I was starting to get pretty comfortable in Mexico but it still wasn't L.A. I think we all were getting comfortable but it was obvious that Carly missed New York and the rest of us missed California. Max was the only one who seemed truly at home here. I still missed all of my theatre friends that I had met at Sitzprobe, the theatre where I performed at right after my dad dropped me off up until the night I was arrested. I was so angry with myself that I couldn't remember their damn numbers; we just punched our names into each other's phones, we never looked at the actual numbers. So, I guess I wasn't getting too comfortable... I just- I just wanted to go home.
I was sitting at the fountain in the town's square one day waiting for Skylar when I spotted the back of someone's head. They had thick, curly blonde locks that were neatly cropped below their collar. I found myself grinning, probably looking like a dork to other people. I got butterflies in my stomach and my heart started beating twice as fast. There was also a short girl standing next to him. She had fairly long shaggy, wavy, dark brown hair that fell down her back. I couldn't believe my eyes. But it was definitely them. I hadn't seen them in what seemed like ages, and I needed them. I came up from behind the girl, hugged her by the waist and picked her up. I was hugging her so tightly that she didn't even have the air to scream.
"Oh my God! Riley!" she squealed as she jumped into my arms and kissed my cheek.
"Oh God I missed you so much, Sammy!" I told her.
"What the hell are you doing here?!" Leo asked me. I could hear how excited he was. She slipped off and Leo and I ran to each other and we embraced. I kissed his cheek.
"God, I missed you so much. Are you okay?" I asked. Leo was always there for me and I was always there for him, at least I'd hope I was. He was my absolute best friend. When I first got to the theatre he took me under his and Sammy's wing, welcomed me like I was a part of their families and we had inseparable since.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm okay. I missed you, too. Don't ever do that to me again..."
"I won't, I promise." We held each other a little while. I knew how devastated Leo was when I got arrested and then when I wasn't allowed to contact him when I was on the outside. He had had a huge crush on me since the day we met and I knew that it hadn't ceased yet.
"Gah! I missed you!" Sammy jumped on my back in a piggy back position.
"What'd you do to your hair? We totally match now." Leo said and he fingered at my bangs. My bangs and his hair were almost the same shade.
"My friend Carly bleached them and permanently straightened it. When did you get glasses?" I asked as I tried them on. "Wow, you're blind." I gave them back.
"A few months ago, they're so dorky and amazing."
"You definitely had jelly beans today," I commented. Jelly beans were his signature candy.
"I only let him get the king size bag this time," Sammy said. I laughed.
"Oh my God, you're so light, did you like drop twenty pounds or something?" I asked her as I positioned better her on my back.
"Uh, no I think you gained twenty pounds." She patted my stomach almost falling off my back in the process. "I officially feel no rib cage."
"Blame it on my aunt's cooking," I laughed. "What are you guys doing here?!"
"My mom paid for me and him to come down here for my birthday over spring break."
"For how long?!"
"Two weeks. We just got here this morning," Leo said.
"Well I'll be happy to give you a tour."
"A tour? We're spending the whole vacation together, this duo thing isn't as fun as the trio," Leo said.
"Someone needs to shave, don't you get hot?" Sammy commented to me as she ran her hand over my jaw bone.
"Says the one who's wearing jeans in ninety degrees weather," Leo answered.
"Well I would have worn my shorts if someone hadn't thrown brownie mix at me!"
"You are so giving me the blondie ones. So, then someone needs a bath, right?" I asked.
I ran over to the fountain with her still on my back and dunked her in. She screamed and then pulled me in with her as revenge. I got out and threw my soaked shirt at Leo who threw it back before he could get wet. He hated getting wet. Then I turned around to dunk Sammy again but I found myself so close to someone that we were kissing. Luckily it was Skylar and not some random girl or Sammy. I relaxed my shoulders, held her waist and she wrapped her arms around my shoulders as we finished our kiss (or kisses) properly.
"And why are you shirtless and soaking wet?" she asked as she rubbed my chest.
"I got pulled into the fountain by a possessed midget."
She looked at me funny.
"Kidding," I whispered.
I kissed her again and I heard a bunch of wooing and wolf whistles from the peanut gallery. I turned around.
"So done with you," I said. I kissed Skylar again. Leo made a puppy face and a hand heart. It was like we had never been separated for almost a year. "Did I forget to mention that I have a hot girlfriend?"
"And all this time you thought that you were his true lover," Sammy said dramatically.
"Rye, you want to introduce me to your little buddies?" Skylar asked.
"What- oh. This is the possessed midget who pulled me into the fountain-"
"Okay, I'm not that short!" Sammy defended.
"You're nineteen and 5'3"," Leo said as he patted her head. "And now you're wet."
Sammy pouted but she'd be fine in two minutes.
"And that's my man, Leo. These two got me through a lot over the years. And this, my Eponine and Javert is my Bonnie Parker, Skylar." I kissed her cheek and she kissed me back.
"And for the record, she likes the shadow," I said to Sammy.
"It's a little more than shadow, babe," Skylar laughed as she kissed my scruffy cheek. They all got acquainted.
"Ah, you can't call him Javert anymore. You've officially been downgraded to Thenardier," Sammy said. Leo slapped her arm.
"Shut up! I wanted to tell him myself!"
"Oh my God, did you get the role?!" I asked.
Jean Valjean from the musical Les Misérables was Leo's dream role. Well, it's almost every theatre guy's dream role. We had done the show together about three times and I had gotten Valjean twice while he had the supporting role right below me and he tried to hide his jealously because he was such a good friend but I knew how much he wanted it. The first time, we were kind of young to get leads it, but we still did get supporting ones, good thing we were tall.
"It's only because you didn't audition..." Leo had the lowest self-confidence I had ever seen and I knew that I was one of the only people who could boost it.
"Not true! You deserved that part, you've been dreaming of that for years. Gah, I'm so proud of you! How was it?!" I hugged him.
"It was amazing," he admitted.
"Amazing?! I was bawling throughout the whole show on opening night!" Sammy said.
"Yeah, we had to have someone go out and find more makeup for her because it kept running," Leo laughed.
"Ugh, I wish I had been there... I'm so sorry I missed it."
"Don't sweat it, man." Leo put his hand on my shoulder.
"No, I know how much that meant to you-"
"Riley, chill. It's okay, I recorded all the tracks for you," Leo told me obviously trying to change the subject. But I knew that it wasn't okay and that was the only reason that he was stressing that it was okay. I had missed the one thing that actually made him feel great about himself. It was really important to him for me to be there for him. I would have to formally apologize to him later when we got some time alone together.
The four of us spent the day together, we drank smoothies, ate nachos and randomly started harmonize throughout the day. I missed Sammy and Leo so much. Sammy was just as hyper and weird as she used to be and Leo was still that hilarious Teddy bear whom I was so proud of. He was my best friend. They both loved Skylar and treated her as if she had always known her; which meant refreshing her memory on some really embarrassing stories about me.
We all went to the beach and had a bunch of competitions that day too. Leo and I had a competition to see who could stay in a bridge position for the longest. We had Sammy and Skylar pile books and rocks on us one by one. Well, we were both still going strong after fifteen minutes, even on one foot and one arm, so we called it a tie. Skylar and Sammy's competition was who could chug an extra sour lemonade the fastest. My girl, despite how tiny she may look had an appetite almost as big as mine, so naturally Skylar won. We ended the night by watching the sunset. Skylar and I were planning on spending the night on the beach with a fire and she suggested that they stay, too.
"So how you been doing, I mean really?" I asked Leo when we finally got some alone time. We had been walking down the beach for a few minutes; Sammy and Skylar had fallen asleep. He had that look on his face like he trying to decide whether to lie to me or not. Leo was a bad liar and he knew that I could see in the dark.
"Don't lie to me, I'll know it," I told him.
"I won't... After you got arrested things got harder."
He was referring to how he got harassed at school. I was the only one he ever talked to about it. We sat down in the sand.
"I didn't want to tell Sammy about anything and you know I figured that it would just stop after graduation so I didn't bother to finally tell my parents. They still don't know... As graduation got closer, everything got worse. It was like it was the senior class's goal to get me not to graduate with them. I had a few nights that were just the worst of my life because I couldn't tell anyone. I mean like- I almost did it, Riley." Hearing that made me feel absolutely horrible and it felt even worse knowing that I could have helped him.
"Oh my God, Leo, why? Why would you even think about it?" I sat closer to him and put my hand on his back.
"You know why, Riley. I felt as horrible as you did on the night before you got arrested, when you had the fight with that guy." If Leo was comparing his life to mine, that's when I knew it was bad. He was not a complainer. He was the opposite of that, especially after finding out who I really was.
"You're still not telling me something," I said gently.
"Riley I- can't..."
"Leo, I don't want to push you but I'm telling you right now how much better you're gonna feel if you just tell me."
"I haven't told Sammy this, yet."
"I'm not going to tell anyone, not even her, I promise."
"My parents- they just got divorced..."
"Oh my God, man, I'm so sorry..." I rubbed his back.
"And it was a little while after I came out to my mom and I know it's not but I feel like it's my fault!"
"Hey, this is not your fault!" I took him by the shoulders. "I'm sorry Leo, but screw her if she can't accept you for who you are! This was definitely not your fault, there was something else going on-"
I could see his eyes tearing up.
"My mom cheated... She did it so often that she didn't even care anymore. My dad was spending a lot of time out at work or taking me to rehearsal since my car broke down and helping with the set stuff- I mean, she even said it to him while I was right there! She said that he hadn't been so involved in my shows and taking on big projects at work, they wouldn't have grown apart!"
"Leo, this is not your fault!" I yelled at him. "Your mom knew from the first minute that you landed your first role that it wasn't going to be easy. Has your dad talked to you about it?" I knew that Leo might never speak to his mother again.
"Yeah... He told me basically what you just did. He's been really good throughout the whole process. He helped me through it and I mean you know my dad; he's optimistic. He been trying to get me to move on but I just can't from something like this... He bought my ticket to come down here because he thought it would help me forget but I know that he needs some time alone, too. I mean, I thought that all of this was supposed be over! Everything just keeps piling up and I can't get away from it! I just can't go through with this career if it's going to ruin my parents' lives..."
"Leo, you can't just give up now. You've wanted this for seventeen years. You're enrolled in one of the most renowned Broadway colleges, with a scholarship, might I add. I know your dad, and he wouldn't want you to give this up either. I can still see him front and center of every opening night with this unbelievable pride in his eyes whenever you hit that stage. These things happen, just because it happened to you doesn't mean that it was your fault... Now, how's college been going? No one's been going after you or anything right?"
"No, nothing like that. Sammy and I are in a lot of the same classes and we're in the same dorm building; we met a lot of amazing people. People who actually accept us. You come up in like every conversation," he admitted.
"I'm sorry I just left like that and for the last night I saw you. I was just so paranoid and caught up with stuff. Speaking of caught up, I need to tell you something..."
"Don't worry about me after I say this because, really, I'm okay. But, I got caught in the dogfights."
"Are you serious?! Again?!"
"Yeah, I guess it sucks to be me."
"And me," he added. We both laughed at our natural habit to have a show reference in every conversation.
"Yeah, my dad actually got me out... Apparently that's where I got the- you know, from. He saved my life. The two of us are sort of trying to mend our relationship for my brother. Well- I know that he wants the both of us back, but I'm just not completely ready yet. Nicki and he are already building a great relationship, but I don't know if I could ever have a father-son relationship with him like they do."
"There's still something you're not telling me," he mimicked.
"I don't know- I mean, to be completely honest, I'm a little jealous of my dad..."
"Why? No offense, but the guy's a jerk."
"I thought so, too. But after I took the time to actually listen to what he had to say, I realized that he's genuine. And he was good to me prison."
"Wait, he came to visit you?"
"No, he was the doctor in the infirmary and I got assigned to work in there so we became friends. He looked completely different and sounded different from the last time I remembered, so I didn't recognize him. He like dyed his hair blonde and wore brown contacts and stuff. Then he helped me after the breakout, that's when I recognized him. He followed me to New York which just got me so pissed off..." I explained to him about my whole freak out in New York; about how we got over the border and all that.
"Then my- mom..."
"What about your mom?" Leo asked. I tried to keep my emotions under control.
"She's- she's not dead..."
I told him about how she just sort of showed up and then explained how she betrayed me. I told him everything; everything that happened in New York and Mexico. J-Wait, Skylar, the dogfights, my mom, my dad, and how much I missed him and Sammy. Those two plus Rob and Skylar got me through everything. I just needed to vent to him and only him.
"Jeez Riley, are you okay? I mean like, 'okay' okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, yeah I mean I'm fine now. My crew, my dad and Skylar have just been great throughout this whole thing. I promise I'll talk to you about it too if I ever have a problem but right now, I'm okay. What about you?"
"Yeah, I think I'm okay." He lay down in the sand. I slumped down, too.
"I'll give you my new number, please call me whenever you need to and text me all the time."
"I will." I noticed him fighting the urge to put his hand on mine. He finally rested it on his stomach. I smiled and squeezed his warm hand. He smiled back but then slipped out.
"Leo?" I asked.
"Do you still like me?"
"Yeah… A lot."
"You know that I love Skylar, right?"
I wanted to say something else but I couldn't think of anything else to say. I put my hand on his shoulder, got up and walked back to our blanket and slept next to Skylar. It was another half hour before Leo came back and went to sleep himself.