He slowed, and Lacey saw that he was still wearing the same blue shirt as yesterday, at least it seemed the same. Now, it was dishevelled, un-tucked. He was pale, and the contrast of his dark hair and skin was alarming. His eyes looked like stones. Grey, lifeless stones. The most devastating part of his appearance, was the tears that had left trails down his face. Lacey gulped and Leo stopped, close, in front of her. She took in a wavering breath and looked up at him. Her hands were at her chest, almost hugging herself. "Leo." She muttered. Her eyes almost filled with tears. She didn't know this guy, not really, and she was ready to turn him down only hours ago, but she felt a deep sympathy towards him in that moment. The cold air made her shiver more than she already was doing. "My-" Leo made a gulping noise. His soft hair blew slightly in the wind, "My Mother has just passed away." His voice was shaky and he avoided Lacey's eyes. Lacey's heart sunk. How could she help him? She wanted to take the grief away from him; she could see how much it was hurting. Before Lacey could even think about her actions, she wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to take away some of the weight. Lacey was sure, that in that moment, as she embraced Leo, that it was the single most beautiful moment in her life. Limply, she felt him put his hands on her back. Lacey felt almost selfish. She was breathing him in. He smelt like the night; like crisp air. She was feeling his back; his strong shoulders that felt so weak. She never wanted to let go. And it seemed as if he didn't. Lacey used every ounce of strength in her body to tear herself away from him, but, as she had moved her head closer to his face, they lingered. They were so close, that she could feel his breath on her face. She could see the flecks of blue in his eyes that she had never noticed before. He looked at her now. His eyes focusing on her, and only her. Lacey felt goosebumps all over her body, but it was no longer because of the cold. She wanted to kiss him; she wanted to pull him in and lose herself to him. But the best she could settle for was a kiss on the cheek. She planted her lips on his slightly stubbled cheek and released him from her arms. She felt as if she has been disconnected; as if she would forever be lost if she wasn't in his arms. But she had to think of Leo. She had no idea what he was going through, and she had to ease his pain.
* * *
Back at her flat, Lacey stood in the kitchen, looking into the living room where Leo was sat on her sofa. He didn't seem comfortable. He was just staring at her coffee table, swaying back and forth. Lacey had left a mug of tea in front of him, but he hadn't touched it. She felt helpless. She rubbed the back of her neck. What more could she do? She almost felt like googling 'how to help someone deal with grief' but she supposed that those would be tips for people who knew each other. Perhaps step one would be to try and take their mind of it. But Lacey knew nothing of Leo. She didn't even know his surname. She couldn't play his favourite song, or read his favourite book. She was lost. Gathering up all of her courage, she walked into the living room, feeling the familiarly soft carpet under her feet. The light above their heads made everything feel a little tense. It was bright. Too bright. But Lacey could hardly leave him in the darkness. She walked around to the other side of the sofa and sat down, on the edge. Only a few hours ago, Stella and her were joking about the date. How it would be a disaster. But there was no where to pin the blame now. Not even Stella, because Lacey was thanking the Gods that she had taken her advice.
"I'm sorry to burden you." Leo sounded tired. His voice was quiet and lost, as if he had been crying for hours and Lacey guessed that he had. But at least he was speaking now.
"It's no burden, honestly." Lacey looked at Leo's hands, which were clasped together in his lap. They were much bigger than her own. Again, not thinking about her actions, she gently placed hers above his. He let her hand slip into his and entwined his fingers with hers. She felt as if her heart was weeping. She wanted to kiss him, tell him that it was going to be all right. But it was ridiculous. How could she feel so drawn to a stranger.
"Thank you." He finally tore his gaze away from the coffee table. He was looking at their hands, now. He lifted Lacey's hand to his mouth and kissed it, tenderly. He put his hand back on his lap, still clasping Lacey's. "My Mother, she was a big part of my life." He sounded strong now, "Amazing, kind," There was a catch in his voice, but he stopped himself. "I never knew my Father. It was always just me, my brother and her. She taught me to be a gentleman, so I had to find you," He looked at her now, his eyes glossy with tears, "And explain my absence." Lacey shook her head.
"There was no need, I would have understood." She smiled, empathetically, before drawing her eyes away. Her eyes were brought back to Leo, when he released her hand, and brought his own to her cheek. He stroked her collarbone, before pulling her in and meeting her lips with his own. In the split second, Lacey pulled away. Don't pull away! Kiss him! Her heart was screaming. She stood there, biting her lip. She wanted nothing more than to kiss him, but he was in no fit state to make decisions. Gulping, she stood up and grabbed Leo's hands. Just as she had before, she gave him a kiss on the cheek, lingering for a few seconds before she convinced herself that she was doing the right thing. "You're grieving, Leo." She crouched down and looked at her hands that were in his. Then her eyes met his. They were desperate. Not for a kiss, but for anything. Hope. His colour had returned, slightly, but there was still fresh tears in his eyes. "You can sleep in my bed, if you like, I'll sleep on the sof-" Leo shook his head, as Lacey had expected. "I will speak to you tomorrow." She smiled, before releasing his hands and walking out of the room, turning on the lamp next to the sofa and turning out the light as she went into her bedroom.
* * *
Lacey hadn't got much sleep. She was thinking about waking up to Leo. She just wanted to be with him. There was no explanation, no logic to it. It simply was.
As she crawled out of bed, she went to her mirror. She remembered looking at herself last night, and imaged of herself the day before flashed into her head. She was excited but also anxious to meet Leo for a second time. And now, she had, and her feelings were mixed. She really liked him. She did. But how could she be with someone who had lost such a big part of their life? She looked at herself now. She had smudges of black under her eyes; she had been too busy worrying the night before to have taken off her make-up. Her pyjamas weren't exactly flattering, and, as she wasn't wearing a bra, she didn't look particularly desirable. Sighing, she put on her dressing gown. At least that would hide her disappointing figure. She swiped a finger under both of her eyes and ran a hand through her hair. It was time to face him, and, although she should be sensitive at this time, she couldn't wipe the smile off of her face.
As she crept into the living room, swarms of disappointment shook her. 'I am truly sorry. The night was terrible, and it was entirely my fault. Thank your for your comfort.' Lacey took a deep breath as she fell back onto the couch. He had left the note on the coffee table. It was written on the back of a receipt. Lacey felt let down, but she knew that it was not Leo's fault. She knew that he had a ton of things on his mind, and she could hardly blame him for leaving, She had no way of reaching him. She had no way of calling him, or asking if he was all right. She felt a strong protectiveness over him, and she needed to know if he was okay. But, before she could even think again, the doorbell rang. Lacey jumped to her feet, throwing the note on the floor. She dashed to the front door, and was about to open it until she saw the keys on the floor; Leo had posted them back through after he had left. She smiled a little and then picked them up as she unlocked the door. Standing right in front of her was, "Oh, it's you." Stella. Lacey's breathing was quite fast as she had worked herself up, thinking that Leo had returned for her. Her face drooped, and she felt a little bad for being so down in front of Stella.
"Yeah, don't be too excited to see me." Stella stood before Lacey, a large, black bag on her bent arm. She looked a little impatient. Her hair was pristinely straightened, long and dark flowing down her shoulders onto an onyx coat. "Are you going to let me in?" She raised an eyebrow. Lacey shook herself out of her day dream and stepped back.
"You know, I thought you would have been ready by now, Lace." Stella made herself at home; throwing her bag onto the couch. She put a hand on her hip and looked at Lacey, severely, as if she was about to tell her off. She made a loud sighing noise and looked at the floor. "Rick's Mum died." Stella said, almost insensitively, and then she brought her eyes back up, as if looking at Lacey as she spoke those words was the most daunting thing ever.
"Ah," Lacey hardly sounded comforting or supportive of her friend, but the coincidence was too much. "Um, I'm sorry." Lacey felt confused as to why Stella was telling her. But, at least it cleared up why she had left so quickly the night before.
"I need you to come with me; to see him. I can't do this alone, Lace. I can't face that" Lacey nearly laughed at her friend's request, but she knew that it would be entirely insensitive. Lacey wasn't the type of person you would go to if you needed help with grief, as she had shown the night before.
"Of course." Lacey almost immediately regretted the words. She didn't know Rick, she hadn't even met him yet, and his and Stella's relationship was hardly serious. They had been 'dating' for the past few months, but they had never really labelled each other as boyfriend or girlfriend. As sickening as it sounds, maybe this was just the kick they needed to get them to realised that they were serious.
"Thanks, Lace." Stella let out a sigh, as if she had expected Lacey to say no, but Lacey agreed to anything Stella wanted, and Stella did the same. It was if it was a term of their friendship, but right now, Lacey didn't want to keep those terms. She wanted to curl up, eat ice cream and watch The Notebook.