Always Alone

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Chapter Ten

THE FOLLOWING WEEK starts with two questions invading my thoughts.

1. Will I be able to find a teacher who'll be willing to work with me and my students on a peer/buddy system?

2. Why didn't Devin kiss me and why did I want him to kiss me so badly?

I've only been able to find the answer to one and so the week ends on Friday with one of those questions still clogging my brain.

I've been working with Mr. James, a fifth-grade teacher, writing new lesson plans for when the new year starts in a couple of weeks. Mr. James and I have developed a schedule where his students will read a book twice a month to my second graders. They will each have one buddy to serve as their mentor who'll help them understand the story of the month.

Since the class will be diverse—not just because of the different ethnicities, but because of the variety of reading levels—our hope is that students will learn from each other and share strategies that have helped them understand the passage better and the use of context clues, which will be helpful to my students when they move on to third grade.

The second question, however, has remained a mystery to me. After my chats with Mr. James and checking that off my list, I've thought of nothing but the moment Devin and I shared under the dark sky last Saturday.

When we said goodbye later that night at my doorstep, he gave me a tight hug as if he didn't want to let me go because if he did, he'd lose himself.

His arms embraced my body for minutes until he finally relaxed and whispered a thank you, turning around as he headed home. What he's grateful for I have no idea and the thought resounds across my mind as I'm driving home.

Devin seems like a genuinely nice person. He's witty and funny; makes me smile all the time. Though we've only known each other for a couple of weeks, I can see us becoming more than friends and I know he senses it, too.

So why didn't he kiss me? We were so close, my tongue touched his lip for Heaven's sake. All he had to do was lean in, open his mouth and caress my lips with his. But he didn't. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to see his face again without feeling embarrassed.

Am I thinking too much into this?

Yes, you are.

My phone rings just as I'm parking the car. I sit there for a couple of minutes talking to Dad about my plans for Christmas.

"Dad, I'm surprised Mom let you have the phone today."

He chuckles. "She's not home yet. Don't tell her I called you or else she'll make me sleep on the couch."

I'm sure he's telling the truth right now. That sounds like something Mom would do.

"So listen, I wanted to know your plans for Christmas," he says.

With the holidays fast approaching, schools have closed and won't reopen until next year. I honestly have nothing special planned for my winter break. I guess I'll be spending it with Angie and giving her a New Year's kiss.

"Oh, um." I fidget for a second, not wanting to tell Dad that I'm not planning on going home for the holidays. I have no money to buy a two-way ticket to Pennsylvania.

However, I don't have the heart to tell Dad we won't be spending Christmas or New Year's together for the first time in twenty-two years. As I look around my building, trying to come up with a way to let Dad down easy, I see a woman rush out of her apartment on the third floor.

Wearing nothing but a long white shirt that barely covers her upper thighs, she sits on the second flight of stairs and fiddles with something in her hand. She looks back to the apartment, not wanting to get caught by whoever is behind the door.

"You aren't coming home, are you?" Dad's strained voice riddles through the speakers of my car.

My heart breaks a little at the sound of it. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I don't think so."

"It's okay, I kind of figured," Dad goes on, but I don't hear a word he says. My eyes travel back to the brunette sitting on the stairs as she appears to be shouting at someone on the phone—her hands fly hysterically in all directions. With my windows up and the hum of the engine, I can't hear a thing she's saying.

She throws the phone to the first floor and I see it shatter to pieces. Her arms cover her body, turning into an impenetrable ball as she rocks back and forth. My compassionate side instincts to help this woman out in any way I can and when I see tainted bandages in both of her wrists, I interrupt Dad.

"Can I call you later? Something came up."

My hands fly to the door handle as I wait for my dad's goodbye. As soon as we hang up I get out of the car, leaving everything but my cell phone. Just as I'm about to close the door, I hear tires squealing in the background and a man gets out in a panic, taking the stairs two at a time as he rushes to the woman's rescue.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know who else to call," she cries into his chest just as mine tightens as everything slowly begins to make sense.

"It's okay, Alex. Let's go inside," he says with a tender voice. The fragile woman nods as he cradles her body in his inked arms with so much love and affection that tears build up in my eyes.

They don't go back into the apartment the woman ran out of, instead, he walks over to the one in front of hers and locks the door. I stand there, immobilized in the afternoon sun as it tries to defrost my legs, inhibiting movement to walk home.

He lied to me.

Later that night while I'm in my bed chastising myself for thinking Devin was into me, I hear yelling in Spanish and even though I don't understand a thing they're saying, the words sound so sharp they cut through my skin.

"Alexa!" he shouts. "Don't. Fuck!"

The days that followed after that incident make me feel uncomfortable in my own home. I avoid going to the gym since I don't want to see Devin and whenever I take out Angie, I try to do it as fast as I can.

But on Tuesday he sees me and there's no way for me to escape.

"Genny," he shouts, jogging down the stairs of my building—our building I should say.

When he catches up to me I asked, though I already know the answer to my question, "You live upstairs?"

"Yeah, third floor." Devin gets closer to me and mumbles, "Room 306 if you ever want to hang out." He wiggles his eyebrows, trying to make me laugh, but I don't. All I keep hearing are the shouts of a man screaming at his girlfriend.

He exhales a deep breath and tries to explain himself, "Listen about the other day...there's something I've been meaning to tell you."

The only thing that comes to mind is that Devin's the man who was saying those distasteful things to a woman. He's the one whose shouts I hear at night. The one who blames his erectile dysfunction on a poor woman who was in dire need of help. It's right here when I decide that I don't want to hear what I already know or want to associate myself with a man who enjoys bringing people down, so I stop him.

"Devin, it's fine. We don't have to talk about Friday. There's nothing to talk about." And there really isn't, so I plaster a fake smile on my face, wanting to end the conversation as soon as possible. I was so wrong about him.

"Friday?" he questions. "Genny, I—"

"I'll be taking my cast off in a few days, maybe we can do some arm exercises," I interrupt him again and continue walking with no intention of ever seeing him again.

"Okay," he mumbles.

I haven't seen him since that day. I can't deny that I miss the few times we spent together, but there is no way I'd ever be friends, or maybe even something more—which I know won't happened because he has a girlfriend—with someone like him.

Now, here I am on a Friday morning, trying to expel my brain of answers I know my incurable romantic heart wants to believe.

He's not that man.

He's sweet and witty, not the chauvinistic man who shouts at women.

He didn't lie to you; that wasn't his girlfriend.

But none of those things make any sense, so I surge forward on the treadmill, increasing speed, hoping the rush of endorphins will unclog my brain of these thoughts.

"I see you've taken off your cast," Devin's voice startles me and if it weren't for his quick arms catching me, I would've fallen off the treadmill and into the ground.

"Why do you always do that?" I turn in his arms and hit his chest, ignoring how warm and welcoming it feels against my hand.

He laughs. "Do what, save your life?"

No, make my heart leap into my throat.

"Scare me like that. I know you do it on purpose," I accuse, pointing a finger at him.

"I don't do it on purpose, you're just clumsy around the gym."

"Yes, I took off my cast," I answer his earlier question, avoiding his statement because I know it's true.

"How come you're here so early?" Devin questions, jumping onto a treadmill and putting it into a walking pace.

I'm trying to avoid you.

"I'm on winter break," I say and hop on the treadmill next to his to finish my run.

I'm not letting him ruin my workout.

Throughout our run we don't talk, just the occasional glance that makes my stomach somersault. I tell it to stop. Devin has a girlfriend and is a bastard for saying things about her body and lying to me, but my frail brain doesn't listen.

I know some women are turned on by men who are taken—call it illicit desires of the body—but men who settle down are admirable and it makes me happy to see a couple hypnotized by love. To see their affection for each other is so strong that they can't think of anyone other than themselves. And as a woman, why would I do such atrocity to another?

"Are you mad at me?" Devin asks, stopping the speed of my treadmill.

"What? No," I lie, but can I really be mad at him when I've only known him for a few weeks?

"Then why are you acting like this? Ever since Saturday you've been acting weird with me."

"Saturday?"

I forgot about Saturday a long time ago. I'm more curious to know why he lied to me. Having a girlfriend explains why he didn't kiss me, so I'm not worried about that question anymore, in fact, I'm glad he didn't kiss me. I'd hate to be the other woman. Right now, I have other questions perusing my brain. Does he think I'm mad at him because he didn't kiss me?

"This isn't about the kiss, okay?"

He hops onto my treadmill and walks close to me, making me take a step back. Another. And another, until we step off the treadmill and there's nowhere else to go but the wall that collides with my back.

His hands come up to either side of my face and my breathing increases. My sharp intakes makes my chest expand. My breasts brush against his firm pecs as streams of heat are sent to my core.

"You wanted me to kiss you?" he questions, lowering his head to my neck. "If I were to kiss you right now, would you stop being mad?" He peppers cotton kisses behind my ear. Hmm, that feels good.

Do I want him to kiss me?

Maybe?

Yes.

No! I'd be livid.

What the Heavens am I doing?

I gather the wits that have fallen to the ground and say, "Stop."

Devin raises his head and looks into my eyes. "Why, when I know you want me just as bad as I want you?"

Woah.

"Look, I know you have a girlfriend. I don't know why you lied to me, but I can't be friends with someone who's a liar and treats women the way I've heard you treat Alexa." I remember the girl's name and instantly feel bad.

"What?" Typical of a man to lie about having a girlfriend.

"Why are you lying? I hear you screaming at her almost every night." I'm so frustrated, I leave him alone and walk out of the gym.

I don't get too far before I hear footsteps behind me. I increase my walk, attempting to get away from more of his lies and omissions. A strong hand halts my steps and turns me around.

"No. You won't leave me talking to myself when I'm trying to explain something to you." I stay quiet and decide to listen to him. When he sees I won't try to run, he lets go of his grasp on my arm. "Alexa isn't my girlfriend. Like I said before, I don't have a girlfriend. She's..." he exhales a breath. "It's complicated, okay? I'm not the man who's always shouting at her. Why would you assume it'd be me?"

I squirm, covering my arms with my hands. "I...I saw you with her on Friday. The noises I hear at night come from upstairs and I've heard them speak Spanish."

Ignoring the part about me seeing them on Friday, he says, "Genny, how many times do I have to tell you, you live in Miami. Almost everyone speaks Spanish here," he adds with a much lighter tone. "Plus, you must know what happens when you assume."

I cock my head to the side and give him a smile. There's something about this man that chases my anger away. He always seems to brighten up my day even when I'm mad at him.

"Come on. I'll walk you home."

We walk quietly to our building and when he hugs me goodbye, his strong fingers capture my chin, tilting my head up until his green eyes are the only thing I see.

"I want you to know I will never treat a woman the way he treats her. The girl by my side will be respected, valued, and cherished. With a simple gaze, she'll feel the passion I hold for her growing in my heart."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"I don't want you to think less of me. Not you, too."

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