Chapter no 19 – Amelia

When in Rome

Noah and I hitchhiked into town. Hitchhiked! He left his truck near the shop last night, so after he finished his shower and came out of the bathroom smelling like a divine being from the depths of a woodland forest, he asked if I’d like to check the first item off my list. We walked down to

the road to hitch a ride into town.

It wasn’t as thrilling as I had hoped, though. Despite using the words hitch a ride he had already called his friend James and asked him to pick us up at the end of the driveway. So now I’m sandwiched between two beautiful men and bobbing my way into town, fully intending on telling Susan that I hitchhiked during my time away and allowing her to conjure up fantasies of me in an 18-wheeler beside a big burly man with tattoos and a lecherous smile.

James is nice, though. He has a sunny disposition and wants to know how I’m enjoying my time away from the big-city life. He’s full of ideas of places I should explore and things I should do while I’m here. Most of his sentences start like this: “Oh, Noah! You know what she should do?…” And “Noah! You oughtta take her to…” I’m realizing that he seems to think Noah and I are a package deal, and for some reason, I’m not mad about it.

Noah, however, is back to his grunty self—pressing himself against the truck door so our arms don’t brush. Yesterday I would have thought it was because he found me annoying. Now, after the Kiss Request, there’s a new piece of this puzzle falling into place and it looks like Noah telling me I’m pretty and sweet. I’m powdered sugar. I don’t think he hates me after all. I think he likes me a little and that scares him.

James drops us off at the front of the town square with a little wave, saying he’s headed out of town to take an order of produce to a local market. When his truck drives off, it’s just me and Noah, standing here like two phone poles.

I bite the corner of my mouth and look for something to say, because I’ve realized I can’t wait for Noah to speak first or we’ll become silent monks. “So…what store should we—”

“The flirty stuff between us has to stop,” he blurts. I laugh incredulously. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

If someone was watching us from a distance, they would think Noah is standing on a tack. “You and me. Flirting. Or whatever that was this morning…it has to stop. We’re not— we’re friends. That’s all.”

“Noah.” I turn to fully face him and make some serious eye contact. “You have to stop worrying. I’m not looking for a relationship either. We are allowed to be two adults who talked about kissing that don’t plan on doing it again, and to admit that the other is attractive without jumping into a romantic relationship.”

Some of the tension in his face melts away. He nods thoughtfully. “Okay. I just didn’t want to lead you on.”

I sort of want to burst out laughing. I love that he treats me like this…as if I’m just a normal woman he met when her car broke down in his front yard. Most men wouldn’t

have the guts to say something like that to me. Wouldn’t have the guts to turn me down in the first place. There’s no pressure with Noah, and although I could totally see myself falling for him if I lived in this town, I know that my life will come calling shortly and I’ll have to go. Friendship works better.

“Thank you. And for that, I think you’re as sweet as maple syrup.” He groans and rolls his eyes when he realizes I’m teasing him again, and he begins walking away from me, one booted foot at a time. I continue, “Not quite powdered sugar, of course, but don’t worry! If you try hard enough, you’ll achieve my highest level of sweetness!”

He stops walking abruptly and then falls in step behind me, softly poking my back. I frown over my shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to find the off switch.” Now I stop walking and he passes right by me, an easy grin plastered on his mouth like he didn’t just play again, continuing to shatter all my preconceived notions about Grumpy Pie Shop Owner. “Come on, chatterbox.” He signals with his arm for me to catch up. “We’re starting at the diner, where we don’t have to eat sand-pancakes.”

What should I get?” I ask Noah, looking over the top of the laminated, and slightly sticky, diner menu.

“Whatever the hell you want.”

I get it. He needs more coffee. I’ve been around him enough now to know that he requires a steady stream of the stuff to maintain a less-than-murderous attitude. And he takes it black, no sugar, no cream. Just like his personality. Noah is a no-frills guy.

“I think I’ll get the—” I’m interrupted by my phone buzzing on the table. It must have just grabbed a random bar of service because it is buzzing its heart out with incoming text messages. I shouldn’t have brought it with me, but it felt wrong leaving it behind when I’m so used to having it on me at all times. Now I regret it. Noah stares at the poor little thing with lifted eyebrows.

“Whoa. Someone really wants to get ahold of you.”

And just like that, the happy feelings I’ve had floating around me all day vanish. Reality always finds me. I pick up my phone and swipe it open even though I already know what I’ll see.

Susan: Please tell me you are still maintaining your nutritional plan while you’re gone? Just because you’re away doesn’t mean it’s a true vacation. Your stage costumes are already finalized.

Susan: Pie is not on the nutritional plan btw.

Susan: And speaking of, neither are pie shop owners. Keep your head on straight while you’re away. You’re too good for a man like that.

Susan: Surprise, surprise, your mom emailed me this morning from your Malibu house asking where the key to your Land Rover is. Also, I extended your offer to have her join you for the first few dates of the tour but she said she has too much going on.

I set down my phone and look up. Noah is studying me. I muster up a smile and resume my menu-reading. “Okay… what was I saying? Oh yeah. I think I’m going to get an order of the French toast, too. Is it good?”

When he doesn’t answer, I glance up again. A frown is etched between his eyes. Strong jaw working. He shakes his head lightly. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Do what?”

“Fake it.” He gestures toward where I just put my phone. “Do you want to talk about it? Whatever it is you just read?”

Ugh. Here he goes again! Why is it the one person who can only be temporary in my life is the one who wants to

understand me? Be there for me without me having to ask for it?

“I think I’ll respond to that question with the same answer you gave me before you left last night. Nope.” I overly pronounce each letter, reveling in my ability to squash the voice chanting polite, polite, polite in my head. Not with Noah. Never with Noah.

His mouth tilts in a grin. “Fair enough.”

A moment later, a young waitress comes to the table. “Hi y’all. What can I get for you?” Other than smiling extrawide at me, she doesn’t treat me any different than Noah. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the freedom the people in this town give me. I want to package it up and take it back to the real world with me.

“I’ll have an order of pancakes and French toast,” I say, “and he needs more coffee ASAP. Gets really grumpy if I don’t keep a steady supply dripping through his veins.”

Noah scowls at me but the waitress tilts back her head full of pretty red hair with a delighted laugh. “She’s right on the money! Glad you finally found yourself a woman who knows how to handle you, Noah.”

Noah hurries to say, “She’s not my woman.”

I give her a polite smile. “I’m making a sign to carry around the rest of the day with those exact words just so he’ll quit getting his panties in a wad about it.” This earns me another frown from Noah. But here’s the thing, the frown is laced with a smile. I don’t know how he does it, but the man can smile and frown at the same time.

“Well, I’ll admit,” says the waitress, turning to me while taking her pencil and settling it behind her ear. “I was surprised when I heard the rumor that you two were an item given his history and general dislike for women since then.”

I raise a brow. “His history?”

“I’ll have eggs and a biscuit, Jeanine,” Noah barks across the table. Jeanine pays him no attention.

“Girl, yes. He was head over heels for that fancy New Yorker for years, you know?”

My eyes widen. “No. I had no idea.” I look at Noah, trying to picture this old-fashioned man who hates Wi-Fi and doesn’t own a cell phone and drives a burnt orange pickup truck with a pants-suited New York elitist on his arm. Another paradox.

“Yes!” Jeanine says with wide, excited eyes. Gossip seems to be her lifeblood. “Had the man so bewitched after her summer in town cleaning up her deceased uncle’s house and selling it that when it was time for her to leave, Noah up and moved to New York with her! It was a real Hallmark movie. But then when he had to come back for his grandma she didn’t come with him and—”

Noah lifts his hands from the table. “I’m right here, you know? Can hear everything you’re saying.”

Jeanine whips her head toward Noah. “Why haven’t you told her?”

“Because it’s none of her business. We practically just met.” Poor Noah. He’s exasperated.

Suddenly, a man who is on the other side of the booth behind me leans around, draping his arm over the back so he can address me and Jeanine better. “Don’t feel bad. He doesn’t like to discuss it with anyone. That woman broke his heart and he’s not been the same since.”

“Oh good Lord,” says Noah, propping his elbows on the table and pressing his face into his hands.

“You know what, Phil? I agree. I don’t think he used to be this surly until he came back from New York.” Jeanine helps herself to the seat beside me so I have to slide over in

the booth to make room. “Now, darling, I’m rooting for you. But I think the fact that you’re a famous singer is going to hinder things a bit, because of the long-distance hurdle. Don’t give up. Noah’s worth it and you won’t find a better man than him.” It’s sweet the way this town adores him.

“Yep, okay. I’m going to go pour that coffee since you’re clearly not going to do your job today.”

“So we can keep talking about you?” Jeanine asks him with pleading eyes.

“Wouldn’t dare stop you.” Noah slides out of the booth and I watch all six foot three of him unfold from the table. I would put a stop to all this, but…I don’t want to. It’s sort of fun watching him squirm while also getting to learn all his deep dark secrets. Plus, he just gave us permission. There’s no backing out now.

“Oh, honey, will you pour me a cup while you’re at it!” the waitress says over her shoulder while still looking at Phil.

“Yep,” Noah grumbles. “Cream and sugar?” “Just a tad.”

Noah goes behind the diner’s counter and starts pouring coffees. A few people at the bar seem to need a top-off, too, so he does it. I stare at him, unable to take my eyes off his handsome face as Jeanine and Phil keep prattling on beside me. His forearms flex with every tilt of the coffeepot. Occasionally his mouth slants into a single-dimpled grin at something someone says to him. I feel my heart tumble off a ledge it shouldn’t have been on in the first place.

“I wish I could wring that woman’s neck for treating him like she did. Heaven help me if she ever sets foot in this town again,” says Jeanine.

“But you’re not going to do that to him, are you?” Phil asks me. “You’re going to treat our Noah right?”

“Uh—” But now I’m lost. They seem to think Noah and I are more than we are. “Really. We’re just friends. A step above strangers, really.”

They both make pish posh gestures like the fact that I met Noah only a few days ago is just semantics. “I know a good couple when I see one,” says Jeanine, cinching up her ponytail to make it perkier.

“Mark my words, you two have something between you. Just don’t go cheating on him like his ex-fiancée did and that alone will make you miles better than her.”

I blink in Noah’s direction, who’s just finished serving up a plate of pancakes to someone at the bar. He was engaged? Lived in New York? Was cheated on? There’s so much I don’t know about him, and I feel that lack of knowledge keenly now. I want to know him. Every nook and cranny of him. I want to study him like I’m cramming for an end-of-the-year exam. But there’s a very real chance he’ll never let me know him.

We make eye contact and he doesn’t smile at first, but the longer he looks at me, his lips start to rise in the corners like he just can’t help himself. And all at once, I think maybe my chances aren’t hopeless after all.

You'll Also Like