I said goodbye to Theo at the train station. His hair fell forward as he looked down at me. He tucked a lock behind his ears. I remembered when I had done that to him last night. It seemed aeons ago.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.
I looked up at him. “I have no idea.”
“Is she really taking you to meet him?”
“That’s what she says.”
“This is surreal,” Theo said.
“Tell me about it.” My mind skittered about, unable to stop on one thought.
Theo said once more, “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
I turned back to him. “I honestly don’t know. Because here’s the thing. I don’t know who I am now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I feel like…I don’t know how to put it…” I thought about it, but my thoughts kept jumping one to another, different voices attached to them, all talking. One voice, who clearly didn’t care about my no-swearing campaign, was screaming, Are you fucking kidding me? He’s ALIVE? Another, who sounded as if she was softly weeping, said, I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.
“I feel like I’m not who I thought I was,” I said to Theo. “I’m not half-orphaned. If you really think about it, I’m someone who was, well, abandoned. I mean, my father is alive. He left us.”
“But you don’t know why.”
I looked over my shoulder at Elena. “She says she’s going to tell me everything on the train back to Rome. She says he’s there. In Rome.”
I turned back again. I stared across the station. Passengers were hurrying to the track area. Everyone looked so normal.
I gazed up at Theo. “Thanks so much for being here.”
“Are you sure I can’t go with you? I don’t need to fly back. And I could have the pilot meet me in Rome.”
I shook my head. “You have to get to work. You told me you could only be gone a day or two.”
He stared at me for a moment, which gave me a second to stare back. His upper lip, perfectly shaped with two pink peaks, disappeared as his bottom teeth bit it, and he looked as if he was thinking hard.
“I’ve never seen you make that expression,” I said.
He stopped biting his lip. “What expression?”
I shook my head. “Never mind.” There was still so much about Theo that I didn’t know, but whether it mattered now, I couldn’t tell. It seemed as if my life had been split in two big books-Before I Knew My Father Was Alive; After I Knew My Father Was Alive. I felt as if I was on a freaking soap opera. The shrill voice in my head piped up again. Who has a dead parent who’s not really dead, for fuck’s sake?
“Look, I don’t care about work,” Theo said.
“Of course you do. You have a company to run…” I trailed off, stumbling over another thing I didn’t know about Theo. I knew generally about his company, knew it was legit, but we didn’t talk about things like work. We didn’t talk that much at all, I suppose. And yet despite the absence of all the technical information about him, I felt I knew him. And that I adored him.
“I’ll throw work to the curb right now if you need me to,” he said.
“I don’t know what I need. All I know is she’s going to take me to him.” I said this as if by repeating it, it would sink in.
Suddenly, I felt as if I had taken some kind of drug. I remembered in law school when Maggie and I thought it would be fun to take mushrooms. It wasn’t. The whole experience seemed enjoyable at the start, and then it had all gone bad, bizarre; it felt broken. And that was exactly what the search for my father had been like-almost exciting at first, fantastical, but then it had spun away from me and now seemed ugly, sinister, wrong.
“Izzy!” Maggie called across the station. She held Bernard’s hand with one of hers and with the other pointed at the board, where lit-up track numbers and departure times were quickly changing and flashing. It was hard to know which one to concentrate on. “Our train is about to leave.”
I looked at Theo and smiled. “You’re the best for coming. For putting up with all this.”
“I didn’t put up with anything but some fun.”
“Oh, you think getting chased by guys with guns is fun?”
“Hell, yeah. It’ll make a good story for my boys back home.”
“I’ve never met any of those boys.”
Suddenly, I wanted to ask him, Who is your mom? Who is your dad? Where were you raised? What high school did you go to? Why did you leave college? Did you always know you would be a success? Who are your friends? I knew nothing about him. Nothing. And yet that realization didn’t leave me empty. Rather, it made me feel kind of hopeful, kind of excited about something to learn in the future.
Meanwhile, the questions about my father? Those didn’t excite me. They left me cold with fear.
“I know,” Theo said. “You need to meet my boys. And hey, I liked meeting Maggie and Bernard.” He nodded across the station in Maggie’s direction. She was standing on her tiptoes, clutching Bernard around the neck in a goodbye hug. “So when you get back,” Theo said, “we’ll set up something with my buddies, okay?”
It sounded like such a normal request, one that I would have said “yes, of course” to yesterday or earlier this morning or even two hours ago. Now, I had no idea how to answer that question. What would it feel like after I met my father, after I heard the explanation of why he had done what he did? I had so many questions. The situation had too many potentials, too many avenues to crawl down. It could go too many ways and none of those ways seemed good.
But I couldn’t-wouldn’t-live my life just for my father or whatever I would soon learn about him, so I looked at Theo and said, “Yes. I want to meet them when I get home.”
He smiled. He bent down and with those perfect lips kissed mine. He was such a beautiful kisser. At that moment, it was hard to remember kissing anyone but him.
He tugged my bottom lip with both of his. And then he folded me into a hug.
“You are fine,” he said. And, as if he knew I didn’t believe it, he said it again and again as he embraced me. “You are fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.”
When he finally let me go, I had tears in my eyes.
“Don’t,” he said, “or you’ll make me do that, too.”
That made me laugh, the thought of him crying-for some reason I couldn’t envision it. He seemed like someone who always brought the sun with him, who brought the happy life.
“I’ll see you when I get back,” I said.
“Let me watch you walk away.”
“You got it.” And with those words, for one moment, I felt some levity. I felt the way I always felt with him-sexy, amusing.
I kept that feeling in my mind as I sashayed away from him, for a second almost believing I was one of those normal people walking through the Centrale station. I swung my hips a little in an exaggerated way, then I stopped and I tossed him what I hoped was a sensual look over my shoulder.
Theo was beaming.
He gave me a thumbs-up, and then he turned away.