Page 77 of Alpha (Alpha 1)

I let her push me into her room. I borrowed a maxi-dress from her, brushed my hair, and let her take me to the salon, and then to dinner and a drunken evening spent trying to forget.

Except, even when she half-carried me out of the nasty old cab that brought us back to her apartment, hammered into next Thursday, I couldn’t quite forget the burden in my heart.

Nor could I forget the sadness I’d seen flash in Roth’s eyes when I’d told him I was leaving. That look haunted me in the days that followed, even more than the memory of the mask he’d slid into place just before walking away from me.

15

GOING IN CIRCLES

A month passed. The ache never went away. I relived, over and over and over, every moment with Valentine. I saw him in my dreams. I woke up with panties damp from wet dreams of Valentine’s touch, dreams and memories that couldn’t compare to what the reality had felt like. I went to bed numb; I woke up crying.

I warred with myself on a day-by-day basis. I’d done the wrong thing. I should’ve stayed. I found myself on the verge of buying a plane ticket to New York, only to stop myself at the last second. Daddy had died because of Roth. My life had been unutterably and irrevocably altered because of Roth’s greedy strong-arm tactics. He’d ruined my life. But then, I’d become the person I was because of it all. I’d had to grow up fast, and I’d had to learn to be strong. It was a cycle, round and round. The kind of war that has no end. If he hadn’t done what he had, I wouldn’t have lost Daddy. But, then again, without the series of events resulting from Roth’s attempted business deal, I would never have met him. And even though I was singularly f**ked up in the head and heart over him, I couldn’t resent or regret my time with him.

And I couldn’t stop wanting him. Couldn’t stop hoping for some justification to arise that would let me go back to him. I found myself waiting for a knock on the door, for the Hollywood ending in which Our Hero, the tumultuously sexy Valentine Roth, shows up at the door. He’d be rain-soaked, and he’d plead with me to take him back, and of course I’d sob a relieved “Yes!!” and we’d tumble to the floor in the throes of desperate lovemaking.

That never happened. Roth would never beg. And I’d left him. Was I an idiot for running away? Yes. A hopeless moron. But I couldn’t get over what he’d told me. I waffled about the veracity of Roth’s claims, but I couldn’t get around my gut-deep conviction that he’d been telling the truth. Which of course begged the question as to why he’d told me in the first place.

To which the only answer was that he felt compelled to be honest with me, no matter the consequences.

After arriving at Layla’s place, I let myself wallow for three days, and then I unpacked my suitcases into Layla’s second bedroom, got up, got dressed, and began hunting for work. I began to get caught up on what I’d missed in class—which felt horribly, awfully mundane and pointless. I found a job as a counter-clerk at some office in the depths of an industrial park. I wasn’t even sure what the business was, but it paid $11.50 an hour to answer phones and file paperwork, and it kept my mind off Valentine.

Okay, not totally, it didn’t.

I thought about him week after week as I filed the same exact piece of paper a f**king butt-trillion times, answered the same exact phone call a f**king butt-trillion times. I thought about him in the shower, and I even touched myself thinking about him. My fingers couldn’t possibly live up to my physical memory of Valentine’s fingers inside me, making me shake and shiver and come apart in mere moments. I was never an avid masturbator, and Roth had even ruined that for me.

Layla let me make my own way through it. She never pushed me one way or another. I didn’t ask her what she thought I should do, or what she would do if she were in my shoes, and she didn’t offer to tell me. We were once again two single girls making our way through life together, roommates, best friends, and each other’s only constant companion. We got drunk on Friday nights, and reinstituted our policy of chick flick Saturdays, which required a minimum of three bottles of cheap red wine, a gallon of Rocky Road ice cream, and a bag of Ruffles potato chips.

And I never heard a peep from Roth.

After being back in Detroit for about six weeks, I found myself at the Delta ticketing counter of the Oakland County International Airport, about to ask for a one-way ticket to La Guardia.

I chickened out, and went home.

I didn’t know where his building was, for one thing. I didn’t have a phone number, an address, anything.

I tried to forget. Tried to stop thinking about it. I couldn’t come to a decision, couldn’t figure it out. No matter how hard I tried, I was at a stalemate. Couldn’t go back to the way things were, couldn’t have him, couldn’t figure out how to live without him.

On a Friday evening, two months after my return from New York, I got a speeding ticket. Two points and $175. The following Monday I went in to the courthouse to pay it. I handed the clerk my copy of the ticket and my debit card. The clerk, an overweight, middle-aged woman with dishwater-blonde hair, stared at the ticket, typed in the number, and then looked up at me with a blank expression.

“You’re all set,” she said.

“What?” I frowned at her. “What do you mean, all set?”

“It’s been paid already.” She seemed ready to dismiss me.

“By whom?”

She shrugged. “I dunno, dear. All my system tells me is that it’s paid.” She peered around behind me. “NEXT!”

So I left the courthouse and went home. I couldn’t claim to be mystified, because it was obvious who was behind it. There was nothing in the mail, however, and no other hints of Roth after that.

At least, not until the beginning of the next month.

Layla was sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table, sorting through bills. I walked in from a late night class, and she looked up at me. “Hey. Thanks for taking care of the rent, by the way.”

I set my purse down slowly. “What?”

She didn’t look up from the check she was writing for the electric company. “The rent. You paid the rent again.”

“No, I didn’t.”

That got her attention. “You didn’t?”

“Nope.

“Well, I didn’t.”

“No?”

She blinked at me owlishly. “Valentine?”

I nodded. “Valentine. I got a speeding ticket last month, and he paid that, too.”

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