"She should have been home half an hour ago," I say into the mirror. My reflection, my face, isn't like it used to be. I'm not talking about the shadows under my eyes, they haven't changed. Nor am I referring to the emerging final steps of puberty that I shave off every other morning. I can't quite tell what.
"Gonna call her cell?" Jesse asks, as his stomach grumbles. It's nearly dinnertime.
"I might," I answer. "But I'm sure she's just running late," I lie, ignoring my foreboding intuition that something is wrong. This is therapy she's late from. And the offices never run this late. It's unheard of.
My face stares back at me. Is it thee dimples at the sides of my lips, which are there no more? That must be it; how long has it been since I last smiled? Damn it, I used to be happy! My face betrays my mood, now, in a way I can't control. At least, not without forcing an ingenuine smile every so often. But I'm too honest to put up with that method.
"Why the sudden vanity?" Jesse asks me, curiously. "It's that Leone, isn't it!"
I instantly regret showing him the letters. Four so far, but I've only opened three. I have to say something, anything. "I don't know any Leones at our school."
"Me neither. It's not a common name. But if she considers herself your secret admirer, her real name might be what makes it secret. It could be her middle name, or even a partial anagram."
"Oh. I suppose that makes sense, since she must be someone who knows me, to be admiring me. It's as if she knows me, these things she's writing." I'm hoping it's not a teacher. That's just wrong.
Then, Jesse winced. I think my words had been too much for him. But he'd get over it, wouldn't he? I think it'd take more than unrequited love to tear us apart. I hope.
I keep staring into the mirror, my expression blank.
"Are you going to open it or what?" Jesse asks from the edge of the bathtub behind me.
I had to do something other than stare at what wasn't there anymore. "I'll call Mom."
"Good. I'm tired of admiring the new wallpaper in here."
I force myself to chuckle, but I'm not any happier afterwards.
He hands me the phone.
"Hello? Can this wait?"
"Mom, it's me --"
"Oh, I... uh..."
"Where are you?"
"Did you forget about dinner?"
"Maybe. Look, Fab, I'm at the police station, just order some pizza and I'll pay you for it afterwards. And don't eat it all! I'll be home before nine."
It was already a quarter past seven. "Fine. Pizza it is. But what are you doing at the police station? Are you hurt?"
Jesse licks his lips, at the mention of pizza.
"I-I err-- well, I umm... Fabian, I'm r-requesting a restrai--"
"A restraining order!? Against who?"
Jesse's eyes bulge in surprise.
"N-no-nobody, darling. Y-you'll be fine. I p-promise."
"Mom, you're stuttering."
"I'll explain later. Sh-she's r-right nearby. I don't w-want her to hear me."
"Who to hear you? ... Hello? ... Mom? Great, she hung up."
Jesse frowns, "She's spooked, isn't she?"
"Yeah," I say. "I've got no idea why. But she seemed more worried about my safety than hers."
"You think the restraining order involves you?"
"No, n-no." I dislike the notion. "I doubt my secret admirer is some kind of stalker, and how would my Mom even know? She'd never read my mail. It's always been in my drawer, with the rose."
Drring-dong! The doorbell.
"Wow, the pizza guy's here already, and you haven't even called yet! That's fast service," Jesse says as we both run down the stairs to the front hall. Of course, he wasn't serious.
Jesse opens the door, and hides behind it. I'm in the center of the front hall, too far away to have opened it. Surely, it must feel surreal to her.
A stranger. A teenage girl. She's standing in the doorway in a colorful dress, hands on her hips, head tilted playfully to one side and a cheerful smile upon her face. It's a face that, unlike mine, is full of happiness. And for a moment, it almost seems familiar. Not as if she's someone I've met, but as if she's related to someone I know, or perhaps someone I've met before they grew up.
Part of my mind is screaming something, but I'm ignoring it. I don't want to be reminded of why I'm unhappy.
"Hello," she says, extending a hand towards me.
We shake hands. Her skin is soft and warm.
"I've been dying to see you," she says, so enthusiastic that I'd assume she knew me if I didn't know better. Her nose compromises any familiarity. After all, I've got a look-alike.
I frown. "Do I know you?"
"You didn't get the letter? I told you I would drop by."
I envy the bubbly cheerfulness in her voice. She exudes confidence and charisma, and it unsettles me. I stutter, "N-no. I haven't opened yesterday's mail."
Jesse, who has been silent all this time, stamps his foot. It is an obvious signal.
I turn to him, trying to look thoughtful after breaking eye contact with the girl in the doorway. He's mouthing something to me, but I'm no good at reading lips no matter how much he exaggerates the syllables.
Then, my mind jumps the same realization that Jesse had: Leone.
"Should I leave?" she asks, sounding forlorn.
I find myself full of warmth and curiosity, and I feel alive once more, never having realized I was dead. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't realize who you were at first."
"Pardon me, I should've introduced myself." She giggled softly. "I'm Leone."
"And that makes me Fabian," I said, having felt oddly compelled to disassociate myself with my nickname. "Please, come inside. I was just about to order some pizza."
She walks inside. "Well, then it's a date."
And before she's even finished saying that, Jesse has closed the door behind him. I can see a teardrop splattered on the mat. And through the glass, his face betrays his sadness further as he turns to sprint away. I know he'll get dinner at home, so I'm not worried. But I wouldn't have minded his company! Then again, I suppose it would have been awkward for him. Still, though, I feel a little guilty, irrational as it may be.
It seems that Leone hadn't even noticed Jesse's presence.
I open the fourth letter, as a courtesy, to find a gummy worm in plastic wrap between the folded letter. I assume the letter's poem will give it some significance.
She blushes. Her whole face turns red, except her nose, brow and, oddly enough, her ears. It's kind of cute.
"So, what do you want on your half of the pizza?" I ask, as I begin to read.