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*Elena, weary of crouching behind all that foliage, got to her feet just as something her grandmother used to say came to mind: “Whatever you do, don’t follow them.”

That time-honored parable was among the A-man’s-gonna-do-what-a-man’s-gonna-do philosophy her Grandy used to share with the women after dinner over a shot of brandy, words designed to spare a curious woman of unnecessary heartache.

Not only had Elena, 37, broken that rule, covertly trailing Leon, 45, out to this Los Angeles golf course, but she positioned herself on the grounds of a public park adjacent to the course, concealed by trees and bushes, and armed with high-powered binoculars—-the same ones used by Marines in Afghanistan, said the salesman—-she made sure Leon was where he said he’d be, with the two men he mentioned. Check affirmative on both things.

Which meant Elena could relax—-for a few days anyway—-before her fears and imagination again conjured suspicions. She and Leon had been seriously dating for almost two years and everything was going well, which, in Elena’s mind, simply meant she hadn’t yet discovered discrepancies in his actions or words.

It’s hard to trust when you grow up in a culture of lies. Elena was from a family of women who, over generations, chose men who lied and cheated. Period. Every generation’s woman in that family had their own way of dealing with such men.

Grandy long held that if a man provided for his family and didn’t embarrass his wife with his infidelities, then she should look the other way, which Grandy did for years with Grandpa.

On the other hand, Grandy’s daughter–Elena’s mother—-put up with Elena’s cheating dad for only so long before divorcing him.

Elena, who never married or had kids, was different. She’d investigate, confront, demand answers. The men she dated or lived with had a propensity for “cheating and beating,” to which she’d respond with her own violence. With Elena, you’d have to bring some to get some.

tiffany blue box

It took enough Hay House books to fill two shelves in the den of Elena’s west side condo to make herself emotionally available to a man like Leon.

She’d never been with a man offering her more than cursory kindness. The two became smitten while working in marketing for a Southern California-based toy manufacturer.

The polite but sturdy Kansas City-born Leon came west with two now grown boys so they could be closer to the family of their mom–Leon’s wife—-who was taken by cancer.

Who quits his job simply to date a woman? Leon did. The toy company forbid interoffice romance, so Leon found a position with the City of Los Angeles.

The first time Leon briefly visited Elena at her home, he asked to use the bathroom. Emerging a few minutes later, Elena’s guest toilet, which had a tendency to run, was fixed.

On their first Thanksgiving as a couple, Leon opened his humble Pasadena home to Elena’s entire L.A. family, including Mom, Grandy, aunts, uncles and Leon’s two boys. He presented a traditional, mouth watering, feast, all of which Leon prepared by himself.

He would sing to Elena—-horribly; he always jumbled lyrics—-and everywhere they went, he insisted on holding hands. He always opened her car door and every hardy love-making session was followed by Leon massaging his woman to sleep.

And yet Elena couldn’t help but think the goodness was designed to hide…something. The Elena family women agreed. “If he were short, ugly and balding, then I could see it”, Elena’s mom once chuckled while deadly serious. “The man has no excuse to be this charming.”

When Elena would accuse, Leon, a pillar of patience, would listen, explain, hold her, explain again and calm her down. Leon, went the consensus, was too good to be true.

The dissenting vote was Georgina. Elena’s “big” sis by one year, Georgie affectionately referred to Leon as “Endicott,” the character in that frenetic 1985 Kid Creole and the Coconuts song depicting the perfect husband: “Endicott’s up by five o’ clock/Endicott’s givin’ it all he’s got/ Endicott’s job is six to nine/but Endicott’s home by nine o five….”

In any case, a month after her golf course surveillance, Elena was willing to admit that just maybe her trust issues had to do with her and not Leon.

That is, until the day a girlfriend, during a late afternoon phone call, mentioned to Elena that she’d just glimpsed Leon and Georgina having lunch at Traxx, the fancy restaurant inside Union Train Station downtown, not far from Leon’s office.

The friend, running late, swept into Union Station to meet a relative coming in by train when, through Traxx’s huge window, she spotted the two.

Neither had seen her, said the girlfriend, but it looked to be a serious conversation. Georgie, in fact, appeared tearful.

Hearing this, it was all Elena could do not to immediately phone Leon or Georgina. “Thank you, Louise Hay.” The sighting uncomfortably coincided with Elena’s plans to drive to Pasadena from work that very evening to have dinner with Leon, who, one day a week prepared dinner for her. He usually shared his plans with Elena, but hadn’t said boo about lunch.

By the time Elena put her key in Leon’s door, she was quietly fuming. In the living room, Leon sat on the couch, legs crossed, two glasses of champagne on the glass coffee table. The champagne wasn’t new; the large colorfully wrapped box, was. Leon stood and greeted his lady with a kiss and a hug.

“I’m gonna need something stronger than this,” Elena began, reaching for the glass. Leon stopped her. “Really? Okay, but first, you have to open the box.”

Maybe he knew he’d been seen at Traxx, Elena thought; this was his way of cooling her off. She undid the ribbon, quickly removed the multi-colored paper and opened the box—-which revealed a slightly smaller box, elaborately wrapped in different colored paper, also ribbon-clad.

tiffany blue box

This continued seven more times, the boxes getting smaller and smaller, the detail and suspense eliciting a smile even from this nervously angry woman.

The final box, tiny, wasn’t wrapped but for a white ribbon. However, its custom color—-Tiffany Blue—-said it all.

Elena gasped.

With it was a hand-written card: IT’S TIME I REFERRED TO YOU AS FIANCEE. PLEASE?
P.S. IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE RING, BLAME GEORGIE, SHE HELPED ME CHOOSE IT.

Elena, crying, grabbed Leon and wouldn’t let go. “The answer is yes! Forever, yes!”

“So this,” she said in mock anger, seated, heels off and sipping Dom Perignon, “is why you were with Georgie today at lunch, you sneak.” A friend, she explained, saw them at Traxx.

Leon’s face went glum. “Sweetheart, I don’t keep anything from you,” he said. “But I needed Georgie to help me with this, and I needed her to keep it secret.”

Georgie agreed but only if she could use Leon as a sounding board. “Georgie identifies as Lesbian,” he said. “She’s afraid that you guys won’t accept that.” Hence the tears Elena’s girlfriend she saw at lunch.

“That really doesn’t surprise me, but wow,” said Elena, taken aback but not really. It hurt that her sister felt she couldn’t share with her own family who she was. “I have to change that.” Elena thanked Leon for being THIS man. “How’d I get so lucky?”

A few days later on Sunday evening, Elena’s family, including Leon, were gathered around her mom’s living room, watching a movie. By then, not only was Georgina’s secret out, the family embraced her with a loving acceptance and encouragement.

Elena had gone out to her car to retrieve some Tupperware she’d borrowed from mom when her phone rang. A friend was calling, explaining that she hadn’t returned Elena’s call about a particular favor because she’d been on vacation in Hawaii.

“What’s new in your world?” the friend asked.

“What’s new is that Leon and I are engaged!” Elena squealed. “When I hang up, I’ll send you a picture of my ring–it’s gorgeous!”

Elena told the friend her fears about Leon were behind her. After years of torment, she proudly declared herself on the road to conquering the self-hate that not only had her choosing the wrong men, but kept her from receiving real love fearlessly, without guilt, suspicion and mistrust. “I feel like a thousand pound weight has been lifted off me,” Elena said.

“Girl, that is so beautiful,” said the friend. “So, do you still want instructions on how to get into his phone?”

Elena didn’t have to think about her answer.

“Yes.”

The Twisted was created by Steven Ivory, a veteran journalist, essayist and author who writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]