His name was Leo Wysocki. He was eighteen, had dropped out of school the year before, was good-looking in a tough, sinewy, broad-shouldered way that didn’t immediately appeal to Julie. (In fact, until he opened his mouth and she heard his voice which was wise-ass, raspy, she hardly even noticed him.) The first thing he told her was he worked in a pawnshop. The second was that he was saving his money to travel to Barcelona, Spain to find his father who probably didn’t even know he existed.
“How come?” Julie asked.
“How come I want to find him or how come he doesn’t know I exist?”
“Because my stupid mother was too fucked up to know she was pregnant.” He laughed at the alarm he saw in Julie’s eyes. “It’s okay, I’m cool with it. She claims she kept getting her period and by the time she got back to the States from her junior year abroad” (said with a spiteful flourish) “she was in her fifth month, too late for an abortion, so here I am.”
He sucked on his cigarette. Julie lit one of her own and blew out smoke. They were in the parking lot behind the diner with a bunch of other kids. It was nine o’clock; Julie had just been to the movies, and her father would be picking her up in about half an hour. “But she kept you. That’s something.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He took a last drag on his cigarette and ground it out with bitter energy. “She’s not really right in the head, though.” He aimed a finger at his temple to indicate just how nuts his mother was. “Bipolar. Lots of drugs. I haven’t lived with her since I was fifteen.”
“Really? So who do you live with?”
“No one. Myself.” He looked away and for a second she saw a shyness in his face that told her he was easily crushed, vulnerable. When he looked back, his eyes glittered with amusement. “Ain’t no one else gonna take care of me.”
Julie thought those were the saddest, toughest, sexiest words she had ever heard. Leo was standing quite close, and suddenly she was aware of the constriction in her throat, the nerve-zapping currents of electricity that flew between them. Her heart began to sing. She was in love.
It wasn’t the first time for her, though usually each time felt so new and spectacular that she had to discredit the love that had come before. Her first encounter with Leo had been a week ago, in the middle of July. Since then she’d visited him in the pawnshop where he worked and where he had to act circumspectly because of his boss, had run into him at parties and at the diner, but it wasn’t till yesterday when, as a favor, he’d driven her to the Randolphs to check the house, that he’d told her he loved her, too.
They’d smoked a joint and foraged for food in the Randolphs’ pantry, devouring a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies and watching the Randolphs’ fat yellow cat pounce at shadows on the wall. “I feel good when I’m with you,” Leo had said, brushing a cookie crumb from her lips.
He laid his palm gently against her cheek. “You don’t know how great you are, do you?”
She was aware of the teary shine in her eyes as she shook her head.
“Well, you are, you’re beautiful, and you ‘re probably the only person who understands what it’s like to be me.” He stood and pulled her out of her chair, kissing her, his tongue fluttering against hers. She could feel his erection through his jeans. For a moment she was scared, unsure if she really wanted to do this, but then, as he reached under her shirt and cupped his hand over her breast, she heard him whisper sorrowfully, “We’re both mysteries to ourselves, aren’t we?”
The words were as lilting as music, as heart-wrenching and deep as the feelings her mother tried to express when she sat for hours in the studio, playing her cello. At the sound of them, the stitch of fear in Julie’s gut dissolved and her whole body went liquid with a tenderness that was almost painful. Leo helped her to the living room where they threw cushions on the floor and stripped off their clothes. Julie tried to hide the flat little breasts that always embarrassed her, but he pulled her hands away and lay her down, telling her over and over again how beautiful her childlike body was, and how from now on they would take care of each other.
Afterwards, as they lay on the cushions with the soupy green light of summer spilling over them through the windows, he talked about traveling to Spain to find his father. “Hey,” he said, propping himself up on an elbow and squinting at her. “You should come with me.”
Julie’s breath caught in her throat. “How? My parents would never let me.”
“Screw your parents.” He lit a cigarette and put it between her lips. “They don’t love you like I do.”
Happiness roared up from Julie’s feet, clouding her brain like a drug. “I love you, too,” she whispered. “When would we leave?”
Leo began to pull on his jeans. “Gotta get my finances together,” he said. As they straightened the room, he told her about his different schemes for making money. “I don’t do anything illegal.”
“I hope not,” Julie giggled.
“There’s this guy who gives me a couple of hundred bucks just to hold a little coke for him.”
Julie’s hand paused, twisting back her hair. “That’s dangerous, isn’t it?”
“People do it all the time.”
“But if you got caught, you’d get in trouble.”
He grabbed her wrist so the rope of hair fell away. “No way I’m getting caught. Especially if you help me.”
“Help you how?” she murmured.
“You could let me hide some here. No one would ever know.” He pushed her back a little, looked into her eyes. “You don’t have to, though.”
“No, no. I want to.”
“Okay. I’ve got some in the car.” He hugged her hard, then left the house. When he came back he was carrying what looked like a baggie of flour. Together they searched for a place to hide it, finally deciding on a shelf in the pantry, behind some cereal boxes.
A little later, he drove her to the Mclntyres. “You going to Ian’s party?” he asked as she slid across the seat to the door.
“When is it?”
Tomorrow was Friday and she knew she was supposed to accompany some friends of her mother’s to a concert. Well, screw that. “Sure,” she said. “Can you take me?
“Would if I could,” he said. “The car’s borrowed, so I won’t have it anymore. But I can meet you there.” He drew her back to him across the seat, kissed her deeply. Then she got out of the car and watched him drive away. The minute he was out of sight, she was filled with a sickening loneliness and despair. No matter what happened, no matter who came to visit or what punishments her parents might impose should she get caught, she had to see him again. ASAP.
Tune in next week for PART 3: DIANA