Just One Touch: A Black Alcove Novel (The Black Alcove Series Book 3) (2 page)

“Hey, bud, let’s
keep the secret of you having ice cream at Aunt Kelsey’s house
between us, okay?” I say, catching his attention in the rearview
mirror. Heather would not be too impressed if she knew he ate ice
cream twice in one day when he’s staying at her place tonight.
Bedtime will be fun for her.

My
bad
.

“Why?” he asks.

“If we keep it a
‘Daddy and me’ secret, maybe we can do it again someday,” I
reply instantly, because I knew that he would ask why. His eyes light
up and he nods numerous times.

With a shake of my
head, I turn off the engine and hop out, opening Jake’s door just
in time for him to jump out, too. He thinks he’s cool because he
can unhook his seat belt and doesn’t need his dad to do it, but one
time he did it too soon was all it took for him to learn it’s even
cooler to wait until the truck is turned off before he pulls on the
buckle.

He doesn’t say
anything, but he peeks inside the white truck, taking note of the
fact that only a few boxes and a chair are left to move.

“That looks like our
chair, Dad.” Jake points right before he starts to climb in, but I
tug him back by his back belt loop.

“That’s not our
stuff, bud. Let’s go inside, alright? I’m just going to grab the
mail and I’ll meet you in there. Wait for me once you’re inside.”

He nods fast, walking
straight for the doors like I taught him.
Don’t
stop for anyone.

I watch him the entire
time until his little body is completely inside. The mail contains
just another power bill and an issue of
American
Motorcyclist
. I tuck both pieces under my arm as I open
the door. I expect to find Jake standing in front of our apartment
door, quietly waiting for me, because that’s our agreement during
this phase, but he isn’t. He’s standing in front of the door
across the hall, talking to our new neighbor instead.

“Yeah, and then my
Uncle E”—deep breath—“he picked me up and I didn’t make
it.” He takes another deep breath as he finishes giving what I’m
guessing is the quickest rundown of his afternoon.

My mouth is half open,
ready to start in on my “what did I tell you about talking to
strangers?” talk when I take the last step inside the building,
allowing his chatter companion to come into view.

Long and tan legs,
toned from what I’m going to assume is a crap load of running,
stand before me in a pair of cut-off jean shorts and a black Nirvana
t-shirt that hugs a perfect rack. Blonde hair is pulled up into a
messy, sexy-as-hell bun on top of her head with a few wisps of hair
falling down her face. Crystal clear eyes like diamonds with just a
hint of blue in the center catch my gaze, and I’m completely drawn
to them. When she smiles, any lecture I’m about to give is fully
forgotten.

“Hi, I’m Alex.”
Her eyes are trained on me as her grin stays put.

“Conner,” I reply,
grinning back, and that’s when I realize there is a dresser, a
mattress, and multiple boxes blocking our apartment door. This isn’t
a very big entryway. I don’t even know how they got all this in
here. I check my watch again.

“Are they going to be
much longer to move this?” I ask, pointing to all the stuff in
front of my door.

“Dad, is she our new
neighbor?” Jake tugs on my hand.

“No,” she says,
peering out the front door behind me. “They said they were taking a
quick break, though.”

“A quick break? I
have somewhere I need to be.” Heather likes promptness. Showing up
late isn’t in the plans for me.

“Oh,” is all she
says, followed by a forced frown and shrug. “Maybe you could get
inside through a window?”

“A window?” She
can’t be serious. Her response tells me she doesn’t care about
the inconvenience she’s causing me.
“You think I should
take my son and break into my own apartment through a window?

“Or you just cool
down and wait. It was just a suggestion.” Her stance changes as her
hip pops to the left and she crosses her arms.

My left brow cocks at
the fact that she actually seems irritated by
me
.
I’ll just take care of it myself. I may be overreacting, but if her
attitude right now is any indication of what kind of uncaring
neighbor is moving in across the hall from me, I’m not thrilled,
and the less interaction we have, the better.

I grab a box and turn
for her apartment. She cuts me off before I make it through the
doorway, and I have to take a deep breath before I lose that so
called “cool” she thinks I need to find. I need in inside my
apartment if we’re going to meet Heather on time and I refuse to
wait for her or her worthless movers to move all of this junk.
Whether she likes it or not, I’m doing it myself.

Alexis

“What do you think
you’re doing?” I ask, pulling my view from the bulging biceps
that are tugging against his shirt as he holds one of my boxes in
front of him. Typical guy, taking charge of the situation, like a
girl doesn’t have the aggression to do it herself.

“I don’t have time
to wait on your lazy movers,” he says, nudging me with the box to
move out of his way.

“Put my things down.”
I push back against the cardboard. This guy can’t just walk in here
and tell people what to do or be rude for no reason. It wasn’t like
I told my movers to put my stuff in front of his door so I could have
a rocky start with a new neighbor. Being in this town has my nerves
on edge enough as it is.

“Just let me move
your shit,” he says.

“Dad, you said a bad
word!”

“Jake, sit on the
steps while Dad helps move this lady’s things, okay?”

Great, I have a
neighbor who thinks he owns the place and can do whatever he wants
with my stuff.

“That won’t be
necessary because you aren’t touching any of my shit,” I say, and
immediately cringe that I just swore in front of his little boy.

Conner, I think he said
his name is, rolls his eyes and then nudges me again. This time I try
to yank the box out of his grip. He doesn’t let go, so I do it
again.

“Fine,” he growls
at the same time I give up, thinking he isn’t giving up, but I am
wrong. The box drops, shattering the moment it meets the floor. Oh my
god, I’m going to kill him. He had better hope that wasn’t
valuable. I kneel to the floor, flipping one tab of the box open, my
eyes find the broken frame and tears fall immediately. The clay frame
my brother made me before we were split into two different fosters
homes is broken into pieces.

“Look, I didn’t—”

“You should have just
listened to me!” I stand and push the box into my apartment with my
foot.

“I was just trying to
help you,” he argues.

“I didn’t ask for
your help!” I yell again as more tears come. I turn, prepared to
slam my door in his face and hopefully hit him with it in the process
when two small eyes grab my attention. His son is staring right at
me, blinking and looking ready to cry as well. I sniffle and take a
deep breath before I calmly close my door.

I let out a couple more
slow breaths and slide down the door, sitting next to the box. I pull
out the pieces of the frame, running my fingers over the sharp edges
of the blue, green, and yellow pieces. Next I pull out the faded
photo that used to being inside it and choke back more tears when I
notice a corner stuck to part of the frame, leaving it ripped.

My last memory of my
brother, Logan, is of when we were making these picture frames in the
children’s home, before they separated us. It was like he knew they
couldn’t keep us together. He was hugging me, telling me to be
brave, that I was the strongest little girl he knew, and that no
matter what, I’d see him again one day. For some reason, this frame
and the fact I kept it in good condition gave me hope that his words
were true.

Now it’s broken and I
hope I never run into my jack-hole of a neighbor ever again and
coming to Wind Valley has been the worst decision I’ve ever made.

* * *

Yoga has always been my
go-to when I’m stressed, and since I’d applied for a job at this
gym before I moved here, I knew they offered classes. Between my
afternoon and plotting how, if, or when I tell my brother I’m here,
it seemed liked the right thing to do. This class, however, wasn’t
what I expected.

The lights flick on as
the class comes to an end, and the redhead next to me keeps talking.
This would usually annoy me, considering this is a class of peace,
but she sounds friendly enough and somewhere in her chat
session—where she did the majority of the chatting—she actually
invited me out for a drink tonight. Since I don’t know anyone, it
sounds like a pretty great idea.

“Okay, so the bar is
called The Black Alcove, have you heard of it?” she asks, spraying
down her yoga mat and passing me the bottle.

“I think it’s near
my apartment,” I answer honestly, even though about eight percent
of me isn’t sure that’s the same bar I saw earlier.

“You think?” she
laughs. “Where do you live?”

“In the Hillman
Apartments on Center Street.”

The redhead stops
rolling her mat and her eyes go wide as she looks at me.

“Seriously! That’s
in the building next to mine!”

This time it’s me who
pauses mid-roll. It’s always hard moving to a new place, especially
alone. My fear is that at twenty-one you’ve hit that awkward age
where either you have all the friends you need or you’re making new
friends in college, so if you don’t have any, people think there’s
something wrong with you. Seeing as college isn’t something I want
to do right away, I’ve been dreading that I’ll end up as option
three. Only the redhead here doesn’t seem to have the same plan for
me. I should probably ask her name.

“Well, neighbor, how
about we actually introduce ourselves? I’m Alex.” Like I was
taught at a young age, I offer my hand and present her with a smile.
She laughs it off but doesn’t shake my hand.

“You’re one of
those polite, fancy girls, aren’t you?” She eyes me, tucking her
mat into her bag. “You’re from the south. I hear the catch of an
accent.”

“Yeah, North
Carolina.”

“How in the heck did
you end up in Wyoming?”

She isn’t looking at
me now, which is good. She seems like the outspoken type and I’ve
been told I have a “giveaway” face. People always know what I’m
thinking with just one look. And right now, I worry she might see the
real answer and not accept the one I tell people, because once people
learn you grew up in the foster system, they look at you differently.
Most people don’t realize they’re doing it, looking at you with
pity. Besides, I think telling someone I grew up without my real
family and I came here to find my real brother might be a bit much
for day one, or any day, really.

“Just trying
something new.” I shrug. I’ve got my yoga mat against my hip and
my water bottle dangling from my finger as I wait for her.

“You know, I have a
hunch the blonde girl in the corner was new, too, because in this
town almost everyone knows everyone and I do not know her. That, and
college kids won’t be rolling in a for a few more months, sooo,
where is she?” Red hair whips her neck around as she surveys the
room. Her back straightens when she finds who she’s looking for.

“Hey you,” she
hollers at a thin, pale blonde across the room. “Are you new here?”

The girl nods
hesitantly, as though it caught her off guard that someone would
actually be talking to her. I know the look because I used to give it
all the time.

“Are you twenty-one?”

The girl nods again.

“Fantastic, come have
a drink with us tonight. My other girlfriends are all married with
kids now; I need a couple new single gals. What’s your name?”

“Skylar,” the
blonde answers, still seeming a little unsure of my new redheaded
friend. Crud, what is her name?

“And you are?” I
ask, urging her one more time to share her name.

“Beth.” She laughs.
“Sorry I got a little sidetracked when you asked me earlier.”

I notice how Skylar
returns her mat to the pile of borrowed ones, and then she thanks the
instructor. Beth and I thank her as well before we step out in the
hallway where cool air brushes against my skin now wet from sweat.

“Alright, so let’s
all go home and shower and meet at the BA in about an hour?” Beth
looks between me and Skylar. It’s actually cute that she is all
about this new friend thing. I want to know more about these friends
she used to hang around, but without knowing whether it’s a sore
subject or not, I better not.

“Alex, we can walk
together if you want. Skylar, do you know where to go?”

Skylar nods and then
turns for the locker room while Beth and I head for the exit. We part
ways, and as I drive to my new apartment, I mentally cross my fingers
that I don’t reveal too much during drinks. Sharing little pieces
of your life with a new friend is usually what happens when you meet
someone new. And no one wants to know that, for years, I’d thought
my family didn’t want me. That’s why I was in the foster system,
right? Because someone didn’t want to be my parent or devote enough
of their time to me.

At this time, letting
anyone in on this secret is not something I want to do. I have no
idea why I was ready to move to another state but not ready to admit
to anyone that I’m really here. That gut-aching feeling that there
could be a chance he’s changed his mind won’t go away, and until
it does, this is my secret to keep.

I take a quick shower
and dry my hair before putting on a pair of jeans with holes down the
front—sadly they weren’t made that way, but I’ve managed to
alter them to at least look fashionable—and a new t-shirt. It’s
only June and I’ve only been here since this morning, but I swear
I’ve already gone through the chilly morning, a warm and misleading
afternoon, and now, it’s turning into a windy evening. The weather
here can’t seem to make up its mind.

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