Chapter 5

“Your hair is very soft,” Alexander said.
After I stopped crying, he had me lay on the bed while he brushed my hair. I still had my guard down, so I said yes. His calm tone relaxed me and I noticed I started to fall asleep.
“You know, before my mom left, she used to let me do this when I couldn’t sleep,” he continued.  “Now she’s in Europe. Paris, actually.”
I didn’t respond.
“She sends us postcards sometimes.”
I still stayed quiet.
“I sometimes respond. My dad doesn’t.”
I wondered why he was telling me this.
“He says that she doesn’t want him to. That she doesn’t love him anymore and she only writes for my benefit.”
I sat up and looked at him. He had this sweet look on his face and looked at me like he was lost.
“She probably doesn’t love me any more either. She may just send those letters to make me not feel as neglected as I really am.”
“I don’t think so,” I said finally. “If she didn’t love you she wouldn’t do anything, right?”
“Who knows,” he replied. “My mom’s kind of strange like that. She feels the need to tell children empty lies to make them feel better.”
“What?” I was confused.
“Things like saying ‘I love you’ when she doesn’t mean it, or ‘it’s going to be okay’ when she knows it’s not, or, my favorite, ‘I will always be there for you when you need me’ and then she leaves 2 hours later and doesn’t come back. Then, the next time you hear from her she’s on the other side of the world!” He was yelling by this point and it was starting to scare me.
“Sorry,” he said. “Twelve years later and across the Atlantic Ocean and she still makes me angry whenever I talk about it.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Wait! You said twelve years ago?”
“How old are you?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I only look fifteen.”
“No it’s…well, it’s just…um…”
“Yeah, it’s okay. I get that all the time.”
“But you sound like you’re eighteen.”
“I get that, too.”
“Which is why I sometimes get teased.”
“You get teased?”
“You are surprised?”
“Yeah, because you’re…”
“I’m what?”
I had to carefully choose my words without making me sound like a complete-ditzy-psycho-stalker-fan-girl.
“No! I mean yes! I mean…um…I don’t know.”
“Yeah. Most people think that too. Then they get to know me, hate me, and tease me.”
“Why?” I asked tired of making a fool of myself.
“You don’t want to know.”
“Yes I do. Why would I ask if I didn’t?”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
“I can’t trust you if you won’t trust me!” I yelled.
“You’re right. Sorry,” he said as he looked down at the floor.
“No. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” I leaned over and touched his shoulder.
“I just don’t want to hurt you.”
“Why would you?” I asked moving next to him.
“Please, stop asking about it.”
We sat there in silence, until I heard Caramel’s stomach growl.
Alexander looked at me and smiled big.
“What?” I asked. Then I realized, that was my stomach the second time, so, I blushed.
“I think you two are hungry,” he said laughing. “Now I realize that I have been in here for about 2 hours, and you haven’t even touched any of the food I brought you. Which is weird, since you basically drooled over it when I walked in. Unless I was mistaken and it was me you were drooling over?”
“What!? No! Absolutely not!” I said, retracting my arm.
“So you weren’t drooling over the food?”
He smiled.
“I mean yes. Yes to the food. No to you.”
“Harsh. I feel offended,” he said, faking a heart wound.
I laughed.
“You should be, Sir Zander PerfectPants.”
“I thank you for taking notice of how perfect my pants are, Lady Alex HeavenlyHair.”
“My hair isn’t heavenly.”
“Nor are my pants perfect. Your hair is goddess-like. The most beautiful of all time. It’s so amazing, I bet if you tried, it could create world peace.”
“So you’re mocking me now?” I said sarcastically.
“Oh no. I’m sooooo sorry. I think your hair is totally worthy of no mocking at all,” he joked back.
“Don’t forget it, Perfect.”
We exploded into laughter.
“Wow. I haven’t laughed like that in forever,” he said.
“Me either,” I agreed. “So, food time?”
“Sure. You take care of your dog and I’ll set up your’s.”
I walked over to the pet supply bag and pulled out the food and water dishes. I filled the food dish and sat it next to the table.
“Here you go, Mel. I’ll be right back with your water,” I said.
I turned around to go into the bathroom and nearly ran into Alexander.
“Oh! Sorry. I didn’t realize you where standing there,” I said.
“That’s okay,” he said. He had a gentle smile on his face that made me melt inside.
“Um, excuse me,” I blurted out and ran into the bathroom without looking back up at him.
“Oh man he’s cute,” I whispered, under my breath. “I’m suppose to live with him here how? I don’t think my heart can manage anymore than 2 of those smiles a day.” If I leave, where else can I go? The police are already after me. I don’t have any family. Obviously, my mother is insane. Also, there’s the gruesome fact that my dad’s dead.
Gosh. My dad’s really dead. He’s dead, and it’s indirectly my fault. Maybe if I hadn’t obsessed over the cake, Dad wouldn’t have been rushing home and ran off the road. Maybe I am as terrible as my mom says. Maybe I should be arrested. I should be locked up for murder and never be set free. I should be held in jail forever and die cold and alone. I am a failure and a pathetic loser. I deserved to die, not Dad. I should be dead. I shouldn’t be here!
“Alex. Alex? Alex!”
“Why!? Why am I allowed to live!? Why do I have to deal with this!? I’m only fifteen!”
“Alex! Calm down. Relax,” Alexander said, as I felt his strong arms wrap around my shoulders, from behind.
“How in the world can I be calm!?” I started to cry again. “I am the reason my dad is dead. I am the one who should be dead, not him. He never did anything wrong. He was a good person. He must hate me now.”
“No, I bet he still loves you very much and is sorry that he left you to deal with this alone. So, he sent me in his place, to help you get through this. He would never hate you. Ever. I’m sure of it.”
“How do you know!?”
“Trust me. Please.”
“Why?” I asked, relaxing a little and twisting around in his arms to face him.
“Because you are too wonderful to hate,” he said, with a caring look in his eyes.
I blushed bright red and dug my head into his shoulder. “Shut up,” I muttered.
“Are we embarrassed?” he joked.
I pushed myself out of his hold. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not,” I said trying to sound smug. Then, we proceeded into a name calling-off.
“Stubborn,” he called me.
“Stupid,” I replied.
“Whoa, hold it. If I were self-centered, would I be concerned about you and your feelings?”
“If your pay depends on my attitude.”
“Though that is true, I am not self-centered. I am handsome, smart, talented, a great listener, an amazing hugger, and all around awesome, but self-centered I am not.”
I thought he was serious. “You do know what self-centered means, right?”
“Of course! I’m smart, remember?”
I finally heard the sarcasm in his “I am so great” speech. “Yeah. Right.”
“What? You don’t believe me?”
“I totally believe you. You are really smart. You’re, like, the teenage version of Albert Einstein.”
“I know, right. I have always been telling people that, but they never listen. They say that’s the dumbest thing they have ever heard. And I’m all like, ‘No it’s not. I’m sure you have heard dumber things. And it’s not dumb at all, ‘cause I am totally smart and stuff. And because I’m all smart, everything I say is smart too,’ you know?”
“Please stop.”
“Stop being smart? Oh no. Can’t do that, girly.”
“I’m begging you to stop.”
“Being smart is a part of me. I can’t stop being me, baby. I just can’t.”
“Dude, if you don’t stop now, I’m going to kick you out without a tip.”
“And the self-centered act stops now. Thank you, thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the performance. I’ll be here all week, or whenever my shifts are. Remember to tip your waiter, me, and have a wonderful evening. Goodnight everybody!”
“Who are you talking to?” I asked, soon knowing I’d be sorry that I did.
“My adoring audience, who else?”
“You’re weird.”
“And you’re still hungry. Your stomach has growled at least ten times since you walked into this bathroom.”
“Oh. Let me get some water and then I’ll–”
He took the dish from me. “Go eat. I’ll take care of this.”
“No problem,” he said. “By the way, you’re cute, too. Not to mention you have a killer smile, as well, ” he added, as I started to walk out.
“Jerk,” I said, trying to keep him from seeing my reddening face.
“Aww, don’t be mad. It’s not your fault that this bathroom echoes.”
I stopped and said, “Correct. It’s your fault for listening.”
“Ah yes. I am sorry. My ears are so stupid for listening to your private thoughts that you said out loud.”
“Once again I say, jerk.”
“Go eat.”
“Don’t tell me what to do you jerk.”
“Fine,” he said as I started walking away again. “Where are you going?”
I stopped and turned to him. “Honestly, it’s none of your business, but if you want to know, I am starving. Therefore, I am going to eat.”
“Really? I wonder who gave you that idea,” he said as he leaned on the sink and placed his chin in his hand.
“I thought of it all by myself. You’re not the only genius here.”
“Oh no. Absolutely not. You are a brilliant person. Smartest one I know, besides myself, of course.”
“Of course. Now if you would excuse me, I hear my food getting cold, and the colder it gets the louder it calls me.”
“Yes. That makes complete sense. Go. Your food beckons for your stomach and your stomach beckons for your food.”
“Thank you, but I do not need your permission,” I said as I finally walked out to the table.
“Yes ma’am.”
While walking to the table, I noticed how cold and smooth the floor was on my feet. It felt good.
“Hey,” Alexander called from the bathroom.
“What?” I responded.
“You eating yet?”
“No. I’m about to sit down.”
“Okay. Don’t sit yet.”
“Why not?”
He ran out of the bathroom, with the dog dish filled. “Cause I want to join you,” he said with one of his signature smiles.
“Why?” I asked.
“To quote you, why not?”
He walked over to me and pulled out my chair, “Please sit, Miss.”
“Thanks,”  I said as I sat down.
He pushed my chair in, then, took the seat across from me. “So, let’s dig in.”
“Okay, but keep away from the cinnamon rolls and apple cider. They’re mine, pretty boy,” I said pointing at him with my fork.
“I wouldn’t dare,” he mocked putting his hands up in surrender. “Go for it.”
“I will. I’m starving.”
We sat, ate, and talked.
Alexander explained that after his mom left, he and his dad started this hotel.
“He took out a ten thousand loan from the bank and we bought this old hotel. He got it inspected by his brother, Uncle Teddy. Then, we went to many different outlet stores and got furniture and stuff,” he looked so happy as he talked about his father’s achievements. “And after some hard work, bam. Carter House was born.”
“Wow,” I said. “There is no way I could pull that off and keep it going like this.”
Alexander looked and me and smiled. “Yeah. We put a lot of love and time into this place. It’s my home and there is nowhere else I’d rather be.”
I watched him as he continued talking about the hotel and wondered if I would ever be happy talking about home like he was.
“What?” he asked with a grin on his face.
“Hm?” I asked.
“You have the most blissful look on your face right now.”
“I do?”
“Yeah. Why?”
“I-I don’t know,” I said looking down at my plate. “I-I think it may be because of you.”
“You had a chance at a normal childhood. It sounds nice.”
“Being left by my mother is normal?”
“That’s a lot more normal than mine. I’m 15 and I have no friends and no family members that can stand me. I spent my last birthday scared of my mom and I slept under a tree in the park. I think I have you beat for worst childhood.”
“You’re not wrong there.”
I looked up at him. When I saw he was serious, I frowned. “You’re not supposed to say that. I thought you were trying to make me feel better.”
“So you want me to lie to you? I believe you’ve had enough lies today.”
“…I guess so.”
“Yeah, your life may suck right now, but that just gives you a reason to try and make it better. Don’t settle for the bad things.”
I thought about what he said, then smiled. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Alexander smirked, “Of course I’m right. Have you met me?”
I laughed a little. “And the self-centered egomaniac is back.”
He laughed too. “Anything to make you smile.”
“Thank you,” I said, hoping that I wasn’t blushing.
“Well,” he standing to stretch, “I should let you get some sleep now, Lady Alex.”
“Sleep? What time is it?”
“I’ve been here all day?!”
“Yeah, but it’s your room, so…you’re good.”
I shook my head. “I’m supposed to be finding a place to go. I have to get as far away from my mother as possible.”
He frowned. “You’re here. Here is where you’re safe.”
“For now.”
“You don’t know that, Zander.”
“Yes I do. I said I would help you get through this and to do that you need to be here with us…with me.”
“W-what are you talking about?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry. Get some rest,” he said, petting my head as he walked by me and to the door.
He was almost gone when I yelled, “Zander, wait!”
He turned to look at me. “Do you need something before I leave?”
“I…I just…” I didn’t know why I called for him so I just said, “Thank you.”
He smiled and said, “Anytime,” then left, closing the door behind him. I got up from the table and locked the door for safety.
The next 15 minutes occurred quickly. I went into the bathroom, brushed my teeth and my hair, then crawled into bed.
“Caramel,” I called. She ran from who knows where and jumped onto the bed.
“Hey, girl,” I said, petting her head. She started wiggling around and I couldn’t help but laugh.
 “Silly puppy. It’s time to sleep.”
 As soon as I said “sleep”, she plopped down on the pillow next to my head and curled up.
“Goodnight, Mel,” I whispered.
She gave a quiet whimper as a response then fell asleep.
I laid still trying to sleep, but I was too worried that there was a chance my mom would come through the door and drag me off to the police.
Before I began crying again, I remembered Alexander’s words.
“Try and make it better. Don’t settle for the bad things,” I repeated and felt comforted again.
I closed my eyes and finally started to doze off.
“I love you, Daddy,” I whispered.

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