"A DOLLAR FOR your thoughts?" Devin asks sitting on my couch with a bowl of popcorn.
"Dollar? I thought it was pennies."
"Oh no, Genevieve. Your thoughts are far too precious to be worth pennies."
He turns to me and smiles for a second before his lips turn into a frown. A few days have passed since our time at the festival. Devin and I are trying to mend our relationship the best we can, which bring us to today. We've been watching movie marathons of the Star Wars fandom.
During the movie, my thoughts somehow wander to Alexa and what she really means to Devin. I know she's a big part of his life and as his girlfriend, I'd like to meet her. Maybe we can even become friends. We both deeply care for Devin, so that's one thing we have in common.
"Your thoughts are so loud. Just spit it out."
"It's about Alexa," I blurt.
"What about her?"
"That day, when I saw her and you helped her, she had some bandages on her wrists..."
"Where is this coming from?" I shrug as he breathes profoundly. "She's ill. She has no one but me. Her parents don't give a shit about her and Ernesto, her boyfriend, doesn't care either. I love her like a sister. Nothing more, nothing less."
I understand that her illness is a private matter and none of my business. However, I'd like to meet her and offer my help. "Can I meet her?"
"No," he says abruptly.
He doesn't answer, instead, he flips the TV off and paces the room. His knuckles turn white by his sides. I begin to feel like I'm fighting a losing battle, but then, he starts talking.
"Alexa...there's so much negativity that surrounds her. I don't want you to be around that."
"How did you guys meet?"
"We met a few years back in a group meeting—"
"Group meeting?" I curse myself for interrupting his flow and fear he'll stop, but I'm relieved when he doesn't.
"Yeah. Where people who are going through the same things find support in each other...?"
"I know what a group meeting is, Devin. What group meeting? What do you need support with?" I can't help the questions spilling out of my mouth.
"That's not important," he says, a bit annoyed. "She was in a very bad place just like me. We found comfort in each other."
Comfort? Thoughts of Devin and Alexa kissing, having sex, float around my brain until I turn into a cherry airhead. My head inflates with images and more questions as my cheeks turn red with exasperation. How can he say he loves her like a sister and have sex with her?
"Did you..." I don't find the courage to finish the sentence.
"In the beginning. We were lost; didn't really know what the hell we were doing. When she met Ernesto, we stopped. We haven't been together ever since. I need you to believe me."
He says it with such conviction that I close my eyes, thinking over his words.
I love her like a sister; nothing more, nothing less.
When she met Ernesto, we stopped.
I believe that everything happens for a reason.
If I wouldn't love to eat so much, I wouldn't have dimples in my butt and thighs. If I didn't have dimples in my body, I wouldn't have gone to the gym. I wouldn't have broken my thumb and I would've never met Devin.
Then again, I probably would have because he lives upstairs, so either way, our paths would've crossed. Our destinies would've entwined as one.
Whether I like it or not, we're meant to have each other in our lives. For what, I've yet to find out, but if this is God's purpose. If this is why I came to Florida for—to experience love, heartbreak, life, then I will do so trusting that God knows what He's doing.
And I decide right here and now that with Devin, I will walk blindly because he was put in my life for a reason. Maybe he's supposed to teach me to live and get out of my comfort zone.
Maybe I'm here to mend a wound he deeply covers with a smile and energetic charisma. Maybe we're supposed to fall in love, break each other's heart; I don't know, but in this moment, I finally believe him.
"I believe you," I say, my eyes opening to him so he can see the truth behind my words.
His hand reaches for my cheek and I lean into his warm touch. Our foreheads connect, our breaths lingering on each other's lips as I intake his pungent scent of teakwood.
"I've never met anyone like you," he whispers in my ear. "I thought I had made you up in my brain, but I was wrong. You're real. At my lowest low, I want to be with you and at my highest high, you're the one I want to spend it with."
"Devin..." I breathe his name as our mouths connect for a minute, not giving me enough time to adjust to his invasion.
"Are you hungry?" I ask. "I have some hot dogs in the fridge. You could make some for us."
"I could make some for us? I'm a guest in your home."
I laugh. "I could make them, but I won't be responsible for your hospital bills. Come on." I guide him to my kitchen and open the fridge, taking out a pack of hot dogs and bread from the pantry.
Lucky for me, Devin seems like an expert in the kitchen. He grills the hot dogs and toasts the buns, whipping his hands on the towel resting on his shoulder. I prop myself on the counter, watching the hidden cook in him come to life.
"Woah! Who knew you were such an expert cook?"
"I used to cook with my father. Lasagna, ropa vieja, anything and everything, but hot dogs were our to-go meal." I notice a hint of nostalgia in his glance almost as if his past is catching up to him
He looks out the kitchen window and shakes his head as if to rid of the ache building in his heart. Mine breaks at seeing him lost, at the sudden switch of moods.
I place my hand on his shoulder and lean closer to him, offering comfort.
"You can tell me."
"Trust me, you don't want that shit in your head."
"Tell me," I repeat.
"Because I want to know you better. I want you to know you're not the only one who has lost someone who meant the world to them." I touch his cheek. "You don't have to be alone anymore. I'm here. I'll always be here for you."
He laughs condescendingly.
"That's what they've all said and when shit hits the ground, they bolt faster than lighting. That's why I don't want you to know certain things about me. It's so different with you, Genny. I dream that you'll never leave me, not when I push you away and trust me, I will. But please, please come back. I thought I'd lost you last week..."
He shakes his head dismissively. "I don't want to lose you. I've lost so much because of this...my dad..."
I don't want to force him to tell me something he's not ready to say, but I don't see any other opportunity than this one to get him to open up. So I kiss him softly, gently, putting all my emotions in this one kiss. To show him I won't leave, that he can trust me with his secrets...with his heart—all along hoping I can do the same with mine.
"What happened to your father?" I ask when the kiss breaks.
"He killed himself," he whispers it so low, that if I weren't close to him, I wouldn't have heard it.
All the air is sucked out of the room and the atmosphere around us changes with unanswered questions. But most of all, I want Devin to know he's not alone in mourning his father's death because I know what that feels like.
His silence overwhelms me with anguish and I can't keep the words inside any longer. "My sister was my best friend. We did everything together, that was until she met Hansel."
I too look out the window, avoiding his gaze and preventing my tears from spilling. "When she was with him, she always thought she was a step ahead of life. He was twenty-four, she was only eighteen. My parents didn't like him—honestly, they never even tried because from the moment they met him, they knew he wasn't right for her.
"He polluted her brain with lies and Jess was blinded by love. Every night, she would sneak out to see him, returning later that night or really early in the morning, either drunk or high. One day, she came home disheveled—her clothes reeked of vomit, she was disoriented; life had caught up to her.
"I forced her into the bathroom to give her a bath, letting the clear water wash over her skin while listening as she begged me not to tell our parents. I remember reaching up to grab the body wash and when I looked down, the water was tainted by her blood; I couldn't suppress my screams. Mom and Dad came rushing in and we got to the hospital in less than ten minutes.
"The doctor waited for Jess to wake up before telling us that she'd been pregnant and because of all the toxins inside her, her body wasn't able to hold life and she lost the baby. She swore she didn't know and I believed her because even though she was rebellious, she had the kindest heart. After that day, I would hear her sobs every day as she cried herself to sleep.
"Her cries were whispers in the night, but they were so loud to me, Devin. And I saw myself feeling her pain; her pain for killing her baby without any knowledge. I wanted to help but didn't know how, so I did the only thing I could think of and pushed her to go out—to church, to the park, anywhere, but she wouldn't.
"When she found out Hansel had been cheating on her, she lost all hope. Her life turned black and white; she didn't get up, barely ate, stopped laughing. I think she was depressed. One night, the squeal of the window woke me up and I was so happy to see her out of bed that I didn't say anything. I didn't worry because that meant she was getting better; she was healing."
I swallow the knot building up in my throat as I relieve the memory again.
"She promised aloud, knowing I was awake, 'I'll be the best big sister after today, Genna. I promise I'll never stop watching over you.' It was the only promise she ever kept. The next day, I found her wrapped around me, cold as stone. I remember getting out of bed quietly, not wanting to wake her up and covering her body with the sheets.
"When I came back from the bathroom, she had foam coming out of her mouth. My sister was dead. According to the doctors, she had overdosed. I regret not staying up at night. I regret going to the bathroom and not checking on her. I regret not telling my parents she had sneaked out. I regret not telling her how much I loved her. I regret so many things..."
I turn my eyes to Devin, looking into his soft eyes filled with compassion.
"I'm sorry. I...I didn't know," he says, his eyes scanning everything as he seems to be looking for just the right words to comfort me.
"I'm fine, really. It happened such a long time ago, the feelings aren't as real as they were before."
He sees right through me and shakes his head. "Grief remains raw even after fifteen years."
"I'm going to the bathroom. I'll be right back." I jump off the counter and head to my room, needing an excuse to walk away. I quickly rip a piece of toilet paper and wipe my tears. My fingers hold onto the counter for support when in reality, I want to explode into tears and drop to the floor in agony.
This pain is mine and mine alone, not his to be burden with; he already has enough with his father's death. Pulling myself together, I open the door to see Devin resting on my bed with Angie settled in the crook of his arm.
Gently touching his cheek, I whisper, "Devin."
His eyes open slowly, wanting to close again. "I'm sorry. I was waiting fo—"
"It's okay, please stay; sleepover tonight."
When the lights are off and I'm soon falling asleep, I hear his soft voice in the night.
"Don't blame yourself for not being enough to help Jess. Sometimes we're so deep in a hole that we're unable to see the rope. That even if someone throws us a ladder, our limbs are too weak to climb it. The world moves in slow motion and we feel unworthy of the light and that's why the darkness is so comforting."
* * *
Minutes pass by like seconds as I let the warm water run over my cool skin. I smile because Jess came home early today. After her weeks of staying in bed, sleeping all day long, she finally got out yesterday. In other circumstances, I would be worried, but not today. Not now. She promised to be my big sister once again like she was before she started going out with Hansel.
My brain bounces with ideas for today. We can go to the park and bike around the walking trail or we can go hiking in the mountains not too far from our house. Oh! We can bake. Yes. She'll love that.
I turn off the shower, anxiously wrap the pink towel around my wet hair, and enter our room to wake Jess up before Mom and Dad do. Walking up to the nightstand to switch on the lamp, I see Jess drooling on my pillow.
Not again. She has a habit of drooling and it's the most disgusting thing ever.
Unwrapping the towel from my hair, I wipe her mouth.
"Eww, Jess." I chuckle. I can't contain myself, I love teasing her about it. She always tells me that she drools in her sleep because she's having sexy dreams with Ryan Gosling.
"Jess, come on," I whisper to her, not wanting to brusquely wake her. "I've planned so many things for us today."
She remains sound asleep as I excitedly continue, "We're going to bake the biggest cake in the world and dirty Mom's kitchen." Just imagining Mom's face when she sees her precious kitchen with flour on the floor makes me giggle.
"Jess," I say, but her eyes remain closed and her chest is unmoving.
I shake her shoulders; they feel ice cold. "Jessalyn, wake up. This isn't funny, Jess. Wake up!"
I can feel my cheeks turn wet. I drop to the floor, wrap my arms around my knees, and rock back and forth. "How are you supposed to look after me if you can't see me; if you won't open your eyes?"
She's dead, so why is her heart beating so loud? It's making my ears bleed. I cover them with my hands and shake my head vigorously, but the sound increases.
My eyes shoot open as I emerge from my dream and look around the room to get a sense of where I am. I sag my shoulders when I notice I'm home. I'm in Miami, a million miles away from where Jess died in our room.
I remember how much I hated my bed back then, unable to sleep in the same room for months. I begged my parents for a new bed, got on my knees as if I was praying to God, but they wouldn't listen. They weren't ready to throw her things away; to accept she was gone and to tell the truth, neither was I. But every time I walked in there, it felt like a constant reminder of how alone I was.
All of the sudden, the room felt bigger and little by little the immensity of it reminded me that it was a hidden privilege to have shared that room with Jess. Although she was gone, and I knew I would never see her again, I sought comfort in the thought that she had chosen my bed to spend the last moments of her life. I only wish I had been there for her, but there's no good in dwelling on the past.
I haven't had these nightmares in years, never with the beating of her heart piercing my drums.
Moving my head to the side, I connect my forehead with steel.
"Ow." Placing a finger on the bump building in my forehead, my eyes connect to the rise and fall of a tattooed chest and the thud of Devin's stable heartbeat enters my ear.
Memories of last night spin through my mind like a broken record.
Devin telling me about his dad.
It felt cathartic opening up to him, reliving Jess' memory. When he told me about his father, seeing how hard that was for him, the words fell out of my mouth and I couldn't stop myself. I want him to know everything there is to know about me and I wish for nothing else than for him to do the same.
I've never told anyone of the guilt I held when Jess died, not even Mom. But with Devin next to me, I feel like I can conquer the world. Like I can do anything and for once in my life, I don't fear what tomorrow brings.
Kissing his cheek, I get out of bed and take a shower. When I come out of the bathroom, the bed is made and the smell of bacon enters my nose, making my belly complain of hunger.
"Relax." I pat it.
Entering the kitchen, I see Devin setting up the table with scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. Hmm, yummy and I'm not just referring to the food.
"I didn't know I had bacon," I say, walking up to him and locking my arms around his toned stomach to give him a good morning kiss.
He chuckles and lowers to my height, accepting my lips. "You didn't. In fact, we wasted almost all the food you had with the hot dogs. What the Hell do you eat all day? I had to run upstairs just to get bacon."
My cheeks flush. I usually eat takeout or make spaghetti, but I know how into fitness Devin is and if I tell him, he'll scold me, so I change the subject. "It smells delicious. Thank you," I say, kissing him just below the chin and feel his skin rise with bumps.
He likes that and it encourages me to kiss him more.
Without wasting a minute, I spread butter on my toast and take a bite. As we eat breakfast together and chat about our plans for the day, the minutes tick by. This feels normal and so right. I'm afraid that tomorrow I'll feel an emptiness in my heart when I wake up alone.
My eyes shift to the kitchen clock.
"Crap. I have to go." I get up and put the dishes in the dishwasher. "I'm sorry for asking this, and you can totally say no, but can you take out Angie for me and lock the door when you leave?"
"I could never say no to you."
"You're a lifesaver." Planting a kiss on his cheek, I grab my keys and leave.