Tear In My Heart

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XI. Book Signings and Birthday Parties

“Come on, Noah!” Gracie whined as she urgently dragged me toward the entrance of the bookstore as her other hand tightly held a book to her chest.

“Seriously, Gracie, what do you eat? You can pull like a bull?” I questioned only half joking.

“Steroids, now come on! It’s your fault we’re already late!”

“I’m sorry I lost track of time. I had school work to do!” I easily fibbed. Did I have homework? Yes. Was I late because Madison wouldn’t stop kissing my shoulders as I tried to finish my work? Yes. So, is it my fault? No, it’s Madison’s, but I wouldn’t tell Gracie that of course. Especially not after her reaction to my book choice the last time we were here. Conflict still brewed in me on whether I should even be here with her due to the fact that she believed who I am is a sin, but she’s also become like a little sister to me in such little time and I didn’t want to cut her off. Maybe I could change her mindset, just maybe...

Just as we entered the bookstore, applause erupted from the thirty to forty people who were seated in the center of the store as a lean man with salt-and-pepper hair approached the podium, carrying a copy of the book that Gracie was holding. She let out a low squeal as she quickly found a seat with me following close behind her.

“Good evening everyone, and thank you for coming,” the man said with a polite smile, his voice deep and rich.

“Oh my gosh, Noah, can you believe it’s the Troye Jordan?” she excitedly whispered before profusely shushing me though I hadn’t said anything. I let out a quiet chuckle as I shook my head. This girl...

The man on the podium continued expressing his gratitude for all of us attending, even those of us who didn’t have a choice, and I was about to get out my phone and play games until he announced he’d be reading a passage from his book. “Okay, if you guys will open to the first page of chapter one, we can begin,” he said before he pulled his reading glasses out of his breast pocket as the sound of turning pages briefly filled the air. I looked over Gracie’s shoulder as she excitedly flipped to the demanded page, her right knee bouncing uncontrollably. There was no doubt she was excited.

“Alright, is everyone ready?” he asked, peaking out across the crowd from over his glasses like a professor who’s getting impatient with a rowdy class, though there was no annoyance in his soft brown eyes. A series of yes’s filled the air, prompting him to start reading the first page. “It doesn’t take much to fall in love, apparently,” he started, my eyes taking up the words as he said them. “Aaron and I are a perfect example of that...” He continued reading until the end of the short chapter, each word capturing me more than the previous and leaving me wanting more. Once he finished, he closed the book and looked up at the crowd, earning a series of applause, even from me as well. I think I found a new author that I like. “Thank you,” he grinned before asking, “Are there any questions?” Almost immediately hands filled the air and questions were being asked. By the end of his Q and A, we learned that he based this novel on a personal experience with love and how when he first fell in love with this one girl, he thought she’d be his forever but it turned out that love isn’t always a fairy tale. We also learned that his advice to aspiring writers is to never force your writing, always push boundaries, and don’t follow the path already set out for you. If you write stories that have already been written, then no one will be interested since they already know how it’s going to end. We learned aspects of his personal life as well, like his three cats Harry, Beemo, and Agustus; his favorite food is chicken fettuccine alfredo, he lives in Detroit, and many other things.

Not long after the Q and A concluded, it was time for autographs and pictures. Gracie bolted up and dragged me near the front of the line and luckily you could buy copies up front. I bought three- one for me, one for Mads, and the other for Mr. Hill because I knew he’d kill me if I didn’t- and waited for Gracie to finish before I handed him the books and asked him to sign one for me, Mads, and Mr. Hill, which he gladly did. After he signed each along with cute inspirational messages, Gracie and I took a picture with him before we left. “I can’t believe we got a picture with the Troye Jordan!” she marveled, staring down at her phone screen where she was observing the picture.

I chuckled. “He is pretty cool, huh?”

“′Pretty cool’?” she mimicked, surprise in her voice as I unlocked the car. “He’s amazing!”

“We’ll see if you lives up to the hype once I actually finish this book,” I said as we climbed in before I tossed my bag with the books into the backseat.

“He definitely will,” she assured. “Can we get something to eat, I’ll pay.”

“We can get something to eat, but are you sure about paying? I have enough money and-”

“Of course I’m sure about paying,” she cut me off. “You brought me here, so let me pay for our food. Fair?”

“Fair,” I agreed before we drove to whatever restaurant we could find.

***

“It just doesn’t make sense, Madison!” I exclaimed as we pulled into the parking lot of the pizzeria.

He laughed. “It makes perfect sense, Noah.”

“It might to you, but it definitely doesn’t make sense to me,” I said shaking my head. “If I know that math is nowhere in my future career choices, so why do I still need to take it?”

“Just in case you decide to change your career path, you’ll have at least the basic knowledge. When I left high school college didn’t even cross my mind, but now I’m studying to be a software developer, which requires a ton of logical math by the way, as well as minoring in psychology. You never know where life will lead you.”

“I hate when you have a point,” I grumbled as I unbuckled my seat belt as climbed out of the car with Madison’s laughs chasing me the whole way. When we walked through the door, we were instantly greeted by a girl whose name I think was Reagan and a boy definitely named Tommy who worked the dead shift, aka from nine to three when no one really came in unless it was the weekends. “Good luck today,” Tommy advised as he carelessly hopped over the counter instead of merely going around before sliding off his apron with the pizzeria’s logo on it and draping it over my head. “There’s a party booked for four-thirty. Reagan and I already started on the pizzas, they’re almost done, all you have to do is put them in the oven and keep it there so it stays warm, Madison knows what I’m talking about.” Madison gave a curt nod before he went around the counter where Reagan put her apron around Madison’s shoulders though there was a flirtatious look behind her eyes and etched in her actions, let the way she had her hand on Madison’s shoulder a second longer than it needed to be. I felt something move through me, but I allowed my focus to return to Tommy.

“Anything else?” I asked as I tied my apron and he shook his head as he fished his hand in his pocket until the familiar jingle of keys were heard.

“Nope, you guys should be set. All you have to do is the pasta and salads. Meg and Jessie called and said they’d be a bit late so you’ll have to cover the first half of your shift yourselves, but you’re welcome to leave once they get here so that it can be a fair workload, but it’s whatever you want to do.”

“Yeah, just make sure that they come in through the back door, okay?” Reagan joined in, though she was still only focused on Madison.

“Will do,” he casually said, either totally oblivious to what Reagan was doing or he didn’t care. “Come on, Noah. This food isn’t going to make itself.” I nodded and followed him to the back, throwing a “bye” over my shoulder as those two left. I was in the middle of cutting the chicken for a pasta when Madison said, “I saw the way you were looking at me with Reagan.”

I quickly turned to face him as he slid a pizza into the oven. Had I been that obvious? He looked back at me and a smile grew on his face, probably due to the fact that my horror was evident on my face. “Relax, Noah. I was just going to say that jealousy looks good on you.”

“Was I that obvious?” I groaned as I turned away from him out of embarrassment and continued on with the pasta. I never was the jealous type, but Madison was different. People easily gravitated toward him and in some cases, I didn’t like it.

“No,” he said as I heard the sound of beeping, indicating that he was adjusting the oven settings. “I just know you.” I rolled my eyes, though I knew he couldn’t see as I continued working. We continued working in silence until Madison decided to play song music, causing him to slightly sway his hips as he worked next to me on the various kinds of pasta and salads the party had ordered, and I couldn’t help but wonder who in their right mind plans a birthday party in the middle of the week? Better question: how many people did they invite because so far we’ve made four pizzas, three kinds of pasta, and two salads, not to mention the cookies and brownies I had to start working on within the next thirty minutes if they were to be done in time.

“There better be a generous tip at the end of this party or I’m quitting,” I huffed, only half joking as I slid the last pasta into the oven before setting the timer.

“If not, maybe I can make it worth your while,” Madison suggested, causing me to turn around just to find his flour-covered hands cupping my cheeks.

"Madison!" I whined as I pushed his hands away, causing him to laugh as he removed his hands from my face. I fruitlessly tried to rub the flour from my face, but it merely spread. I’d have to wash it off before it settled deep enough to cause a breakout. I narrowed my eyes before I headed back to the employee bathrooms, ignoring Madison’s apologies as he followed me.

“Baby, come on, let out a laugh every once in a while,” he gently said once he sobered up, grabbing me by my arm and turning me around so that I was facing him.

“I’d love to if I didn’t have flour all over my face,” I deadpanned.

“Well, it won’t hurt to add a little more,” he said before he cupped my cheek and gently kissed me.

“Mads, it’s not fair. You can’t just distract me by-” I was cut off by him pressing his lips against mine once more and I couldn’t help but give in. I kissed him back and buried my hands in his hair as he slowly led me back until my back hit against a counter, causing me to let out a small gasp.

“Am I forgiven?” he asked and I rolled my eyes.

“Madison, you can’t just start making out with me every time you annoy me,” I argued.

“Why not?” he innocently asked, though he knew why.

“Because it’s not fair,” I admitted. “You know how you...”

“How I what, Noah?” he pressed, his grin growing.

I sighed. “Distract me. How you distract me,” I confessed. “You make me forget everything when you kiss me and you use that against me, and it’s not fair.”

“If I didn’t use it against you, it wouldn’t be fun, mi Bello," he teased, caressing my cheek with his thumb. I narrowed my eyes at him and swatted his hand away. He knew that I loved it when he spoke Italian.

“Oh babe-” he started by I stopped him by flipping him off.

“Don’t ‘oh babe’ me,” I said just as the oven beeped from the pizzas we’d put in earlier. “Just take care of those while I wash this off my face so I don’t break out.”

“Wait,” he said as his hand wrapped around my arm once more, causing me to face him again. “Will you at least accept my apology?”

“Keep working this shift with me and play nice, then I’ll decide,” I stated before I pulled away, causing a small grin to grow on my lips as he groaned. I’m childish, I know, but it was so fun messing with him half as much as he messed with me.

I quickly washed my face before I returned back into the kitchen to start on the brownies as Madison adjusted the oven to keep the pizzas warm, and after about twenty-five minutes of teamwork and me ignoring Madison’s apology-flirts, we replaced the pizzas and pasta in the oven with brownies and cookies just as the bell rang, indicating the front door had opened. “You take care of that, I’ll clean up back here,” I instructed as I used the back of my hand to wipe off the sweat that had grown on my forehead.

“Yes sir,” he said with a mock salute before he headed up to the front, his cheerful voice offering a greeting as the sounds of dozens of little kids broke through the air followed by those of adults. I sighed. Meg and Jessie better be here within the next ten minutes or I swear I’m taking their paychecks.

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