This was the last thing I expected to happen tonight.
Of course, everything in my life has been unexpected since I’ve met Leslie—all in a good way, to strengthen my case. But in her own case, it’s an unexpected that no one wants to endure.
Sarah and I are bystanders, watching Leslie and her mom argue, or more correctly, Leslie’s mother yell at her while she tries to break free from her hold. Shit, I should do something, but is it in my jurisdiction to? I feel fucking horrible for not intercepting anything but I don’t know if it’s my place to.
“Your father left because of you!” Leslie’s mom screamed at her—Francesca’s her name, I thing. “He left me because of you! And you never apologized!”
The look on Leslie’s face is breaking my damn heart. The feeling I feel for her and what she’s gone through tonight is something I’ve never felt before. Believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of arguments between mother and daughter, and usually I find them funny; fighting over money or the daughter sleeping with me or some bullshit in that ballpark. But this? This is fucked up; no one is laughing.
I step forward, trying to play hero for Leslie’s sake, because it’s become too hard to watch her mom humiliate her for no reason. Sarah grabs my arm before I can take another step. She doesn’t say anything, but she does shake her head at me.
“So we’re supposed to stand by and let this shit happen?” I whisper to her. Sarah sees I’m becoming angry. But why wouldn’t I? This entire night, Leslie has been shit on left and right and I can’t remember a time that I stood up for her the way she’s stood up for me before. It’s bad enough Felicity was leeching any sort of good mood out of me every time she bit my ear and tried to kiss my neck. Who knows where that mouth has been the past month?
“It’s not my fault you were anorexic—”
Gasps erupt from around us at Francesca’s words. Sarah holds onto my arm tighter, like she wants anything but for me to intercept.
Suddenly, Sarah and I hear Leslie scream something before her mother is pushed onto the ground. Everyone watching is quiet before someone, followed by a few other people, run to help her mom up. Leslie is shocked. She looks down at her hands like she just stabbed someone.
“You stupid bitch!” she shouts at her. Leslie’s face looks like the face of a little girl who’s scared of the world. Her eyes, large and frightened, stare down at her mom being tended to. And within the next second, she takes off down the hall.
“Holy shit,” Sarah says under her breath. I’m sure she wishes now that we would have done something before.
Lucas runs into the scene, slowing his pace to examine what happened.
“What’s going on? What happened?”
“Leslie’s going through some shit,” I tell him. “Tonight has been fucking crazy for her.”
Francesca is yelling things in Italian while she stumbles about. It reminds me of the argument her and Leslie had in the conference room. I never even knew that she was fluent in Italian.
I guess there are many things I didn’t know about her until tonight.
“We’ve have to go find her,” I order Sarah. She hears the tone of my voice, and knows that it isn’t a request, but a demand.
“I’ll check the bathroom at the end of the hall.”
“And I’ll check out back,” Lucas adds.
We all break up through the building. People try to flag me down for a conversation, but I turn them down politely; the only thing I care about right now is seeing if Leslie’s okay.
I check the halls, the other empty conference rooms. I even ask guests walking by if they’ve seen a petite woman with brown hair and brown eyes running by. They all say no.
After checking everywhere on the main floor of the building, a light bulb goes off in my head. There’s a chance she’s in her office, though I wouldn’t expect her to be in there; she’s a woman who likes to focus on the future instead of the past, so hiding out in the space where she used to work (for a man, if I may mention, that’s the spawn of Satan himself) doesn’t make much sense to me.
Still, I give it a shot.
The top floor is quiet and empty when I make it up there. There’s one janitor vacuuming the carpet in the waiting area, but he doesn’t even notice me with his earphones in and his music turned up loud.
The door to Leslie’s office is closed. The lights inside are off, and the blinds are pulled. I’m tempted to go check the parking structure instead, but something tells me that she’s most likely in here.
I approach the door and give it a few knocks. I wait a while; there are faint footsteps on the other side that put me at ease with the knowledge that it’s her. The handle twists slowly, and when the door opens, Leslie is the first thing my eyes land on. She looks up at me with her big brown eyes that make her look more youthful and childlike. She isn’t crying or anything, and that scares me. The expression on her face is serious. Almost normal.
Wordlessly, she turns on the light and lets me into her office. I notice that there are boxes all over the place, filled with her stuff.
I close the door behind me and think of something I could possibly say to make her feel better. That’s all I want to do—make her feel better, because I know she’s hurting. She’s just a woman who’s good at hiding how she really feels.
Leslie’s back is turned. Her hands are firm on the desk, her eyes staring down at the wood.
“She’s wrong, you know,” she says finally. “I was bulimic with anorexic tendencies. At least that’s what my doctor and therapist told me, though there tends to be a misconception between the two—”
“Leslie.” The way she speaks to me is like nothing just happened. She starts pacing around her desk, aligning things that are crooked, wiping dust off of her computer, taking off sticky notes and throwing them away.
“Is my mother okay?” she asks. After all of that, the first person she thinks of is someone else.
“She’s fine. A little angry, but she’ll be fine. The question that really matters is are you okay?”
“I’m fine! I’m perfectly fine.”
“I’m sorry you had to be witness to everything that happened,” she continues. “That was completely unprofessional of me to have you see all of that.”
“Don’t apologize, Leslie. If anything, you deserve an apology from all of those assholes downstairs. Especially that guy, Hudson.”
She’s uncomfortable at the sound of his name. “Hudson? Why would he have to apologize to me?”
“The bastard cheated on you and felt like it was okay to waltz in here with her on his arm like that?”
Leslie just shrugs; she has an awkward smile on her face that comes along with someone who doesn’t know how to reply to the truth.
“You saw the proposal, right?” she asks me. “It was beautiful. Very convenient place and time to propose to someone. And the ring was beautiful, too.” She looks down at her nails and at the bruise on her arm from her mom. “Last year, around Christmas, I bought him a very expensive watch. And today I found out that he sold it to pay for Alejandra’s engagement ring. Now that I think about it, I think I bought that watch around the same time he started cheating on me. It’s funny how life works, right?”
Boxes start becoming arranged at her hand. I just watch her; she’s falling apart.
“I just don’t understand. I haven’t done anything to anyone. All I do is try to live my life and forget about the people that have hurt me. Sure, I’ve made mistakes but…is this what I deserve for them? Why can’t they just let me live?”
“I don’t know,” I answer even though she probably didn’t expect me to. “I don’t know why people are fucked up like that.”
“Hudson was such an asshole. But I stayed, and I stayed thinking no one else would ever want me like he pretended to want me, because my mother made me believe I wasn’t good enough for anyone. See how that works? It’s like a cycle of never ending torture.”
Boxes start toppling over, but she pays it no mind.
“And I’ve thought about it so many times. I’ve thought about just packing up everything and leaving it all behind. But, no! Leslie King can’t take a break! The whole world would be thrown off of its fucking axis if I took a goddamn break!
“It feels like I’m going to explode into a million pieces but if I were to, no one would help put me back together again! But everything is still my fault, you know? It’s my fault my parents got divorced. It’s my fault that my mom starved me and locked me away until my eating disorder almost cost me my own damn life. And of course it’s my fault that Axel overdosed on heroine even though I tried to help him get off of it. And let’s not forget that it’s my fault that I didn’t love Hudson enough for him not to cheat on me! God...why is every horrible thing that happens to me my fault?”
By now, most of the room is a mess. The organized, obsessive nature that’s part of her has now corrupted into her feelings, and this mess of boxes and files is exactly what the inside of her mind and heart is like.
“Oh, God. Look at the mess I’ve made.”
Just like that, she snaps into the façade she’s used to the world seeing. She frantically starts trying to clean everything up. I can’t stand here and watch her like this anymore.
“No, I-I have to clean the mess I’ve made—”
“Leslie.” I walk over to her, but as she moves things from one end of the room to the other, she pretends as if I’m not even here.
“I just need to fix all of this!”
“Leslie!” I shout at her. “Stop!”
I hadn’t realized I grabbed a hold of her shoulders until the silence made me see what I was doing. My hands aren’t tight enough around her shoulders to hurt her, but tight enough to disallow her from moving around anymore. She stares up at me with the saddest eyes, and for the first time I can confidently say that I see right through her, through the tough, reserved exterior made of neglect, abandonment, insecurity. I see her.
Slowly, my hands move up to the sides of her face. I cradle her head gently and stare into her eyes, and the guilt I see in her expression—the guilt she has for herself instead of the anger she should have for everyone who hurt her makes me mad. It makes me want to take her away from everyone with the worst intentions. That’s one of the countless things she deserves.
“None of that is your fault,” I tell her. “I’ve been there, too, blaming myself for things that were out of my control. You need to stop doing that before it consumes you, because you deserve so much more than that.”
She nods. I have a feeling that she refuses to speak in fear of crying in front of me. It’s something I don’t understand, then again I did cry in front of her twice, which is probably why I don’t understand the restraint.
Leslie isn’t defensive, nor is she in denial. She’s just sad and upset, dwelling in the emotion that she’s been suppressing for too long. I take my hands off of her face and remove my tuxedo jacket, draping it over her. It’s so big on her that she has to pull it together to keep it from falling off.
“C’mon.” I take her clutch from the desk and open the office door. “I’ll take you home.”