Lauren sighed and rattled the key around in the lock. Stupid thing was always sticky. She hadn’t had a great day in class; after she forgot about her written report and got to be the “targeted student of the day” by the professor, she had grumbled on her walk home and let the pessimism eat away at her mind. Oh well, she thought as she finally got the lock open and turned the handle. Maybe I can see Leo later.
Before Lauren could even reminisce about the mutant turtle and her feelings for him, she stopped dead in her tracks and blinked in bewilderment. There he was, sitting in her living room!
“L-leo?” she stuttered, trying to decide if it was reality or not.
The turtle stood up in the darkness as Lauren flicked on a light. He smiled at her, but something in his smile was downcast and scared Lauren a bit. “Hey, Lozzy.”
She couldn’t help but briefly smile when she heard him use her nickname. “Um, did Sophie let you in?” Sophie: the cliché loud half of Lauren, her twin. They lived together in this little apartment while Lauren was taking her college courses and Sophie was off doing… whatever it was Sophie did.
“No,” Leo said softly, shrugging his shoulders and rocking backward on his heels. “I, uh, found a window. You didn’t lock it.” Lauren raised her eyebrows in amusement.
“My bad,” she said with a giggle. She walked over and set her purse down on the chair, getting dangerously close to her crush as thoughts ran jumbled through her mind. What was he doing there? “Do you, er, want to sit down?” she asked, and when Leo wordlessly turned and sat she rolled her eyes at herself. What a lame question. Lauren pushed back her bangs with her fingers and sat next to Leonardo. When she had died her hair that green, blue and black mixture, Leo was one of the only people that sincerely told her he liked it, and she hadn’t changed it since.
“What’s wrong, Leo?” she finally asked, after sitting there and watching his expression change while he played with his hands.
He sighed and turned to her glumly, not wanting to make eye contact. “I… I have to leave.” The pain that shot into Lauren’s eyes forced him to turn away. “I figured I’d come here and tell you first.”
“Where are you going?!”
“Japan. Sensei is sending me off for a whole year so that I can train and be a better leader to the family.” When Lauren put her hand on Leo’s shoulder consolingly, he turned back and painfully smiled. “Are you mad at me?”
“I couldn’t be mad at you, ever.” The words spilled right out of her mouth before she could stop them, and just as she turned away to blush at her stupidity, Leo pulled her into a hug. It was silent and only lasted for a few moments, but it felt like forever, but forever it could never be. Even if forever lasted longer than next year, Lauren couldn’t wait that long for Leo to come back!
When Leonardo drew away, he smiled at her and blinked away a few tears. “We have a few hours before I have to leave,” he murmured quietly. “How do you want to spend it?” Lauren was shocked! She pulled away and let her mouth hang open. “What?” Leo looked hurt, like she didn’t want to do anything with him.
“You want to spend all your time with me?” He smiled and even started to laugh.
“Of course I do! I think-” He faltered, as though he was saying something he didn’t want to say. “I think I would love that,” he recovered, blushing a little.
“I know just where we can go,” Lauren exclaimed, jumping up and dragging him out the door. How had this day gotten so much better?
“Ice cream, huh?” Leo asked rather cheekily, laughing as Lauren slapped him on the shoulder. She waved her arms around generally.
“In an exciting theme park!” She accepted her cone from the college student behind the counter and Leo and Lozzy sauntered off at a slow walk through the park, hoping that maybe walking at a more leisurely pace would slow down time itself. They rode a few rides, but the sun was slowly setting and every now and then they would both turn toward it and mournfully sigh at the impending dread of separation.
“You know, maybe this wasn’t all that bad of a day,” Lauren said as they sat down on a bench by the lake in the center of the park. There was a band doing a sound check and preparing for the evening’s show nearby as the lights all around them all turned on every now and then in the growing darkness.
Leo stared hard at Lauren, hesitant to reply. Where he otherwise would’ve made a joke about how a day with him could never be bad, he just sat and watched her blue eyes. Lauren blushed and looked away, and Leonardo finally decided he was done running from this girl. All this time and he was finally letting her get away! As soon as the band started the night with a slower song, Leo forced himself to stand and turned to Lauren, extending his hand before he stopped himself out of fear.
“A dance?” Lauren nodded, smiling and allowing him to pull her under the small pavilion that was dimly lit with hanging lanterns and slowly filling with people.
“I’m not much of a dancer,” Lauren said softly.
Leo snorted. “You think I am?” They both shared a laugh, and Lauren’s gaze drifted down to her feet as she tried to concentrate on what she was doing. Why did their mixed laughter have to sound so natural? Why did he have to leave?
“I’m going to miss you, Leo,” she whispered, feeling a lump rise in her throat. “I… I like you.” The words slipped away before she could stop them, and she found herself blushing and hiding her face from his, stepping away from the dance and breaking their hold.
His hand drew her eyes back to his as he held her chin, and there was no mistaking the grin on his face. Before either one could say a word, some unknown force compelled Leo to come so dangerously close to Lauren that there was no other direction to go but forward.
That first kiss under the lanterns on the night he had to go meant more to each of them than the either could possibly know. When they finally pulled away and their eyes met, Leo said, “I kind of like you too, Lozzy.” They both broke the tension with laughter and struggled to resume their hold and finish the rest of the dance. Now that it had happened, the kiss somehow made the world feel a little lighter.
And although it would appear to make saying goodbye so much harder, it was effortless to say farewell when Lozzy and Leo knew that the forever that began next summer was such a long, long time.