I’m speechless as Noah gets into his car and speeds away. I try to hide my tears as I run back into the house. Everyone follows me, of course, but I make a beeline for the bathroom. What the hell just happened?
I sit on the toilet trying to figure out what went so colossally wrong for half an hour before Drew coaxes me out. He pulls me into a comforting hug but doesn’t ask any questions. He offers to drive me home because I don’t have any more energy for my mom’s and Harper’s bullshit.
“Whatever he thought you did, you don’t deserve to be spoken to like that. I’m not going to tell you what to do, but you should make that clear. Whatever issues he has, he needs to work on them. You can’t be the one to fix it. He needs to put in the work too,” Drew says in the car.
I don’t respond as we pull into my driveway. He’s right, but I don’t say so. Drew leans over and kisses my forehead before I get out and shuffle into my house.
I lay on my bed looking at my phone. Noah hasn’t called or texted. I’ve called and texted him hundreds of times to ask what I did. They became less about that and more wondering if he’s okay.
After hours of silence, I finally get worried enough to try to contact his friends. Of course, I only talked to them that one time on video chat. I search for them all on social media and find them, but Allie’s the one that messaged me back. She asked for my phone number. She calls immediately after I give it to her.
“I’m so sorry for bothering you. I know it’s late, but I’m so worried about him,” I sob in answer.
“Don’t even worry about it, Avery. Can you tell me what happened?” Allie says.
“I don’t know! I mean, my mom and sister were being as awful as I told him to expect. He was outside talking to my brother-in-law, Drew, and the next thing I know he’s storming out of the place saying I’m just like Kendra.”
“Is it possible he overheard something? What were you guys talking about while Noah was outside with Drew?” Allie asks and she’s so calm. I’m over here freaking out and she’s cool as a freaking cucumber.
“They were telling me I couldn’t see him anymore. I was so mad at them for judging him on his looks, I let it slip who he is. They jumped right on and started saying all this about how I was lucky I snagged someone of his caliber and all that. I didn’t agree with them though. I said I don’t care about that and gave them a little background on what Kendra did to him. They didn’t care, of course. Next thing I know, the front door slams open and he’s pulling away without a second thought,” I explain.
“Noah probably heard something out of context and jumped to conclusions. He’s a freaking teddy bear and the best friend anyone could ask for, but he can be so stupid sometimes. He’s probably at a bar. I’ll call him in the morning. Will you answer if he calls, despite how much of a jerk he’s been?”
Should I? I mean, he’s the one that jumped to conclusions. I did nothing wrong, and he yelled at me. Should I take his call when there’s a fifty-fifty chance he says he’s sorry for the misunderstanding? Besides, where do we go from here if he thinks I’m just a gold-digging bitch?
“Yes, I’ll take his call,” I sigh.
“Good. Noah really is a good guy. He’s just still working through his crap. It’s only been a year since he found Kendra cheating on him. You’re helping him recover, but he’s not all better yet. He might never be,” Allie says in that soft-spoken voice of hers.
Noah and Kristie are loud and brash. Evan doesn’t seem to be quite as loud as them, but he’s not quiet like Allie either. Neither is Brooke. She seems to be a lot like Evan. They make a good pair. But then you have Allie. She’s quiet but seems to be extremely loyal. With all Noah’s going through, I’m glad he has friends like them.
“I understand. It’s only been a month since we met, but Noah matters to me. Even if this relationship doesn’t go any further, he helped me get over my asshat of an ex-boyfriend. I’m in a better place because I met him,” I say, and it makes me super sad to think of our relationship as ending. I don’t want that.
“Get some sleep. Tomorrow might be hard.”
Sleep seems like it’ll be impossible, but it takes me quickly. I don’t dream of anything and the vibrations from my phone are what wake me up sometime in the late morning. I have to work to focus on the screen through the sleep-filled haze that envelops me. It’s Noah calling!
“Hello?” I answer after a few failed attempts.
“Hey, uh, do you think you could come over? Or I could come over there. I think we need to talk,” Noah says, and his voice sounds gritty.
“I’ll come over. Do you want some breakfast? I could pick something up on the way over?”
“Something greasy, please.”
“Sure, be over soon,” I say, then hang up.
I can’t tell by his voice where his headspace is at. Does he want to talk through this misunderstanding, or does he just want to break up with me in person?
I pick up some fast food and hurry to Noah’s beachside home. I get nervous the closer I get to the door. I hesitate only half a second before knocking. Noah answers, clad only in some athletic shorts. His chest is sweaty and his hair is held back by a headband. He looks so good right now. He must have been working out.
Noah opens the door wider for me to walk in. I head straight toward the breakfast bar and take things out of paper bags. I feel Noah behind me as he walks past to sit in the seat he always does while we have breakfast.
I struggle into the tall barstool, then we sit in silence. I don’t know what to say, so I decide to start at the beginning.
“Look, I don’t know what you heard last night, but you obviously didn’t hear it all. I’ll admit that I screwed up and told my mom who you are, but it was only because I couldn’t stand the way they were talking about you. I defended you and repeatedly told them I’m not with you for your money. For you to jump to conclusions and assume I’m like your ex was a really shitty thing for you to do. That would be like be assuming you’re a cheating asshole like Rich. We’re both adults and we should be mature enough to talk about what’s bothering us,” I start.
“I know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken to you the way I did. I heard your mom and sister saying things so similar to the Kendra situation, and I couldn’t really hear your responses. What I did hear made it seem like my money was all you cared about. I flipped out and I shouldn’t have.”
“What happened to your face?” I ask, nodding to the black eye and swollen cheek.
“I ended up at a bar and I think I got into a fight. My car isn’t here, so I’m pretty sure the bartender called me a cab,” he answers.
I nod at this new information and it just reaffirms what I have to say next. I listened to what Drew and Allie had to say, and though it wasn’t an easy conclusion, I think it’s the best one for both of us to be able to move forward. I want to have a relationship with Noah because he is a good guy, but he has some shit to work through and I can’t help him.
“Look, Noah, I like you and I do want to be with you, but you have some serious issues you need to work through. Whatever you’ve been doing this past year hasn’t been working. I think you need to see someone professionally. I had to see a therapist after my dad died, and honestly, it helped a lot. It got me in the right headspace to grieve. I don’t want to give you ultimatums, but until you work through your shit with Kendra productively, I don’t think we’ll have a healthy future together. I want that future, so I’m asking if that’s something you’d be willing to do.”
Noah stares at me, saying nothing. His breathing has changed, and it comes heavier. For a minute, I think he’s upset that I suggested he go to therapy, but then his expression softens and his shoulders slump.
“I think you’re right. I should have started a year ago. I like you a lot, so I’ll go see a therapist. Would you be open to sticking with me just in a slower capacity? You are helping and I don’t want to lose that,” Noah says.
“I won’t stay over anymore, but maybe we can have a weekly date or something. I won’t disappear on you,” I reply, laying my hand on his.
“Thank you. I am sorry for everything. I shouldn’t have done what I did,” Noah apologizes.
“No, but I get it. Don’t worry. I won’t go far.”
We finish our breakfast, then I head home. He calls a cab to take him to his car. I probably could have offered, but I didn’t. We need this space right now. Hopefully, he can heal enough that we can get more serious. For now, though, a date a week and no more sleeping together.