Always Alone

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Chapter Nine

I WAKE UP the next day with an unrelenting headache. Little by little my brain begins to inflate, running out of room in my cranium and pressing into my skull.

I couldn't sleep at all last night. I kept turning in bed, tangling myself in the sheets like a mummy, trying to come up with ways for my students to retain information.

What hurts the most is that I thought I was doing a good job. They seemed to like the activities we did in class. However, their enthusiasm doesn't show on the test scores. Sadly, that's what Mrs. Garcia and the District will be looking at.

I don't know where I went wrong. Is it that I don't speak Spanish? I took Spanish in high school and remember a few things. Not enough to hold a conversation, but the basics like hola, adios, and no hablo español.

"Ugh," I grunt as another pound hammers my head and press my forefingers into my temples, finding some relief. Stupid headache be damned. I get out of bed and walk to the bathroom with Angie in tow.

A nice hot bath will calm my nerves and then I can start up my computer and do more research. Maybe the tests aren't valid?

I turn on the water, letting it fill the bathroom with steam and rush to the kitchen in search of green tea bags. Five minutes later, I'm submerged in a green tea bath with a subdued headache. The pleasant aroma of the tea penetrates my pores. I think back to the last time I was this relaxed.

Never.

All my life I had to worry about what Jess was doing. How much trouble would she get into if Mom and Dad found out she sneaked out? Would I be to blame, too? When would she come home?

As I grew older, all those worries transferred to school, passing the PECT, and not letting my parents down. Then, I worried about finding a job, and now that I have one, I'm worried I made the worst mistake of my life and became a teacher.

But deep down I know I was placed on this earth for greatness; to make an actual change in a child's life. So, I relinquish the thought of being a teacher a mistake because God gave me a gift. He gave each and every one of His children a present. The thing is that He hides them well, like a hidden egg on Easter and that's why it takes us longer to open them.

I unwrapped mine when I was four and it contained a chalkboard.

With a coffee cup in hand, I walk to the balcony where the sun stands proudly in the cloudless sky, illuminating the day with its blinding light. A beam of sunshine heats my cheek. I close my eyes, enjoying the soft breeze of the ocean ahead.

Although it's the beginning of December, it's a perfect day to go for a swim. This makes me picture myself in frozen Pennsylvania swimming around this time. Unless it'd be a heated pool, no one will be doing any swimming up north around this time or me right now for that matter. I look down at my cast and think, just a few more days.

Grabbing my laptop, I sit back in the rattan chair on my balcony and continue with my research. There's a peer/buddy system that catches my eye and I continue surfing Pinterest and teaching blogs for ideas and more information on how the system works.

I'm so engrossed in what I'm reading that the sudden ring of my phone makes me jump in my seat.

Heavens!

"Good morning Mom," I say, smiling into the phone.

"Genevieve? Oh, good. You're alive," Mom says, a hint of sass in her tone.

"I'm surprised it took you, what?" I pause. "Three days to check up on me."

Mom puffs. "I was busy. What's your excuse?" I can picture her with a hand on her hip and her chin raised high.

"Mom, are you serious? I'm busy all the time. If I haven't had time to call it's because I have been busy, not for any other hypothetical reason you might be coming up with in your head."

The line goes silent and I hear a nose being blown. Is she crying?

Exhaling a breath, I say, "Mom, I'm sorry if I made you worry. I've honestly had to deal with so many things. You have no idea how demanding this job is. I guess this is the stressing part people talk about having a rewarding career."

"Why didn't you call me or your father? We'll always be here for you, you know? There's no need to do anything on your own," she says in a brittle voice.

"I know. I'm sorry."

"How about you tell me what's going on, maybe I can help," Mom suggests.

I roll my eyes. I know she means well, but she's so nosy sometimes. I let out a laugh and unload all my problems on her. As I talk into the phone, I stand up, resting my elbows on the railing, and lean against it.

My eyes catch a man running on the walking trail. I should probably go for a walk. The more time I let pass without exercising, the harder it will be on my body. I step on the lower rail to get a better view of the very attractive man jogging around the lake. As the man rounds the trail his eye close in on mine and he waves with a smile that melts my heart.

Devin.

Our accidental eye contact makes me a bit tipsy. I smile back.

Should I mention him to Mom? I mean, it's not like he's my boyfriend or anything, but I want someone else other than Angie to know I'm crushing on a very hot, nice guy. What if Mom thinks I'm having sex with him? She'll tell Dad and they'll think I broke my chastity. Do I want my parents thinking of me having sex?

Oh, God. No. There's my answer.

"Genny," someone shouts. I turn to the voice.

I see Devin jogging toward me, not a hint of fat bouncing as he runs. His body is so annoying.

I interrupt my mother from her tongue-twisting story, "Mom, can I call you later?"

"Okay, Genevieve, but maybe call your father instead. He needs some affection, too, you know?"

If you'd give him the phone for once, I want to say, but go for, "Yes, Mom. Bye."

I hang up just as Devin reaches me.

"Hey," he says, giving me a heart-shattering smile. He raises his shirt to wipe off the sweat that has collected on his forehead.

Stop!

Don't look.

Don't look.

I look.

I can't help it. It's just there, like the pecan pie greeting me every day when I open the fridge saying eat me, Devin's body says look at me.

A dark, Celtic line rises from beneath his gray shorts and grows until it lands on his left pec. I notice cursive writing in the lower part of his stomach and manage to read "...outrun your shadow..." before he lowers his shirt and clears his throat, drawing my attention back to his eyes.

This body is going to be the death of me, I just know it just as I know I'll be the happiest corpse.

"You promised to go for a run with me, remember?" he says, leaning closer to the railing and to me. I can smell his mossy scent with a hint of spice mixed natural moisture.

I position my elbow next to his hands and instantly feel all the cells in my body curving to that one spot. "Hmm, I don't remember ever promising."

"Come on. It's a beautiful day. Have you ever seen such a clear sky in December before?"

His face turns upwards directing my gaze to the ravens flapping their wings in the sky. It really is a beautiful day. The swaying of the trees makes the branches look like they're floating in the atmosphere as the birds sing of the perfect day to come.

I bite my lip as he urges me with dancing eyebrows. I was already thinking of going for a walk and I don't know anyone here, so it would be nice to have one friend.

"Okay. I'll meet you there—" I point to one of the benches in front of the lake, "—in five minutes."

He slaps his hands together, the smile that I'm soon becoming familiar with breaks his face as he says, "Cool."

Five minutes later, I'm dressed in my workout clothes walking up to Devin who's sitting on the bench watching the ducks and turtles swim in the lake.

I pause my stride and take a moment to look at him. He looks joyful, at peace and for some reason, this makes me happy. He reaches down and takes a drink of water, suddenly turning my way. Devin puts his bottle down and motions me with his head to go to him and I do.

"Ready?" he questions as I nod. "You should probably stretch to accommodate your muscles," he says. "Wouldn't want you to get injured, again."

I stare at him with a ha-ha look and he playfully bumps my shoulder.

"Follow my moves."

I do exactly as he does and stretch my feet on the metal bench. Afterward, we stand with our feet far apart and reach for our left toes. We come up and touch our right toes. Devin starts to jump in place and moves his hands as if he were jumping a rope. I look at him and can't help but laugh.

"Come on, do it," he says, winking. As I start to jump in place, I mentally thank myself for wearing my most supporting sports bra.

After what seems like seven minutes of stretching, he looks at me and says, "We'll walk half the trail and jog the other half. Then we'll go to the gym." I nod and we begin a leisure amble, our feet moving in unison on the concrete trail.

"Where are you from?" Devin randomly asks.

"Pennsylvania and you?"

"Miami, though my mom's from Cuba."

I've heard wonders of Cuba. The largest island in the Caribbean bursting with exquisite food, white, sandy beaches, and yearly carnivals. I've always wanted to dance salsa in the streets of La Habana, wearing a red dress, my hair laying loosely on my back with natural tendrils, swaying with the movements of my hips.

"I've heard it's a beautiful island. I've always wanted to go there, but since I'm American I was never allowed," I say, pondering my farfetched dream.

"It is and now you don't have to. I'll take you someday," he says fervently.

"Promise?" I joke.

He nods. Something about the way he says that makes me feel like that's a promise he won't break. That he will take me to Cuba some way or another, but I dismiss the thought because that'll be unrealistic, right?

"What about your dad?" I ask.

He stiffens at the mention of his dad. I gaze into his eyes in search of a sign that he's okay. But he isn't. He looks mournful and in pain. The muscles around his iris contract and they begin to glisten, though I don't know if it's sorrow or hatred that makes them grow moist.

"American," he says in a voice that's not much more than a whisper.

His dad's clearly an itchy topic. Why doesn't he want to talk about him? I go to change the subject, but he quickly shuts me down by saying, "Ready?"

I don't have a chance to answer because Devin rushes forward into a sprint. I just stand there, immobilized, looking at the man who carries so much pain bottled up as he tries to chase his own shadow. I untangle my new earphones from my phone and listen to Spotify as I begin on a slow jog with Devin ahead of me.

We were having such a pleasant conversation and then he turned into stone at the mention of his father. He looked like one of my students when they're called on to answer a question they had no idea was coming. Shocked, eyes wide and frightful. There's a story hidden deep below Devin and I don't know why, but all I want to do is hug him and evaporate his pain.

After our run and time at the gym, it's almost 5:00 pm. I'm exhausted and in much need of food.

Devin turns to me and for the first time makes eye contact. "There's an IHOP a few blocks from here. Do you want to grab a bite?"

"Doesn't that defeat the purpose of what we just did?" I question, standing up from the mat.

He shrugs. "That's why we exercise, so we can eat as much as we want." I raise an eyebrow which makes him say, "My treat."

"Now we're talking. Come on, Devin." I wave at him as I walk out of the gym.

IHOP is just two blocks away and we get there in less than ten minutes. We are quickly seated and the waitress takes in our order in no time.

"Tell me about yourself," he says as I take a drink of coffee.

"What do you want to know?"

Devin shrugs his shoulder. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-two. You?"

"Twenty-six. Boyfriend?"

"No." I shake my head and place a strand of blonde hair behind my ear as I shyly ask, "You?"

"Nope. No boyfriend, straight as a line." He smiles and fixes me with his almond-shaped green eyes. I feel my stomach tighten as he says, "No, I don't have a girlfriend."

Trying not to gaze into his eyes because whenever I do, I can't resist the uncontrollable tug of my lips, I look to the carpeted floor the chairs rest on with my ears burning. Then I remember he said his mom is from Cuba and think maybe he could help me communicate aptly with my students.

"You speak Spanish, right?"

"Speak it, write it, read it, understand it. What do you want to know?" He places his elbows on the table, eager to help.

The waitress brings out our food and asks if we need anything else. We both say no and she walks away.

"Most of my students are Cuban," I start.

"Who isn't in Florida," Devin murmurs and takes a bite of his pancakes.

I stare at him in surprise. Who eats sweets before dinner?

"What?"

"You eat pancakes before your dinner?"

"Yeah." He smiles yet again. He's been doing that often today. "I know it's kind of weird. My sisters joke about it all the time, but I like to eat dessert before dinner. I don't like the taste of something sweet in my mouth."

"Oh my gosh! That is so weird." I clamp my hands in my mouth. I've never heard this before.

After sharing a laugh, I continue to tell him about my students and the hard time I have communicating with the ones that have just gotten to the United States a few months ago. He teaches me a few words to say in Spanish which I, of course, butcher and he laughs at my inability to roll my R's. Our conversation flows easily and it's charged with positive energy as we continue to talk about work and family.

He mentions his three sisters and how it was like to be raised in a household filled with opinionated Hispanic women. Never once does he mention his father, but I understand him because when he asks me about my family, not once do I mention Jess. As the sky begins to turn a shade of gray and the moon is slowly rising, Devin walks me home.

Today was a beautiful day, I think to myself, admiring the view above. The clouds turn darker as they catch every cumulus cloud and swallow their vapor. A light breeze ruffles the verdant trees giving the impression of June, though the calendar says December.

"You know, in Pennsylvania, all those trees would be orange and red," I say mystically. "The sky would be raining with snowflakes and we wouldn't be walking home because we would freeze our butts off!" I turn to Devin. "Is it always like this?"

"Yeah." He says with softly. "The coldest it's ever gotten here has been the low forties."

"Wow," I respond incredulously.

"You're not used to this weather, are you?" I shake my head. "I've never seen snow."

"I'll take you to Pennsylvania sometime," I promise and I see a smile growing in his vivid eyes.

A gush of wind hugs my face. My hair flies forward, covering my eyes. Devin steps forward and brushes the long tresses from my face. He lingers there for a beat as my heart starts racing, turning my ears a rosy red. He caresses my right cheek and I instantly close my lids, making his every touch feel like a thousand.

I feel his warm breath millimeters from my mouth. I lick my lips, unintentionally touching his with my tongue. I hear him groan from deep within his throat, a sound I'm pleased to hear as something wet builds in between my thighs. My heart races in anticipation as I wordlessly ask him to end the night with a kiss.

It never comes, and after what seems like minutes, I let out a fizzle breath, opening my eyes to Devin staring at me. His eyes shine with disappointment. Our transparent eyes are so alike that I don't know if the dishearten is mine or his.

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