Deborah Demarco’s mother was named Elizabeth, though her ex-husband and most of her friends called her Beth. Leep called her Lizzie.
In his head, only; to her face he called her Mrs. Hernandez. She was taller than Deborah, but they had the same ash blonde hair, Deborah’s long and Lizzie’s very short. The short, ragged length suited her, emphasized her slender neck and made the otherwise soft features of her face stand out: the brown eyes, straight nose, the wide lips. She was slim compared to her daughter’s curviness. If they were Disney creatures, Leep thought, Deborah would be a robust, thoroughbred horse with a gleaming coat, and Lizzie would be a sleek and elusive African gazelle. She didn’t dress all fancy, but just plain everyday things, like jeans and a shirt, or a plain sun dress with a cardigan sweater. She wore less makeup than her daughter, too. As far as Leep could tell, she wore no makeup, except maybe some eyeliner and lip gloss. Her lips were always shiny, anyway.
She didn’t know that Leep was a creep. Leep guessed that no one told her, not even Deborah, so Lizzie treated him like a normal person, like any friend of her late son-in-law. So Leep started to make excuses to go visit them. He had already started a file of clips about the Vincent Demarco murder, out of personal interest, but he put it all together in a binder and took it over to Lizzie’s house, to show Deborah. He knew she was obsessive about news clippings and articles and information about her husband’s murder, so he said it was for her. She didn’t have to worry about gathering together all the information; Leep would do it for her.
Deborah, Leep could tell, thought it was a creepy gesture, but that could have been something Leep heard about called confirmation bias, as in, just about anything Leep chose to do was going to be creepy. Anyway she liked that he kept the binder up to date. And that he brought it over every so often. Deborah liked to leaf through the pages, from the beginning. Leep laminated the first newspaper articles so the pages wouldn’t yellow. Lizzie said that was thoughtful. So she thought he was thoughtful, and normal.
He was shy around Lizzie, but to boost his confidence he always had a shower before he went over there to her house, and put gel in his unruly hair, brushed his teeth, and put on after-shave and clean clothes. That way he could concentrate on what to say.
One afternoon Leep was looking over Deborah’s shoulder as she sat at the dining room table leafing through the clippings. She said, “You could rethink the cologne thing, Leep, I’m suffocating here.” Leep recoiled, but was not shocked or even offended. It was the kind of thing people felt free to say to him. He actually learned things when people were blunt, like in this case, how not to wear too much after-shave.
But Lizzie, who was in the kitchen, said, “Deb, wow, that is rude.”
Leep couldn’t see Deborah’s face, but he knew she rolled her eyes, because her mother didn’t know Leep like she did, that he was strange and that you could say things to him you wouldn’t say to normal people.
Lizzie thought he was ok, and worth defending. Leep felt something in his chest doing flip flops.
Is this what love felt like?