I knew that he'd lied to me by the sound of his voice.
A week had passed since his rainy birthday present and we'd been inseparable, except for when he had to work at his family's restaurant. Even days and nights after our showering dance I could still feel the tingle of the cold rain as it had hit my unprepared skin.
The following day he'd introduced me to his parents, Rosana Rodriguez Gomez and Julio Rodriguez Gomez, and they acted just as nervous as me when we shook hands and hugged for the first time. A few words in Spanish slipped out of Rosana's mouth when she talked about Alex, and Julio's warm smile had instantly made me feel welcomed. Alex's sudden decision to let me enter the side of his life that included his parents gave me the feeling that he was waiting for something. Waiting for me to confess something that he knew I was keeping tightly hidden in my heart.
I'd never been to his family's restaurant, Habana Vieja, since the last time my parents had wanted to go had been interrupted by Angela's accident. So when I had walked into the air conditioned room I'd been overwhelmed with the Cuban symbols and warm environment that had welcomed me. I had thought that the inside was beautiful, while the outside hid the secret of its beauty. The walls were a blood red and covered in old newspaper clippings from Cuban papers (Alex had informed me of this). A large Cuban flag portraying the single white star in the center of a red triangle, three long blue stripes and two equal white stripes, was hanging from the ceiling near the center of the restaurant, and the waiters were friendly young high schoolers looking for some extra cash.
After I had eaten some congris (Cuban dish of rice and red beans) and several pieces of fried pork that Rosana had served me eagerly, Alex had taken me for a walk on the beach.
This was where we met up with Claire.
The strange thing wasn't the way that she looked at him, but the look on his face when he saw her. He looked pained, almost fearful of being seen with someone else that wasn't Claire herself.
"Hey baby," she said looking directly at him and, of course, ignoring me. "I was just going to drop by Habana Vieja to see if you were working today."
"Hi Claire," his voice was silent, lost in a sea of memories almost as wide the one directly beside us. "I wasn't scheduled for today."
Her left eye twitched a little and I stood beside them, somehow frozen out of the scene. She wore a bright yellow sun-dress that barely grazed her knees and a pair of white sandals decorated with sandy, false sunflowers matched her outfit. Her blond hair shimmered loosely in the sunlight and her blue eyes were full of dares. For an instant I could have sworn that she had caught sight of me in the corner of her eyes, and for some reason that just made me oddly uncomfortable. Before I could react, she was hugging him. Tightly. My reflex was to take a step back and my brain was telling me to run, to get the Hell away from them, but I couldn't move.
My thoughts became heavy with the image of Claire referring to Alex as her boyfriend. I suddenly understood.
"Claire," Alex warned, but his voice was so soft that I had to strain my ears to hear it.
"You're wearing the cologne I gave you." She commented and I blushed. I had liked his cologne and whenever I smelled it on anyone else my thoughts went directly to him. But in the end, even the cologne had been hers first.
Alex finally pulled her off of him and he didn't say anything. I mean, nothing. All that was around us was the sound of the seagulls chirping loudly in the aqua sky with the occasional scream of a little kid ahead of us. She put her hand on his sunburned cheek and he winced at her touch.
"I'll call you." She promised. "Tonight."
Alex said nothing and she turned to leave. "Oh and Avery," I forced myself to focus on reality instead of letting my imagination take me away as she spoke without turning around. "Nice bracelet."
They were simple words that would normally be taken as a compliment, but for me these words were like the scraping of nails on a chalkboard.
She walked off into the distance and I could feel the air around us lose some of its tension. "Sorry about that," Alex apologized, but I knew that he didn't mean any of it.
I shrugged and held tightly onto the gold bracelet that Jacob had given me. It was thin on my wrist, but it acted strongly whenever I needed it for support. I turned around until my back was facing him and I was facing the ocean.
I heard him slowly approach me and I sensed him behind me. His next words were a lie, I could feel them before he spoke them yet my heart fought with my logical side to not listen to a word and continue our endless summer.
"She doesn't mean anything to me." He said quietly.
He wasn't that good at lying.