The car ride consisted of silence on the journey home,the only noise present was the constant hum of the engine as we drove. I didn't speak, mostly because I was lost in my thoughts. I nearly jumped when he first spoke; I'd completely forgotten I wasn't alone in the car.
"Where do you live?"
"Just along the Newport line, the apartments" I replied vaguely, motioning my hand weakly towards their direction. He took a right at the junction.
"So Kieran, huh?" he remarked,
I nodded slowly, not quite knowing how to reply.
"How long?" he asked, looking over at me for the first time.
"A year" I choked out, suddenly realizing how uncomfortable I felt talking to him about Kieran.
"You love him?"
It took me by surprise. Had Kieran said something to him about my refusal to tell him I loved him?
'Not Refusal' I told myself in my head, 'Hesitation'
"I guess so" I shrugged, turning to look at him defiantly. His face was richly coloured with a shadow of sexy stubble coating his chin and mouth. Like all the Californian guys I'd met so far, his features were perfectly proportionate to everything else. Chiselled jaw cradling his soft lips that rested below his smooth nose and eyes brighter than...
I knew those eyes.
Catching me mid-stare, he turned to me and smiled.
"Oh, you finally remembered who I am?" he laughed,
"Jalen" I murmured, remembering distinctly the man I'd met last year when I woke up drugged and half-naked in his apartment.
"Aleesia" his voice sent tingles down my spine; the way he said my name was..amazing. Immediately, it brought back that unchanged fiery sensation that I could feel in my blood on the day I met him , raw and real like it was yesterday. Uncontrollably scared yet overwhelmingly safe.
"How do you know Kieran?" I asked, diverting the subject
"We used to play together"
Jalen smirked, "Basketball, babygirl, I'm talking about basketball"
'Say it again' my heart pleaded, 'I'll be your babygirl'
"Oh" I replied instead, "I thought you meant women"
As soon as I said it, I bit my tongue. I had basically just called him a whore. Trust me to offend one of the only hot guys to drive me home. His smooth, carefree laugh filled the car, yet it sounded genuine and honest, which, in turn, set a smile on my lips.
"I like you, Aleesia" he nodded, after his laughter died down. My stomach took a hurling skydive as he spoke and my lips sealed shut, afraid to disrupt his sudden fondness of me. An oncoming set of police lights approached us in the distance.
"Buckle up" Jalen ordered, removing his hand from the gearstick to tap my knee gently. Such simple movements like those were causing my heartbeat to deregulate so easily. I reached up and pulled the seat belt round my torso with one swift movement as he did the same.
It was hard to keep up conversation with his constant touchy-feely habits that melted my limbs with every touch; brushing his fingers against my knee as he shifted the gearstick, or pointing to Newport Beach fair lights in the distance and grazing my chest with his heavy-set arms in the process.
"You should come see me play sometime" he suggested after I taunted him about who had the better jumpshot between the two of us, "Then, afterwards, we'll play one-on-one and I'll show you just who has the better jumpshot"
I laughed, rejecting every image in my head that arrived when the words 'one-on-one' left his lips. In the precious seventeen further minutes it took us to get to my apartment, we talked like we'd known each other for years.
"He tried to sing to you?!" he joked when I mentioned Kieran's singing skills at my last birthday,"...but he can't sing! Everyone knows that, he should stick to DJ decks"
"Oh, it wasn't that bad! It was a sweet gesture. I'm sure you couldn't do better" I teased,
Jalen laughed, "If you're hinting that I can't sing, you'd be painfully wrong"
"Why would it be painful unless I was right?" I snorted,
A mischievous smile plays across his lips as he desperately pursed them together trying to stifle his laugh.
I returned a confused smile, waiting for him to elaborate on his vague joke, instead he nodded towards the dark gates property, lit only by the two street lights dotted at the entrance to my driveway,
"Yeah" I replied, biting my lip habitually as we advanced
He pulled into my driveway smoothly,
"Thanks for the lift" I smiled, trying to unbuckle my seat belt.
"Hmm, well that's two things of mine you've been in so far, my apartment and my car- might have to let me into something of yours"
My eyes hit the floor, which seemed to be a common view when I was with him. I had no escape from embarrassment. Realizing what I had interpreted his words as, he hurriedly took it back,
"No, not like that, I meant, I would love to come over sometime...to your apartment, not inside your...ummm...it's no problem, for the ride" He burbled rapidly. I could sense nerves in his voice. No way, was he nervous around me?
I laughed, suddenly seeming like the cool and collected one who didn't shiver every time he said my name.
"Thanks" I repeated
It may have been the clamminess of my fingers whilst being around him or karma for thinking for even one second that I was cool, but my attempts to disengage the seatbelt had been futile. I wrestled with it for some more seconds before Jalen leaned down to help. A couple of seconds flew by before he managed to untangle the seatbelt and let it slide back into it's holder.
As he released the strap from his fingers, he turned to face me, our faces too close, our eyes too coherent. My breathing had become shallow and I was suddenly unaware of anything outside of the car, only us. He leaned forwards first, planting his lips onto mine and caressing them slowly.
Eyes wide open with shock, my brain exploded into thoughts silently whizzing their way through my mind.
This isn't happening
This can't be happening.
My mind was a jumble of worries until, at last, my eyes fluttered shut, giving in to the sweet, soft haven of his mouth. It was unlike anything I'd ever felt, his raging sexuality met with iciciles of purity. An explosion of oxymorons in my mouth; hot yet cold, dangerous yet safe, beautiful and true. I know it's stupid, but from that kiss, it was like he was telling me he loved me. I could hear it from a chorus of voices that channelled through me, I could taste it in his lips as sheer passion surged through me. I was his, and he, was mine.
He withdrew himself from my lips slightly, leaving little distance between us still as he glanced into my eyes. He blinked a couple of times before shaking his head,
"Shit, sorry" he breathed, fully receding back into the driver's seat, a broken look resting deep in his incandescent eyes.
"Why" I could hardly breathe, but I managed to splutter it out.
"You're Kieran's, I'd...I could never...I'm sorry" he looked away, his face contorted with disgust and bitterness...most probably towards me.
Kieran. I'd forgotten him. I hadn't thought about him since I'd found out it was Jalen driving. It only took one guy to eradicate all existence of my boyfriend in a split second. I snapped my eyes shut in an effort to block out everything; it hurt to breathe with the shame, guilt and indifference weighing me down.
When I'd finally recovered to my normal breathing pattern, I remembered I was still sitting in his car. My eyes fluttered open and I looked over to face the back of Jalen's head, his eyes staring out his own driver side window and into the pitch black night.
'Can't bear to even look at you' spat the voice at me inside my head
"I'm sorry too" I spoke, my voice released as a whisper, I hesitated, unsure if I should continue, his head still hadn't moved, "I won't mention it to Kieran. Thanks for the lift"
I jumped out of the Range Rover before he had a chance to reply; to call me a whore for cheating; to call me cocky for protecting him from Kieran; to send me a withering look of regret that I didn't think I could take without bursting into tears.
Yet as I buzzed into my apartment multi-plex, my mind wouldn't focus on anything other than needing to know what Jalen would've said. I rode the lift to the penthouse floor as the tears began to roll thick and slowly down my face. I'd known him for barely five minutes yet I couldn't think of anything else in the world more important than him right now.
As soon as I'd slammed my door close, my phone beeped from the clutch bag in my arms. Text Message from Kieran.
Babe, you home yet? x
My cheeks wet and vision blurry, I frustratedly began to compose a new message. My hands shook ever so slightly as I typed but my only focus was the large void of nothingness beginning to eat away at me. I wasn't the pretty girl who got every boy. I wasn't the smooth player who knew what to say to guys. I was the awkward, still-at-high-school phase dork who was lucky to have a boyfriend in the first place, and tonight, I had ruined everything.
Jalen didn't want me, and if Kieran found out, he wouldn't want me either.
My eyes were swamped with the tears that kept coming and coming until I could see nothing but the blurry outlines of my hands. I closed my eyes, wishing and regretting. Wishing I'd told Kieran I loved him. Regretting kissing Jalen back.
Minutes passed, my apartment filled with the echo of silent angry sobs leaking from my mouth. My phone shook in my lap as an incoming call arrived. Jalen had told him already.
I wiped away my tears desperately and composing myself as much as I could, I answered the call.