II. I Live In the Woods
So we sat there having light-hearted conversations consisting of small talk at first, with Madison somehow making it past my defenses not only making me smile, but laugh too. And no light laughs, but deep belly laughter that made my sides hurt. I found myself opening up to him and telling him things about myself that I wouldn't usually tell a stranger who I'd drunkenly tried to seduce the night prior. Despite my efforts, I also found myself falling for him more and more with every word that pushed past his lips. And I needed to get away before I didn't want to. "Well thanks for not letting me be the German construction worker to your sidewalk, but I really need to get going now. It's already"- I snuck a peek at my phone as I picked up my now empty plate with one hand and started walking toward the sink. Let me say, Madison can cook-" ten-freaking-twenty-two and my Nonna is probably worried sick and since she doesn't really know how to make outgoing calls besides 911, she's probably already filed a missing persons' case. So if you don't mind-"
"I can drive you home," he offered as he followed me to the sink and leaned against it while I started washing off my plate since I had been raised to never leave a mess for someone else to pick up. My parents taught me that. At the very thought of them, my heart sank as it always did when they managed to sneak into my mind. "My car's just downstairs and as you can tell, I'm definitely not going to drive you to your death...well, I won't unless you turn on Beyonce. In that case, I can't guarantee anyone's safety, including my own." I couldn't help but laugh as I guided the washcloth in my hand over the plate in the other to get rid of its filth.
"Thanks, but no thanks," I declined as I put the plate on the rack and faced Madison. "I have to gather my thoughts and I kinda need the exercise." I patted my stomach in order to prove my point before continuing. "Alcohol plus bacon is fattening and I have football today."
"You play football?" Madison asked as he raised a thick eyebrow and I shook my head.
"No, not American football," I explained, forgetting that some American words meant something different than the Italian ones that were drilled into my head since birth. "Soccer as you'd call it, I guess."
"Ah, now that I can see."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, half joking and half serious.
"You're too leg and ab strong to be a football player," he said, examining my physique. "Plus, even though you're muscular, your arms aren't football player arms nor your shoulders football player shoulders."
"Wow, it's not even noon and my feeling have already been hurt. Please excuse me while I go hide in a corner and rethink all my life decisions," I dramatically sighed, placing my palm against my chest above my heart, causing him to smile which subsequently caused me to smile as well.
"Toughen up. The real world is way more brutal than I am. But, back to the main question," he said becoming serious again, "are you going to let me drive you home or not?"
"Nope," I simply said. "Thank you for the offer, but I already told you that I need the exercise, and if I do get too lazy to run it, I could get on a bus or get an Uber or Lyft or something."
"Too bad for you there aren't any buses or taxi services in this part of town."
"Well, I guess I just have to walk then. How far away from the club are we anyway?"
"About fifteen minutes. Twenty at most."
Great. I lived another good twenty minutes away from the club, but I wasn't going to tell Madison that. That would just make him push even further. "I better get going then. Thanks for the breakfast and good luck with life or whatever people typically say after a not-so-one-night-stand." As soon as those words left my lips, I instantly felt bad due to the way Madison's lips pulled down in a slight frown at the term "one-night stand". But instead of trying to take it back or fix it, I gave him a curt nod before I turned and made my way to the door. Without waiting for a response from Madison, I rushed out into the hallway and since the elevator was out of order, I opted for the stairs, hoping Madison wasn't following me because I knew I wouldn't be able to say no if he asked to take me home this time, so I'd be better off avoiding him altogether.
As soon as I exited the building, I instantly recognized where I was. Madison lived right around the football-soccer fields and pizzeria me and my mates hung out at after long practices. I groaned. Did he have to live near the heart of my life? As if the world wanted to rub salt in my endless wounds, dark gray clouds hung heavy in the sky and a low rumble of thunder filled the air. I let out a few Italian curses I'd picked up from my Nonna over the years before I broke out into a sprint in the direction of my house...and my more than likely enraged grandmother.
My feet pounded on the pavement in rhythm with the pounding in my head, which ruined the activity that usually relaxed me and put my raging thoughts at ease. Within minutes, cold, wet droplets landed on my skin and clothes, causing me to curse once more before I willed my legs to carry me further faster. My head was pounding and spinning while my stomach squeezed and ached in protest of the running right after eating that amazing breakfast. Made by a hot guy. Whose house I slept at last night. And whose face and voice refused to get out of my brain. I shook my head- which probably wasn't the best thing to do both hungover and on the verge of throwing up- and focused on the task at hand which was getting home.
The rain was coming down on me more steadily now, collecting on m short, messy brown hair and weighing the strands down until the water made its way onto my face and into my eyes. Before I knew it I was shivering due to the breeze that decided that it would join in on my torment. "Come on Noah. You can do this," I urged myself, but I knew I'd collapse within minutes if not seconds. On the semi-bright side, soccer might be canceled so it'll spare me from having to hungover and sick and save me from having to pass by-
"Hey, stranger" a familiar voice called. I instantly turned my head toward the voice and I was instantly met with Madison pulled over next to me in a black Jeep Wrangler. God please don't tell me he drove out here just for me. "I was on my way to work and I happened to see you running in the rain. Care for a ride?" I knew he was lying due to the fact that he was still shirtless and had a playful grin on his lips.
"For the last time Madison, I'm fine," I groaned, trying my best to put on an irritated facade while also trying to keep myself from running into the warm safety of his car. "Just go back home. We're supposed to return to our lives, remember? Isn't that how this whole one-night stand-"
"Luckily for you, giving strangers rides is apart of my normal everyday life, so hope in," he interrupted. I forgot he didn't like me referring to us as a "one-night stand" though that's what we technically were.
I opened my mouth to protest, but just then a bolt of lightning tore through the sky and I found myself in the passenger seat of his car that had the same mind-numbing scent he did, murmuring Italian curses under my breath every step there. "See, isn't this better?" Madison beamed.
"Yeah, yeah," I waved off as I buckled my seatbelt then adjusted the heat on my body. "I just need to get out of these clothes before I get sick."
"I know one way we can get you out of those clothes," Madison suggested with a wink.
"Shut up," I lamely countered as I narrowed my eyes at him, putting as much venom as I could into the glare in order to cover how flustered he continuously made me.
"You're so fun to annoy," he laughed. "Just give me your address and we'll be on our way," he said once he sobered up, but it was hard to focus on what he was saying when his shirtless torso was on display so close to my hands that I could practically feel him..."Hello? Earth to Noah," Madison said, causing me to snap out of my trance.
"Oh yeah, sorry. I was just trying to think about what I'm going to say to Nonna," I lied. "But just follow my instructions." He lifted a questioning eyebrow. "Did you honestly think I was going to tell you my home address? You might be a good cook, but I barely know you man, and I'm not trying to get my precious organs snatched from my body in my sleep."
"Why are you so dead set on me stealing your organs? It's like you're searching for the worst in me," he joked, though I could still see a bit of hurt in his eyes. Madison uses humor as a mask to hide his emotions. Noted.
"I've watched enough movies," I muttered as my focus fell on the road. "Now take this left." He did as he was told. "Now keep straight," I instructed as I watched water droplets chase each other down the passenger's side window.
After a few minutes of silence, Madison let out a groan, causing me to instantly look at him with a raised eyebrow. "I hate silence," he explained. "Would you mind if I turned on the radio?"
"Your car, your rules," I shrugged as I turned my attention back to the window.
"My rules, huh?" Madison playfully laughed before he placed his hand on my kneecap, causing me to tease up and take a sharp breath due to the sudden action and warmth that shot through my body.
"What's wrong?" he innocently asked as a small smirk grew on his lips, causing my heart to thud against my chest and the heat of a blush to creep up my neck. I opened my mouth to say something, but the instant I did his eyes landed on my lips and I quickly shut them again.
"Sh-Shouldn't you be focusing on the road?" I sputtered, trying to get the pressure of his beautiful eyes off me.
"It's kind of hard to when you're here, sitting close enough to practically taste."
If I weren't blushing before, I was definitely blushing now. I looked away in order to hide it.
"Look at me," he said and I could hear the smile in his voice, but I refused. He squeezed my knee, silently trying to compel me to do what he wanted, but I willed myself to stay strong.
"Look at me, Noah," he demanded, his voice saturated with authority and power.
"No," I deadpanned, though my stomach was doing somersaults. "Now take the third right."
"Only if you look at me," he bargained, but my eyes remained on the raindrops as they played their juvenile game of tag. "Okay then. If you want to play that game," he mused before he slowly started leading the car to the side of the road before completely stopping, both blinkers flashing telling the other cars to ignore us.
"Madison," I groaned, but he wouldn't budge, refusing to do so anything unless I complied with his demands.
"My car, my rules," he said, repeating the poisonous statement I'd spoken mere moments ago. I signed before I forced myself to look at him.
"There. I'm looking at you. Now can you take me home?"
"Only if you say I'm the single most sexiest person you've ever seen ever," he childishly demanded, causing me to roll my eyes for the thousandth today, though I couldn't help but notice how cute he looked.
"I don't have time for this," I said before I reached for the handle on the door, but Madison beat me to it and locked the doors as if he'd read my mind. I blew air out of my nose. Stupid driver controls, giving drivers way too much power over us poor unfortunate souls. "Madison," I whined, hating how much control he had not only over the situation but my emotions as well.
"Noah," he mocked, causing irritation to flare up within me, but I kept it at bay.
"Madison, let me out of the car," I demanded through clenched teeth, all warmth and politeness vacant from my voice as I tried to refrain myself from doing anything too rash. I lost my temper fairly easily and when I did it wasn't pretty at all.
"I don't know..." he trailed before eventually saying, "You'll have to convince me."
I was also extremely competitive, so anything I saw as I challenge, I'd do almost anything to win. My mind began racing with possible game plans to get my way when my phone suddenly began to ring in my pocket. After a few moments, I managed to fish my phone out of my pocket and saw the name "Nonna" flash across my screen. If my Nonna was calling me I was definitely screwed. I closed my eyes and braced myself before I hesitantly slide the slider on the screen to answer my phone.
"Noah! Dear, where are you? I've been worried sick about you!" my Nonna's frantic, petite voice came from the other ends as she spoke in her native language of Italian.
"Yeah, I'm sorry Nonna," I said, responding in Italian which caused Madison to give me a questioning look that I opted to ignore. "I was out late and I couldn't make it all the way home so I crashed at a friend's house. Sorry I didn't call, but we shouldn't be too far off. I'll talk to you when we get there, okay?"
"Okay," she reluctantly agreed after a few moments. "But this conversation isn't over young man."
Oh gosh... "Alright, Nonna. Love you."
"Love you too." Then the line went dead. I was 100% screwed.
"So Italian, huh?" Madison asked and I nodded.
"Both of my parents were from Italy." Madison nodded in response and thankfully didn't ask any more about them. I haven't seen my parents in over five years, and I missed them a lot. It hurt when they left, and I still couldn't process why they had to leave. I probably never will. But I just hope that one day I'll be reunited with them and we can be the happy family that we once were.
"Alright, so you don't get in trouble with your Nonna, you don't have to say that I'm the sexiest man that ever existed ever, because I know you're already thinking it, so I'll just drive you home. But I get to choose what music we listen to and you don't get to complain. Every complaint equals an extra minute in the car with me, not that that's too bad of a punishment because we both know that I'm amazing to be around," he playfully boasted, causing me to sigh in order to refrain from rolling my eyes. Usually, I'd say something smart back, but it was like I couldn't with Madison, not wanting him to take any of my empty insults or threats to heart and not talk to me anymore.
Wait, what was I thinking? Isn't the point of sleeping with someone not to see them again after you wake up or have I read this all wrong? Come on Noah, you can do this. Just ignore him and picture him with a vagina. The very thought made me cringe. Yup, if there was any doubt I had left, this confirmed that I was 100% gay.
"Hello, earth to Noah," Madison waved in front of my face, pulling me from my thoughts.
"I asked if you were game or if you wanted to go ahead and sit here for an extra thirty minutes since you'll undoubtedly complain that many times."
"Go choke," I grumbled, throwing the insult I'd usually use with my soccer mates at him, causing him to get that look in his eye that told me he was about to say something that'd make me choke him or voluntarily throw myself through the window out of embarrassment. Sometimes I had a hard time differentiating the two.
"Only if it's on you."
Window, here I come.
"Just shut up and drive," I said as I turned toward the window in efforts to hide my raging blush. He merely threw his head back and laughed as he removed his hand that'd been resting on my knee so long that I'd forgotten that it was there since I'd felt so familiar. So welcome. I wanted it back where it belonged and I wanted it back now. Come on, Noah. Get a grip on yourself. You can't fall too far down this rabbit hole. All you need to do is-
My thoughts were interrupted by a loud pop ringing in the car, indicating that Madison had plugged his phone into the AUX cord. "And first up on Madison's Playlist of Pain is..." he trailed as he hit the shuffle button and I braced myself for the worst. As soon as the first beat of the song hit, I knew exactly what song it was. "Oh, Noah, you better hold on because this, my closeted friend, is one of my favorite songs in the world."
Funny. It was one of mine too...
As soon as Sam Smith's voice came through the speakers, Madison effortlessly sang along, his deep, melodic voice harmonizing perfectly with Sam's as he pulled back onto the main road and took the turn I'd told him to so long ago. I couldn't help but watch the way his muscles worked together to form his grins and smiles as he made goofy faces as he sang or the way his beautiful eyes twinkled every time he looked at me. "Will you take me to Nirvana?" he sang with Sam, taking his eyes off the road after we hit a red light and cupped my cheek adorably. He was confident and unapologetic and I couldn't help but be drawn to it. I couldn't stop the smile that formed on my face before I began singing along as well, unable to contain my laughter when he looked at me with a shocked expression on his handsome face. "I think you just gave me a musical boner," he said, his face serious as his focus went back to the road once the light shone green, causing me to chuckle with a shrug.
"I tend to have that effect on guys."
"You're definitely affecting me," he agreed, his hand finding its way back to its rightful place on my knee. Even though it'd been a short time, his hand felt right on my knee, as if God himself carved Madison's hand so it could rest on my knee just right.
I was falling too deep, but it was like no matter what I told myself, he did something that made me smile a bit wider. Blush a little harder. Fall a little further. And while my heart doesn't mind, my brain is going into overdrive. Every alarm going off, every light flashing, and every siren wailing trying to warn me that I was wandering too far into unknown territory way too fast. I had to save myself.
"Uh, go ahead and take this right then pull over," I instructed, still very aware of the warmth from Madison's large hand seeping through the material of my jeans.
"Are you okay?" He asked with genuine concern. "Do you need any aspirin or ibuprofen?"
"No, I'm fine. I just need you to pull over." So he did, his analyzing eyes watching me and trying to figure me out. I looked out the window to verify where we were. We were right next to the woods I'd use as a shortcut during my morning runs to school.
"Thanks for the ride, but can you unlock the door now?" I asked and he gave me a questioning look.
"I'm driving you home. It's not safe to just drop you off on the side of the road. Plus, it's raining and you could get sick," he argued with his thick eyebrows pulled together.
"I live in the woods. This is my home," I said, pointing to the thick cluster of trees. "Look there's m living room and there's my kitchen. Oh man, I can see my Nonna now and she's fuming-"
"Noah," Madison said with a determined look in his eyes. "I'm taking you home."
"No you're not," I countered, then instantly felt bad when I saw the corners of his mouth pull down ever so slightly into a small frown. "It's just that...I need to think of something to tell my Nona and I can't focus when you're next to me." Please don't tell me I said the last part out loud.
"So I distract you?" he asked, half playful and half serious.
"Yeah," I nodded since I was already past the point of no return. On the bright side, I'll never have to see him again after today. "And I'd appreciate it if you could turn that off," I said, using my hand to motion to his everything.
"Turn what off?"
"You," I sighed. "Your smile. Your humor. You everything..." I trailed as I felt a blush rise on my cheeks due to the word vomit that had spilled from my lips. The corner of his lips pulled up n a lopsided grin, causing me to let out an exasperated sigh. "See, you know exactly what you're doing. You're doing this on purpose."
"I do it 'cause I kinda like that effect I have on you," he admitted with a shrug. "The way you act around me is cute."
"How do you know this isn't just how I normally act?" I opposed.
"I can just tell."
"Well, thanks for everything," I said as I pulled on the top of the car lock, causing it to unlock with a low click.
"I don't even get a goodbye kiss?" he playfully asked, though I could hear some earnest in his voice.
"What? Am I gay?" I joked, causing him to roll his eyes for once. Even though I was joking, the word felt heavy as it slid past my lips. I used the opportunity to slip out of the car and hurry into the woods, not giving Madison another glance, because I knew if I saw the longing in his eyes I'd come running back.
"It's okay, Noah. You're never going to see him again. I'll make sure of it." Woah, why did it sound like I just made a pact to kill him or something? Well that would be easier than dealing with my raging hormones and emotions. I thought to myself as I started running like I had been before Madison-he interrupted me. I couldn't think about him anymore, I wouldn't allow it. Even his name was toxic, thinking about it would allow it to seep into my brain and slowly start to control my every waking thought. Make my heart my heart beat fast. My palms sweaty. No. Instead, I was going to focus on the task at hand which was not getting assaulted by my Nonna's cane or her walker or her knitting needles that she always has in her arthritic hands, though she knew they shouldn't be because of the immense pain it brought her. But she enjoyed knitting and welcomed the familiar pain in exchange for her.
I was so caught up in my thoughts that I'd forgotten that it was raining and simply enjoyed the beautiful nature around me, desperate to find anything that'd take my mind off him. But it was like the world was working against me. The moss that grew on the trees matched his eyes. The strict structure of the trees matched that of his body. I let out an irritated sigh as I stopped, running my fingers through my wet brown hair, the water turning it almost black.
Though it was going to be hard, I had to forget about him. I had no choice. If I didn't, his face- his very name would slowly consume me from the inside out and I'd go running back, searching for the familiar smile in exchange for the pain of a slow acceptance of myself and what I knew I wanted. And that was a pain I wasn't ready for. At least not yet.