Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 5

Elena


A hostile noise bursts through my peaceful slumber like cymbals of a marching band in a quiet meadow. My arm stretches out from under the covers in search of the noisy object-I beat the button on my alarm clock a few times. When all but birds singing fills my ears, tired eyes peek out from under the blankets to notice the time-6 am.

The sun streams in my room as I imagine what I can do with the empty white walls. Perhaps a collage of pictures with Mom, Dad, and Rachel. Maybe some posters with encouraging words... there’s already a vanity, so no need for a mirror. A light shade of blue or even a light shade of pink for the color ought to be nice—so many possibilities. My eyes drift to the clock. Oh no! I lost track of time. It’s 6:13 am.

Groaning and begrudgingly climbing out of bed like a toddler, I drag myself to the bathroom for a shower in hopes it will revive me.

After combing and blow-drying my hair, I decide to leave it down, but put a hairband on my wrist, just in case. I take a moment in my towel; a thought sprinkles in the back of my mind: this is as good as it gets. I am not the prettiest of girls out in the world. My figure is petite, but I have some curves on me–not enough though–according to some. My face is soft, but I don’t have those high cheekbones or naturally long lashes, nor plush lips. In my eyes and the eyes of my last school... I am average, to say the least.

The neighbor’s image pops into my mind. With the way he gazed at me, it was like he had a sweet tooth, and I was the only piece of candy within a twenty-mile radius. Thinking of him makes me weak in the knees. I slap myself for something so silly and shake my head as though to rid the memory. It was dark out; he wasn’t sure what he saw. He was drunk. If he caught what I look like in the daylight hours and sober, he wouldn’t have acted that way. I’ll just keep telling myself that.

I swing the bathroom door open, then head into my room to grab the clothes I took out last night for my first day at school.

“Hurry, Elena. Someone is here that I want you to meet,” Dad calls from down the hall.

Who on earth would he want me to meet? I put on the dark skinny jeans and a lightweight, maroon, off-the-shoulder sweater that is fuzzy and soft. The outdoor temperature is warm, but I know the classes will have air conditioning. The thoughts of a Michigan winter blows a shiver through my body. I’m glad I won’t experience another one of those soon. Grabbing my backpack, a few notebooks, and my pencils, I place them in the specific compartments of my bag.

After applying some cherry chapstick, a little light foundation, and mascara, I gather my bag and head out to the kitchen. I open the fridge and take out the orange juice that we brought from Michigan in a cooler. As soon as I close the refrigerator, I gasp and almost drop the orange juice on the tiled floor.

My neighbor is here. In my house. What in the world is he doing here? I grip the orange juice neck so tight; my knuckles turn white, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the cap busts off. His hand reaches up to rest against the fridge to lean in towards me, invading my space.

There are no words. I have no words; my brain completely shuts off. The only thing I seem to be able to do is to stare at him like he’s a mythical creature. My eyes dart to the piece of skin closest to me. There is a small black cross tattoo on his right hand between the space of his thumb and index finger.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” he says rasps. I drag my nervous blues up and meet his bright green confident ones. So beautiful. His gaze sweeps over my face. A small smirk is forming on those perfect pink lips. His nose is slender but with a minor bump in it. He’s most likely had a broken nose at one time; he still looks magnificent. Staring at him like a crazy person, I am frozen in my spot. His regard is too strong. My cheeks are burning a deep red out of feeling so self-conscious. Without warning, a warm, large, calloused hand reaches for my chin to push my mouth closed.

“Don’t want you drooling again, Kitten.” His voice is like velvet with the southern drawl. I begin to blink uncontrollably; his smirk widens. Good lord, he has dimples.

His thumb lingers for about a nanosecond caressing my jawline. The tender touch sends strong sparks through my body, and I can’t help but let out a whispered gasp at the shock. The unrecognizable leap in my belly scares me, so I edge away. Those fierce eyes don’t move from mine.

This situation in the kitchen is the longest few seconds of my life. Finally, Dad comes down the hall, calling my name. My neighbor’s arms cross over his chest, making his muscles and tattoos dance–not that I noticed. It takes a minute for my heart, mind, and body to come down from the high he just gave me. It becomes a lot easier as soon as I absorb a smug smile on his face. He knows what he does to me–brilliant. I roll my eyes as Dad appears around the corner.

“Sorry about that, I forgot my wallet in my room. Elena, I see you’ve met Michael Gilbert.” He points at the beautiful man beside me.

“Uh... yeah,” I choke, my mouth tastes like it’s full of cotton. I should tell Dad about how we met outside last night whilst in my bathrobe, yelling at him for waking me up at an ungodly hour, but I choose to swallow it.

​“Oh, Good!” my dad exclaims. “He’ll be showing you to the bus-stop this morning. He came on by and wanted to introduce himself. He’s in your grade. Transfer student, you said?”

He and I peep over to who is apparently Michael. My dad continues, but I don’t listen to the rest... something about how he knows Michael. Regretfully, all I’m able to do is gawk at the man.

He’s in my grade?

Dragging my eyes from his shoes to his face. I take in his leather boots, low hanging black jeans which have a hole in the knee. He has on a white t-shirt, which leaves just enough for the imagination, as I can see the slight definitions of his strong chest. A couple of dark tattoos under his shirt and thick biceps and forearms complement those veins popping out.

He has a tattoo on his left hand which is resting on his right bicep. Looks like he has scar tissue on those knuckles... Does he get into fights often? He has a nice strong neck, which leads me to the face that I remember all too well from last night. It takes a moment for me to register those bright green eyes staring directly into mine. As he grins, I snap away as fast as possible, feeling the heat take over my face once again. He noticed me checking him out, and his ‘oh so knowing smirk’ is getting wider as the painful seconds tick on by.

Why is my dad so keen on him?

“Is that okay with you, sweetie?” Dad’s voice brings me back.

“What?” I ask. My mind slowly emerges out of the fog of Michael Gilbert.

He repeats himself, “Is it okay that he takes you to the bus-stop for school? I have to head to work earlier than expected.” He glances at his wristwatch. “First day and all, so I can’t take you. I don’t want you walking around by yourself just yet.”

I agree with a stutter, and Dad slaps my shoulder before hugging me. “Atta girl. You may want to get going. You don’t want to be late,” he shouts as he walks out the door, leaving me to confront Michael alone.

Luckily, for my sanity, the mountainous man says, “You heard the man. Let’s go.” He gives me a wink as he strides towards the door. My heart flutters in my chest.

“Um, I forgot something,” I announce and set the orange juice down with a heavy thunk. With quick feet, I retreat to my room to gather my bearings. I walk over to my vanity mirror and examine myself as I try to control my breathing.

My mind races with how effortlessly I was relayed between Dad and Michael as if I was the milk they passed to each other at the dinner table. It’s bothering me that my father is so comfortable with the man, even though I’m sure he mentioned how he knew Michael, but I wasn’t listening. I curse under my breath, wishing I had paid better attention. I’ll get the story straight later; if I bring it up again to Michael, I’ll feel stupid because I was obviously standing right there.

Even so, Michael seems like a man that my dad wouldn’t want me to hang out with. The notion surprises me with what Michael looks like and everything he portrays.

Maybe that’s what it is: my dad knows for a fact that Michael isn’t interested in me. He certainly is giving me mixed signals then. Maybe he’s a player. He’s probably just petting his ego with how my body involuntarily responds to him.

A buzz in my back pocket startles me; I take it out and swipe it to see a text from Dad: Be nice to him. He doesn’t have many friends.

I roll my eyes. Michael is no one I should concern myself with. He’s just my hot, arrogant, egotistical, loud, underage drinking neighbor who will help me get to school. Apparently, I may be his only friend and vice versa…

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