III. Close Calls
“Noah, where on earth have you been?” were the first words I heard as soon as I walked into the house.
“Hello to you too, Nonna,” I mumbled as I took a seat next to the rocking chair she always sat in with knitting needles in hand. I closed my eyes and massaged my throbbing temples in order to offer some kind of relief to my pounding head. I had no such luck.
“Noah, I’m only asking one last time, where were you?” She demanded and I looked up at her with tired eyes. My grandmother had been born in Italy and moved to the US when she was twenty-seven, bringing my father with her. We shared the same blue-green eyes and freckles across our noses, but other than that we were complete opposites. She was quiet and conserved while I was loud and social. She liked going by what she knew and I liked taking risks. “Noah,” she warned, the way her grip changed on the knitting needles let me know that she was hanging onto her patience by a thread and if that thread snapped, one of those needles would end up in my eye.
“I just went on a little road trip by myself,” I lied, though I often did take road trips by myself just to explore and see things I usually didn’t. “I got tired after a bit and decided to crash at a friend’s house.” I was technically telling the truth, I just left out some major details like getting drunk, almost having sex with a stranger at the time, and the fact that said stranger was a boy that refused to get out of my head. Ugh.
My Nonna narrowed her eyes at me, trying to tell if I was lying or not. Sweat beaded on the back of my neck. She was extremely good at catching me in lies, even white lies. After a few tense moments, she relaxed, causing me to as well and I had to keep myself from letting out a sigh of relief. “Next time, call me, ragazzo.”
“Sorry, Nonna,” I apologized, but she shook her head.
“Noah, you’re always ‘sorry’, nipote. This happens too many times, and you make up outrageous stories expecting me to believe you’re actually at your friends’ houses when you’re actually out spending your allowance partying and drinking and probably sleeping with God knows who!” I swear all the color drained from my face. “And it stops now,” she continued, shaking her head as her focus went back on her knitting. “I know what it’s like to be young and free and sometimes you do just want to party and drink every now and again, but you’re going to stop spending my money on your illegal fun and get a job.”
“And if you don’t, you can kiss your beloved football goodbye.” My heart stopped beating as I tried to process what she’d said.
“I’m sorry, Noah, but that’s how it has to be,” she shrugged. “I’m old and your football is costing me too much, Noah. Plus, you need to start learning some responsibility and working for your own things. You’re a senior in high school for crying out loud! You need some more money for university!”
“Yeah, yeah,” I sighed. “I’ll start looking next weekend.”
“No need,” Nonna said. “I’ve already arranged it and you start work next Monday.”
“What?” I practically yelled.
“Nonna, what the-“
“You’ll be working at the pizzeria around the corner from the football fields where you and your teammates always hang out, and that’s final.” I felt my heart drop as I blankly stared at her. No. That’s right across the street from where he lived. “The family father and son that own the pizzeria are also Italian and we’ll be having them over for dinner tonight as a thank you for allowing you to work there. I’ve known the owner for a little while and even though it’s just a pizzeria, he takes employment very seriously.” I mutely nodded my head, barely hearing or processing anything she said. All that I knew was that I was screwed. Badly.
Still in a daze, I stood up and slowly trudged off to my room, Nonna most likely grumbling to herself and shaking her head at me, but I didn’t care. I needed to clear my head of him. I needed to forget Madison.
I trudged into the bathroom that was in the hallway next to my ever messy room and shut the door behind me then hurriedly started a shower. I brushed my teeth as I waited for the shower to warm, and no matter how hard I tried or what I thought about, Madison crept into my mind. In every happy memory or beautiful thing, Madison was just there. “Come on, Noah. Get a grip,” I growled at myself as I stripped and hurried into the shower. I instantly relaxed as the warm water rained down on me as I closed my eyes and leaned against the wall. I just needed to forget about this morning and Madison. His smile. His laugh. His godly body...The heavenly moans that escaped his lips as my hands wandered him up and down when I got just the right spot...the sweet taste of his lips against my own.
My eyes snapped open and I pushed myself off the wall, feverishly shaking my head in an attempt to clear my head, but it wasn’t working. “Dai, Noah,” I whispered to myself, reverting back to the language I was familiar with as I ran my hands through my wet hair. “Dimenticati di lui.”
I tried to convince myself that Madison was nothing to me and that he should be easily forgotten, but he wasn’t. It felt like I’d known him a year for every second we spoke. His smile was so familiar, almost as the hair on my head. His voice was pure music to my ears, and my skin yearned for the sparks that ignited on it every time he touched me.
But all that meant nothing and must be forgotten.
I went to finish showering when I realized that I had a raging boner. I cursed under my breath and switched the hot shower cold, a hiss escaping my lips as the cold water bombarded my skin. I spent the rest of the miserable shower thinking of all the things I usually did to calm myself down. Wrinkly butts. Smelly trash. Girls. Vaginas.
I shuttered and was instantly turned off.
After a few more moments, I was out of the shower with a towel securely tied around my waist and water droplets chasing each other down my toned body. I made my way to my room and pulled a fresh pair of briefs from my dresser before I crashed onto my bed and looked at the clock. It was barely eleven, so I decided to hop on my laptop and watch Netflix. Did I have a lot of homework due by Monday? Of course. Was I planning on doing any of it until Monday morning? Of course not.
After a few moments of searching, I decided on Black Mirror before I settled into my sheets and positioned my laptop on my lap. And despite how hard I tried, my mind wandered back to the one and only Madison. Would he like this series? Would we be the kind of couple that starts a series together and get mad at each other if one watched an episode without the other? Would he make that adorable face he usually did when he got irritated or annoyed before he gives up and simply says, “I forgive you” then kisses me?
I let out an exasperated sigh as I shoved my face into a pillow. “Seriamente Noah, devi fermarti prima di impazzire pensando a lui,” I murmured to myself, though most of it got lost the pillow that rested on top of my face and was slowly suffocating me, but not like Madison was- surrounding me and smothering me until I had no choice but to depend on him and breath him in like air. “I swear to God, if I don’t stop I will personally cut off my own balls and choke myself with them,” I muttered as I removed the pillow from my face and lazily tried to focus on the show on my laptop, but after multiple failed attempts to get into the storyline and away from Madison, I simply decided that I was tired and closed my eyes.
It felt like I’d barely gotten a wink of sleep when I heard a loud banging on my door. “Noah, you better be ready because our guests are going to be here in less than a half hour and I need help finishing dinner,” Nonna’s muffled voice came from behind my closed door. I groaned.
“Ok, Nonna. Dammi solo altri dieci minuti e lo farò,” I muttered as I buried my face in my pillow and tried to find the comforting arms of sleep once more, but Nonna’s persistent knocking prevented me from falling into its sweet embrace.
“Noah Lorenzo Bruno, if you’re not out here in the next ten minutes, things won’t end well for you,” she threatened, and if I knew anything about my Nonna, it would be that she’s a woman of her word no matter what.
“Fine, I’m getting up. What do I wear?” I grumbled as I lazily looked at the clock. It read 5:54, causing my eyes to nearly pop out of their sockets. How had I slept that long, yet it felt like I didn’t get any sleep at all?
“Wear something casual,” Nonna instructed. “Now hurry up. Time’s ticking.”
Despite how comfortable my bed was and how warm my sheets were, I forced myself to get up and search my closet and floor in search of what to wear. After about five minutes of searching, I settled on a beige sweater with a pair of jeans along with a pair of sneakers. I quickly ran my fingers through my messy brown hair before I popped a mint in my mouth- since I was too lazy to brush my teeth again- and headed downstairs where the heavenly smell of my Nonna’s pasta filled the air, making my stomach growl.
Nonna wasted no time giving me things to do: set the table, add things to the pasta, put the brownies in the oven, and the list went on and on. By the time I was finished, I was ready for another 7-hour nap. Hopefully, Nonna will be so distracted by the company that she wouldn’t notice if I slipped out. It’d worked once before when I was seven and the circus was in town. Let’s just say that trying to pet the tigers wasn’t the best idea. Consequently, Nonna hasn’t let me go to a circus since...or a zoo...or any place else Tigers are involved.
I chuckled at the memory and lightly touched the faint battle scar that ran from behind my ear to the bottom of my chin that wasn’t noticeable unless you were right in front of me and even then you’d have to be actively searching for it. Funny enough I didn’t sustain the scar from the tiger itself, but instead, I’d received it after I tripped trying to run and hide from Nonna after the tragic tiger incident.
My walk down memory lane was short lived due to the sound of the doorbell ringing pulling me back to reality. “I’ll get it,” I said before my Nonna could even have a chance to open her mouth and yell at me to do so. As I walked to the door, I put on my fake smile as I straightened out my shirt. Hopefully this wouldn’t last long. As I neared the door, the muffled sounds of two deep male voices were heard bickering, though I couldn’t make out what exactly they were saying.
God, don’t let it be like this the whole dinner, I silently prayed as my fingers wrapped around the doorknob. When I opened the door, my eyes met familiar green-brown ones and my heart forgot how to work. In front of me stood the very man I was trying to hard to forget looking irresistible in a simple white button up shirt and some jeans. As soon as we both got over our shock, mischief sparkled in his eyes as his lips pulled into a slight smirk, but not in such a way that the man behind him- his father I assumed- would notice.
“Hello,” He slyly said, “my name is Madison Williams and this is my father Brandon.” He offered me his hand and I absentmindedly shook it, still in shock that he was on my front porch. Was I dreaming? Hallucinating? No, I can’t be because the sparks that dance across my skin where our hands touched were definitely real.
“H-Hi,” I stammered before I mentally kicked myself and cleared my throat. “I meant hello, my name’s Noah Bruno. It’s nice to meet you Madison and Mr. Williams,” I said, shaking their hands as I said their name.
“Nice to meet you too, son,” Mr. Williams said with a curt nod. Standing side by side it was obvious that Madison got his looks from his father. They had the same captivating green-brown eyes, though Madison’s were a bit brighter and filled with mischief and youth while Mr. Williams’ were dull and tired with age. They also had the same model-like facial structure and messy brown hair though Mr. Williams’ was gelled back and Madison simply let his run wild, but it worked for him. It gave him a sexy rugged look that drew you into him.
“Please, come in,” I greeted as I stepped out of the doorway and motioned for them to come in before the silence became too awkward too fast.
Madison’s father wasted no time stepping through the threshold, but Madison stayed, looking at me with mischief and trouble dancing in his eyes while his lips pulled into a smirk, before he shook his head and walked in and whispered, “I hope we get to finish what we started, Noah.” A small shiver ran down my spine as his words repeated in my head and my knees turned to jelly, but I willed them to keep me up.
“I’m your dreams, Madison,” I said as I closed the door.
“You know what they say: dreams come true if you work hard and I,” He said as his eyes slowly looked me up and down, “plan on working very hard, Noah.”
And cue the raging blush and sweaty palms.
“Shut up,” I grumbled as I pushed past him and walked toward the kitchen, feeling his eyes glued to my butt the whole time, but I couldn’t entirely blame him. Football had sculpted both my upper and lower body, but especially my butt, so I let it slide. For now.
As we neared the kitchen, I could hear Nona and Mr. Williams talking and laughing, and as soon as Madison and I entered the room, she beckoned me over. “Brandon, I’m guessing you’ve already met my grandson, Noah,” my Nona smiled as she wrapped her arm around my shoulders and I forced a smile onto my face, very aware of Madison’s eyes trained on me.
“Indeed I have,” Mr. Williams said giving me a polite smile. “Your grandmother has told me a lot of good things about you. I assume you’ll work very hard and not make me regret hiring you.”
“Of course, sir. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work,” I said without missing a beat.
“That’s what I like to hear,” he smiled as he clapped me on the shoulder before turning to Madison and motioning him over with his head which Madison swiftly did with a knowing smile on his face as if he knew something I didn’t. “My son Madison is the manager and will be training you your first few weeks, right son?”
“Absolutely,” he smiled as he extended his hand, causing my mouth to slightly fall open and my mind to be filled with white noise. Me working with Madison? This was not going to go well at all. “Welcome to the family.”
My heart was beating extremely fast and my hands were sweating. My head was pounding and my head was spinning. Was I having a panic attack? I haven’t had one since I was fifteen.
“Th-Thanks,” I breathily stammered out as I quickly shook his hand, causing both Madison and Nona to look at me with concern swimming in their eyes.
“Noah, tesoro, stai bene?” My Nona asked and I nodded and leaned against the table in order to stabilize myself as my knees became weak.
“Sto bene, la mia testa si sente leggera,” I said before I gave Mr. Williams an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, I’ll be right back.”
“Madison, help him,” his father instructed and within an instant, Madison had his arms wrapped around me. A warm tingly feeling spread through me like food dye in water and I slowly felt myself calm down, but not to the point that my knees could support me on their own.
“Noah, are you alright?” Madison asked with his face less than five inches from mine with worry saturating his voice and his breath lightly lapping over my lips as he spoke.
“Yeah,” I lied as I tried to stand on my own, causing me to merely fall back into Madison’s arms.
“Clearly you’re not,” Madison said, genuine concern etched into his features and evident in his oddly calm and soothing voice. But I didn’t need his help. It was as if staying in his arms and listening to his voice calmed me down completely, yet at the same time making me anxious out of my wits. And I hated it.
“I just need to get my head straight. I did have a pretty long night and I’m just a bit tired. Pardon me,” I quickly said before I practically ran- which was more like a drunken stumble- out of the kitchen and into the bathroom, ignoring Nona’s calls, Madison’s protests, and Mr. Williams’ questioning eyes.
I willed my legs to keep me up until I made it into the bathroom where I collapsed and barely caught the sink to keep me from falling straight on my face, but my fingertips felt numb and my palms were engulfed in sweat.
“Noah?” Madison’s concerned voice called as I heard footsteps quickly approaching where I was hiding. My heart rate increased as I quickly went to close the door, but just then the world around me began spinning like an overactive top and my legs gave out, my vision blackening at the edges the ground quickly approached. I closed my eyes and waited for impact, but it never came. Instead, I felt two firm arms wrap around me as a masculine scent rushed into my nose.
“I know I was a catch, but now I’ve got boys literally throwing themselves at me,” Madison joked as I weakly lifted my eyes to meet his, making no effort in getting out of his comforting arms.
“You wish, Williams,” I muttered, causing his lips to pull into a small smile as he adjusted my body so that he had his arm securely around my waist with my hips against his, our chests firmly pressed together and our faces inches apart.
“Hey you,” he whispered looking down at me, causing my newly slowed heart rate to pick up once more. I wondered if he could feel it pounding in my chest. “You had me really worried. Are you alright?” His voice was a soft violin, his words music to my hungry ears.
“Yeah,” I said, nodding slightly, causing his smile to grow. “I’m fine.”
“Good,” he said as he gently swept my hair from my forehead, his soft eyes looking into mine. “I was worried I’d have to give you mouth to mouth,” he said, using his free thumb to gently pull my bottom lip down. I sucked in a breath and he smirked at my reaction, “not that it’s completely off the table.”
“Madison, I…” I trailed, but he’d already begun leaning in, his hand moving from my lips to the side of my face. I screamed at myself to move or do anything to stop this from happening, but my body refused to move and my lips felt a weird compulsion to meet his.
“Noah? Madison?” My Nona’s voice suddenly filled the air accompanied by the sound of her pounding on the door. Madison jumped and moved from his position leaning against the door, subsequently pulling me closer to him. “Are you alright?”
“Yes Nona. We’ll be there in a second,” I quickly called, a blush burning on my face as I pulled out of Madison’s grasp. “Thanks for coming to check up on me,” I said before I hurried past him and threw the bathroom door open then bolted down the hall and into the kitchen to a relieved Nona and Mr. Williams asking if I’m okay before Nona forced me to sit down at the table and insisted on finishing up herself. A few moments later, Madison walked into the kitchen and took a seat next to his father on the opposite side of the table. I refused to meet his eyes.
Nona began serving the freshly made pasta then placing the breadsticks and salad she’d made in the center of the table for anyone who wanted it while she laid the delicious looking brownies on top of the oven to cool off or, as I liked to call it, taunt me by showing me what I desperately wanted but knew I couldn’t have until the time was right. “Noah,” Nona called, causing my attention to go from the mouth-watering brownies to her.
“Would you mind starting the prayer?” I opened my mouth to protest, but the look in her eyes told me if I objected it wouldn’t end well for me so I agreed and everyone joined hands.
“Gesù, siamo qui riuniti a tavola, e ti ringraziamo, per tutto quello che ci hai dato, e per questo cibo di cui tu ci hai provvisto. Benedicilo e provvedi a tutti coloro che non ne hanno. Amen,” I said, causing everyone to echo “Amen” before we all started filling our plates with what we wanted.
Mr. Williams began asking me questions about myself and my work ethic in an interview-esque way. I answered honestly, not wanting to say anything that would make him expect more from me than I could do while not wanting to seem like the lazy slob I was. After about five minutes of quick-fire questions, he gave me a satisfied nod before turning to Madison. “What do you think, son? Do you think we’ll be able to keep him long?”
“Of course,” Madison said as he looked at me with his intense eyes as he picked up his glass of water and brought it to his lips. “I have a feeling he’ll be a very hard worker,” he suggested as he gave me a quick wink so that only I could catch it.
“Thank you,” I politely said while on the inside, all I wanted to do was strangle him with my Nona’s pasta.
Nona and Mr.Williams quickly found conversation after that, trying to pull Madison and I in at every opportunity, but luckily I’d learned the art of eating abundantly in order to avoid conversation, but not in such a manner that you look glutinous or piggish. The technique took me a long time to master, but in the end it was absolutely worth it.
I was almost done with my food and was ready to make a move to get a brownie when Mr. Williams called my attention by saying, “Noah, ti dispiacerebbe prendere un dolce per me e Madison?”
I was caught off guard by Mr. Williams speaking my native language, and I’d barely come out of it when Madison added, “Per favore”, looking at me with a certain look in his eyes that told me that he knew exactly what he was doing to me. If only Italian wasn’t such a beautiful language and Madison didn’t sound so sexy speaking it.
“Certo signore,” I nodded before I hurriedly grabbed three small plates and began filling them with the various desserts my Nona had made before setting one in front of Mr. Williams, Madison, and my Nona before I went and made myself my own plate, excitement bubbling within me as I took the first bite of the brownie. As soon as I bit into it, it melted in my mouth with all the chocolates mixing with each other in perfect harmony. I couldn’t stop the soft moan that escaped my lips as I closed my eyes and savored its presence on each of my taste buds. I’d found the definition of true love.
When I opened my eyes, Madison’s eyes were trained on me and a subtle message was swimming in them that made my heart race. I broke eye contact with him and cleared my throat as I turned to Nona. “Wow, Nona. You need to teach me how to make these some day,” I praised as I took another bite, trying to ignore Madison’s eyes on me.
“Maybe one day,” she said as she drank the wine she’d poured for herself and Mr. Williams. Suddenly I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and I pulled it out revealing a text from Connor, the co-captain of our team asking where I was. I mentally cursed as I looked at the time. 6:42. Crap.
“I’m sorry, but I must get to football practice and condition the team. It was a pleasure meeting you Mr. Williams,” I said as I shook his hand.
“It was a pleasure meeting you too.”
“Madison,” I nodded as I shook his hand as well before I practically ran to my room and fished my uniform out of one of the many piles of dirty clothes on my floor. After I determined that it didn’t smell too bad, I shot Connor a text that I was on my way and hurried out of my room, having to pass by the kitchen on my way to the front door. “Oh, Noah?” Madison called, causing me to tense before I reluctantly turned around.
“Yes?” Good God please don’t let him say what I think he’s about to.
“Do you need a ride to your practice? I mean, if you practice at the fields near the pizzeria, I can drop you off since I live across the street from it anyway.” How did I know he was going to say that?
“Thank you for the offer, but really it’s fine. I usually run there anyway. It gets my heart going and my muscles stretched before practice starts. Thanks for the offer though,” I smoothly said and before Madison could protest, I was out the door and down the driveway heading the direction for the shortcut through the woods. I listened to my running playlist to distract me from my burning legs and rapid heartbeat. I closed my eyes and felt the air against my face and the smell of nature fill my nose and before I knew it, I was at the fields where Connor had started conditioning.
I’d known Connor ever since middle school and since we were both a certain level of screwed up, we’d been best friends through hell and high water. He always knew just what to say to cheer me up and distract me from the messed up world we lived in.
“Nice for you to finally grace us with your presence, Noah,” Connor teased as he clapped me on the shoulder, causing me to roll my eyes.
“Sorry, man. My Nona forced me to get a job at the pizzeria we go to and she invited the owner and his son over for dinner and I guess I lost track of time,” I explained as I began stretching.
“Sounds brutal, man- Owen! You better not be cutting those corners or I swear to God I’ma make you run until your legs fall off and your dick goes numb!” He yelled, causing me to laugh at his weird, yet fiery threats.
“Yeah, but thanks for getting conditioning started without me. Heaven knows the boys would’ve bounced if you weren’t here.”
“That’s what best friends are for,” he said with a nod, “but you’d best get off your butt before I ram my foot so far up it you’ll taste my toes for breakfast and feel my toenails scratching your brain.”
“That’s gross dude,” I said as I finished stretching.
“Don’t act like I won’t do it,” he said, drawing his foot back as if he were about to kick me.
“I know you will,” I laughed as we joined in running laps with the rest of the boys.
Connor and I took turns conditioning the boys until it physically hurt to breathe or even think. “Nice job tonight boys,” Connor said, his jet black hair looking even darker due to his profuse sweating.
“Make sure you rest well and we’ll see you on Thursday!” I called out to the retracting bodies before I felt Connor clap me on the shoulder.
“You want to grab a slice? I’m dying for some pizza right now and conditioning was brutal.”
“Um…” I trailed, scanning the pizzeria’s parking lot for any sign of Madison’s truck. Once I was satisfied that the cost was clear, I nodded, causing Connor to punch the air before he practically dragged me to his car and drove across the street to the pizzeria where we ordered our pizza and picked a table where we waited until the pizza arrived.
“So you’re gonna be working here?” Connor asked as he took a bite out of the massive meat lover’s slice he ordered and I nodded as I dug into my pepperoni slice.
“Unfortunately.” I sighed as I shook my head. “I have to or else Nona’s going to make me quit football and you know that’s not an option for me.”
“Of course,” he agreed. Connor’s the only person who knows why football is so important to me and why I’d go through pure hell in order to keep it in my life. I subconsciously wrapped my fingers around the necklace my mother had given me a couple weeks before she left and sighed.
“But look on the bright side. You get to make money for yourself and your Nona so you’re not always relying on her and you can do things yourself now.”
“I guess you’re right, but I just wish it was I job that I could’ve picked mysel-” I was cut off mid sentence by the bell above the door ringing which signalled a new customer revealing Madison in his work uniform looking insanely fine as always. Luckily our table set up in such a way that he couldn’t see us very well, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance. I swallowed and my attention returned to Connor in order to avoid suspicion. “You know what? Speaking of Nona I just remembered that I need to get home to help her with something like right now.”
“Oh come on, Noah!” Connor whined loudly, causing me to move further into our booth in case Madison heard. “You can’t rush something like this. I need to savor every bite of what this pizza has to offer me and I don’t appreciate our time being cut shor-”
“If you take me home right now I’ll give you three of the brownies my Nona made,” I interrupted, knowing that’d get him to cave due to the fact that he’d had my Nona’s brownies before.
“Why didn’t you start out with that?” he questioned. I swear I should change my name to Raven because I’m looking into the future like it’s nothing.
Connor hurriedly shoved the rest of his pizza in his mouth then left a tip on the table before we made a quick exit. Once we reached his truck, I let out the breath that I didn’t know I was holding, thankful that we’d escaped undetected.
“Next stop, brownies!”Connor exclaimed and before I even had my seatbelt all the way on, he was recklessly speeding down the road on his quest for the mystical brownies of my Nona.