He did. She could see that in his eyes. And she knew that nothing she said would change that.
"I love you, Mo." He said sadly. "But you have a lot of shit to work through. I don't want you waking up one day and realizing that I'm too dorky for you. You have a lot of guys in your past who makes me doubt myself (his mind went to Hector on this one). And that's not your fault, but to work through that, I can't keep getting hit in the face with how inferior I am."
By now, the tears that streamed down her face were no longer sad; they were angry.
"You know what, Alex?" she said, her shimmering eyes glaring at him. "Go. You wanna go so badly...GO! But if you walk out that door, lose my number. Don't call me. Don't text me. Don't even send me a fucking smoke signal!"
"No, Alex! No. I'm tired of trying to convince you that you're good enough for me. I love you, but I've never had a guy that needed so much reassurance in my life! Your insecurities are yours, not mine. I have my shit to work on, but you need to OWN THAT SHIT! You feel inferior to the guys of my past because THAT'S HOW YOU SEE YOURSELF! I don't see you that way, but you can't grasp that. So, if you leave here because you're too weak to grow together, then you aren't the man I thought you were."
With that, she pushed him away from her and went into her bathroom. All she could do was sit on the toilet and cry while he decided what he was going to do.
When she heard her front door open and shut, she curled up in a ball on the cold floor and sobbed.
THREE MONTHS LATER:
"That's it! Jab, jab, kick! Jab, jab kick! Wrap it up. Give me some knees!"
Monique obeyed Hector, doing as he instructed. The bag that stood between them took the brunt of her frustrations with her empty love life. Hector encouraged her, yet made sure to keep her in line with valid criticism. She had to keep focused on her stance; hands up, knees bent, on the balls of her feet.
"Good, good. Make sure to twist your hips into those punches. Use your body. Give me some power."
Sweat dripped down her back as she worked the bag. Her midsection was sheen with sweat, showing her abs in all their shiny glory.
Hector couldn't help but admire her. Even with her hair pulled back into a sweaty ponytail, she looked sexy as fuck. Those boxers' trunks and that sports bra took nothing away from her hotness.
After the bag, Monique went off to do some cooling down. Being a personal trainer herself, she didn't really need Hector to take her through any of those, so he left her to it.
As she was heading towards the locker room, he caught up with her.
"Hey. You hungry?"
She shrugged. "I can eat. Why? You buying?"
He chuckled playfully. Then, giving her a once over while rubbing his goatee, he said, "I don't usually buy unless I'm getting something in return."
She took a moment to look like she was thinking about it, and then she said, "I can respect that. We'll go Dutch." And with that, she punched him in the arm and left him laughing and watching her leave.
About 45 minutes later, the two of them sat in a Smoothie Cafe grabbing a quick lunch. As she took a bite of her Caesar Chicken wrap, he asked her, "Hey, what ever happened to that white dude that you brought with you that one time? You said he was your boyfriend."
She shrugged nonchalantly and took a sip of her smoothie before answering, "That was just a thing. I thought it was more, but...you know."
He nodded thoughtfully, but then stopped nodding and said, "Nah. I don't know. He doesn't look like your type."
She looked at him questioningly before asking, "Why do I keep hearing that?"
"Maybe because it's true."
She sat back in her seat, crossed her arms, and said, "Okay. So, tell me then. What is my type?"
He could tell he hit a sensitive spot with her. Her instant mood change wasn't exactly subtle. He tried to walk it back with, "Look Mami, I wasn't tryna make you mad. I was just saying."
He chuckled a little before leaning his elbows on the table between them. Looking into her eyes -- which were challengingly boring holes into him -- he answered, "I guess...I don't know...I don't see what you saw in him."
"Why?" she asked. "Because he's some nerdy white guy?"
"Yeah, that's part of it." he admitted. "But its more than that. He just seems like he wouldn't be able to keep up with you. I mean...look at you. You're hot as fuck, you kickbox, you in the gym, you hit the clubs. He looks like the type of guy who would sit at home playing video games all day. With all the niggas that be tryna get with you all the time, ain't no way he can hold on to a woman like you."
She nodded, though the look on her face said she wasn't doing it with agreement with him. She then looked off to the side and let out a sigh.
"That's just it. He never had to keep up with me. He was like...my calm. You know? I can go to the club with Toni. I box with you. I have my YouTube channel, which has been blowing up lately. But through all that, it was nice to just take a minute, sit on the couch with my head in his lap, and watch Grey's Anatomy."
She gave a small smile as she got lost in her thoughts. Absentmindedly, she leaned forward and said, "At times I feel like there are a bunch of different versions of me. Who I am on YouTube is not who I am at the gym, or who I am with Toni, or with my family. You know? Sometimes, I don't know which version is real. But with Alex, I felt like all those Monique's had a center; like they all came together. With him, I felt...real. He saw the real me, underneath all the bullshit other people see, and he loved me. That's...rare."
She gave a humorless laugh. Hearing her thoughts aloud made her realize how much she missed Alex. Thinking about that brought her back to that day he left her balled up on her bathroom floor, sobbing into the tile.
"I get it." Hector said understandably, thankfully breaking her reflections. "But hey, it's his loss. Right? I mean, he dumped you and basically ghosted you because he saw some video of you having sex with that other clown you used to mess with. It wasn't like you cheated on him; it was before you even knew he existed. If you ask me, that's kinda weak."
She shook her head and took another sip. "Alex isn't weak. He's just insecure."
"I gotta disagree with you there, Mami. He let that clown win. If that was me, I woulda been over Trey's house beatin' that ass. Ain't no way I woulda let him play you like that."
She sighed through her nose and tried not to look sad. "Well, Alex isn't like that. He handles things differently. He uses his head."
"And then he runs away."
"Whatever." She said, shrugging it off. Desperate to change the subject, she asked, "You gonna eat that cookie?"
He nodded his chin at it, giving her permission.
A part of him was envious of the way she defended Alex. Another part was taking notes, seeing if there were a way to fit into the missing piece Alex left. He knew there was no way he could just sit around watching some chick show, but he kept an eye out for other ways.
He found himself checking her out more lately. The two of them had been working out together more often for the last few months. It was the same way when she broke up with Trey. For her, kickboxing was a way to get out of her head and keep from obsessing.
But Hector started to look at her differently. Of course, she was hot as fuck. She'd always been. Despite that -- and the fact that the two of them hooked up that one time -- he'd always thought of her as a little sister. He was friends with her older brother, and he'd practically watched her grow up. But recently, with the two of them spending more time in close quarters with each other (meaning, physically wrestling around with her), he couldn't help but to want another repeat of "the night that will never be mentioned". A lot of very unsisterly thoughts had been rummaging around inside of his head.
What the hell was this Alex guy thinking? How could HE break up with HER? Did he think he could find anyone better?
Monique took another thoughtful sip of her smoothie, which by now made a loud slurping noise that let her know she was only sucking air from her cup. She didn't notice Hector's lustful gaze roaming over her because she was doing the thing she said she'd not do; think about Alex.
"You know..." he said, reading her mind. "The best way to get over somebody is..."
"To get under someone else?" She finished for him. "Yeah, I've heard that before. In fact, Toni just reminded me of that again yesterday." He shrugged in agreement, which made her laugh at how obvious he was. Playing along, she asked, "Why? Are you volunteering?"
With a smirk on his face, he said, "Just let me know where and when."
"Well, it won't be today, Romeo. We went Dutch, remember?"
He laughed aloud and said, "I can go back up there and buy you another Chicken Wrap if you want."
"Or you can just keep your dick in your pants and give me a ride home."
He shook his head at her, still smiling playfully. She was a tough one. He already knew that. Honestly, he'd be a little disappointed if she gave in so easily. But with that Alex clown out of the picture, he felt it was only a matter of time.
She returned his smile, and the two of them began cleaning up the mess and preparing to leave. As they were walking out, she said, "Thanks Hec. I appreciate you keeping my mind off...you know...things."
"Anytime. I'd do anything for you, Mami."
She looked at him with humor in her eyes. "Really? Anything?"
"Yep." He said, playing along. "You want me to kill white boy for you? I'll do it. I'll go to his fucking crib right now."
She laughed at him and pushed him playfully. "Boy, just take me home!" she said, shaking her head.
When they got into Hector's car, he said, "Hey, you mind if we stop at Walmart first? I need a birthday gift for my sister, and I don't know what to get her."
"Sure. Why not?"
"Cool." He said as he started the engine.
Alex sat at his computer, trying to play this new RPG game that he bought. His heart wasn't in it though. It wasn't in much these days. He found himself zombie walking through life the past few months, doing things pretty much because he was supposed to.
He got a notification at the bottom of his screen from YouTube. Monique, or Mama Mo, just posted another video.
He should've unsubscribed from her, just as he shouldn't have been paying any attention to her insta-snap-tweet-faces. But he found it impossible to cut her completely from his life.
He hadn't tried to contact her, just as she told him not to. Of course, he wanted to. His decision to break up with her haunted him. At the time, it felt like the right thing to do. But now, loneliness had crept in, and he wasn't so sure.
If she'd reached out to him a couple of days after their final blowout and told him that she wanted him back, he'd have sprinted over to her house. In reality, he didn't want to break up with her. He just needed her to own her shit with Trey, cut him out of her life forever, and say that he was enough for her. He spent the first week after the breakup praying for her contact to pop up on his phone.
But it never did.
So, despite him being the initiator of their falling out, Alex felt like HE was the one cast aside. It was especially hard being her virtual stalker. It was like nothing in her life changed with his absence. She made inspirational and humorous videos for YouTube, posted pictures of her awesome life on Facebook, and responded to the millions of Tweets from her Twitter followers.
Everyone loved her. Why would she even miss him? She probably never even thought about him.
Even though he knew he shouldn't, he clicked on her video. Instantly, her beautiful face popped up on his screen, frozen in a self-assured smirk. When he clicked on the play icon in the middle, she said, "Hello, fellow YouTubers! Mama Mo here, back with another video! Today, I have a special treat for ALL the good girls and boys...
Alex's phone rang. He looked at the clock and saw that it was a little past 2 am. Grabbing his phone and looking at the screen made him groan. Even before he picked up, he knew what this was about.
"Whataya need Pops?" he droned irritably.
"Hey Alex. This is Karen. I've got a bit of a...situation I need your help with."
Karen was a pretty bartender at his dad's favorite dive bar, Moe's. She was big breasted, bleached blonde, and flirtatious enough to keep all the drunkards tipping generously.
If she was calling him from his dad's phone, the situation was even worse than he expected.
"Please tell me you're calling to let me know that my dad vowed to stop drinking, paid his tab, and marched out of your bar for the last time."
He heard a throaty laugh in his earpiece. "Afraid not, kiddo."
He let out a loud sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Would it be too much to NOT serve him? You know he's an alcoholic, right?"
"Babe, If I stopped serving alcoholics, I'd be out of a job. Would you stop fixing the computers of porn addicts?"
He could only groan at her logic. "Fine. I'll be right there to pick him up. Just...cut him off or something."
"No problem." She giggled. "He's passed out at my bar."
For fuck's sake, Pops!
Annoyed, he hung up. Looking to his screen, he saw that the video had been playing while he was on the phone. It didn't matter though. He didn't even care what she was talking about. He was just enjoying looking at her face, hearing her voice, and watching her talk.
He missed her immensely. He knew he would, but he didn't realize just how much.
As he pulled in front of Moe's, he had to pause and take a minute to collect himself. It was moments like this that felt the loneliest. Caring for his father was a heavy burden; even heavier when everyone else in his life washed their hands of him.
Sometimes, Alex just wished he'd drink himself to death. Then, he felt guilty for wishing that.
"This is my life." He thought as he killed the engine and exited the car to collect his burden.
On the drive home, he couldn't help throwing annoyed side-eyed glances at his father. Right now, he looked like a 160 lb. newborn. He was over in the passenger seat, drooling all over himself with his head limply bobbing in tune with the car. All that was left to complete his baby status was...
As if on cue, his dad temporarily woke to projectile vomit all over the dashboard.
"Ugh! Fuck! Pops! I have to drive people around in this!"
But yelling at him was useless because he was once again dead to the world. All Alex could do was roll down the windows and endure the stench the rest of the way home.
Sometime the next day, Alex was at a store in the Auto section of Walmart looking for some deodorizer for his car. He had to get the smell of puke out of his upholstery before he took anymore Rides. As he was perusing, a woman's laughter a couple of aisles over stopped him cold.
He recognized that sound. He'd heard it so many times that the melody of it was etched into his memory.
He didn't know if he wanted to run and hide or go sneak around to spy on her. His curiosity would haunt him later if he didn't see her, yet he didn't think his heart could handle the experience.
How did she look? Beautiful, of course. He didn't even need to see her to answer that.
What was she laughing at? Did he really want to know?
His dilemma was answered for him, because as he stood there frozen in indecision, she happened to come around the corner. And their eyes locked.
He was right. She was stunning. And...his heart couldn't handle this.
"Alex." She said. His name was but a breath coming from her mouth.
"Hey Mo." He said, though he couldn't even hear himself talk because his heartbeat was in his ears.
She took a couple of cautious steps towards him, like she was afraid to get too close. "How are you?"
"Good, I guess. You?"
She nodded. "Good. Good."
There were a million things that needed to be said, but there was this expanse between them. At one time, conversation between them was so effortless it was an afterthought. Now, words seemed to be building up behind a dam of regret.
Things were reaching an uncomfortable point where they either had to speak or casually end the conversation. He didn't want that. Not yet. He just wanted to look at her a little longer.
In an effort to say anything to keep things going, he said, "I...uh...watched your latest video on YouTube."
"Really? I didn't even know it was posted yet."
"Yeah. It was pretty good. Funny. But then again, I'm sure you hear that often."
She gave him a small smile and said, "Doesn't hurt to hear it again."
She took another step towards him. "So...what have you been up to? You still working out?"
After the breakup, he canceled his membership to the gym the two of them worked out at. There was no way the two of them would've been able to navigate that field of landmines. If he hadn't, Monique would've probably had to quit.
"Not really. Haven't had the heart to." He admitted.
She nodded. "Well...you should keep up with it. You shouldn't quit because...you know."
The two of them had run out of things to say to each other, yet neither made a move to end the interaction. They just stood there, awkwardly. It wasn't until Hector yelled out, "Hey Mo. Where you at?" that Alex broke free from the trance.
"I'm over here in Auto!" She returned, turning her head to loudly answer him. When her gaze once again fell to Alex, she saw an indiscernible look on his face.
Alex's heart crumbled in his chest with the realization that she was here with Hector. The only person worse would've been Trey. Jealousy and pain hit him with twin arrows, both in the same bull's eye.
"What the hell you doing over here?" he asked with a chuckle as he appeared next to her. When he looked at Alex, realization hit him as to why she suddenly disappeared.
The look he threw at Alex, the superior sneer that Alex remembered from years ago when he watched Summer being carried away to Hector's motel room, was like a punch to the gut.
"Hey, Alex. What's up, bro?" he asked casually, yet he possessively put his arm around Monique's shoulder.
Alex had to force himself to say, "What's up, Hector?"
It was then that Monique saw why Alex was looking the way he was. He thought she was with Hector. Not just here with Hector, WITH Hector!
Monique brushed his arm from around her and threw him a glare. Then she took another step towards Alex. She was looking for a way to assuage him and let him know that it wasn't what he thought it was, but Alex said, "It was nice seeing you, Mo. I don't wanna hold you guys up."
"We're not in a hurry." She said quickly.
"I am though." He responded, unable to look at her. "My dad puked all over my car, and I gotta get it cleaned out before I can Uber any more people. So...Imma go."
Looking disappointed, she said, "Uh...okay. Well, take care."
With that, he hurriedly created space between himself and the two of them.
"You think my sister will like this?" Hector asked when he got in the car. Monique had been here for about 5 minutes. She left him as soon as Alex walked off. She tried to find Alex to explain things, but he'd disappeared into the large, shopping crowd.
Dejected, she came out to the car to get a minute alone from Hector. She had to think. She didn't know how she felt about what had transpired only minutes ago. Unfortunately, she didn't have enough time to process things. Hector had finished his transaction and joined her.