I have been pacing in front of their front door for five minutes, not knowing if I should go through with this.
This is all Alex’s fault for not telling me until it’s only a few days before her birthday. I spent the whole week trying to look for the perfect gift for her, but still no luck. I was on the verge of buying her a Rolex, for fuck’s sake. But I figured that was way too much. And I’m not even her girlfriend.
It’s a good thing Kristina texted me when she did. She was supposed to be Alex’s designated driver tonight since they were going to “make her wish she didn’t turn 18.” Meaning Alex is going to get hammered. Meaning Kristina won’t get to drink because she has to take Alex home.
That’s where I come in. I’ll be taking her place as the DD so she can drink and Alex can be with me. It’s a win-win situation.
I steel my nerves, knock twice, and take a deep breath. The door opens, and Isa comes to view. Her features switch to surprise as soon as she sees me. “Julia?” Suddenly I’m conscious of my outfit. I’m wearing light-colored jeans and a red v-neck spaghetti strap top. I thought this would fit the occasion, but now that I’m standing in front of Isa, I wonder if I’m showing too much skin.
“Hi, Isa,” I give her a slight smile. We haven’t talked since she found out about my connection to her daughter. I blurted out an excuse and ran away as soon as Alex and Georgia were gone. “I’m here to pick up Alex.”
“Oh, come in!” Isa makes space for me to enter their house. “I thought Kris was supposed to be the babysitter for tonight.”
Before I could tell her about how Kristina and I switched places, a bark interrupts me. I snap my head in Percy’s direction and there he is. My baby, all grown now. He growls and barks until I say his name. “Hi, Percy.”
Percy stops barking. He tilts his head to the side as he tries to recognize me. Then he lets out a high-pitched cry. I knew what was coming so I held up the cake I was holding as he rushes to me and pounces—crying and licking and jumping all at the same time. “Aww, baby,” I chuckle.
“He missed his momma,” Isa says and pries Percy off of me. She eyes the box I was holding. “A gift for Alex, I assume?”
“It’s a cake I baked,” I hand it to her carefully. “I couldn’t think of anything to give.”
Isa waves a hand. “Don’t worry about it. Alex doesn’t care about that kind of stuff,” she says. “I’m sure she’ll love the cake.”
I take a deep breath and gather up my courage. “I still haven’t apologized for what happened last time at the cafe. I’m really sorry ab—”
“Oh, shush,” Isa cuts me off. “It’s fine, Julia. I understand teenage drama. And don’t worry, Alex knows nothing about whatever we talked about,” Isa gives me a knowing smile. “Now, why don’t you go upstairs and get her? She must’ve fallen asleep while waiting.”
I couldn’t help the smile that spreads on my face. “You’re the best,” I give her a hug. “Thanks, Isa.”
“I’m rooting for you, honey,” she winks and I turn away before she could see the blush creeping in my cheeks.
She’s rooting for me? What is that supposed to mean?
I follow her instruction to go up and get Alex. It wasn’t hard to find her room, considering there’s a big pride flag hanging on her door. I knock twice before turning the knob.
As I let myself in her room, I wasn’t expecting to find the place empty. Not wanting to invade her privacy, I was about to leave the room, but something catches my eye.
My jaw drops as I see the shelves full of trophies and medals on the wall. I walk over to it, abandoning my mission to surprise Alex and take a closer look.
The trophies come in different shapes and sizes. One looks like a cube, another takes the form of a king piece. In the center of it all stands tall a silver trophy mixed with the color of midnight. It has the shape of a goblet, with handles on each side. At its pedestal, intricately engraved in elegant letters are the words,
Alexandra Isabelle Alvarrez
Goosebumps rush over me as the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I inhale deeply. The words remain unchanged on every single one of them. No silver or bronze medals in sight, either.
I’m well aware that she’s good at chess, considering that she was once a World Champion, but being here, seeing the proof and fruit of her hard work, pride swells in my chest. I stand here in awe, still not registering the fact that someone this good and amazing wants me.
“Julia?” Alex’s voice interrupts my thoughts. I turn around to see her standing by the door, her face a mix of surprise and delight. She walks towards me. “What are you doing here?”
I am unable to speak. She’s wearing tight dark jeans and a sports bra and I can’t breathe. I’m thankful she’s not in her boxers like last time but it’s not helping because she looks so much sexier in jeans. “I’m here to pick you up,” I mumble, averting my gaze from her body. “Happy birthday.”
Alex purses her lips as if trying to hide a smile. “Where’s my gift?”
“It’s downstairs with Isa.” Alex’s face lights up. She was about to run outside the room but I grab her hand. “Wait. There’s one more.”
She raises an eyebrow, her smile getting wider. “Gimme,” she points to her lips and I’m almost tempted to take up her offer.
“Take a seat,” I order her.
Alex obliges and takes a seat on the edge of her bed. “Just kiss me already.”
“Shut up.” I take out the other gift I bought for her and put it over her head. I stand between her legs and this position makes it hard for me to concentrate. It takes me a few seconds to adjust it to her neck because of her hair and her unsettling gaze. I take one step backward to see how it looks. Perfect.
It’s a simple necklace made of a brown string. It’s nothing fancy, but the moment I saw it, Alex was the first person to pop up in my mind. It’s not girly or boyish, which suits her well. The pendant is personalized—an inch-long rectangular silver engraved with the words best fitting for her.
Alex doesn’t take her eyes off me. “What does the pendant say?”
“Figure it out yourself,” I tell her. “Now, can you put a shirt on? Let’s get going.”
She doesn’t make a move. She stares openly at me with eyes that make my knees go jelly. “I love you.”
My heart stops.
She stands and stops in front of me, her face inches away from mine. She cups both my cheek in her hands. “I love you,” she says again, her sea-green eyes showing nothing but the truth in her words.
I’m rendered speechless.
“I’m telling you this now because I don’t want you hearing it from my intoxicated self. I don’t want you wondering whether I only said it because I was drunk. It’s the truth and I don’t need alcohol to admit it.” She smiles and kisses my forehead. “You don’t need to say anything. I just wanted you to know.”
She walks across the room and puts on the shirt that was resting on the backrest of her chair. “Let’s go.”
Alex and I are welcomed by loud music as soon as we step inside Rad. The disco lights are pulsing with the beat of the music. The place is already bustling with our schoolmates. Almost everyone in our year is invited, credits to Kristina and Diane. Although most of the crowd consisted of the jocks, I’m thankful Alex invited my club members.
Maxine waves at me from across the room. “Go, I’ll check on you later,” Alex assures me by kissing the top of my head before going around the place to talk to her guests. I see Max smirk.
“I did not just see Alex Alvarrez kiss you,” she teases when I take a seat next to her.
I eye Alex from across the room and watch as her teammates give her fistbumps and high-fives. “It’s nothing.”
“Doesn’t seem like nothing to me,” Max empties the contents of her glass and stands up. “You want anything to drink?”
“I’m good. I have to take Alex home after this, so I can’t drink.”
Max raises an eyebrow. “Come on, just a little. There’s no point if you don’t drink. I’ll get you one,” she leaves before I can even argue.
I see Gwen, Thea, and Leandro talking and laughing amongst themselves in a corner, each holding their own red cups.
“Alexis! Finally!” I hear Kris’ voice just as I was making my way to them. She squeezes herself through the crowd and walks toward me. She grabs me by the wrist and drags me away from my friends. “Let’s go play. I’ve been looking for a decent opponent.”
We stop in front of a pool table. She hands me a cue stick. “Don’t cry if I crush you again, Kristina,” I warn her.
“This won’t go the way it did last time, Alexis,” Kristina says with confidence.
We began playing, and I realize now why she was so confident. It’s the table. There are uneven parts here and there, and the cue sticks are uncomfortable to use. Kristina has an advantage because she knows the table well. She managed to take one game from me out of six—which is actually pretty impressive because she’s drinking while playing. She should already be at least tipsy by now.
True to her words, Alex came to us checking in from time to time. I try to ignore the way she held me by the waist every time I’m near, but the people around us were noticing it. I see the way they glance at her hands and how they whisper to each other after.
I check the time. It’s almost midnight. Alex’s birthday is about to end. I finish the game right then. “Hey, can we take a break? I’ll go find Alex.” I tell Kristina.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
“I think I saw her at the bar with her teammates.” One of Kristina’s friends tells me.
A crowd has gathered around the bar, making it hard for me to squeeze my way through. I see a couple of people eyeing me from head-to-toe as I walk past them.
“Gather’ round for our birthday girl’s five-second shot!” Alyssa’s voice booms.
I finally get to the front where Alex is sitting in a bar stool, leaning on the counter with her elbows, getting ready for her death. She spots me from the crowd. “Hi, baby.” She smiles at me. At least she still looks to be on her right mind. She turns to Alyssa. “Come on, man. Get it over with.”
Alyssa shakes her head. “Nah, it’s not your birthday yet. Last thirty seconds.”
Not her birthday yet? What the actual?
Alex sees my confusion, and she actually has the nerve to smirk.
“Happy birthday!” The whole women’s basketball team shouts in unison as the clock turns twelve and Alyssa pours the bottle of tequila into Alex’s mouth.
“One! Two! Three! Four! Four! Four! Four! Five!” Alyssa counts as the crowd chants, “Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!”
Alex almost gags as Alyssa finishes counting. “Fuck you, man,” she says while wiping the alcohol dripping on her mouth. She leaps from the stool and almost falls over.
When the crowd gathered around finishes wishing her a happy birthday, Alex makes her way to me. “Aren’t you going to greet me?” She asks.
I cross my arms in front of my chest. “Why didn’t you tell me it wasn’t your birthday yet?” I ask a little too harshly.
“You didn’t ask.”
I roll my eyes at her. “I hate you.” I feel so stupid not knowing her real birthday.
“It’s my birthday. You can’t get mad at me,” she sticks out her tongue. “So, is there any chance I’m getting another present?”
“You’re an ass, so no.”
Alex chuckles. She was about to say something but stops when her eyes fixate on something behind me. Then, in the most heartfelt way possible, she utters, “Putangina.”
I turn around to see what’s got her cursing like that and I see Georgia walking towards us, wearing black jeans and a long, gray blazer over her black turtleneck. She’s holding two bottles of what looks like alcohol. “I’m not late yet, am I?”
As Georgia draws nearer, Alex takes a step backward. “Get those things away from me.”
Alex hides behind me as Georgia stops in front of me. “Stop hiding behind your girlfriend, Alex. Do you have any idea how much effort I had to exert to get these? Don’t be a pussy.” Georgia puts the bottles on the bar and tries to grab Alex from behind me, but Alex steps in the opposite direction.
“I specifically told you not to bring any of those!”
I try to read the label on one of the bottles. What type of alcohol could possibly make Alex hide behind me like a child? I squint my eyes to read the label: Emperador Gold. It sounds harmless enough to me.
Diane chooses this timing to show up. She’s been giving me weird glances all night. “What are you doing here?” She asks Georgia.
Georgia eyes Diane lustfully, ignoring the harsh tone Diane used on her. “Alex invited me.” She moves closer to Diane. “You’re Alex’s ex, right? The basketball player?”
“And you’re the one who brought her flowers during training,” Diane answers back. “What about it?”
“I saw you during the said training and thought you were hot,” Georgia tilts her head. Examines Diane from head to toe. “Now I realize you’re even more beautiful up close.”
Diane rolls her eyes as a response to Georgia’s flirting. “I’m not interested.”
Georgia laughs. “Of course.” She puts one hand inside her pocket and eyes Alex behind me. “You done hiding behind your girlfriend?”
“I’m not her girlfriend.” I correct before the wrong information spreads around.
It takes a second for her to say, “Oh,” she nods her head slowly. “Okay,” she adds and this time, a smile forms on her lips. “I see.”
“Why are you smiling like that? It’s creeping me out.”
“Oh, this is gonna be so much fun,” Georgia smirks, her eyes reflecting the malicious intentions she’s planning. She grabs one of the Emperador bottles on the bar and laughs maniacally. “Let’s get this party started.”