By the end of our first year of dating Leon had given me a key to his house. I wasn’t sure at the time if this was a gesture of pure love or an act of simple prudence. Replacing windows and doors had gotten a bit costly and he knew there was no keeping me out of his house if my suspicions were ever aroused. Even though he had been straddling the fence of commitment between Gail and me, he had still been able to convince me by most of his actions that he loved me and had my best interest at heart. And that being the case, he also knew I had every right to protect my honor in this affair of three hearts, including showing up unannounced and gaining entry by any means necessary if that’s what it took.
But just because Leon gave me a key to his place does not mean he was no longer seeing Gail. In fact, if his primary goal was to protect his windows, his secondary was to convince me he had nothing to hide and was no longer seeing her. It was she, after all, who had been chasing after him all this time and not the other way around. He assured me of this with various professions of love such as, “I loved you from the moment I first laid eyes on you,” or “It’s you who has my heart,” or “You’re the woman I want to marry.”
He would then attempt to elicit further understanding with confessions of his loyalty and responsibility toward her ten-year-old son, Mike. Leon and Gail had dated for several years before I came along and had also lived together. During that time, he had grown attached to Mike.
“I’ve raised that boy as my own since he was five years old and I can’t just turn my back on him.”
To hear him tell it, Gail was just taking advantage of his kindness and was constantly calling him over to her place to see about Mike for one reason or another; and it was those so-called “innocent interactions” that usually ignited their continued indiscretions.
“Plus,” he added, “I was worried she might try to commit suicide again and I just wanted to make sure she was okay… I want nothing else to do with that woman because she walked out on me when I was indicted and she didn’t start coming back around until she thought I would be acquitted. Then after she saw me with you, she felt threatened and was determined to get back with me.”
Then the cherry on top of all that cream was his mantra, “I may do some bad things, but I’m not a bad person.”
That last part was certainly true. I knew from the start that Leon was not a bad person; that’s why I fought the good fight and tried to win his complete devotion instead of walking away in the midst of all the pain. But a person can take only so much betrayal. And regardless of the reasons behind it, Leon had betrayed my trust far too many times for me to buy the portrait he was now painting of himself.
As he spoke, I watched his lips move in concert with his very touching sentiments loyalty; but by the time his words reached my ears, all I could hear was “Blah, blah, blah, Lie, Gail, Mike, blah, blah” because long before he gave me the key to his home, he unwittingly shared with me his code of dishonor. And with that code engraved indelibly on my heart and soul, I could no longer believe a word he said. I now stood ready to block any movement he made if it appeared to be leading to another secret rendezvous.
Leon must have lost a lot of money playing poker because he was always so easy to read and very predictable. It certainly never took much to arouse my suspicions. If he ended a phone conversation with, “Talk to you later, alligator,” I knew right away something was up because he would get corny like that when he was up to no good. His banality was the quality about him that not only exposed his lies but also helped to redeem his character in my eyes. It didn’t just tell on him, it told of him. Leon didn’t lie and cheat with enough finesse for me to believe it was his true nature.
And as disheartened as I had become over his lack of fidelity this past year, I hadn’t given up on the man I knew existed somewhere beneath all the dirt. He was buried alive and I just needed to dig him out of the deep hole he had fallen into after interring the mother of his children. Being a widower with two young daughters was enough to destroy any man; and now here he was an indicted man trying to redeem his reputation, save his career, and keep his freedom in a fight to the death with the federal government over trumped up bribery charges.
All these things weighed heavily on my heart as I, too, fought with Leon. But I had my own well-being to think about, and I couldn’t just sit back and let him take advantage of me or view my tolerance as a weakness. It’s true you can’t keep people from doing what they want to do because they will always find a way to do it. But you can for damn sure make it not worth their while, and Leon eventually figured out I was really good at removing the value from his BS. He also underestimated the extent of my curiosity if he thought I would look no further than his own backyard when intuition spoke to me again.
When I followed my intuition over to Gail’s house one night, she answered her door thinking that it was Leon returning after his sudden about-face just moments before. Leon had barely gotten both feet in her door when he got a call from his brother Randy. That warning call ran him off so fast that by the time I pulled up to Gail’s door, Leon made it back to his house… which was several miles away. Gail had no idea what was going on until she found me standing there in the cloud of cologne Leon left behind in his haste.
Apparently Randy, who was living rent free in Leon’s guest house, was standing guard that night and had alerted Leon as soon as he saw my car backing out of the driveway.
Although Gail and I had our share of nasty exchanges in the past, she was gracious enough to invite me into her apartment, where we sat and had a nice long chat, uncovering all the lies Leon had told each of us from the very beginning. She scoffed at the notion that she would ever try to kill herself; and when she shared the very first lie he ever told her about me, I assured her that I had never been his babysitter.
I also learned that night that it was she who had made that tuna sandwich he so valiantly delivered to me one fine morning. I had just parked my car in the employee lot of the federal courthouse and was about to start my three-block trek to my office when Leon pulled up in his silver Jag and offered me a ride. When I hopped in and sat next to him, he leaned over and greeted me with a kiss before handing me the brown paper bag that contained the fruits of his other woman’s affection. Chivalry wasn’t dead after all; it was a low-down dirty impostor, running around trying to take credit where credit wasn’t due. Giving me that damn sandwich! Hell, after the way he had been carrying on over the past few months with Gail and me, she could have been trying to poison his ass for all he knew; and here he was giving that shit to me!
When I returned to his house later that evening, he was in bed feigning disrupted sleep; and upon his fake arousal, he attempted to make an issue of my coming in so late. Then he had the nerve to question my whereabouts as if he didn’t already know where I went. I played along with his little game of third degree and told him exactly where I had been and what I had learned. Of course, he denied having been at Gail’s at all and then tried to make an issue of his girls being left alone in the house since I took off without telling him.
“Are you kidding me?! If you were truly concerned about your girls, you would’ve had your ass home with them instead of running around chasing booty… And they weren’t totally alone because you had your watch dog brother out back keeping an eye on things around here.”
He was hardly in the mood for a fight he couldn’t win, so he eventually just rolled over and took his lying butt to sleep. I shared as much as I recalled of my conversation with Gail, but the part of the conversation I didn’t share with him was the plans Gail and I made to catch his ass if he ever again tried to hook up with her again. She had agreed to call me the next time he got in touch with her for any reason whatsoever. And Leon, being a man of routine, made sure I got that call about a month later.
“Good morning, Judge Keith’s chambers. May I help you?”
“Hey, this is Gail. You wanted me to call the next time I heard from Leon. Well, I was just calling to tell you he just called and asked me to come over.”
“Oh…, okay. Today? Hmmm, what time are you supposed to be there?
“I’m heading over there now.”
“Okay, thanks for letting me know.”
Before hanging up the phone, I told Gail that I would call Leon’s house once I thought she was there. I was at work and wasn’t sure I’d be able to leave; but I honestly had no idea at that moment what the purpose of my call would be except to put him on the spot. And even though I knew it was only a matter of time before Leon was back to his old tricks, Gail’s call caught me off guard and I hadn’t yet thought anything through. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it; but I knew the foggy scenario playing out in my head would give him too much wiggle room, so I decided that instead of calling, I would show up at his house.
The instant my decision was made, my heart began to pound rapidly, as if to demand immediate release from the confines of my chest. I inhaled a deep breath of courage to try and calm my jitters before grabbing my coat and purse. And after clearing my possible very long lunch break with the other secretary, I ran as fast as I could to my car, turning a 30-minute commute into 15 minutes tops… including the time it took me to run three blocks in heels on a sleet-covered ground. Man! April was clinging to winter’s last snowfall like a desperate lover, unwilling to let go even though winter had long since departed.
After turning off Seven Mile Road and onto Strathcona Drive, I realized that I had gotten to Leon’s house ahead of Gail. Her little red Geo was nowhere in sight but I had no idea how far behind me she might be. At that moment I decided I should try to get inside the house before she arrived instead of the two of us greeting Leon at the door. He would easily get out of that awkward predicament by pretending to be surprised by Gail’s visit as well as mine; and I wasn’t about to give him the slightest opportunity to lie his way out of this one. So with my newly devised plan in place, I proceeded to get Operation Cat Burglar off the ground, pronto!
I had to act quickly, before Gail’s arrival because once and for all (for the third time, actually), I was in a position to confirm my suspicions with my own eyes and finally put an end to whatever was going on with Leon and his hussy. I wasn’t acting out of insecurity, mind you. I already knew his intentions with her weren’t honorable because it was I who was wearing his engagement ring while she had nothing but empty promises in a broken hope chest as far as I could tell. I was working to dig my fiancé out of the hole he had fallen to deeply into. I had to save him from himself and this may be my final chance; therefore, my covert mission had to go down without a hitch.
I wasn’t sure how much time I had before Gail rounded the corner, so I had to move quickly to get inside. Once I parked my car a safe distance from Leon’s house to keep Gail from spotting it, my next task was to make it to Leon’s driveway without being heard or spotted by him. I knew my cover would be blown if he happened to glance out the window in anticipation of Gail’s arrival. So, with house key in hand in ready position, I slid out of my car; and with my eyes squinted, my chin jutted slightly forward, and my lips pressed tightly together (as if all those facial contortions were necessary in maintaining silence) I closed my car door as quietly as possible. Then, anticipating my next step, I willed myself invisible as I prepared to move swiftly to his side door while trying to avoid appearing suspicious in the eyes of any nosy neighbor who might be watching.
Once I reached the door and was safely out of view, I stood off to the side and cautiously peered through the window to make sure the coast was clear before attempting my entry. Good! He was nowhere in sight. I slowly slid my key into the lock, straining my ear to pick up any sound on the other side of the door. Once I got the door unlocked, I cracked it wide enough for a naked size two to slip through the opening then quickly closed it behind me. As soon as I was inside, I heard movement coming from upstairs, so I made a quick dash into his office just off to the left. I managed to duck behind his big wooden desk just as he came running down the stairs. Whew! That was close!
He had heard a noise and thought it was Gail at the door. He didn’t find her there but his anticipation clouded his ability to reason, so he dismissed the suspicious noise that first brought him running; and instead of investigating the possibility of an intruder, he lingered around the door waiting for his afternoon piece to arrive. He had no idea I was hiding just a few feet from where he stood and I didn’t dare make a sound to alert him. My heart was already competing with the silence in the room and appeared to be winning, so I prayed that my hair was not peeking over the top of the desk.
He had come running down the stairs so quickly that I didn’t have time to crouch down completely or comfortably once I dove to the far side of his desk. Just before my toes were about to give out, I heard a car pulling into the driveway. I listened as Leon opened the door to greet his invited guest:
“How you doing?”
“I’m fine, Leon. Now, why did you call me… what do you want with me?”
You know what I want.”
“Yeah, well ain’t nothin’ in that for me.”
Judging from that brief, loveless greeting, it was obvious to me that this was definitely a booty call… that is, if that’s still what you call it when it’s your mouth and not your booty that has been summoned for duty. Gail had no idea I was in the house and at this point she only expected me to call because that’s what I told her I was going to do. She seemed quite willing to oblige the purpose of his call when she followed him upstairs to his bedroom. I waited a moment before creeping up the stairs behind them; and when I reached the top of the stairs, I quickly darted into the nearest bedroom off to the right thinking, “Yeah, his ass is about to be caught red handed now, buddy!”
Leon’s bedroom was just a few steps further down the hall and off to the left but still a little too far for me to hear their conversation from where I stood. I listened for an opportunity to try and move a little closer to where they were. All of a sudden his house phone started ringing and because I thought he would be distracted by the call, I stepped back into the hall to find a more advantageous spot. I never expected him to leave his bedroom; but dammit! Instead of answering the phone in his room, he stepped out to grab the phone in the adjacent bedroom and caught my crazy ass red handed right there in the middle of the hall, unsure which way to turn. I can only imagine what Leon must have felt stepping into the hallway and seeing me at the very moment he thought he’d hear my voice on the other end of his phone. He was sure I was a safe distance away considering I should have been downtown and miles away.
The moment he saw me, he could do nothing but hang his head in shame. He was too caught up in his own guilt to notice, but my embarrassment far outweighed his mixed bag of emotions when he found me tiptoeing around his hallway like a dumb ass cartoon burglar. With my mind flooded with visions of how silly I must have looked and echoes of their loveless greeting still playing in my ear, it was nearly impossible for me to feign anger. I was having a hard enough time trying to keep from laughing at myself for going to such extremes to trap him.
This uncomfortable encounter lasted only seconds, so by the time Leon pulled his tail out of the trap, I had already brushed past him and entered his bedroom where I saw Gail sitting on the bed just as dumbfounded by my presence as he had been. She had no idea I was coming to his house and she, too, thought it was me calling when the phone rang. With nowhere to go but up and out of this hellhole, Leon shamefacedly apologized to me for his betrayal (again) and then to Gail for leading her on the way he had for so long. He then looked over at me while still talking to Gail and professed his undying love in a way that could never again be questioned by her, “I love Renee’; I always have. We’re engaged; and if she will forgive me and still have me, we are getting married in June.”
And as if I had just been pronounced winner after going a grueling 18 months in the ring with these two, I flung my left hand forward to display every single one of my 17 diamonds. And those diamonds had never shined brighter than they had on that day. I then looked over at Leon and rolled my eyes before turning to make my way back down the stairs. Gail rose from the bed and followed right behind me. Once outside, we said a few parting words of understanding before riding off into the sunset in our separate vehicles.
With Gail now officially out of our lives for good, Leon and I were still a long ways from happily ever after because as turbulent as the previous 18 months had been, this was just the beginning of our bumpy ride together.