It takes a lot of effort to pull my chin off the floor. Noah is tall, way taller than Rich. He’s buff too. He has light brown shaggy hair that hits his ears. His hazel eyes dart from me to Tom, who’s waving him inside. Noah steps into the house and towers over my short frame. He smiles a smile that lights up his eyes.
“Hi, I’m Noah. It’s nice to meet you, Avery,” Noah says, shooting his hand out to me. I awkwardly take it and shake. His hand engulfs mine, and it’s warm. I think I hold on too long before he finally lets go.
“Nice to meet you too,” I reply, smoothing the front of my dress. Noah is dressed in light blue jeans and a gray button-down shirt. The sleeves are rolled up to his elbows and the top button is undone. His tanned arms are covered in tattoos. Every square inch of what I can see is covered in black and colored ink. He’s got a little hoop in his nose and a bar in his eyebrow.
I usually don’t like tattoos or piercings. My mom never wanted us to bring ourselves down by ruining our bodies. She thought we would be less desirable to the people who mattered if we had them. Rich’s family was wealthy and old school, so they didn’t like tattoos and such either. It’s kind of like I was ingrained to hate them and look down on people who had them, but at this moment as I stare at Noah, I’m thinking they aren’t so bad. I would venture to say, silently of course, that they’re really hot.
Noah patiently waits for me to quit staring. He’s got a smile on his face when I finally look up to his eyes. I realize what I’m doing and I immediately go red. It looks like he wants to say something, but he keeps his words to himself.
“Sorry,” I whisper, embarrassed.
“It’s cool. Nice shoes, by the way?” Noah says without an ounce of sarcasm as he glances down at my feet.
“Thanks,” I reply. My smile’s back at the compliment.
“Ready to go?”
I nod and wave goodbye to Rachel, Holly, and Tom as I follow Noah out the front door. In the distance, I hear thunder and I look up at the early afternoon sky. It looks gray and dreary, and I wonder if a storm is brewing.
Noah’s car looks expensive. Like way more expensive than what Tom drives. He opens his car door for me and I pause for the slightest of seconds. Rich never did that for me. I smile up at this strange man and I’m not sure how I feel about him or maybe I do and it’s just warring with how I “should” feel about him. He seems nice and polite, but he’s so different from what I’m used to.
“Thanks,” I say as I tuck my legs into the car. Noah quickly gets into the driver’s seat and pulls out onto the empty street.
“So what’s the plan?” I ask curiously. Noah glances over for a second with a smirk on his face.
“It’s a surprise,” he replies mysteriously. I give him a look, then stare out at the ominous sky.
It’s only another ten minutes before we pull into a parking garage of the arts center. I love musicals and plays. This is one of my favorite places to go. Or it was. I guess I haven’t been here since I started dating Rich.
Noah gets out of the car and opens my door. I smile as he holds his hand out to help me. I look at him with astonishment. He gives me a wide grin before tucking my hand into the crook of his arm as we walk towards the arts center.
Since I’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, hell, the last six years, I don’t know which play is here now. Noah must have gotten some background information on me from Rachel and Holly before deciding on our date. I thought for sure it was going to be like dinner and a movie. Not a bad choice, but sort of typical.
Noah hands the tickets to a guy who scans them and lets us through. I’ve been to this particular arts center a few times, and the massive size and fancy look to it gets me every time. I look around and finally catch a sign that says which show we’re seeing. I smile up at Noah, who’s looking ahead and walking beside me. I’m staring up at him for longer than I should. I think he finally catches me because he glances down and smiles at me. It seems like he always has a smile. I like that.
“You’ve never met me before and still you manage to plan basically my dream date by taking me to see Phantom of the Opera?” I ask, amazed by this simple and extraordinary gesture.
Noah laughs. It’s deep and melodic. The sound sends my heart skittering and a warm feeling spreads through my body. I smile again, wondering how it’s possible to feel so good right now after feeling so shitty for so much longer than I thought I did.
“Yeah, well, Holly and Rachel wanted this date to be perfect after, well, after everything. They told me a bit about you and I thought this would be fun. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it, anyway. Your ex never brought you to a show?” Noah asks.
“Ugh, they told you?” I reply, mortified. Noah gives me a half-smile.
“There’s no shame in it. Happens to a lot of people,” Noah says, and I catch a note of sadness.
I wonder if something similar happened to him. I’m afraid to ask, so we spend the rest of the time finding our seats in silence. We have nearly front row seats and I wonder how much he spent on these tickets. I look around this magnificent auditorium with happiness. It’s been too long since I’ve been here.
“No,” I reply to Noah’s earlier question.
“Rich never took me to these shows. He doesn’t like plays, especially musicals, so we never went,” I explain.
“Dude sounds like a dick,” he replies, then the lights dim and the show begins.
For the next few hours, I watch, mesmerized. The last time I saw this one was when my dad took me at fifteen. It was the last show we saw together before he died. There are tears in my eyes when the house lights blaze to life and Noah turns to me. Concern instantly masks his face when he sees the tears.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“Nothing. It’s just my dad took me to see this a few months before he died. He used to take me to every show he could for years. This was the last,” I explain. Noah’s expression takes a turn towards horror.
“Shit. I’m so sorry, Avery.”
“No, no. It’s wonderful. Just good memories, so thank you,” I reply, giving him a wobbly smile. Noah’s expression softens as we walk out into the evening air. The smell of rain saturates the air and I know it will pour before the end of the night.
I get back into the passenger’s seat of Noah’s car. It looks like we’re driving in the direction of the beach. Just as I’m beginning to wonder if this drive will be spent in silence, Noah speaks up.
“So what do you do? For a living, I mean,” Noah asks. I laugh and it gets so hysterical, I can’t stop. Noah gives me a concerned look.
“Are you okay?” he asks. I wheeze as I quit laughing and take a few deep breaths.
“Yeah. It just struck me as funny that you know about the worst thing that’s happened to me, but you don’t know much else,” I reply. Noah gives me a brilliant smile that lights up his hazel eyes.
“To answer your question though, I work for a magazine. I do marketing for the company, mostly online,” I answer.
“That’s really cool. You might know I work at a music studio. I’m a producer,” Noah replies.
“Yeah, Holly and Rachel might have mentioned that. Do you enjoy it?” I ask.
“I do… Do you enjoy yours?” It seems like he wants to say more, but he sticks with what he asked.
“Yes. It’s what I always wanted to do. I think maybe one day I’d like to have my own marketing business. You know, not having a boss, only answering to myself.”
Noah’s car pulls into a parking space at the beach. The sun’s just setting and it seems like a movie grade date, ending the night with a walk on the beach during sunset. The beach is nearly empty when Noah and I start our walk by the water’s edge. I look out and the sky is purple instead of pink tonight. The smell of rain is heavier here, and I can see the waves rolling furiously in the distance. It’s only a matter of time before they reach the shore.
“Can I ask you a question?” I ask into the silence. Noah looks at me expectantly.
“Well, I was just wondering why you agreed to go out with me tonight.”
“I got out of a shitty relationship too, and I guess Tom thought I needed a kick in the ass to get back out there. He told me about you because he thought maybe we could relate,” Noah replies.
“What happened?” I’m curious.
“I was with this girl since high school and then last year I found out she had been cheating on me with a really good friend of mine nearly the entire time. I guess I kinda cut myself off from everyone except my most trusted friends for a while. I didn’t want to get close to anyone again after being betrayed that way,” he explains.
I’m stunned. Why would anyone want to do that to Noah? He seems so nice and sweet. Without thinking, I grab Noah’s hand and lace my fingers through his. They’re calloused from his work, I’d guess. His hands are large and warm in mine. Noah gives me a startled look, and I think maybe I messed up. I try to take it away in embarrassment, but Noah grips my hand tighter. I look at our hands linked together and I feel warmth spread throughout my body again.
“I was with Rich since my sophomore year of college. He was sweet at first, but he was one of those kids that didn’t have to work for much. His family is wealthy, and he’s expecting to take over for his father so he just has to wait for that, you know? I didn’t realize at the time, but I saw my friends less and less until only Rachel and Holly were left. I spent all my time with him doing things he enjoyed. I can’t remember the last time I did anything I wanted, until tonight,” I start. Noah nods like he understands and waits for me to go on.
“I shouldn’t have been surprised when he dumped me to be with his secretary, but I was. I thought he would propose soon and that we would get married. I never thought he was that guy. In hindsight, I see he was exactly that guy and it makes me wonder how many times in the six years we were together he cheated on me. I don’t think Miss Secretary was his first, just the one he wanted enough to let me go,” I finish, and I thought there would be tears at this revelation I haven’t told anyone yet. There are no tears, though, just acceptance.
“I don’t know why people are so cruel. Why stay in a relationship with someone if you obviously don’t want to be with that person?” Noah asks, but the question is rhetorical. I think he’s talking more about his experience than mine, but his statement is true enough for both of us.
Thunder rumbles in the distance and a strike of lightning lights up the now night sky. The wind picks up out of nowhere and the waves hit the beach more intensely than before. With no warning at all, rain pours down instantly soaking me. I squeal from the cold and Noah laughs. I’m a little offended at first, but then I join in in the laughter. Noah tightens his hold on my hand and runs.
“I know a place we can go to get out of the rain,” he says just as the sky groans with thunder so loud my bones shake. I nod and run after him, laughing the whole way.
Far enough off the beach to be out of dangerous waves’ way but close enough to still have an amazing view stands a large house with walls made of windows. The porch lights are on, leading our way to the front door. There’s one of those security code deadbolts on the door. Noah quickly jams the code in and the lock button turns green. The door opens quietly when Noah turns the knob and he flicks a light switch on that splashes the entryway and adjoining hallway in soft light.
“Where are we?” I ask, glad to be out of that pounding rain.
“This is my house.”