Always Alone

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Chapter Nineteen

RAPID BARKS COME flying out of Angie's mouth as she, for the first time in her life, acts as a shield and blocks Devin from coming too close to me. She growls and snarls as her tail stands dangerously high in a threatening position.

I exhale a breath of relief, knowing that she has my back, but Devin isn't intimidated by her aggressive behavior. He just stares at her with fierce pale eyes until she whines, puts her once high tail between her legs, and goes to her bed.

Hot, angry tears fog my vision, not just because of my naivety in believing Devin was falling for me like I was for him, but because of how he's making Angie feel. She's more precious to me than anyone I have in Miami. Right now, she's my backbone. She's what's holding me upright during my pain.

My heart swells and breaks at seeing her whimper, but hardens at her weakness. She's supposed to be strong and protect me when I can't.

"Corazón," he says, seeing a stubborn drop stream down my face and walks forward to swipe it.

I back away. I can't allow any physical contact. If he touches me, I'll give in just like I've done before.

"No." I turn around. I need to be strong. I was raised to be strong, for Jess, for my parents, for my students, I can't crumble for this. Not for a man, the same way Jess did.

"You should leave, Devin."

"Why are you acting like this?"

At his thoughtless question, I whirl around. Enraged.

"What was Alexa doing upstairs with you?" He stays quiet and looks to the floor.

"Exactly! You don't want to tell me a thing about yourself or the people who surround your life. You don't want me to meet someone who clearly means a lot to you. You spend the night with her after having a ment—I don't even know what to call what happened to you and now, I see you all giddy with her coming out of your house. What the heck am I supposed to think? You obviously had sex with her. Now, please, get out."

"No."

"No?" I step closer to him, my calm demeanor dissipating.

"No."

"Get. Out!" I scream and hit his chest.

In a swing, he grabs my wrists, pinning me to the wall. His breathing hisses through his nostrils as he says, "I'm not getting out until you listen to me."

I turn my head to the side and catch Angie's eye. I plead with her to bite his leg, but she shakes her head as if saying, "I'm not getting involved."

"Nothing. Fucking. Happened. How many times do I have to tell you I see her like a fucking sister?"

Yeah, after you had sex with her.

I hate it when he curses as if cursing would hypnotize me into believing every word that comes out of his mouth. Cursing doesn't make him a man, it turns him into an illiterate fool.

"Look at me." His warm breath kisses my cheek and despite myself, my skin tingles at the softness.

I don't look at him, though. I stay in place with murderous eyes inserting daggers at Angie.

Devin holds my wrist up with one hand.

"Look. At. Me. Goddammit!" he shouts in my face, but I don't look. I don't even flinch. I won't let his anger intimidate me. His right hand comes up to my throat until his strong fingers are pinching my cheeks as he tilts my head to face him.

"You're hurting me."

"Genny..." he pleads, his fingers loosening their vice-like grip. "Don't do this. I...I can't lose you, too."

At that, my eyes meet his and I look into his ambivalent soul. His lime green eyes glow with answers, saying things I can't quite understand, but in a flash, they darken with shame.

"Tell me, Devin," I implore.

He shakes his head before his lips crash into mine. The action is so abrupt that my skull smashes into the drywall, making me lightheaded for a second. Devin takes advantage and invades my mouth, but I don't let him.

I bite his lip.

Hard.

Not stopping until I taste blood on my tongue.

He swears and backs away, pressing a thumb on his bottom lip and seeing crimson.

"You bit me?" He tilts his head as I raise my chin defiantly. His tone is that of anger, but his eyes say otherwise.

He likes it.

The atmosphere around us intensifies with unwelcomed sparks as my breathing increases. My belly turns into molten lava and my chest rises and falls in anticipation of his lips touching mine again.

Neither of us make a move, letting the minutes tick past as we stare; his gaze persistent, never failing, daring me to give up. I can feel the thud of his heartbeat drumming on the vein poking out of his throat as he takes shallow swallows.

A deliberate pink tongue runs over Devin's top lip, sending uncontrollable shivers through my spine as his mouth turns upward into a wicked smile, knowing he's won.

I've lost, yet again.

Without warning, his mouth is on mine. Our tongues connect and my body betrays me, massaging his tongue with every swipe and brush until desire is soon gathered in me. I give up and accept the kiss, fearing this might be the last time I taste him.

Devin hauls me up against the wall and I wrap my legs around his hips, feeling his erection. He carries me into the bedroom and lays me on the bed as he takes off his shirt, letting me admire the black art etched on his body.

"We were talking about you," he says and kisses me sweetly like the Devin I know.

His hands roam my body turning it into a wildfire. My fingers wander over his taunt stomach, his arms, his butt, every part of him until he wants more and takes off my shirt.

I don't stop him.

"Why? Why can't you talk about me with me? No one else will give you a better answer than me."

"She knows me, Genny. She knows the things I'm not ready to tell you. I'm not ready to lose you."

"Tell me." I try once more, giving us one last chance, but like before, I get nowhere.

"Don't make me tell you. Not now."

I push him until he's no longer above me. My legs scrunch up until my knees are covering my chest as Devin's back hits the railings of my bed.

He won't break. He won't tell me what she knows that I don't. There's no point in fighting a battle I've already lost. A battle I never had the chance of winning since it came with an unfair disadvantage.

"Do you think I'm weak? Do you think I can't handle the truth?" I whisper.

"I think you won't understand. I'm afraid that this thing will ruin us—you."

"Don't you think this thing, is already ruining us—me?"

I inhale my stuffy nose and walk on my knees in the bed to him. Reaching for his face, I run my thumb over his day-old stubble as his eyes close just like Angie's when I pet her behind the ears.

"You're chiseling my heart and every time it bleeds just a little, and a little more, and more. Do you not care enough about me to notice I'm hurting?"

His vulnerable eyes open,!looking like the lost boy from the beach who thought he wasn't perfect enough to be beautiful. All I want to do is blanket him in my arms. Protect him.

But a part of me wishes he would do the same to me. I wish he would stop being selfish and care about my feelings instead of his even if that makes me selfish.

"I never meant for you to feel like that. I never meant for any of this." He motions his hands between the two of us.

"You don't have to be with me if you don't want to," I say, anger soon spreading through my bones.

"That's not what I meant. I want to be with you, but I'm afraid that if I don't give you what you want, you'll leave me. I'm not ready for that. I'm not ready to tell you the truth and I'm not ready to lose you, either. So where the fuck do we go from here?"

Where do we go from here?

"Our separate ways," I murmur, hating the acid taste those words bring to my mouth.

"What? No." He stands up from the bed.

"I'm sorry, Devin. I can't keep letting you hurt me. I've never felt this much pain—this much anger since Jess' death. I can't relive those emotions over and over again like a carousel ride."

"You can't break up with me because I'm not ready to tell you something you haven't earned the right to know," his voice thickens as his feet pace the room. "It's...it's my past. It shouldn't be my present. It shouldn't be your present."

I get out of bed and walk to him, holding his wrist to prevent his hands from flying in the air.

"You're right. It's greedy of me to demand a past I have no right to know, at least not yet. However, I don't deserve—"

"That's my fault. But you see, Genny, I go to Alexa because it's much simpler not because I have feelings for her. How I feel about her, it's nothing to how I feel about you." His lips turn up and I can't help the tug on mine. "You're in a class of your own, Genny."

Then why do I feel like I'm not?

"Will you tell me someday?" I ask him. "All your secrets?"

"I hope so. I really do."

"Me, too." Ever so softly, I press my forehead against his and let our lips linger one last time before saying goodbye.

Devin brings his hand to my cheek and whispers, "Can I stay here for a little while?"

"Sure," I reluctantly say as I lower my face and plant a soft kiss on his wrist. His pulse thickens from the action, drawing my eyes to the forest tattoo on his inner forearm.

Two pine trees stand erect on a mountain with a floating moon behind. The branches spread wide enough to give the full moon eyes and a nose, turning it into a darkened skull. The design doesn't match the rest of the zig-zag and Celtic lines that adorn his skin. This tattoo is old, hiding an ancient past.

Under the discolored ink, a series of jagged lines run mismatched through his forearm. The trees were done in such precise order that the trunks cover the thin scarring that mars his skin. But the black lines can't hide the elevated skin that make the tattoo pop out of his arm in a 3D matter.

A vast ball prevents oxygen from flowing into my lungs and my eyes begin to sting with salt as I try my hardest to hold back a sob.

Oh, Devin, you poor soul.

I shake my head to rid of the thoughts sprinting through my mind as the higher my eyes travel, the higher the skin rises with fragile scarring. Through the mountains of black art, I try not to imagine his upper body erased of such color to show the natural healing cuts he deeply covers.

However, I prevent my mind from going any further. I don't want to go there. Please, God. Not now, not ever. Not again, I can't do this again. I breathe away the panic attack boiling in my stomach and attempt to calm my emotions.

It was silly of me to think I somehow held ownership of his secrets. I have no right to demand a past that doesn't belong to me. I've done nothing. Nothing at all to deserve it. All this time, I've been with him, but have I truly taken the time to understand him? Have I truly been there for him when he's needed me?

No.

I haven't.

Yet he's been there every single time I've needed him since the first night we met.

When I broke my thumb, he was there to help heal it. When I needed help with my students, he taught me a few Spanish words. When I was alone on Christmas and New Year's Eve, he made sure I was happy and surrounded by family. When I was crying over my disappointment with my parents, he took me to the beach and when Jess' memories came to life, he slept over, offering the comfort I desperately needed.

How dare I? How dare I expect him to open up when all this time I've easily ran from his truth, when all this time he's thought I was weak?

He's never seen me strong.

Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder if I've done such a horrible job in telling him with my eyes, in showing him with my actions, how much I truly care about him.

All thoughts of leaving him, vanish—popping like a soapy bubble, passing like a cloud in a thunderstorm. I'm not ready to lose him. I need to show him I'm strong enough to handle anything he's hiding—all his shame and secrets. I can be strong for him, for us—for me, right?

I'll take everyone's advice and I'll let this one go. I'll give him more time, and because my feelings for him are grandiose, I suggest, "You can spend the night, just like last time."

His green eyes lock with mine and his face wrinkles with the biggest megawatt smile I've ever seen. It illuminates his face with adoration and I forget about the past thirty minutes, about the past few days and decide not to nag him anymore about a past I haven't earned the right to know.

When he's ready, he'll tell me and if he's never ready, then I'll learn to accept that. I can't push him any more than he's already pushed himself. His body. Oh, God, his body.

"Don't," he tells me seeing my quivering lip and yet again he rescues me from my thoughts as his lips press against mine.

He moves a yellow strand behind my ear and says, "Are you hungry? I can teach you to make ropa vieja?"

We take a quick trip to the store down the street and we're soon back in my apartment, cooking. I begin to slice the vegetables while Devin puts the brisket in the slow cooker he brought from his house.

In a big pan, we add olive oil, onions, peppers and tomato sauce. When the meat is ready, I help Devin shred it into pieces and we add it to the pan. Five minutes later, we pour some broth and the rest of the condiments.

"It smells so good," I say, intaking the smell of cumin and parsley. "You said you cooked with your Dad?"

"Yeah. Dad loved Cuban food and I loved my dad, so I would cook with Mom sometimes and help make his favorite foods. Later I'd cook them with him."

"Jess and I loved to bake. We had seen this lady from the Food Network bake a cake and we wanted to give it try. Well, we ended up dirtying Mom's kitchen and she got so mad at us, even tried to pin Dad against us, but we were Daddy's little girls, nothing we ever did was wrong in his eyes."

"Why is it that the ones we love the most are always the first ones to leave us?"

"I don't know." I walk to him and wrap my arms around his stomach. Devin rests his cheek on my head and inhales my scent.

"Don't ever leave me."

My heart smiles in my chest at his unknown admission. "I won't ever leave you."

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