Save me, Alaine?
I’m eight again. Eight years old but I look six, everybody says.
Runt, Kurt calls me. Silently, with my favorite blanket wrapped around my already beaten body, I sneak out of my bedroom. I have to escape before Kurt comes back. He’ll be drunk. It’s always worse when he’s drunk.
I wish I could go sleep with Claudia. She won’t let me, not since daddy left. Maybe I will try to hide in the attic this time. No, it’s too close to my bedroom. I tiptoe down the hall, my eyes bulging with fear, and my little heart hammers like the injured bird’s I’d found in the garden earlier today. Maybe I can hide in my daddy’s study. It still smells like him even if he is not here anymore. Claudia says he doesn’t want to be. I want him to come back. I need him to come back.
I tiptoe down the stairs, holding on to the railing so the tremor in my body won’t send me toppling down. It hurt the last time when Kurt pushed me. I couldn’t get up. I slept at the foot of the stairs until the doctor and the nurse came the next morning to take care of me.
I can hear him and I panic, freezing on the last stair. My teeth sink into my bottom lip and I wince as I bite into the cut that’s already there. I have to get away. If he finds me...but he will. I can never hide, he always finds me.
“Alaine,” I plead as he grabs my hair. Alaine? That’s not right. I always call for my dad. His name is Arlington. He never comes. I don’t want to cry but it hurts as Kurt drags me by my hair. Helplessly, tears spread down my cheeks. I am so afraid.
Save me Alaine. No, not Alaine. Daddy. Save me, daddy.
Lucas inhales sharply as his eyes open. Gradually, his heartbeat slows to a regular rhythm as he hauls himself into a sitting position. It’s just before dawn. The sound of the video, set in a time loop on his laptop - a reminder to take a break when he gets consumed by work - reaches in to clear away the sleep-induced fog. His eyelids feel chafed, like sandpaper, after yet another night of staring down the unremitting glare of the bright screen and getting too little sleep. Sleep in intervals that is always brief and fitful. Nothing a workout won’t fix.
He gets up from the long leather sofa in his study to stand behind his desk. With a slow push from his index finger, his mind far away in an apartment in Queens, he shuts the laptop screen.
Thoughts of the raven-haired fairy had drifted into his mind last night, just like every other night since they met. Apparently, she had drifted into his dreams, too. Save me Alaine? What is going on? Lucas shakes his head.
“Just a dream,” he mutters. Another one to dismiss. Kurt isn’t hitting him and he doesn’t need saving. Not anymore. Still, this latest development in his night terrors— save me Alaine— is troubling.
He really doesn’t feel like being at work today. Days, where he wants to stay home, are always few and far between. When was the last time he hadn’t wanted to be at work? Lucas chuckles mirthlessly. Three years ago, after glimpsing her. He’d gone, twice, to the restaurant the following day. Those efforts were fruitless.
Wearing only the sweatpants he fell asleep in last night, he heads for his home gym to work out his self-loathing.
After forty-five minutes, his brain and every muscle in his body awake, satisfied by the rigorous routine, Lucas walks away from his home gym to continue his preparations to tackle this new day.
He steps under the cold spray of the double rain shower head, his body still hot from the strain of exercise. The icy bite creates a new sensation, distracting him from the ones he is bombarded with after his raw dreams. He shivers, breathing deeply beneath the stabbing torture of the icy droplets.
Usually, under the cold spray, his mind focuses on nothing but the cold, but it is useless in his attempt to rid his thoughts of Alaine Knight. He wants her in a way that he’s never longed for anything before. Though he is really trying not to. She looks so innocent and not his type.
Beautiful, that she is, but looks like one of those who will want things that he doesn’t know how to give. Kisses and love. Their near kiss on Tuesday evening plagues him. Hence his avoiding her the past two days. She looked like she wanted him to. Now that he’s had the time to recover from it, he can say thank God her sister interrupted.
Toweling himself dry, he can’t shake thoughts of her with him, here in his penthouse. What would she think of this place? It’s impressive. She would probably enjoy the smart home touches he’s added.
Lucas’s eyes widen at the thought. What is this girl doing to him?
He has the strangest longing to see her. Today. His heart rate spikes at the prospect. Nope. No. Taper it, Bright. Don’t yield to that temptation. With his one-track mind, he dresses slowly, to precision, in his expensive suit. Work is his refuge so that’s where he’s heading. It’s bound to get his mind off his wayward thoughts.
He leaves his bedroom to head downstairs. Jackie is already in the kitchen. She smiles at him. His eyes narrow in suspicion. She’s up to something. He just knows it. Given what day it is today, it’s not hard to guess what.
Reaching into her bag, sitting on the counter, Jackie pulls out a little white box. Its lid is secured by a thin red streamer, tied in a pretty bow. She must know he won’t bother opening it, so does the job for him.
Lucas huffs and shakes his head when he is presented with a single red and white cupcake, embellished with hearts. She sticks a single candle into the whipped frosting and sets it ablaze. He’s hopeful she doesn’t break out in song this time. Last year, he’d walked out on her. Hopefully, she’s learned her lesson.
“Happy Birthday, Lucas,” she offers, uncertainty prevalent in her smile. “And happy Valentine’s Day as well.”
“Are we going to do this every year?” Lucas asks, blowing out the candle regardless. She looks pleased and that makes him a little happy. He likes his housekeeper. She’s quirky and thoughtful. A very caring woman. She must be an incredible mother to someone. Lucky them.
Like most of his personal staff, she’s hard headed too. With that thought, his mind wanders to Seth, who he’s decided to keep after all. Though he really doesn’t want to presume why.
Breakfast is already sizzling on the stove. Jackie’s an excellent and creative cook, too. Memories of his childhood are filled with days of hunger. A millionaire’s hungry son. The irony of it is not lost on Lucas. Children of millionaires aren’t supposed to beg for food. But he had.
The then housekeeper, a very miniature Mexican woman, would hide little snacks around the house for him. Sometimes in a sock in the laundry, or under his mattress. She’d taught him words in Spanish so he would know where to find the little morsels without Kurt’s knowledge. Upon discovering their little deception, he’d fired her and Lucas had paid dearly. Jackie reminds him of her with the way she tries to take care of him.
Lucas squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head. When he opens them again, it’s to Jackie’s piercing concern. As usual, he wants to continue with the impression that nothing is wrong so offers her a little smile. Hopefully, it will prevent probing beyond the questions in her eyes. Then he drops his gaze to glance at his watch.
6:58. He really doesn’t want to go to the office today and is still unable to easily dismiss thoughts of Alaine. He wants to see the little fey. He needs to understand that magic she’s woven. Nibbling on his thumbnail in concentration, his eyes dart to the housekeeper whose concern has once more morphed into curiosity.
“Today is your birthday, Mr. Bright,” she announces while she plates his breakfast.
“As if I don’t know that?” Lucas replies without a shred of emotion.
She ignores him. “And Valentine’s Day,” she adds. “I was hoping I would be preparing breakfast for two this morning.”
Lucas scrunches up his face at her. “It’s no different than yesterday. Just another day,” he responds with a shrug. “You know how I feel about that.”
“But you blew out my candle today, so something is different,” Jackie notes.
Lucas scowls, thrown by her observation. Then he scoffs. Nothing is different.
“Am I ever going to prepare breakfast for two?” Jackie presses, leaning into the counter watching him.
His mind shifts back to Alaine. The realization that he really wouldn’t mind bringing her here is shocking. Jackie must have seen his expression. Her features shift again from meddling curiosity to concern.
“Maybe,” Lucas answers with a casual shrug and a small, teasing smile.
She gapes at him, but he drops his eyes to his plate, not offering her anything else. Let her stew. Yet, all her probing about Valentine’s Day and birthdays convinces him to see Alaine Knight today. He can indulge in a little birthday gift to himself.
Lucas finishes his breakfast swiftly, leaving his remnants and the untouched cupcake on the counter. He goes back to his closet, deciding on a change of clothes and hairstyle. He’s been battling with the idea of bedding Alaine Knight since she came into his office wet and shivering on Monday. Well, before that. A picture as clear as day of her clinging, see-through clothes plays in his mind.
She looks very green in the ways of sex. Virginal even. That thought pleases him greatly for whatever reason. If she is, she could do a lot worse than surrendering her virginity to him. He’d be doing her a favor. And why shouldn’t it be him? Better him than some idiot she would soon break up with and have nothing to show for it in the end, but a broken heart. She could boast that her first time was with Lucas Bright, and he would take care of her during their liaison. He would take care of her every whim and fancy. She would want for nothing.
Lucas smiles, pleased with his ploy as he reconfigures his wardrobe choices. A navy pinstripe pullover replaces his dazzling white long sleeved button down shirt. Blue distressed jeans and a black blazer take the place of his charcoal suit and he chooses a pair of gray casual oxfords over slick brown designer dress shoes. For flair, he tucks a pair of dark aviator sunglasses over the bridge of his nose.
Satisfied with his outward appearance, he places an order for the newest Pixel and an inflatable bed to be delivered today. He will take his time. He enjoys the carnal pleasures of lovemaking but can be patient for her. “Woo her” or whatever. Hopefully, she is amenable.
Valentine’s Day. The shop is decorated appropriately in red and white, hearts and polka dots and cupid. Adele’s ‘Make you feel my love’ plays over the speakers. It’s a poster scene for love and romance.
Three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, Alaine is able to ignore the sentiment, but Valentine’s Day always gets her. She sighs heavily at the counter after another love-struck customer exists.
Slipping back into her daydream, she is unaware of Mona’s narrowing, thoughtful eyes. Oblivious to the shop owner’s inspection, the memories of her last encounter with Lucas Bright replay. He’d carried her like some knight in an expensive suit. Or maybe she was like a damsel in distress. She frowns at that thought. Maybe that’s the reason he’s been MIA the past two days— because she’s lame. It’s painful to think he would dismiss her because of an injury.
But he’d also been a hair’s breadth away from kissing her. It would have been her first. Upon introspection, she realizes that she is more disappointed than relieved that he hadn’t gone through with it. Damn Delah and her poor timing. Maybe that, too, could be the reason he’d changed his mind. Delah. He’d seen her beautiful sister and realized that she just doesn’t cut it.
She’s never been in a romantic relationship but it seems fitting that if she had to be kissed, the first should come while in the arms of such an alarmingly handsome man. Alaine shakes her head. Her thoughts about him are completely insubordinate. They refuse to be tapered. He told her he would come and he didn’t. What had she expected? That after one night he is smitten? She sighs again, drawing Mona’s attention.
“If you sigh one more time...” she Mona warns, trailing off without finishing the sentence. “I have never seen you like this.”
Alaine bristles. “Like what?”
“You’ve met someone,” Mona accuses narrowing her eyes, pointing at Alaine with her pruning shears.
A telling flush creeps into Alaine’s face. “I meet a lot of people,” she counters. “I am just about to meet another one now.”
“Mhmm,” Mona declares knowingly but holds off on saying anything else.
A delivery man enters, carrying a heavy brown box. A second man follows, carrying a much smaller box, wrapped in a plain but pretty pink gift paper and tied with a neat and elaborate red bow.
“What’s all this?” Alaine looks over at Mona to ask. “Wow Mona, Mr. Donahue is really anteing it up for V-day this year, huh?”
Mona shrugs and shakes her head. “Those aren’t for me kid,” she confirms. “This is how I get my rocks off on Cupid’s Day,” she adds gesturing to the shop.
“Delivery for Alaine Knight,” the first burly man announces.
“Me?” Alaine squeaks disbelievingly. The heavy brown box is set in the middle of the floor. That’s so ridiculous. But she is too engrossed in wondering what it is and who it’s from to be vocal about it.
“I also have a delivery for Alaine Knight.” Her eyes shift from one delivery man to the next. This has to be a mistake.
Hesitantly, Alaine accepts the pretty box as it is handed to her. “No signature necessary, miss,” the man says with a smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
She stares, dazed, at both men, signing absently for the bigger box. “Are you sure?” she questions.
This is her first time receiving a Valentine’s Day present. The only gift she recalls ever receiving was for her twelfth birthday. And it had been a used book, wrapped haphazardly, from a friend. She finds herself gushing. Who could these be from? What could they be? Tears well in her eyes while she fingers the satiny material covering the smaller gift.
“Could they be from the mystery man who has had you sighing all morning?” Mona suggests, raising her eyebrows repeatedly. “Or Angus. He’s coming by, you know.”
Though Alaine pretends to have no idea what mystery man Mona is talking about, and sincerely hopes that she is wrong about Angus having a crush on her, her heart flutters at both suggestions. In the end, she rolls her eyes, dismissing both ideas. Surely they couldn’t be from either man.
The plain white card on the small box simply says ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’. She unwraps it slowly after the two delivery men leave. Mona squeals, hovering beside her, unable able to contain her excitement.
Alaine regards her with bewildered amusement. Take it easy, she wants to say.
“I’m excited for you,” Mona tells her. “I’ve been praying for this day, kid. Rip into it.”
“That would be such a waste,” Alaine replies. “It’s so pretty. Someone obviously took their time to do this.”
“I hope it’s jewelry,” Mona bubbles as a pink gift box comes into view.
Alaine stalls deliberately drumming her fingers against the smooth surface of the box. “I don’t know,” she says. “It seems a little big and heavy for jewelry.” However, she really wouldn’t know. It has been a little under a decade since she’s received any kind of gift.”
“Open it,” Mona growls and Alaine relents. Just her first name is spelled out in bold cursive on a white envelope. More tears spring to her eyes. Someone had taken the time to do this for her? More leakage. Dabbing her eyes, she picks up the envelope
Dear Ms. Knight,
I noticed your phone sitting in pieces on your kitchen counter the night I carried you in my arms. This will rectify the problem of me trying to contact you all day.
Happy Valentines’ Day,
At the end of the note, he’s drawn a perfectly symmetrical heart and shaded it red. It’s fitting for the celebration and sentimental for someone who doesn’t date or believe in romance. What stands out more to Alaine, is that, contrary to what she believed, Lucas Bright hasn’t forgotten her. He hasn’t changed his mind.
“Carried you in my arms? Lucas?” Mona questions, cutting into her thoughts. Alaine is too saturated with emotion to respond.
Feeling suddenly breathy, she picks up the phone sitting inside the plush interior of the box. The screen comes alive under her fingertip. “A password? Why would he...?”
Alaine squints in concentration and tries her name. She scowls further when it doesn’t work. “Lucas?”
She smiles again, shaking her head as his name gives her access to the device. The wallpaper is a picture of her, smiling. She has no idea where he found it but the thoughtfulness of it all inspires more leakage as she presses her finger over the one missed call alert on the screen.
He picks up on the first ring. “I see you got my little gift and figured out the password,” Lucas says in a chirpy voice. “How many tries did it take you?”
While he sounds calm and jovial, even a little expectant, Alaine’s heartbeat pulses erratically in her ears. He mumbles something she cannot make out and hears the response from a very feminine voice. Immediately, she chides herself for her jealous thoughts. Lucas Bright doesn’t belong to her.
“Little gift?” she replies.
Internally, she questions his motives for getting this for her. “This is a thousand dollar phone,” she explains. Obviously, he must want something in return. For that reason, it must be returned to sender and God alone knows what’s in the bigger box, she thinks, while measuring the weight of the latest pixel in her hand. The thing isn’t even out in stores yet.
“So how many tries?” he repeats and the question refocuses her attention. “And you should have gotten another box,” he adds.
“It took me two,” she replies proudly. “I tried my name first. And there is a huge box sitting in the middle of the floor. What is it?” she asks, still baffled that he’d gotten her gifts on Valentine’s Day.
The front door opens again. It’s always such a busy day. Alaine smiles at Angus’s familiar, kind face. She’s happy for the friendly distraction from the emotional flood, Lucas Bright has unleashed.
He walks in, pushing his delivery cart which is laden with unsteady boxes. “Hey Angus,” she greets, giving him an apologetic smile, as he meanders around the large box, still sitting in the middle of the floor. He nods his understanding.
“Hey Alaine,” Angus greets, maneuvering himself deftly.
“Just set them down in the usual place. I’ll shift this box out of the way,” Alaine tells him
“Don’t try to lift that box, Ms. Knight,” Lucas’s gruff command cuts her off.
“I’ve got another load in the truck,” Angus tells her, stopping at the counter. He regards her nervously, but Alaine is too busy trying to balance a conversation with the two men to notice.
“You look nice today, Alaine,” he says, a flush creeping into his face.
“I look like this every day, Angus,” she tells him, not bothering to look up as she sweeps her signature across the screen of the little black machine.”
“Then you look nice every day,” he offers with a shy smile that renders Alaine speechless. Slowly she hands back the pen. “I’ll go get the rest of your stuff.”
“I told you,” Mona mouths when Angus turns to leave. “He looooves you,” she continues a little louder and draws an imaginary heart over her left chest.
Alaine tosses the discarded gift wrap at her.
“The other box...” Lucas cuts in again, his voice resonating impatience.
Great, she’s wasting a billionaire’s time... Again.
The door swings open. “... is a solution to your sleeping problem.”
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