It was nine o’clock on a Saturday night, but Larry was already on his way home. The date had ended so quickly that he decided not to bother with ordering a meal and ignored all of the other happy couples in the restaurant. He went straight home and threw Leon onto a chair. They needed to have a serious talk.
-That’s it. I’m done with this. I cannot figure out women.
-You are being a bit too hard on yourself.
-Six dates! Six dates in the last month and all of them done before a cheque hits the table.
-You have had some bad luck. That does not mean it’s your fault. Some women are hard to understand, even if you match up on an app and they take the time to ask you about all of your quirks and the things they cannot stand.
-Quirks? You sound like a psychologist.
-Hey, I am better than a psychologist. I don’t charge you a cent and I live in-house.
Larry had to laugh. Leon had been a part of his life since he was a teenager and his mother brought him to a ‘real’ psychologist after his father was killed. That was Dr. Baker, a nice man who made the error of mentioning how he could throw his voice and scare his siblings as a child. Larry did not take on much else from their talks except for this piece of information. Soon, as he was about to finish high school, he met Leon and spent most of his days talking to him about his feelings and what he really wanted from life. A real in-house therapist.
-Right. You are so right. What I need to do is figure out how other people do this and try to get better at relationships.
-Exactly! You still are a young man and can solve this like anything else you do in life. You have a great job and travel when you can. A nice car, a big home, and…me.
Larry kept laughing. Leon, who was not always the most sympathetic ear to his problems, sometimes said just the right thing. He had to do a little more work in this area of his life. It was a challenge, and he had never been afraid of one before.
The fortunate thing about his work is that he travelled and could stop at different places and learn all about different people and cultures while entertaining. Larry also noticed that all of the different airports now had bookstores that were not just magazine and newspaper stands. They had multiple sections with a good selection of titles and themes. At first, when his career was just beginning, he stuck with the science-fiction he found at home in local shops (short stories and old paperback collections he had already finished were best for the trips). Then, with a little more success, he began reading biographies of celebrities in film and television. Now, since he had a mission in mind, and Leon would not let the idea drop (always with him on these trips), he went into the self-help sections of various shops.
‘How to Find Love’, ‘When You Need Love, But Love Does Not Need You’ (terrible title), ‘Love For Dummies’, ‘The Way of Romance’, ‘Shall I Compare Thee…?’ (he almost picked that one up; his old love for Shakespeare made it tempting). But he could not make himself choose just one. He was at home now and did not have to carry all of these titles on the plane.
-So, which one should I pick?
-Don’t ask me. I’m not the expert on this.
A staff member heard his little conversation with Leon and decided to walk away (her section did not need to be restocked yet).
-You think that the books here are any good?
-All these writers have PhDs, so maybe they know what they’re talking about?
Larry decided to go with a few copies and brought them to the counter. Leon would just have to accept his choices (pretty much his fault he was here, anyway).
-Your little friend.
-Yes, you do a show, right?
-Every year, we go off and perform at shows and festivals.
-Great! Well, welcome back, Leon and…?
Nice lady, Larry thought. Bit nosy about his act with Leon. Why didn’t she just ask him? Strange…
He read all of those books. He even added to the pile. After every show, it was Leon and Larry and love and how to find it. There was a lot of advice about what to wear (particular colognes and clothes), what to say (slights and insults were very popular), and even where to go (Larry had never considered laundromats or parks good pick-up spots).
-Practice make partially perfect people…
-I know, Leon.
-You gotta do more than just read when we get back.
-Yeah, well, we’ll see…
-We’ll see? After all that reading?
-I am just not…
-So negative. Y’see, that is your real problem. Always cutting yourself down before you even start…
-Oh, that’s it? Nothing else…
-What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Leon’s anger, when Larry had experience of it, was always amusing. Even now, Larry had to try to control his laughter.
-Nothing, nothing… I will practice what they preached. Peace?
Leon was quiet for a moment. The silence of the hotel room was very loud.
-Peace. You owe me this.
It went from bad to somewhere that was not visible from worse. Larry did try to change his clothes and cologne, but this brought complaints from club owners who wondered why he would try to mess with a style that the customers all expected when they bought a ticket, and deep frowns and wrinkled faces on plane trips and in waiting rooms. Laundromats almost worked out for him. A beautiful second-year psychology major asked him if he did live in the area when he loaded up his machine, but quickly went away once Leon tried to intervene and pushed Larry to ask about her studies.
-Thanks a lot!
-What? I can’t ask a simple question?
-Let me do all of the talking next time, all right? She was going to talk to me until you…
-No. No! You are not going to play the high road here! Little piece of…
Larry noticed that most of the other people in the laundry were either moving away from them, or they actively grabbed their still wet clothing and stepped outside with heavy baskets and garbage bags. Why can’t people just ignore what does not concern them? Ridiculous…
-Sorry. But you have to let me try. You said that I had to do this. I’m doing it. I’m doing it!
Leon did not say a word. He would often let Larry speak without butting in if he agreed with him. He had his back. Nice…
There was still the park. Larry did not like to go to the park with Leon during the week, especially when there were kids out with their parents and they looked them up and down. We are not criminals, Larry thought. Why stare?
It was another beautiful day. Some kids were out with their parents, but they were off in playground area. The open lawn only had a few couples and they were completely indifferent to them. They sat on a bench and decided to talk.
-So, what is the plan?
-Leon, it is still early. Should have left you at home.
-Right. Good luck with that. You think that you will…?
Larry was not paying that much attention. He could not when he saw her. There was a woman approaching from the playground and he thought that she looked very familiar. And she was. Out of the uniform of a bookstore worker, she was still clearly the woman he had met who thought of Leon as ‘adorable’. She was here with a beautiful sundress, her hair now free and long and curly and perfect for Larry. What was this?
-Oh, hello! I thought that it was you.
-Um, yes. From the bookstore?
-Right! And you brought your friend today?
-Leon. More of a partner than friend. Always with me.
She looked around for a moment. Some of the children over by the swings were staring at them.
-Do you always go out together like this?
-No. Be polite, Leon.
-Well, it’s true. You cannot get rid of me.
She laughed and had to catch her breath. The children on the swings were now joined by the ones on the slides and jungle gym.
-No one asked you.
-Can I join you, Leon?
Larry was confused. That was not Leon. It did not sound like him at all.
-Don’t be scared.
-No, it is Linda. Laura wanted me to talk to you about your friend. She has been practicing throwing her voice around since she met you and she knows that you are probably pretty scared to be without him. That’s why she wanted to talk to you. Think about giving other people a chance when they meet you. You won’t need Leon to do all of the ugly work for you of rejecting people.
It was very still in the park. Some of the children, now with their parents, brought their kids over to see the man with the woman with their friend. Larry was not the one talking anymore. Leon was resting on the bench.
-Pretty good work.
-I practice with one of my own. It takes time. And I wondered if you were going to come back to that store when I was around. Just lucky that I caught you like this.
Leon was still resting between them. He did not say a word.
-I’m no good at this sort of thing. Whatever you think, I suck at this.
-We all do. Why do you think that I am still at home and playing with a doll?
-May hurt you or say the wrong thing…
-Been there, felt that…
The parents who brought their kids over wondered if this was still part of the show.
Leon had to say one more thing before this moment passed, or was it Linda (Larry could not tell the voices apart now)?