In this chapter, any italicized sentences you read will be Alex’s inner thoughts/inner voice.
There will also be mentions of drug use, but no explicit details.
It was around 9 a.m. when I woke up. I took a shower late last night and fell asleep in my bath towel. The sun peeked through the thin grey curtains of my window, caressing the uncovered skin of my thighs and arms. I let out a satisfied sigh, being fully rested. It was the first night of peaceful sleep I’d managed to get in a couple weeks.
Rolling onto my back, I stared intently at the glow in the dark stars adhered to my ceiling as I stretched out my stiff arms and legs. Nani put those stars up for me years ago. I vowed to never take them down. As weird as it may sound, those stars made it feel as if she was still here with me today.
As if when I tossed and turned on restless nights -which was almost every night- she was holding me. I’d sit up and count each of those stars, a spiritual hug and kiss from her wherever she was.
Oh, how I missed her.
The image of her smiling at me with her thin rosy lips as she climbed down the ladder filled my head. Nani was my favorite person in the world. I’d have loved to know how she was doing, how her mother was doing and if her condition ever improved. But for now all I could do was wonder. I had no way to get in contact with her. It’d been quite a while since she was last here.
I grasped the two ends of my fuzzy orange towel in between my fingers, securing it as I shifted into a sitting position. For a few minutes I pondered whether I should just lay in my towel all day, until I remembered Ethan would be coming over soon. He’d enjoy me even in a paper bag, but if not for his sake, I wanted to look decent enough for my own.
For the time being, I slipped on my fluffy socks and made my way to the bathroom to freshen up. The thing I liked about having short hair was the fact that I didn’t have to do much with it but fluff and go. After that, I threw on a loose-fitting crew neck sweater over my bare chest and stepped into a pair of shorts.
In the kitchen, I stood by the Keurig with my favorite black polka dot mug, waiting for my chamomile and lavender tea to finish brewing. I’d just run out of hot chocolate, but tea was a great alternative.
If Sienna knew I was about to have tea her eyes would bulge out of her head. I’d always call her an old lady when she’d be in her bed underneath the blankets with a cup in one hand and a book in the other. But here I was just about to do the same right on my couch. Instead of a book, I’d have a TV remote.
Sweet smelling steam clouded the atmosphere around me, and I inhaled it fully. Like air being released from a balloon, the stress tightening up my muscles had slowly begun to ease away.
With my piping hot tea in hand, I shuffled to the couch, preparing to browse through Netflix. Before I had the chance to sit down though, there was a knock at the front door. I set my cup on the coffee table in front of me with a groan.
“Really? I was just about to get comfy,” I muttered to myself, trudging to the door.
I’d never checked the peephole on the front door a day in my life, but something prompted me to do it today. Being only 5′5″ living in a house presumably built for giants, I had to press one hand onto the mahogany door for stability, while I stood on the very tips of my toes to become leveled with the hole.
All in the same instant, time slowed down, and I was moving in slow motion until it seemed that every clock in the world stopped, along with the beating of my heart.
AL-EX. His voice was warped. My name that should have only had two syllables, suddenly had fifty. My ears were ringing and any breathing I tried to do was prevented by the enormous lump forming in my throat, constricting my air flow. I stumbled away from the door, barely able to register what was happening. My head was reeling as I slowly inched to the floor.
God no, not now. Please not now.
The door was unlocked. It didn’t take long for him to realize and try the handle. With ease, it turned and in front of me stood Aaron Johnson. My father.
“My goodness...Alex, I’m- I am so sorry...” his shaky, baritone voice only registered as a mumble to me.
Through blurred vision I saw him come toward me. I was glued to the carpeted floor as if I had sat in wet cement. His footsteps came to a halt and I awaited his next move. However, nothing ever came. I slowly lifted my head to meet his watery but piercing, round emerald green eyes staring right back into mine.
He kneeled beside me and took me into his arms. That’s when I lost it. Cries and screams ripped from my throat and I kicked and thrashed in his embrace, crashing my small fists into his chest.
“Why did you leave me?!”
My breathing was hard and fast.
“Why did you —”
With each word that left my mouth, I emphasized it with another hit, each growing weaker as they took more and more energy out of me. He didn’t flinch. Instead he just continued to hold me as if me having a meltdown was the most natural thing.
Why, daddy? I was just a kid... I waited for you by the window every day and every single night. I waited. But you never came back.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, repeating himself.
“I swear to you I will spend the rest of my time on this earth proving to you how sorry I am... how-how much I love you, my daughter.”
He cradled the back of my head with one of his hands and pressed me closer into him. I could no longer fight the urge to hug him back. I was hurting, I was depressed and dare I say resentful. But deep down, a part of me wanted him to hold me and never let go. I missed him more than I’d ever missed anyone in my entire life.
“I know I don’t deserve it... but please give me this chance to explain,” he added.
With my face in his shoulder, I sniffled. I was beginning to calm down a little bit.
After so many years, I was going to be able to understand. He gestured to the couch for us to sit on. I nodded as he took my hand to lift me up from the cold floor. I sat with my legs crisscrossed and dropped my hands in my lap, staring at my father expectantly.
“Your mother...” his expression was pained as he started. “She was sick.”
“S-sick... as in cancer?” I asked him, shifting in place.
“No, sweetheart. She was addicted to drugs. I want to say I noticed a change just a month or two after you were born.”
My mouth dropped open a foot wide at what I had just heard. There was no way this could be true... but then again what I knew about my mother wasn’t very much.
“Alex, when you were just one year old, she took you away from me. That night I will never forget. I had just tucked you in after giving you a bottle...” He reached over and plucked one of my hands from my lap, holding it gently in both of his own. His touch was so foreign.
“You had me getting out of bed about six or seven times every night, but when I hadn’t heard you cry not once, I knew something was wrong. When I discovered you were gone I lost my mind. It was the most terrifying moment of my life.” I felt his grip tighten on my hand.
“I searched for hours. Supermarkets, parks, churches, homeless shelters... anywhere I thought you two could have been, but I turned up with nothing.”
I sucked in a sharp breath as I prepared to ask him a difficult question. “If... if you knew she was using, why didn’t you say anything or try to get her help?”
He looked at me for a few moments. before averting his gaze to the coffee table, shaking his head.
“I loved her,” he said calmly and matter-of-factly. “I trusted that she would never put you in danger because she told me so. I was aware she was using, but ‘It’s not as much as before,’ she said. “I can quit on my own,” she said. ‘I need time.’ Clearly I was wrong to have believed her words despite her actions.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for. None of this was your fault and quite frankly there was nothing you could have done to prevent her addiction.”
I nodded in response, but not too hard. It definitely felt like my head would fall off my shoulders if I had.
“Do you want to know where I found you?”
The sound of his voice was harsh and angry contrary to just a minute earlier, and his face was pulled into a tight scowl.
“In a goddamned damn crack house! My one-year-old daughter was on a ratty old mattress, screaming her lungs out.”
I could not believe what my mother had done to him... to us.
“If I had gotten there a moment later, you’d have probably been —”
I shook my head, not wanting him to finish the sentence.
There was a rueful smile on his face as he let go of my hand and clasped both of his together. I watched as he fiddled with his fingers, his head hanging low.
“Yet I still love her. I should resent her, and I guess a good part of me does...but I knew the woman she was before her addiction and that addiction isn’t her. The Jolene I married is still inside somewhere.”
He still believes she can get better.
“Is that why you’ve been gone? Have you been trying to find her?”
“I have been trying to find her, but truthfully, it did not begin like that. Do you remember when you were 14 and I took that trip to my office in East Manhattan?”
Of course I do. That was the very first time you left me. I’ll never forget it.
“When I first asked Nanima to take care of you for more days of the week I knew what I was doing. I was running away.”
“I lived in that office for a week and a half. On my way back home I thought I’d have a clearer head on my shoulders walking through that door, but I was wrong. You favored your mother so much. It was even harder for me to adjust to than before I left.”
A tear slipped from his eye and splashed onto the knee of his slacks. “I wanted my wife home so badly, but she wasn’t going to come back. I offered to help her. Along with my love, I gave her every bit of my time and energy but she-”
Became dependent on drugs and chose them over her family.
“She was already too far gone...”
“I don’t think I can handle all of this right now. It’s too much,” I blurted out. My eyes welled with tears again.
“Of course. We can discuss the rest later.” I watched as he stood from the couch and made his way to the door.
“Where are you going?” I asked him.
“I dropped my bags off in my office because I was unsure of how this would all unravel. But Alex, whenever you want me back here just say the word.”
“I’ve wanted you back home for the last four years.”
He winced at my comment, but I felt indifferent.
“I need some time to think... or actually, not think. Anything but. Just make sure you find your way back here,” I told him.
“You don’t have to worry. I’m not going anywhere far. I will be back tonight.”
Given your track record, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. But we’ll see.
When he shut the front door, I let out a huge sigh that resulted in the dam breaking within me yet again. In the last month, I probably cried more than I did as a newborn baby.
I was glad Ethan hadn’t come over early. The last thing I wanted was for him to be a witness to the battered relationship between me and my father, and the history of my mother and her addiction. But I wish he was here now. There wasn’t anyone else I wanted to see. Not Sienna. Not Joseph. And definitely not my father. Just Ethan.
On my way up to my room, I skipped two steps at a time on the staircase. With haste, I retrieved my old MacBook from the storage compartment underneath my bed and sent an instant message.
11:00 a.m./ if you’re on your way to me now, please hurry... I need you.
About five minutes passed before I checked whether he replied or not. I opened our thread to see that he had read my message but there was no response. My fingers sped across the keyboard to send a follow-up message, but before I could hit the enter key, I heard a heavy knock on my front door.
I raced downstairs - the most eager I’d ever been to answer a door - careful not to trip myself and fall. When I opened it up, there stood the only person who had the ability, within a matter of seconds, to make my worries fade into nothing. The only person who didn’t have to say a single word to make me smile. His presence was all I needed and so much more.
Ethan had barely made it over the threshold before I jumped into his arms. He was holding a bag in his hand but dropped it to the floor to catch me. The backs of my thighs were secured in his brawny hands. I draped my arms around his neck and pulled him into me; not for a kiss, but because I wanted to be closer to him. Closer than we had been.
“Babe, you alright?” he asked softly.
Of course not.
My estranged father just showed up and told me that my biological mother is a drug addict who abandoned me when I was one year old.
How could I be okay?
I only clung to him tighter. After another silent moment standing by the door, he walked us both to the couch. He sat me down gently before taking a seat next to me. When I crawled onto his lap, his eyebrows shot up a foot in surprise.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do right now?” he asked me.
Instead of answering, I leaned in and kissed his neck, once, twice, weaving my fingers through his caramel infused brunette locks. I nudged his head back with my own and left a trail of more kisses along the column of his throat. My free hand barely made it underneath his grey football hoodie before he tensed and firmly called my name.
I’m an utter disaster.
“I- no...I-” I said, choking on a sob. “I’m not sure... I’m not sure about anything anymore. My life doesn’t make any fucking sense!”
And just like that I started sobbing into his chest. My lungs were tight, and with each second that passed I felt my head become fuzzier and fuzzier. I cried and cried. My wet eyes and snotty nose undoubtedly dirtied his hoodie, but he didn’t seem to care. He only wrapped his arms around my torso and hugged me tightly.
“Shhh,” he whispered, rubbing my back. “We don’t have to talk right now, okay? Just cry.”
Like my chamomile and lavender tea, Ethan knew how to decompress me. I closed my eyes as his warm hands rhythmically glided up and down my back. My sobs eased into cries and soon my cries into sniffles, until I slowly drifted off, completely numb to everything but his tender touch.
“It’s gonna be okay, Lex.”
* * * * * * * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this deep look into Alex’s life.
How do you feel?? I’d love to know.
Throughout the book I mention Alex’s father Aaron, and how his absence in her life has taken quite the toll on her; not to mention what she uncovers in what she thought was his empty closet. Now with the information, the idea that her birth mother could be out there somewhere, her life has only become that much more stressful.
Her story is quite sad, I know, but also one that isn’t over just yet. Stick around for so much more.
Until then, prepare yourself for the final chapters of One Night ✨
We’ve come so far, thank you for sticking around this long. I love you all so so much- Kamille ❤️