Just One Touch: A Black Alcove Novel (The Black Alcove Series Book 3) (4 page)

* * *

The next morning, I’m
knocking on Alex’s door as I head out to meet Heather and Jake for
brunch. There isn’t any music playing like last night, so it’s
easy for me to hear as her bare feet trudge against the hard floors
inside her apartment to open the door.

Her hair
is down
today, falling in waves over her shoulders. She’s wearing a longer
pink tank top that is bunched at the side and black leggings that
look painted on. We both stand there, eyes locked as we stare at the
other.

“I thought you
weren’t coming by until this afternoon?” she asks, breaking eye
contact and stepping back to let me in.

I remain in the
doorway.

“I am. I just wanted
to stop by and apologize once again.”

She leans against the
frame, giving me more attention than she did last night at the bar.

“I don’t normally
act like that, and I am really sorry I took whatever was bothering me
out on you. It was unnecessary, and had I acted like a gentleman, the
way my mother taught me, there is a good chance I wouldn’t have
broken something of yours.”

A small smile appears
at the left corner of her lips.

“I’d like to
replace it,” I add.

“You can’t, but you
can start making it up to me by helping me move my TV stand.” Her
voice is perkier this time, and she sounds pleased to actually be
speaking to me. I like this side of my new neighbor.

“Yeah, I’ll do that
first thing when I get back,” I say, smiling and stepping away.

“Oh, you’re headed
out?” The smile I almost had out of her is gone.

“I’m going to meet
my son and his mother right now. I’ll be back after that to do
anything you want me to do.”

A blank expression
takes over her face and she crosses her arms.

“Don’t bother.
Thanks anyway,” she says and closes the door in my face.

What just happened?

I don’t have enough
time to think it over before I receive a text from Heather to tell me
she and Jake are out front.

Okay, I had better
shake this off. All my focus needs be on Heather and Jake now.

“Hey,” I say as I
slide into the passenger’s seat of Heather’s Ford Explorer. “How
is everyone today?”

“Dad!” Jake cheers
from the back seat. “Mom said I could have pancakes today!”

I can feel my smile
grow at his enthusiasm.

“That’s what I’m
going to have, too,” I tell him.

“He’s been wired
since you dropped him off yesterday. I’m not sure syrup or anything
with sugar is a good idea for him,” Heather says, glaring at me.

“Oh, he’ll be
fine,” I reply as she pulls onto the road.

“You’re not the one
who has to hang out with him all day.”

I cringe at the way she
says
has
. Almost as
though she’s being forced to spend time with our son.

“I would if you let
him stay with me more often,” I say, stating the obvious.

“And I would if you
didn’t have such a busy schedule, Conner.”

“I have a busy
schedule because I’m doing everything you’ve insisted I do to
earn more time with Jake.”

“Oh, so working hard
and being a good example isn’t something you want for Jake,” she
argues back, her voice growing louder.

“That’s a fancy way
to spin my words. Let’s talk about this later when Jake isn’t
around us.”

“I should turn
around.”

“Why?” Why does a
simple disagreement get her worked up?

“We clearly can’t
even get along on a car ride to a restaurant. This will never work.”

“You just want to
give up then?” I ask.

“No, but we’re
already fighting.”

“Let’s go eat and
enjoy our time together,” I suggest, knowing she is giving me an
out that I should be taking. But I said I’d do anything for Jake,
and I meant it.

“You’re sure?”
Heather asks again.

“Yes.”

The remainder of the
drive is silent, and Heather and I don’t exchange much conversation
as we eat other than determine the next time Jake will stay with me.
Jake does enough talking about the new Ninja Turtle episode he
watched this morning to entertain us for the entire meal.

When she drops me off,
I lean into the backseat to give Jake a hug goodbye. He waves out the
window as she pulls away, and I take a seat on the steps outside the
apartment building.

That plan I had to not
piss anyone off today has officially failed. Here’s hoping tomorrow
is a better day.

Alexis

My neighbor is a total
jackhole.

That’s the perfect
name for him, and I’ll keep calling him that until he proves me
wrong, which will probably never happen.

Crossing my legs as I
sit in the center of my couch, I pull my computer onto my lap. I read
somewhere once that a great way to avoid keeping emotions bottled up
is to write them out, whether it’s traditionally in a journal or
typing it out on the computer. I could never make this a career
because my thoughts are all over the place, but it really does help.

I spend a good thirty
minutes writing about how the stress of my brother and his wife—who
I learned about by Googling him—rejecting me and not believing me
when I say I’m his sister has me ready to break into tears at least
five times a day. Just thinking about it gets me all choked up.
Rejection will always be hard for me to accept. My family has never
wanted me, and foster homes struggled to keep me—what makes me
think anything is different now?

I snap my laptop shut
and lace up my running shoes. I make it about a block from my
apartment when I spot Skylar lying in the grass of the town central
park.

“Do you always lie in
the grass?” I ask, finding myself envious of how relaxed she looks
just lying there, letting her body soak up the morning sun.

One eye pops open as
she rises to her left elbow and cups her other hand over her eyes to
guard them from the sun.

“When it’s a nice
day out like today, I do.” She smiles. “Want to join me?”

Run in the sun or sit
in the sun? Sit, definitely sit.

“Is that what you
have planned for the rest of your day?” I ask, attempting small
talk. Since I don’t know her and have no idea if she has a past she
doesn’t want to talk about like I do, this is safe question.

“Maybe. I heard there
was a hiking trail on the mountain. Thought I might check it out,”
she says. We both turn our view to the mountains behind us. They
aren’t big by any means, but they are still mountains.

“That’s sounds
fun,” I say, inviting myself.

Skylar laughs and
pushes herself off the ground. “I just need to swing by the gym and
grab my gym shoes. I keep them in the locker there. Then we can go.
You have a car, right, to drive us?”

“Yes and yes.” I
stand next to her. “Meet you at the gym in ten minutes?”

“Okay.” Skylar sets
off right away and I jog back to my place. So I went out for a run
and now I’m going hiking. A spontaneous day like this is just what
I need.

I run inside, grab my
keys and purse, and fill a water bottle. Skylar is waiting outside
when I get to the gym.

“I got directions
from the girl inside,” she says as she gets in.

We drive, turning on
each road the girl at the gym wrote down on this white piece of
paper, and it surprisingly only takes us less than another ten
minutes to get to the trail.

I close my car door and
look around after I’ve parked. Cars are lining the road in and out
of the area. Water falls somewhere behind me, and I spot the start to
few different rocky trials between cracks in the trees. Picnic tables
are set up down a path that lines up with the road we drove in on.

“This must be a
popular place,” I say.

“Looks like it. Oh,
there’s a sign. I bet all those colors are trail markings.”

Sure enough, from the
sign we learn there is one big trail, but you can mix up the paths to
shorten the hike or extend it. Since neither of us have anything to
do, we agree on the long path.

Halfway up the first
hill, I stop.

“This … is …
harder … than I thought,” I say, trying to catch my breath and
taking a sip of my water. Skylar sits on boulder that marks a turning
point of the trail. “I thought I was in better shape than this.”

“I should have
brought water,” she says and I offer her mine.

“Drink as much as you
need.”

We finish catching our
breath and hike for maybe another five minutes before we stop again.

“What is this? I
don’t understand how out of shape I am,” Skylar says.

“Me either. I was
always an active kid. I ran track and was always playing outdoors
with the other kids, growing up. It makes no sense,” I reply.

“I’ve had a
personal trainer most of my life, I should be prepared for this.”
She laughs.

“A personal trainer?
Nothing about you screams you need help to stay in shape.”

“Mom insisted I
always look my best,” she says.

The last word comes out
more quietly than the rest. I wait, not sure what I should do because
we are coming really close to talking about our past, and by the way
she’s focusing on the greenery of the mountains, I’d say she
doesn’t want to talk about it either.

“You girls doing
okay?”

We both turn to the
deep, masculine voice. A man with cropped blonde hair, waves of abs
and muscles—since his shirt is tucked into the back of his shorts,
everything is very visible—and sweat displaying droplets over his
core is staring down at us. I almost get to enjoy ogling him, but my
damn jackhole neighbor steps up behind him, looking like this guy’s
clone, ripped abs and all.

“Seriously,” I
groan, crossing my arms and glaring at Conner.

Blonde guy chuckles.
“Is this the neighbor?”

“Yeah, I told you
every time she sees me, it’s like I’ve ruined her day.”

“Considering I’ve
known you for two days, yes, you have ruined my great mood both days.
Skylar, let’s go.”

“I broke one thing
and you’re going to hate me forever?” Conner calls out as we walk
away. I don’t know about Skylar, but I’m doing a fine job of
pretending to be in great shape with my speed walk uphill right now.

“Fine. Ignore me! But
unless you move, you’re going to see me every day and you’ll
learn to like it.”

Taking the bait, I turn
around and stomp back to him.

He’s grinning and it
looks good on him, but I can’t let him know I think that.

“Just because we live
across the hall from each other doesn’t mean we have to see each
other.”

“Hang out with me
once, and then if you really, absolutely don’t enjoy it, I’ll
politely ignore you and you can ignore me back anytime we see each
other in the hall.”

“No.” I laugh.

“Oh come on, give the
guy a chance,” blonde guy says.

Memories of stories I’d
heard in the foster system, kids whose parents cheated or kids who
didn’t have a parent because they left the other for someone else,
flash through my mind. Every kid will have a different story for a
miserable childhood and a cheating parent might not be the reason,
but it’s one less reason I can help avoid. I will never be why a
child doesn’t get the parents and family they deserve. I don’t
need to know my neighbor to feel this way.

“And you are?” I
snap. Skylar comes into view from the corner of my eye.

“I’m Lucas, and I
think you should give him a shot. I’m not just saying that because
he’s my friend. I’m saying that because you should never judge
someone before you know them.”

“You don’t know
anything about me, so you don’t get to make that assumption,” I
say to him then look at Conner. “You have better things to focus
on, so stop wasting my time.”

This time when Skylar
and I walk away he doesn’t yell anything. If all men in this town
act like those two, maybe I should leave and never meet my brother.
What if he hangs out with people like Lucas and Conner?

This move is starting
to look like a very bad decision on my part.

Chapter Three

Alexis

The next morning comes
fast as I awake to my ringing cell phone. Beth’s name flashes
across the screen and I immediately love/hate the fact I met her.
Love it because, so far, she is pretty awesome and hate it because I
like to sleep in and she apparently does not.

“Hello?” my groggy
voice greets her.

“Hey girl, rise and
shine. I’m on my way over and we’re headed to the lake! I ran
into Sky last night at the gym and she said there is a good chance
you’d be free today since you’re still waiting to see if you got
that job.”

“What time is it?”
I roll over and see eight a.m. in bright red letters on my alarm
clock.

“It’s time for you
to get out of bed and get ready. I’ll meet you outside in an hour.”

I don’t have time to
negotiate more time, not that I should need it, or object to going to
the lake, not that I would, before she hangs up her end of the call.

An hour later I’m
dressed, I’ve eaten toast again because I need to go grocery
shopping, and I’m stepping outside the moment I see a green nitro
pull up to the curb. Beth waves from the window. As I walk to her car
I notice that Conner’s truck is gone. I’m basically on the
sidewalk, so the chances of running in to him are already slim, but
knowing he isn’t even here to chance a run-in is nice.

I’m about 98 percent
sure he was flirting with me yesterday morning right before he left
to meet his son and his son’s mother. The worst part is, I started
to fall for it, and I actually for a split second thought I misjudged
him. Seeing him when I was with Skylar was just as awful. I don’t
feel bad for turning him down, but I do feel like I should have
handled the way I spoke to him better.

This is ridiculous. I
need a day away from my apartment already just to clear my head. Why
am I still obsessing over my jackhole neighbor?

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