Always Alone

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Chapter Twenty-One

STANDING PROUDLY ON the horizon is a one-story beach cottage. The with white trimming around the windows accentuates the sky kissed structure. A colorful arrangement of flowers gives the home a beautiful curb appeal. Swinging from the porch hangs a two-person yellow swing that rocks like a boat on the ocean.

"Woah," I say in awe as I carefully step over the cobblestone circling what will be our home for the next three days.

"It looks even better in the daylight," Devin says as he rounds the car and gathers our bags and fishing poles.

"Remind me again who we're spending the weekend with."

"Mason is the one who owns the house with his wife, Ava. Ernesto and Alexa, you already know, and then there's Chloe and Luis."

"Chloe's the teacher, right?" I ask, remembering our chat while we drove by the Seven Mile Bridge.

"Yep."

At least I have something in common with one of his friends. If things get awkward, I can always talk about work with her and hopefully bond over how much we love our jobs.

Devin grabs our bags, stepping on the vast porch before running his knuckles on the red door. Soon after the third knock, the door spreads wide.

"My man! About time." A man wearing swimming shorts with water dripping over his naked chest is on the other side of the threshold. His arms outstretch as he welcomes Devin with a hug. The beer he's holding almost drops to the floor at his excitement.

"Traffic was a nightmare," Devin mutters, turning to me. "This is Genevieve, my girlfriend."

He says the word girlfriend with such vigor that my tummy instantly somersaults. I allow the words to simmer as I know I'll never forget the first time he introduced me as his girlfriend.

The tan man gives me a warm smile and shakes my hand.

"The famous Genevieve. I've heard lots about you. I'm Mason, it's good to meet you." He goes on to tell us where our room is and to meet him out in the back where the party is taking shape.

I don't get a chance to admire the décor inside the house before something on the far side of the living room grabs my attention. Stepping over the threshold, I robotically walk to the source and ballet my fingers over the white and baby-blue wooden skids on the wall.

I face Devin, seeing his hand on this masterpiece. "Did you make this?"

"Yeah. Ava wanted to have an accent wall, but she didn't want to use wallpaper. Mason knows how much I like to make things out of wood and he asked me to make it for her. It was a surprise. She says it's her favorite thing in the house."

These are the moments with him that make me swoon. These are the moments when I wonder how in the world did I become so lucky to have such a giving man in my life. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I pull him close to me until our lips seal.

The open windows and light ocean breeze give flavor to our kiss as our tongues dance as one. Devin pulls me to the kitchen, almost tripping over our discarded bags and sits me on the massive granite island. I open my legs as he settles closed to me and swipes an errant curl behind my ear.

Our foreheads press together. Our chins blindly tilt, seeking the touch of our voracious lips. My hand slides across his neck to his arms and settles on his chest. As the beating of his heart thumps against my palm, something inside of me awakens, reviving all my senses.

Devin whispers between kisses, "Genny, I—"

A loud throat scratching takes Devin's confession, pulling us apart. My blood flows rapidly to my ears as I quietly jump off the island. Devin's eyes dance around the room in search of the noise as I do the same.

"Devin!" A brunette comes running into his arms, taking him away from me like she's done too many times before. "Mason said you got here."

"Hey..." Devin can barely speak in her deathly grip. He finally manages to get away from her and comes to me.

Alexa extends her hand to me with a smile that doesn't quite reach her brown eyes. "You already know this but...I'm Alexa, Devin's best friend."

I smile back and just because I can, I say, "You already know this, too, but...I'm Genevieve, Devin's girlfriend."

The silence hangs high as the tension between us begins to build. Her brown eyes narrow to slits as memories of Alexa crying drown my brain with guilt.

"We're going to change out of these clothes. I'll see you in a bit," Devin says.

"Okay. Don't be long." I can't help my eyes from reaching the vaulted ceilings.

We go up the stairs in silence, me thinking how in the heavens am I going to survive three days with Alexa flirting with my boyfriend and Devin I'm sure is wondering how he's going to survive keeping Alexa and me happy without getting into an argument with either.

"I'm sorry about Alexa," Devin apologizes as soon as the door to our room is locked.

"I'm good, I promise. So, we're getting in the hot tub, right?"

"Seems like it."

"Why do I always have to get wet around you?" I joke, needing the humor to liven up our mood.

He winks, giving me a bad boy smirk.

"Because I'm that good."

We laugh—a real belly-hurting, eye-watering laugh that extinguishes the tension from minutes ago. I assure him one last time that I'll be okay with Alexa before grabbing my bag and entering the bathroom to change into my bathing suit.

As I step into the open wooden deck, the light breeze blows across my cheeks with salty kisses. My eyes wander around the ample space, taking it all in. There's a bar tucked at the corner of the deck where a man with a beer belly is making drinks. A built-in grill stands across the bar, sizzling like a wildfire as a dark-skinned man flips the racks of ribs with large tongs.

Next to the bubbly tub is a small staircase that leads to the sandy beach that at the dawn of night looks like the Milky Way. The full moon illuminates the horizon with diamond-like stars. What I wouldn't do to fall asleep every night with this scenery.

One of the things I miss most of Galeton is the sparkling sky at night and the sound of nature as the waft of wood and sweet pine give a good night's sleep.

In Miami, the sky is inundated by orange street lamps and the only noise I hear at night are the sounds of sirens that don't let me sleep and rowdy neighbors I won't name.

Key West is different from the city, though like little islands floating on the ocean—no human-made light to hide the stars, no sirens around to flood the sound of waves crashing on the sand. Just peace.

"Isn't it beautiful?" a feminine voice asks by my side, popping my dazed dome. "I've been telling Mason to move down here, but he says it's too secluded."

"Isn't that beauty of it?"

"That's exactly what I tell him!" She shrieks, her small frame jumping a little. "I'm Ava, you must be Genevieve; Devin's talked a lot about you."

"So I've heard." I eye Devin.

"All good things," he says next to me.

I whisper back, "I hope."

"Ava! Get back inside," a blonde girl yells from the hot tub.

"That's Chloe, she's a bit drunk. She's a teacher so she needs a daily dose of alcohol to stay afloat." She giggles at her own joke. "Oh! You're a teacher too, so you must know what I'm talking about it."

"Okay..." Devin takes my hand, slowly taking me away from Ava. "Looks like she's a bit tipsy, too."

"I heard that! And no, I'm not," Ava shouts, a hand going to her hip.

The guy behind the bar says something to Devin in Spanish and extends his arms in a bear hug, slapping him hard on his back and raising Devin a few feet off the floor. I can't help but giggle. He makes Devin's massive size look like an ant next to his.

"Man, chill with your strangling hugs."

While they speak to each other in Spanish, I close my eyes and enjoy Key West's gentle weather. I feel ripped arms wrap around my waist and instantly know they aren't Devin's.

His are muscular yet comforting and loving. These are hard with dark veins popping out of the arms getting ready to explode at any moment. Survival mode instantly kicks in as I elbow whoever is behind me in the stomach.

"Ouch," I hear a deep voice argue as I swirl around.

"It's just me, Gen." The man holds up his hands in surrender.

Gen?

He looks familiar. Something about that voice...like I've heard it before, but don't know where. And those hazel eyes dying to tell me things he's not supposed to say. But where have I—

"Ernesto?"

"Hey, I knew you'd remember me after our chat, but please, call me Nestor. Only Devin calls me by my full name and that's because he knows it annoys me."

I tilt my head in agreement.

"Chat?" Devin stands behind me, leaving his friend speaking to himself. I can feel his chest rise and falls with every jagged breath he swallows.

"That's for Gen and me to know."

What is wrong with this man? Is he flirting with me with Alexa somewhere in this deck? Why would he purposely push Devin's buttons? Why would he put me in this situation when I only just got here?

"Gen? Her name is not 'Gen' she's Genevieve to you. You might not respect your girlfriend, but you will respect mine." He steps in front of me, his hands balling with territorial authority ready to punch whoever gets in his way.

"Dude, don't start now." Mason walks over to us. Stepping in between their testosterone war, he says, "Ava and I have the weekend planned and it does not involve any fighting. Cut it the fuck out."

My eyes search for Alexa as I wonder what her thoughts on this matter are. She should be here taming her boyfriend but instead, I find her submerged in the hot tub, elbows on either side of the railing, watching the show with an evil smirk on her thin lips.

What is wrong with her? She pretends to care about Devin and pretends to love Nestor, yet when her best friend and lover fight she sits on the sidelines eating popcorn?

"Dev." I touch his shoulder, feeling his frozen body slowly thaw with my warm touch. "Maybe we should go back to the room. I'm tired and we both need to shower."

"Yeah, I think that's wise."

"No," Alexa shouts, water dripping off her pink bikini as she hurriedly gets out of the tub. Her eyes scan my body as mine do the same to hers. She might have a tainted heart, but I can't deny she is very pretty. I'd even go as far to say she's beautiful.

Her heart-shaped face and mahogany eyes rest on her tall frame. Nothing compared to my holey curved body. No wonder Devin was with her. Insecurity suddenly pokes its head as my arms cover my stomach.

"Nestor, stop it! He'll stop, Devin. Stay."

I can't help the scoff that whistles out of lips. Now she decides to help. Hypocrite. I'm sorry God, but she's making it really hard not to judge her. She doesn't even try to hide her feelings for Devin, it shines in her eyes whenever they gaze at him.

I don't know what to do or what to say. They've all known her longer than me and if we get into a verbal argument, I bet they wouldn't think twice before taking her side. Devin along with them.

As predicted, Devin falls right into her trap and decides to stay in what can possibly be a bomb field. Taking a breath to calm my raging jealousy, I drown my pride. I swallow my jealousy and just like I've done before, I try to enjoy the weekend because Devin and I need this.

This is where our relationship grows from a seed under a pit of soil to a vigorous tree. We just need time and a little bit of rain to feed the seed. I just hope the water doesn't come from my tears.

"You can go to sleep now, Genny. Devin will stay here with us."

"I, um, yeah. I'm not sleepy anymore."

Casually shrugging, she reaches for Devin's hand just as he slips his fingers with mine and squeezes my hand. Alexa's hand drops to her sides when she doesn't find Devin's grip.

"Devin?" she asks lowly, her features falling. I don't know if the pools forming in her eyes are from the hot tub or from Devin's dismissal.

"Genny and I haven't eaten since four. We'll catch a bite and then join you in the tub."

Alexa gives a faint nod and reaches for Ernesto's hand, taking him to the heated water.

I can only imagine how hard it must be to have to choose between your best friend and girlfriend. I've never asked him to pick either one of us, but a part of me hopes that if it comes down to it, he'll pick me like I've picked him over all his secrets.

He's trying. I know he is and so far, he's stuck by my side even when I thought he would leave me and go to her. He's stood up for me and has chosen me after all the times he's denied me of his friends. Devin's finally sprouting and I'm enjoying every petal that's slowly opening.

"Sorry about that," the man who had Devin in a bear hug tells me. "I didn't know she was that bad. She has her moments, we all do, but she takes it to a whole other level."

"She doesn't mean to, Luis. You know that." Devin defends her. Taking a half rack of ribs from the barbecue, he places it on a plate and hands it to me.

"Luis, baby, bring me another beer," Chloe calls to him with a sensual voice that makes Luis' ghostly complexion shine red.

"I think this is goodnight for us. I'll see you tomorrow everyone." Luis' large frame makes it easy for him to carry his girlfriend without any assistance.

"Night," we all say.

After Devin and I finish eating, we get into the heated tub and relax under the soft light of the moon. Letting the steam moisturize our bodies, we talk about the plans for the weekend.

I don't know what it is about men, but when sports and outdoorsy things are a topic of conversation, they forget about their differences and talk as if nothing happened. If only Alexa and I could do the same, it'd be great. She just talks to Ava and ignores me whenever Ava tries to include me in the conversation.

Devin seeing the dispute between us shares the story of how they all met. "Mason and I meet at UM. He was the whitest guy in our freshman orientation."

"Years of living in Miami." Mason swipes a hand over his tan chest. "Now I'm as dark as Nestor." Everyone around laughs.

"Where are you from?"

"Washington. I've never been a fan of the cold, so when I got a chance to come to Miami, I hopped on the first plane."

"Ava!" Alexa exclaims, interrupting Mason. "Chloe and I were talking about having a girl's night. There's a nightclub a few miles from here that looks promising."

"I don't know..."

"Oh, come on, Ava."

"What do you think Genevieve?" Ava asks.

"Please, call me Genna. And I don't know either..."

I look to Devin. He gives me an encouraging shrug. "I think you'll have fun. It'll be great to get to know the girls."

I've never been clubbing before; never been a fan of strangers groping on my body. It's true that I don't have any girlfriends in Florida or Pennsylvania for that matter. It'd be great to find a longtime friend in Ava and Chloe, even in Alexa, who knows, maybe she's a lot manageable when she's had a few drinks.

"Ugh." Alexa grunts.

"Okay," I say.

"You'll go?" she asks, a mixture of shock and surprise masking her features.

"Yeah, I think it'll be fun."

"Awesome! The boys can drive us back."

"Why can't we go, too?" Nestor asks.

"Babe, it's girls night."

"But who'll take care of you if something happens?"

"Genny won't be drinking," Devin says.

"Excuse me?" I ask, shocked at his assumption.

"You won't drink. You can drive them back." He turns to Mason, dismissing our conversation and continues planning their fishing trip tomorrow.

I'm not a big drinker and I wasn't planning on drinking either way, but now that's he's had the audacity to forbid me to drink, the defiant side of me wants to do just that.

"I drink whatever I want however much I want," I interrupt their chat and cross my arms. "Don't worry girls, Devin will pick us up."

Devin's lips turn into a sly smirk and he nods his head. Something about that smile tells me I'll be regretting this later, but I'll cross that bridge when I get home tomorrow after our girl's night of crazy fun.

Later that night, I find myself in the porch, swinging back and forth in the bright yellow swing. The wind ruffles my hair back, turning it curlier than usual with saline water. The houses around the neighbor are dark and yawning with sleepy guests. I close my eyes and picture Devin and me living here.

"Hey," Devin's soft voice startles me. He takes a seat next to me. "I've been looking for you."

I snuggle into his side. "How did you find me?"

"I followed the beating of my heart."

"Did you now?"

"I did. The faster it thumped, the closer I got to you."

"You're such a poet."

"I do like to write."

"Oh, my God!" I sit upright. "Thanks for reminding me. I got you something. Wait here."

I run back to the room, digging into the suitcase for the box. Back on the porch, I hand it to him. He smiles, his cheeks tainted a bit rosy. "What's this for?"

I shrug. "Just because."

With greedy fingers, he opens the box. "You got this for me?" His eyebrows scrunch together in amazement as his fingers touch the brown leather.

"I saw all the ones you had in your house and thought you might need a new one."

"Before my father died, he gave me a journal just like this one."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know. It's okay if you d—"

"You didn't know because I never told you. That's my fault, Genny. I know there are a lot of things you don't know about me, and it's unfair but I'm trying. Just give me more time, okay?"

"It's okay. I'll wait as long as you need."

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