Always Alone

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Chapter Eleven

CHRISTMAS EVE LANDS on a Saturday this year. With nothing left to do, I decide to clean the house. I'm all for the Christmas spirit and nativity scene, but buying a tree wasn't an option for. It's too much of a hassle, especially when I have to set it up myself and keep it watered.

These past few days have been nothing but downright boring. It's come to a point where I have developed a tedious routine—wake up, eat breakfast, take out Angie, workout, and come back home.

Is it sad of me to wish to be working on my days off? There's never a dull moment in the classroom and I miss my kids like crazy, not to mention I'm dying to see if the peer/buddy system would be a success.

Keeping my sanity and muscles working, I rearrange a few pieces of furniture and dust every possible corner dirt could have gathered. After a few minutes of Christmas-cleaning, I applaud myself for the fine job I've done in polishing my apartment like a shining diamond.

I'm exhausted and sweaty and when I look out the balcony and see dry leaves and soil on the floor, I grunt loudly. Sliding the door, I begin to sweep the mess. The perks of living alone—there's no one to help you.

When I finish, I drop my body on the rattan chair and close my eyes, inhaling the salty ocean breeze. The ocean feels even closer today like it's right outside my backyard. In my tranquil state, my thoughts flow with the wind, trailing to Alexa and what she means to Devin.

I believe him when he says she isn't his girlfriend, nevertheless, another part of me is blinded by images of him being tender with her as if he were a gardener taking care of a dying flower—watering it, trying to bring its petals back to life in hopes it would revive.

She seems broken, and I understand why he'd help her because I wanted to do the same. I was so close to coming to her rescue. But actions speak louder than words and although they might not be in a physical relationship, the connection between them runs deeper than that.

I can sense it.

When I open my eyes, I see Devin's back walking to a black BMW that's parked not too far from my car. His shirt hugs the muscles in his back like silk, flexing his masculinity, and his dark jeans accentuate his toned butt.

He turns to open the door and scans his surroundings as if knowing someone's looking at him. Crap. I've been caught staring. Again.

He waves as I do the same. A neighborly gesture I hope avoids the flush on my face. His hand lands on the handle of the car as he looks down, shakes his head and turns back to me.

The sexiest grin is planted on his face as he slowly jogs my way. The flush intensifies, spreading to every place on my skin. I stand up when he's a foot away and get closer to the railing.

"Hey, I thought you'd be in Pennsylvania celebrating the holidays."

"We're more of a Thanksgiving kind of family."

"So you have no plans for today?" he questions, surprised.

I shake my head and rest my elbows on the railing, getting closer to him and inhaling his musky aftershave.

"You can't spend Christmas by yourself," he says and then an idea seems to appear on his face. "Come with me."

"What? Where?"

"To my mom's house. We're celebrating Noche Buena," he says. The last two words make my heart do cartwheels like a gymnast in the Olympics. Spanish has to be the sexist language out there.

He wants me to meet his mom? Why? And what the Heavens is Noche Buena?

"I don't know what Noche Buena is," I say as Devin tries hard not to laugh at my pronunciation.

"It's Spanish for Christmas Eve." He leans into the balcony; his pupils widen with zeal.

"We have this big party and roast the fattest pig you'd ever find. Mom makes her famous flan. Aunt Clara and Aunt Lidia cook congris, fried plantains, tostones, and cassava with garlic sauce and crispy bacon while the men take care of the meat." My stomach loudly complains. "Come on, you won't regret it."

The foodie inside me is intrigued by this cultural exposure of food and traditions, but the introvert side of me starts to shake like a Chihuahua about to take a bath at the idea of meeting his entire family all at once. As appetizing as the idea sounds, I'm afraid I'll have to decline.

"I don—"

"There's music, drinking, dominoes, jokes, and the occasional talk of what an asshole Fidel Castro was. The kids wait anxiously under the Christmas tree until 12:00 am to open their gifts."

"Maybe next time?" I suggest, hoping he'll agree.

"Next time?" he asks with certainty.

I reassure him with a nod. "Next time."

"Okay," he says and steps under the railing to reach my cheek. "Next time I won't let you say no."

When New Year's Eve passes by, I feel lonelier than ever.

Living alone has its perks and though I enjoy my solitude, it's getting a little depressing. My parents might suffocate me with love all the time, but I miss their bickering of who loves me the most. Here, the only sound I receive is the shouting of an abusive man mixed with Angie's bark whenever a stranger walks by.

At around 5:00 pm, I take a shower and put on my pajamas, turning on the TV as I decide which New Year's broadcast to watch—Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest, Pitbull's New Year's Revolution or New Year's Eve with Carson Daly.

Because I'm a Miami girl now, I choose Pitbull's New Year's Revolution and stand up to microwave some popcorn.

Just as I am opening the packet, I hear a knock on my door. Angie tilts her head to the side, looking at me as if asking, "Who's at the door and why didn't you tell me someone was coming, can't you see I'm naked?"

I match her stare with my own. "I don't know, aren't you supposed to have a dazzling sense of smell?" And because how dare she talk to me like that, I add, "You're supposed to protect me so why aren't you barking?" and walk to the front door, dismissing her as I raise on the balls of my feet to look through the peephole.

This man knows exactly when to catch me wearing my most indecent pajamas. I unlock the door and open it half way so that he's not able to see past my upper body.

"Hey."

"Hi," he greets me with a beaming smile. "Remember when I invited you to Noche Buena and you said no, that for sure you'd come next time? Well, today is next time."

Giving me a devilish wink, Devin gently cuts through me and into my home. Not one sound comes out of my "protector's" mouth because she's too busy drooling over him.

I clear my throat, making sure to get Angie's attention and motioning with my eyes to get him, to act as the scary Shih-Tzu Dad promised would keep burglars away, but nothing, she's swooned by his looks.

Traitor!

"I'm lost, Devin. What are you talking about?" My eyes travel down his body. My God if he doesn't look sexy as Heaven wearing a black collared shirt with dark jeans.

"It's the thirty-first," Devin says casually, sitting on the couch. Angie goes after him—forgetting I'm the one who feeds her every day and I promise if there isn't a certain sway to her tail. "We're having another party. Get ready. We have to be at my mom's by 7:00 pm."

"Devin..." I start shaking my head. "I don't think so."

"Genny, you promised. You can't spend New Year's by yourself." He pets Angie on her belly as she tries her best to flirt with him. The nerve of this bi—I won't even finish the thought. "Plus, I read somewhere that the person you spend New Year's Eve with will be part of your life the next year."

My ears blush. I swoon a little like Angie. "You want to spend next year with me?"

"Yeah. Now, go get ready."

The old me from a few days ago would've said no to such idea of meeting strangers and socializing, but I've been feeling so lonely these last couple of days.

Christmas and New Years are supposed to be the happiest days of the year, yet here I am, sad and lonely, missing my parent like never before. So I weigh my options: spend the New Year with Devin or stay home with Angie—a traitor who forgets about her mom at the first specimen she meets.

I've never been to a party before and from what Devin mentioned about Christmas a few days ago, I know the party will be big. Just do it, my brain advertises like a Nike commercial. And I decide to do just that.

I smile and head to my room to get ready. Opening my closet doors, I browse through my clothes, looking for the right dress to compliment Devin's dark outfit. I decide on a white tent dress that I bought a few months ago. I've been dying to wear it but never had the opportunity to.

When the dress is taken care of, I walk into the bathroom and start flat ironing my blonde locks, slightly twisting the ends. Then, I start on my makeup; covering a few spots with concealer, applying a smoky eyeshadow on my lids, and painting my lips blood red. I take the dress off the hanger and slip on my black pumps. The full-length mirror behind the bathroom door lets me see my whole look. I'm shocked at the girl staring back at me.

My eyes are the only thing that stands out. They've turned a bright green that whenever the light hits them, they shine like emerald. I didn't know I could look this good. I sprinkle perfume on my body and open the door to go back into the living room. A smile warms my lips at the sight before me.

Devin is on the floor, playing with Angie. He moves the pie toy in his hands and Angie follows with her paws clicking on the hardwood. When she finally gets it, she runs to her bed, giving Devin a look at her backside as she happily wags her bottom. Devin stands up and walks to take the toy from her, but Angie turns around fast—toy still hanging in her mouth, and growls at him.

"Never mess with a girl and her pie," I say, drawing attention from both Angie and Devin.

They both spin in place and gape at me—Angie with her toy falling to the bed. Her eyes ask if I'm really her mommy. I pout and nod, telling her silently that it's really me just a much better version of myself.

Devin's expression isn't far from hers. As I walk to grab my purse from the kitchen counter, I feel his pale eyes on me. He walks closer, planting a soft kiss on my cheek. His voice lowers when he says, "You look lovely, Genny."

I like the way my name sounds on his lips. This feeling alone frightens me to bits. A sound resounds around the room.

"Yeah," Devin talks into his phone, his eyes never straining from mine. "We'll be there in twenty." He says something in Spanish and then smiles at me. Placing the phone in his pocket and extending his hand, he asks, "Ready?"

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