If You Knew
"He remembered... ," Leo thought. He wasn't sure what to say. And he wasn't sure how to explain the missing part in his story. Why did it have to be Ulla? Max despised her ever since Leo run off with her to Rio. He hardly ever talked to her after that and he surely used to be the first in line when it came to pointing out her mistakes. Leo reflected it perfectly. He had been trying millions of times to just ignore Max's constant teasing about her. He was never tired to bring it up. Jealousy. Leo had always been putting it this way. He must have been jealous...all the time. But why the hell was she the first thing he seemed to remember?
Leo felt almost sorry for having answered and felt Max's eyes on him. Damn it!
He knew he ought to say something. But he only remained where he was, straining his eyes not to look at the man next to him.
He could hear the ticking of a clock nearby and the muffled noise coming from outside.
How long did he avoid him now? It felt like hours. And it made him feel bad. He wished Max would say something. Yet, he dreaded the moment the questions came.
"Please, don't ask," Leo thought. If he did, Leo knew it would cause a relapse in the little trust they had managed to build up the last few hours. And admitting he kept Ulla a secret would surely lead to many more unpleasant questions.
"I should tell him. He has the right to know," he kept on thinking. "But what if it leads to another fight... I can't do this again.."
A knock on the door shook him awake rather harshly. Leo turned his head; as did Max. They looked at each other for a second. Max shrugged questioning.
A second knock.
Leo got up from the ground and moved towards the door to take a look. He turned to doorknob and opened. "Thank God," he thought, looking into the faces of Roger and Carmen, who were smiling at him. Leo was relieved to have found a distraction in their unexpected visit, yet he looked confused.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Checking, if you're doing good," Carmen answered joyfully and hugged Leo tightly. Holding him so close, he whispered: "Have you been able to talk to him at all?" Leo nodded slightly.
"Well, and Max, of course. How do you do?" Roger passed Carmen and Leo and exuberantly entered the office. Leo turned quickly. This was too much. "Don't do that," he thought. Being too rash could ruin everything. To his surprise Max remained quite calm; just standing up and shaking Rogers hand.
"Can't complain. Thank you," he answered.
Leo and Carmen looked at each other in surprise.
"Well, in that case...," Roger said and sat down next to Max, who kept acting as though it was his everyday routine.
"He's still very good facing unexpected situations, isn't he?" Leo heard Carmen whisper next to him. Again, Leo only nodded. He didn't expect that for sure. It must be such a funny situation for Max; being there with a lot of strangers in a room he couldn't remember with only Leo's encouragement. Yet, it wasn't as though he was facing them for the first time.
Carmen patted Leo softly on the shoulder; mouthing "Come on" and both of them joined Roger and Max.
"We thought we'd check up on both of you. You know...See if you get along or if you're still sitting around, being as silent as you were yesterday." Roger grinned widely and now addressed Leo directly. Leo blushed a little and turned away. Carmen giggled and, much to Leo's surprise, Max lifted the corners of his mouth to a smile in his direction as well.
"Well,...er...," Leo started, but didn't quite know what to tell them.
"We get along," Max interrupted him, earning a confused look from Leo.
"I see," Roger grinned. "So, you finally thought it was time to speak up? That's a good thing... After all, young Mr. Bloom here must not be obliged to spend his days in silence. Too much nonsense going around in his head, you know?"
He laughed out loud, while Leo looked ashamed. He focused hard on the corner of the room, wishing Roger hadn't said anything as embarrassing as that right now.
Carmen gave his partner a look of incomprehension; just as though he wanted to correct him in a very maternal way.
"I think you underestimate him a lot," Max interrupted the odd situation.
Leo whirled around wide-eyed; as did Roger and Carmen. Max, on the other hand, sat there completely unimpressed, just staring back.
"How do you...," Carmen began, but Max cut him off quickly.
"I don't know why you think of him as such a withdrawn shy misfit but the way I see it, he is a very pleasant person to be around, who in fact talks just as much as he feels is necessary and it's highly unfair to present him in such a disparaged way."
He spoke distinctively severe, yet his voice was calm. Leo didn't believe what he had just heard. Max stepped into the breach for him? After only a day? Even before his accident he would never have done anything like that...at least not in front of Carmen and Roger. This certainly was new and Leo felt flattered in a way he never got to know before.
"Whereas...," Max continued. "I can't decide what part you two play in my memories, actually..."
"Well, we're...friends," Carmen stuttered.
"Yes, he mentioned it," Max nodded in Leo's direction. "But how do I know you? I mean, I simply can't figure it out."
Roger and Carmen looked at each other for a brief moment, then started to smile.
"The whole story?" Roger asked and Leo could see his face getting a soft, nearly sentimental expression as Max nodded.
Roger took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Well, we actually met many years ago. You had just started to work as a producer. Oh, I hope Mr. Bloom did tell you about that? Yes? … So, you've been pretty new to this business and just started your first work on your own, when we coincidentally visited the same...how would you call it, Darling?"
He looked at Carmen.
"...event?," Carmen answered amused.
"Yes, I guess you can call it that...," again he started to laugh.
"What was it?," Leo asked, since he himself had never heard about how Roger and Max had met before and, so he must admit to himself, found it exceedingly fascinating. Max never wanted to tell him, so there was something new on both sides.
"The choreographer's ball of '42," Roger blinked at Leo.
"No way," he looked a bit taken aback. "I mean, come on Roger...You can't be serious!"
"Max in a costume?"
Carmen and Roger nodded simultaneously with the widest grin on their faces Leo had ever witnessed.
"What?" Max looked more than confused right now.
"Oh, don't you worry," Roger continued. "It was a nice white smoking, nothing too...fancy."
The shocked look on Max's face still didn't vanish and gave Leo a hard time to refrain from laughing out loud. "Exactly the reaction I've expected of him," he thought.
"So, as a matter of fact I was there too, that evening," Roger kept explaining. "And dared to address you, if you don't mind me saying so."
"Why?" Max asked.
"Because, you were rather rude. I meant to ask you whether you are the protege my friend Boris told me about or not, for I thought I had seen you before... But actually, you were somewhat scared of me...I don't know for sure. You were responding...what was it again...erm... You said, I should go and ask one of the other 'sissies' stupid questions and leave you alone for good..."
"He did say THAT?" Leo asked appalled.
"And you became friends anyway?" Leo asked disbelievingly.
"Yes... that was a little time later, actually. I was angry, of course, but well... some days later I heard about him having problems, for he was quite unknown at that point and couldn't get a director to do the show he was producing. So, I visited him again," Roger smirked. "I don't know why I did it. Maybe, because Boris kept telling me he was a good guy or maybe because I thought...I don't know...I found there was something appealing about him."
Max lowered his head. Whether he was ashamed or just was trying to remember any of that, Leo couldn't tell. But he knew something was going on inside of his friend.
"Anyway, I walked up to his office...This office actually... and knocked."
"Did he take your offer?" Leo couldn't believe it. He could sense Max didn't either.
Roger snorted. "I thought he was about to throw me out again..."
Leo stared at him. Throw him out? So, Roger wasn't lying...Max had done this before. And the very reason he knew it for sure was, he had experienced it twice, it seemed. Images of the day Leo left the office in anger and shame flashed before his eyes...and brought back the horrible feelings which tied up his chest afterwards.
"Don't worry, he didn't do it," Roger said this as though having read Leo's thoughts. Both, Leo and Max looked up at him again.
"I just told him the truth... that I felt hurt when he so crassly insulted me back at the choreographer's ball, but actually... he left quite an impression to me. After all, being new to the business and yet having no fear to express what he thought, even though it could ruin a lot of business partnerships for him... well, call me crazy, but I felt he deserved a fair chance in this business. So, I offered my help. And after all, I had done quite a few things until then. So, he agreed. We've been working together very often after that...and, before you ask: No, he never apologized for that 'first meeting'."
Roger looked up at Max, who only stared back at him.
"But you showed it in the years to come... by simply involving me in everything we worked on. And letting me decide more than I was supposed to..."
"Until 'Springtime for Hitler'..," Carmen stepped in.
Leo nodded knowingly. Although both of them, himself and Max, had been apologizing for just 'using' Roger in order to make their scheme work, he still felt they did hurt Roger deeply. Max even told him, he never thought about him being such a bad director and he just felt his style, colorful and flamboyant, wasn't exactly the right way to produce a World War Two-play... But still, Leo often thought Roger had never quite forgiven them for this.
The three of them gave a jerk and whirled around in surprise. Max stood in the middle of the room, with a downcast look and closed eyes; his hands clenched to fists.
"Max?" Leo asked softly. "Is...is everything alright?"
Max opened his eyes again and looked at the younger man in a desperate way.
"I'm... I'm sorry... I," he stuttered. Then he turned around to face Roger and Carmen, who still sat on the leather couch, looking shocked. Max cleared his throat and spoke quietly:
"I … I apologize... I'm..er..I'm not feeling too well... Could you please go now?" The look in his eyes didn't leave him, even though he did his very best to sound calm. "Both of you?"
Carmen got up and was about to say another word, when Roger soothed him by putting his hand on his shoulder. Carmen looked at him for a short moment and Leo saw Roger only nodded silently.
Both of them got up.
"I am very sorry," Roger said. "I didn't mean to upset you in any way. It's good to see you're doing better. Maybe...," he turned around to Leo. "Maybe you could keep us up to date, for we're kind of worried."
Then he nodded towards Max and pushed Carmen towards the door.
Leo got up as well. "I'll just lead them out," he said quietly and followed them, leaving Max behind.
Arriving at the door, he accompanied them outside and closed the door carefully behind them.
"I am sorry," he said, looking at his two friends.
But both of them shook their heads.
"It was a bit much...Too many things at once. He can't cope with that," Roger said, smiling empathetically.
He was about to turn around to leave with Carmen, but Leo held him back.
"Wait. I need to ask you one more thing," he said. Roger looked at him for a moment. He was sure he noticed an urgency in Leo's eyes he had never seen before. So, he turned and whispered something into Carmen's ear. His partner nodded. Then he hugged Leo once more, whispering "Please, let us know if you need help." He let go of him and left Roger and Leo to themselves.
"I got one question," Leo began, taking a deep breath. "Remember that day, when... when it happened?"
Again, Roger nodded.
"You said.. that ...you didn't want me to know," Leo avoided the taller man's eyes.
"Hm," Roger answered. "And you want to know why...!"
Leo lifted his head and met his eyes again. "Yes," he said a little unsure.
Roger smiled. Why did he always have to smile so knowingly. How came, he seemed to know exactly what Leo was thinking every time?
"Well,...I guess I just couldn't tell you," he finally said.
Leo was confused. "You couldn't?"
"Yes. I guess, because ...because I care about you and your well-being. I know you quite a long time now too, Leo."
"What?" Leo felt his body starting to shake and an unknown anger arising inside of him. He tried to control it. He couldn't show weakness in this sort of situation; with Max waiting for him and all the thoughts that were still fighting inside of him. He closed his eyes.
"I had the right to know," he whispered.
"I had the right to know!" he said, noticing his own voice growing louder. "It wasn't your responsibility...your decision. You should've informed me the moment you've heard... I mean..."
He felt tears running down his face. Again. He could have slapped himself that very moment for letting it show, but he simply couldn't help it.
"No," he looked up again. "Don't you understand?... It's Max! He's the only one I got... How could you even think about letting me out in the rain with this?"
"Did it change anything, now you know it?" Roger asked calmly.
Leo thought for a moment... "...No...," he admitted. "But... I don't know how to handle this... How can I even think of fixing this alone? I can't get used to the fact he isn't himself anymore..."
He retreated appallingly a second later, when Roger stepped forward, taking Leo's head in both of his hands and holding him close to his face.
"Don't you see?" he said distinctively. "This is exactly what I was trying to prevent you from a month ago... I didn't want to watch you break down on this situation!"
Leo's eyes widened. "Break down?"
"Yes," Roger's eyes looked sensitively at the younger man. He was wiping away his tears with his thumbs. "Oh Leo, look at all the things you are able to do...What you already did. You managed to stay strong. You managed to swallow your own pain and forget about what happened just to be there for a friend... for someone you care about more than anybody else. You couldn't have done this in the deplorable state you were a month ago."
"What makes you think that?" Leo asked.
Roger let go of him. "Leo, let me ask you something in return... Imagine things went differently... What if Max had died that very day..."
Leo closed his eyes. He didn't want to imagine something like that. It was his worst nightmare. Just facing this situation inside his head made him shiver.
"Just imagine it had happened...," Roger continued, noticing Leo's anxiety immediately. "Would you have been able to face it? To just live on?"
Leo didn't know what to say. He had been trying to avoid this thought. Every time it appeared somewhere deep inside of him, he diverted his thoughts to something else. But the truth was, he just didn't know. It was the worst situation he could imagine. And he wasn't sure, if he could have lived with that. No, Roger was right... He most likely would have never gotten over it. With Max gone, his life wasn't worth a thing. He realized it just now. But why was Roger asking him something as dreadful as that?
"I thought so," he heard him say.
"You thought what?" Leo managed to react.
"I think it's time for you to face it," Roger said, turning to leave. Leo stopped him again.
"... Facing there is a lot more between you and him than just friendship," Roger smiled sadly. Then he turned and followed the hallway outside; leaving Leo bewildered.
Leo returned to the office. His head felt heavy and his body was still shaking. As hard as he tried he couldn't get Roger's words out of his mind. Did he mean that? ...Yes, Leo was sure he did. How could he imply something like that? They had always been just friends. Leo never dared to think about wanting more. But why made him this one notion feel more confused than anything else that had happened? Wouldn't anybody do what he did for a good friend? … 'Even thinking you couldn't live without each other'? A quiet voice inside of him kept hammering this one question in his head. Wasn't it normal? But then, why did he hide the Ulla part from Max? After all, it was part of their past together.
Leo looked around.
The office looked the way he always remembered it. From the first day on.
He closed his eyes, and searched in his memories. Just the scent of the wooden floor, the old furniture and the leather couch made him remember the first steps he took in here. Oh, and how he loved it. He had been so excited to come here. Not only to work in an office like this...close to the theater; with famous people walking the streets all day long. He had known he was finally going to meet the one person he used to adore even when he was much younger...and he had been so nervous.
"Everything in here... is Max," he thought. He opened his eyes again. "Max!"
He turned his head, just remembering he had nearly forgotten about Max's outburst just minutes ago.
Leo moved through the room. Max wasn't there anymore.
"Damn it," he thought. He was about to run through the entire apartment when he noticed the open french window close to him. Taking a deep breath he slowly climbed out to the balcony.
There he was. Max stood on the ledge of the terrace just watching the nightly sky.
Leo approached carefully.
"Max?" he spoke softly, maybe out of fear to make him feel uneasy again.
"Hey...are you okay?"
Max didn't answer. He simply kept on staring into the dark skies.
Leo sat down. He still felt confused. But he was determined not to let it show. Watching his friend there reminded him, that bigger problems could occur in one's life than just a stupid notion of a friend.
They didn't say one single word in a long time. Leo simply sat where he was, watching Max looking around. And suddenly he felt very small. What must it be like to wake up and not remembering a whole life? Feeling all alone? Being surrounded by people you couldn't identify, who kept telling you all kind of weird stories about a life that once was yours?
"It must feel like trying to catch the wind," Leo thought. "It's impossible..."
He felt sorry for Max. He couldn't even imagine the inner struggle he was dealing with, but he knew, somehow, how terribly alone he must feel.
"I remember those."
Leo lifted his head. What was he talking about? He looked up to gaze at the stars. They were blurry and nigh invisible in the illuminated sky of this big city, but still he could see them.
"The stars?" Leo asked.
Max nodded. "When I was younger... I used to watch them every night. Making a wish..."
Leo was surprised. Max hardly ever spoke about his youth.
"What did you wish for?" he asked.
Max shook his head slightly. "I don't know," he said. "But I remember them... Just as though old friends are watching over me..."
Then he turned around and Leo heard him laughing. "Sounds pretty silly, doesn't it?" he turned to look at the younger man again with a smile on his face.
Leo lifted his mouth to a small smile as well. "No, it doesn't," he answered.
Max sighed. "I'm sorry."
"For screaming them away," Max answered.
Leo shook his head. "It's for the best they left...Just don't be mad at them. They only cared about you."
Max looked down. He felt bad for having done this. Leo had been right. They really were nice. A little loud and hectic, maybe. But nevertheless, they meant no harm.
"What was the matter?" He heard Leo's voice.
"You don't need to tell me," Leo said honestly. "I just thought..."
"I was an asshole..."
Leo looked up at him. He didn't expect an answer like that and wasn't sure he understood right.
"I mean,...just look at what they told us," Max said. Leo noticed in an instance, he must have recognized the weird situation of both of them hearing the story for the first time, too.
"The way I was...I mean, you said it yourself. I didn't care about the people around me. I was selfish and ungrateful and most of all...insulting," Max continued. It hurt to talk about this. He couldn't make out why, but considering the situation, he felt ashamed... Ashamed for supposedly having acted like a jerk all the time towards people who meant well.
"I cannot understand it. Why the hell have you all stayed by my side all those years? With me treating you like that. After all, what Roger told me I was saying to him is...is horrible. And your story about that Flop-scheme wasn't even better. What on earth makes you think I'm a person worth staying with? This is crazy," Max sounded more and more desperate. "You know, as hard as I try, I simply cannot remember one detail of all this. It's like getting lost in a crowd. All of this here...," he pointed around: "...is awfully unfamiliar. And I really try, but the more you and your two friends are telling me, the more I think it's impossible..."
Leo got up from where he was sitting. He moved over to Max. He understood perfectly. It was exactly the confusion he had been assuming and he knew it felt like being in hell. He gripped Max and flung his arms around him. Max stiffened by that unexpected touch, but soon relaxed a little.
"You weren't as bad as you are portraying yourself," he said softly. "Believe me. I know it's hard to understand, but you had another side as well."
Max didn't say anything for a while. He just hung there, breathing deeply.
"I don't wanna be like that," he only whispered and Leo was sure, he wasn't supposed to hear it.
He let go of him again, looking straight into his eyes. He never saw his partner being so honest with himself before.
"I understand how it feels. The whole situation confuses me too," Leo replied. "But...you are not alone. I am here and I will help you. We'll go through this together, no matter how long it will take."
~to be continued~