Always Alone

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Chapter Twelve

WE PULL OVER in front of a two-story Tuscan style house oozing with music. The sound is so loud it makes Devin's car vibrate with rhythm. The house in itself is beautiful.

Dark brown clay tiles sit on the roof, making the light beige on the outside walls stand out. Italian cypress trees are planted on either side of the glassed front door with a variety of shrubs and colorful flowers on the side. The house feels inviting and warm, like a true family home.

I gnaw on my bottom lip as anxiety starts to thread my cell tissues like a tarantula sewing its web. What if they don't like me? Most importantly, why do I want them to like me?

Devin places a hand on my knee, offering comfort and drawing my gaze to his. "Are you okay?"

"It's a big party," I say, looking around the clustered driveway.

"It's just family."

"You have a really big family," I mutter as he laughs.

"It'll be okay. You'll have fun," he says, rounding the car to open my door.

Devin places a hand in the small of my back as I try my hardest not to trip on the white square tiles that lead to the entryway. Having him close makes me feel safe and owned and wanted. It's a feeling I never thought I'd enjoy so much.

He doesn't knock just turns the handle and opens the front door. The inside of the house is surprisingly quiet but for the cheerful childlike laughs and screams coming from upstairs.

"Those would be my nieces and nephews," Devin says.

I deflate like a beach ball. Now that I know there are children in this party, I feel much better. Adults intimidate the crap out of me. There's this whole judgmental vibe to them that children don't have. Their brain isn't filled by a prejudice society starving for perfection in an imperfect world.

"Devin, is that you?" a lively feminine voice asks. The clicking of heels soon follows after the voice. A young woman, probably around my age, comes rushing out of the hall. With her high heels, she's still not able to reach Devin's cheek. He bends his neck to accept her kiss.

"Genny, this is my youngest sister, Isabel. Isabel this is Genevieve."

"Favorite sister," she clarifies. I extend my hand, but Isabel wraps her hands around me gives me a warm hug that is followed by a kiss on the cheek. "Come on, let's go meet the rest of the family."

Swallowing my wrecking nerves, I shift my gaze to Devin who gives me an amused look mixed with a hint of embarrassment.

"Trust me, not everyone is as invasive as Isa," he whispers.

She takes us into an open kitchen where five women are gathered around the kitchen island—some chopping onions and tomatoes while the others help in taking the food out to the backyard.

All ten eyes laser in on me when Isabel tumbles into the kitchen shouting something in Spanish. The nerves I swallowed earlier threaten to vomit.

An older woman with brown hair tucked in a neat bob walks my way. She disposed of the red dishcloth as she gives Devin a kiss. I can hear her whisper something to him in Spanish but have no idea what she means.

Isa shrugs it off by dragging a beer from the fridge. "Sorry, I thought she was his girlfriend."

I smile calmly when I'm anything but. What have I gotten myself into? She thought I was his girlfriend? All the sudden, I begin to miss the comfort and tranquility of my home, as boring and lonely as it might be.

"Genny, this is my mom, Elena." Then, he says the introduction in Spanish to his mom.

She gives me a warm smile and I say, remembering the few phrases Devin taught me on our short drive here, "Su hijo es muy caliente."

He smiles proudly and gives me a wink that makes my body bake with fervor. Ms. Elena swats his shoulder as everyone in the kitchen starts to laugh. What's going on?

"I'm glad you think my son is hot. I speak English, honey, Devin just likes to mess around. It's nice to meet you."

I want to murder him with the biggest knife I can find in this kitchen. I can't believe he tricked me into saying to his mother that she had a hot son. When we drove here, he taught me a few greetings and said his mom would like it if I said, "Su hijo es muy caliente," I remember thinking that the word caliente meant hot, but he said it had different meanings, so I went along it.

Extending my shaking hand, I greet her, but just like Isa, she gives me a kiss on the cheek and tells me not to worry about it.

Devin introduces me to the rest of his family members as I look around for the sharpest knife to murder him with. I kiss them all on the cheek, noticing it's part of their culture. Camila, Devin's oldest sister, excuses herself before I get a chance to say hello.

"Don't mind her," Valentina, his middle sister, says with a slight Cuban accent. "She's always like that. We refer to her as the Wicked Sister of the West."

I giggle.

The women ask if I'd like to help with the preparations. I agree. I'm curious as to how this food is made. As I place my bag on the counter, Devin asks to borrow my phone.

"I'm going to look for Camila. If you feel too overwhelmed just call me." He hands me back my phone. "I'm under hottie from the gym."

Surprisingly, I don't feel as antisocial as I did before. I blend easily with his family and can follow most of what they're saying in Spanglish. Valentina hands me a foil platter of brown rice with beans to place outside on the rectangular table outside.

The backyard is beautiful, decorated with Tiki torches flaming with opulent fire around the perimeter of the yard. Some men and women are playing dominoes and drinking Corona's, shouting and dancing to the music. Everyone seems to be doing their thing, not paying much attention to anyone else.

Isa taps my shoulder with her own and motions with her head to the table Valentina talked about. We walk over there and oh, my God if I am not shocked at the thing I see, almost dropping the rice on the floor.

The centerpiece isn't the usual cornucopia, but a pig roasted a deep brown—head, feet, and everything to the tail. His mouth is opened, holding a red apple while his body is surrounded with lettuce and slices of vibrant tomatoes. I've never seen anything like this in my life.

"Don't worry, we love animals," Isabel assures, placing the plate of rice on the table. "We're not into animal cruelty. We just like to roast a big pig and place his entire body on the table with an apple in his mouth. We do it every time there's a big party. Sometimes we even put sunglasses on him."

The air is a mixture of cumin, garlic, and oregano. There's so much food around the table—platters of rice, fried plantains, avocado salad with lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, and something called tostones.

Every member of Devin's family is welcoming and has a nice sense of humor that makes me bubbly and at ease. With a full bladder, I ask one of the uncles in the back for the closest bathroom. Because he speaks no hint of English, probably as much as I do Spanish, he signs his hands up and then left and then right.

Feeling like I just played a round of charades, I head back inside and take the stairs in search of a toilet. When I hear hushed voices coming from the far end of the hall, something makes me walk to the source.

I see Devin and Camila through the gap of a bedroom door. Deciding to leave and let them bicker without me eavesdropping, I head for another door. But then I hear my name and my reasoning evaporates.

"Genevieve treats me like a normal person, Camila. She makes me happy."

"Isa says you've only known her for a few weeks. How the Hell can she possibly make you happy, Devin? She doesn't know, does she? Did you stop taking your meds?"

"I'm still on my fucking meds. You know what? You really should try them once. They won't kill you just, you know, turn you into a walking zombie, but you're already dead inside so I guess you wouldn't notice the side effects."

He sighs, slumping his shoulders as his chin hits his chest. My heart narrows at seeing him so broken. All I want to do is encompass him in my arms. He quietly mumbles something I'm not able to hear but for the last words that sound something like, "...scare her off."

"I heard about Alexa," Camila states firmly.

"I swear I'm not telling Isa anything anymore."

Something plastic stabs my upper calf. I jolt in alert and cover my mouth as I spin in surprise.

"Are you spying on Mommy and Uncle Dev?" a little boy wearing a Darth Vader mask with a lightsaber in hand asks.

"Oh, um. No." Gosh, I'm a terrible liar. I squat down to tell him, "I need your help with a very important mission."

Curiosity gets the best of him as he leans forward, intrigued. I put on my best teacher-acting face.

"I need to use the ladies room, but I'm lost and can't seem to find it. Can you help me?"

The boy, who looks around the age of seven, says with determination, "Follow me!" His cape floats in the air as he runs.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Vader," I tell him as I enter the bathroom.

In the confines of the bathroom, my mind wanders the conversation Devin had with Camila. What meds were they talking about and what don't I know about Devin?

I chalice myself. This is exactly why I eavesdropping and gossip. Now, I have more unanswered questions roaming around in my head. I knew Alexa meant something to Devin or else he wouldn't have mentioned her to Isa. But what it is? What's the connection between them? And what could I possibly be scared of?

I won't, however, let these queries ruin my night. If Devin wants me to know something, he'll tell me because I make him happy and that thought overpowers any other question my nosy brain wants to know.

After depositing my bladder in the toilet, I wash my hands and open the door to see Devin outside with his back to the opposite wall, looking down at his phone.

Is he texting Alexa? Stop, Genevieve; you're better than this. His gaze goes up my body at the sound of the door closing. He places the phone in his pocket and walks over to me with a smile I'm starting to love.

"Darth Vader told me a pretty girl in white was lost and needed help finding the ladies room."

"I guess he's not as evil as everyone makes him out to be."

We go down the stairs and into the backyard where everyone is around the table getting food. I start to add some on my plate, but Ms. Elena is having none of that. She yanks the plastic from my hand and serves me an insane amount of food.

Throughout the night, Devin teaches me to play dominoes with his cousins and brothers-in-law. Valentina asks for my opinion on statewide testing so early in elementary schools as her kids roam in circles in the backyard. At around 11:00 pm the children are spent and fall asleep in their mom's arms.

Ms. Elena lets out the biggest gasp, her hand goes to her chest and everyone looks at her in surprise, asking what's wrong. She rushes inside the house, Camila going after her. A few seconds later, they come out with a round pastry.

"Mom forgot about the flan," Devin murmurs.

"Ah."

Ms. Elena hands us a plate of flan and waits eagerly for me to try it. An explosion of caramelized sugar tingles my tongue as I take my first bite.

"Hmm, that's very good."

"I'll give you the recipe before you leave." I smile and nod when I really want to tell her not to bother. I'll probably burn down my house.

I turn to Devin just as he devours his piece of flan and asks his mom for another piece.

"Don't you need something salty now?"

"Nope. I think it's certain sweets that make my taste buds feel like they need something to balance out the sweetness."

I still can't get over how weird that is. I would hate it if my body would ask for something salty after I eat a slice of pie. Perhaps, those are the pills Camila was referring to.

The song playing through the speakers has my upper body moving to the backbeat. Devin notices the sway in my shoulders and stands up, extending his hand in invitation.

"Oh," I start saying no. "I don't really know how to dance, especially in these heels, much less in front of everyone."

He interlocks our fingers together as he guides me inside the house. I'm surprised, yet relieved to see he didn't take me to the dance floor. Instead, he opens the front door and we stand in the entryway facing each other as the boom of the music carries around us.

"Would you dance with me now?" he asks, drawing his hands up to mine.

"Only if you don't let me fall?" I whisper back.

"Unless it's for me, never." His forehead touches mine. His warm breath kisses my lips. The air around us feels cool, not too hot or too cold just the right amount of breeze to welcome the new year. The new me.

"Okay." He places a hand on the small of my back, drawing my front to his front. Our bodies move side to side in a rhythmic motion. The cool Miami night does nothing to stop the perspiration from building in the back of my neck.

Devin swipes my hair to the side and kisses my collarbone, igniting a certain tingle to spread through my insides. I laugh as he twirls me around as I welcome this new person that's me. My shyness evaporates. I am done living for others. I am done living for Jess or my parents' dreams and goals. I am ready to start living for me—for Genevieve Peterson.

Suddenly, the music gets replaced by loud chanting. Devin and I keep our sensual dance, not once breaking our rhythm. Never breaking eye contact. The air around us energizes with awakening as my heart races in anticipation of what's to come.

"Cinco!"

We're forehead-to-forehead.

"Cuatro!"

I lick my lips.

"Tres!"

His eyes shift to my mouth and my breathing intensifies.

"Dos!"

I close my eyes, feeling his warm breath on my lips.

"Uno!"

Our lips connect.

I feel a rush crash into me. It speeds through my veins and awakens every sense in my body and for a second, it leads me to believe that I have never been so alive.

I submit to his mouth, letting him guide the kiss, applying just enough pressure as he sucks my lower lip. Our mouths mold into one. He winds his fingers through my hair, tugging slightly and pulling me closer to him.

I let out a soft moan and Devin groans, his hands roaming to my hips.

His tongue probes for entrance and I open to him like a blooming flower. Ever so slowly Devin brushes his tongue with mine.

The bulge in his pants thickens with every dance of our tongues. Every tug of our lips. Every moan and groan.

His mouth is as addictive as sugar. His lips as soft as flan. His tongue as sweet as condensed milk.

A blazing boom makes us pull apart. We direct our gaze to the nightly sky. An overpowering sparkle of colorful lights burst through the gray clouds, adoring Heaven with vivacity.

Devin curls his arms around my waist and places his chin on the top of my head.

"Feliz Año Nuevo, Corazón."

I settle into his arms. "Happy New Year."

We quietly watch the air turn to smoke, delving in the kiss we shared. I softly touch my lips. I can't believe we kissed. I can't believe it felt so right as if my lips were meant to only kiss his. This feeling, this feeling of pure euphoria is addictive and all I want to do is kiss him again, and again.

Devin breaks the silence with a deep sigh. "We should probably go back inside."

"Yeah." He tightens his arms around me. I giggle. "You know, for us to go inside you need to—" My sentence rumbles into incomprehensible words as his lips graze mine again. A low sigh fills the smoky air as he fervently kisses me.

I place my fingers on his chest feeling the thud of his heart. It beats so fast I can feel the vibration higher in his neck like a rocket ready to launch into space. The blast of fireworks penetrates the air as we connect through this one kiss and there, among the fireworks, I feel explosions of my own deep in my belly.

Reluctantly, we break the kiss.

We walk back inside the house and wish everyone a happy new year as we say our goodbyes; going home after I night I'm sure to remember forever.
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