Always Alone

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Chapter Seventeen

THE REST OF the week passes by in a blur and on Saturday evening, I'm home in my pajamas listening to KLOVE as I go over lesson plans and grade papers. I note my students' reading scores have improved tremendously thanks to the peer/buddy system.

Not the A's I was hoping for, but the F's are turning to high C's and the C's are rising to B's. To me, that's a huge improvement from before and I make a mental note to tell the kids how proud I am of them.

"You really should lock your balcony door." I jump out of the dining chair at the voice.

"Wh—" I can't finish my sentence as I feel my body pumping adrenaline into my heart, looking for a defense mechanism.

Devin walks closer to me and I stare at Angie who didn't let out one sound even though she saw him trespassing the balcony and enter our home. Wait till I tell Dad of the grandiose spy moves she uses to scare robbers away.

"Dev, you can't do that," I say as he hoists me up by the waist and settles me on the kitchen counter.

"Do what, visit my girlfriend?" he asks, bending his head to nuzzle my neck. The tickling touch sends energized waves through my body.

"Jump over the balcony and slide the door."

"I knocked on the front door," he says and kisses me sweetly on the lips. The kiss ends too soon for my liking. "You didn't answer so I came around to see if you were home."

"Text next time." I wrap my arms around his neck and drag his lips to mine, kissing him softly, increasing the pressure.

"If you keep kissing me like that—" he takes a deep breath and continues, "—the food is going to burn."

"Food?"

"Yeah." He lifts me off the counter and plants my feet on the floor. "I made lasagna."

"You did?" I ask, my mouth already watering.

"Yep. I thought my girlfriend should have a home-cooked meal, instead of all the frozen food in her fridge." He swats my butt, making me surge forward. "Come on."

Sticking my tongue out to Angie, I turn and lock the front door before jogging up the stairs and into Devin's apartment.

The smell of tomato sauce and ricotta cheese with fresh basil leaves caresses my nose as Devin leads me inside. I didn't notice it before, I guess my anger had blinded me that day, but the décor around the house is a mix of rustic and retro; very manly.

The brown couches make the blue area rug in the center of the room stand out. My eyes shift to the floor to ceiling wooden bookshelf filled with intriguing books that have me walking to it, wondering what type of books he enjoys.

"You read?" I ask, brushing my fingers on the spine of the books. He has more books than me; there's not one empty spot.

"No." He kisses the tip of my nose. "Those are journals," he says, taking my hand and guiding me to the dining room where the lights are dimmed and a table holds lit candles and a vase with white and red roses.

Pure love.

The meaning behind the colors—whether intentionally or subconsciously—makes me dizzy and my heart smiles at the thought that I'm not the only one who feels our connection.

"Wow," it's all I manage to say as my eyes turn glossy with happiness. I thought this only happened in the movies or overly cliched books. It's surreal to know he did this for me just because.

And I begin to fall, not bothering to secure myself—my heart, with a parachute to slow the motion. Not caring if the strings aren't strong enough to hold me back.

I turn in his arms and catch him off guard as I passionately kiss him. My fingers reach to touch his chiseled cheek, to keep him in place and show him how much I appreciate this romantic gesture.

His full lips are flawless as they press against mine; soft and yearning. The oven beeps loudly, breaking us apart. Our foreheads press together as I think, what's gotten into me?

"Sit. I'll be right back."

I take out my phone and snap a picture of the romantic setting before sitting on the chair made from wood and black pipes just like the table. I wonder if he made them. I look into the kitchen and see him take out the lasagna from the oven. He's wearing mitts. How domestically sexy. Devin brings the dish to the table and places it in the center next to the flowers.

"Hmm," I inhale the smell of Italian sausage. "Do you need help with anything?"

"I got it. Just relax." He smiles and walks back to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of wine.

"Very romantic, Mr. Green."

"Thank you, Miss Peterson."

After our glasses are chilled with sweet wine and our plates full of lasagna and green lettuce with cherry tomatoes, we talk about our week and I get a chance to inquire about his job.

"So you work from home?"

"Most of the time. We have to go to the office once a week to show we're still 'alive.'" He makes quotation signs around the last word.

"What exactly is it you do?"

He laughs. "It's a bit complicated. Basically, we develop programs—websites, applications, etcetera and we test them before and after the company launches them. We fix any bugs or anything that's not working properly."

"Sounds a bit tedious," I mumble.

"It is sort of tedious," he says and takes a drink of his wine. "Sometimes it's exciting, though. When there's a problem with a website and you must figure out what caused it and how to prevent it from happening again, it's thrilling. I usually spend nights looking for a solution."

His eyes light up as he talks about his work. I understand his passion because I feel the same about mine.

"What?" He tilts his head to the side and his lips quirk up.

"Nothing," I say, smiling. "Did you make this table?"

"Yes. I made the bookshelf, too and the clock over there." He points with his fork to the clock in the kitchen made from wood paneling and beer bottles.

"A man of many talents."

"Just wait and see." He winks, making my ears warm.

After dinner, we walk over to the couch and search for something to watch. We end up settling for a comedy and snuggle next to each other, warming our bodies with natural heat. Throughout the movie, we laugh and joke at the unfortunate circumstances of the main character.

Occasionally, Devin wraps his arms around my waist and pulls my back to his front, reminding me of how we slept together a few nights back. He nuzzles up and caresses my collarbone with the tip of his tongue, elevating my completion with goosebumps. I slowly turn on the couch until my back is flat on the leather foam.

Devin settles atop me, his strong thigh in between my legs. Our noses brush lightly as I tilt my chin up, offering my mouth to finally kiss him without the darn oven interrupting us. He surprises me by moving, not too much but enough to make me groan in frustration at the short distance.

Green irises move to the arch of my brow, my eyes, my nose until they land in my mouth. His lips so close to mine, I can feel his breath when he says, "I don't know who I am when I'm around you. I don't know if you're real, Genny."

"I'm real, Dev," I say, placing a hand on his cheek and running my thumb behind his ear. "This is real. What I feel for you is real."

He continues to admire my face as if in any moment, I would disappear. My eyes begin to glint with sadness as secrets pass through his gaze. As if two voices were in his head—one telling him to confide in me, the other saying I'd run at the first sign of weakness.

They're eating him alive and the longer I stare at his eyes, the farther he gives into one voice and becomes a prisoner of his mind. "Tell me," I plead.

He shakes his head. "Please, don't make me."

His head dips slowly and our mouths graze. His ardent lips envelop me, whispering the secrets he dares not say. I take it all like a smoker inhaling tobacco into his lungs because right now, this all Devin can give me—this is all he's allowing himself to give me.

However, I won't stop kissing him. I won't stop showing him how much I care for him because eventually, he'll break and I'll finally be able to show him that I'm capable of lifting him up. I'm strong enough to handle this because for him, I'd do anything.

I feel a droplet fall on my lips before it dissolves with the kiss. Salt brushes our tongue as the kiss deepens.

"Devin?"

He doesn't answer, instead, he applies pressure to the kiss—a kiss he's clearly not into anymore, it feels...forced. Pressing my hands on his chest, I push lightly.

"Devin?" He gets off me and moves to the far side of the couch—away from me. I go to him, placing a hand on his shoulder as quiet tears trickle from his eyes and into his lips.

"Please, leave." He digs his palms into his eyes, trying to conceal his tears and grunts out of frustration. Embarrassment? Shame?

What? No. I won't leave. "No. What's wrong?"

"Genevieve, I need you to leave."

"Devin, talk to me."

"Get out!" his scream resonates through my body loudly.

Then, I hear frantic knocks on the front door and a voice shouting his name.

"Devin! Come on. Open up."

I can already tell who it is and I start to dread what comes next. It's hard for me to know what to do as I watch my boyfriend sluggishly open the door.

"I heard screams." Alexa brings her hands to both his cheeks, drawing his gaze to hers as he tells her the secrets I wish to know.

"Make her leave, Alex." He places his face in the crook of her neck.

"Genny, you should go."

"No. You should go. He's my boyfriend," I say through gritted teeth, not caring if it makes me petty or a jealous girlfriend.

"I don't want her to see..." he chokes on the last words.

"Just go!" she shouts.

And just like that, the night switches from romanticism to realism as he leads me to believe that I'll always be second to Alexa. That he'll never be able to give me his heart because it already belongs to someone else. And that all this time, I've truly been the one falling.

Alone.

With one last glance, I walk out of his apartment, fearing I left my heart inside, and will never have a chance to get it back. As I go to the stairs, a male voice stops me.

"It will always be like this. Their bond is stronger than any other." I turn to it and see a dark-skinned man with his hip propped on the door frame of the apartment next to Devin's. "If you love him, get used to it now or it'll break your heart whenever he seeks comfort in her and not you. I try really hard not to let it eat at me. I didn't understand it before, but now I get how much they need each other, you should too."

I run down the steps, ignoring the man, not wanting to believe his words even though they come with wisdom. With a shaky hand, I manage to open the door. I deflate on the back of the door.

After his week hiatus and the things he said about me being the one he wanted to be with, I thought we were moving forward—one foot in front of the other. Only to realize, the feet I was seeing were the shadows of my own and he wasn't there.

In the months we've been together, I've confided in him—told him things I never told anyone and he hasn't done the same. I blame no one but myself because when I told him about Jess, a part of me was hoping he'd tell me about his dad or even more about Alexa.

Above all this madness, I'm confused. Out of nowhere, the atmosphere went from caring and lighthearted to despondent. What could have made him cry? Why didn't he let me help him? What could have caused him so much pain that he couldn't bring himself to look at me?

I get why he'd be scared of his feelings for me. I'm a little scared myself. Nevertheless, he had no right to push me away and when he did it in front of Alexa, it felt like I had swallowed the dumbbells from the gym—constricted, dragging, and painful.

What happened to the charismatic man who taught me to dance; when his glance begged me not to let him go?

Yet, it was so easy for him to let me go. To choose Alexa over me. To hear Ernesto say that they will always need each other makes me think that I'm in this relationship alone. In the dark. Forgotten.

I don't know what to think. I don't know if what I'm feeling is normal. I don't know if we're together. I don't know if I can or should forgive him. I'm lost. I...I need my mom.

Reaching into my back pocket, I grab my phone and dial Mom's number.

"Mom?"

"Genna?" she asks, her voice sleepy. "Are you okay?"

"Yes. I just wanted to hear your voice," I tell her, my eyes watering again as I try to keep my emotions at bay.

I hear shuffling in the background and a door closing. The creak of the floor makes me picture Mom going down the stairs wearing her old nightgown as she walks into the kitchen.

"What happened?"

"Nothing, I ju—"

"Don't worry. I'm already checking the flights." I hear fingers pressing on a keyboard. "I can be there tomorrow."

"Mo—" I clear the sadness off my throat. "Mom, it's okay. I was just checking on you and Dad."

"I just bought the tickets. I could be there for a few days. A day or two," she rushes.

"Mom, no. Really, it's fine. I'm fine," I try to reason, knowing how expensive the tickets are, though I'm hoping she won't listen.

She sighs.

"I had you in my womb for nine months, Genna. I can tell when my baby is hurting because of a heartbreak just as I knew all along when Jess was sneaking out. Now, I can't change the past, but I can sure prevent it from repeating itself. I'm coming over and there's nothing you can do about it."

"O—okay," I say.

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