Nowhere to Run
By the end of this chapter, you will see that things are heating up. Thanks for continuing guys. Don’t forget to leave a comment or a like or vote on book one in the novel contest.
Alaine pulls herself up onto her elbows to observe, mostly with annoyance, while Delah scrambles about frantically trying to get herself and Isabella organized to leave the apartment on time.
Her sister overslept again.
When she’d just arrived, Alaine could understand that she was fresh out of the country and still trying to get her feet on solid ground. Seeing Delah all bedraggled flitting around the place trying to keep up with the demands of the ‘New York City’ lifestyle had been both endearing and comical.
One month in and all she can manage now is a disinterested eye roll as Delah continues to fail at performing those same old tasks.
“You know, it would probably help if you put your stuff together at night,” Alaine suggests. “And set your alarm.”
“You know, it would help if you shut up and actually helped me,” Delah gripes without giving her a glance.
With an unflattering groan, Alaine eases off the airbed -- her new favourite place on earth since Lucas left.
“It would also help, if you were a little more organized,” she mutters under her breath as she takes in the condition of her apartment.
The area is small and all of the furniture doesn’t exactly match the paint on the walls. However, one of the things that helped to improve the aesthetics was keeping the space tidy and free of clutter. After Delah moved in, it took only a few days to remind her that her older sister is a slob.
“Please, Ali,” Delah whines from the bedroom. “Could you maybe rise from the grave and help get Izzy ready? She’s going to be late again and her teacher has already called me twice about that,” she pops her head into the hallway to say.
Alaine pouts because she knows exactly what Delah is alluding to when she says rise from the grave.
Two weeks. Two excruciating, long weeks.
That’s how much time has passed since Lucas left. She’d probably feel a lot better than she does now she heard from him a bit more. She understands that the time difference is a pain the ass with his hectic schedule but he could make more of an effort to contact her. The long periods of silence between them are insufferable and have only escalated the inevitable doom of their fledgling relationship.
The brief, once in a while text messages delivered from his number to her phone are the only reason that she’s still clinging so foolishly to hope. Those words are the only proof that he hasn’t completely forgotten her.
I’m thinking about you, baby, he sent one time.
I wish you were here, he said once.
Can’t wait until I see you again.
Things are crazy here but I’ll try to come home soon.
That was the last time she heard from him three days ago.
So her sister is correct. It’s time for her to rise from the slump of his absence. The pieces of her heart that she’s been holding together crumble a little more.
“You’re right,” she concedes. “What do you need me to do?”
“Atta girl!” Delah congratulates while handing Alaine a few rubber bands. “Comb her hair.”
Alaine looks down at her niece’s blonde head of sleep hair between them then raises an eyebrow to Delah.
“Just brush it and pull everything back in one,” Delah explains. “But not too tight. Thanks, you are the best.”
“Seriously, Delah,” Alaine tells her. “You need to be more organized. What happens when I get a job?”
“I know,” Delah sighs as she crouches to stuff Isabella’s feet into a pair of tennis shoes. “Her father was a lot of things but he got her ready for day school every morning,” she explains. “I don’t know if it was his way of apologizing for being an a...” she continues but cuts her words just short of the expletive. “Things weren’t always bad with us,” she says when she stands.
“That’s no excuse for him to hit you,” Alaine responds tersely.
“What about you?” Delah tells her to change the topic. “You can’t keep sulking forever. Two weeks does not a relationship make. You had fun. Call it life experience and move on. You’ve never let anything keep you down, Ali. Don’t start now. Least of all for a man.”
Delah and Isabella leave shortly after and those parting words haunt Alaine in the quiet apartment. She collapses onto the airbed again and groans her frustration.
Is it really that simple to stuff the way she feels about Lucas in a box labeled life experience and just forget about him? He’s made it impossible.
From the moment they met, he’d been so good to her. She can’t help but smile at the memory of him desperately wanting her attention three years ago -- of his eyes widening, just slightly, when she walked into his office -- of those little smiles he’d tried to hide and the airbed he’d gone out of his way to get her.
But then he left, Alaine reminds herself.
After a weekend of blazing passion, he left her. And not just that. He left and hasn’t been interested in talking to her.
Does he even remember how he played her body like a fine-tuned instrument those times they made love?
Maybe blaming his neglect on the time difference is a pathetic, stupid way to hold on to something that never existed in the first place. What else can she do? Giving in to her wayward imagination, wont to focus on worst-case scenarios, can only bring her pain.
She misses him profoundly and he’s probably already found a woman to fill his free time. These are things she’s known about him from the get-go. She’d prepared for this so it shouldn’t hurt this badly. But it does. It hurts and the ache is crippling.
Alaine frowns again, remembering the only other time he’d called her. A blush heats her cheeks while she recalls the content of that conversation. Phone sex with Lucas Bright. It had been decadent but not the real thing.
She’d wanted him.
His words while they spoke had filled her with warmth and expectation that he would keep to his promise to return to her. Now it doesn’t feel that way. Most likely it had been passion talking and nothing else.
There was something else about that call too. Something that makes her scowl as she remembers the sound that distracted her and pulled at the little hairs at the back of her neck.
The panic in Lucas’ voice when she told him she thought that she wasn’t alone had done nothing to soothe her dread. A brave search of her surroundings with her thumping heart, Lucas in her ear demanding that she leave the apartment and her trusted baseball bat in hand proved that whatever she heard was a product of her imagination.
Phone sex had turned into a lengthy and curious lecture about her making use of Seth. After that, Lucas basically relegated her to the sidelines, with an occasional one-sentence greeting -- like he is doing her favour.
Alaine sighs heavily.
“You need a job,” she tells herself. “You need a life.”
With that, she rises from the bed carrying her phone along with her, just in case.
Delah is right. She refuses to spend any more of her days yearning for someone who obviously doesn’t feel the same.
Today, she will send out some applications. Then she’ll accept Bethany’s offer to treat her to lunch. Then she’ll visit Mona at the hospital and maybe bring that apology to Angus.
Her eyes narrow again.
Lucas had basically ordered her to stay away from Angus and she remained true to her word that she would. But what’s the point?
Maybe she can go out on that date with Angus after all. That might be the only way to salvage what is left of their friendship.
Her plan solidifies in her mind. How else will she prove that she isn’t pining after Lucas like Delah accused?
The thorough, internal pep talk she gives herself while in the shower fails to pull her out from the slump of Lucas’ absence. Alaine stands in front of her closet now flicking through the clothes suspended on the hangers trying to decide on something to wear.
When Lucas was here, she had reason to take great pains with her appearance. To impress him, she’d endured all Delah’s poking and prodding and pampering and squeezing her into the most form-fitting clothing. That glimmer of appreciation and possessiveness lighting in his bright gray eyes was well worth the trouble and made her insides flutter with warmth.
With him gone and Delah not there to rail on her about how she looks, there’s no desire to put in the extra effort.
“You’re doing this for you, Alaine,” she reminds herself. “Not for a man.”
It takes longer than she thought it would to put herself together and find the will to leave her apartment. Walking out onto the landing, she remembers each time Lucas was with her -- carrying her, holding her hand or pinning her against the door frame while his lips devoured hers.
The subway is no different. He’d followed her into the uncomfortable heat fully dressed in his suit. The gentle rocking of the metal car lulls her deeper into her recollection of every experience they shared. With each sway, her shoulder rubs against the arm of the man in the seat next to her. Lucas sat beside her this same way. The difference is, she hadn’t tried to shy away from him as he leaned his weight closer to her.
Why had he done any of? She doesn’t understand. Why had he taken from the one thing she kept as a reminder of her survival -- her virginity -- if he was only going to treat it like it meant nothing.
Alaine shakes her head to try to keep the tears from stinging her eyes. This is what she’d wanted to avoid. No matter how much she wants to, she can’t really blame him. It’s not like she’d gone in blind. He’d warned her. Even knowing the potential for crisis, she’d stepped willingly into this -- into him.
The train screeches to stop. Hoping that motion will lessen the despair she feels, she hustles together with the rush of people pushing their way to the platform. Alaine climbs back to the surface the chilly wind pulling at her loose hair and light dress. Hurrying across the street, she pushes the door to the restaurant open, the bell above announcing her arrival.
“She lives,” Bethany jokes as soon as she enters. “You’ve finally decided to stop moping?”
“I was not moping,” Alaine mumbles as she drops unceremoniously into the booth.
“You were so moping,” Delah teases. “But I get it,” she says thoughtfully. “He is a fine piece of ass,” she drawls out.
Alaine huffs at the comment yet she feels a surge inside her. Something that makes her want to smile and live in the way she learned how to in the two weeks she spent with Lucas. It bubbles to the surface but she tamps it down in the face of the two pairs of blue eyes staring back at her with too much interest.
Setting a blank expression on her face she asks, “what are you doing here, anyway?” to her sister.
“We ran into each other and I told her that we were having lunch,” Bethany explains.
“At least you made yourself look nice today,” Delah comments as she takes in Alaine’s light jacket, floral dress, dark leggings and ankle-length boots.
Because the one person she wants to admire her is absent, Alaine huffs a sigh and wonders why she bothered.
“Oh sweetie,” Bethany croons when she frowns. “He still hasn’t said when he’ll be back?” she questions.
Alaine shrugs and shakes her head. “I’ve never felt this way,” she admits once again peeved with herself for succumbing to these feelings and more so with Lucas for causing her to experience them. “I don’t know what to do with myself,” she says.
“There’s nothing that you can do,” Delah informs her. “The heart wants what the heart wants,” she says with a wistful sigh. “You just have to tell yourself...
“Heart?” Alaine questions in denial, while the very same squeezes tightly.
“You don’t just miss him, Alaine,” Delah explains. “Anyone can see that you’re in love with him.”
“I barely know him,” she protests weakly and scowls when the two women sitting across from her exchange looks.
“What?” she asks. “He’s my first,” she reasons. “That’s the only reason for this...this attachment I feel. It will pass,” she adds trying to convince herself more than them.
“Come on, Ali,” Delah cajoles. “One has nothing to do with the other. You can lose your virginity to a nobody and it means nothing. Don’t diminish what you feel. What you guys had was good. It’s normal. People fall in love and sometimes it comes with heartbreak.”
“Yeah,” Bethany says as she reaches across the table to pat her hand. “The sooner you acknowledge it, the sooner you will be able to move on.”
Alaine looks between the two of them unable to decide whether she wants to rebut or shout that she doesn’t want to move on. That she wants him.
The long shadow suddenly looming over their table takes away her chance to do either. They all look up into eyes a vivid shade of blue. Of the three women sitting around the table, only Alaine isn’t flustered by them. Her lips turn down into a frown as the memory of his behaviour during dinner with Lucas resurfaces.
“Hey, Alaine,” Angus greets timidly. “I saw you through the window,” he claims. “I thought maybe we could talk.”
Realizing that this presents an opportunity to dodge further interrogation from her sister and friend, at least for the time being, she shoots up from her seat.
“Sure,” she answers her eagerness to get away showing. “Be right back,” she directs to Delah and Bethany.
She follows Angus outside through the door he holds open for her. He stuffs his hands into his pockets and looks at her with that shyness in his sparkling eyes. Again, Alaine scowls because that night at dinner, he’d been anything but.
He begins walking away from the restaurant with long strides eating up the sidewalk leaving her behind and with no choice but to follow. Doubling her efforts to keep pace with him, Alaine stretches her shorter limbs taking two steps to counter every one of his. His silence is confusing because he is the one who sought her out.
“Is there something, in particular, you wanted to talk about?” Alaine asks.
“Yeah,” he says. “How have you been?” he asks. “I haven’t really seen you around.”
“I’m great,” Alaine lies and Angus fits her with a sideways glance. “I’ve been busy. Job hunting.”
Needing her to know that he’s caught her in her lies, he asks, “Things didn’t work out with your employer?” and only just manages to hide the venom in his question.
“Oh,” Alaine breathes, her guilt blooming colour into her cheeks. “It didn’t,” she admits.
Angus sighs with relief and smiles.
“I was saying today that I had to come find you,” she continues to change the topic of Lucas.
“You were?” he asks.
“Yeah,” she replies, smiling at his excitement. “Dinner turned out to be a disaster.”
He grimaces and brings up a hand to scratch his blonde hair. “I’ll admit that wasn’t my best foot,” he says apologetically. “I was jealous...I thought...” he adds but trails off. “It doesn’t matter. It’s behind us now.”
“Well,” Alaine says her smile wavering a bit. “I have no fancy dinner planned but I still owe you my thanks for saving my life,” she tells him. “I know that it’s late coming but...”
“You don’t need a fancy dinner to thank me, Alaine,” Angus interrupts. “I’d do anything for you.”
“Well, thank you, anyway,” she says but can’t bring herself to ask him about that date.
“So have you reconsidered?” he asks as they continue to race toward an unspecified destination. “Going out with me?”
This situation reminds Alaine of Valentine’s Day when she’d walked along this very sidewalk with Lucas. Pausing at the scene of Mona’s burnt shop, a shudder runs through her body.
“Thank God I came along, huh?” Angus says stopping beside her.
Absently, Alaine nods and turns to look up at him when she feels his fingers close firmly over her shoulder. There is no warmth in his touch. No shiver of excitement runs through her. As a matter of fact, his grip is almost biting and it reminds her of her promise to Lucas to stay away. The large hand stays clipped to her shoulder although she tries to shrug him off.
“Hey, big guy.”
The sound of Seth’s baritone behind them makes Alaine breathe with relief. She hadn’t realized how much tension had coiled inside her in Angus’ presence. She has no idea where Seth came from but she doesn’t care.
“Hey Seth,” she greets as he steps rudely between Angus and her dislodging the arm still gripping her shoulder. “What are you doing here?”
“My job,” he answers with a pointed look in her direction. “Mr. Bright,” he says loudly enough to ensure that Angus hears. “Was very specific.”
At the mention of Lucas’ name, guilt stabs her deeply for betraying the promise she made to him. Why should she care? She’s just about to say as much when Angus glares at her before turning around without a word and walks away.
Alaine shakes her head in confusion but decides against giving in the temptation to follow him just to spite Seth. And maybe Lucas too.
Quite frankly, her emotions are in too much turmoil to handle any of this. Additionally, she doesn’t need the added stress pretending to feel something she doesn’t for Angus. Seth helped her dodge that bullet and she is grateful though she will never tell him so.
“I’m sure you’ve been relieved of your duty,” she tells him as she stomps in the direction of the diner.
Chasing after her, Seth answers, “not to my knowledge. As a matter of fact, I am reminded every day to keep my eye on you. Which is what I am doing. And I am also certain Mr. Bright said to stay away from that guy.”
Overwhelmed by anger and betrayal, Alaine stops and turns on him with her arms folded across her chest. “Every day?” she questions. “You talk to Lucas every day?”
“Yes but...” Seth starts to explain.
“You know what, Seth,” Alaine interrupts. “I don’t care,” she says. “I don’t care what Lucas said and I certainly don’t care what you do either. The next time you hear from him, tell him that!” she snaps. “As a matter of fact, you are officially relieved of your duties.”
With that, she storms off leaving a very confused Seth behind her.
Lunch with Delah and Bethany ends and Alaine feels pretty much the same. Lousy and lonely. The fact that Lucas can make an effort to talk to Seth every single day since he left but not with her confirms what she’s already suspected.
He’s truly forgetting about her.
Instead of returning to her apartment where her intellect and everything she has lived by can continue to shrivel up with each passing moment, she decides to go ahead with her plans of visiting Mona. Even if she feels like shit, seeing her mother figure alive and doing mostly well is bound to improve her mood.
She knocks timidly on the door to Mona’s hospital room and remains at the threshold waiting for an invitation to enter. She loves mona and has no doubt the sentiment is reciprocated. However, she knows her place. Mona’s real family in there hovering over her. It’s hard not to feel like an intruder.
Four heads turn in her direction, Mona wearing the brightest smile of all.
“What are you still doing standing out there?” she asks in her rasping voice. “Get in here,” she commands.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been by as much,” Alaine says as Mona’s bandaged arms close around her cautiously. “You look great,” she adds as she pulls back to look at her.
“Don’t I?” Mona sings saucily. “I still sound like crap.”
Alaine chuckles at her larger than life demeanor.
“It’s not that bad. Maybe you’ll finally be able to hold a note.,” Alaine teases.
Still, her eyes tear up.
“Sweetie, I’m fine,” Mona assures her gently. Pointing at her husband and two children she says, “look at these blokes. They’re not crying. “If you’re going to cry over something, cry about my shop,” she determines. “And these damn bandages on my arms.”
Alaine swipes at the tears streaming down her cheeks. Now she feels ridiculous. Here she is unable to maintain her composure when Mona’s true family is here all smiles.
“I’m sorry,” she offers. “I’m just happy you’re okay. So when do the doctors say you’re getting out of here?” she asks while studying the faint bruise in Mona’s hairline.
“Two more days,” Mona announces with relief. “I’m ready to go home. What are you looking at?” she asks Alaine.
“You have a bruise right there,” Alaine announces touching the pink scar. “Did you get that in the fire?”
Pensiveness pulls Mona’s features into a deep frown.
“I think someone hit me,” she reveals for the first time. “I didn’t say anything right away because I wasn’t sure. There was so much smoke. I was disoriented. It could be that I thought maybe I just hit my head,” she explains. “But I really think someone hit me.”
The revelation makes Alaine feel faint. Lucas and Seth had been right from the onset. Someone had really tried to kill Mona.
“The police still haven’t found the bastard who did it,” Mona grumbles. “I don’t know why anyone would want to do this.”
Clearly upset, Mona’s family gather ever closer. One of them takes her unscarred hand in theirs and rubs gently. Feeling out of place again, Alaine steps back to make space for them.
“I’m gonna head out, Mona,” she says. “I’ll be sure to give Angus your thanks when I see him.”
“Angus?” Mona questions.
“Yeah,” Alaine replies. “No one told you? He saved our lives.” Unable to keep herself from talking about him, she adds, “Lucas even took him to dinner to say thanks.”
Distracted from the bit of information needling somewhere in the corner of her brain, she smiles at Alaine and asks, “how is your billionaire.”
Blushing, Alaine answers, “he’s not my billionaire and I haven’t seen him for almost two weeks.”
Mona clicks her tongue and shakes her head. “Chin up,” she says to Alaine. “Sometimes, love is a hit or miss.”
By the time Alaine walks from the train station in Far Rockaway to get back to her apartment, her leg is throbbing in those shoes. She could have gone home the moment she left the hospital but hadn’t been too keen on returning to the empty apartment by herself where thoughts of Lucas will slowly drive her insane.
Today is Friday so Delah won’t be home for a while since it’s the day she takes Izzy to the park.
As she approaches the gated entrance of her building, the phone tucked into her jacket pocket starts to buzz. If it’s one more person calling to ask how she is doing, she is going to flip. Ignoring the temptation to let it ring out, she grabs the device and her heart stops.
She stares at the name on the screen in shock. Her heart jump starts and takes off with a gallop in her chest. Taking a deep breath, she swipes across the screen, puts it to her ear and says, “hey.”
The breathless eagerness that she failed to disguise in her voice makes her cringe.
“Hey you,” Lucas greets above the noise of the propellers working in front of him.
A broad smile lifts his cheeks as he climbs the stairs up to the waiting plane. “What are you doing right now?” he asks.
“Nothing right now,” she admits as she steps into the small lobby. “I went out earlier. Had lunch with Delah and a friend. I spoke with Angus for a bit,” she confesses. “Did a lot of window shopping...”
“Wait,” Lucas interrupts. “Why were you talking to Angus?”
Alaine huffs an exasperated breath of air. He has no right to tell her who she can and cannot see. She opens her mouth to say just that. What comes out is, “I didn’t go to see him. I was sitting at the diner with Delah and Bethany and he came to say hello. I already told you, I’m not interested in him,” she reminds Lucas as she floats deliriously happy up the steps.
“We’ll talk about this when I see you,” Lucas says.
Pausing at her door with her key hovering near the lock, Alaine asks, “where are you?”
“I’m stateside, baby,” he answers with a smile. “I can’t wait to see you.”
Barely able to contain her excitement, Alaine squeals, “You’re in New York? I’ve missed you. I’m so excited.”
Then she rolls her eyes at herself and how easily her anger is forgotten.
“I missed you too, babe,” Lucas says in a much gentler tone. “I’m actually in Maine now. I left Italy three days ago but got snagged by work along the way. I’ll be with you soon, okay?” he promises. “I can’t wait to see you, Ali,” he babbles on. “This trip has been hard. The only thing that kept me going was you -- thinking about you and I know I...” he says and trails off. “I’ll tell you all about it.”
Finally turning the key in the lock, Alaine grins. She pushes the door open and runs across the living room to pick up the phone landline ringing shrilly against the side of the cupboard in the kitchen.
“Pack a bag,” Lucas orders her.
“Hold on,” Alaine tells him as she reaches for the receiver.
“It was Angus,” Mona’s raspy and broken voice comes through in her ear. “Angus hit me. I think he set the fire.”
The announcement triggers that same tingling sensation at the back of Alaine’s neck. Weakness overcomes her when she sees a figure slinking from the hallway into the living room.
Afraid to see who it, she closes her eyes and whimpers as she raises her cellphone back to her ear.
“Lucas?” she says softly.
“I’m here, baby,” he tells her.
“There’s someone one here,” she sniffles. “There’s someone in the apartment.”
It’s too late for her to run.