CHAPTER FIVE: Good Bad News
In bright summer sweltering heat, the beautiful villa was bullied into submersion. Streams of sun rays poured into the pale blue pool, making it shine like a molten mirror. The silvery daylight hadn’t touched my skin but the energy of the dancing trees, choreographed by the swirling wind and the birdsong infused my soul and raised me higher. My face radiated more than the friendly ball of yellow inferno above. One reason: Leo’s return.
Taylor Swift’s Lover album on replay, I went to the refrigerator and helped myself with a glass of chilled orange juice.
Hah, Leo. Three hours seemed longer than the past four days. My heart had a void I was too desperate to fill. His touch, I longed for. Not much was left of my soul without his tongue running over my lips. Yearning for his cuddles left me like a turtle without its shell. It seemed as though fiber in my body was going through withdrawal, I almost felt like throwing a tantrum. We talked and texted everyday. We FaceTimed once or twice as he promised, it didn’t suffice. I missed him like the mountains miss the sky.
Leo loved sweet potatoes. Moving to the kitchen to prepare his favorite meal, I walked past Nat’s office and noticed the quite secretive conversation between Nat and his lawyer. It didn’t occur to me to eavesdrop. Thinking about seeing Leo again had me over the moon. Besides, Nat would tell me if I inquired. Working the stove, I saw him accompanying the man out of the house; no words exchanged but Nat’s face told me something was up. I put the meal on hold to go upstairs in the room and wait.
“Honey, what’s happening?” I questioned the moment he entered the room.
He took off his plaid jacket, “it’s nothing, darling.”
“Keeping secrets now, are we?” I put him in a spot, pressured by the voice in my head telling me the discussion had to do with Leo.
“Damien says someone has to carry on my legacy.”
Why should that be an issue? I asked in my mind.
Nat continued, “and suggests I adopt Leo legally.”
Wait, did I hear right? My sitting position adjusted from relaxed to upright. “Adopt Leo legally?” I was thrown off balance.
Leo was an Alberto. What was Nat talking about? Patricia had left Nat long before I met him and he never told me much about her, possibly trying to leave the past where it belonged – in the past. I never dug either. Should I have?!
“Yes. Yes. You see, my ex-wife, Patricia was four months pregnant with another man’s child when we got married.” He narrated with a nonchalant attitude.
I put the pieces together. Why hadn’t anyone spoken of this? Questions wouldn’t stop birthing in my head.
“Does he know?” I put out the most important of them all.
“Yes. I told him when his mother moved on and left him behind. He was fourteen. Tough kid. He is my son regardless of his genetic material.” He removed his wristwatch and set it on the nightstand.
According to the law, the bond wasn’t enough and the paperwork was necessary. It was unbelievable Nat had been world’s greatest dad to another man’s child. No one could have guessed it. I could have not.
“What now?” The two words meant different things to me.
Was my relationship with Leo justifiable now? Or would adopting Leo legally make things more complicated? Was Nathaniel considering the lawyer’s legal advice at all?
“Well, I don’t have a child.” He slouched into the sofa.
I don’t have a child. The heavy statement banged in my heart. It was the first time I had a slightest clue of the pain of childlessness. Behind the masked smile he wore on his face, Nat’s eyes bore anguish that filled me with compassion.
“But I can’t make any decision without Leo. He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to.”
Leo had Nat’s last name but wasn’t Nat’s biologically? Did Amanda know? Perhaps I was the only one in the dark on this account. My impatience for Leo’s arrival just got fueled. Why didn’t anyone ever talk about Patricia? Why did she file for a divorce? Nathaniel was a million shades of awesomeness, why would any woman leave him? But who was I to judge? I’d leave him for his son, if I could.
I took a pitiful stare at Nathaniel. What if I gave him a child? It’d make him complete. His baby would be the luckiest in the world. How twisted was life? Millions of people out there have kids they struggle to fend for. Orphans seeking for safe haven. Nat had it all, everything but a child who carried his blood.
He noticed my cherry-print white dress and light makeup.
“Yes. I promised a friend of mine I’ll go with her to the salon.” That came effortlessly.
“You have a friend?”
“Everyone has a friend, Nat. We met on Facebook.”
Really, I didn’t have a friend, it occurred to me. I grew up with no friends, lived alone after Nana Paddy was moved out, got married and continued my lonesome lifestyle – which I’d never considered lonesome until now.
“Okay.” He exited the room.
So did I.
Going back to the kitchen and overly cautious of the time, I made Rosemary-Pecan mashed sweet potatoes. Then, sweet potato pie.
My body and yours will be together again beating as one because I will be there soon.
Leo’s text had glorious fireworks going off in my brain. How he could type and send this beside his wife a mystery remained.
I hurried out of the house to our usual spot – the ranch house – and awaited the ringing of the door bell.
With the adorable jubilance of a kid whose father worked in the military and hadn’t seen him in years, I sped like an arrow to the door and flew into his arms. Leo spun me in excitement. I’d never been happier to see someone. Zillions of kisses on my face, he just couldn’t stop.
Canoodling, we moved indoor and collapsed into the couch, drenched in childlike happiness of two lovebirds in wonderland and electrifying every inch of our bodies with every single touch as we collided and became one.
Cut off by a call from Nathaniel to ask how it was going at the salon with my supposed friend, he didn’t doubt my words. I had become a guru at lying, coming up with another excuse to spend more time out because Leo apparently missed me more.
Advancing to the kitchen after the call, I set the table. The rich aroma made his mouth water and earned me a passionate, thankful kiss.
One spoonful, “this is really good.” Leo complimented after a delightful moan.
I gave a shrug, proud of myself, watching him happily consuming it and licking his fleshy lips. Three years at the International Culinary Institute, I still got it even though Nathaniel wouldn’t allow me to work as a certified chef that I was. (We’d wedded six months after I graduated).
“How’s Amanda?” It was past belief how I cared for Leo’s wife.
He took a pause, “How do you think?”
The atmosphere changed as though the mention of her name was prohibited. It didn’t have to be this way, I was displeased.
“Let’s go on a vacation.” He lightened up, diverting the subject.
“Are you crazy?” And say what to Nathaniel?
“You know you want to.” He moistened his lips with his tongue in a slow and libidinous motion.
Nope. I wasn’t falling for that. Not today.
“You love Bahamas. A week or two, we can make it happen.” Leo enticed.
Man, I was crazy about Bahamas. A haven of turquoise water and pink sand and restful tranquility formed in my head, the hundreds of islands waiting for me to explore them and fresh seafoods to give my taste buds a new experience.
I blocked out my fantasies. “No! Amanda – ”
He butted in, “ – asked for a divorce.”
“What!” I hadn’t foreseen.
“Four days alone together and that’s what happened.”
“You cannot… Amanda loves you. She’s just frustrated. You cannot let that happen, Leonard.” Concernment pulled the corners of my mouth down.
“She loves me. Do I love her?” He made a fixed eye contact, pressing his index finger to cheek and propping chin on rest of his clenched fingers; awaiting the obvious answer.
He loved me.
“Leo, I can’t let you do that. Please.”
He took my hand across the table, “You are not making me do anything, mi amor. I love you. I love doing life with you. Just you. You have my heart. I love being in love with you. My heart chose you, I can’t help it.”
He brushed a strain of my curly, chocolate-brown hair behind my ear, “Amanda needs something I can’t give her. It’ll be unfair not to let her go. She needs to search for her happiness. In her words, I brought her nothing but pain. She regrets meeting me. She regrets tying the knot with me.”
“Amanda said that?”
“Yes, Gabby, she did. And I am not mad about it.”
“I got a tattoo of your name, she wanted a matching tattoo. I turned her down and it escalated.”
311a in an Edwardian handwriting. The tattoo on his wrist made sense now. Ella. I’d seen it earlier but paid no attention. If only Amanda had figured it out, she’d never have asked for a match.
I sighed, “Leonard, this is dangerous. Anyone with eyes can interpret this.”
“Yes. Yes. I don’t want to hide us, hide you anymore. Being with you trumps everything else. I don’t care.”
“It’s not the right time. Listen to me, will you? Nathaniel is your…” I took a pause for rectification.
“Leave my father out of this. It’ll make you feel worse about us.” He recalled the number of times I’d broken up with him solely because of Nathaniel and Amanda. Well, it’d never worked. I would always run back into his bosom, falling harder than before.
“Nathaniel is not your father.” I broke.
He gave an empty stare. “What? How’d you know that?”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“It never came up.”
“Really? You know how many nights I criticize myself for having a relationship with both father and son?”
“Does this make you feel any better?”
Truthfully, it didn’t. Same as the news about Amanda’s request for a divorce.
“What happened while I was away? Did my mom do something? Is my father okay? What brought it up? I am certain something brought it up.”
“This is all pointless.” I shook my head in discontent.
“What? How could you even say that?
“I love you with the kind of love that’s more than love.” He could not conceal his pain and dissatisfaction.
What a day! Could this day be over already? From finding out Leo wasn’t Nat’s bloodline to Amanda’s desire for a divorce. I wasn’t contented still. I wanted Amanda to be happy and I didn’t know why. The crave to help her fix her marriage ate me up inside. The only solution before me was to ditch Leo and it appeared agonizing. A talk with Amanda perhaps, but how could I? I took full responsibility for her pain. I raked my hand through my hair, this passion with Leo came hand in hand with guilt. Yes, he was willing to throw everything away but I couldn’t. Those people genuinely cared for us, repaying them with such evil for their goodness seemed really extreme.
Nat’s call came on Leo’s phone, inquisitive about his whereabouts and requesting to meet with him. Leo was able to buy us only a little time before we rode home in our cars. Leo’s vehicle ahead of me, I pondered on a lot of things. Would things get better if Amanda left? Most probably. Leo would be free and that’s one problem solved. Perhaps, Damien discussing passing on legacy meant something was wrong with Nat. I shook off the thought immediately. I’d never wish bad on anyone. Not Nat. He deserved to live long in good health.
We arrived at the garage almost simultaneously. I watched him leave before getting out of my car. I didn’t have to guess what the conversation was. Three answers: Amanda, the adoption or both. The outcome of the conversation might affect our relationship, I feared. I hoped Nat would talk Leo out of giving Amanda a separation and into becoming his son legally. It’d make both Nat and Amanda happy. Leo and I, nothing would break us, I wanted to be positive.
Approaching the house, I ran into Amanda on the stairs.
“Hello, Gabriella.” Sadness damped her eyes.
“Hi. Welcome back. How are you?” My quick, nervous smile almost betrayed me.
“Can I talk to you?” questioned Amanda.
It always pierced my soul to hear Amanda discuss Leo with me.
I turned her down, “actually, I came home to…”
Amanda interrupted, “please, Gabriella. I really need someone to talk to right now. I spoke with Mr. Alberto but he doesn’t get it. We’re women; you can tell me whether I am over-reacting and shouldn’t make the worst decision of my life.”
“Sounds serious.” Pretense came through.
I sighed in surrender, “okay. I think I have some minutes to spare.”
Amanda and I went to the poolside where she talked at length about her pain and her decision. She had doubts about making a move on the separation. Revealing how much her parents despised Leo, finding him unworthy because he was four years younger and had just returned from England with no job, disowning her for getting married to him, she was worried she’d die of shame going back to them and having to listen to their I-told-you-so’s.
Amanda was vulnerable. I listened, it was all I did. What was I to say? My mind was as blank as a doll’s. If I tried to console her, I was a mere hypocrite. If I were to be on her side, I was going to talk ill of Leo; I could never trash-talk my best friend. I wasn’t in the position to offer advices as well. So I offered only what I had – a listening ear.
The men walked in on us. Obviously, they hadn’t expected to meet us there. Unlike Nat’s calm face, Leo’s face spelt seriousness. My curiosity each second grew. At the sight of Leo, Amanda went mute. She was about to elaborate on how principled her Korean parents were. Since it was a day full of surprises, I wasn’t difficult to accept Amanda was Asian, although she looked nothing like it.
It was Nathaniel. I rose to my feet to receive his welcome embrace accompanied by a kiss. Thank Goodness no one saw Leo’s face breathing fire stemming from possessiveness, desire and insecurity.
Nathaniel turned to Amanda. “We’ve looked all over for you.”
“Everything okay darling?” The urge to play along took me over.
Leo and I shared a secretive glance.
“Yes baby. Another issue between this couple.”
“Oh.” My anxiety struggled to burst out of me against my will. Any more comments and I would lose it.
“Listen Amanda, I think it’s time you and your husband see a marriage counselor.” Nathaniel stated. “Every marriage is worth saving.”
“Will you do that?” He added.
Leo’s eyes and mine would not stop meeting every now and then, no matter how hard I tried to ignore his presence. It was just reflex. And annoying!
“Ok.” Amanda succumbed.
Following Amanda’s agreement, Nathaniel made some calls and booked them a session for the next day. Leo and Amanda went in different directions while Nat and I headed our room. Nathaniel kept on hammering on how Leo had changed but he couldn’t lay his finger on what the change was. Just as with Amanda, I only listened. No word dropped from me.
Later at night, Leo and I met at the garden as he pleaded in a text after dinner. I couldn’t refuse. Unlike Nat and Amanda, I had tons to say to him. Apparently, Nat had put the adoption subject on hold to fix Leo’s marriage even though it was evident Leo didn’t want anything fixed. Well, Nat wanted it, Amanda wanted it, he didn’t have much of a choice.
“I thought you weren’t going to come.”
“I don’t know. Everything seems…” He itched his temple, “…you seem pressured with the whole divorce thing and you aren’t even the one getting divorced.
“It’ll be easier if you listen to Nat and…”
He cut in, “and what? Why can’t you see this from my angle? You should understand better. I thought you would understand better.” Scowling, he stood up from the bench and walked over to the marigolds, arms crossed and his back towards me.
“You can’t leave Amanda because of me. Leo, I can’t. I can’t take it. This onus of betrayal overwhelms me. Don’t you feel it too?” I lowered my head in self-pity.
“Please save your marriage… for me.” I sounded stupid even in my own ears.
“Betrayal?” He faced me, “you are betraying your true feelings.”
“I’ll do anything for you Gabby but not this one. Amanda and I separate, we’re left with dealing with my father. It’s a step closer to together forever with you. Don’t you get it? Fate is doing us a favor here. Let’s take it.”
To be honest, my innermost being agreed with him.
“No, Leo.” I fought for sanity.
“Really, Gabby?” He found it hard to swallow.
“I can’t let you leave your wife.” The battle in my heart and my head intensified.
“She’s f***king leaving me!” He corrected, raising his voice and discomfited by my lack of understanding. “How is this damn easy for you?!”
“I’m just being reasonable.” I yelled back.
“What’s reasonable about us?! Tell me! I can’t believe this.” Leo walked out on me like old times, but this time I could literally feel the hungry wolf raging inside of him.
He kept walking. Squeezing my eyes shut for a moment, the conflict of what I wanted versus what others wanted, who I was and what mattered more made it seem my life was in an ocean of endless torture. I hung my head in dismay, paralyzed by the fear of what my final decision would be. This confusion was my invention, the voice in my head bashed. I’d crossed an invisible line. Everything I worried about now, I should have thought of at the beginning of this love story. But no, I fell desperately for something I knew I couldn’t have. I’d never been so lost.
I tried to convince my heart and spirit of what my mind knew was right, it didn’t work out. At some point, my mind drifted to the same side as my heart. The path of compassion, courage and love led to only one place- Leo. And as much as I was cautious to be in charge of my emotions and every situation I was in, this was far beyond my power to control.
👉👉👉 Go to next chapter here
👈👈👈 Go to previous chapter here