in my lungs. Hot, I was all ablaze and couldn’t get enough at the same time. Shaky, he’d aroused in me sensations I’d never known I was capable of feeling. The kind that made me question the existence of an emotion like this. An enjoyable dizziness, I was falling into an endless hole that opened my soul right before it drowned into nothingness.

👉👉👉 Go to next chapter here

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