Always Alone

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Chapter Twenty-Two

D E V I N

DAD SAUNTERS INTO my bedroom, not even bothering to knock on the door. He sinks into the mattress of my twin bed as I continue to play with my toys.

"Come on. We're alone! Mom and the girls aren't here. Remember how they never let us be alone? Huh? Huh? I think we should show them we're more than capable of handling ourselves. Don't you think so, Devie?"

I grunt and roll my eyes. I hate it when he calls me Devie.

"Okay, but promise to stop calling me Devie. It sounds just like Debbie Hart from school." I point the Camaro he gave me at him.

"Oh, you mean the girl you like?" he sings and I can feel my cheeks turn the color of the car.

I cross my arms and stare at him. Why would he bring that up? I told him that in confidence. Who else has he been telling my secrets to? Mom? Vale? Camila? Isa? Debbie herself?

"I'm just joking, son. Come on, let's cook."

Dad gets out of bed and walks towards me with outstretched hands. No! I can't handle his tickling fingers. I can't. I burst into bubbles of laughter as he picks me up in the air and tickles my ribs until I'm breathless and in the kitchen.

"So first things first," Dad says. "We wash our dirty hands."

After washing our hands, we roam through the pantry, looking for the ingredients. Dad throws a bunch of things to the kitchen counter, saying we need to use them, but I've never seen Mom use cereal or honey when making her classic ropa vieja.

"Dad, are you sure these are the right ingredients. Mom usually chops a bunch of vegetables and slow cooks the meat."

He snaps his fingers. The boxes drop to the floor. "Oh, yes. We need to start cutting."

We start chopping orange peppers and onions while Dad tells joke after joke, making my belly hurt with every punch line. I don't understand why it can't just be the two of us—together, without any supervision from my annoying loud sisters or Mom.

It isn't like he's mean or hurts me. On the contrary, whenever I'm with him I have so much fun, way more fun than when I'm with my sisters. All they talk about are boys this and boys that.

Gag.

Dad continues to move the knife frantically fast on the cutting board. His fingernails are so close to the blade. I close my eyes when I think he's cut one off.

"Woah, Dad! That's very fast. Be careful with the knife, okay?" I warn, hating for anything bad to happen to him.

He drops the knife on the counter with a thud and looks at me with cold eyes.

"You want to cook? You want to take this from me, too? Fine!" he shouts and walks to his room.

"Da—"

The rattle of his bedroom door shutting cuts my apology before the words can make their way out of my mouth.

Why is he acting like this? Dad's never angry; he's always fun. He's the funniest dad at my school. All the boys envy me and wish they had a dad as cool as mine.

He probably just went to the bathroom. He'll be back soon.

I look around the kitchen and see a huge mess on the floor and the counters. How can we show Mom we can be alone if we've made such a mess? I grab the broom from the pantry and clean the kitchen while Dad finishes his business.

But after twenty minutes, he still hasn't come out. An hour later, nothing. Walking to the bedroom, I press my ear to the door, trying to hear any noise from inside, but don't manage to hear anything.

No light illuminates my parents' room when I open the door. All the shades have closed and the curtains have been drawn. My eyes shift to the mountain of black on the bed.

Ahh, he wants to play hide and seek.

I knew he was just messing around. Dad will never be angry with me. I'm his favorite; he's said so himself. I chuckle. I always win when we play. He's got no chance against me.

"Hmm, I wonder where Dad went?" I play along. "Could he be here?" I open the closet door. "Nope, not there. Could he be here?" I get under the bed. "Nope, not there either. Oh, here he is!"

I uncover the sheets from his body and step away a little in preparation for his attack that never comes. Dad stays in bed, his head on the pillow, looking at me with glowing eyes.

"Dad are you okay?" I walk closer to him. He turns around, avoiding my eyes.

Grabbing the sheets from the floor, I get in bed with him, covering both our bodies from head to toe, creating a dome of black around us.

"Please, Devie just go and leave me alone for a little while. I promise I'll get up in a bit."

"Did I do something wrong? I'm so sorry."

"Why don't you love me, Devie?" Dad asks, turning to me. His eyes shedding rivers of water as they slide down his cheeks.

A belt fastens around my heart, squeezing it until my eyes are spilling salt. How can he think I don't love him when all I've ever done is love him?

"No, Dad, I love you so much. Don't ever say that again."

His thick black eyebrows knit together in pain as he states, "You don't love me."

"Dad, no. Stop. Come on, let's finish cooking for Mom and my sisters. It'll be fun to see their faces when they see what we've done."

A forced laugh enters my ears before he sighs heavily.

"Oh, I was just joking with you. Did you believe me?"

I nod, cleaning under my eyes with chubby fingers.

"Got you! Got you! Got you! Oh, I almost forgot. I got you something. I left it on your bed. Go see it, now. Go."

He doesn't have to ask me twice. I rush into my room in search of his gift. I bet it's a new toy. Oh, maybe another Camero? When I walk into my room I find a blue box on my bed with a small white envelope on the side.

I open it.

Dear son,

Use this to record your thoughts. Write to me when I am gone.

Love always, Dad.

Write to him? Where's he going? How can I write on a car? Dad's so weird sometimes.

I open the box and find not a new car toy, but a brown leather notebook inside. He got me a notebook? I push it aside; that's boring. It reminds me too much of school.

Maybe he got confused and switched presents with Vale or something. That's a very funky gift to give to a boy.

"Dad," I say as I walk out of my room. "I think you—"

Red.

Red.

Red.

Red everywhere in the kitchen.

So much blood.

Where's the knife? Where's Da—

Dad, no!

I run to my room, grab the notebook and write.

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